...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Single Malt Report: Glenmorangie 10 year old "The Original"

The Glenmorangie Taste Off starts at the beginning.  The Original.  The 10 year.

The 10 year old was likely the first, or one of the first, single malts that Glenmorangie released.  Charlie McLean mentions in his Scotch Whisky: A Liquid History and Whiskypedia books that Glenmorangie had very small single malt releases in the late 1970s and didn't even advertise them until 1981.  One of the Malt Maniacs has rated a cream-labeled bottle from some time near 1975, while several other MMs have sampled a bottle from 1982.  Both of these bottles were 10-years.  So perhaps, a 10-year release was "the original" bottling.

The packaging itself has changed, going from a classic flat-sided vessel and rustic inscription to a unique curvy bottle with a more expensive-looking modern label.


That's Louis Vuitton Moet-Hennessy at work.  In theory the whisky stays the same but everything else  changes around it.  And that's a damn sexy bottle.

But I really like the old two-color plain-printed label in a regular ol' booze container.  But I'm old timey like that.

Did the whisky change?  A lot of the great whisky writers have said so.  Until I get my hands on the old stuff, all I can go is by memory of the less-old whisky.  Some time around 2005-2006, during the final days before the aesthetic makeover, I polished off a bottle of the 10-year.  Next to its fancy-finished cousins, it struck me as a bit plain, something I wouldn't mind splashing onto ice during a hot summer but that was about it.  So I didn't go back for a second bottle.

Since some theories say that our bodies go through a full cellular regeneration every seven years or so, then, yes, I have changed.  And even if that theory is crap, my experiences have changed my thought process, values, and tastes during that time.  So let's drink it again.


Distillery: Glenmorangie
Ownership: Louis Vuitton Moet-Hennessy (accents and umlauts not included)
Age: minimum 10 years
Maturation: first- and second-fill ex-Bourbon American oak casks
Region: Highlands (Northern)
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

First, neatly --
Color-wise, it's where pale amber meets chardonnay.  My crummy phone pic to the left, almost does it justice.  The nose starts with cocoa for a split second then opens up into orange zest and tangerine oil.  Lots of it!  Then angel food cake and a touch of pine.  It grows more pungent with time.  The palate holds schooners full of vanilla.  Sweet lemon, tiramisu custard, golden raisins rolled in brown sugar.  It finishes with vanilla, vanilla, vanilla.  Then some pear juice, white frosting, and granulated sugar.

Yum.  That worked.

Then, with water (approx. 32.25% ABV) --
The nose shrinks a bit.  It's all Sunkist orange soda and vanilla extract.  The palate gets a little bready, a little vegetal.  But it's mostly malty and toffee sweet.  It finishes with a watered-down rum note, some nondescript citrus, and quite a bit of the toffee.

It mostly held together with the water, but the neat serving was where it's at.  I was genuinely shocked by how enjoyable it was.  It's a full step more enjoyable and noteworthy than most other beginner malts.

It's very light, so it would make for excellent spring and summer drinkin', even when neat.  I recently read that it can even be added to champagne to make a cocktail.  How one enjoys one's whisky is up to him or her, but, personally, if I mix anything with champagne, I end up pissing my pants and molesting the freezer before the night is over.  Or so I've been told.

So what I'm saying is, I found Glenmorangie 10yr to be a good value and an excellent Highland starter whisky.

 - Most liquor stores
Pricing - $27-$38
Rating - 87

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Glenmorangie Taste Off: An Introduction

The Nina, The Pinta, and The Santa Maria
(and a surprise malt)
To begin with...

This was the largest home Taste Off I have done (up to this point).  I normally do two or three whiskies per 'Off; this allows me to compare and contrast with sensory clarity.

Bringing a fourth whisky into a Taste Off required some rules.  Firstly, I would only be consuming 25mL of each of the three minis.  The good news, less booze blur.  The bad news, less to test, so my senses would be allowed little room for failure.  The good news, I'd have some left over to enjoy sans-analysis on another night.

So, 25mL of whiskies 1 through 3, and all of the 30mL (actually 28mL) of whisky #4.  I allowed two hours for the full experience.  I had a stack of John Lee Hooker records on hand for the soundtrack.

Glenmorangie and I

In my whisky youth, after the Glenlivets and Glenfiddichs and Macallans and blends, there was Glenmorangie.  The 10 year old and the earlier version of the Sherry Wood Finish to be specific.

It was the step before Oban and Talisker and anything peated.  I remember spending many lunch breaks standing in front of the Montgomery County Liquor store whisky shelves, ogling the Sherry, Port, Madeira, and Burgundy Finishes.  I always wanted to get the Burgundy one (the hardest one to find), but never had the courage to just get it.

I have plenty of fond memories of the Sherry Wood Finish and I am certain that its current iteration, the Lasanta, isn't the same whisky.  Either that, or memories have been candy coated.

The Distillery

I want to be within this picture. (pic source)
Originally the site, standing on a Morangie farm, was used as a brewery.  In 1843, William Matheson (also co-owner of Balblair and relative of the Dalmore founder) bought a pair of tall skinny former gin pot stills, as well as a distiller's license, and set out to make some spirits on the site.  By 1887, funding and support had grown to the point that a full rebuild was done on the distillery and the Glenmorangie Distillery Company Limited was founded.  The company was sold to Macdonald & Muir and Durham & Company in 1918; about 20 years later Macdonald & Muir (M&M) became 100% owners.  In the late '70s a Glenmorangie single malt hit the markets.  In the early '90s they began tinkering with wine cask finishes.  In 1996, Glenmorangie Public Limited Company was formed.  In 1997 Glenmorangie PLC bought the Ardbeg distillery.  Seven years later, Louis Vutton Moet-Hennessey (LVMH) purchased the entire company.

Upon this big acquisition, LVMH set out to transform Glenmorangie into more of a luxury brand.  In 2007, all of the old bottles with their rustic labeling were pulled from the shelves to be replaced new slender bottles, contemporary labels and packaging, and all new cosmopolitan sounding names.  Sherry Wood Finish because Lasanta.  Port Wood Finish became Quinta Ruban.  "Private Edition" limited releases began rolling out every year, and rare old bottlings started hitting the market.

Luckily for LVHM, they had two whisky geniuses creating the products: Bill Lumsden and Rachel Barrie.  A company can make the packaging lovely, but the product within needs to excel as well.  And many of them do.

As far as sales go, Glenmorangie has been the best (or one of the best) selling single malts in Scotland for the last 25 years, and were fifth in the world (as of 2010).  The strength of that revenue is due to their classic 10-year bottling (now called 'The Original').

The Original, nude of fancy finishes, shows off the light citric spirit created by the extra-long 17-foot stills.  I'll go out on a limb here and say that The Original sells well not because of lovely packaging, but because it's an easy-drinking whisky suitable for all climates and has consistently been priced well.

My Taste Off included The Original, along with Lasanta, Quinta Ruban, and one of their Private Editions.  I'll cover two this week, then two next week (ending with the mystery malt) and talk about some conclusions.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fail...er...Adventures in Home Blending, Part 3

They're baaaa-aaaaaack.

Actually, I couldn't bring myself to finish either of the minis, so I bottled an equal remained amount of each: 0.5oz and 0.5oz.

I called it:


As you can tell, I put about as much imagination into that name as The Speyside Distillery put into their own.

To counter any zingers about The Speyside I always mention the great indie bottler, Scott's Selection,  their company owns.  Their distributor has an AWESOME rep, Monique Huston, who is whisky brilliant and also awesome.  Much of The Speyside malt goes into their McGavin's blends, of which I recommend the peated Highland blend over the non-peated Speyside blend.

As for Speyburn?  I divulged all I know in last week's post.

So let's get back to this glamo(u)rous home vatted malt.  It was one ounce-worth in total, weighing in at 43% ABV.  It spent 11 days intermingling.  Let's see how it turned out.

October 25, 2012
Color -- Apple juice
Nose -- Vodka and farts. Then vodka farts (there's a subtle difference). Corn chips, ripe apples, nail polish remover, The Turps, barley grains.
Palate -- Not much going on; sweet cream, cheap cologne, some alcohol zip. There's a lightly floral moment. Not actual flowers though, more like bathroom spray (to cover up the vodka farts? No.).
Finish -- Moderate, sweeter, sugary breakfast cereal

Nose -- Brussels sprouts, burnt grass, rotten eggs
Palate -- Quiet, alcohol, floral bathroom spray remains, late sweetness, creamy, reminiscent of a mild blend.
Finish -- More floral bathroom spray, lightly sweet

Though perhaps not as bad as the notes read, this blend should not be repeated.

Now let us never speak of this again.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Fail...er...Adventures in Home Blending, Part 2

I am blessed.  I have a great home.  I have a brilliant lovely partner.  I can still be moved by art and poetry.  I am ambulatory and conscious.  My five senses still work when required.  My vital signs and general health metrics meet or better acceptable levels.  And I live in a time and place where (and when) I can type these words which appear instantly on a glowing screen, then click a "Publish" button which instantly releases them into a universe where people I've never met can find and read them at their leisure on their own glowing screens.

I complain a lot in my daily life, but that's mostly due to laziness.  It's easier to allow the many (mostly minute) inconveniences to direct one's focus away from the more profound gifts.  It's a considerable challenge to climb above the distractions to see the good clearly.

So, I'd like to say right now: I am so lucky.  So lucky to not have to choose between Duggan's Dew and Clan Macgregor as a nightcap.  Instead, an almost infinite number of decisions and opportunities have brought a number of enjoyable whiskies into reality, then into my whisky closet.

Most recently, bottles of Old Pulteney 12 and Kilchoman Machir Bay found their way here, both through unusual chance -- a friend wanted to sell one and a shop had mis-priced the other.  They were good bottles.  Were.  They are both now empty.  But not before I merged the two into...


3 parts Old Pulteney 12
1 part Kilchoman Machir Bay
16 days married in the dark.  An ABV of 43.75%.

I did my best to better obey the two blending rules that I listed yesterday.  Little goes a long way with peated whiskys and leave the blend some time to mingle.  I was actually going to give it a week, but other fine things kept me occupied.

Let's see what happened.

October 22, 2012
Color -- Medium amber
Nose -- Nice oak, vanilla & cookie dough, maybe some distant sherry, berries, notebook paper, mild peat, toffee, angel food cake, and butterscotch.
Palate -- The Kilchoman punched me in the mouth! Somehow feels even peatier this way. More vegetal than smoky.  Moss.  Some white fruits, like pears.
Finish -- More Kilchoman. Some more veggies. Vanilla. A little sour. Eventually some bitterness.

With time there were more baked goods on the nose, but also a considerable bitterness gained steam in the mouth.

Nose -- Maltier, less peat, almost a lightly peated Glenfiddich 12, ammonia
Palate -- Peat and Windex, more white fruity sweetness
Finish -- Bitter and sweet, a touch of peat, some sourness, getting very bitter

Shucks.  This thing can't swim, in water or oxygen.  All the promise of the nice nose and decent palate went angry and cruddy with time and water.

The sourness may be courtesy of a fruit-sour note often found in OP12.  The bitterness, I can't explain.  It's not there upon first pour.  Nor after 15 covered minutes.  But once air gets in, bitter compounds begin to bloom.  Adding water causes these fed-after-midnight gremlins to multiply, air and time does the rest.  It feels like dark shadow of sweet peat.

But let's get back to the positive things I've learned.  Kilchoman is a muscular kid, beating down the old Pulteney with ease.  The neat nose is great.  The experiment was fun and absolutely worth it.

We'll travel a different path with the next home blended malt...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fail...er...Adventures in Home Blending, Part 1

Unless that whisky in your hand is a from a single cask, bottled at its actual cask strength, you're drinking a blend.

Blended Whisky -- A mix of many barrels of malt whisky from different distilleries with many more barrels of grain whisky, watered down to 40%-43% ABV.

Blended Malt -- A medley of single malts from multiple distilleries, usually watered down to a 40%-46% range.

Single Malts -- A blend of hundreds, sometimes thousands of different casks of malt whisky from a single distillery, then often mixed with a portion of local water.

High-strength single malts, like Glenlivet and Glenfarclas 105 --  Blends of numerous casks, kept at a high ABV, and sometimes even watered down a bit obtain the profile desired by the producer.

Though the term "blend" has had a negative connotation (courtesy of cheap low-quality brown stuff) in the whisky world, blending is not a bad thing.  In fact it's an art.  It can be alchemy, mixing multiple whiskies with completely different characteristics in order to achieve a single statement.  It's adding 4 + 3 and somehow getting 8.  Sometimes the results are modern delights like Ardbeg Uigedail or Balvenie Tun 1401.  Sometimes the results are more perfunctory, with blends like Johnnie Walker Red Label and Dewars White Label.

From David Stewart to Rachel Barrie, the Master Blender can be a distillery's most valuable asset, aside from the amber liquid itself.  They're the ones who figure out the recipe, the flavor, nose, texture, finish, the entire experience.

It wasn't until I listened to an extensive interview with John Glaser of Compass Box (courtesy of David Driscoll of K&L Wines), that I ever considered tinkering with my own blends.  Glaser had been making small blends for friends for years while working for Johnnie Walker's corporate office before he made the leap to start his own whisky company.  The man has since mastered the magic of blended malts (Flaming Heart, Peat Monster, Oak Cross, Spice Tree) and his every new release is a cause for excitement.

I took Glaser's words as encouragement.  So I gave blending a try.

I am no John Glaser.

ROUND 1: The Benbeg Sauternes

I owned two bottles of which I had very separate opinions.
1.  The Ardbeg Ten -- loved it; would take a stinky bath in it if I could; plus I had some whisky to spare in a mostly full bottle.
2.  Benriach 16yr Sauternes Finish -- was down to the end of the bottle; did not love the stuff; can understand some of the appeal of the wine finish, but it was far from being appealing to my palate.

I wondered, "What would a young Ardbeg taste like with a French wine finish?"  So I mixed up a tiny batch.

First rule of blending: A little bit of peat goes a loooooooooooooooooong way.

I did not know this at the time.  Now I know.

I mixed five parts Ardbeg Ten with three parts Benriach 16yr Sauternes Finish.  In hindsight, I probably should have rethought that ratio.

The mix, the home vatted malt, was married for a mere 48 hours in a little glass bottle.

Second rule of blending: Let your blend marry. Allow the new couple some time to get to know each other.

48 hours was probably not enough.  But I don't think time would have rescued this relationship.  Here are my notes:

March 12, 2012
Color -- Sauvignon Blanc
Nose -- Sweet, meaty, hammy.  Honey and baked bananas.  Mellows with time, but there's lots of ham.
Palate -- Peat wins this round. Some band-aids. Butter. Boston creme. Drying yet sweet.
Finish -- Long peat smoke only, very drying

Nose -- Sauternes finish up front like a sickly sweet varnish
Palate -- Very creamy, brown sugar, Ardbeg peat, gets quite bitter
Finish -- Sweetens up, grainy, then more bitterness. A heavy NutraSweet aftertaste.

Actually, these notes are very polite.  For a more accurate measurement, here's the lone final comment from my notes:
"never again".

Neat, it was ham and peated Boston creme pie.
With water, peated bittersweet varnish that I couldn't scrub off my tongue.

Happily, I only used 50mL of whisky.  Unhappily, I drank the whole 50mL.  Later, I woke up in the middle of the night with the reek still on me.  Don't do this.  Don't repeat this blend.

Two questions then arose, what if I blended two malts I like?  And what if I blend two malts I don't?

Let's find out those answers this week.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Far away from the noise

6400 feet above sea level in the mountain forest of Idyllwild, Kristen and I have put a considerable distance between us and the troubles of the week. We are joined by our friends James and Jess, and maybe a beverage or two. The world is quiet up here.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Condo Makeover: Part 2

Having experienced a 16-hour work day on Wednesday that ended in considerable drama, I am pained to be unable to blog about my job.  Seriously, anything I say further would endanger my continued employment.

So let's get to some home makeover pics!

Part 2: The living room

Before: there was the bland sickly-flesh-colored paint, cruddy title by the fading fireplace, and a massive mirror surround the mantle.  And Billy bookcases!

Yes, this pic was not taken during Summer.
We ripped the mirror out of the wall, then patched up the mess with drywall mud.  Kristen repainted the reassembled mantle and then applied a couple of coats of black paint to the fireplace tile.

And we, together, painted the walls a sweet yet subtle peaceful blue-gray (Valspar's "Gravity").  But because we were both so hard at work (I'm a terrible painter) we have few pictures displaying the process.

Instead, here is what our guest bathroom looked like during the process.

My favorite bathroom ever:
View from the commode
I invented a cocktail in between:  The Anti-Gravity.  Explanation and video here.

The final result.

That's the living room.  Complete with all of Kristen's lovely decor touches.

It took a lot more work and time than the bedroom redo.  But the effort was worth it.  Our home is becoming ours, more and more.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Single Malt Report: The Least Epic Taste Off Ever?

Be honest.  You've seen them.  Confused them.  Interchanged them.  The Spey-somethings.  Sitting there on the shelf, looking idly tempting at $19.99, the Speyside 12 and Speyburn 10.

I think there was even a gift set with one of them along with two glasses for $20.  I almost bought it.  For the glasses?

Anyway, these guys get no love.  Yet they are from very much legitimate distilleries.  The Speyside distillery is almost outside of the familiar Speyside region, in the far southwest corner; while Speyburn is smack-dab in the middle of whisky central.

The Speyside Distillery is owned by The Speyside Distillers Company, who also owns the great little indie bottler Scott's Selection.  The former owners bought the distillery land in 1956, but the construction didn't finish until 1987, with the first spirit being run in 1990.  In the meantime, the old ownership, led by George Christie, ran a grain distillery (Strathmore/North of Scotland) for almost 25 years, until it was sold to DCL and closed soonafter.  The Speyside distillery sits right on the bank of the River Tromie, the source of the Spey (as per Charles McLean).  It has at varying times released an 8yr, 10yr, 12yr, 15yr, and the NAS Drumguish.  They also briefly released the widely sh*t-panned black whisky named Cu Dubh.  The bottling we see the most of in The States is this 12yr.

Speyburn Distillery is a bit older.  Built in 1896, they only closed briefly in the 1930s, but otherwise mostly produced malt for blends up until Inver House Distillers (now owned by Thai Beverage) bought the distillery in 2001.  It was actually one of the top six malts in the US for the first few years of the new millenium, but its sales have since dropped by almost 50% here (as per the Yearbook).  They have this 10yr bottling, as well as an (even cheaper!) NAS whisky called Bradan Orach.  Several years back they put out a 25-year Solera bottling that's been consistently well received.

On the personal side of things, I was very happy to find minis of these here and there around town.  $3.99 is a less risky investment than $19.99, according to my maths.  This wasn't going to be the most glamorous Taste Off, but it needed to be done.  And maybe, there was a gem to be found.  Maybe.


Distillery: Speyside
Ownership: Speyside Distillers Co.
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: refill ex-bourbon American oak
Region: Speyside (Glentromie)
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

Neat (only)
The color is a medium brass.  The nose is simple.  Malt, sugar cookies, vanilla, a tiny bit of barrel char. Almost a Canadian blend.  Acetone?  A little PVC plastic.  The palate is simpler.  Cocoa, fresh grass, light smoke, the other grass, and an odd cheap vodka (or grain spirit) note.  Its medium-length finish is all malt and grasses.


Distillery: Speyburn
Ownership: Inver House Distillers (Thai Beverage)
Age: minimum 10 years
Maturation: refill ex-bourbon American oak
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

Neat (only)
The color is a light brass.  The nose?  Per my notes, "Ew." Young whisky note reminiscent of Black & White or Hankey or Cutty blends.  Bright overripe tropical fruits, not the best oak, bananas and molasses.  Afrin nasal spray?  The palate is a little more approachable.  It's hot and spirity, but mildly smoky, like a very young Johnnie Walker Black Label.  Its simple sweetness grows with time.  The medium-length finish keeps the sweetness, though can be a bit drying.  And there's the unmistakable puff of Swisher Sweets.

Nose - Speyside 12
Palate/Finish - Speyburn 10

I was very surprised at how similar these two were to the blends at their price range.  And I don't mean that as a compliment.  Similar to blends like Hankey and Cutty, these two malts wavered between being nearly silent to begging for a drowning in mixers.  The Speyside 12 gets the slight nod overall since the Speyburn 10's nose was substantially short of pleasant.

On a random note, the Speyside 12's packaging was impressively shoddy.  The metal cap broke and fell apart upon opening, while the label was peeling off the bottle.  That may sound petty, but I've had many liquor minis -- a number of them at 99cents a pop -- and this was the crummiest construction of any of them.  Mini presentation is an odd way to fall short, but the whisky within the bottle wasn't much better.  It's too bad, because I really recommend their sister company Scott's Selection's bottlings.  But I do not recommend The Speyside 12 nor the Speyburn 10.

Speyside 12yr
Availability - Many liquor purveyors
Pricing - $23-$28
Rating - 68

Speyburn 10yr
Availability - Many liquor purveyors
Pricing - $17-$23 (cheap!)
Rating - 66

For a completely different take on Speyburn 10 please see this review.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Single Malt Report: Glengoyne 17 year old

The least peated Scotch single malt whisky?  Technically, all of the malt that gets dried via coal / hot air should have a 0 ppm count.  But the Glengoyne Distillery goes out of their way to highlight the fact that they never peat their whisky.  It's their way of saying, Our malt doesn't hide behind peat and smoke.

And as much of a peathead as I am, I have to say, Glengoyne makes a good whisky.

As I have whined about previously, it's been hot as hell in Southern California.  We had over seven consecutive weeks of 90 degree temperatures, several times cresting 100.  That's not good Ardbeg-drinking weather.  Seriously.  A lot of bourbon highballs and/or beer going on in this home.

I went out looking for a lighter malt for the summer.  I was happy to discover Old Pulteney 12, and Mr. Powers is always there when needed (rain or shine).  I'd been window shopping Glengoyne for over a year, then about two months ago the 17-year made an appearance at an OC Scotch Club event.  I enjoyed it.  I thought about it some more, then was able to get my hands on a little sample (Thank you, Bob!).

Some notes on Glengoyne:

The distillery sits on the border between the Highlands and the Lowlands.  The distillery building itself sits on the Highland side.  The warehouse sits on the Lowland side.  The whisky's light character could often be likened to a Lowland, but there's still some heft and burl lurking just underneath to remind one of the whiskys north of the border.

The distillery opened in 1833 as "Burnfoot".  The Lang Brothers purchased it in 1876 and changed the name to Glenguin, then to Glengoyne in 1905.  The Brothers' company held onto the distillery until the 1960s.  In 2003, Ian MacLeod Distillers purchased it from The Edrington Group and refurbished the entire whisky lineup.

It remains a small distillery; its capacity is approximately 1/10 that of Glenfiddich.  If I'm doing my math right (using figures from the Malt Whisky Yearbook 2012), they're keeping 20-25% of their malt for their single malt range.  Since they're owned by a well-regarded blend producer, it's likely that's where the majority of the malt remainder goes.  I did some online snooping of their historical whiskys and it looks like they rarely sell casks off to independent bottlers.

Their regular range had recently consisted of a 10yr, 12yr (non-US), 12yr cask strength (non-US), 17yr, and 21yr.  But even more recently, they've made some changes.  Aside from unveiling new packaging, they've taken the age statement off the cask strengther.  They've added a 15yr, and have swapped this 17yr for an 18.

Before this switcheroo, here's how the US range had been matured:
10 year - 80% ex-bourbon American oak, 20% ex-sherry European oak
17 year - 65% ex-bourbon American oak, 35% ex-sherry European oak
21 year - was 50% ex-sherry, then in 2007 was changed to 100% ex-sherry European oak

Okay, I've exhausted my tired brain of The Facts.  Let's get to The Truth.

Distillery: Glengoyne
Ownership: Ian MacLeod Distillers
Age: minimum 17 years
Maturation: at least 35% first and refill ex-sherry European oak, the rest is ex-bourbon American oak
Region: Highlands (South)
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

The color is a medium gold, or perhaps a brass with red tones eased in.  The nose.  Ah, the nose.  At first raisins, prunes, and mild vanilla.  Then buttered bread, brown sugar, and cinnamon.  Then cherry kirsch, pancakes and syrup, and bread pudding.  There's also a subtle french onion soup note of saltiness and beef broth that actually works as the bass guitar of this band.  The texture is very syrupy.  The palate starts out with ice cream profiteroles (the puff pastry, vanilla bean ice cream, and hot fudge all together).  Then some Werther's candies.  Maple syrup, caramel syrup, and then some light notes of stone fruits.  The finish is all old-school candyshop sweets: caramels, toffee, butterscotch, and rock candy.  The vanilla, maple syrup, and stone fruit notes remain as well.

Yeah, I didn't add water to this one.  I enjoyed it as it was too much.  In fact, I was afraid any water would break it, as the whole structure is so light.  It really is a good warmer weather whisky, probably best in Spring.

I'm giving this a high rating, mostly due the dynamite nose.  It needs some time, maybe up to 30 minutes, in the glass.  But it's worth the wait.  The finish is very good as well, showing off the miracles of malt + oak.  Since Glengoyne appears to be phasing this whisky out, I'll probably seek out a bottle before it's all gone.

Availability - Some liquor specialists
Pricing - $70-$80  (note: three LA-area stores carry this for fifty dollars. Yes 50, for a 17yr. I'm not revealing which stores, but they're not hard to find.)
Rating - 88

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Good things Thursday

The work week has been horrid up to this point and I can no longer enjoy a quick internet break since all media stories (sports, politics, culture, arts, etc.) have drowned in oceans of knee-jerk hyperbole.  The message is not instant.  We've all been forced, in the name of selling a story, to forget that so we're all missing the evolution of our collective lives.

But I've been thinking about the good things since I awoke this morning.

Strange swirls of cloud rolled in at daybreak.  They brought with them sunshowers.  For now the heat has been broken.  Thank you, skies.


Dear reader, if you have a Trader Joes nearby, you may want to consider trying their White Cheddar with Carmelized Onions.  Holy moley.  It is good on everything.  EVERYTHING.  I'm going to buy it again next week and try it with Sriracha.  Also, regarding Sriracha: This.


Jordan at Chemistry of the Cocktail has a great two-part piece on Non-Age-Statement whiskies that I recommend to all you anoraks.


Finally, for whisky geeks,  THIS.  David Driscoll of K&L Wines has restarted his excellent podcast.  This week, he interviewed Rachel Barrie, one of the great Master Blenders.  Her background may be science, but she speaks of whisky like an artist, full of metaphysics, memories, and emotions.  Because she helped bring Ardbeg Uigeadail and Corryvreckan in the world, she'd already won my whisky heart.  But I could listen to her talk all day and night.  For now, the podcast is the closest I'll get to that.  Just put it on repeat while sitting in traffic.....  Anyway, she recently moved over to Morrison-Bowmore where she'll be weaving miracles with Bowmore, Glen Garioch, and Auchentoshan.  Thank you to David and Rachel!


Alright, time to take on the day.  Deep breaths, y'all.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Single Malt Report: Ledaig 10 year old (new edition)

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Ledaig
Ownership: Burn Stewart Distillers
Age: minimum 10 years
Maturation: both ex-bourbon American oak and ex-sherry European oak
Region: Island (Mull)
Alcohol by Volume: 46.3%

Almost ten months ago, I had the rare pleasure of trying the no longer available Ledaig 15 year.  I LOVED IT!  It was unique, odd but wonderful.  With that official bottling off the shelves, I am left to get my Ledaig fix from the official older 10 year bottling (at 43%), the new 10 year bottling, a very young NAS release, and a bunch of independent versions.  Because Ledaig is such an odd bird, I wasn't yet ready to dive into an indie release, especially not one with a quirky finish (read: Murray McDavid).  Since the official 10 year is somewhat easily available in the States, I figured that was the direction to go.

Ledaig (pronounced Lay-chig) is the peated malt from Tobermory Distillery, the only distillery on the Isle of Mull.  Tobermory has modelled Ledaig after the original style of malt that they had produced for much of their existence.  The peat levels are not shy on Ledaig, but it doesn't taste like an Islay, nor a Talisker, or a Highland Park, nor any of the peated Highlanders.  It's its own beast, with characteristics ranging from barbecued fish, leather, vinegar, burnt citrus peels, tobacco, brine, to bacon.

So it's a weird malt.  If those characteristics don't sound good to you, then I guarantee they probably won't taste or smell good either.  But if you're intrigued, then maybe you should try a sip...

I know I loved the ol' 15yr.  Would the newest version (at 46.3% ABV, not chillfiltered) of the 10yr provide a similar fun ride?  Before going after a full bottle, I went for a 30mL Master of Malt sample.

The color is very light amber.  Somewhere between well-hydrated urine and pinot grigio.  Think on that.  No don't.  The nose starts with cheap plastic toys, then peat-infused vinegar.  There are some rubber bands, a light dose of American oak, a bit of vanilla.  The palate holds bitter peat, wet dog hair (I obviously eat wet dogs on a regular basis), a ball of moss, simple vanilla, and maybe(?) sherry.  It's young and spirity, yet easier on the tongue than the nose.  It finishes with burnt paper, peat smoke, and that bit o' sherry.  It stays youthful, hot and zippy and drying.

Not much changes on the nose.  More of the peat vinegar.  And whole bunch of vegetal peat/moss.  The plastic and rubber notes quiet down.  The burnt paper note jumps into the palate, followed by old charred firewood, vanilla, moss, and some sour peat smoke.  The finish shortens considerably.  Still drying, though.  All vanilla and peat smoke.

First off, many compliments to Burn Stewart for their 46.3% ABV & non-chillfiltered releases (especially the Bunnahabhain!).  I hope other companies follow suit.  Now if they were to let the malt snooze in a cask for five more years and release a 46.3% 15-year Ledaig, well......

The spirit shouts in this 10yr, while the oak whispers.  I don't mind plastic and rubber notes in my whiskies, so keep that in mind.  You many not feel the same.  The sour and vinegary notes were all right, but not crazy or unique enough to be of note, nor something I yearn to taste in a daily dram.  I would certainly drink this again, but I'm going to forgo the full bottle.  It was an enjoyable Ledaig experience, but afterwards it vanished from my memory rapidly (and, no, I did not booze up afterwards).  The old 15-year, though, remains in my memory ten months later.

(If anyone knows a source that will lead me to a bottle or sample of the old official Ledaig 15yr, please let me know.  I've found a couple places online selling it for $150 (incl. shipping), but that's a little steep to me.)

As for this new version of the 10-year:

Availability - Some liquor specialists
Pricing - $50-$55
Rating - 81

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Condo Makeover: Part 1

We have made over our condo this year.  And yes, I'm waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay behind on posting pictures of this.

Part 1:  The bedroom.

In March, we decided to take the bland pale yellowish color of our bedroom and turn it into something with more character, something sleepy, something of the cool dark unconscious...

To begin with:

Pulling everything back from the wall.

The edging begins...

Yes, my wife did ALL of the painting.

The results:

There are several more posts to follow over the next week or two, showing the other changes we've made around our home.  One thing that we've learned, wall paint is the least expensive makeover element.  Simply changing the color of the walls can make an enormous difference to the way one feels about a room.

Or one can rip mirrors out of the wall, break off tiles, stain cabinets, pull out sinks, and tear out counters.  But that's for another time...

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Single Malt Report: Kilchoman Machir Bay 2012

There can be power in youth.  And Kilchoman's got it.  All the other distilleries out there now bottling very young malts and selling them high can only dream of the product coming from the little farm on Islay.  I loved me some of that Summer 2010 release.  Wise Josh from The Coopered Tot went all Jimmy Stewart over the 2006 5-year bottling.  David D from K&L says their new make is best he's ever tasted.  And I think that's the key, the spirit itself is lovely from birth.

I've only tried two of their whiskies and now I desire trying them all.  The Summer 2010 was sampled at a pub.  This Machir Bay was sampled from my bartered 750mL bottle.  And 100 degree weather be damned, did the whisky in this bottle go quickly.

"Yum-a-dum-dum," to quote Dave Attell.  Machir Bay is a little softer and sweeter than the Summer 2010; maybe a little easier to get one's mind/palate around it.

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself.  Here's my snippet about the distillery from earlier:
Built in 2005, Kilchoman was the first new Islay distillery in 124 years. They began distilling in 2006, keeping the production small (about 5% the capacity of the average distillery, 1% of the size of Diageo's Roseisle distillery). 
What's really admirable about these folks (led by Anthony Wills) is that everything is done on site. The distillery is surrounded by a farm that grows 100 TONS of barley for their product. They do their own floor maltings by hand on site. Their barley malt distillate residue is fed to the cows on the land. And when the whisky is ready (no carmel color, no chillfiltering), it's bottled by hand right there on the premises. This is old-school, roots whisky production.
Now, they do have to get some off-site barley to keep up with the demand, but they do a tremendous job keeping the ingredients local.

This particular Kilchoman, Machir Bay, appears to be their effort towards releasing an annual non-vintage malt at a price under $60.  The current concoction is as follows:

  • 60% 3-year-old, matured in former Buffalo Trace barrels
  • 35% 4-year-old, matured in former Buffalo Trace barrels, then another two months in ex-Sherry casks
  • 5% 5-year-old, matured in former Buffalo Trace barrels

Let's have a taste, shall we?

Bottling: Machir Bay 2012
Age: see above
Maturation: see above
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

Its color is light amber, very similar to Laphroaig actually.  BIG oak meets BIG malt in the nose.  Brown sugar, pastries, liquory pudding, vanilla beans, tiramisu, and wet tree bark, all resting on a pillow of peat.  The palate starts with burnt wheat toast, peated sugar cookies, and mild cheese.  After a few minutes in the glass the whisky starts generating notes of moss, embers, a sweet cigar.  It's lip-smackingly desserty.  It finishes with a lengthy lovely burst of sweetness.  Dying embers of peat bricks.  Vanilla and brown sugar.

WITH WATER (approx 38.3% ABV)
Oak gets stronger in the nose.  Very buttery, lots of vanilla and barrel char.  Hints of chlorine.  Lighter peat.  On the other hand, the palate is all peated spirit.  Then there's cinnamon, molasses, and nutmeg.  The nutmeg lingers on into the finish.  It's joined by a cloud of peat smoke from a peat cigarette.

Did I mention I like this?

As far as Kilchoman releases go, the price is right.  A lot of their vintage bottlings (not to mention the single casks) have been considerably pricey.  I know that $55 isn't cheap whisky, but it's a hell of a lot better on the wallet than a $80 5-year old.

A final note, I've underplayed the peatiness of this whisky.  It's quite apparent.  Kristen could smell it from three feet away.  But it's not a medicinal peat; it's not a tarry peat; it's not a supernova (nor a Corryvreckan).  If you like Ardbeg 10 or Lagavulin 16, then this youngin' should hit the right spots.

Availability - Many liquor specialists
Pricing - $50-$60
Rating - 88

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Single Malt Report: Clynelish 14 year old

Stop the presses!  The thesis for this post is one that you have never heard before.  *Ahem*

Clynelish is good.



Also, water is wet.  And night follows day.

Maybe I'm the last one getting on the Clynelish train.

For those new to Clynelish, I recommend Serge Valentin's site about the history of the distillery and its late older brother Brora.

To sum it up, the distillery that is now named Brora (though used to be called Clynelish) existed first and released a peated Highland malt.  150 years after its opening, a new Clynelish distillery was built next door and produced a mostly non-peated malt.  They operated in unison for 14 to 16 years until the whisky crash of the '80s hit.  One distillery survived, the other did not.

Ultimately, Brora distillery is gone, but we have Clynelish.  Or rather, Diageo has Clynelish.  This lovely malt is well loved by blenders as it makes up a significant portion of the higher end Johnnie Walkers, as well as almost all of the Compass Box bottlings.

Diageo only added it to the Classic (and/or Hidden) Malt releases within the past ten years, and only puts out 8000 cases per year at that.  Even with that limited output (and a 46% ABV), Clynelish is still $10-$15 cheaper than Oban 14.

Distillery: Clynelish
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Northern Highlands
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: ex-bourbon American oak
Age: minimum 14 years
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

I had a glass of this whisky at The Bowery after a crummy work day.  I had it served up in a brandy snifter and I did my best to let it last 45 minutes.

The color is apple juice gold.  The nose starts with citrus rind, pleasant floral notes, and cereal-y malt.  Later, notes of coconut milk, dijon mustard, and booze-soaked chocolate cake take shape.  The palate is spicy and full of barley sugar.  There's some mild tropical fruit, a little bit of fresh cherry, then some vanilla around the edges.  A buttery oak note grows with time.  The finish is of a medium length.  It's spicy and sweet, with the vanilla and fresh cherry notes.

The nose gets much oakier.  There's a little bit of fresh apple juice.  But otherwise most of the other characteristics are silenced.  The palate is nice and silky.  Much more vanilla.  It's sweet, but not sugary, though the spice is gone.  The maltiness is still there and some alcohol heat sticks around.  It finishes malty with lots of vanilla, and dandelion flowers!

As the addition of water really brings out the oak, I prefer this single malt neat.  It hits all the right notes and becomes very very very drinkable.  Because the report was not conducted under optimum circumstances, I can't say if I enjoy it better than Oban 14.  But it is a good competitor.  There will need to be a Taste Off between these two someday soon.

Finally, I would like to encourage you to read Oliver's post on dramming.com entitled "Who Needs Brora And Port Ellen? We Have Clynelish And Caol Ila!".  The sentiment is quite lovely.  Though we've lost Brora, weep not; there are volumes of Clynelish available for us to enjoy every year.

Availability - Many liquor specialists
Pricing - $50-$60
Rating - 90