...where distraction is the main attraction.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

NOT Single Malt Report: Jameson Select Reserve & Jameson Select Reserve

There are at least two Jameson Select Reserve Irish whiskies floating around out there.  Firstly, there's the Select Reserve Small Batch, distributed in Europe.  Then there's the Select Reserve Black Barrel, released only in New York (though I have seen it for sale in nearby NJ and CT).

What the Small Batch actually is may be a little ambiguous.  Master of Malt says that it's a Pot Still, but they are only folks making that claim.  Even their commenters disagree. One says it's "a blend made of 75% 12yo pot still whiskey with about 1/5 of that coming from sherry casks, the rest is grain"; another says the grain portion is a "rare grain whiskey component which is not seen in any other expression of the Jameson family".  Other online European sellers appear to agree with those comments, saying that the grain whisky is present and that it is rarely produced by Midleton.  The Whisky Exchange states first-fill bourbon and sherry casks are used.

To add some confusion, a Select Reserve Small Batch was earlier released in South Africa (at 43% ABV) using 12 year old pot still whiskey and a "rare" 5 year old grain whiskey, as per Dominic Roskrow's 1001 Whiskies.

The Select Reserve Black Barrel is a little more straightforward.  I haven't seen anyone arguing with Jameson's official explanation:
"It all began when our masters carefully selected a high proportion of Irish pot still whiskey and a rare small batch grain whiskey, and left it to mature in flame-charred bourbon barrels."
The cynic in me asks, "Are these the same whiskies, just named differently for the US release?"

Well, let's do some tasting.

I had the regular Jameson blend present as a sounding board, via a 50mL mini.  See here for my take on the Jameson's blend.  The Small Batch was from a 30mL Master of Malt sample.  The Black Barrel is actually from my own bottle...

...the majority of which awaits me in New York.  So, for the sake of these notes, remember: Small Batch from a purchased sample.  Black Barrel from my bottle.


Distillery: Midleton
Brand: Jameson
Type: Irish Blended Whiskey (pot still and grain whiskey)
Current Owner: Pernod Ricard
Age: possibly 12 year old pot still
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrels and ex-sherry casks, with some first-fill casks in the mix
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

Color -- The lightest gold of the three, even lighter than the regular Jameson's.
Nose -- More focused and brighter than the classic blend.  Sawdust and vanilla beans arrive first, then quickly followed by whipped cream, cupcakes, a berry tart, dessert wine, strawberry bubblegum, cherry liqueur, and milk chocolate.  Can the palate match this goodness?
Palate -- The creamy texture holds lychee, passion fruit, flower kiss candy, apples, notebook paper, then a little salt and brown sugar.
Finish -- The flower kiss candy and lychee hang around in the finish.  There's also strawberry bubblegum, white cake, and salt.  The classic Jameson's blend's rougher note floats in at the very end.

A fan of most things Jameson's, I have to say this is my favorite whiskey released under their brand.  Both the nose and palate joyful.  The finish is the weakest part, but not a deal breaker.


Distillery: Midleton
Brand: Jameson
Type: Irish Blended Whiskey (pot still and grain whiskey)
Current Owner: Pernod Ricard
Age: NAS
Maturation: flame-charred (more than usual?) ex-bourbon barrels
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

Color -- A mid-dark gold.  The darkest of the group.
Nose -- Very classic Jameson's blend up front, though slightly fruitier (strawberries?) and less raw.  Some vanilla beans, dried apricots, and sour cream in there as well.
Palate -- A nice thick texture gives us nutty vanilla, nondescript citrus juice, brown sugar, and notebook paper.  Not a whole lot going on here.
Finish -- The Good: It's very nutty.  The Bad: It's also very grainy, a little bitter, feels like young raw whiskey.  The Ugly: Loooong lasting.

When I'd first opened the Black Barrel bottle -- with great excitement, mind you -- I poured a quick glass, sniffed it and downed it.  Kristen inquired, "So......?"  I responded, "It tastes like Jameson's."  It really does.  Smells like it too.  The original Jameson's blend is interesting in its roughness (or "crispness" per Jim Murray).  While the Black Barrel has some clearer fruity notes, it's disappointing...

...especially after the delicious Small Batch.  Those flower candy and tropical fruit notes are reminiscent of elements I've found in single grain whiskies, so I've got to wonder if they're coming from this "rare" grain whiskey that Jameson added to this blend.  I don't think it's coming from the casks.  No matter where the quality comes from, this is a very enjoyable whiskey.

Going by what I've read, I'll say these are not the same whiskey.  It appears as if -- at the very least -- different casks are used.  The lack of information on age statements on the Black Barrel makes me think that younger whiskey may have been used as well.

Going by my senses, I'll say these are not the same whiskey.  I can't blame the difference on a sample gone bad.  In fact, the sample gone good.  Thus the problem would be present in my bottle.  But the bottle appeared to be stored correctly: out of the sun in an air-conditioned shop.  Perhaps it'll get better with time?  If so, I'll find out next December.

But here, I declare these are two different blends.  Go with the Small Batch.


Availability - Europe only
Pricing - $45-$60 w/o VAT, before shipping
Rating - 88


Availability - New York area only
Pricing - $30-$40
Rating - 74 (as of Aug '13, this is getting downgraded to 66)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

OC Scotch Club Event this Thursday!

For those of you in the Orange County area, I highly recommend the OC Scotch Club's upcoming event this Thursday, March 28th at Hopscotch in Fullerton.

Here's the whisky:

The ABCs of Whisky, in fact!

Here are the details:
Cost: $20 per drinker
Time: 7:00pm (Tasting at 7:30pm)
Date: Thursday March 28, 2013
Place: HopScotch Tavern
136 E. Commonwealth Ave.
Fullerton, California 92832

Here's the official website: http://www.ocscotchclub.com/?page_id=142

Look at those whiskies!  And this is a bargain considering that a pour of Uigeadail alone in LA/OC bars costs more than $20.

The OCSC is full of great laidback folks (including President Bob).  If I didn't work in Hollywood at a completely inflexible job, I would be joining in.  Enjoy!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Single Malt Ramblings on a Monday morning

I won't attempt to top the subject matter of the previous two posts, so I'll just do a little Single Malt Ramblin':

-- I'm nursing a sinus infection, BUT luckily I did a little Taste Off before it set in so I'll have a report later on this week.  We're not leaving the Irish behind just yet.

-- The old Black Label has been opened!  It's safely drinkable yet not at all what I'd expected.  I anticipate it will change further now that it's breathing for the first time in 35 years.

-- There's a new Kilchoman Machir Bay on the loose.  No three year-old whisky in this one.  Just 4 and 5 vatted together with a brief oloroso finish.  They also have a new all-sherry cask release on the way.  That one is also bottled at 46% so it should be considerably more affordable than their cask strength versions.

-- The BenRiach Distillery Company just bought Glenglassaugh Distillery.  They now own BenRiach, GlenDronach, and Glenglassaugh.  Will it be GlenGlassaugh, GlengLassaugh, or GlenglAssaugh?  The previous ownership, known alternately as The Scaent Group and Lumiere Holdings (if anyone can shed some light on these folks, please let me know), lasted less than 5 years.

Finally a pair of tremendous whisk(e)y articles:

-- From the LA Whisk(e)y Society: ADVENTURES IN WHISKEY: THE CASE OF THE STRANGE FITZGERALD.  This is a super post from Adam of LAWS.  I won't spoil the fun by telling you what it's about other than there's some booze and some sleuthing.

-- Finally, the Malt Maniacs reposted their write-up on caramel colorant.  They got their hands on some e150a and did some double blind tests to see how the colorant effects the nose and palate.  I recommend this for those who think they know everything or nothing about caramel coloring.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


My dreams are mostly the same.  I'm lost in the middle of a city.  I'm going somewhere, but I don't know the destination.  As a result, the journey seems like nonsense as I travel further along.  It's all vaguely familiar, but I've never really been here before.  It is said that every dream visual is based on something the dreamer has seen in his waking life.  But I've never seen these cities, these streets, these buildings.  Many lamp lit dark alleyways and their shaky metal fire escape ladders leading up buildings without roofs or windows.  Steep downhill avenues, unnavigable from within a car without brake pedals.  Old concrete boulevards without turns and without end.  I'm travelling through a blurry version of someone else's memories and I'm getting more and more lost as I go.  I'd be terrified if I wasn't so benumbed with exhaustion.

Awake, my life is much the same.  I have gotten more confused and frustrated, understanding my life less as time has gone on.  What I thought were endpoints were distractions, each hope emptied into another abyss.  As the destinations to this anxiety soaked journey have dissolved away, a certain blank numbness had formed.

In my dreams, I'm alone.

But awake, I am not.

March 13th marked ten years with the best person I have ever known.  Kristen is filled with more hopes and patience and focus and selfless love than I can comprehend, even after ten years.  She laughs and embraces just like the 20-year-old girl I'd met a long time ago, while becoming stronger, wiser, and more beautiful with each year.  It is humbling watching a girl become a woman right in front of me.

The love Kristen and I share has been clear and true, refreshing and bright, totally unlike anything else I have ever experienced.  With her, I have experienced moments of comfort and quiet, home and (yes) happiness I've never felt anywhere else.  Those profound swirls illuminate the shadows when we live as a team.  As a single working unit we will be magnificent in the face of any challenge.

For our team, a challenge has now appeared, tremendous, nerve-wringing, insane yet ever normal.  Something very new.  A destination, in fact.  A real destination in the flesh.  A cosmic exclamation in the form of a protostar.

I am not dreaming.  I am awake.

I am going to be a father.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Opening the family whisky

So.......there's this:

Immediate facts:
Johnnie Walker Black Label
1.2 quarts (1135 mL, 38.4 fl. oz.)
86.8 proof (43.4% ABV)
Bottled in Kilmarnock
Sold only through Duty Free

Fact from research**:
Bottled in the late 1970s

Yes, that is whisky sediment raining down around the edges

As of last Christmas this whisky was the property of Robert and Wilma Perry, my wife's grandparents.  It had previously belonged to one of Grandpa Bob's cousins.  But for many years it sat in a cold Ohio basement.  This past December, Grandpa Bob, who is currently kicking cancer's ass, gave the bottle of whisky to me.

It's part of our family.

It was likely bottled around the same time I was born.

Oh, and one more thing.  When I first met Kristen, I discovered that this 20-year-old fox was drinking Johnnie Walker Black Label.  While men hit on her, they were drinking Sex on the Beaches, slamming Jager bombs, drinking Bacardi and Cokes.  Meanwhile, Kristen sipped Scotch.

She's my wife now.  And while she prefers barrel strength rye -- yeah, she pretty much rules -- she can smell a glass of JW Black from across a room.  So there's some actual emotional weight to this bottle of whisky.

And as the youngest whisky in this blend was distilled in the Johnson administration, some of that malt coming from distilleries no longer in existence, there's some financial value to it as well.

But I'm opening this whisky up.  And this weekend, I'm going to tell you why.

** - Many many many thanks to Joanne Bergstrom of whisky.com; Christine McCafferty, the Archive Manager (!) at Diageo(!!); and the handful of whisky collectors who weighed in at the whisky.com forum.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

NOT Single Malt Report: Greenore 10 year old (cask #87, Belgium release) Irish Single Grain Whiskey

Let's keep the Irish whiskey flowing.

From whiskysamples, I was able to get my mittens on a 30mL dram of this enjoyable curio: Greenore 10 year old Irish single grain whiskey.  It's a single cask (#87) cask strength (52.9% ABV) whiskey released in Belgium two years ago.

Distilled at Cooley Distillery, Greenore is currently the only Irish single grain whiskey on the market.  The mash bill is almost entirely corn with a tiny bit of malted barley thrown in for the enzymes needed for sugar conversion before the Coffey still distillation begins.  They age Greenore in first-fill bourbon barrels, which not only makes sense in theory, but also in practice since its soft sweet character would be demolished by wine casks.

The Greenore brand is named after a long silenced (possibly before Alfred Barnard toured the area in the 1880s) Irish distillery of that same name.  Cooley regularly releases an 8 year and 18 year old Greenore, though the 18 is limited to 4000 bottles per batch.  There used to be a 15 year old limited release that had been well received, and it appears as if the 18 has now replaced it.  There's a 6 year old Greenore in Sweden and a 19 year cask strengther released only at duty free in Dublin Airport (about 300 bottles worth).  Milroy's of Soho put out a 16 year old single cask (#12441) a few years back as well.  And then there's this one:

Brand: Greenore
Style: Single Grain Whiskey
Distillery: Cooley (owned by Beam Inc.)
Country: Ireland
Age: 10 years (Sept 2000 - March 2011)
Mashbill: Mostly corn (maize) with a little malted barley
Maturation: first fill ex-bourbon barrel
Cask: 87
Alcohol by Volume: 52.9%
Limited Release: Belgium

As you can see from the above pic of the sample (not the bottle pic), the color is a very light amber.  The nose is soft as cotton.  Takes a few moments before it awakens.  First, there's pound cake, then caramel sauce.  Bubble Tape bubblegum and a little bit of barrel char comes next.  There is a weird boiled cabbage / brussels sprouts note that forms after a half hour, but it stays in the background.  Throughout though, current-day Frosted Flakes stays in the fore.  There's, of course, a lot of corn in the palate, in corn syrup and popcorn form.  Then there's Cool Whip on vanilla ice cream and confectioner's sugar.  The higher ABV which didn't show in the nose, stays reserved on the tongue but does seem to pick up strength with time.  And though the palate really isn't as insanely sweet as these notes all read, it does get more sugary with oxidation.  The Bubble Tape note comes back in the finish, as does the vanilla ice cream though this time it is topped with Rolos candies.

Wow, reading over these notes on the morning after the tasting, I'm suddenly realizing how many big brand names I've cited as sensory references.  Bubble Tape, Frosted Flakes, Cool Whip, and Rolos.  Clearly this whiskey is a sweetie, but the characteristics were very specific.  I guess one could also note that those four common sweets are all loaded with corn syrup......*lightbulb*......and Greenore is corn whiskey.

It's not as sweet as American corn whiskey.  And it's much quieter and subtler than straight bourbon.  Plus the cask strength ABV is hushed.  It's a very easy drinker, not much going on with it at first, though with some time it does brighten up.  If any of y'all have tried the regular Greenores please let me know what you think of them!

Availability - Belgium only, though samples are available here
Pricing - $60-$70 (without shipping)
Rating - 81

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

NOT Single Malt Report: Redbreast 12 year old and ... Redbreast 12 year old

Many many moons ago, at the start of The Report, I gave Redbreast 12 year old Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey a rave review without actually getting into much smell and taste detail.  Sometimes explicating the stuff I love proves difficult.  It's often easier to pan something or give a moderate review when the brain isn't overwhelmed with the shout of a happy limbic system.

That original report was back in 2011.  Towards the end of that year I'd heard rumors that a cask strength version of Redbreast 12 was coming to the US.  Not only did it arrive in early 2012, but it was just Batch B1/11.  A second batch (B1/12) arrived in late 2012.  That first batch garnered rave reviews everywhere, with Jim Murray and Whisky Advocate naming it Irish Whiskey of the Year.

If it seems like Irish Distillers (Redbreast, Midleton, Green Spot, Yellow Spot, John's Lane) dominate the Single Pot Still market, it's because they are the only company releasing single pot still Irish whiskies.  Cooley and a couple of the new Irish distilleries have started distilling Single Pot Still, but none of those products have yet made it to the market.  So someday we'll get some good competition in this category.  And by "competition", I mean in quality, not in quantity.  Midleton Distillery is expanding to 60 million liters of alcohol a year, 22 million of which will be pot still whiskey.  That's twice the capacity of Diageo's Roseisle monstrosity.  More than Glenfiddich and Glenlivet combined.  Midleton has size working for them.  What's extraordinary is that, largely thanks to Barry Crockett, they also have quality going for them too.

Yes, the vast majority of that pot still whiskey will go to Jameson's, Paddy's, Powers, and their other blends. But the best of those casks will come to us in Single Pot Still form.

In honor of Saint Padraig, here's today's report:
1. Redbreast 12 year old Cask Strength B1/11 - at full strength, 57.7%
2. Redbreast 12 year old Cask Strength B1/11 - at reduced strength, about 41-42%
3. Redbreast 12 year old - 40%

We'll see if the regular 12 year is just the Cask Strength watered down.  My bet is probably not.  They have hundreds or thousands of casks holding Redbreast-style pot still; some hit the mark better at full strength, but not so much when hydrated.  Then there are the (approximately) zillions of barrels of Redbreast-style that fit the brand best when reduced to 40%.

I'm also trying to figure out which version I like better.  I've been enjoying the Cask Strength stuff with and without water, so I'm not really sure how this is going to turn out...


StyleSingle Pot Still
Distillery: Midleton
Age: 12 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon and first fill ex-Oloroso sherry casks
Country: Ireland
Batch: B1/11 (68 casks)
Bottle Code: L120231241 10:22
Alcohol by Volume: 57.7%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? Probably

The color is a medium gold, not the darkest of the three.  Perhaps a more conservative application of caramel e150a colorant that is applied in its cousin.  The nose is very very busy.  Mostly it sniffs like the two oaks are fighting for supremacy.  Vanillins clashing against dried fruit.  The notes are abundant: fresh apples, dried apricots, pencil shavings, a little bit of ocean, a little bit of plastic, Triscuits, milk chocolate, orange zest, and vanilla fudge.  It becomes denser with more time in the glass.  Meanwhile, the very creamy palate is milder.  Apples, butterscotch, and a wallop of barley keeps the sherry from surging (though it does strengthen with time).  Sweet fruit sugars emerge after a while as well.  That sherry is stronger in the extensive finish, but it's not overwhelming, as its raisins still grapple with vanilla from the American oak.  A good scoop of molasses brings up the rear.

It's a loud muscular whiskey, especially on the nose.  It's dynamite stuff, though it's never struck me as something to mellow out with, if served neatly.  That's when I put a splash of water into it...

(same as above, but ABV is reduced to 41-42%)

The color is pale gold.  Everything is quieter now, though still vibrant.  The nose holds molasses, barley, vanilla, roses, and is a little musky.  There's considerable vanilla leading the way in the palate.  Then there's whipped cream, sugar, dry sherry, raisins, and that great Redbreast crème brûlée character that makes me hug strangers.  The sherry seems sweeter in the finish as it sits above vanilla and bubblegum.

Now it's easy drinking and yet not boring.  The best of both worlds.  Let's see how this compares with the original.


StyleSingle Pot Still
Distillery: Midleton
Age: 12 years
Maturation: official website says only "Oloroso sherry casks", but other sources say there's a significant number of ex-bourbon casks mixed in
Country: Ireland
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? Yes
Colored? Yes

Its color is copper, likely the darkest of these three.  The oaks don't struggle against each other in the nose. Instead they work in unison along with the barley: candied dried fruit, ocean, tropical fruits, white fruits, a little perfume, pencils (lead, wood, rubber, ink and all), hay, teriyaki(!), and then a green vegetal moment after a while.  The creamy custardy palate is simpler than the nose.  Subtle floral and citrus notes sit on a big blanket of honey, brown sugar, and vanilla.  It finishes with lots of honey.  Some floral and vanilla notes as well.  It's mildly sweet, but very lasting considering its 40% ABV.

This is one of the most impulsively drinkable whiskies I have ever had the pleasure of consuming.  You may note that it is less busy (evoked fewer notes) than the Cask Strength.  But that doesn't necessarily mean that the CS is better.  It just depends on what the drinker wants.  Complexity?  The CS has that.  Versatility?  You can add water to the CS to adjust the strength; though at a similar ABV it doesn't match the richness in the regular bottling.  The casual drinking experience?  Few things top the regular 12 year old.

It has been my pleasure to introduce Redbreast 12 to Scotch whisky lovers and non-lovers alike.  It's a pretty astonishing experience for the Irish whiskey drinkers who've been shooting Jameson's their entire (adult) lives.

May I recommend both to you?
Redbreast 12 for whenever-drinkin' and happiness.
Redbreast 12 Cask Strength for brooding, postulating, and pondering.


Availability - Many liquor specialists
Pricing - $60-$65
Rating - 91


Availability - Any respectable liquor specialist
Pricing - $40-$50
Rating - 94 [Ed. note: This score seems very high, even considering my Irish whiskey bias. I'll be reviewing it again in 2017 just to make sure.]

Friday, March 15, 2013

Good things on the horizon

Diving for Pearls will be back after St. Patrick's Day as this writer takes care of some personal business (all good things).

In the meantime:

Q: Why was I doing this???

A: Because this:

Thanks to one hand of Double Double Bonus video poker, there's enough whisky to keep the reports going for some time.  There's also a great whisky anorak out there who helped me out with some additional fuel.  I'll be talking more about that in the coming weeks.

In fact, I have a number of new little projects in the queue.  I hope they're as fun in reality as they are in my mind.  Stay tuned...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

NOT Single Malt Report: In with the new......Bank Note 5 year old

If you thought I was going to report on Gold Label Reserve or Platinum Label, well, I'm not that sorry to disappoint.  :)   You're just lucky I didn't go with "In With the Nude" and post pictures that would blind all y'all thirsty MFs (Mannochmore finishers).

These reports have always been about my personal whisky experience.  Firstly, I will not pay a dime for Gold Label Reserve nor Platinum Label.  Secondly, I've been on the search for a new everyday blend around here, something to replace Black Label.

I tried Famous Grouse.  It was okay, but got old very quickly.  Too bad I had purchased a one liter bottle of it.  Then I bought Isle of Skye 8 year.  A full step up from Grouse, it had more angles and twists, and was more interesting to mix.  But I tired of it two-thirds of the way down.

I bought Bank Note blindly.  David Driscoll of K&L Wines had been talking it up since they started carrying the blend.  I liked the idea, a high malt blend bottled by a company I like selling for less than 20 bucks, but wasn't ready to go all in.

It's when I read Scotch Noob's positive review, then saw Total Wine & More selling it for $15.99 the following day that I decided I'd take the risk.  One can pay more for a single neat whisky at an LA bar than for a whole bottle of Bank Note.

A little background on it:  Formerly a popular blend in the late 19th century, Bank Note is now owned and produced by AD Rattray, the independent bottling company run by the Morrison family (who'd sold Morrison Bowmore to Suntory two decades ago).  Aside from putting out some great and comparatively cheap single cask single malts, AD Rattray also bottles the McClelland's single malt line: Islay (baby Bowmore), Lowlands (baby Auchentoshan), Highlands (baby Glen Garioch?), and Speyside (baby Benrinnes or Glen Grant?).  Bank Note, a newer product in the US, has a high (40%) malt content, is bottled at 43% ABV, and has the courage to state its young age of 5 years.  It carries that great price and an old-timey bank-note-looking label.

Now to notes on the Note:


pic from Pacific Edge Wine & Spirits, their distributor

Brand: Bank Note
Ownership: AD Rattray
Distilleries: Several, likely including Bowmore, Benrinnes, and Auchentoshan amongst others
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: at least 5 years
Blend: 40% single malts and 60% grain whiskies
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chill-filtered? Yes
Caramel Coloring? Yes
And here's a fun official Sales Sheet

Color -- Rich gold
Nose -- At first, there's yeast with a tiny bit of sherry and brandy. Give it a few minutes and a seaside boat dock note floats up (motor smoke and seaweed).  Some more time yields a citrus prickle as well as some savory hints.
Palate -- Lots of butter and milk chocolate. A Bowmore-ish peat develops over time, as does some Pale Ale-type bitterness.  Young malt and young grains are present though far in the background.  Burnt bread and a little more bitterness appear after an hour.
Finish -- Vanilla, brown sugar, a little peat, and buttered white bread linger for an impressive length considering the whisky's age and strength.

Sometimes, I just want to dump some whisky in a tumbler, not measuring out exacting pours in a Glencairn glass.  Bank Note works exceptionally well in that category.  It also holds up decently for a proper nosing and tasting.  It makes for a good whisky & soda, as some of the peat even sticks around through that.  I also assembled an Old Fashioned with it, using lemon rather than orange.  Turned out to be a very refreshing summer-appropriate drink.

I'm drinking this all sorts of ways and it's still working.  In fact this bottle is going faster than any other of recent memory.  The peat didn't show up upon the first couple of pours, but after a week or so, there it was.  And even though it's a youngster, I recommend giving it a few minutes in the glass.

Bank Note delivers.  For a blend at its price, I've yet to find an equal.

Availability - An increasing number of liquor specialists
Pricing - $17-$24
Rating - 86

Monday, March 11, 2013

NOT Single Malt Report: Out with the old......Johnnie Walker Gold Label

This one is difficult to write.  I'd take a belt of Gold Label if I wasn't at work (trying desperately to sneak out this post).

Gold Label used to be my favorite Johnnie Walker.  I used to recommend to folks that instead of buying Blue Label, one should just get two bottles of Gold (and if there's some money left over get a Green Label too).  Actually, let's take this beyond the Johnnie Walker line.  Gold Label used to be one of my Top Ten whiskies, period.  It was a well-textured, honeyed, lightly sweet, graceful whisky -- mostly thanks to the 18 year old Clynelish within.

When I'd started this site's whisky reports, I couldn't wait to get to Gold Label.  It had been a few years (approximately 2008) since I'd finished my last bottle but I was willing to wait until the right time.  Then I saw that Diageo was retiring Gold, replacing it with Platinum Label.  As some of my readers know, that made me mad (in two parts).  So, in early December of last year, when Costco was selling Gold Label for a ridiculous $55, I picked up a bottle for a last hurrah.

But to my increasing dismay, I discovered Diageo removed the hurrah from the blend.

Ownership: Diageo
Distilleries: Many, including Clynelish and Cardhu
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: at least 18 years
Blend: single malts and grain whiskies
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chill-filtered? Yes
Caramel Coloring? Yes
Bottle Code: L2257DM000 / 08131509
Bottled: September 2012

I'd originally opened my bottle when I was with my brother in Vegas.  After finding the whisky oddly uninspired, I decided to leave the bottle alone to see if three weeks of half whisky / half oxygen would help it out.  It didn't, even after an hour in the glass.

Color -- Dark gold
Nose -- Pretty muted. Some fresh apples, sherried butterscotch, smoked lemon peel, vanilla.  A citrus note develops more over time.
Texture -- Watery
Palate -- Lots of grains, caramel sauce, distant wood smoke but not much of it, orange zest, honey, and lemon pepper.  Again, more time, more citrus.
Finish -- Brief. Vanilla, honey, a little citrus. That's all.

If I'd tried this blindfolded and was told it was a single grain whisky, I wouldn't have questioned it.  I take no issue with well-aged grain whisky, but Gold Label isn't grain whisky.  There's supposed to be some malt in there.  Perhaps the blend used to be 40% malt?  Is it possible that it now has 20% malt?

I found it odd when the official Johnnie Walker site and official tasting videos started recommending keeping one's bottle of Gold Label in the freezer, as of two years ago.  That's the sort of advice usually given for vodka, which is made entirely from grains in a continuous still......similar to grain whisky distillate.  Freezing booze thickens a thin liquor and helps blanket over rough edges by numbing the drinker's tastebuds.  There was no need for that with the Gold Label I used to enjoy.  But now, I'm half ready to throw my bottle in the freezer.

This bottle was filled in September 2012, several months after Diageo had announced the Gold's demise.  Could this have been the last of it?  Could they have sold Costco the dregs?  Were they trying to stretch that 18 year old malt as far as it would go so that they could fulfill final distribution agreements?  No matter what was done, this parting was made easier.

All that is Gold does not glitter.

Availability - Gradually decreasing, but still at all or most liquor specialists
Pricing - $70 at the lower end to $100 courtesy of the price gougers
Rating - 78

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Single Malt Report: The Longrow Taste Off! (Part 2)

Continuing on from Friday's post, here's how things are lining up:

Longrow CV - Still as delicious as I always find it.
Longrow 14yr Sherry Finish - Much better than I'd anticipated.

And then for today's expectations:

Longrow 10yr 100proof - Ready to pull the trigger on a purchase as soon as the tasting is over, I'm that excited about this one.
Longrow 14yr Burgundy Wood - Sincerely hoping that the Longrow can withstand the wine-y topping.


Ages: at least 10 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrels
Region: Campbeltown
Alcohol by Volume: 57%

From a 30mL sample purchased via Master of Malt.

Color -- Light pale gold. Actually looks identical to that of the 14yr Sherry Finish.
Nose -- Some overripe bananas hit first, then the Longrow lemon note arrives exponentially boosted.  Sometimes there's rotting milk.  Other times, Boston creme.  Considerable peat is followed by mint and pears.
Palate -- Woody, and I don't mean vanillin.  I mean actual oak.  Peated bananas, smoked black peppercorns, and (yes) a tiny bit of vanilla.  But lots of ethyl.
Finish -- Broccoli or something similar, followed by cooked mushrooms.  Vanilla, molasses, barley, and lemons cheer the situation up a bit.

Nose -- Phew, very kirschy, lots of rough spirit. Some cheddar, yeast, ham, and vanilla as well.
Palate -- Spirity again, and savo(u)ry. Butyric, even. Sour porridge follows sweet malt and mild peat.
Finish -- Lengthy, sour, yet with lots of simple syrup. Chlorine and veggie peat bring up the rear.

Well.  Um.  It's...

Kristen and I have this deal worked out.  Whenever we try a new wine, the first person to say "That's interesting" owes 25 cents to our charity jar.  I mean, you know that feeling.  You sip something and it's not exactly this, it's not exactly that, and it's not exactly good.  The first thing that tends fall out of the drinker's mouth (other than the fluid) is "That's interesting."  In that case "interesting" doesn't actually describe a damn thing.

This Longrow 10yr 100proof left me with the desire to say "That's interesting" many times over.  Just to make sure I wasn't nuts when I found that butryic note, I had to do some searching and, voila, Jason over at Guid Scotch Drink found him some baby vomit in its nose.  What's extra interesting is that this doesn't taste anything like a higher-powered Longrow 10 year (which is very good). [In the comment section Jordan pointed out why this is: The regular 10 year is a mix of sherry and bourbon casks.  Perhaps the mix of casks help it out?]

Could this have been a bad batch?  Is this any different than the US 50% ABV version?  Or is this an issue with the sample?

I don't know.  Though regarding my purchase of a bottle, this was cause for pause.

Availability - This specific 57% ABV bottling is only available in Europe
Pricing - $70-$95, depending on the size of your shipment
Rating - 73


Ages: 14 years (Feb 1997 - Oct 2011)
Maturation: refill bourbon barrels for the first 11 years
Finish: first fill Burgundy casks for the next 3 years
Region: Campbeltown
Alcohol by Volume: 56.1%
Limited Bottling: 7,800

From a 30mL sample via Whiskysamples.
Color -- Dark copper.
Nose -- Currant juice and raisins on vanilla ice cream arrive at the start. Then some mothballs, leather, and something quite similar to sulfur. It's all sort of sherry-ish, in fact. Faint smoke and sweaty socks appear as minor notes.
Palate -- First: Semisweet chocolate, tobacco smoke, sweet berries and cherries. Then: raspberries in vanilla yogurt and maple syrup. Finally: a little nail polish remover peeks out just to remind you that there's some actual poison hidden inside this delight.
Finish -- All raspberries, cherries, and chocolate. Still a little sherry-ish to me.

Nose -- Ah now it's more like dry red wine.  Blackberry jam, leather, and tobacco.
Palate -- Wine + barley + oak + alcohol in a tidy package. Raspberries in vanilla ice cream, cinnamon, and a bit of chocolate.
Finish -- Cinnamon and chocolate first; then lots of sweet berries; finally the lemons roll in.

Winner Winner Whisky Dinner!

Or dessert for that matter.  Yummy.  That shot my whole whisky-and-wine-finish gripe in the butt.  I don't really have any other comments about it.  Those tasting notes tell it all.

Availability - A few liquor specialists carry it in the US.
Pricing - $110-130 (US). Similarly priced to the regular 14yr, though this one is more limited and at cask strength.
Rating - 90

As if you needed any more proof that I'm a fool, let's see how those original expectations fared:

1.) I was most excited about the 10yr 100proof. I not only expected it to be the best, but I was willing to buy a bottle of it blind from Europe. But I remained patient.  TWO POINTS FOR PATIENCE.
2.) I had mixed feelings about the Burgundy Wood, expecting the wine to smother the Longrow spirit.  WRONG.  Though it is a sweetie.
3.) Sherry finish: Meh? WRONG.

Longrow CV is still the champ in my heart, especially due to its price.  But the Burgundy Wood would make for a heck of treat.  I also just wanted to note that three out of four of these whiskys swam well.  I haven't found too many drams that handled water with ease, but most of these Longrows (especially the Burgundy Wood!) went well with a little hydration.

I gaze into my crystal ball, cloudy with unfiltered whisky (the ball, not me), and see more Longrows in my future.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Single Malt Report: The Longrow Taste Off! (Part 1)

When The Springbank Distillery began double-distilling the highly peated (approx 50-55ppm) Longrow malt in the early 1970s, the goal was to demonstrate that one doesn't need to be located in Islay in order to make an Islay-style malt.  Forty years later, the Longrow malt is still going strong.  The quality of the product proves its success.  I'm biased though (I've raved about Longrow here, here, and here) as I'm a sincere Longrow nut.

I had been daydreaming about doing a Longrow Taste Off for well over a year until I decided put those dreams into action.  As you can see below, I assembled the troops from multiple sources:

Firstly, we have the dregs of my bottle of Longrow CV.  Yes, look at that delicious sediment at the bottom of this unfiltered whisky.

I included Longrow CV as the point of reference. As I've gotten pretty familiar with the CV, it was present as something to compare the others to.

Secondly, we have Longrow 14 year old Sherry Finish, courtesy of a Master of Malt dram.  I feel lukewarm at best about sherry finishes, but I'm always willing to keep an open mind.

I went with those two first, as they were lightweights of the tasting.  You know you have a good taste off when the lightest whisky weighs in at 46% ABV.

Thirdly, the Longrow 10 year 100 proof (that's UK proof, so it's 57.1% ABV), via Master of Malt.

Fourthly, the wild card: Longrow 14yr Burgundy Wood.  This was among my first samples ordered from Whiskysamples.eu.

Going into this experience, I had the following expectations:
1.)  I was most excited about the 10yr 100proof.  I not only expected it to be the best, but I was willing to buy a bottle of it blind from Europe.  But I remained patient.
2.)  I had mixed feelings about the Burgundy Wood, expecting the wine to smother the Longrow spirit.
3.)  Sherry finish: Meh?

In this post, I will cover the CV and the 14yr Sherry Finish.  In the next post, I'll report on the 10yr 100proof and the 14yr Burgundy Wood, along with some final thoughts.

Random trivia: You'll often read that this Islay-style malt was named Longrow after one of the many fallen Campbeltown distilleries. But, curiously, in "Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom", Alfred Barnard reports on a Longrow Distillery within Campbeltown AND a Campbeltown Distillery in the Longrow center of the Campbeltown township. Thus a Longrow Distillery in Campbeltown and a Campbeltown Distillery in Longrow. Both were among the smallest of the Campbeltown distilleries, with Campbeltown Distillery (60,000 gallons) having a higher output than Longrow Distillery (40,000 gallons).

Ages: between 6 and 14 years
Maturation: sherry, port, bourbon, and rum casks
Region: Campbeltown
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Bottled: 2011

(As per Whiskynotes.be: "6 years old whisky from bourbon casks, 10 years old from port and rum casks, and 14 years old from sherry casks")

Color -- Cloudy gold
Nose -- Lemon rind, tangerine juice, young spirit, apple juice, fruit tart (sugar glaze and all), and peated vanilla custard
Palate -- Honeyed rummed peat smoke with brown sugar
Finish -- Sweet ex-bourbon oak, then toasted wheat bread and long lingering smoke

Nose --- The port pipes come out to dance with the lemons, lots of moss
Palate -- Very thick texture, lovely solid volley of brown sugar + cereals + wood smoke + tapioca
Finish -- Peat smoke, vanilla, and simple syrup

The notes here are brief as I'd intended this one only as a point of reference, so I poured a very small sample.  Nonetheless, what started out as love at first nose, 15 months ago, has never abated.  Sadly my CV lass has been replaced by a "Longrow Peated" bottling within the official range.  While I will not denounce that new young whisky, I will miss the CV greatly.  I hope to pick up one more bottle before it's gone.

Availability - Rare in the US.  Not prevalent, but still somewhat available in Europe.
Pricing - $50-$60
Rating - 92

Ages: at least 14 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrels
Finish: ex-sherry casks (probably second or third fill)
Region: Campbeltown
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

Color -- Light pale gold (must have been a refill sherry cask)
Nose -- Brief sherry note, orange zest, tar, mild peat smoke, pineapple, lemon juice, rotting apples
Palate -- Much softer than the CV, mossy peat, red LifeSavers, brown sugar, cayenne pepper, a floral perfumy note develops after some time.
Finish -- Light lemon sourness, a whisper of peat, pepper, very sweet

Nose -- More sherry comes out now, cherry lollipops, candied cranberry sauce, moderate citrus note
Palate -- Simple, sweet, hints of pepper and tobacco
Finish -- Sweet and mild, lots of berries and vanilla

The sherry notes did not intrude, rather they snuck in around the corners.  The former sherry casks, as well the additional time in the ex-bourbon barrels, greatly calmed the peat.  There's another version of the 14 year old in circulation (not sure how the labels differ) that's a vatting of sherry and bourbon cask matured malt, which is what I'd tried at last year's Peatin' Meetin'.  That one was more farmyardy and salty than this one and probably preferred by my palate.  But for a sherry finished whisky, I was much impressed with this version from the Taste Off.  Perhaps the keys are using a refill cask......and having stellar malt to start with.

Availability - Rare in the US.  Not prevalent, but still somewhat available in Europe.
Pricing - $100-$120 in the US.  $75-$95 if placed in a sizable UK order
Rating - 87

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

K&L Single Cask Whisky tasting with the LA Scotch Club (Part 2)

(link to PART 1)

Let us start Part 2 with a pair of lovelies, sampled neatly.

Distillery: Caperdonich -- no link as it's now defunct :(
Independent Bottler: Sovereign (Douglas Laing)
Sold Exclusively via: K&L Wines
Age: 18 years (1994 - August 2012)
Maturation: ex-bourbon (possibly second fill?)
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Alcohol by Volume: 58.4%

Caperdonich Distillery was Glen Grant's younger sibling, constructed by Glen Grant's ownership across the street from the older distillery.  In fact, it was known for some time as Glen Grant #2.  A very creative name.

Whisky was experiencing one of its boom phases in the 1890s, and the Grant family wanted to take advantage of that by expanding quickly in 1898.  So up the new distillery went.  Four years later, the boom ended (as *ahem* booms have been known to do) and the baby distillery was shuttered.  Over sixty years later Glenlivet Distillers bought it, spruced it up, and reopened it.  After passing between owners for a few decades, Caperdonich was closed again in 2002, this time permanently.

I'd never tried a Caperdonich before the K&L tasting.  Nor had I previously sampled any Sovereign bottlings, most likely because Sovereign is a label that Douglas Laing only sells outside The States.  (The K&L Davids have done a little trailblazing, bringing in four whiskys from the Sovereign label this year.)  When I arrived at the tasting on Wednesday night, I had no particular favorite but once the event began this one did pique my curiosity the most.

The first taste was a winner.  But as I had a long trip home at the end of the night, I scooped up a 25mL sample to try the next evening:

The color is light urine.  #1 as opposed to #2.  You're sold already, aren't you?
Okay, let's start this again.

The color is a pale amber.  It's very herbaceous and vegetal on the nose at the start; some serious anise and pine.  But it also smells sugary and candied.  It's light on the vanilla, though heavier on banana, apples, and pencils.  There's a mossy note, followed by smoked apricots.  It's weird.  I love it.  The palate goes from chocolate to banana to pear to peat cinders.  I also found some perfumy herbs and wood smoke within the ethyl sting.  A hot hot finish.  Enormous in fact.  A big hit of white fruits, black pepper, and peat smoke.  It's actually not that peated but the note is sharp.  There's some cerealy barley couched amongst more of the gin-like herbs.  I think my chest is still warmed by it a half week later.

I'm a fan of the odd stuff.  This one won't appeal to the sweet-tooth nor the sherry-tooth nor the easy-going-tooth(?).  But it will appeal to the weird-tooth.  I've heard it takes to water well, softens it up, but I didn't force it to swim.

Availability - K&L Wines
Pricing - $125.99
Rating - 90

And then there was the oldie, the show closer, the Glenfarclas 1970.

Distillery: Glenfarclas
Ownership: J&G Grant Ltd.
Sold Exclusively via: K&L Wines
Region: Speyside (Central)
Age: 42 years (1970 - September 2012)
Maturation: ex-oloroso sherry cask
Alcohol by Volume: 56.9%

Look at that ABV.  Most 40+ year old whiskys would have alcohol content down in the low forties by that point their lives, the angels having walked away with the rest.  But this particular cask spent much of its life high up in a very warm corner of the warehouse.  As a result it aged a little like some bourbons do, with the water evaporating faster than the alcohol.  This resulted in only 134 bottles coming out of an entire sherry cask.  This is essentially whisky concentrate.

Even with my phone's goofy flash going off, the whisky's color matches the photo.  If you look above and below the label, you can see the black coffee tone.  Upon sniffing the sample at home, I instantly began pondering what it must be like to afford drinking glamorous whisky every day.  The billionaires must get spoiled for taste.  Can they still appreciate the greatness of the sensory experience?  This rich man's whisky has a glorious nose.  A Worcestershire sauce-soaked steak.  A dark rich boozy ice cream.  Brandied Hershey's syrup.  The very insides of an old European oak barrel.  The alcohol still flexes its muscles around moments of orange rind and oceanic salt.  The palate took me by surprise.  It's very salty.  The thick texture holds bitter baking chocolate, unsweetened cranberries, lots of grapes, dried cereals, and cured meats.  It's exceptionally dry and a little metallic.  The finish adheres itself to the tongue.  A duet of sea salt and bitter horseradish, followed by lemon sour candies and coffee grounds.

Those nose is phenomenal.  The palate and finish, though, really didn't do it for me.  I don't mind bitter and citric sour, but when combined with the big salt, metal, and dryness the result can cause a bit of pucker-face.  There's an unrelenting quality to all of its features that's admirable.  And its age is something be appreciated.  Going with a cask like this is a bold move on The Davids' part.  I do believe this would appeal to others' palates, especially folks who take their coffee black.

Availability - K&L Wines
Pricing - $579.99
Rating - 83

I cannot overstate the importance of K&L's Exclusive Cask work to us American whisky fans.  Compared to Europe, U.S. retailers have a limited amount of cask strength bottlings.  Even fewer independent casks.  Many of those we do get here have bloated prices.

To recap the selection from the tasting:
As you can see above, the Caperdonich would be my favorite.  The Kilchoman 100% would be second in line.  The Bruichladdich is good, but gone.  May I also recommend the very easy drinkin' Longmorn 10yr Signatory to those looking for an Exclusive in the lower price range.

Yet, of all the drams, I'm actually leaning towards buying the Faultline 10 year old North Highland.  Yes, a sherried whisky.  The reasons for this choice are as follows (in no order):
  1. It tastes good.
  2. The price.
  3. Quality-wise, it's a leap ahead of Glenm*****ie Las***a, at a similar price.
  4. I want to support the Faultline label so that we may see some more good picks in the years ahead.
Thanks again to The Davids for their excellent work.  I look forward to this year's discoveries...

Monday, March 4, 2013

K&L Single Cask Whisky tasting with the LA Scotch Club (Part 1)

Last Wednesday (2/27), 45 of us met at Blu Jam Cafe for dinner and drams with David Othenin-Girard of K&L Wines.  David brought along a slew, a flock, a murder of K&L's single cask releases for us taste (and possibly contemplate purchasing).

Here's a slightly mostly out-of-focus pic of the main lineup:

David walked us through each of these eight single malts, talking to us about the distilleries and the bottlers.  He shared some cask selection tales, as well as some industry insider info.  And, yes, there were Diageo tales, none of which am I going to repeat since they only reinforce my disgust with that company.  Despite that, it was a very positive and extremely enjoyable tour through these delectable goodies:

Glen Garioch 14 year old 1998 - 55.2% ABV - $100
Aged in a bourbon hogshead, this whisky has a lot of whole wheat bread and gingerbread on the nose with plenty of sweet fruit and honey on the palate and finish.  I'm a fan of all things Glen Garioch, both old and new, and this one was made a few years after they had stopped peating their malt.  The price may look steep, but it is GG's lowest priced cask strength bottling to date.

Faultline 10 year old North Highland Single Malt - 50% ABV - $55
Faultline is K&L's own label.  Over the past couple of years they've been able to pluck some whiskies and gins to bottle on their own and then sell at a relatively reasonable rate.

They do not disclose which distillery this malt came from and neither will I, specifically.  But I will say this, as a sherry casker it beats the daylights out of the Las***a.  That's possibly due to the fact that it spent its entire life in a sherry cask rather than just being finished in one.  Or maybe it's because that cask was a second fill.  Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that this Faultline whisky wasn't engineered to try to suit everyone's tastebuds.  No matter the reason, the whisky works.

As for the booze, it has a great silky, almost oily mouthfeel.  There's buttery caramel and toffee on the nose.  The sherry element is mild.  There's a touch of spice and cocktail bitters in the palate.

Caperdonich 18 year old 1994 (Sovereign) - 58.4% ABV - $126
I grabbed a little sample of this to take home so...
Full tasting notes on this tomorrow!

GlenDronach 19 year old 1993 - 54.7% ABV - $140
The GlenDronach single cask releases have been getting rave reviews for the last few years, so why K&L still has ton of these in stock, I don't know.  As the Davids note, it's considerably better than Macallan 18, at a higher strength, older age, smaller availability, and a lower price.

As I've written on a few occasions, my palate is really not taking to lots of sherry in my whisky, recently.  But this one was fun to try.  Dark chocolate, leather, and spent matchsticks on the nose.  Yes, something sulfur-ish.  But it was quite good.  There's some earl grey tea and cayenne pepper amongst the sherry in the palate.  The finish is sourish, not at all sweet.

Kilchoman 100% Islay Single Sherry Barrel Cask Finish - ??? ABV - $120
I missed getting the ABV on this, but it is at full strength.  Like its Kil'oman brethren, the whisky is young but of stunning quality.  Kilchoman usually gets its barley from Port Ellen at the Ardbeg peating specs.  But this one is made from local Islay barley and is peated much lower, in the 10-15ppm range.

The whisky has a bright crazy zippy nose full of pepper, ginger, and molasses.  The palate is "carrot cake, delicious, more baked sweets".  The finish reminds me, oddly, of Corsair's Wry Moon with its cinnamon and white pepper.

The Kilchoman may have been the most popular one at the event.  It's a bit out of my current price range, but if it wasn't, I would buy it yesterday.

Bruichladdich 2003 Peated Single Barrel - 54.2% ABV - $73
This one is sold out, so this is just a damned tease.

It's not that sherried, in fact it reminded me of Kilchoman.  In fact, my notes say "More Kilchoman than Kilchoman."  Otherwise, the palate is full of pepper, brown sugar, and peat.  It is solid cask strength peatness at a good price.  I won't tease you further.

BenRiach 27 year old 1984 Peated Sherry Cask - 49.6% ABV - $200
This peated malt spent its first twenty-three years in ex-bourbon, then the final four years in Pedro Ximenez casks.  I'm glad I had a chance to taste this one.  Part of my brain (the part I'm trying to corral) was trying to find some excuse to buy this blindly.  The price is considerably below almost all 40-43% whiskys of its age, let alone the cask strength ones!  Plus I'm liking the peated BenRiachs.

Happily good sense won out in the end.  It's good stuff, but I like the oddball Authenticas 21 year old better.

But for those with the means to grab this one (and it is going fast), lots of chocolate and sherried cigarettes on the nose with dried fruits and menthol on the palate.

Glenfarclas 42 year old 1970 Family Cask - 56.9% ABV - $580
Yes, you read that right.  42 years old.  56.9% ABV.  Guess who took his sample home for quiet study?
Full tasting notes on this tomorrow!

I also had the opportunity to taste these two:
Since I'm a big Signatory fan, I had been eyeing both of these bottles online and in-store.  The Longmorn is a 10 year old bottled at 46%.  The Benrinnes is a 12 year old bottled at full strength, 58.2%.  Neither disappointed, though I really enjoyed the Longmorn much more than I'd expected.

I don't have proper notes on either as they were sampled at the tail end of this epic tasting, but I can summarize.  The Benrinnes was lightly citric, mildly honeyed, light on the oak, and very drinkable despite its high ABV.  The Longmorn was lovely and light, full of vanilla and baked treats.

I must pause this entry here.  In Part 2, tomorrow, I'll post reports on two of the whiskys and give final thoughts on the whole tasting.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Single Malt Report: The Yamazaki 18 is not The Harlem Shake

In 1981, Al B, a fellow in Harlem, created a dance called The Harlem Shake.  The wiggling shimmying step became very popular in the urban hip hop dance scene over the next thirty years.  In 2012, a dubstep artist named Baauer released a track named "The Harlem Shake" that had very little to do with the actual dance.  The video for the song became a YouTube sensation.  A internet meme quickly followed it in which a single person does a random dance in the middle of a space and then is suddenly joined by dozens of additional dancers going crazy in the ensuing edits.  Like all internet memes, it will not end until it is embraced by celebrities, so (happily) the Manchester City soccer team, Jimmie Johnson's racing team, and The Miami Heat basketball team have all released videos of themselves dancing around.

None of these new videos have anything to do with the actual Harlem Shake dance (see video at the top of the post), but they all call themselves The Harlem Shake.

I have no stake in The Harlem Shake -- please, everyone keep dancing! -- but if everything is The Harlem Shake then nothing is The Harlem Shake.  Linguistic nihilism is fantastic when it is a purposeful act.  But this viral cognitive sloth strikes me as something similar to the rash of apostrophe's in the wrong place's.

I'm going to go drink some whisky, because The Yamazaki 18 is not The Harlem Shake.

When I first reported on The Yamazaki 18 last year, I'd discovered it was pretty special.  Over the next seven months, the angels took their share of the sense memory from me.  Simultaneously the whisky became more and more mythical in my mind.  It was all SUPERLATIVE SUPERLATIVES.

Rumor on the malt street says that the newest batch of Yamazaki 18 should be hitting the States this month.  I have been counting the days.  I have also been dreading the price.  The previous release went from $80 to $100 to $130 in two years.

I didn't think I could trust my memory and, since I really do not like to spend that sort of cash on one bottle, I had to revisit the whisky.  Cue one trip to the secret bar that serves Yamazaki 18 at the same price as Glenmorangie 10.  Whisky funneled from glass into sample bottle.  Sample bottle shuttled home.  Three weeks later, the whisky slips back into a (Glencairn) glass.  Report time.

OwnershipSuntory Whisky
Age: minimum 18 years
Maturation: Toasted American oak puncheons, European oak sherry butts, Mizunara puncheons
Country: Japan
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

The color is a reddened mahogany.  An enormous nose.  Dark chocolate, fresh ginger, old bourbon,
pecans, cashews, thick molasses, bread pudding with Yamazaki 12 sauce, nutty cookies, amaretto, caramel sauce, and spicy fruit compote.  The palate......please allow me to drift into allegory... I taste things I don't understand.  They blossom for a moment, then I lose them, like a dream in the morning.  Unknown fruits (tropical? Asian?).  Rich rums.  A strange sandy wood.  Lime to gin to anise.  Aromatic toffee.  Marzipan, maybe?  Stewed fruits on a rum ice cream.  That marizpan-ish character continues through the finish.  The notes linger here so maybe I can net a few.  Brandied cherries, citrus peel, and anise.  Very aromatic and mildly sweet.  A flower candy moment.  Apricot jam and fresh oranges.  Endless...


The question is, will the new batch be the same?  Because no matter how different it is from before, Suntory can still call it "The Yamazaki 18".  Much like The Harlem Shake.  Please don't let it be The Harlem Shake.

Availability - Scarce, for now
Pricing - $130-$150, for now [Ed. note: as of 1/1/14 its average price is $186]
Rating - 95