...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Three whisky events in four days: Part Two

(Part One here)

And then there was...


If you are on the western coast of the United States and Johnnie Mundell is holding a whisky event in your town, be there.  He is and has been a rep for Morrison Bowmore and Campari America.  Like Martin Daraz, he's a hardy Scotsman who can handle a room, weave a tale, educate the mind, and pour whisky all at the same time.  I've been to three of his Bowmore events, one Glenrothes event, and now this Glen Garioch + Bowmore event.  I'm such a fan of this guy that I'm going to stop gushing before this gets awkward.

Too late!

On this particular evening, Johnnie climbed on tables...

...read Burns's "John Barleycorn"...

...and poured the following:

Glen Garioch 1797 Founder's Reserve
Glen Garioch 12 year
Glen Garioch 1994 Vintage
Glen Garioch 1991 Vintage

Auchentoshan Three Wood

Bowmore Legend
Bowmore 12 year
Bowmore 15 year Darkest
Bowmore 18 year
Bowmore Dorus Mor

He had these paired side by side as such:
GG Founders Reserve and Bowmore Legend
GG 12 year and Bowmore 12 year
GG 1994 and Bowmore 18 year
Auchie Three Wood and Bowmore 15 year Darkest
GG 1991 and Bowmore Dorus Mor

I've reviewed a number of these already, in fact I think I've reported on most of the Bowmores multiple times.  The only Garioch that I'd reported on before was the 12 year and I still find it bloody fantastic (maple syrup, vanilla beans, and dried apricots this time).  I'll try to focus on stuff newer to me.

Bowmore Legend ($25, 40%) and Glen Garioch Founder's Reserve ($35, 48%) are both in the 8 year range and carry their youth well.  Legend is a lot better than I thought it would be: some light peat, light on the sweet, and very drinkable neat.  The Founder's carries more oomph, due to its ABV and no filtration.  It's bready and full of cereal notes, some white fruits on the nose and a touch savory in the palate.

Likely my second favorite of the night, the Glen Garioch 1994 ($120, 53.9%) has a gorgeous nose:  a massive hit of salted taffy and butterscotch.  The malty palate has a touch of peat and salt.  The Glen Garioch 1991 (54.7%) isn't available in the states (yet) but was the softest and most graceful of the bunch.  Also lightly peated, there was a similar butterscotch character as well as some citrus juice notes.

The Bowmore Dorus Mor was the biggie, for me.  The limited release Bowmore Tempest bottlings are my favorite official Bowmore bottlings.  They are 10-year-old cask-strength first-fill ex-bourbon-barrel bruisers.  A year ago, a California winery named "Tempest" threatened suit if Bowmore was to release another Tempest whisky in The States.  So Bowmore responded by changing the name of Tempest Batch 4 to "Dorus Mor" on the US bottles.  The Dorus release will be even smaller than the previous Tempests and it's the first by the great Rachel Barrie since she moved over to Morrison Bowmore.  It's going to be released here very soon and it's not going to be cheap.  But it's very good.  I will have an official report on Dorus within the next week or so.

Many many thanks to Johnnie for all these great things!

For part three, we head West...

Three whisky events in four days: Part One

Three whisk(e)y events in four nights.  Pasadena, Costa Mesa, Santa Monica.  What a man won't do for a dram.  I'm sure my innards are positively pickled, so I will attempt a three part recap as I recover...


I had an awesome Robert Burns Night.  I hope you did too!

Though among the thirsty crowd at Beckham Grill in Pasadena, I had to reign in my whisky sampling due to a long drive home at the end of the night.  But there was great food, including haggis:

It looked like a cross between a scarab, a turd, and a baby's head.  Naturally, it was delicious.  A little lamb, a spot of liver, and a few shakes of black pepper.  And there was great company including Martin Daraz, the Highland Park rep responsible for structuring the evening's whisky appreciation.

I had heard so much about Martin and I really enjoyed meeting the man.  He was very honest and candid about the HP malts.  And he IMPRESSIVELY handled a crowd that was sprinkled with non-member hecklers.  Let me emphasize that the interrupters were still relatively sober and though they may have fancied themselves comedians, they just embarrassed themselves in front of Il Maestro Daraz.  Don't heckle a heckler.

Okay enough with the crabbing, onto the booze lineup.  We started with Famous Grouse as an aperitif.  Then we moved to the HP 18 for the toast.  During dinner, I helped pour the 12 and 15.

For dessert there was this:

And this:

I sampled some HP Thor.  But the fun surprise bottle was the Highland Park Bicentenary.  While the whisky wasn't 200 years old, its lifespan was actually 1977-1998.

The Bicentenary was GREAT, though I only had a whisper of it since I had to head out into the rain to drive home carefully.  The Thor was decent, probably could have used some water.  The HP 25 and 30 were magnificent; if you can afford whisky at that price......you lucky ducks.

Full disclosure: this was my first HP18 experience.  While it didn't blow my tastebuds out of my head, I did enjoy its finish better than that of the fancier bottles.  The hubbub and noise and smells prevented me from really digging in.  So I have a full-on HP18 report scheduled for this year and I look forward to a controlled setting.

I'd read some grumbles about the 15-year, but I liked the slightly different character brought about by sherried American oak.  And as usual, the 12 was reliably excellent.

I can confirm to you all that all HP is now using all ex-sherry barrels, each bottling has a mix of first and second-fills.  The distillery grassy-fruited-light-peat character was remarkably consistent from bottle to bottle.  Probably even more consistent than Laphroaig had been during December's once-in-a-lifetime verticale.

Ultimately, this was a lot of sherried whisky in one night for me.  The sherry and the HP spirit merge much better than most (or all?) sherry "finishes" I've tried.  But I'd love to find an indie bottling that was aged in refill ex-bourbon.

This Burns Night made for an excellent whisky social experience.  Thank you Martin for the whisky and the education.  Y'all need to meet this gentleman when he comes to town.

In Part Two, I'll travel South (in both California and Scotland)...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

RECIPE: The Hot Honey B.T. (as in Bourbon Toddy or Buffalo Trace)

Yes, this is heresy.  I'm posting a BOURBON recipe on Robbie Burns Eve.

But I do enjoy this beverage.  It's a Hot Honey BT (Bourbon Toddy or Buffalo Trace or something sexual, whatever you prefer).  It's a variation on the Hot Whiskey I love so.

Its origin can be found in a passing comment Forrest Cokely (of Hi Time fame!) made when we were chatting about booze.  I mentioned I like to use Powers and brown sugar in my hot whiskey.  Forrest said that he's used honey when making a hot toddy with Scotch whisky.  That sounded like a good idea to me.  Later that week, I was sipping some Buffalo Trace Bourbon when I really caught its honey note.  The symbolic light bulb switched on.  It's not Scotch, but it is Buffalo Trace.  The night was cold (for Southern California)...  Perhaps I should apply honey to BT to hot water...

Yes, I know I'm not the first to do so.  But here it is.




Official Ingredients:

Glass or Large Mug (approx 12-16oz.)
__Boiled Water (at least 2 glasses worth)
__1/4 of a lemon (peel and all, seeds removed)
__4 whole cloves
__1 tablespoon of Honey
__2 oz. of Buffalo Trace Bourbon.

Official Instructions:

1. First, boil the water.
2. Second, pour some of the hot water into the mug or glass and swirl it around, carefully!  Spill it out.  You now have one hot mug.
3. Add the honey to the mug or glass, then add the whiskey on top.  Give it an extensive stir in order to make sure that the honey dissolves a little bit in the whiskey.
4. Stick the cloves into the lemon wedge.  The white pith is the best spot, but if you poke them into the fruit itself, I won't tell anyone
5. Slip the lemon slice into the mug or glass and into the whiskey and honey mixture.
6. Fill the mug with hot water.
7. Give it several stirs to make sure the honey has fully dissolved.  Then give it a minute or two to cool down.  This will let the flavors mingle.  Give it one more stir before indulging.
8. Sip slowly.

Some unofficial notes:

When I first made this, I accidentally (seriously, accidentally) poured 3 ounces of bourbon into the mug.  Holy moley.  I was half asleep before I finished the drink.  So, at your own discretion, you may up the booze.

I've been using Trader Joe's Mesquite Honey.  Works like a charm.  Also, a tablespoon of honey can be a bit on the sweet side for some palates.  I wouldn't use more than that, but anything less than 2 teaspoons may not even make a ripple in the tipple.

Please let me know if you have any variations you prefer!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Taste Off! Buffalo Trace Bourbon vs. Buffalo Trace Bourbon

As soon as Prohibition was repealed, the people needed their bourbon.  With their distilleries dormant for more than a decade, American liquor companies like Schenley Distillers often imported Canadian whisky while their own distillation restarted and the spirit aged.  Schenley Distillers set one of their distilleries aside to produce Ancient Age Bourbon.  Of course, Ancient Age wasn't actually any older than other bourbon on the market, but -- in a reborn market full of very young booze -- a little false advertising went a long way.

In 1812, long before it was known as Ancient Age, the distillery had been named OFC (Old Fashioned Copper) Distillery.  Then in 1909 it was named George T. Stagg Distillery after one of its most famous owners.

In 1992, The Sazerac Company purchased the distillery and renamed it Buffalo Trace, "In tribute to the mighty buffalo and the rugged, independent spirit of the pioneers who followed them westward."  The production has expanded greatly, cranking out many orders of well loved brands such as Blanton's, Eagle Rare, Sazerac Rye, Benchmark, Elmer T. Lee, Ancient Age (still beloved by some), the Antique Collection (including amongst others George T. Stagg, Thomas H. Handy Rye, and William Larue Weller), and Van Winkle.  They also have their fascinating Experimental and Single Oak lines.

But Buffalo Trace distillery also makes.....Buffalo Trace Straight Bourbon Whiskey.  Originally launched in limited release in 2001, Buffalo Trace Bourbon has since grown to be one of the company's main products.  It is one of the most reasonably priced whiskies they make and also one of the best.

Hell, I'll say this right now.  This is my favorite bourbon by a long shot.

And it shouldn't be my favorite.  While I love rye whiskey and I tolerate corn whisky, Buffalo Trace Bourbon is made from BT's low rye (8%) high corn (80+%) mash bill.  My only explanation: this is well made stuff.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I need to introduce Hi Time Wine Cellars into the mix.

Started in 1957, Hi Time is a family-run wine, beer, liquor, cigar, gourmet, everything-good shop in Costa Mesa.  The Hanson family has built themselves a great establishment with a respected reputation.  It is one of the largest (if not the largest) single point liquor retailers in the country and you will experience the grandeur once you walk the aisles   They have a great helpful staff there (especially Forrest or Trayce), if you ever have any questions or if you're totally overwhelmed by the selection.

A short time ago, the Hi Time staff selected a single barrel (number 56) of Buffalo Trace Bourbon.  The bottlings were sold exclusive through Hi Time at the awesome price of $19.99.  And now they're totally sold out.  Good news though, they're planning on doing another one with BT.

What I have on hand is the official Buffalo Trace Bourbon and the Hi Time Single Barrel Buffalo Trace Bourbon.  It's about time for a Taste Off.

Did I say "have on hand"? I meant "had on hand".
Distillery: Buffalo Trace
Ownership: The Sazerac Company
Type: Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Region: Frankfort, Kentucky
Age: minimum 2 years (other than that I don't know...)
Mashbill: BT low-rye: somewhere around 80% corn, 12% malted barley, 8% rye (this is estimated!)
Maturation: charred white oak barrels
Alcohol by Volume: 45%
Barrel Number: 56

The color is a dark copper, like an old penny that hasn't been scuffed.  The nose is full of sugary candy, bubblegum, and honey.  There's some cinnamon and black pepper from the rye.  A bit of notebook paper.  The smoky charred oak vanillins get bigger with time in the glass.  The palate has a strong note of old school Robotussin (think black cherry + anise + ???).  Folded in with a spoonful of honey is vanilla extract and corn syrup.  Yet, it's not cloyingly sweet.  The finish is a stinger.  Dr. Brown's black cherry soda, brown sugar and Karo corn syrup.  It gets sweeter with time in the glass but it stays hot and strong.  Like a certain blogger.

Damn fine.  Damn fine.  After several tries in bars, Buffalo Trace became my first ever 750mL bourbon purchase.  The fact that it was this single barrel was just a bonus.


DistilleryBuffalo Trace
Ownership: The Sazerac Company
Type: Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Region: Frankfort, Kentucky
Age: minimum 2 years (other than that I don't know...)
Mashbill: BT low-rye: somewhere around 80% corn, 12% malted barley, 8% rye (this is estimated!)
Maturation: charred white oak barrels
Alcohol by Volume: 45%

It has the same dark copper color as the single barrel.  There's a great nose at hand.  Black cherry syrup, confectioner's sugar, tropical fruit, corn bread, corn syrup, and bubblegum (think Big League Chew).  With some time there's clementines, molasses, and some leather.  The honeyed palate is softer and drier than the single barrel, but it's also very moreish.  Floral chewing gum, vanilla, simple syrup, and a solid hit of rye.  The black cherry from the nose comes back in the finish followed by some sticky mesquite honey.  It's a sweet conclusion, but more of buzz than a sting.

So, which was better?  Well, it depends on what one values most.  Their palates were mostly equal.  The official bottle had a deeper, more varied nose, while the Hi Time bottle had the bigger bolder finish.  For me, between these two, there isn't a clear cut winner.  Instead, we're all winners to have this opportunity to get excellent whiskey for $20.

Each element works so well.  Despite the low content, the rye is definitely in there, like a seasoning or bitters in a cocktail.  Meanwhile the corn whisky creates a honey-like blanket over the whole thing.  Really, I'm just plum stumped.  Never a corn fan, I may have to reconsider some of the low-rye bourbons out there.

In the meantime, THIS is my house bourbon.  I've got a bottle in case you're stopping by.

Availability - Many liquor purveyors
Pricing - $20-$25, a crazy value!
Rating - 89

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Single Malt Ramblings, January 2013 edition

We have returned home.  The termites are (allegedly) dead.  Other than in our souls, the humans remain unpoisoned.  The Reports shall resume, thank goodness.

Robert Burns Night is this Friday.  Don't forget to celebrate appropriately.  Preferably with others.  Score some haggis if you can.

I highly recommend this Johnnie Walker Black Label post by Jordan at Chemistry of the Cocktail.  I've been tasting different things in different bottles of JWBL and I thought it was my imagination.  But I've been getting more and more confirmation.  Most recently, I've been noticing more sherry and less smoke (and almost no peat).  Further testing is planned...

Speaking of more sherry:

The Great Ralf posted this great video on Sherry and Whisky last week.

I've become increasingly sherry-sensitive with my whiskys recently.  And not in a good way.  One method to remedy this, or at least further educate myself, is to explore sherries a bit.  My hope is that will allow me to sort through my issues with ex-sherry whisky finishes/maturation/ACE'ing/etc.  And perhaps I'll be able to dig further into my "sherry" descriptors.

At the very least, it'll be booze.

I've finally updated my Dram Quest list (on the upper right side of the page).  I've laid down a bit of a gauntlet for myself this time.  The UK shipping issue makes this even more difficult.  But what's whisky life without a few challenges?

I'll see you around in a few days.  There's some bourbon on the horizon...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

These are termite times

Three days without buying a bottle of whisky...  :)

In case clarity was needed after my last post, I'm not discontinuing my whisky drinking and writing.  It's the too-enthused pursuit of more bottles that I'm halting and pondering.  But for this week, I will have to put The Report on hold because...

At this very moment our entire condo building is covered by a big tent, gusts of poison swooping through every drawer, door, and cabinet.  The HOA has committed to killing the termites dead.

Kristen and I are living out of our suitcases for a few days.  A generous friend has let us stay at his place.  He likes Lagavulin 16, so I bought him a couple of thank you gifts.  I hope he likes them!  I know I would.  8^)

My open liquor bottles are sealed in special airtight bags.  We packed up our valuables (including some whisky), filled our cars, and took our goodies with us.  The company says the scentless tasteless poison will be carried out of our home entirely and will not leave any residue.  That doesn't comfort me one iota.  The weather looks great this weekend so we'll open the windows wide upon our return.  We'll scrub down every counter and wash every last dish when we get back.  

I'm having a moment wherein I'd love to share more about these strange days, but quite a number of people I know offline are well aware that I write this blog.  Many of them stop by.  It's difficult to know what to share here as I don't want to jeopardize my livelihood.

All I can say is, change is due.  It has to be.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Time to Pause

With the recent ban on high-alcohol shipments to North America from the United Kingdom via non-freight airplanes, American whisky buyers have been left with a bit of a quandary.  Or a challenge.

We have many great Scotch whiskies here in The States, though the great majority of them are official bottlings.  The wider, varied, more colorful whisky world lay beyond, in the multitude of independent releases, most of which await our dollars in Europe.  But even their variety of official bottlings seem to be two- or threefold that of the selection here.  On top of all that, their pricing on many whiskies can be much better even when taking into account the price of shipping from the UK to the US.

That very shipping is now gone.  When it does come back, those freight prices will not be amusing.  But for now, it's quiet, aside from The Whisky Exchange.  Their US shipping rates, never the lowest to begin with, have gone up nearly 50%.  Why the Civil Aviation Authority thinks a few bottles of Ardmore is a safety risk, while their planes carry thousands of gallons of jet fuel every day, is a curiosity.  And how almost every UK online shop was caught without shipping options mystifies me.

But why doesn't concern me much right now.  The issue is present and we should think about it while it is.

Because, as Jean Renoir once said, everyone has his reasons, I will dispense with the "we" and talk about the "I".

Frankly, I'm uncomfortable with the state of the whisky market.  And I've been making many of my purchases based on that unease.

I've witnessed prices launch like a slew of bottle rockets.  Highland Park 18 was $80 in late 2011, then $100 in early 2012.  Yamazaki 18 went from $90 to $100 to $130.  Laphroaig 10 went from $33 to $40 at Trader Joe's in less than a year.  Glenfiddich 15 has done the same over the same period of time.  The Willett ryes went from $35 to $40 (a 14% jump, four times inflation, without anyone blinking) last year; I thought it was due to the ages going from 5 to 6 years, but now even the 4 year is at the higher price.

When I see one of my favorite malts holding its price for a long period of time, I start to anticipate that the price is going to go up 20-30% at any moment.  So I buy a bottle.  I see a sale that brings an overpriced bottle almost back to its previous year's price.  I buy a bottle.  I find the one liquor store that hasn't raised the price on a prized whisky.  I buy a bottle.

Then there are the whiskies that are disappearing.  Johnnie Walker Green and Gold Labels.  The Macallan Fine Oaks.  Longrow CV.  Talisker 18 (it's dead to me).  The old-style Glen Gariochs.  Wild Turkey Rye 101.  Bowmore Tempest.  I want to catch a bottle before it's gone.

And like the pricing issue, it has caused me to purchase out of fear.

Since I started my job four months ago, I have bought a lot of booze.  I love my whisky stash, probably a bit too much.  There are a lot more bottles than there used to be.  Sometimes, when I have the rare moment of clarity, I ask myself, "Am I anticipating the end of the world?  Because seriously, at maybe five drams a week, how long will it take me to drink this?"

It isn't just fear that drives me.  It's desire.  There are old whiskies, new whiskies, odd whiskies, rare whiskies, popular whiskies, famous whiskies, infamous whiskies, unknown whiskies, Irish whiskies, Japanese whiskies, Dutch whiskies, Indian whiskies, Welch whiskies, Oregonian whiskies, fancy finished whiskies, third refill whiskies, organic whiskies, cask strength whiskies, blended malt whiskies, East Highland whiskies, unchillfiltered whiskies, brash whiskies, soft whiskies, autumn whiskies, winter whiskies, spring whiskies, summer whiskies, experimental whiskies, and there are your whiskies that I can't have.

It's gorgeous and terrifying like any drug lust.  There really is no end, only mortality and credit card limits spell the boundaries.

Last year at this time, I posted this bit on my personal history of collection habits.  The paragraph near the end, on whiskies, is of particular interest as I look back.

Simply, I love collecting and I LOVE finding a bargain.  And I love whisky.  So I consume.  Not drinking so much, but absorbing massive amounts of information then purchasing and purchasing and purchasing.  If my life was full of spiritual joy, would I still be doing this?  Probably not.  In that pretend life, I would probably zero in on a whisky that pleased me unconditionally and keep that bottle on hand until it ran out.  That's what I used to do.  But not anymore.  In fact, I'm having an awfully difficult time stopping.

One of my most intense habits is scouring the many European stores, assembling the dream shopping cart gradually over a number of months, then pulling the trigger.

But now I can't.  So this is a good time for me to halt and gauge my next step.  I really love whisky, every part of it.  But perhaps the value of those 750mL bottles has gotten out of control.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Single Malt Report: Talisker 18 year old

If you're a whisky fan and haven't discovered The Davids yet, I urge you to check out their Spirits Journal blog as well as the shop(s), K&L Wines, for which they purchase spirits.  David Driscoll tends to have the more...say...vocal online presence issuing bold, educational, entertaining, and involving posts about the state of the spirits industry.  Whether or not one agrees with him, his writings are always engaging must-reads.  David Othenin-Girard ("The DOG" for the sake of a terrible metaphor in the next paragraph) is brilliant yet much more reserved when he writes.  There's a composed wisdom to each piece he submits.

Well, someone just cut The DOG's chain.  That someone is Diageo.  I encourage you to pause your reading of Diving for Pearls and read the missive missile he launched on Wednesday.  His post's title is not hyperbole.

Just come on back when you're done reading it.  'Kay?





Now, after reading David's post I originally wrote this very piece on Thursday morning in full frustration mode, but decided to hold off posting it.  I had hoped that there was some pricing misunderstanding or maybe some bad information communicated to the K&L guys.  I even went to the Hollywood store to say hi to David, thank him for the rockin' post, and confirm the news.  Well, now I can post this.

The Talisker 18yr is one of my top Ten all-time favorite single malts and ironically I had its report scheduled for this week.  I bought my bottle from the UK after my birthday in August 2011 for about $90.  Just as it arrived, I saw that K&L was selling the same bottle (actually 50mL bigger) for $80.  "Crap," I said.  I do love hunting down a bargain and here I was buying my bottle for $10 more.

Well, now its price has almost DOUBLED in two years.

Just for a moment, let's take a look at other 18 year old singles that sell for $150+ and do a quick comparison.
Macallan 18 year -- As David mentioned, like Johnnie Walker Blue Label the Mac 18 has become an iconic luxury status symbol.  It's the $150-200 malt to be seen with.  It isn't necessarily better than its younger siblings, but that purple box is familiar, expensive, and widely available.  Talisker 18 does not carry that luxury status, nor is it familiar outside of whisky geek circles.
Dalmore 18 year -- Seriously, any company that uses Dalmore's pricing structure as a model is delusional.
Springbank 18 year -- Springbank's production is conducted entirely by hand (via hiring local folks) in a distillery with 1/4th the output of Diageo's Isle of Skye computer-run Talisker.  When you drink Springbank 18 you are drinking a much more expensively produced dram than any other of its age.  And scarcity?  Springbank has a very limited malt run; reported shortages of Talisker 18 are either due to mismanagement, a sudden unknown Talisker 18 purchase boom, or a marketing ploy.

As of this moment, those are the only 18 year olds at the $150+ range.  Well, now apparently we can add Talisker 18 to it.

Diageo is making my upcoming boycott easier and easier.  They've dumped vats of industrial colorant into Oban 14, they've priced their special releases into one-percenter territory, and they're killing both JW Green and Gold Labels.  And I'm not even getting into Kilmarnock, the rigging of a beer competition, the insulting PR (I thought you weren't in the business of selling single malts), and the dead distilleries.

I've detailed this rant numerous times, so I won't repeat it.  Ultimately, my money will not support a company that has such open distain for its customers and products.

The saddest part to me, is that Talisker 18 year old is a lovely whisky and I won't be able to afford it anymore.  But there's a little left in the bottle, so let's talk about it.

Distillery: Talisker
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Isle of Skye
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: Primarily refill ex-bourbon casks with a tiny bit of European oak ex-sherry casks mixed in
Age: minimum 18 years
Bottled: August 2010
Alcohol by Volume: 45.8%

Talisker Distillery was founded in 1830 by the MacAskill family.  After it came under bank control, the distillery ownership changed hands a number of times.  One of the owners, John Anderson went to jail in 1879 for selling product that didn't actually exist.  Another owner, Roderick Kemp sold his shares in order to buy Macallan in 1892.  In 1916, Talisker was taken over by a consortium which included amongst its members: Johnnie Walker, John Dewar, and DLC (proto-Diageo).  The distillery is now entirely owned by, yes, Diageo.

A few interesting factoids courtesy of the Malt Whisky Yearbook:
-- Talisker practiced triple distillation until 1928.
-- They used their own maltings until 1972.
-- This 18yr was first released in 2004.

Talisker's malt is known for its bracing peppery kick as well as a generous suggestion of peat.  It's also almost impossible to find an independent bottling of it since Diageo rarely sells the malt to anyone other than the Isle of Skye blends.  Indie companies have bottled casks of Talisker using subtle names like Tactical, Tallstill, and Talimburg.

I'm planning on posting a couple more Talisker reports this year.  This is great malt and I'd love to try it in all its many glories!

But first, my bottle of Talisker 18.  It sat patiently in my possession for 15 months, then I happily shared its opening with good friends.


The color is a rosy gold.  It's not just e150a, rather they snuck some sherry casks into this.  American oak leads the nose, but is far from alone.  Orange peel is encircled by mild vanilla, milk chocolate, and cherry lollipops.  A floral note is followed by mango and a slight peaty band-aid note.  And...sherry.  Definitely sherry.  The palate though very quaffable, roars with white and cayenne pepper.  A little salt, some vanilla, burnt wood, and unsweetened cocoa follows.  A bit of peat and a savory note arises after some time in the glass.  It's all hot peppery malt in the finish.  There's also some of those great orange and mango notes from the nose.  It's lightly sweet and salted but mostly delicious pepper.

The nose changes gears here.  There's still some orange peel, but there's also fruit punch, peat ashes, pencil shavings, leather, dates, and vanilla simple syrup.  Now the palate gets more of a cracked black pepper note.  It's followed by vanilla bean, granulated sugar, tapioca, butterscotch, and bitter citrus.  The finish is now full of peated vanilla ice cream, molasses, butterscotch, and late harvest sauvignon blanc.


No, this is not happening.  Diageo couldn't possibly screw up their pricing like this.


Well, maybe, maybe, I can sell my blood platelets for $150 so I can buy a bottle of Talisker 18!

*Sob*  This whisky is so f***ing good.

Actually, you know what?  I scored a great deal on Talisker 18 back in 2011 and enjoyed the whisky while I had it.  The whisky world is wide and there are so many gorgeous malts, created by non-Diageo distilleries and bottled by dozens of unique companies whose success depends on releasing excellent products at accessible prices.  There will be new loves.

Sorry, I just had to go through my five stages of grief.  I may seek out another bottle if I can find it at $90 somewhere or I may not.  It is what it is:  A tremendous whisky.

Availability - It's around.  Good luck.
Pricing - at $80-$90 there aren't many better whiskies in this price range nor age class; at $150, you should just buy 3 bottles of the 10 year instead
Rating - 95

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Single Malt Report: Old Pulteney 17 year old

Oh, how I missed you all.  The work day is unkind, to put it mildly.  To further my New Year's intent to explore the good stuff, today's post is about some good stuff.

I love Old Pulteney 17yr.  But you know what I love more than the Old Pulteney 17yr?

PEOPLE!  Buy this.
Because if you don't I will.  I will buy all every last twin pack and my wife will be sad.

Seriously, if you find it at $40, you must consider the screaming deal at hand.

This OP twin killing is how I had the opportunity try both of these malts.  The OP12 is a great step up from 'Fiddich and 'Livet.  It has some curious sour and briny notes that I really enjoy.  The 17 year is an entirely different creature.

Distillery: Pulteney
Ownership: Inver House
Region: Northern Highlands (Wick)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: Primarily 2nd-fill ex-bourbon American oak casks, along with former Pedro Ximenez and oloroso sherry Spanish oak casks 
Age: minimum 17 years
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

The color is a bright light gold.  The welcoming nose flexes both the malt and oak.  Mostly American white oak, but also a tiny bit of the ex-sherry oak.  The fruits are more fresh than dried.  There's a lot of honey butter and coconut cream.  A little seaside too, along with some orange and lemon zests.  The palate moves from milk chocolate to dark chocolate.  Lemon, flower blossoms, caramel sauce, and confectioner's sugar.  It's creamy with a brief peppery zing.  I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a lively bold sour citrus note too.  It finishes with toffee and sugar first.  Then a little salt sneaks in along with a mossy moment.  As it gradually fades away, a trail of mint remains.

The nose gets younger and spirity.  Lots of vanilla and malt.  Apples.  A little citrus, strawberries, and bubblegum.  Caramel sauce leads in the palate, then some cereal grains and sweet fruit juice.  Both grassy and floral.  A pleasant sourness remains.  A little sherry in the finish.  Some milk chocolate and toffee too.  Salts & sweets & sours.

It took a while for the hydrated version to grow on me, but (as usual) I prefer this one neat.

My notes say, "What if there was a Glenfiddich 105?"  Maybe the OP17 inspired that thought.  I really don't know what I was referring to, but I thought I'd just share that.

Back to the OP17.  As Jordan from Chemistry of the Cocktail noted, this one's pretty light for a 46% ABV.  According to Serge's reviews this whisky keeps changing character over the years.  He may be onto something, as everyone who's reviewed it online seems to find his or her own unique notes within the glass.  Perhaps this is due to different proportions of the sherried-vs-American oak; a little more PX one year, more bourbon in another.  There wasn't a lot of sherry oak in this batch, unless it was from 2nd or 3rd fill casks.  Also, according to Dominic Roskrow's 1001 Whiskies, while Old Pulteney 12 year's American oak casks are first-refill, the 17 year's are 2nd refill.

I do enjoy the whiskys that test the permutations of blending American and European oak matured malt.  Big ups/props/credit to the distilleries that bottle their whisky (especially those on the pricier end of the range) at 46%, too.

I cannot guarantee that you'll like OP17 as much as I.  So rather than shelling out $80+ for a bottle, you may want to keep an eye out for that Twin Pack.  If I haven't scooped them all up first...

Availability - Many liquor specialists
Pricing - for the 750mL bottle - at $70  :) , but at $100  :(
Rating - 90

Sunday, January 6, 2013

2012 and 2013, My whisky year that was and is

2012 was a damned good year in whisky exploration.  Though as the year wore on, I became busier and busier.  Drinking less and less.  As a result of decreased consumption, my sample (and bottle) collection grew.  Woo hoo!

Life doesn't change abruptly when the calendar year increases.  The seeds of one's joys and troubles in one year were planted earlier.  2012 is 2013 and 2013 is 2012.  Some things I hope will continue.  Some things I hope will end.

The Splendid

I attended some tremendous, expansive tastings last year.  From the educational whisk(e)y voyage at the Freakin' Frog in February, to Peatin' Meetin' in July, to the Laphroaig Vertical in December, to around a dozen official or unofficial group tastings, my whisky horizons have expanded exponentially.

Plus I've had a chance to talk to some of you all.  Before this year, much of my whisky education happened alone.  That was fun, but it cannot compare to how important and lovely it has been to share and discuss with other whisky nuts.  It feels like a little community and we've been doing great work expanding the social whisky universe.  Thank you all!

There have been a number of whiskies I've tried but haven't reviewed, largely because I was just enjoying the stuff and not analyzing it further.  Some examples:

Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 6 -- This one left me speechless twice.  All I kept doing was mumbling to strangers, "The nose on this. The nose on this."  Yeah.  The nose on this.  A lot of folks in the know have been saying Batch 3 is the best.  But as Batch 6 has fewer sherry casks and more bourbon casks, I would be happy to go with a bottle of this first.  The nose on this.
Laphroaig 21yr Cask Strength -- From that grandiose Laphroaig vertical, this limited edition official casker from Laphroaig was by leaps and bounds better than most already-great Laphroaigs.  It was somehow both silky and powerful.  I kept thinking "peated-cognac" but, again, I get silly when enthralled.
Abraham Bowman Pioneer Spirit Virginia Rye -- Big, bold, and beautiful, this is likely the best American whiskey I've yet tried.  I believe (and someone please correct me if I'm wrong) this is a 10 year old triple-distilled rye made from the Thomas H. Handy recipe/mash.  Sour Mash and SKU have reviewed it.  I look forward to the next batch!
Ardmore 19yr 1992 (Whisky Doris) -- A surprising favorite from the Peatin' Meetin'.  And it wasn't just me.  Two bottles were on hand at the start; they were empty long before the Meetin' was over.  I may or may not have had something to do with that.  This was a whisky that left me with such a vivid sense memory that it haunted me as I desperately tried to track down a bottle of my own...

There will be an official review of some of these this year.  :-)

Then there were my favorite new discoveries that were reported:

The Ardbegs Uigeadail and Corryvreckan - I've already spoken volumes about these shadowy siblings, these marvels of modern whisky creation.  So, I'll keep this short.  These are awesome.  I've tried a couple Octomores and Port Charlottes; I've tried the Supernova; I've had a couple cask strength Lagavulins.  They may all pack massive cask strength peat punches, but none of them have the complexity (oh that word) or provide such a joyous drinking experience as Oog and Corry.

The Willet Ryes -- My first barrel-strength rye and still my favorite by some distance.  Having now tried the three, four, five, and six year olds (yeah, I'm kinda sold on it), I'm trying to sort through which I like best.  Part of me likes the three year best since the spirit is enormous.  The oak is great but beginning to get a bit large on the six year.  Perhaps the four and five are the best of both worlds?  Further research is currently being conducted.

Yamazaki 18yr -- Remarkably gorgeous whisky #1.  Silky, rich, luxurious.  One of the few whiskys I'd be happy to pay $100+ for.  Though it's been absent from the major LA stores since August, I heard fourth-hand that it may make a return in a couple months.  I sincerely hope that's true.

Glen Spey 21yr 1989 -- Remarkably gorgeous whisky #2.  I was/am quite in love with this one.  All sorts of lovely fruit, rye, custard and cake batter, and floral notes.  It ain't cheap, but there are one or two good deals to be found on the webs.

And then the old favorite, Macallan 17yr Fine Oak.  Likely soon to vanish once Macallan brings their NAS bottlings to The States, this is one reliable whisky that I treasure.  I will buy one more bottle before it's gone.

Then there's...

The Not-So-Splendid

I drank some sh***y whisky this year too.  I had hoped that I could find some surprising delicious bargains.  Though I tried and tried and tried, it was mostly not to be.  In fact there were a number of crummy drams that I couldn't even review.

This came to a head during last month's JW Red Label / Dewars White Label tasting.  Something was left scarred after the experience.  I have since found a number of cheapie whisky minis that I would have previously scooped up and reviewed.  But instead, now, each time I see a 99 cent plastic mini of whisk(e)y, I feel an awful weight pulling down inside of me, physically turning me away, reminding me to seek out good whisky or drink nothing at all.  So in 2013, there will be fewer reviews of the swampy dregs sitting within plastic bottles.

The two worst whiskies I'd reported on in 2012 actually come in glass bottles:

Cutty Sark blended whisky -- That was terrible.  By the time I was done, I felt bad for the brand, wondering what had happened that would have forced them to bottle this liquid.  The good news is that Cutty has gotten a new Master Blender, Kirsteen Campbell.  I wish her all the best and look forward to a revival of a classic.

Dewar's White Label blended whisky -- For many years the DWL and I have not gotten along.  My mind and liver equates it with Popov Vodka, on many levels.  I sort of regret making the attempt to taste it in a controlled setting and dissecting its palate.  I only learned what I already knew, to stay away from this stuff.

A final thought on Connoisseurship

Recently, I've been meditating a bit on what it means to be a connoisseur.

It's one thing to be able to identify and savor the beauty of the pinnacle examples of a craft or art form.  But, perhaps, it's even more profound to be able to enjoy the failures as well.  Finding the magic within a mess and being able to embrace it, un-ironically, is something worth aspiring to.

I'm nowhere near that point.  I thought I was, but I'm still a beginner.  There's a long journey ahead of me.  There are so many beautiful drams to be spoken of this year.  So for now, for 2013, perhaps I'll stay away from Duggan's Dew.

Best wishes to you all.  May you be blessed with happy surprises on every journey.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Single Malt Revision: Eating crow and drinking The Hakushu 12 year old

Happy 2013 to all!  I hope everyone had a pleasant extended well-earned break from the normal work week.  I am starting this year with a complete recant of a report from last year.

Last April, I panned The Hakushu 12 year old.  The whisky I'd sampled was shockingly ugly, full of notes of cheesy-beefy-flatulence and a kitchen gas leak.  I say "shockingly" because The Hakushu 12 had received raves from a number of folks I respect.  In fact the word on the whisky street was so positive that I going to buy a whole bottle of it blindly; I even price-shopped it for two months.  But the Master of Malt sample of Hakushu that I tried convinced me of the opposite, the whisky was disappointing.

But, as I ended my report, I wrote:  "I wouldn't mind giving it another spin someday......just in case."

In the late fall, I tried it again at a OC Scotch Club event.  And it was......really good.  This round of whisky came not from a sample bottle but directly from a newly opened 750mL.  President Bob of the OC Scotch Club awesomely allowed me to steal away with a 1 ounce sample of my own.

On New Year's Eve, the sampled was consumed.

ProducerSuntory Whisky
Age: 12 years
Maturation: mainly Bourbon Hogsheads
Country: Japan
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

The color is a bright light gold.  The nose leads with doused kindling, soil, dried apricots, and light sweet wine.  There's a cleaning solvent note in there, but in a good way!  After a few minutes, a subtle green leafy note arises, possibly spinach.  The palate is a peated confection: vanillins, brown sugar, and sweet cherries.  It's very creamy, vanilla ice creamy in fact.  There are some ashes and a touch of salt.  It finishes first sweet, then peat.  Peat ashes again.  Sugared fruit, a little salt.  It's extensive and warm considering its low-ish ABV.

The nose loses its prettiness, gaining weight and malt spirit.  Some cocoa, tree bark, and vegetal peat too.  Some of the infamous gassy edge starts to peek through.  The palate becomes simpler.  Vanilla, malt, mild peat, notebook paper, and fruit cocktail juice.  It finishes briefly, with that fruit cocktail juice character, a little peat and vanilla following.

I recommend this neat.  Period.  Keep the water out, please.

This is the quality I had hoped for, originally.  The odd sample probably kept me from buying a bottle.  The Hakushu has gotten much more difficult to find since then.  My scathing review likely resulted in a worldwide recall by Suntory.  ;-)

Anyway, Hakushu, my apologies.  I was led astray.  Thou art good.

May this new year bring many more happy discoveries, especially in places we'd never expect to find them.

Availability - Some liquor specialists
Pricing - $50-$60
Rating - 86