...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, September 30, 2013

A Diageo boycott: The Brands

Four weeks ago, Diageo dropped their annual single malt Special Release pricing turd into the market.  It is likely that price bloating -- such as Port Ellen's boost from $500 to $1000 to $2400 over the past three years -- was intended to try to silence the secondary market.  If their customers can buy an official PE for $500 then immediately sell it at auction for $1000, why would Big D want to lose out on that extra $500 revenue?  This is a drug after all, so an addict and his money are soon separated, thus without pause people were flipping their PEs for $1500.  So this year Diageo raised the price even higher to make sure that this secondary market wouldn't sap any of their potential income.  I'm sure that such a hike will accomplish a bit of what they've set out to do, but I can't help but think that this pricing will do a number on the primary market as well.  The industry is constantly testing to see how much we will spend on all of our whisky, including the stuff at Trader Joe's.  So if folks will continue to pay 10%-20%-30% more each year for a 25-year-old malt, then let's see if they'll do the same at each step in the brand rung.  And we are.

After reading the press release for the new limited releases, I was reminded that I was supposed to be discussing my Diageo boycott idea one of these days soon.  In fact, I said that I'd do so after the Summer of 2013.  It is after the Summer of 2013.  So let's talk about it.

Diageo PLC (DEO; NYSE) has a market cap near $80,000,000,000 (or for folks who like to go by Enterprise Value, it's nearing $95,000,000,000).  Its annual revenue will likely top $18,000,000,000 in 2013.  Its stock value has tripled since a low point in mid-March 2009 and they still give out a nifty dividend of two to three percent to their investors.  Diageo's nearest competitor (though it doesn't really have one) in the whisky industry is Pernod Ricard SA.  Pernod as a whole is valued at less than half (possibly closer to 40%) of Diageo's worth, turns half as much profit, and has considerably less cash on hand.

So really, if I stop buying Diageo's products it's not going to mean a darned thing to their books.  It's more a personal choice: To which company would I like to hand my money?  The answer is not Diageo.  The reasons are legion and I intend to attempt to list them later this week.  But for today, I'm going to list their brands (not including Scotch Whisky), in order to demonstrate what's theirs on the store shelves and thus what I wouldn't purchase under such a boycott.

Because Diaego owns 34% of LVMH's (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) drinks unit -- and are looking to buy it out in its entirety -- I am including their brands with a parenthetical.  Though there was much discussion of Diageo buying out Beam last winter, nothing has yet come of it so I won't include Beam's brands here.

Please note, this does not include brands distributed by Diageo, nor the 130+ Indian brands absorbed via the purchase of United Spirits Limited.

Brandy and Cognac
Hennessey (via LVMH)


Liqueur, Schnapps, and Aperitif
Rumple Minze
Sirop de Picon
Yukon Jack

10 Cane (via LVMH)
Captain Morgan

Don Julio

Belevedere (via LVMH)
Ketel One

Irish Whiskey

Canadian Whisky
Crown Royal

American Whiskey
George Dickel
Jeremiah Weed
Seagram's Seven

Red Stripe

Blossom Hill
Canoe Ridge
Chateau d'Yquem (via LVMH)
Dom Perignon (via LVMH)
Domaine Chandon (via LVMH)
Justerini & Brooks
Krug (via LVMH)
Mercier (via LVMH)
Moet & Chandon (via LVMH)
Moon Mountain
Navarro Correas
Plat d'Or
Rosenblum Cellars
Ruinart (via LVMH)
Veuve Cliquot (via LVMH)

Seeing some familiar names up there?  These brands often take up more than half the shelf space at small bars, grocery stores, and corner liquor counters.  So if one wanted to stop buying Diageo products cold, one would need to consider his or her drinking experience without those bottles.

For me, there's not a lot being sacrificed from this list.  Of the gins, Tanqueray is the only one I've bought.  I've been trying to buy gins from smaller companies, and the results have been pretty good.  The craft companies seem to be having more luck with gin than whiskey so far.  For the liqueurs, I don't drink 'Schlager or Bailey's anymore.  In the rum category, I haven't had Captain in years.  Having been a vodka drinker in a previous life, I have purchased all of their brands.  Though if I never drink vodka again, I won't be too disappointed.  Whiskey-wise, I was just starting to dabble in some Bushmills, but I'm not convinced it will be that much of a loss.  Nor will Crown Royal.  I like Bulleit, especially at its price range, but there are many other non-Diageo brands that use similar juice.  As you may notice, LVMH holds most of the good wine brands on the list.  Some fun champagne in there, but I'd rather support smaller producers.

The beer section is the tough one for me.  Guinness is a mainstay in our home and it is divine when served in Ireland.  Harp and Red Stripe are also favorites of mine.  Tusker is a beer I share with my dad when I see him, ever since we drank tons of it in the Kenyan heat thirteen years ago.  So that's the sensitive spot.

Again, look at the big ol' list above.  How hard would it be for you to part with all of those brands?  This isn't about snobbery, it's about what tastes good to you.  And would the pleasure those brands bring be worth giving up if their company's policies and corporate actions offended you?

It's something I've been considering.  The beer brands are one of my weak points.  The other?  Scotch whisky.  That list follows tomorrow.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Willett Week: Willett Family Estate Single Barrel Rye 6 years old, Barrel #57

I love Willett rye.  I LOVE Willet rye.  But after five of them in one week, whew......I don't know how Serge does it with his 7-part Caol Ila verticals on a Tuesday, then 6-part Bowmore horizontals on a Wednesday.  Here's how I structured things:

Tasting #1, Sunday night:  4 year old from barrel 82 and 4 year old from barrel 85
Tasting #2, Tuesday night:  5 year old from barrel 38 and 5 year old from barrel 64
Tasting #3, Thursday night: leftovers from Tasting #2 and 6 year old from barrel 57

It's been a whole lotta...

This final Willett rye was from my own bottle that I'd opened this past winter.  I stashed away a sample at the halfway point.  I forgot to take a pic of the sample, but here's the original bottle:

You see that "Distilled in Indiana" at the bottom of the back label.  That's good news for me.

BottlerKentucky Bourbon Distillers (formerly Willett Distilling Company)
Brand: Willett Family Estate Single Barrel
Type: Straight Rye Whiskey
Age6 years
MaturationNew American Oak
RegionBardstown, Kentucky (Distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana)
Barrel: 57
Bottle: 155/204
Alcohol by Volume55%

The color?  Let's just call it Willett brand maple syrup.  The nose holds all things for all people.  First, it's very desserty.  Caramel sauce, vanilla ice cream, and cherries.  A rye sundae!  Mango and dried cranberries in there too.  And Cow Tales, the candy.  It's got the spices going on: cloves and cardamom.  It's rocking the barbecue: wood smoke and charred meat.  And -- like most of the other Willetts from this week -- give it 20+ minutes to breathe and a maple syrup note wafts up.  The palate also hits many good spots.  It has the sweets, the sours, brine, and heat, all in balance.  It's a little bready, has lots of cloves, some bubblegum, mint, and cherry-flavored cough syrup.  The dense thick rich finish brings the caramel and sweet cream combo, as well as a lot of fresh fruits (peaches and berries, I think...).  Possibly some rye seeds in there too.

Kristen noted the big alcohol heat.  But she also said the nose reminds her of the cranberry quick bread her church used to set out on Sundays when she was a kid.

This was some good stuff.  There were a number of these 6yos in the stores during Spring 2012.  I haven't seen them since.  With all the good word of mouth the Willett ryes have gotten, KBD may not be able to keep the barrels aging for much longer than 4 years anymore in order to meet demand.  That's not too tragic.  I adore the three and four year old bottlings, but hopefully they have a chance to keep a few barrels going for the extra couple of years.

If I were to give recommendations (I can see your eyes rolling via your webcam), I'd say that the 4 year olds have been reliably awesome in my experience (3 for 3!).  But if you're a fan of big ryes and you see a 6 year old single barrel Willett rye sitting on the shelf for the same price as the 4 year olds, you'd best scoop that up.  And make sure you check out where the rye in that bottle was distilled before laying down the cash.

Best Autumn wishes to everyone!  May you have plenty of whisk(e)y weather.

Availability - Not sure who's still carrying the 6 year, either
Pricing - $35-$40 (East Coast, Midwest), $40-$45 (West Coast)
Rating - 91

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Willett Week: Willett Family Estate Single Barrel Rye 5 years old, Barrel #64

Today, I'm covering a 5 year old Willett rye that was distilled in Kentucky (possibly at the Buffalo Trace or Brown-Forman distilleries) rather than the usual source at LDI/MGP in Indiana.  Meanwhile, it turns out that yesterday's 5 year old Willett rye was in fact distilled at LDI/MGP.  That leaves me with the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The Good: Having tasted the two 5 year olds side by side, I was (unknowingly) able to compare two Willetts sourced from two different distilleries.

The Bad: The similarities I'd thought I'd found in the distillate were either my imagination or, at best, the result of similar oak and maturation conditions.

The Ugly: I actually reviewed whiskey from this very bottle back in April 2012.  Not only are today's notes very different than those previous ones, but this whiskey went from being my favorite Willett to my least favorite Willett.

Of course, my least favorite Willett still ranks in the 80-percentile of all the whisk(e)y I've ever tried.  Here's the back of that original bottle, with the "Distilled in Kentucky" description at the bottom.

Our old cruddy countertops and old tacky backsplash are there in the background
from days of yore, before we tore them all out...

And here is the sample bottle, I had stashed away over a year ago.

BottlerKentucky Bourbon Distillers (formerly Willett Distilling Company)
Brand: Willett Family Estate Single Barrel
Type: Straight Rye Whiskey
Age5 years
MaturationNew American Oak
RegionBardstown, Kentucky
Barrel: 64
Bottle: 190/192
Alcohol by Volume55%

The juice may be from a different source, but the color remains the same as the others: maple syrup.  The nose is the corniest of the Willetts so far.  Corny and creamy, creamed corn?  The paint-like fumes that I'd sniffed in yesterday's rye are here too but more subtle and arise later on.  Lots of green grains, fresh wood pulp, molasses, and hot hay.  It's a little toffee-ish too with some vanilla extract thrown in, and some Juicy Fruit gum.  There's the cinnamon, but maybe in bark or stick form.  With some more time in the glass, the rye releases notes of cilantro, turkey gravy, cloves, and notebook paper. The palate is where this one separates itself from the others.  The tree bark, cinnamon candy, and black peppercorn notes are not surprising.  But the lightly perfumed vegetal bitterness is.  And then something eggy; can there be sulfur in rye?  On the other hand there's still some nice sweetness going on.  The odder notes go away in the finish.  It's full of buttery oak, cinnamon, and mint.  It goes on and on, bringing with it some cocoa powder and cloves as well as a very mild bitterness.

Kristen says it smells of farm equipment and wet hay.  I wish I'd smelled that, too!

How do I account for the differences between my notes here and the ones from April 2012?  Maybe my palate changed.  Perhaps trying this rye side-by-side with another one allowed me to pick out different notes and get more specific.  Or maybe something changed in the bottle.  My review last year was from whiskey towards the top of the bottle.  This sample was poured four months later when the fill level was at the midpoint.

While I won't rave about it like most of the other Willetts from this week's reports, it's still a decent rye.  Ultimately the nose is nice, so is the finish.  While the good finale actually makes one forget about the palate's quirks, those oddities are still there.  I'm thinking this version of Willett's rye may appeal better to folks who aren't the biggest fans of LDI's 95% rye mashbill.  For the rest of us, keep an eye on the back of the label for "Distilled in Indiana", that may be the difference between good and great.

Availability - Not sure who's still carrying the 5 year
Pricing - $35-$40 (East Coast, Midwest), $40-$45 (West Coast)
Rating - 83

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Willett Week: Willett Family Estate Single Barrel Rye 5 years old, Barrel #38

Local temperatures reached 90 again yesterday, so I'm going to keep on keepin' on with the Willett ryes.  Come on, Autumn, the welcome mat is out!

Today's and tomorrow's ryes will be 5 year olds.  One from a sample courtesy of Jordan (thank you!) and one from a bottle I'd actually reviewed some time ago, but had had a completely different experience upon tasting it again.

Both of these 5 year olds had a noticeably different spirit character than the 4 year olds.  I'm wondering if it was because many of the 5 yrs were not distilled by LDI/MGP, but instead by an unnamed Kentucky distillery.  This curiosity came up in a Straight Bourbon forum discussion a few months back.  The floated theory was that the rye came from either the Buffalo Trace or Brown Forman distilleries.

If anyone has thoughts about or experiences with this, please let me know!  [Note: Today's rye was distilled at LDI, tomorrow's rye was not.] Here's the label from my bottle, Barrel #64 (reviewed tomorrow):

The whiskies were still good, but of a different feel than the 4 yrs.  And, honestly, they were more difficult to figure out.

Let's start with Jordan's sample from Barrel #38.

BottlerKentucky Bourbon Distillers (formerly Willett Distilling Company)
Brand: Willett Family Estate Single Barrel
Age5 years
MaturationNew American Oak
RegionBardstown, Kentucky
Barrel: 38
Alcohol by Volume55%

The color remains maple syrupy.  The nose on this one is the strongest so far.  Charred oak, almond paste, paint fumes, and prune juice lead the way.  It smells as if there's a little bit of corn (like corn chips) in here.  So, since LDI's mashbill has no corn, either this is from a distillery with corn in their rye mashbill or I'm just smellin' things.  Wouldn't be the first time.  I also sniff some ripe dates, coriander, and cloves.  There's a little bit of leather, a little vanilla, chicken stock, and a whiff of maple syrup at the end.  The palate has a cinnamon schnapps note that was entirely absent from the 4yrs, and sort of reminded me of my Rye Storm but better.  There are sweet and spicy notes like brown sugar, dates, and a minty effervescence.  Those balance well with green notes like grass, celery, and cucumber.  The spirit shouts the loudest on the finish.  Very cinnamony.  Some anise and figs, as opposed to the dates.  It's a bit drying, probably more from the big distillate than the oak tannins.

Kristen agreed that this was a strong sniffer.  She found this to have the least amount of vanilla, but with a dose of those paint fumes.

This is a big rye.  It's not for those who are looking for a mellow sipper nor those yearning for an oaky buttery caramel bomb.  It's a brash fighter and I'm glad the folks picking barrels for Willett went ahead with this one.  It took almost an hour for me to sort this one out, but in comparison with tomorrow's rye it balanced well in the end.

Availability - Not sure who's still carrying the 5 year
Pricing - $35-$40 (East Coast, Midwest), $40-$45 (West Coast)
Rating - 87

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Willett Week: Willett Family Estate Single Barrel Rye 4 years old, Barrel #85

Continuing within Autumn's Willett Welcome Wagon, I present my current open bottle of Willett Rye, another four year old, this time from Barrel number 85.  I tried this one alongside yesterday's 4yo from Barrel 82, a silky oaky take on the LDI/MGP good stuff.

BottlerKentucky Bourbon Distillers (formerly Willett Distilling Company)
Brand: Willett Family Estate Single Barrel
Age4 years
MaturationNew American Oak
RegionBardstown, Kentucky (spirit distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana)
Barrel: 85
Bottle: 160/228
Alcohol by Volume55%

The color is the same as yesterday's rye: maple syrup (pronounced "sih-ruhp", "sih-rip", or "surp" depending on where you're from).  Woo! the nose is peppy. Much more spirity than Barrel 82. Black pepper, cherries, and a slight yeasty pretzel-like note.  There's cantaloupe, toffee, mint chocolate chip ice cream, mint Listerine, and spicy basil. From the oak there's a little vanilla, a little salted caramel, and some pencils.  The heat does cool off with some time, revealing something that reminds me of the GlenDronach single casks, like dense chocolatey sherry.  The palate holds lots of spicy zip.  LOTS of anise. Cherry liqueur, mint leaves, baking chocolate, and sweet black licorice.  There's also something a little grassy in there, floating along in sweet brandy.  The finish gets a little salty and savory. Beyond that lies plenty of peppery spice, more anise and mint leaves.  It has that old Robotussin thing, like black cherry meets anise (again).  The finish seems slightly shorter than #82 without the sticky oak.

Kristen says this one is a little fruitier with more subtle vanilla, and a much hotter nose.

Yesterday's (#82) and today's (#85) barrels appeal in different ways to different temperaments and different moods.  The oak was much more reserved in #85, allowing the rye distillate to run loose.  The spirit isn't overbearing, but it does like to tussle.  I guess I'm comparing whiskey to dogs now.  While Barrel #82 is a heavy lapdog that'll chew through the couch from time to time, Barrel #85 will poop in the refrigerator and eat the whole wheel of cheese. "Actually, I’m not even mad. That’s amazing.”

Availability - Many US liquor specialists
Pricing - $35-$40 (East Coast, Midwest), $40-$45 (West Coast)
Rating - 92

Monday, September 23, 2013

It's Willett Week! -- Willett Family Estate Single Barrel Rye 4 years old, Barrel #82

With the equinox behind us, and the temperature climbing to 88 92 today, I've decided to welcome in (or encourage the arrival of) Autumn with five days of Willett single barrel straight rye.  LDI/MGP's 95% rye mashbill is at the heart of the whisky of preference in my household, thus Kristen also lent her nose to all five of these ryes.

Please note: These are not the fancy premium Willetts of lore.  No "Doug" or "Iron Fist" or "Velvet Glove".  Those whiskies are very rare and very expensive.  The ryes I'm weighing in on this week are the ones we can often find at our favorite retailers for prices in the double digits, hopefully not more than $45.  I'll go in age and barrel order.



BottlerKentucky Bourbon Distillers (formerly Willett Distilling Company)
Brand: Willett Family Estate Single Barrel
Age: 4 years

Maturation: New American Oak
Region: Bardstown, Kentucky (spirit distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana)
Barrel: 82
Alcohol by Volume: 55%

(thanks to Florin for the sample!)

The color stays pretty consistent amongst these ryes, almost always of a maple syrup hue.  The nose is loaded with brown baking spices -- a loaf of cinnamon, cloves, and brown sugar. Oh, and some sticky gooey bread pudding. Tons of vanilla as well, along with mint and milk chocolate.  It's also a little briney and there's some toasted rye bread in the mix too.  Confectioner's sugar meets leather shoes. Lots of oak, from bark to pulp. Finally......let's do the time warp......I'm back in Hebrew School (specifically, second grade on Tuesday and Thursday nights) when they brought in Israeli carob bark and dates. I wasn't crazy about that stuff then, but its flavor is in this rye's nose.  Less time travel necessary for the palate. Smoky oak. Salted cucumbers and caramel sauce. Vanilla beans and bread pudding. It's sweeter and fruitier than I remember Willett rye to usually be.  But there's still the black cherry soda syrup and Robotussin (the good kind with the alcohol in the '80s) notes.  Big oak and big spirit in the finish.  Salt and sweets, along with peppery spices, linger long. After a little while, caramel candies and orange zest arise.

Kristen says it smells like vanilla and nice warm things.

That probably sells it better than my tl;dr notes above.

Compared to the rye I'll post about tomorrow, this one is much oakier and mellower.  It puts up less of a fight, less of a headbutt to the mouth, than other Willett ryes.  While I like (probably more than is healthy) the Willett wallop, barrel #82's silky delivery is very welcoming.  Approved.

Availability - Many US liquor specialists
Pricing - $35-$40 (East Coast, Midwest), $40-$45 (West Coast)
Rating - 92

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Summer Whiskey Report: Power's John's Lane 12 year old Single Pot Still

You're saying to yourself, "Didn't he just report on a sample of this stuff four months ago?"

And I say, "Thanks for reading my blog!"  Hypothetically, if I had posted about it, I would have ended said presupposed report saying I would study it further.  Now I have.

This was my other summer whiskey, in whole bottle form:

Another great gift from my in-laws, Andrew and Leslie!

StyleSingle Pot Still
Distillery: Midleton
Age: at least 12 years (up to 14 years)
Maturation: mostly first* fill ex-bourbon barrels, along with some oloroso sherry butts (*though another official site says second fill)
Country: Ireland
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? Likely

Since we may have been here before with this whisky, I'm going to skip with the history lesson (which can be found on the post I may have done in May).

Right up front I'm going to say, this does not make for the best hot weather whiskey.  It's not light, it's not bright and fruity.  Going through this bottle only proves my original estimation that this whiskey is brooder, not a perky party girl.

As with yesterday's whisky, having a whole bottle allowed me to do more than a single study.  And lining it up next to the lightweight Glen Ord helped highlight its characteristics.


The color is a dark yellow gold.  The nose leads with a combo of rubber cement, toffee, and fudge.  A whole lot of that.  Digging deeper, one may find whole wheat bread crust, pipe tobacco, barrel char, something figgy, vanilla, talcum powder, red berries in caramel sauce, and chewing gum.  I found little sign of the sherry butts, but there is still quite an alcohol tingle to it.  The palate is malty and sweet, having a bit of the toffee & fudge character from the nose.  There's also black coffee, oats, hot cereal, butter, brine, and chlorine.  Something green and grassy lingers underneath and there's a sharpness that feels a bit younger than the whiskey's age.  The extensive finish carries with it a citric sting.  There's more of the hot cereal character, topped with butter, caramel, and bananas.


Those nose has gotten more expressive -- bigger, fruitier, gummier.  Orange bubble gum in fact.  Bright spices, cardamom in molasses.  There's nougat with the fudge now, and also something lightly perfumy.  Meanwhile the palate has gotten milder, but it's still very malty.  A little sweeter and easier.  Very reminiscent of my favorite Power's blend, minus the rougher spots.  It finishes mild and malty as well.  Some tartness and bitterness have snuck in.  It's also lightly herbal, perhaps juniper?

Sometimes we think a whisky is difficult to decipher because we assess it to be dense and cryptic.  And sometimes it's really because the whisky is just closed up tight.  Though in my previous estimation I'd said water didn't help the John's Lane 12 year, I am going to contradict myself.  That wall I'd previously kept hitting with the whiskey was largely because the nose can be very closed up when sniffed neatly.  It resulted in me knocking this sucker down a half star at the start of this tasting.  But then I tried it with a little water and the nose perked right up.  After the hydration the palate loosened up just a bit but mostly turned itself into the classic Power's blend (but better).  That may not appeal to you like it appeals to me.

This is still some tense stuff, it's not the most casual of drinks.  I'd take it over most single malts, but I still prefer all the Redbreasts over it.  The Redbreasts, even at cask strength are much more expressive.  If you do spring for Power's John's Lane 12 year, I recommend giving it 15 or more minutes in the glass, and a little water after you've tried it neat.

Pricewise, $65 is sort of pushing things.  That's higher than the cask strength version of Redbreast 12, and about the same price as Redbreast 15 year old (bottled at 46% ABV and unchillfiltered).  If it's actually a limited bottling then perhaps the price would make sense, but I haven't read anything about a short supply.  At $80 forget it, especially when you can still get two bottles of RB12 for that price via some retailers.

There is a younger NAS version of the Powers pot still ("Signature Release") that hit The States this month (also 46% ABV), it retails for $40-$50.  If I do get my hands on it, I'll try to limit it to one report......per year.

Availability - Specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - $65-$80
Rating - 90 (right on the edge, and please consider my usual Irish bias)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Summer Whisky Report: The Singleton of Glen Ord 12 years old

Kristen and I have discovered we are cold weather people.  We like cold weather food, cold weather beverages, and cold weather clothing.  We were born in Upstate New York.  We live in Southern California.  Such is life.  Whenever the stork does deliver us a child or two, we will likely search out a new home in a place that has four seasons.

But even in places with four seasons, Summer does pass through annually.  Seasons, especially the molten center of Summer, disregard the calendar, so no matter where we go The Heat will plant its fat ass in the air for a number of months before trudging off to hibernate.  And, for me, most whiskies do not drink well in The Heat.  Since Scotch and Irish booze originates in Celsius Land, I'm going to say when the air hits 30°C (86°F for the rest of us) beer and cold cocktails feel more appealing. (As far as storage goes, I try to keep the whisky below 25°C in our warm home.)

I still keep a couple whisk(e)y bottles open in the summer.  I aim for lighter, fruitier, 40-46%ABV, non-peated stuff.  It's an ongoing experiment each year, trying to sort out what works best.  Since the calendar says summer is ending this week, I shall present y'all with a pair of this year's summer whiskies.

Today's whisky:


No filters or Instagrammage on this one.
Our kitchen was glowing with Magic Hour light
and my iPhone camera behaved.
The whisky itself, though, had been chill-filtered generously.

Diageo has designed/built/enumerated "The Singleton" brand as a starter single malt for those folks graduating to more flavorful malts from Diageo's hitlist of blander blends.  [Dang it, I couldn't get through one sentence without picking on Diageo. Seriously though, there are blended whiskies out there that are full of flavor, and single malts totally lacking the same.]  Three distilleries contribute to "The Singletons": Glendullan for the North American market, Dufftown for the European market, and Glen Ord for the Pacific market.

I've had plenty of The Singleton of Glendullan.  It's harmless, very drinkable, but a bit on the GlenDULLan side.  Having read a number of reviews saying that The Singleton of Dufftown is not much better, if not worse, I haven't been in a hurry to source a sample of that one.  But I had heard a number of positive things about The Singleton of Glen Ord.

Last November, my wife GENEROUSLY grabbed a bottle of The Singleton of Glen Ord 12 year old from the Duty Free shop at Sydney International Airport and spirited it back to me safely.  I held off opening it until the summer.  The first week of July, to be more specific.

Distillery: Glen Ord
Brand: The Singleton
Owner: Diageo
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: likely a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks
Region: Northern Highlands
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Bottling Date: Feb 2012 (L2050)
Chillfiltration? Yes
Colorant? Absolutely

I may need to qualify the notes below.  Since this whisky is from my own bottle, I was able to do two focused tastings (alongside tomorrow's reviewed dram) thus the long laundry list of characteristics I found.  I'm including this disclaimer because I don't want there to be any assumption that I have an above average sniffer.  I don't.  Instead, I have a whole bottle to play with, rather than a 30mL sample.  Now, back to the important stuff.


The color is a rosy copper. Really, Diageo? You really needed to put that much e150a into this in order to convince people it was whisky? And the bottle is GREEN, thus potential customers can't even see the whisky's color. But never fear, the nose is gorgeous.  It starts with orange oil, lots of it.  Then brandied cherries, blackberry jam, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, strawberry Bubble Yum, and bananas (not the skins). So much fruit! There's also Junmai ginjo-shu sake (our favorite!), syrupy sweet dessert wine, and gummy bears.  Contrasting all those purdy smells are notes of (human) sweat and damp moss.  Fewer fruits on the palate.  Bananas, lime rind, and maybe some orange zest.  There's also milk chocolate, lots of granulated sugar, caramel, and brine.  More towards my preferred palate, a farmy note shows up from time to time; think hot used hay.  The texture is watery, so it makes one wonder what this one would be like at 43%ABV.  The finish is very sweet.  Sugar and honey.  A little dryness and bitterness in the background.  The farmy note, cut grass, brine, and generic citrus notes hang around for a while.


The nose stays very pungent with lots of citrus.  Mostly oranges and orange candies too.  Lighter notes of lemon rind, citrus muffins, pineapple, and vanilla extract in the back.  Oranges again on the palate.  Whipped butter, flower blossoms, and fresh herbs (maybe oregano?) as well.  Overall, it's quite sweet.  The sweetness continues through the short and plain finish.  A curious mocha note in there.  And as far as the oranges go, it's mostly pith and pulp.

When I first opened the bottle, the main characteristics were of fresh berries......just like official printed description told me.  Early in the bottle there was a mild peaty note (more straightforward than the farmy one) but the fruits are carrying the day now that bottle is past its midpoint.

The nose is a four-star party.  The palate is decent, inoffensive as it was likely designed to be.  It's very watery in the mouth thanks to the 40% ABV, similar to a lot of cheap blends.  It's a pisser they didn't at least try to bottle it at 43%; I mean, who would that have hurt?

As it is, served neatly in its light state, it makes for an easy drinker in these hot late summer weeks.  As it's already so watered down, adding water doesn't help much.  An icy highball of it holds little character.

When it comes to my malt preferences, was Diageo successful with this brand?  Sort of.  The nose proved that Glen Ord can generate some fun whisky.  I hope to explore this distillery further, but via independent bottlers.

Availability - Asia & Oceania
Pricing - A wide range, from $40 to $80 depending on the country
Rating - 82

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Single Malt Report: Springbank 12 year old 2000 Calvados Finish

If you think I've posted a lot of high ratings these past two weeks, you would be correct.  I used to hand out four stars more generously at the start of the whisky reports, then lessened as I gained more malty experience.  Discounting my re-tries of old favorites, I'm averaging less than one 88+ report a month.  Now I'm about to give my third one in two weeks.  It's not because I'm in a super duper happy mood (which I'm not), it is because I'm a really big Springbank geek.  And of these five recently reviewed Springbanks, this one is my favorite.

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Age: 12 years (Apr 1997 - Oct 2012)
Maturation: refill bourbon barrels for the first 6 years
Finish: fresh Calvados casks (probably toasted French Oak) for the next 6 years
Region: Campbeltown
Alcohol by Volume: 52.7%
Limited Bottling: 9,420 bottles

From a sample purchased at Master of Malt -- served neatly in a Glencairn glass:

The color is medium gold.  The nose......from my notes: "Wow. Ripe piney peat stank." Industrial machine oil and grease.  But at the same time there's what I imagine a 120-proof Calvados to smell like, a deep strong tart apple spirit.  Behind that is some barrel char from the American oak.  Then pencil lead, rubber bands, vanilla, new sneakers, and sour apple candy.  Gets more syrupy and ashy with time.  The palate is simpler, but hits every note solidly.  Fresh apples first, then a peat wallop (something between Ardbeg and Kilchoman).  Toasty oak, vanilla creme, fresh pears, and whole grain fruit muffins.  A sharp youthful alcohol bite remains after 12 years.  A bitter-tea-meets-vanilla-bean note grows stronger with time in the glass.  Apple shisha and green grapes hit first in the huge finish.  The peat starts off light then keeps expanding and expanding.  The bitter tea notes edges its way in after a while.  More apples.  Juice from canned pears.

First off, if you don't like calvados this ain't your whisky.  I'm one of those folks who always liked calvados, but didn't know how to pronounce it correctly until last year.  It's CAL-vados, not cal-VA-dos.  I can now be a snob about that too!

Secondly, SKU from Recent Eats was right, this whisky hauls out considerable peat.  Of all the Longrows (Springbank's heavily peated brand) I've tried, only the CV (rest in peace) competes with this phenolic punch.

The price on it is plum nonsense for 12 year old whisky, but ignoring age for a moment (if we can), the quality is considerable.  The combo of high phenolics, French apple brandy, two different oaks with two different char/toast levels, and industrial grease doesn't work on paper, but it works in the glass.  It's never too sweet, too tart, nor too bitter and the seemingly disparate elements play well together.  It almost allows me to forgive Springbank for taking the shovel to Longrow CV.  Almost.

I'll be honest, I hate posting this review.  The more positive reviews this whisky gets, the already very few remaining bottles are going to vanish before I can nab one.  So a personal note to those in Southern California, DO NOT buy any more bottles of this......until I give you the green light.  'kay?  Thanks.  :-)

I'm kidding (but not really though), you so-and-sos.  Drink up.  Seriously, if you buy it, drink it.  Don't be hoarding for the apocalypse or the secondary market.  Because often the latter seems to be leading to the former.

Availability - Here and There, though more so There (aka UK)
Pricing - $105-$125 (Fuuuuuuuuuuuuu-----------)
Rating - 92

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Single Malt Report: Longrow 11 year old 2001 Rundlets and Kilderkins

Though I did say I was going to drop some more Springbank on ya, here's some Longrow......which is technically from Springbank Distillery, so I wasn't totally lying.  And!  And it's a whisky that was released this year!  I'm so on top of things.


Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Longrow
Age: minimum 11 years (11/2001 to 1/2013)
Maturation: Rundlet and Kilderkin casks
Region: Campbeltown
Alcohol by Volume: 51.7%
Limited Release: 9000 bottles

I reported on the Springbank version of the Rundlets and Kilderkins last June.  Released at the beginning of 2012, Springbank's R&K was a thick desserty malt that I enjoyed quite a bit.  Now it has almost vanished from the market.  Early this year they released the Longrow Rundlets and Kilderkins.  And, according to Billy from The Whisky Exchange blog, the Hazelburn Rundlets and Kilderkins may hit the markets early next year.

If you're wondering what the whole "Rundlets and Kilderkins" name is all about, this should help:

Approximate Cask sizes:
Tun - 955 litres
Port pipe - 528 litres
Sherry Butt - 491 litres
Hogshead - 250 litres
Bourbon barrel - 200 litres
Quarter Cask - 125 litres
Kilderkin - 80 litres
Rundlet - 60 litres
(more information about cask sizes can be found here)

The theory is: the smaller the cask, the more contact the spirit has with the oak, which in turn matures the whisky quicker.  But this not only oversimplifies maturation, it's also not entirely true.  Storage temperature and humidity can have as great or greater an impact on the maturation process than the cask size, as I've discovered in my own spirit maturation experiments.  In addition to climate, char levels and cooperage quality can affect the maturation as well.  So just because you put distillate into small barrels for three years, it doesn't mean your three year old whisky will taste like it's ten years old.

That being said, I'm a big fan of the quarter cask whiskies released by Beam's distilleries, Laphroaig and Ardmore.  I don't think the stuff tastes older, but I do like the taste → → → which is the important part.  I also like the Springbank Rundlets & Kilderkins, so let's see how the Longrow Rundlets & Kilderkins ("R&K" for lazy shorthand) fares.

From a sample purchased at Master of Malt -- consumed neatly from a Glencairn glass:

The color is a dark gold.  A mess of hay in a barn in the summertime, so begins the nose.  Then there's coffee with a lot of cream and sugar.  Hospital hallways (disinfectant, gowns, and gauze).  It's a lot maltier and less woody than I'd expected.  Though there are rivers of caramel running through those hospital hallways.  Never mind, goofy descriptor.  How about a handful of caramel candies?  There's also brown sugar, pie crust, and lemon zest.  Overall it's an intense, sugared, Islay-style experience.  Charred steak leads the palate.  A healthy volley of peat strikes stronger here than in the nose.  But it also has that horse farm thing going on.  Again, not as oaky as expected.  Some bitter tea with buttery toast.  Peated vanilla simple syrup, if that was a thing.  Meanwhile the sweetness is balanced by a little bitterness and some tartness.  In the finish, the charred meat note leads again, along with some black pepper and brown sauce to season it.  Goes from savory to sweet.  Then comes the peat, bitter tea, and cigarette ash.

Enjoyable!  So much so I got too far into my sample to accurately add water.  I did like the Springbank version slightly better, due to its dense barrel-strength-rye-like (or high-rye bourbon-like) spicy sweetness.  But this one also works, especially since the farmy and ashy notes aren't overwhelmed by the baby barrels.

To me, quality-wise, it is comparable to Kilchoman's Machir Bay, if you swap out the Bay's cigars and sugar cookies for R&K's steak and tea.  Of course, Machir Bay sells for half of R&K's price in The States.  The Longrow is older and a more limited release, which can account for some of the difference.  If price wasn't an issue, it would be tough to choose between the two as far as quality goes.  But price is an issue for most of us.  This is very good stuff, again, from Springbank Distillery's peated brand, but the expense proves too much of a burden for my pockets.

Availability - Maybe a dozen retailers in the US; many more retailers in Europe
Pricing - $115-$125 (US); $100-$120 (UK, w/o VAT, w/shipping)
Rating - 87

Friday, September 6, 2013

Single Malt Report: Springbank 18 year old (2nd edition)

Springbank Taste Off 2013 concludes!

On Monday there was Springbank 10 year old 100 proof (US edition, beige label)
On Wednesday there was Springbank 15 year old
Today there is Springbank 18 year old (2nd Edition)

Though each sample came from a different source and started at a different quantity, they were treated equally.  28 fluid ounces tasted, first neat, then lowered to approximately 39% ABV with water.

As you may note from the photos, this Springbank 18 year old 3cL sample was purchased from Master of Malt's Drinks by the Dram.

When I (and Master of Malt) call this the "second edition", I/we are referring to the fact that this was the second batch of 18 year old released by Springbank after the distillery's reopening (production in 1989, maltings in 1992).  This batch was released in 2010 and may have contained some of their own new floor malt.

You'll find much less commentary here about this Springer, compared to the previous two.  I have always wanted to try Springbank 18 and this sample has been waiting impatiently for me to open it for much too long.

Owner: Springbank Distillers Ltd.
Age: minimum 18 years
Maturation: 80% ex-sherry casks, 20% ex-bourbon casks
Region: Campbeltown
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Bottling Date: 2010
Limited Bottling: 9,000
Chillfiltration? No
Colorant? No

Color - Gold, almost identical to the 15yr
Nose - Deeper, creamier, orangey sherry+oak notes than the 15.  Again, more oak than sherry.  Cherry cough drops, tropical fruit (papaya?), and Juicy Fruit gum at first.  A lightly floral note joins in, then toasted barley, rum, apple and white grape juices.
Palate - While this is the most graceful of these three Springbanks, the industrial sealant and veggie peat character remains intact in the background. A bright eucalyptus note, also found in the other Springbanks, arrives but much more up front in the 18. Very little wine, but definitely some butter and vanilla from the American oak.
Finish - Oddly, the shortest finish of the Taste Off.  Citrus peels and molasses.  More toasted oak than toasted grain.  A little bitter and acidic, with a phenolic chirp.

WITH WATER (approx 39% ABV)
Nose - Manure! Also cinnamon, milk chocolate, and orange marmalade if the Manure! doesn't distract one too much. It sniffs younger and farmy (clearly).
Palate - Much younger, tarter, and rougher -- all OK in my book.
Finish - Orange, pine, and a surprising amount of spirit. Its last breath is a farmy one.

I was very hesitant about adding water to this.  I mean, how many times am I going to have Springbank 18?  Shouldn't I just enjoy it as is?  Instead, I applied water for the sake of science and I'm glad I did.  There was a dirty bird hiding underneath the proper veneer.

Like in the 15, you may note how much cheaper Springbanks are overseas.  I'm assuming this is an unfortunate distribution issue.  US buyers have to do some more footwork, but we can find this whisky at a lower cost outside our borders.

Availability - Most specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - In US: $150-$180;  In Europe: $110-$135 (minus VAT, shipping included)
Rating - 89

Final thoughts

Here's my attempt to quantify the results:

A close race between the 18yr and the 10yr 100proof, but I give 18 the nod because of its flexibility with water.  It's like two whiskies for the price of one, though it's not a small price.

10yr 100proof, though that has to do with my palate preference for its youth.  The 15 and 18 run pretty close together as runners up.

10yr 100proof.  Unfair due to a higher ABV?  Nope.  Alcohol content doesn't necessarily determine finish.  Aged malt and oak tannins can be an even larger influences. The 18's finish (when neat) is its main flaw.

At bottling strength - 10yr 100proof - When neat it shows much of the excellent raw character in its youthful, low-oak-influence state.
At 39% ABV - 18yr - A flexible oldie.  When neat, it's a graceful bright malt that still holds onto its industrial underpinings.  With a little water it seems much younger and plays a little rougher.

10yr 100proof

Again, please remember that due to Springbank's small operations, there has been known to be batch inconsistency.  In fact, that has almost become part of its brand, part of its charm.

Next week, more Springbank?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Single Malt Report: Springbank 15 year old

Springbank Taste Off 2013 continues!

On Monday there was Springbank 10 year old 100 proof (US edition, beige label)
Today there is Springbank 15 year old
Later on there will be Springbank 18 year old (2nd Edition)

Though each sample came from a different source and started at a different quantity, they were treated equally.  28 fluid ounces tasted, first neat, then lowered to approximately 39% ABV with water.

Now onto the chap in the middle.

Between its $100 US price tag and its 100% ex-sherry maturation, I've never been in a hurry to try Springbank 15 year old.  But I'm attempting to get better about sherried whiskies since they're not all the same.  In fact, I don't mind refill sherry.  What I do mind are the whiskies wherein the sherry blankets over all of a malt's characteristics.  Maybe "blanket" is the wrong metaphor.  How about "plastic bag suffocation"?  Yeah, I'm still working out these issues.

On the other hand (the optimistic one), I've never met a Springbank I've hated.  And sometimes a little wine/bourbon plays well with the malt spirit.  So, at some point last year when I found a mini of the 15 year old for a decent price, I snapped it up.

Like many Springbank products, this one was without a bottle code or the printing had faded.  According to whiskybase, this label was used between 2006 and 2008 on the full-sized bottles.  This time period marks (similar Monday's whisky) the first bottlings of the new era of Springbank's 15 year, approximately 15 years after the distillery's reopening.  This is assuming they didn't keep bottling the minis with the old label after they'd started using the new labels on the 700/750mL bottles.

My mini had some sediment at the bottom, something I have seen with a number of Springbank products, and something that gives me a cheap geek thrill.  Also, though the cap was secured tightly, the bottle had lost about 5-10% of its whisky to the Bastard's Share.  The good news is that the malt's character stayed very much intact.

Owner: Springbank Distillers Ltd.
Age: minimum 15 years
Maturation: 100% ex-sherry casks
Region: Campbeltown
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Bottling Date: likely 2006-2007
Chillfiltration? No
Colorant? No

Color - Gold
Nose - A little bit of sherry, but a lot of oak; thus most of the industrial and peated notes are cloaked.  But not suffocated.  There is a hint of glue and some green piney peat.  But the main notes are as follows: Orange Drink powder, candy canes, cherry bubblegum, and orange liqueur (more Cointreau than Triple Sec).
Palate - The elements are more varied here.  Tobacco, eucalyptus, tapioca pudding, and piney peat come first.  Then dry sherry, medium dark chocolate (I could say 55% cocoa, but then I'd be an arsehole, or more so than usual), and golden raisins.
Finish - The peat (again in a piney form) makes an appearance here in an extensive conclusion.  The nose's sugary orange notes appear as does some pencil lead and dark raisins.  It has more drying tannins than the 10yr 100proof.  It also grows sweeter with time.

WITH WATER (approx 39% ABV)
Nose - The sherry hushes up and things sniff maltier.  Smells like a piney citric version of the 10yr 100proof.
Palate - Wow, very sweet.  Candy creamy desserty sweet.  A little bit of smoke shows up but gets shouted down by the sugar.
Finish - Sweetness holds and the sherry returns. Some dried apricots and Orange Drink.

It's good, as in "I would happily drink it at a bar, but wouldn't buy a bottle for $100" good.  Perhaps it suffers by comparison with other Springbanks, which are either grittier or more graceful.  The sherry is mostly restrained and the palate is tasty when served neatly.  But unless you like sugary sweet whisky, I do not recommend adding water.

In Roskrow's 1001 Whiskies, George Lewis writes that this isn't a Springbank for beginners.  I disagree.  With the spirit's tougher characteristics removed, and the smoothness, generous sweetness, and pleasant citrus notes increased, the 15 year old feels like a better place to start than anything younger in the distillery's official range.

(BUT please note: There are known to be batch differences over the years with Springbank's range. At the same time, online reviews of the recent 15yr are very similar score-wise to those of this version.)

Availability - Most specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - In US: $95-$115;  In Europe: $80-$100 (minus VAT, with shipping)
Rating - 83

Monday, September 2, 2013

Single Malt Report: Springbank 10 year 100 proof (US edition, beige label)

Twenty-one months ago, I had my introduction to the Springbank brands in the form of an official Diving for Pearls Taste Off -- the second one ever and still my favorite.  In that T.O., I tried the Springbank 10 year 100 proof (UK version), Longrow CV, and Hazelburn 8 year.

Now it's time for another Springbank Taste Off, this time whiskies are:

Springbank 10 year old 100 proof (US edition, beige label)
Springbank 15 year old
Springbank 18 year old (2nd Edition)

Though each sample came from a different source and started at a different quantity, they were treated equally.  28 fluid ounces tasted, first neat, then lowered to approximately 39% ABV with water.

Within a week of that first Springbank Taste Off (in December 2011), I ran out to Mission Liquor in Pasadena to buy a bottle of Springbank 10 year old 100 proof.  Here's a bottle pic from January 2012:

There were two important things about this bottle I did not realize at the time of purchase:

1.)  The 100 proof on the UK edition was 57% ABV since the British measure proof differently than the Americans.  (There's a description of this in that original report.)  Meanwhile, the American edition of the 100 proof bottling goes by US proof standards and is thus bottled at 50% ABV.  I actually knew this at the time, but the sheer excitement of the purchase experience momentarily turned me into a fool (this used to happen more often than I liked, which motivated me to change my whisky purchase approach soon thereafter).

2.)  Having not done enough research into Springbank, I did not realize which bottling I'd actually held in my hand.  At Mission Liquor there was a half case of a newer shiny black label version of the 100 proof.  There were two bottles of this older looking beige label.  My instinct was right to go with the older looking one.  But I should have bought the other bottle too.  The beige labelled 10 year olds represent the first batches of "new" Springbank after the distillery had reopened (after a 10 year closure) and the on-site maltings had restarted.  According to whiskybase, the beige labels were used from 2002 until 2005-2006.  (Keep in mind, these are different that the famous green thistle ones used in the '90s.)  According to Dominic Roskrow's 1001 Whiskies, the "new" version of the 10 year 100 proof began bottling in 2004.  The good news is that I did buy a bottle of it and then saved 2 ounces of it in a sample bottle for an occasion such as this.

Owner: Springbank Distillers Ltd.
Age: minimum 10 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks
Region: Campbeltown
Alcohol by Volume: 50% (100 US Proof)
Bottling Date: between 2004 and 2006
Chillfiltration? No
Colorant? No

Color - Amber
Nose - Very young compared to its brethren, and much more industrial. Glue, band-aids, iodine, and rubber cement are first to the party.  Then a big barley note.  Nectarines and apricots follow, then smoked vanilla beans, cow manure, and just-used pencil eraser.  It actually all works together in a crazy symphony.
Palate - In order of appearance: Wood embers, apple skins, molasses, tar, salt, sugar cookies, and a little buttery oak.  Again, the most spirity or rawest of the three, yet the alcohol burn is kept in check.
Finish - Gets a little sweeter here, but remains subtle. Gets maltier too and some lightly bitter piney peat sneaks in.  The industrial notes from the nose mix with the sugar cookies from the palate.

WITH WATER (approx. 39% ABV)
Nice and cloudy!
Nose - It actually gets stinkier with more industrial funk at first, but settles down after a couple minutes. The sealant notes remain, but some wood also shows up, along with eucalyptus.
Palate - More vanilla and sugar.
Finish - Stays strong. Lots of dark brown sugar.

Young Springbank brings me joy.  Often when first fill oak and/or wine casks are used for maturation, a lot of those gorgeous grimy notes are covered up.  Here in the 10-100 (US), the oak is present but doesn't intrude.  My nose and taste buds couldn't find the sherry -- which is a positive for me -- so perhaps Springbank used mostly refill casks?

This is hardy stuff but won't decimate one's palate like many high ABV cask strengthers or ultra-high peaters.  Gauging from my old notes, the 7 fewer alcohol percentage points does make this easier to drink than the UK edition but doesn't water down the Springbank spirit delivery.

Springbank did release a 100 proof in 2012.  I know they steer a small ship, but I do hope they keep something like this on the market in the future.

Availability - Happy hunting!
Pricing - if you can find it, it'll be over $70
Rating - 91