...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Single Malt Report: Strathisla 14 year old 1997 Cask Strength Edition (distillery-only)

As much grief as I have given Diageo on this blog -- and I have given much -- about their single malt releases and the lack thereof, Pernod Ricard has the same issue.  Pernod owns a number of gorgeous malts, almost all of which are being dumped into their blending vats to make Chivas and Ballantine's (and Passport and 100 Pipers and on and on).  They have selected only two of their distilleries (Glenlivet and Aberlour) to highlight in the international single malt market via a wide bottling range.  They do single bottlings of a few of their other distilleries (including Scapa and Tormore), while the remaining majority are more easily found as independent releases or mixed into your bottle of Glen Campbell.  Pernod, like Diageo, is in the blended whisky business, which understandable considering Chivas and Ballantine's sell millions of cases every year.

I understand this from a business point of view, but from a hedonist's perspective it is saddening because Pernod owns some lovely malts like Longmorn and Strathisla.  When I see Chivas 18yr bottles sitting on the shelf (at a relatively cheap price here in CA), I wonder couldn't they have saved 3-5% of the malt within and bottle it on its own?  The answer is probably not, they have a lot of blended Scotch to sell.

Strathisla 12 year old single malt is a good straightforward drink with a little more body to it than many of the more widely-sold 12 years like Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, and Tomatin.  My only issue with it is its price, about 2 Glenfiddichs.  But that's all we get from Pernod when it comes to Strathisla.  Otherwise we have to search far and wide for an increasingly rare indie release.

There is one exception to this run-on Pernod Ricard rant:  The Cask Strength Editions.  A number of the Pernod Ricard distilleries sell 500mL bottles of their cask strength malt.  These often include, when available: Glenburgie, Miltonduff, Scapa, Longmorn, and Strathisla.

Distillery: Strathisla
Brand: Cask Strength Editions
Ownership: Chivas Regal by way of Pernod Ricard
Age: 14 years (1997-2012)
Maturation: likely ex-bourbon American Oak casks
Region: Speyside
Alcohol by Volume: 59.3%
Batch: SI14010

You know how I'd mentioned that I was going to match up whiskies each week with a purpose or commonality in mind?  Well, maybe not this week.

Here's the connection between this dram and the previous one:  While sipping the North Port-Brechin and remarking out loud to myself about its intense alcohol burn, I suddenly remembered a sample my buddy Whisky Josh OC had given to me a year ago.  (Thank you, Whisky Josh OC!)  I remembered he'd said that it was particularly hot stuff on the palate.  Nothing like a little more ethyl alcohol burn to clarify an evening.

Color - Bright gold
Nose - Big Oak. Tons of vanilla and corn syrup up front. There's a rotten cream note I've found in some other strong malt aged in American oak; luckily it's quite reserved here.  Then there's clover honey, moss, dried apricots, and nail varnish.  Finally there's a big whiff of honey butter in there.
Palate - Yeah, there's a wee ethyl sting to this one.  Underneath it there's chlorine, yeast, cinnamon, honey, and confectioner's sugar. There's a big bready note too, sort of like bread crusts dipped in honey.  After some time in the glass, the malt releases dried grass and bitter almond notes.
Finish - More of that honey, also marshmallows and yeast.  It's still grassy with a light bitterness, and minerally like licking rocks.  But then the long honeyed stretches stand out the most.

WITH WATER: (in the 43-46% ABV range)
Nose - For some reason the alcohol burn is more noticeable here.  But then there's tree bark, chlorine, peach-colored Smarties, fresh stone fruit, and flower blossoms.  The honey retreats.
Palate - Much less aggressive, but also much sweeter.  More vanilla too.  The dried grass note picks up as does the light but pleasant bitterness.
Finish - Still extensive, a little tangy, with a sugared sweetness.  It's almost a dessert whisky now.

This one is a stinger indeed.  First the alcohol jab, then the honey rushes in to soothe.  I prefer the 12 year old when comparing at similar ABVs.  Though this 14 year old has a number of different characteristics, I'm not sure it's more mature than the 12.  Though having it available at high power allows for more to play.

I'm aware that Strathisla is only 1/4th the size of Glenlivet, but it would be great to have a regular cask strength whisky in its range.  Yes, I know, it would also be great if a bottle of '72 Ardbeg showed up at my front door.  But, in my fantasy land, a young cask strengther would be less of a risk/investment than an 18 year in Strathisla's range.  Though an 18 year would be nice too...

Availability - At the distillery
Pricing - You'll need to inquire with the distillery
Rating - ★★★

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Single Malt Report: North Port-Brechin 19 year old 1976 Cadenhead's

There has been much weeping over the closing of the Brora and Port Ellen distilleries.  Nary a tear has fallen for the fate of North Port.  But is the short shrift this rarely-discussed distillery receives well earned or undue?  I'm going to make a final generalized opinion on it via a single 50mL with a questionable neck fill.

North Port isn't a 'port' in the way most of us know the word.  In fact, the distillery's location was at least five miles from the North Sea coast.  "Port" is actually a Scots word for a town's gate.  In this case, the gate was on the north side of the Scottish town of Brechin.  Though the distillery is gone, the town is still there, near the River Esk in corn country, with a thousand year old cathedral in its center.

Built by David Guthrie in 1823, the distillery stayed with his family until it was bought by DCL ninety-nine years later.  During its lifetime the names Townhead, Brechin, and North Port were all used; at some point in recent history the name became hyphenated as North Port-Brechin.  When the worldwide whisky market faltered, DCL (part of what would later become Diageo) went on its infamous distillery closing campaign in 1983.  North Port got the ax that May.  Today a Safeway supermarket stands in its place.

Since North Port's product was almost exclusively used for blends, and its malt was not one coveted, there haven't been many single malt releases.  Diageo dribbled out a few 'Rare Malts' releases.  The main independent bottlers Cadenhead's, Gordon & MacPhail, Laing, and Duncan Taylor have about three dozen of their own, in total.  I'm uncertain when the distillery picked up its current reputation for lower quality, but it may something to do with the reception of some of G&M's Connoisseur's Choice bottlings.  The Rare Malts output didn't seem to win North Port too many new fans either.  (I recommend Scotch and Ice Cream's great post on Tim's North Port-Brechin experience as it parallels most of the word of mouth I've personally heard on NP-B.)  But the Malt Maniacs do have some nice things to say about some of the Cadenhead's and Laing releases.  So how about an old Cadenhead's?

Distillery: North Port (Brechin)
Ownership: Diageo
Independent Bottler: Cadenhead's
Age: 19 years (December 1976 - December 1995)
Maturation: a much refilled former bourbon barrel (or Oak Cask, per the label)
Region: Eastern Highlands
Alcohol by Volume: 63.3% (woo-wee!)

Now that's an ABV.  A little unusual to have such a heavy hitter after 19 years in an "Oak Cask".  With the negative whisky word on the street about this distillery and the massive ABV, I was very excited.  Oh, this could be such a hot mess!  Or, looking at that neck, er, shoulder-fill it could be totally oxidized after seventeen years in glass.

Color - Rich dark gold
Nose - Much less burn or prickle than anticipated.  Honeydew melon and honey.  Salted caramels and a little yeast.  Bourbon-like vanilla with cherry and apple candies.
Palate - HOT S***, the taste buds have been torched! Earthy with some barrel char and chlorine.  Salty and sweet.  Fresh apples.  And also burning.
Finish - Salt and chlorine.  Cocoa, molasses, and sour apple candies.

Nose - Holds up well, though doesn't open up much: swimming pools, apples, vanilla extract, apple juice, fruity candies, barrel char, a little earthy.
Palate - The fire is now out, but the whisky doesn't open up at all, even with some time in the glass.  There's more sourness and bitterness.  And it's a little salty with mild malt and soil notes.
Finish - More oak shows up here along with mint and menthol. Lightly bitter and salty.

It wasn't terrible.  I was bracing for The Craptacular.  But the flaws don't seem to have entirely come from bad spirit (the nose was pretty good actually), rather the whisky seems to have been bottled too early and/or it sat in a worn out cask and/or it was in warehouse's hot spot.

Having just bottled my own little whiskey, I'm getting some first hand experience with maturation rates.  My rye lost tons of liquid, but much less alcohol.  That may have been due to warm storage, very porous oak, or questionable cooperage (or all of the above).  I had to bottle the whiskey before losing too much liquid and thus avoiding a bottle of undrinkable poison.  But that was me, a Long Beach shnook making one bottle of rye in his dining room.

Why was Cadenhead's in such a rush to bottle a 19 year old spirit at 63.3% ABV?  It's a white hot blast of new make on the palate with the oak showing up only a little on the nose (or with a lot of water added).  Would another 11 years in a different warehouse location or a different cask have hurt?  Then Cadenhead's would have been able to sell it at a premium due to the age and rarity alone.  Think of the price on a 30 year 1976 55+% ABV extinct single malt with less than 200 bottles available.  If that resulting whisky matured properly and actually tasted good, the word of mouth would have done them additional favors.

With a good cask and good management, North Port-Brechin malt could turn out decently.  As mentioned before, there are a few bottles that have gotten warm regards from the MMs.  Could Diageo be sitting on some 30-40 year old casks they're waiting to drop on a market devoid of North Port, with bloated prices attached?

I can understand the gripes against the distillery, but I can also see how something good can come of their malt.  I'm not necessarily encouraging anyone to hurry out and scoop up the existing $300+ bottles of NP-B, but I won't be as quick to mock the distillery going forward.  Plus I need to be a little more careful with super-high ABV whisky in the future.  Those behemoths may be fun but, damn, I'd like to keep most of my taste buds for future Single Malt Reports.

Availability - None
Pricing - Unknown
Rating - 74

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Whiskey #200: The Rye Storm (Part 2)

(Click here for Part One)

Here it is, The Rye Storm:

Distillery: Corsair
Independent Bottler: D4P Whiskies
Type: Barrel-aged rye spirit
Age: January 31 to July 13, 2013
Maturation: 2 liter new American Oak barrel
Limited bottling: 1
Distillery Region: Tennesee and Kentucky, USA
Maturation Region: Long Beach, California, USA
Alcohol by Volume: North of 50%, South of 70%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: No

What's in a name?  A number of things.  The "The" is in honor of the other "The"s: The Macallan, The Glenrothes, The Glenlivet, The Glenmorangie, etc.  The "Storm" is partially a tweak on the whisky industry for their inability to come up with original names, see: Islay Storm, Cutty Stark Storm, Talisker Storm, and Talisker Dark Storm (three of which came into the market within a year of each other).  It's a storm of whiskey, busy, loud, and potentially destructive in its alcoholic intensity.  But mostly I named it The Storm after the events in my life that took place while the whiskey was aging.  Rather than rehashing it, I'll just leave the link here.

I learned a lot from "making" The Rye Storm.  If I had another first-fill barrel, I'd try to figure out how to char it further.  I'd also measure the humidity and temperature around my home to find the coolest, driest spot.  Perhaps using a quieter spirit, one with less muscle than Wry Moon, would suit home booze such as this.  Plus the $100 initial investment in three bottles of spirit won't be a surprise.

For those planning on doing some barrel-aging at home, please make sure you follow any directions provided regarding curing and cleaning the barrel.  Also be very aware that most of the barrels being sold for home maturation are not as impeccably coopered as the ones used by the larger booze industry.  Even with a cool dry basement, you'll still need to anticipate a considerable Angel's Share.  If you have any questions or thoughts on this drop me a line here or send me an email.

Now, back to The Rye Storm.  Unlike certain craft whiskey bottlers, I will not call this California Rye.  The spirit was made by Corsair in either their Kentucky or Tennessee distillery.  Nor can I call it Straight Rye Whiskey due to its youth.

Here are my specific notes on how the nose and palate developed:

Day 0
Wry Moon is loaded with cracked white pepper and cinnamon Red Hots candies on both the nose and palate.  There's also a distant vegetal grain quality that lingers in the background.  Its highlight is the cocoa powder in the finish.

Day 36
Nose - Not much change. A little calmer. Less of the white pepper.
Palate - The spices have become more varied, sharper. Vanilla and chocolate notes have come into focus. Easier to drink.

Day 91
Nose - Softer spices up front, harsher ones in the back. Hints of vanilla and honey from the oak. Pepper and Red Hots have receded slightly. Maybe floral and anise notes?
Palate - ABV feels stronger as there's a big ethyl buzz. More sugars. Texture starting to thicken.
Finish - Hot chocolate.

Day 122
Nose - Still very spirity, but a little floral.  Honey, brown sugar, and baking spices.
Palate - Same as Day 91.
Finish - Lots of milky hot chocolate.
Not much changes when water is added. Maybe the nose is a little fruitier, perhaps the cocoa moves forward in the palate.

Day 164...

Color - Dark gold
Nose - Right up front: Cinnamon, maple syrup, cocoa powder, and something between coriander and cardamom. Lightly floral, but a lot of those Red Hots candies.  A tiny bit of vanilla.
Palate - Still very new makey. Cocoa, white pepper, Red Hots, cinnamon schnapps, and ethyl.  Actually, a little malty too.
Finish - Milk chocolatey rum. Some malt and chlorine.  Very lengthy, due to a likely high ABV

Nose - Cinnamon bread and kirsch
Palate - No change.
Finish - Dark chocolate with cayenne pepper

Following the nose's development over time was my favorite part and it sniffs better than it sips.  The palate is still very spirit heavy, think: Goldschlager Whiskey.  But once the rough palate passes, the chocolate finale is lively and enjoyable.

Availability - A single bottle
Pricing - One's liver cells?
Rating - 72


In yesterday's post, I mentioned there would be two uses for this barrel.  The Rye Storm was the first fill, after which I discovered the cask had soaked up 64mL of rye.  What sort of second fill use would follow???  Stay tuned.  Two months from now D4P Whiskies may have something else in store...

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Whiskey #200: The Rye Storm (Part 1)

I made some rye.  Correction, I barrel aged some rye spirit.  I named it The Rye Storm.  Over the past six months, I've been indulging in this experiment in the background, far from the daily routine.

Here's a video I threw together of that recaps some of the post below:

A Barrel!

My brother-in-law, Andrew, and his wife, Leslie, bought me a two-liter pre-charred barrel for Hanukkah last December.  (Thank you, guys!!!!) Within minutes of holding the barrel in my hands, I knew what I wanted to do with it: two things, equally important and intertwined.  Aging rye spirit would be the first part.

I wanted to make sure the spirit I'd use had a very high rye mashbill, since that's the sort of stuff I like to drink.  Having tried Corsair's Wry Moon (46% ABV) on a couple of previous occasions, I knew it was the only rye white dog that I liked on its own.  Of course, for Wry Moon, Corsair uses malted rye rather than the unmalted rye utilized by most rye producers.  That would definitely affect the flavor.  They also use a tiny portion of Chocolate (or roasted) malted rye, which really does give the spirit a light cocoa note.  This wasn't going to be a harmless comfy rye, it was going to be a little odd.


The barrel itself held some challenges.  I didn't know what the char level was, which is a complication since that would directly affect the maturation and final product.  Also, I wasn't sure how well coopered it was.  In a related issue: Our condo stays very warm. During the day when no one's home (and the A/C isn't running) there isn't a cool spot in the entire joint.  How much spirit would I lose to the angels?

Despite those quirks and despite the fact I'd never done this before, I went ahead and set lofty goals.  I wanted to end up with something approximate to a three-year-old rye; some oak, but not too much oak.  I still wanted the white dog to bark through his house.  Since the barrel's surface area is so small, leading to a lot of spirit/oak contact, maturation would happen 5x-10x faster than a normal bourbon barrel -- so said the instructions.  So, I thought it would take 3 to 4 months.  I'd rotate the barrel every week, then taste it every four weeks.  The Wry Moon bottles would work perfectly for bottling the result since they have a very tight cork.

On January 31, I filled the barrel with the Wry Moon.  I was left a few ounces of the spirit from the third bottle that I could compare and contrast with the developing experiment.  A dark corner was found where the barrel could be tucked away.  I figured that after three or four months, there would still be 1.5 liters left, enough to fill two bottles.  A 22% loss to the angels sounded like a comfortable overestimation to be safe.


From my notebook:

At 36 days - 12.5% of the volume has been lost. No color, remains very clear. No change on the nose. Slightly easier to drink, perhaps a wider variety of notes on the palate.

At 74 days - 24% of volume lost, less than 1400mL already. Color remains the same. Decision made to hold off on nosing and tasting for a couple weeks.

At 91 days (3 months) - 31.1% of volume lost.  The spirit has begun to take on some color. The nose has been considerably softened. First hints of oak vanilla and honey. Big hot chocolate finish, a little more sugary on the palate. Sudden realization: The liquid is evaporating much faster than the alcohol, this is considerably hotter than the original 46% ABV.

At 122 days (4 months) - 42.2% of volume lost. Liquid evaporating more quickly as the weather gets warmer. Color looks good, like a light bourbon. Still spirity, but a little floral with some nice baking spices on the nose.  The palate remains similar to before, though getting smoother and thicker.  Adding water to sample didn't result in any changes.  Realization: Will need to age as long as possible, but not so long that the rye will turn into a poisonous thimbleful.

At 164 days (about 5 1/2 months) - 61.5% of volume lost.  Just enough to fill one bottle.

The Rye Storm has arisen.  In the next post, I'll talk about the brown stuff in the bottle.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Two BIG milestones for Diving With Pearls

Judging by Google's two blog metric resources, Diving With Pearls has surpassed either 50,000 pageviews or 120,000 pageviews.  I'll go by the former, since the latter likely includes the swarm of spambots that circle this page every day.

To my human readers, THANK YOU!  Thank you for visiting and returning.  The online universe is enormous, I am very grateful that you choose to stop by this little corner of it to see what's going on.

To those who have found this site via Google searches for Johnnie Walker Black Label, Chivas Regal, Talisker Storm, Glenfiddich 12, Katy Perry's boobs, Justin Bieber, surprised kittens, Barack Osama, or Hankey Bannister, welcome!  Most of those subjects will never be posted about again, sorry. :(

A lot of change is going on here in my offline life.  I have resigned from my job.  There's about a week and a half left of it before I start a new chapter.  I'm committing to my writing career full time (or part time once I get a part time paying job).  While that may provide more flexibility for the blog, my financial means will be changing a little bit.  This is part of the reason I've reduced my whisky bottle purchases to 2-or-so-per-month for the last three months.  Now I have to stick to that approach.  Speaking of which...

After last week's Clynelish reports, this blog finds itself awaiting WHISK(E)Y #200.  Whisky #100 was a fun one in that it had allowed me to see how a single malt and its drinker changes over a year's time.  Whisky #101 was just plum serendipitous.  Number 200 will be something a little different.

With finances being a little tighter and whisky prices continually bloating will this blog see whisky 300?  ABSOLUTELY!  400?  Probably.  Going forward, I'm going to keep trying to group the reports into Taste Offs or verticals or themes since that's more educational (and fun) for you and I.

I'm sticking to my intention of easing non-whisky subjects back in, but, frankly, at the end of a difficult day I don't want to talk about anything but whisky and sleep.  (There's a joke in there somewhere about a sleep blog being a real snooze, but I won't go there.)  I'm excited to see what the new life will bring and I promise to write about my new successes.  My best wishes to all of you!  Stay tuned for #200...

Thursday, July 18, 2013

1997, Clynelish, and I

In 1997, I got laid for the first time.  I got my first car.  Watched my first porn (talk about vintage!) from end to end.  Got drunk for the first time.  Fell in love with silent cinema.  To me it was the sunset of my childhood.  It was 1998 that overthrew everything, when I was crushed and rebuilt for the first time.

But that's all romance.  Many other great and terrible things have happened to me before and since.  The actual years really don't actually demarcate the real experiences, they just provide ways to label elusive time.

Despite the three previous posts about independently bottled 1997 Clynelish, I have no grand conclusions.  Yet it is possible that there's a link between Clynelish and I.  In order to get there, let's first try to quantify online Clynelish reviews:
Whiskybase with its crowd-sourcing has the largest sample size.  Though Whiskyfun and the Whisky-Monitor occasionally overlap, it's clear that Serge has reviewed more Clynelish than the rest of his Malt Maniac crew combined.  Though they may look different, the tables above actually say very similar things:

1.)  1997 Clynelish doesn't score much higher than the vintages around it.  With the largest sample size of the listed distillation years it averages impressively between a strong B to a low B+.  But then again, the other Clynelishes do as well.
2.)  There seems to be quite a number of different 1997 Clynelish releases (the "Whisky Count" fields), the most by a bit if you sum the tables up.
3.)  Look below the 1997s.  Look below the red lines.  Watch how the amount of Clynelish releases quickly dwindle to nothing.

Back to these points in a moment.

Of the '97s, I have tried 6 so far (Go, Me!).  They range from decent to great.  But, quite frankly, Clynelish tends to put out consistently decent to great whisky each year in its watered-down, filtered, and colored official 14-year-old form.  What the independent bottlings allow us to do is purchase Clynelish from someone other than the drinks giant.  They also sometimes give us the ability to try 'Lish in its original strength.  Those are indeed benefits, the former for the sake of capitalism, the latter for a less restricted experience.  But I'm not convinced that the indie bottlings are significantly better than the Diageo one, nor am I convinced that 1997 was a consistently tremendous year/vintage for Clynelish.

As noted in the above charts, 1997 does seem to have been the last year the indies received a ton of Clynelish barrels from Diageo.  After that, it appears as if Diageo (and related blenders) cut short the outflow of Clynelish to other sellers.  So could this be another case of 1997 being viewed with wistful fancy?

With Diageo rushing into building new distilleries and cranking up production in existing ones, it's doubtful the conglomerate will allow someone else to sell its best assets soon (or ever).  So, when it comes to 1997 Clynelish, there has been a lot of it and much less from following years.....and it's good just about every year......so is its vintage really any better than others?  Is the Clynelish distilled in November 1997 really better than the stuff distilled in February 1998?  I'm not sold on that.

Admittedly, I didn't do this Clynelish Taste Off correctly.  I should have had a dozen samples spread out over the surrounding years.  Though that isn't within my means, it would have provided clearer results.  But, at the same time, I never expected to come to these conclusions.  I had thought I'd just rave about the four '97s and move on.  They were all good, at least one was great.  Yet the regular 14 year old 46% ABV Clynelish from Diageo is great as well.

Independent bottlers provide variety, expansion, and an opportunity for consumers to give their business to companies much smaller than giants like Diageo.  They do this for 1997 Clynelish like they do it for '89 Blair Athol, '95 Imperial, '94 Miltonduff, '91 Auchentoshan, '90 Glentauchers, '89 Jura, and hundreds of other distillery vintages that may or may not be well-regarded.  When looking at that first table above, you should focus on the 86 in the Whiskybase Whisky Count column.  That represents 86 separate releases of 1997 Clynelish.  If not for the indies, there would be only one Clynelish for us to try.  Perhaps that potential lack of freedom (not the idyll of vintage) is the most important element to take with us.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Single Malt Report Taste Off! Four 1997 Clynelish (The Second Two)

Yesterday, I posted about the first two 1997 Clynelish (both 14yrs).  Next, I paired up the two '97s that were matured for fifteen years before bottling:

Distillery: Clynelish
Independent Bottler: The Bonding Dram
Age: 15 years (1997-2012)
Maturation: ex-bourbon hogshead
Cask number5733
Limited bottling: 265
Region: Northern Highlands
Alcohol by Volume: 55.7%

This cask was chosen by a number of whisky geeks then bottled by The Bonding Dram (who also owns whiskysamples.eu) to celebrate the company's fifth anniversary.  While the Whiskybase shop, mentioned yesterday, isin the Netherlands, The Bonding Dram is an online-only shop based in Belgium.  Unlike Whiskybase's Archives, The Bonding Dram does not make a habit of releasing their own bottled malts, so this Clynelish was something out of the ordinary for them.

Sniffed (with pinkie extended) neatly from a 30mL sample bottle via a Glencairn glass
Color - Light gold
Nose - Honey, vanilla, and tropical fruit right up front, along with a surprising flash of sulfur.  Quite a bit of buttery American oak; lots of vanillins. Chocolatey rum with dulce di leche along with he familiar controlled honey/flower/pepper/wax note of official Clynelish. Still some barley in there, side by side with lemon juice and roasted potatoes.
Palate - A dusty pepper that's almost smoke-like. Ripe bananas and vanilla.  While the nose was full of oak, here there's more spirit; not sure it's the ethyl or tannins that are very drying.  Flower blossoms progress to cocoa.  Dirty gin martini with two olives.
Finish -  Sweetens up here.  A hint of citrus and vanilla.  Grilled corn, cocoa, and salt.  The olives and herbs from the gin martini. That pepper/smoke note also brings with it a light pleasant bitterness.

I'm fascinated by the pepper/smoke note.  I've found it in the official 14-year, which is supposedly made from non-peated malt, leaving me wondering "Is this smoke? Is it char? Is it pepper? Is it the desiccation of my liver from a lack of hydration?" No answer to be found, yet.  Dig the dirty martini note, though.

Availability - All gone too
Pricing -  around $95 (minus VAT, plus shipping)
Rating - 86

For more info on this malt, here's an enthusiastic vid from Whisky Rambler Mark Dermul:

Distillery: Clynelish
Independent Bottler: Master of Malt
Age: 15 years (1997-2012)
Maturation: refill ex-bourbon hogshead
Limited bottling: 255
Region: Northern Highlands
Alcohol by Volume: 56.1%

Master of Malt (MoM), the well-regarded UK online liquor retailer, released this bottling last year.  They have expanded their own indie bottling lines quite a bit and I hope to review at least one more of their whiskies this year.  (One random disclaimer:  While I've had a number of excellent shopping experiences with MoM and recommend them highly, HOLY MOLEY have their shipping rates jumped within the last couple of months.)  Anyway, this was the last '97 Clynelish dram I scooped up and the last one sampled.

Prodded neatly from a 30mL sample bottle via a Glencairn glass
Color - Amber with a little gold
Nose - Lots of bananas! Bananas in caramel, banana creme pie, banana toffee?  Thyme or maybe oregano.  Big oceanic note as well.  Plaster.  Sweaty socks.
Palate - A little on the hot side, but also very thickly textured.  Black pepper and butterscotch.  Fudgy rum and caramel.  A perky floral burst becomes very herbal.
Finish - Most Clynelishy here.  Peppery wax with herbs in the back.  Salted caramels.  That pepper/smoke note.  Dried savory herbs in the distance.

If you like bananas in your whisky you'll likely like this more than I.  Bananas aside, this is the most challenging of the four.  There's the industrial chemical note that develops in the nose after some time and while the ABV is only incrementally higher than the others, the ethyl is much sharper on the tongue.  It's not bad stuff though.  I'd take a difficult Clynelish over a good blend any day.

Availability - All gone too, but they have a new 16yr '97 out now
Pricing -  around $115, new edition is 10GBP cheaper
Rating - 80

The American oak is much more present in these two than the previous two.  The Bonding Dram version is a bit of changeling, always something else with every sip and sniff.  Meanwhile the Master of Malt sample is very focused on its attributes, especially all the bananas in the nose.

My preference of these four whiskies is actually in the order in which I tried them.  They each had their own personality, but at the same time had characteristics that tied them back to the classic officially bottled Clynelish.  I wish I could officially recommend these but they have all sold out since I bought them!  Apparently the word about '97 'Lishes has gotten out.

In the next post, I'm going to attempt to pull these thoughts (about whisky and beyond) together into some conclusions or maybe some more questions...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Single Malt Report Taste Off! Four 1997 Clynelish (The First Two)

Sometimes I can drink 4 one-ounce cask strength whiskies and take legible tasting notes.  Sometimes I can't.

Okay, usually I can't.  And in this particular Clynelish instance, I wanted to make sure I'd be able to compare and contrast whiskies, yet also have the sensory wherewithal to discern subtleties.  So I split the Taste Off up over two nights, two whiskies at a time.  Night 1 would be the two 14 year olds.  Night 2 would be the two 15 year olds.

The three whiskys I'd purchased as samples were each bottled by a European retailer I'd used in the past.  The fourth whisky was from the cask strength 750mL I'd bought blindly here in California; it was also bottled by an independent, though one a little larger than the other three.

Distillery: Clynelish
Independent Bottler: The Archives
Age: 14 years (1997-2011)
Maturation: ex-bourbon hogshead (likely refill)
Cask number4634
Limited bottling: 160
Region: Northern Highlands
Alcohol by Volume: 53.9%

The Archives was started by the Whiskybase Shop, a Netherlands retailer (which sells hundreds of bottles other than just their own) that also oversees the massive Whiskybase database website.  The Archives releases tend to be in small quantities (as they are a small business), but have spanned a couple dozen distilleries, so they provide plenty of whisky choices.  But the best ones do sell quickly, especially when good online reviews start rolling in.  This was the first of the Clynelish samples that I'd purchased, about six months ago.  Their samples are relatively cheap though also only 20mL in size.

Studied(?) neatly from a 20mL sample bottle via a Glencairn glass
Color - Very light, almost clear
Nose - SOMEONE PUT JASMINE IN MY WHISKY. It's actually very pretty.  There's the Clynelish wax, but a sexy wax? There's lychee, citron rind, and musty tropical fruit, but there's still lots of barley malt in there.  Bell pepper as opposed to the often-smelled dried peppercorns.  With some air: apple pie, sugary lychee syrup, orange pixie-stix, and almond paste develops.  What a nose!
Palate - Floral honey shows up first in a salty, grassy, brisk, malty palate.  An umami note as well.  Maybe some of that wax too.  Flower petals and Juicy Fruit gum.
Finish - More savory than sweet, though clover honey sits on the side.  As does the Juicy Fruit, butterscotch, and flower petals.  But, still, significant umami.

A bee-u-tiful nose leads the way here.  In fact that's what I remember most about this entire Taste Off two weeks later.  I was hoping to get in on a bottle of this, but they sold out by the time I did the tasting.  Phooey!!!

Availability - All gone
Pricing - $85-$95 (minus VAT, plus shipping)
Rating - 91

Distillery: Clynelish
Independent Bottler: Berry Bros. & Rudd
Age: 14 years (1997-2011)
Maturation: probably refill ex-bourbon hogshead
Cask number4659-4661
Region: Northern Highlands
Alcohol by Volume: 55.5%

Doing business in the same shoppe since 1698, Berry Brothers and Rudd is Britain's oldest wine and spirits retailer.  They've supplied the royal family with booze since George III and, happily, are currently bottling whisky, rum, and cognac for the rest of us.  As for the U.S. part of "us", though I can't say this with 100% certainty, I do believe that the only American retailer to sell BBR's liquor is the Total Wine & More chain.  I picked up a bottle of this 14-year cask strength Clynelish at the start of the year, after which Total Wine totally sold out of it in California.  But as of a couple weeks ago, they've put this year's batch of BBRs on the shelves.

Sampled neatly what remained of my 750mL bottle via a Glencairn glass
Color - Very light amber
Nose - Flower blossoms in Spring. Can one smell tart? Citrus rind and tropical fruit.  Sweet corn. Salted pretzels, chocolate-covered orange candy, and a puff of fruity esters.  A teeny bit of vanilla and caramel after about 30 minutes.
Palate - Starts tart then progresses to a mild sweetness.  Brown sugar, pie crust, and maybe milk chocolate.  Sticky hearty salty malt with a little black pepper.
Finish -  Bold and heavy.  Savory like gravy.  Salt and fresh cut grass meets head on with lots of citrus and floral sweetness.

Though I didn't take notes, when watered down to 46% ABV it tastes quite a bit like the official 14-year bottling.  I can no longer test this because my bottle is gone, down this hatch.  As mentioned above, it sold out in Total Wine's California stores early this year.  But there is a new 15-year on the shelves, marked up $10 from the previous release.

Availability - All gone in CA, though there is a new 15yr
Pricing - $70 (the new 15yr is $80)
Rating - 88

I discovered immediately that these two whiskys had more in common than just their distillery and age.  These are both balls-out malt releases.  Very little oak and no peat to hide behind.  Yet they are no longer young and coarse, as the refill casks did their part in maturing the spirit without contributing much interference, resulting in very Clynelish Clynelish.  They are winners both, though I slightly prefer the Archives first due to its lovely schnoz.

Tomorrow, the next two 1997 Clynelishes...

Monday, July 15, 2013

The 1997 Clynelish vintage?

If, like me, you're a frequenter of Whiskyfun, you may have noticed Serge referring to specific years of specific distilleries as if they were of a vintage, like wine.  Many of the vintages he references are far beyond my whisky budget (specifically those of the early '70s).  But there is one vintage that, for now, remains within reach: 1997 Clynelish.

Now, can distilleries have good vintages and bad vintages, like wine regions?  The overwhelming response I've read is: NO.  For wine, grape growth and sugar content are directly affected by climate.  Barley can also be affected by the weather, but a whisky is also greatly influenced by spirit cuts, yeast strains, oak casks, the former contents of those casks, and maturation conditions.  Also, compared to fermentation, the distillation process is less gradual, more violent, turning all of the sugars into alcohol.  In wine, some of the sugars from the grape juice remain in their simple sugar form, allowing much more of the grape characteristics to influence the final nose and palate.

The wine industry and its peripheral businesses are all about the grapes.  On the other hand, as discussed previously, almost no one in the whisky industry talks about their barley.  Couldn't there be some barley crops that are better than others, yielding better sugars for distillation?  Well, maybe, but the barley for Scotch whiskys aren't sourced from one region.  Bordeaux wine comes from grapes grown in Bordeaux, Champagne from Champagne.  A lot of barley for Scotch whisky is sourced from outside the country, sometimes from as far as Russia -- possibly a reason for the hush-hush attitude by the industry about their barley.  So, except in rare cases, the grain for your favorite single malt's origin isn't necessarily from one consistent locale.  Thus the climate probably doesn't influence the final product in a consistent manner.

But, what if there are unusually large proportions of good independently bottled whisky coming from one distillery in one particular year?  Different bottlers, different casks, different warehouses, all resulting in consistently good stuff?

I still think that starting with great distillate is one of the keys to a good single malt.  That's why we all have our favorite distilleries.  The fermentation time, the yeast, where the cuts are made, and the still shapes result in a product we reach for first in the stores.  Yet things change, whisky changes.  Distillery managers, processes, yeast strands, barley sources, and ownership change.  Isn't it possible that some years are better than others?

Serge likes Clynelish distilled in 1997 (see here, here, herehere, and here to name just a few). Mr. Valentin knows more about whisky that most of us, and probably more so than a number of professional spirits writers.  Two of the original PLOWED members recently expressed to me their love of that same vintage as well.  So I thought I'd give a few indie '97 Clynelishes a try.  The good news is there seems to be a good amount of that vintage to be found at European retailers.  Much more than the '98s or '96s.  Was Diageo feeling particularly generous that year?  Did they overproduce?

I first tried a pair of '97 Clynelishes -- from James Macarthur and Exclusive Malts -- at group tastings in Orange Country.  The first was bottled at 45%, the other was single cask, cask strength.  Both were very very good.  That inspired me to go out and buy a bottle of a different indie '97 blindly (from a US retailer!).  That one was also of considerable quality.  Since that one was at cask strength, I then bought single cask samples for three other indie bottlers.

Four recent 1997 Clynelishes, all bottled by independents, all at full strength.  Let's see what happens...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Single Malt Report: Ledaig 16yr 1997 Blackadder Raw Cask

(Peatin' Meetin' post #3b)

Ah, this one was fun to pour for the folks at my Peatin' Meetin' whisky table.  Despite its strength it was drinkable, and considerably different than most of the other whiskies around.

If you live in The States and frequent your local whisky retail paradise, you may see a Blackadder bottling or two.  Picking up the bottle, you'll notice three things.  Firstly, it's pretty expensive.  Secondly, the ABV is often very high.  And thirdly, if it's a Raw Cask bottling, there's a bunch of barrel char flakes floating around at the bottom of the bottle!  You can even sort of see the black stuff in the picture below.  When Blackadder says "Raw Cask", they mean "Raw Cask".  No filtering of any kind, including chunks of stuff.  It's sort of a ploy, but it sort of works.  I mean, I'm the first person to fall for the romance of char or sediment in my booze.

So when I was pouring this bottle of Tobermory's peated malt Ledaig (led-chig), I enjoyed showing off the high ABV and black chunks because no other bottle had it.  Plus I love Ledaig.  For now I'm in the minority on that one, but hopefully their current new official bottling will win over more fans than the old ones.

This whisky, of course, is not bottled by their owners, Burn Stewart.  Instead it's being brought to us by the aforementioned Blackadder.  So, since Ledaig can be a zany whisky and single casks are always their own beasts, let's see how this goes...

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Ledaig
Independent Bottler: Blackadder (Raw Cask)
Age: March 24, 1997 - April 2013 (16 years)
Maturation: Hogshead
Cask number: 80027
Limited bottling: 104
Region: Isle of Mull
Alcohol by Volume: 60.8%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: No

Color - Apple juice gold
Nose - First, one must get underneath all that alcohol.  Then there's subtle wood smoke, baked fruits (pears, apples, pineapples), hot cereal, a pinch of moss, and perfumed feminine musk (note to self: stop trying to explain this characteristic to a woman, you fool).
Palate - Hot cereal (think oats, farina, or cream of wheat) with a dash of brown sugar, along with strong malt with some spice at the end.  After catching some air, some peat veg shows up.
Finish - BIG.  Menthol, musk, malt, peat smoke, and oats.  But not necessarily in that order.

WITH WATER (around 45-46% ABV)
Nose - Ah, here's the Ledaig that I Le-Dig! Sometimes odd, sometimes bracing, sometimes scrumptious, always Ledaig: Vinegar. Butryic perfume (if that's a thing). Those baked fruits. Vanilla extract. Industrial fluids. Anise. Menthol. Red Hots (candies). And it all works.
Palate - Sweet & spicy peat, honey on a sweet potato, and cigar ash. Much more sugary now. Makes me think of a drier odder older Laphroaig QC, if that makes any sense.
Finish - Long, sweet, and spicy. Cigars and a Caol Ila-style beach bonfire.

In my opinion, one doesn't ride the Ledaig choo-choo if one expects the car to stay on the tracks.  If you're looking for a peaceful trip, catch another ride, man.  ---metaphor switch--- While I can't say this Ledaig has a balanced or consistent storyline, the entertainment value rates very highly.

It does take some level of craft mastery to create something like this.  And despite the love-hate relationship whisky drinkers have with Ledaig, Tobermory hasn't stopped cranking the stuff out.  Thank goodness.  In turn, Blackadder picked out an enjoyable cask here, though a little water goes a long way with the whisky inside.

Availability - Some continental European specialists
Pricing - $120-$130 (minus VAT, plus shipping)
Rating - 90

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Single Malt Report: Bunnahabhain 14yr 1997 van Wees The Ultimate

(Peatin' Meetin' post #3a)

Even though Bunnahabhain's regular malt is said to be unpeated, everyone from Serge and the Maniacs to Charlie MacLean have said there is a faint whiff of peat or smoke to it.  Last year in Vegas, I had a glass of the official 12 year and certainly caught a phenolic whisper -- though I haven't found it again since.

In 1997, the distillery did do a trial run of heavily peated (35-40ppm) malt to see how it would result or perhaps jump into the peated Islay market.  They officially bottled it for the Feis Ile for a couple of years, but also let a quite a number of casks go out to independent bottlers.  Each year, thanks to those indies, a few more single cask bottlings of that 1997 run hit the retail market.

Here in The States, there are a few Singatory Unchillfiltered bottlings of it and at least one Murray McDavid.  Overseas, specifically in the continental European market, there are considerably more offerings, such as today's single cask, cask strength version coming from the Dutch bottler, van Wees.  Trying one (or more!) of these indies was a part of my whisky journey I've been looking forward to.  Happily, I found this bottle at Peatin' Meetin' and was able to escape with a 30+ mL sample to take home with me.

Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Independent Bottler: van Wees (The Ultimate)
Age: Dec 11, 1997 - Dec 7, 2012 -- five days away from 15 years
Maturation: Hogshead
Cask number5560
Limited bottling: 292
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 54.2%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: No

Color - Light amber
Nose - Wow, very young and brash.  A combo of mossy shoe polish and smoldering plastic hits first.  Then some white vinegar and tiny whiff of vanilla.  Finally, new car smell!
Palate - Cigars, chocolate, bananas, grassy peat, and heavy ash.  Lots of ethyl.  It's very raw, not much oak, like a naked mossy astringent Ardbeg......which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Finish - Woody smoke, pencils, hot grassy peat take the lead.  Sugary sweetness shows up at the tail end, as well as a bit of vanilla.

Nose -  Starts to feel a little more organic.  Black pepper, dried ginger, wasabi, chalk, plastic toys, cardboard.  It's also kind of beachy (sand, seaweed, ocean shallows).
Palate - Gets even more mossy.  A little caramel, maybe some more vanillins, a pinch of cinnamon and a pinch of soil.
Finish - Peat moss, wood smoke, ocean, and vanilla.

This tastes and smells very young, much younger than one would expect from its age.  And very little oak presence as well, so this must have been either a much-used (or worn-out, to be less polite) hogshead or a very lightly charred one.  I know I rarely request more oak, but while this is a fun crisp malt, it would be tremendous with a first or second-fill American oak barrel.  The peat and spirit are very good and could probably compete easily with the rest of the island's heavy hitters.  There's good potential here, so there will definitely be more reports on the '97 Bunnies.

[For a little postscript: Bunnahabhain began peating batches of malt again in 2003.  These batches resulted in the Duty Free Cruach-Mhona and the more widely available Toiteach bottles.  These are decent whiskys, but they're still a little young.  Can't wait to see how these develop or if they'll be allowed to...]

Availability - Some continental European specialists
Pricing - $70-$80 (minus VAT, plus shipping)
Rating - 82

Friday, July 5, 2013

Peatin' Meetin' post #2 - The VIP Whiskys and a thought on sample sizes

So here's the scoop.  LASC had four glamourous (yes, with the extra 'u') single malts for the members.  We had to split them up amongst ourselves, so that resulted in .25oz pours for each of us.  Because these whiskys are seriously above my paygrade, I wanted to have some alone time with them in an atmosphere that would allow for better noising, notes, and memories.  So they all went into little glass Boston Round bottles and were transported home.  Okay, all but one of them.

I then spent that quality time with them on Sunday night.  Here are the results in tasting order, after which I ponder sample sizes:

Bowmore 1982 Samaroli, 21 year old

Distillery: Bowmore
Independent Bottler: Samaroli (Coilltean Range)
Age: 21 years (1982-2004)
Maturation: likely refill casks
Casks: 1011 + 62 + 71
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 45.0%

This is the one that never made it home.  It went from glass to mouth right on site.  As a result, its notes are briefer than the other three.

Nose, Palate, and Finish - Lavender candy!  There are some tangerine and mango things going on as well, but it was mostly lavender candy.  No FWP (F***ing Who Pucked?, just kidding: French Whore Perfume), no PWF (Pretty Weird Finish), no soap.  Not much peat remains either.  Sweetness and softness.  And this was a rare instance (for me at least) of the nose and palate matching up.

This has to be your thing.  If the old Bowmore lavender note turns you off, then this ain't your dram.  I don't mind it much, but here it was very pretty.  On the whole, I'm cuckoo for independent Bowmores.  Aside from one stinkbomb, I've dug everyone I've tried; each one providing its own trip.  Each one topping the regular official range by some distance.  The indie Bowmores at Peatin' Meetin' were all very good, especially this one.

Availability - Maybe this Italian shop?
Pricing - $350-$400
Rating - 90

The next ones were stored promptly...

Port Ellen 8th Release 1978, 29 years old (OB)

Before this, I'd had two Port Ellens from Scott's Selection, both of which were gorgeous.  They had both been aged in American oak and the result was some of the most graceful peated malt I've ever tried.  Those samples were more substantial than this one, but I believed PE's strengths would shine through.

Distillery: Port Ellen
Bottler: Official (Diageo), 8th Release
Age: 29 years (1978-2008)
Maturation: I'm guessing ex-bourbon refills
Limited Bottling: 5959 of 6618
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 55.3%

Color - Light gold (it looks darker in the pic because the bottle itself has a dark tint)
Nose - Chimneys on a November night in a small coastal Scottish town.  Fruity apple peat, leather armchair, moss, pencil lead, fruit tart crust, apple pie, pineapple juice cocktail, and white peaches.
Palate - The fluffiest of peat pillows. Makes a man want to hug his Port Ellen (and not just because it would have set him back an even grand). Vanilla bean, a multitude of sugars: brown, confectioner's, fruit, and on and on. Lots of sticky smoky residue.
Finish - A big round finale. The peat bites back along with tart fruits and black coffee.

Haven't had a bad Port Ellen, yet.  A bit more muscle in this OB's peat than in the Scott's bottlings.  It seems like a kitten at the start then goes for the throat like panther.  Oh man, I'm starting to go all J.Murray here.

Availability - High falutin' European shops
Pricing - $800-$1000 (yup)
Rating - 91


Ardbeg Lord of the Isles (OB)

As per the GREAT Ardbeg Project:
The Lord of the Isles was originally bottled in 2001, and unofficially, it was released as an approximately 25 year old whisky, comprised of 1976 and 1977 casks. It is said to always contain casks from 1976 and 1977 so the whisky would be older as each bottling run was released. Much like the Ardbeg 17, the actual age of Lord of the Isles increases towards the end of its bottling life. Theoretically, the LOTI in 2007 was almost 30 years old.
Finally some all-old Arbeg in the house.  Bring it!

Distillery: Ardbeg
Bottler: Official (LVMH), possibly the 2007 bottling
Age: minimum 25 years, though up to 30 years
Maturation: 15% ex-sherry, 85% ex-bourbon casks
Limited Bottling: 5959 of 6618
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 55.3%

Color - Light gold
Nose - Buttercream frosting, citrus, piney peat, and fruit cocktail juice arrive first.  Then cherry bubblegum and rosewater after some time.
Palate - Ardbeg ash but in the midground rather than foreground. Ardbeg lemon, but more like lemon creme pie with some fresh berries. More of that piney peat floating in mild molasses.
Finish - Lots of tobacco and ashy earth rumble up creating a very extensive finish, specially for a 46%ABV malt.

As a whole, my favorite of these four.  Also the most compulsively drinkable.  While it did spend between 6-10 years sitting in the bottle, it showed no signs of oxidation.  It seems more rounded and modulated than the current malt, maybe it's because it has had more time to mature.  A pity about the price though.

Availability - Those same high falutin' European shops
Pricing - anywhere between $600 and $1300
Rating - 92

Brora 1981 Old Malt Cask, 21 year old

My first Brora (1972 Connoisseur's Choice) was very drinkable, but mostly characterless, as if it had been a lightly peated Glenfiddich 12 (which would be a great idea, BTW).  The neck-fill on that bottle had been low, so we think that after 18 years with a lackluster seal, the contents of the bottle had oxidized.

Of these four VIP malts, I was looking forward to this Old Malt Cask Brora the most.  Old school peated Highland malt is my favorite style, thus I so want to love Brora.  But this one......this one smelled fishy from the start.

Distillery: Brora
Bottler: Douglas Laing (Old Malt Cask) 
Age: 21 years (June 1981 - October 2002)
Maturation: ex-sherry cask
Limited Bottling: 360
Region: Northern Highlands
Alcohol by Volume: 50.0%

Color - Light gold, again
Nose - CRAZY SULFUR. Wham! One sniff would make J.Murray shart in his chapeau (I'm classy). There's a swimming pool under the fog of struck matches. A little actual sherry under there too. Cinnamon syrup with smoked tropical fruits and apricots.  But mostly sulfur.
Palate - CRAZY SULFUR.  Struck match liquor.  Light peating.  Dirt and horseradish.
Finish - CRA---- you know the song. Slight bitterness, more of the dirt, like licking rocks.  The peat makes itself most noticeable here.

Far and away the most sulfurous whisky I've ever tried.  I don't mind a little sulfur in the mix since it brings to the malt another facet.  But this was booming with element 16.  I'm 0 for 2 with my Broras.  My search continues.

Availability - Other Brora OMCs can be found at aforementioned retailers
Pricing - low ball at $450, maxing out at $FirstBorn
Rating - 79 (probably 60 if you're sulfurphobic)

In the course of tasting these whiskys, it became apparent that it is very difficult to glean acceptable notes from a 7mL sample.  Nosing can still be done on some level, but the process of fully determining palate and finish requires (for me) at least 20mL.

At most public tastings given by distributors, clubs, or reps, a .25oz (7.5mL) pour is the fashion (or de rigueur if you're in that mode).  That quantity is enough to make a drinker respond, "yummy" or "gross" or "it's alright".  But to really dig in with that sort of pour, the taster needs to find a quiet corner of his bedroom, put on some quiet mid-century jazz, and clear his mind.  And even then he can only do so much.

Usually, I have a 30mL pour to work with.  Sometimes a 20mL.  If I'm lucky I have 50mL or 60mL.  I'd rather be thorough, so the bigger the better.  A larger dram equals more time; more time equals more thorough decoding.  I think I did okay with these samples above.  But, like statistics, the palate is better served by a larger sample.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Peatin' Meetin' post #1

I'm not sure how helpful this post is really going to be, but I feel like I need to list this in order to fully wrap my head around a busy night.  I sampled at least 17 whiskies on Saturday night and I'm still sorting through the experience.  So here's how I'm going to split it out:

Post #1 - This post with my notes on the whiskies that won't be in posts 2 and 3.
Post #2 - The VIP malts from the evening.  Rather than sipping them on location, I tucked my .25oz samples into separate bottles to try on Sunday night.  These will have (I hope) more extensive notes.
Post #3 - I escaped with .75 - 1.00oz samples of three whiskies.  These will get their own post next week.  I'm drying out for a few days before I even look at a whisky again.

So here's the list:

Ardbeg Ardbog, 52.1%ABV - On the nose: lightly winey, bricks of veggie peat, and seemingly more coastal than the 10 year.  Cigarettes, lemon, lightly bitter peat, and oranges in the palate.  Pretty good actually, just not $100 good.

Ardbeg Corryvrecken, 57.1%ABV - Because what I really needed was a nightcap.

Ardbeg Lord of the Isles - See post #2

Bowmore 1982 21yr Samaroli - See post #2

Bowmore 1989 21yr Silver Seal, 46%ABV - Dynamite! Wish I had taken some actual notes on this one.  Nary a hint of flowers or perfume.  Good peat, good barley, good oak.  Big and bold even after 21+ years.

Bowmore 2000 12yr Cadenheads, 59.6%ABV - This one was divisive.  Cough medicine, salty, some spicy herbs, but mostly very phenolic.  I loved it.

Bowmore 2001 11yr Maltbarn, 53.6%ABV - Tons of grapefruit and ginger. Very enjoyable. A contrast in characteristics from the preceding Cadenheads Bowmore.

Brora 1981 21yr Old Malt Cask - See post #2

Bruichladdich 6yr SMWS 23.62 - Let's just pretend you didn't see this one here.  (Logistics error)

Bunnahabhain 1997 14yr Van Wees, 54.2%ABV - This will also be in post #3.

Bunnahabhain Toiteach, 46%ABV - The young peaty Bunny.  People who like their peated Cruach-Mhona, didn't like this one.  And vice versa.  I like both, but prefer the Cruach due to its Ardbeggieness.

Campbeltown Loch (Blended Scotch) - Not half bad.  Piney, oily, some dried oregano, enough malt to be substantial.  I haven't found this blend for sale in California yet. I'd spring $30 for it, though it appears to be priced higher.

Clan Denny Islay (Blended Malt), 46%ABV - I liked it quite a bit.  There are a number of well-received vatted Islays on the market: Clan Denny, Cask Islay, Smokey Joe, Big Peat.  If the bottlers would only keep their prices in the $40 range, then they would win over the folks (like me) who are tired of seeing $50-$60 10 year old single malts.  But most of those vatted malts are heading into the $50 range as well.

Douglas XO (Blended Scotch) - Inoffensive.  Drinkable.  Low on the smoke.  Probably better than all of the famous entry level blends out tere.

Kilchoman 2007 4yr Single Cask Nation, 58.4%ABV - Another excellent single cask of baby Kilchoman.  Just enough American oak frames the Kilchoman malt rumble.

Lagavulin 1995 12yr Friends of Classic Malts, 48%ABV - A limited (by Diageo's standards) release of 100% ex-sherry Lagavulin.  Was the most popular of all the malts I was pouring.  The sherry oak shaves the edges off the Lag and makes it more approachable.  I'd still take the 12yr cask strength over it any day.

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2013 (9 month port pipe finish), 51.3%ABV - Pink Laphroaig!  I'm not a port-ed whisky fan, but with its strawberry shortcake and fresh raspberries, this most recent Cairdeas was very very tasty. I hope they keep the price low when it hits this coast......I can hope can't I?!

Laphroaig 20yr SMWS 29.104, 58.2%ABV - With 1000 thank yous to Tim Puett!  Definitely one of my top two malts of the night.  I've had four indie ex-sherry Laphroaigs this year and all of them have been fantastic.  The phenolics, grapes, and rich oak always merge into a single statement.  That statement is, of course, "I am delicious."

Ledaig 10yr, 46.3%ABV - My palate was largely vaporized by the time I got to this one, but it was very approachable.  It was good to see so many folks enjoying Ledaig.  I've reviewed it before, but I will study it further.

Ledaig 1997 16yr Blackadder Raw Cask - The other one of my top two malts of the night.  This will be in post #3.

Octomore 5.1, 59.5%ABV - Milk chocolate, a bit of malt still flexing through the noise, sugar cookies, salty peat.  I love enormous phenolics, but the three Octomores I've tried haven't knocked me over.  In fact, it's almost as if the peat is yelling so loud that I've tuned it out.  And their prices are a damned distraction.

Port Ellen 8th Release - See post #2

Apologies for the lack of pics.  I was pouring stuff all night.  And when I wasn't pouring, I was sipping.  Post #2 will be following in a day or two.  Now, I must hydrate.