...where distraction is the main attraction.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Breckenridge

I'm in dramatically gorgeous Breckenridge, Colorado with Kristen for her brother, Andrew's, wedding. The lovely Leslie has officially joined the Perry family. Yes, I've tried Breckenridge Bourbon (tastes very similar to Bulleit Bourbon), had some Scoresby (not bad neat but folds instantly under water), tried to dance at 10,000 feet (tried), and now I'm at the world's tiniest Celtic festival drinking Guinness draft and eating (Celtic?) candied pecans. Will return home soon but I don't really want to. Why would anyone ever want to leave this town?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Single Malt Report: Highland Park 12 years old

I have grown into the Highland Park 12.  I tried it at a San Francisco hotel bar almost three years ago.  I remember the situation well because I really didn't like the whisky.  But that was before my magical Bowmore bottle warmed me up to peat.  That was before my conversion to Laphroaig.  That was before my discovery of Longrow and Ardbeg.

I've had HP12 at bars three times this year.  Each time I drank it, I liked it a little better than before.  When I grabbed a glass of it during my birthday carousing, I found myself grinning all the way through it.  I HAD to do a report on it and...oh look...I have a mini in my collection!


Well, it's empty now, but......

That picture actually turned out a lot better than it should have.

Anyway, the whisky.


Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation:  20% first-fill ex-oloroso casks; 80% refill ex-oloroso casks [Updated: 9/2014]
Age: minimum 12 years
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

The Highland Park distillery was officially founded way back in 1798.  Whisky was made on the site even earlier than that, but not legally so.  Like most distilleries, Highland Park's ownership changed many times.  In fact the Grants of Glenlivet fame owned HP for more than forty years.  They sold it to Highland Distilleries which were later acquired by The Edrington Group in 1999.

Highland Park is one of the very few distilleries to still do their own floor maltings.  They dry their malt with local mossy peat from the nearby Hobbister Hill (Ed.: No, that's not where the Hobbitses live.).  The resulting phenol content is a strong 20-40ppm.  This makes up 20% of their malt.  The remainder of the malt is (as of a few years ago) unpeated stuff from the Tamdhu maltings.

According to Dominic Roskrow, "the percentage of first-fill sherry casks has gone up from 20 to 40 percent in recent years" in this 12 year single malt.  Like Old Pulteney 12, this is bottled at 40% ABV in the UK, but 43% in the US, though that has differed in the past.  Again, I'm glad to be getting the 43% stuff.

NEAT
The color is medium to dark gold with a little rosy mahogany.  The nose is full of American oak, with the sherry subtly around the edges.  There are big coastal notes, think dockside.  Some charred peat, a little alcohol prickle, and maybe maple syrup.  Then there's the palate.  Barbecued peat, burnt plastic-y phenolics.  Silky and lightly floral.  More spirit than oak here.  Cigar tobacco.  The sherry's around the edges again, and grows with time.  Band-aids and barbecued hay in the finish, a little wood smoke and sherry.  A nice length.

WITH WATER (approx. 33% ABV)
Two oaks and Orkney peat in the nose.  Salty roasted smoked peat.  Some vanillins and dried fruit (raisins and prunes) from those oaks.  A little farmyardy too.  In fact, the water has little effect in taming the nose.  The palate holds bright briny peated malt with a touch of sherry.  There are grasses (dried and fresh) and that barbecued peat smoke.  Hay and a hint of sherry in the finish, followed by some salt and that fragrant BBQ peat.

Dang, if that's not the stuff right there, I don't know what is.  The oaks and the peat and the malt merge marvelously for such a young whisky.

For peat-phobic folks, this is not as peaty as Laphroaig and Ardbeg.  The Orcadian peat is much different than the Islay peat.  Orkney's rough winds keep the vegetation short and close to the ground, so the peat comes from mosses and grasses.  There's a lot of unpeated malt in this too.  I recommend it to anyone just beginning to expand their whisky palate.

I'm glad I grew into this one.  You'd better believe I'll be reporting on more Highland Parks in the future.

Availability - Most liquor specialists
Pricing - $40-$50 (Babies, run -- don't walk -- if you find it for less than $40)
Rating - 89 87 (upon much further reflection, and after a full bottle, I've dropped the score a smidge)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Single Malt Report: Old Pulteney 12 year old


Distillery: Pulteney
Ownership: Inver House
Region: Northern Highlands (Wick)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: Ex-bourbon American oak casks
Age: minimum 12 years
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

Pulteneytown in Wick, Caithness, was once known for two things: herring and whisky.  Once the largest herring port in Europe, the town mostly known for its oily, salty, honeyed, malty distilled spirit.  Seems as if creamed herring doesn't sell like it used to.  But whisky certainly does!

The distillery, built in 1826, has changed hands at least six times, ultimately landing in Inver House's portfolio (along with Balblair, Speyburn, and Knockdhu).  That fun bulby bottle neck probably-not-so-coincidentally looks like their pot still with its big ol' boil ball.  Their steel washbacks are still good shape after 90+ years, and they are one of the few distilleries to use a dry yeast during fermentation.  These are the sort of factors that go into shaping their classic spirit.

In the US, the 12yr is bottled at 43%.  It's been bottled at both 40 and 43 in the UK, though currently sits at 40%.  Count me happy that we're getting the bolder stuff.

I was very lucky to score a 375mL bottle of OP12 as part of a gift pack a couple months ago.  I opened the bottle two weeks ago, it's now half full.  It has become a solid go-to during this crazy heat spell of ours.

NEAT
It's color is a light gold with some slight yellow-green hues, so I doubt there's much colorant added.  The nose is very spirity, lighter on the oak up front.  Seaside and brine.  Buttercreme frosting.  Some pencil notes sneak in later on.  The palate is vanilla-first.  Then salted angel food cake.  Dry, malty, and with a touch of wood smoke.  Much sweeter on the finish.  Lots of vanilla and malt.  There's a little barrel wood with faint hints of fresh cherries and apricots.

WITH WATER (approx. 33% ABV)
Ripe apples rush into the nose.  Lots of vanillins from the American oak.  Most of the brine has been washed away.  The palate is much creamier and sweeter.  Peals of vanilla.  Wood grain.  Some sort of cream dessert wine.  It finishes woody, more vanilla.  Basically the barrel.

With water added it goes from an aperitif to a dessert (though I prefer it neat).  I was pleasantly surprised by this one.  It's very moreish and that's its key.  It won't win over fans through complexity.  But its drinkability makes for a very nice step up from Glenfiddich 12 and Glenlivet 12.

Availability - Most liquor specialists
Pricing - $28-$40 for 750mL (it's a steal if you can grab it for less than $30)
Rating - 83

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Weekend in review (or Thank You!)

Sometime last week, Diving for Pearls had its 25,000th pageview.  2400+ cities, 124 countries and counting...
Yes I made this.
Thank you, everyone!  Thank you, spammers who keep sending me "comments" that extoll the benefits of purchasing Tiffany and Rolex products, in Russian.  Na zdorovie!  Thank you, search engines and people looking for images of Famous Grouse, Fremont Street, windmills, and llamas!

A sincere Thank You to the online whisky community for welcoming me in and spreading the word!

And THANK YOU to every reader who has stopped by!  The posts shall continue.  My new job has made it difficult for me to opine as often as before.  There probably won't be any 6-post weeks, nor 5-post weeks.  But my goal is to publish three or four items each week, using the best words I can find or invent.



The wife is out of town this weekend.

And you know what that means!

It's been two nights and, seriously, call FEMA.  I'd try to shovel my way out of this disaster I've created, but...well...the shovel is somewhere underneath that pile of dishes, laundry, opossums, mini apple pie wrappers, rotting onions, broken Hankey Bannister bottles, ethernet cables, shopping cart handles, and dead squash plants in the tub.

I've dug a path to the Whisky and what I think is the front door.

I smell something burning.  Must be the wine-cork-and-Domino's-pizza-box broth that's been simmering since Friday.



Wednesday is Yom Kippur.  That means it's fasting time!

One thing I've noticed about a fast, is that it's slow.



If I'm the first person who's said that, then shame on everyone.


After last week's glut of independently bottled whiskies, I have a whole slew of classic official bottlings on the slate.  All (or 90% of 'em) are reasonably priced, as of today at least.  As much as I'm attracted to the newest shiny whisky thing, ALL OF THEM are priced irresponsibly.  So this site's whisky reporting will remain focused on cheaply- and moderately-priced booze.  Though I reserve the right to veer off the path when the situation presents itself.

Situations like this:

Birthday drams!
Finally, I'm happy to say that my first Dram Quest (see the right side of the page) is now coming to a successful end.  It's been a lovely mind (and liver?) expanding experience.  Thank you to those who assisted me with obtaining a couple of these dream drams.  One may note that some whiskys are crossed off but do not have a "DONE" next to them.  Well, those have yet to be reported on, though they are in my possession.

I have no idea what will be included in my next Dram Quest, but now's the time to dream it up.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Single Malt Report: A flock of Indies (Part 3) courtesy of OC Scotch Club

This is the third of three posts covering the whiskys I tried on July 12th with the OC Scotch Club.

You can find Part 1 here.
You can find Part 2 here.

PART 3:

Whisky #3 - Bowmore 11yr 1999 (Murray McDavid)




Distillery: Bowmore
Ownership: Suntory (via Morrison Bowmore)
Bottler: Murray McDavid
Age: minimum 11 years
Maturation: Bourbon and Sauternes casks
Finished: Chateau d'Yquem casks
Region: Islay
Chillfiltered? Nope
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Limited bottling: 2300

With this one, I had my doubts.  My previous run-in with a Murray McDavid bottled Bowmore "ACE'd" in a sweet French wine cask introduced me to one of the most feculant f**ked-up fluids I've ever had the regrettable opportunity to taste.

I figure if you have to hit the whisky with TWO different sweet wine oaks, then the original distillate must have been pretty sad.  But I'll only live once, so what the hell.  I tried 0.5 ounces if it neat in a Glencairn glass...

The color is a deep dark gold, likely from the one of the wine casks.  The nose is full of brown sugar, maple syrup, malt, and apples.  The brown sugary note continues into the palate, then gets a little salty. Stone fruits and flowers follow.  The wine influence is surprisingly held in check.  The medium-length finish is sweet and very floral.

My reaction was, "Huh."  It was quaffable.  Either the wine casks were refills OR that cask strength Auchentoshan stripped the tastebuds out of my face.  In any case, what the wine(s) brought to the whisky was sweetness and flowers and that's about it.  Thankfully.  I could even imagine trying this again in the future.  Score one for MMcD.

Availability - Some liquor specialists, though you'll need to do some snooping
Pricing - $60-$70
Rating - 82



Whisky #4 - Bunnahabhain Cruach-Mhona
Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Ownership: Burn Stewart Distillers
Age: young stuff (likely under 8 years) and old stuff (20-21 years)
Maturation: young stuff in ex-bourbon, old stuff in ex-sherry
Region: Islay
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
Alcohol by Volume: 50%


President Bob of the OCSC snuck this one out for the surprise finish.  It's not an independent bottling, BUT it's only for sale (in one liter bottles) via some Duty Free shops.

In 2008, Bunnahabhain released the Toiteach, a moderately-peated 10-year.  I think that one finally reached US shores this year.  Cruach-Mhona (pronounced Cru-ach Vhona and translating roughly to "peat stack"), or BCM, is a peatier, un-colored, unfiltered version of the Toitech with a mix of very young whiskys from bourbon casks and much older whiskys from sherry casks.  Hmm, I can think of another Islay distillery who does something much similar...

The BCM's color is a medium gold.  The nose is of a candied-oaky Ardbeg 10, followed by peat cinders smoldering in butter.   That Ardbeg & oak character continues into the palate, followed by a sprinkle of brown sugar.  Then there's a vegetal note along with what might be sherry.  It finishes all peat and sweet.

I actually had an opportunity to add water. Interestingly, that made the peat more aggressive on the nose, while the palate grew sweeter.

So, yes, Ardbeg is the other Islay distillery who has made some dynamic crafty mixes of their old and new whiskies from different sorts of barrels.  But this one isn't like The Corryvreckan or Uigeadail.  It's like a friendlier version of an Ardbeg Ten, even though that one is all ex-bourbon matured.  The BCM might have a little less complexity, but also may be easier on some constitutions.  It was a pleasant discovery.  And I still haven't found a Bunnahabhain that I don't like.

Availability - Duty free and The Whisky Exchange, only
Pricing - $95 without shipping
Rating - 83

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Single Malt Report: A flock of Indies (Part 2) courtesy of OC Scotch Club

This is the second of three posts covering the whiskys I tried on July 12th with the OC Scotch Club.

You can find Part 1 here.

PART 2:

Whisky #3 - Aberfeldy 13yr 1998 (Chieftain's)


Sorry, no decent bottle pics.
Had to nab this label from whiskyintelligence.com

Distillery: Aberfeldy
Ownership: Bacardi (via John Dewar and Sons)
Bottler: Chieftain's
Age: minimum 13 years
Maturation: refill American Oak
Region: Eastern Highlands
Chillfiltered? Nope
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

Ah, my first Aberfeldy and my first Chieftain's.

That Aberfeldy is called the home of Dewar's isn't just due to its use in their blends.  The Dewar family actually built the distillery in 1896.  After a two-year closure, the distillery was purchased by DCL (proto-Diageo) in 1925.  In a rare move by Diageo, the giant sold the distillery to Bacardi in 1998.  Unsurprisingly, Diageo had made little effort to promote the Aberfeldy single malt.  Since the acquisition, Barcardi/Dewar's immediately began promoting and bottling the malt.  It's still mostly used for the Dewar's blends, but a several percent of the output makes it into the bottle without any grain whisky additions.

Meanwhile, Chieftain's is an independent label owned by Ian MacLeod Distillers (who, just to confuse you further, owns their distilleries: Glengoyne and Tamdhu).  I've noticed that their pricing tends to be higher than parallel official bottlings, though sometimes they have moderate prices on their cask strength releases.

At the event, I sampled 0.5 ounces of Aberfeldy neatly in a Glencairn glass.

The color is strikingly similar to a Sauvignon Blanc.  The nose though, is NOT like a Sauvignon Blanc.  It's quite salty (if one can smell salty), cheesy, and nutty.  There's some caramel sauce in there too.  It's a little oaky but not as much as the first two whiskys I'd tried.  The palate packs some generous heat, more oomph.  Brown sugar, black pepper, and sugar cookies lead the way.  Its finish has a medium length and buzzes with freshly ground black pepper.

Because I've never warmed up to any of the blends in the Dewar's range (for instance, this one), I'd set my expectations low low low for the Aberfeldy.  I won't say that this was a great single malt, but it was better than the first two whiskys of the night.  It's not that demanding and shouldn't offend any drinkers.    Its palate is its strength.  My biggest issue with it is the price, which is almost TWICE the standard 12 year bottling.

Availability - Some liquor specialists
Pricing - around $75
Rating - 76



Whisky #4 - Auchentoshan 20yr 1991 (A.D. Rattray)




Distillery: Auchentoshan
Ownership: Suntory (via Morrison Bowmore)
Bottler: AD Rattray
Age: 20 years (1991-2011)
Maturation: refill ex-sherry
Region: Lowlands
Chillfiltered? Nope
Alcohol by Volume: 57.5%

Now we're talking.  This was an individual cask bottling, burning at full strength, from an indie bottler I like and a distillery I would like to like.

I'll get right down to it.  This one is a weirdo.  And I'm weirdo.  We're made for each other.  Out of the 20+ people at the whisky tasting, only two of us liked this whisky.  Most people REALLY didn't like it, which I can totally understand.  I could imagine someone tasting this and thinking, "This is totally wrong."

Well, if it's wrong, I do not want to be right.

(Like the others, I sampled 0.5 ounces neatly in a Glencairn glass.)

The color is a simple pinot grigio.  So this must have been a 12th-refill sherry cask.  The nose begins with roses, then goes to white pepper.  Slowly it gets sort of oaky, then very green vegetal.  Then there's the palate.  Sandy, chalky, clay, tree roots, and wet cigarettes.  It's almost smoky, but perhaps it's hot cracked white pepper meets a high ABV%.  It delivers a singular sizzle.  The finish is huge, full of that peppery thing and bunch of dark green vegetables.

My last note reads, "Me gusta!"

But you can see why this would get promptly spit/spilled out.  It's so strange.  Kind of haunting actually.  I need some closure.  I need a whole bottle of this stuff to sort things out.

Availability - Some liquor specialists
Pricing - SUPER at $70-$80 (almost the same price as the 13yr lower ABV Aberfeldy!)
Rating - 87

Part Three to follow soon...

Monday, September 17, 2012

Single Malt Report: A flock of Indies (Part 1) courtesy of OC Scotch Club

Back on July 12th, the OC Scotch Club convened at Stubrick's Steakhouse in Fullerton to sample a half dozen whiskys.  The tasting was mostly centered around single malt releases by independent bottlers.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I tend not to take extensive notes nor do reports on whiskies tried at public events.  Doing notes in these settings gets to be a bit socially awkward, plus it's not a quiet slow-whisky setup.  But I gave it try anyway, typing away madly, yet as inconspicuously as possible, on my phone.

I'm going to split this up into a three-part series, two whiskys a piece.



PART 1:

Whisky #1 - Glen Grant 15yr (G&M)

Distillery: Glen Grant
Ownership: Campari
Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail (G&M)
Age: minimum 15 years
Maturation: refill American Oak
Region: Speyside
Alcohol by Volume: 43% (has also been released at 40% and 46% ABV)

We started with my very first Glen Grant.  The indie bottler Gordon & MacPhail owns a ton of Glen Grant casks, some of which have been turned into bottlings over 50 years old.  They almost regularly release a 10yr, 15yr, 21yr, and 25yr Glen Grant just on their own.

I've personally never been bowled over by a G&M release, but that's never stopped me from searching them out and rooting for the company.  G&M's whiskys for 50+ distilleries are usually very well priced.

In this case I tried this Glen Grant 15yr in a 0.5oz neat pour in a Glencairn glass.

The color is a very light amber (note the picture above).  This light shade may lead the drinker to think the whisky has been sitting in 4th-refill casks, thus he or she will expect the oak will be shy.  But instead, the wood is louder than the malt on the nose.  It's buttery oak full of vanilla, coconut, and corn chips.  The malt is much louder on the palate, all cereals and white fruits.  The malt lives on, alone, in the relatively short finish.

It's not a grandiose whisky.  After the big nose, the rest of the whisky is very quiet.  Not much else to say about this one.  It was kind of a *shrug*, especially for a 15-year-old Speyside.

Availability - Some liquor specialists, though you'll need to do some hunting
Pricing - $65-$75
Rating - 74



Whisky #2 - Tamdhu 8yr (MacPhail's Collection)

Distillery: Tamdhu
Ownership: Ian MacLeod Distillers (previously owned by Edrington Group)
Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail (G&M)
Age: minimum 8 years
Maturation: refill American Oak
Region: Speyside
Alcohol by Volume: 43% (US release, the UK release is 40%)

Another release from G&M, this one from their "MacPhail's Collection" range.  This range also includes 8 year olds from Glenrothes and Highland Park (both from The Edrington Group).  The prices on these tend to be in the lower-risk range, as young lower-ABV whiskys should be.

The Edrington Group closed Tamdhu back in November 2009, but Ian MacLeod Distillers (owners of Glengoyne, blenders of Isle of Skye) bought the distillery two years later.  They're intending to get it up and running again this year.

I sampled 0.5 ounces of this whisky neatly in a Glencairn glass.

The color is light gold.  The nose has some big oak elements similar to the Glen Grant.  It's buttery and vanilla-y, but also grassy and a bit gassy.  (Note: Among the other tasters, I was alone on that gassy note.  Maybe it was me and not the whisky.)  The palate was very light, easy drinking.  More of the grassy notes with a lot of soft vanilla.  The mild finish carried notes of hay and citrus rind.

If I had to pick between these two, I'd actually go with this young Tamdhu (rhyme not intended).  Neither are great, but the Tamdhu is considerably cheaper and had a more significant palate and finish.

Availability - Some liquor specialists
Pricing - $35-$40
Rating - 75

Tomorrow, two more indie releases in Part 2......

Friday, September 14, 2012

Thirteen Hour Thursday ends and I think about whisky

Thirteen Hour Thursday has come to a close and I doubt it will be the last.  I just hope a Fourteen Hour Friday doesn''t follow.

I've just opened my 375mL bottle of Old Pulteney 12yr, tossed together a quick dinner and am settling in to catch up on blog reading before I go to bed and start the cycle all over again.

Last Sunday, I bought my first 750mL bottle of bourbon.  Buffalo Trace is its name.  It's open and it's tasty.  It's actually a single cask bottling (at 45%ABV), with the barrel chosen by the good folks at Hi Time.  It's similar to the usual Buffalo Trace, but I'm finding more spices and a little less vanilla.  It's an absolute miracle at $19.99.  Sorry, Scotch, you cannot compete at that price.

The birthday whisky buying is happening slowly and studiously.  I just placed a samples order via Master of Malt that will be sure to brighten up a long workday upon its arrival.

I've successfully kept to my $50-and-under-per-bottle rule all year, but I wonder if I should loosen that belt now that I'm employed.  Of course, I need to see a couple paychecks before any drastic purchases are made.

Here's one blog post I do want to share: How Age Statements Are Dividing The Whisky Industry by Oliver over at Dramming.com.  It's a brief but smart take on Macallan's 1824 Series and their company's attempt to equal quality with color(!) rather than age.

Macallan's Brand Ambassador says, "An age statement doesn’t give you any clues as to quality" and "Age statements have made us very lazy and one-dimensional".  While there may be some truth in the first statement, I don't think anyone really believes Macallan's song and dance.

Though many of us have critiqued Macallan's new branding decision, Oliver shines best with this brilliantly condensed knockout blow in his conclusion:
Macallan only replaces their 10 to 17 year old expressions with NAS bottlings. Why not the famous 18 and 25 year olds? If age did not matter at all, they could have got rid of those as well.
Using their products to debunk their branding pitch.  Love it!

Anyway, let's get through the rest of this week, okay?

As seen at the Long Beach Flea Market.  I present this without comment.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Single Malt Report: Taste Off, Part 2. The Glenlivet 18 year old

Surprise!  Whisky #2 was Glenlivet 18!

Okay, maybe not that big of a surprise.

Last week I matched up their 12 year olds, this week I tried their 18 year olds side by side.


I allowed Glenlivet a bit of a handicap.  Being that I've historically preferred Glenfiddich's spirit, I gave Glenlivet the second spot in the Taste Off, thus giving it more time to develop in the glass.

Now, unlike the GF 18, the GL 18 weighs in at 43% ABV, in both the UK and the US.  And if you squint, you can see that my GL sample was at 43%.  Otherwise, like the 'Fiddich, it's also colored and filtered.  And, like with the 'Fiddich, my expectations were thusly set a little low.

And it surpassed them.

SECOND WHISKY ON THE BILL

Brand: The Glenlivet
Ownership: Chivas Brothers (Pernod Ricard)
Region: Speyside (Livet)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: 85% American (ex-bourbon) oak casks, 15% Spanish (ex-oloroso) oak casks
Age: minimum 18 years
Alcohol by Volume: 43%


TASTIN'

Round 1 - neat, in a covered glass for 35-40 minutes before sampling

The color is dark gold with ruby highlights.  The nose starts with sweet sherry and molasses.  Has some notes that are reminiscent of the 15yr (cocoa and pencil shavings) even though that bottling spent time in Limousin Oak.  Buttery American oak notes develop over time.  Then there's some nice creamy milk chocolate and toffee.  The palate proves to be quite different.  Very fruity in fact: mango, green grapes, and peaches.  There's some caramel sauce, and maybe a touch of berries.  It gets sweeter the longer it's in the glass.  It's still sweet through the finish, with that hint of berries, more peaches, and pencils.

Round 2 - with water (down to 35.8% ABV)

There's that musty cocoa-pencil note from the 15yr in the nose again.  Some subtle white fruit.  And something lovely, perhaps cognac-ish.  The palate leads with peach and citrus juice.  Some hints of sherry.  Quite sweet, almost like wheat whiskey.  And...well...Moss Man action figure.  Yep.  Moss Man's still there in the finish, though quietly.  The sherry, peach, and sugars are much louder.

The verdict?

My favorite Glenlivet yet.

Though I enjoyed the Glenfiddich 18's berry notes more than I can defend, the Glenlivet 18 was more complex.  It's curious stuff.  I wouldn't mind a second round of it to dig further.

A great price on this one.  Like the GF 18, it's not a powerhouse; it's anything but burly.  Quite polite.  More suitable for these damn hot summer days and nights than a meaty sherry bomb or a peat wallop.  If you like the GL 12, then I wouldn't doubt you'd like its older sister.  And she's legal.

Availability - Most liquor specialists
Pricing - $65-$75, great price for its age
Rating - 87

Monday, September 10, 2012

Single Malt Report: Taste Off, Part 1, Glenfiddich 18 year old

While conducting this Taste Off on Saturday night, two happy surprises unfolded:
  1. The UCLA Bruins upset #16 Nebraska at home!  WOOHOO!  Go Bruins.  I almost knocked over my whisky after the 4th quarter interception.
  2. I really enjoyed both of the Taste Off whiskies.  I had hoped that they'd be decent.  They were better than decent.
Unlike last week's Taste Off, I'm going to split this one up into a couple of posts.  Makes for easier reading (and writing?).  And I'm going to keep secret the second whisky until Part 2...

FIRST WHISKY ON THE BILL

Brand: Glenfiddich
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: American (ex-bourbon) and Spanish (ex-oloroso sherry) oak casks
Marriage(!): At least three months before bottling
Age: minimum 18 years
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

Let's start with the negatives.  Glenfiddich 18-year is chillfiltered, artificially colored, and watered down to 40% ABV.  For many anoraks, that's three strikes.  It's out.  Personally, I don't go that far, but it did considerably lower my expectations.

The low ABV mystifies me the most.  Really, they're releasing an 18-year-old whisky watered down to the minimum allowable %?  They do the same for their 21 year too!  Would it really hurt William Grant & Sons to raise the ABV up to 43%?  With a 7.5% rise in alcohol content, they could boost the price at least 10% and the complaints would be minimal since it would still be one of the cheapest 18s around.

[UPDATE: This gets interesting. Thanks to the comment string, I've discovered that most (or all?) of the US bottlings are now 43%, while the UK releases are still 40%. Online shops and reviewers list a mix of those %s. So, I'm thinking that this may be a new change for US releases. If anyone knows the full story about when this change took place, please let us know!]

ANYWAY, my history with Glenfiddich is mostly positive.  I like their regular 12yr & 15yr bottlings and I do adore their pricing.  Plus I like that the Grants still own the company after so many years.  Though a small business they are not, they are pipsqueaks next to The Diageo Machine.

I figured that the 18yr would be similar to the 12 and 15.  Figured it would be reasonably mellow and malty, okay enough to recommend it for the good price.  But my figures were short.  I liked this whisky quite a bit.



TASTIN'

Round 1 - neat, in the covered glass for 20-25 minutes before commencement

The color is gold with sienna highlights.  The nose, mmmm.  Raspberry sauce meets American Oak.  Plum wine, Dreyer's Wild Berry Fruit Bars (popsicles), and pipe tobacco.  I nosed the hell out of this.  Happily, the palate paralleled the nose: A lovely start of sherry and berries mixed with vanilla. A fresh berry tart. Cream soda and cherry-flavored candy.  The berry notes continue into the finish.  Strawberry and raspberry yogurts with black cherry soda and oranges.

Round 2 - with water (down to 35.3% ABV)

More oak sneaks into the nose, along with a little silly putty.  But it's still strong on the berries.  Raspberry jam.  Sherry.  Pipe tobacco.  Actually, it's raspberry shisha.  The palate starts with berries in cream.  Then sweet sherry, lilac, and lemon zest.  Sweeter now, very desserty.  The raspberries are still in the finish, along with the lilac and lemon zest.



A note about "fruitiness" in tasting notes:

Many whisky reviewers, including most of the best, often use the term "fruity" when describing some whiskys' noses and palates.  I know that "Fruity" takes up a good slice of the flavor wheel.  I know that it references the estery compounds in the spirit.

But when whisky writers use that term, I know what they mean, but I don't know what they mean.  Know what I mean?

I do my damnedest not to use the term "fruity" in my notes because I will wrestle (for waaaaaay too long) with my senses until I can determine what fruit I'm smelling or tasting.  Limes taste different than cherries, which taste different than apples, which taste different than mangoes, which taste different than bananas, which taste different than grapefruits, which taste different than limes.

What I'm saying is, I try very hard to be specific.  If I just can't figure out what that fruit is, then I'll say "fruity".  Sometimes I'll say, "sweet but not sugary" instead of "fruity", because...well...the whisky is sweet but not sugary.

Ultimately it's down to personal preference, so I don't begrudge anyone who uses "fruity" to describe their booze (especially since many of the best spirits writers use the term), but I'm obsessed with specifics so my preference is to grind down further.



Okay, back to Glenfiddich 18.  Searching other reviews......I'm apparently the only one getting hit in the face with berries.  BUT, most reviewers note the whisky's fruitiness (see above).  So we're sensing something in the same category.

I really enjoyed the raspberry shisha element in the nose.  One would almost expect this to be a pink whisky finished in some fruity wine cask.  Ultimately, it's a dessert trifle (the UK definition).  The low ABV keeps the pleasant experience brief.

And the low ABV seems to make the best parts of the whisky fizzle into nothingness after more than an hour.  Upon returning to the whisky later in the night, it had transformed into a mild sleepy boring malt.  I still wonder how much better this would be at 43%.  I'm not asking for 46% or 48%.  Just a couple more degrees of oomph.

[UPDATE: As per the update above, there appears to have been a recent change in the US release to 43%, though online the listings are mixed between the two ABVs. The UK bottling remains at 40%. The sample I purchased from Master of Malt was at 40%.]

I do not recommend this whisky to you Octomore-loving peatheads, unless perhaps you don't mind a Speyside softie once in a while.  But if you like quieter, mellower whisky then perhaps this wouldn't be bad for or with dessert.

As always, please try before you buy (even though the price is super).  Glenfiddich apparently makes the 18yr in "small batches" so the experience may differ from batch to batch.

Availability - Most liquor specialists
Pricing - $65-$75, great price for its age
Rating - 86

So what on earth could I have possibly tried alongside the Glenfiddich.......?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Big Transition

Because.
On Tuesday morning, I was an unemployed writer just trying my best to not let the days slip away.  I kept making sure I was doing some writing, going to the gym, searching for paid work, fighting a malaise that had been growing larger every day over a full year.

On Wednesday morning, I was a production accountant for a blossoming company, waking up at 5:30am, navigating a 12-hour work day, getting home to eat only two hours before I had to go back to sleep.

No longer could I cook dinner.  I had to wake up even earlier to water the plants.  I had to rearrange my workout schedule.  And, OOPS!, what about the blog???

The shift in energy has been very jarring.  During the week I missed my MacBook Pro, my writing desk, my Taste Offs, and my wife (not necessarily in that order).  I didn't miss all of the political 'news' and sports 'news'.  I didn't miss our crazy old neighbor who shouts at the top of her lungs when she talks, with her door open, her television roaring at full volume, all day.

I knew the work environment was going to be challenging, but I underestimated the degree.  I'd spent most of the past year by myself.  Now I'm surrounded by dozens of people non-stop.  And some of those people, apparently, have no interest in treating me like a human being.  Welcome back to The Industry!

I am uncomfortable with a lot of this.  But I am aware that most of my gripes are due to this abrupt lifestyle change.  Am I a little over my head in the job?  Yes, but I can do the work and I can do it well with a minimum of external obstruction.  Am I excited about the largest paycheck I've ever gotten?  Yes, but I know what I'm selling of myself is very valuable.  Could things have continued the way they were?  No.

For financial and emotional reasons, there needed to be a change.  Honestly, it's important for me to know my services are needed by employers.  And I have gotten what I'd asked for:  A very needy job.  Now it's time to provide.

How does the change effect this blog?  Well, in theory, I'll feel less guilty about buying whisky.  :D  I'm working out a blogging schedule for myself so that I can post with frequency and consistency.  Diving for Pearls gives me joy.  Meeting people through this site continues to be wonderful!  Many thanks to everyone who stops by to read some of my musings.  They are continuing.

I did promise a whisky report this weekend.  Well......I did a Taste Off last night that turned out to be a pleasant surprise.  I'm spending some time today writing it up.  You'll see more about it soon...

Friday, September 7, 2012

A bit of a delay this week, so some links for you!

Howdy great readers!  Diving for Pearls is going to be a little quiet until the weekend rolls around.  A curious curveball (more of a changeup, really) crossed the plate of my non-whisky offline life.  It's all good, though.  I promise a fun single malt report this weekend!

In the meantime there has been a 'splosion of great blog posts from around the sphere recently:

Chemistry of the Cocktail and The Coopered Tot both reviewed Canadian whiskys last week.

Chemistry also posted a great piece on the non-age statement whisky releases and their pricing.  We're looking at you, Macallan.

The Tot also had a great post about an old Suntory blend he'd found in his father-in-law's (impressive!) liquor pantry.

Turbo at the Edinburgh Whisky Blog slugged Diageo over their new Port Ellen pricing -- "Port Ellen - Are they taking the piss?" -- and I enjoyed every word.

David D wrote an outstanding article last week (or maybe two weeks ago) entitled "Too Many Channels (or the Return of Brand Loyalty)".  Ostensibly it's about TV, advertising, money, and whisky.  But it also focuses on what Kristen and I like to call "the burden of too many choices" and how consumers are reacting to that reality.

And finally, Sku at Recent Eats wrote the brilliant (not overstating it) Fast & High Makes Better BBQ.  I can't tell you what it's about, you just have to read it.  Maybe twice.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Reader Question: Glenfiddich 12 or Glenlivet 12?

In the midst of last night's usual bout with insomnia, I got to thinking about yesterday's post.  I had expended considerable hot air and HTML code about the two best-selling malts, but I didn't reach out to you all to find out what you thought.


So, Readers!  I know you're out there.  Google reports back to me your shoe size, mother's maiden name, and hamster's cholesterol count.  (Franklin Stewart of Tulsa, Oklahoma, you need to stop feeding  foie gras to Missy Pumpkin Cheeks, her LDLs are terrible.)

Which of these two, Glenfiddich 12 or Glenlivet 12, do you prefer?

I know some of you want to say "Neither", "Rum", "Death", or "Dalmore" (but I repeat myself, ZING!), but let's try to stick to GF12 and GL12.  You don't have to explain your answer, but it'd be a lot cooler if you did.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Single Malt Report: Glenlivet 12 versus Glenfiddich 12

LABOR DAY TASTE OFF!

After reporting on a pair of old $200+ whiskys last week, I thought it best to take a taste of two single malts priced for the workingperson.


Glenlivet and Glenfiddich (both Speysiders) have held the number 1 and 2 spots in the single malt market share for a couple of decades; almost 26% of the total market between them, as of 2010.  They also have the two largest capacities of the non-Roseisle malt whisky distilleries in Scotland.

Their prices also march in lockstep, often differing only 5% from each other.  The 12 years can often be found in the $25+ range, the 15 years at $40+, the 18 years at $65+, and the 21 years at $140+.  I'm not sure if that's collusion or coincidence, but either way 'livet and 'fiddich are two of the more affordable single malts on the shelf.

Of course, they're also at the minimum allowable ABV of 40% (any lower than that and they couldn't label themselves "Scotch whisky" as per the SWA).  And they're both chillfiltered and caramel colored in order to provide the most pleasing visual experience.

Pre-Taste Off Comments

I come to this Taste Off with biases.

I've never found Glenlivet 12 particularly interesting.  It has often seemed to me very polite with few discernable characteristics, almost like a quiet high-malt blend.  My opinion of it changed for the worse three New Years Eves ago when my brother and I went to a pair of pubs in Hollywood.  The 'livet 12 that was poured for me that night gradually went from bland to sour, then from sour to bitter.  I made a mental note not to buy a dram of it at a bar ever again (even though it's often the only single malt available at small bars out here).

I've reviewed Glenfiddich 12 before (here).  It's actually my most viewed Single Malt Report by a long shot.  That's partially due to Google Image searches, and partially due to the malt's popularity.  'Fiddich 12 has been my idea of a reliable cheap twelve-year malt that won't make a woman purr, but also won't draw out a pinched whisky face.  It also makes for a decent highball.

I will now attempt to set aside these inclinations and match 'em up, head to head...


TASTE OFF!

It's a head-to-head between two Single Malt heavyweights.

In one corner, wearing black & gold, owned by William Grant & Sons, stands
GLENFIDDICH 12YR


Brand: Glenfiddich
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: American (ex-bourbon) and Spanish (ex-sherry) oak casks
Age: minimum 12 years
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

NEAT
Color -- The darker of the two, more gold than amber, with some reddish highlights
Nose -- American oak much stronger than the Spanish oak, white fruit juice (think apple, green grape, and pear), brief hint of ammonia, rich cream, maple syrup, whipped cream
Palate -- Vanilla, citrus (orange and lemon), sugar cookies (sort of reminiscent of good single grain whisky)
Finish -- Brief to moderate length, very similar to the palate, but grows sweeter

(Previous tastings found some gin-like herbal/mineral notes, as well as some mocha.)

WITH WATER (approx 28% ABV)
Nose -- Malty and a little sour, the citrus shows up here now, pleasant but mostly characterless
Palate -- Maple syrup, citrus, the bitter ammonia note now shows up here?, vanilla and whipped cream
Finish -- Same length, vanilla, maple syrup, cream, a little drying

Comments
When served neat, the nose shows more angles than the palate.  Doesn't improve with water, so you might as well just turn it into a refreshing highball instead.

In the other corner, representing Chivas Brothers & Pernod Ricard, wearing the light beige label and a red cap, stands
THE GLENLIVET 12


Ownership: Chivas Brothers (Pernod Ricard)
Region: Speyside (Livet)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: American (ex-bourbon) oak casks
Age: minimum 12 years
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

NEAT
Color -- The lighter of the two, amber-gold.
Nose -- Light on the oak, a little salty/savory but inoffensive, apple flesh, molasses, hint of cheap cologne
Palate -- Vanilla, sugar cookies, black cherry soda, brown sugar
Finish -- Brief, the black cherry note mostly, a little vanilla, gains in sweetness

W/WATER (approx 28% ABV)
Nose -- Now fruitier (apples), but also more sour, laundry detergent, dried fruit?, some oak later on
Palate -- Water put it to sleep.  A little bit of the black cherry and granulated sugar.  Gets more bitter and sour with time.
Finish -- Drying and sweet, but otherwise quiet.

Comments:
It's interesting that the bitterness and sourness showed up only with the added water, and not when I had the whisky neat.  Interesting, but still unfortunate.  BUT this still gets a small step up from my earlier opinion of it.  It went from a low two-star to a mid two-star.  [Ed. note: it has actually dropped further in the year since.]  It's not bad, but I can't imagine ever jonsesing for The Glenlivet 12.

FINAL THOUGHTS AND RATINGS

The winner:  Glenfiddich 12

Another BUT.  As I just mentioned 'Livet 12 was a little better than I'd expected.  I'm also going to move 'Fiddich 12 a couple spots down the rankings list.  It's still a three-star malt -- in fact it's one of the models for the three-star rating -- but there are a couple close ones that have more character.

Ultimately, neither of these offend and their prices are considerably lower than the competition within their age bracket.  It's comforting to know that a single malt can be purchased for $25.  For now.

Glenfiddich 12yr
Availability - Everywhere!
Pricing - $24-$30
Rating - 82

The Glenlivet 12yr
Availability - Everywhere!
Pricing - $24-$30
Rating - 70