...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Time Had Come: Longrow CV versus Longrow Peated

One day I was going to have to move on.

Longrow CV was replaced by Longrow Peated almost two years ago.  I had become very attached to the CV (see here for my review from two years ago and then a second review here) as I have to many recently discontinued whiskys.  In fact, more than half of The Cabinet is made up of recently retired bottlings or earlier versions of "refreshed" whisky ranges.  I had no doubt that Longrow Peated (or LP) would be drinkable -- especially since I adore Longrow malts -- but, you know, it was so difficult to say good-bye to something that had quickly become like an old friend.

Like CV, LP has no age statement.  It doesn't seem to have the mix of cask maturations that CV had, instead likely being from primarily ex-bourbon barrels.  And I wouldn't doubt that it holds younger whiskies within.  But mostly the issue was that LP is not CV.  New could not equal Old.

But I bought a sample of LP for the inevitable day when a comparison would need to be done.

Here's the link to the Longrow 10 review posted yesterday
My bottle of CV had lasted almost 17 months.  I kept decanting it into smaller and smaller bottles, stretching it out and stretching it out.  Some oxidation had set in, lifting away some of the cask influences but not neutering its bold oceanic blast.  Now it had gotten down to its last sips.

I realized not too long ago, that due to the sort of year this has been, I was going to have to end it with this very matchup of Longrows.  Here it goes.

Ages: between 6 and 14 years (likely 7, 10, & 14 years in this specific bottling)
Maturation: sherry, port, bourbon, and rum casks
Region: Campbeltown
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

The nose begins with some naked spirit: barley, oats, and rice with a twist of antiseptic.  It's very herbal.  And a hint of something grilled and savory.  With some time in the glass, the whisky starts piping out sugary rum notes, fresh apricots, rich peat, tropical fruit-scented hand lotion, grapefruit peel, and brown sugar.  I also wrote, one "can feel the excited youth."  No matter how much oxidation theoretically occurred, the palate still packs a big bite.  Lots of barley.  Salt, vanilla, chimney smoke, and a medicinal bite (but not quite Laphroaig-sized).  There's the grilled, savory note and herbs that are herbal (i rite gud) and green.  It finishes full of malt and salt.  Not sweet, just strong barley, sea salt, and yeast.  Crisp, bready, and lengthy with the smoke ever lingering.

Ages: unknown, though likely younger than 10 years
Maturation: unknown, though my guess is ex-bourbon casks
Region: Campbeltown
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

The nose starts piney and fruitier than the CV.  Pine nut cookies.  Leather coat.  Seaweed and some of Springbank's industrial funk.  Then lemon meringue meets Cool Whip.  Vanilla extract, grapefruit, and lavender bloom (but NOT the dreaded Bowmore lavender, instead something much fresher).  On the palate: grains, grains, grains.  Like unsweetened breakfast cereal.  Twigs, dried leaves, and earl grey tea.  A very mild alcohol bite considering its youth.  A tangy Asian sauce and tart peat.  It feels mostly oak free, which is a thumbs-up from me.  The tangy note stays in the finish.  Like the CV, it's not sweet.  There's a little salt, something oily, some vanilla, a hint of cigar smoke, and lots of toasted grains.

Guess what?  Longrow Peated ain't bad.  In fact, it's pretty darn good.  It's not a complicated drink and its phenolics feel milder than my oxidized CV.  But it's solid in its leanness.  I'm thinking there must be a considerable refill cask contingent here, no matter what those casks had previously held, which in turn highlights the good distillate within.  And this makes me happy.  While it probably won't knock CV off its pedestal, Longrow Peated will find a home in my cabinet at some point in 2014.

As for CV, I still like it as much as I had in its previous two reviews, so its rating doesn't change.  But as I part with 2013, I part with my old whisky.  May the new year bring many more new discoveries.

Availability - Specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - $55-$65
Rating - 88

Monday, December 30, 2013

Single Malt Report: Longrow 10 year old

I'm going to end the year with Longrows.  Firstly because Longrow is good.  Secondly, because it is a December whisky.  Thirdly......well, you'll see why in tomorrow's review.

Two weeks ago, I lined up a three-part Longrow Taste Off.  One was from my own bottle, one was from a gifted sample, and one was from a purchased sample.  There wasn't a bum in the bunch.  But this one packed a bit of a surprise.

The official 10 year old Longrow was released by vintage year starting in 1991 when the Springbank distillery re-started their regular Longrow spirit runs.  The quality and content of each year's bottling varied noticeably, as per Serge Valentin (see his reviews here).  On the technical side, the vintages from 1991 to 1996 (bottling years 2001 to 2006) have their stated vintage on the label (like the second whisky from my review here).  But after that, beginning in bottling year 2007, the vintage year was dropped, which was likely done so in order to give them the flexibility to produce a 10 year old when needed.  The 10 year old in today's review is one of these non-vintage bottlings.  The sample was poured from Florin's bottle (Thank You, Florin!) on the morning after the birthday booze bash.  We couldn't find the usual Springbank bottle code stamp on the bottle, so all I can confirm is that the whisky was distilled between 1997 and 2001.  I'm not sure if they've bottled any 10 year olds recently, which might explain its scarcity.

Age: minimum 10 years, distilled sometime between 1997 and 2001
Maturation: primarily ex-bourbon casks
Region: Campbeltown
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

The nose is an absolute fruit bomb.  Though it starts with whoosh of a modern minty-style absinthe, it goes directly to overripe (maybe even rotting) cherries.  Then peaches.  Then good fuji apples, grapefruit, and juicy in-season plums.  There's some tropical fruit candy and honeyed peat as well.  Meanwhile, the palate goes in a different direction, and is more fragile as well.  The fruit becomes slightly floral on the tongue.  Then there are vanilla beans, soft smoke, soft peat moss, and a slight medicinal quality.  With some air, a hint of mango and rosemary shows up.  Some ripe fruits come back in the finish.  Peach, mango, and sweet clementine juice.  There's a peep of bitterness in there, along with some salt.  The smoke remains in the background.

To my considerable surprise, this nosed like an old ex-bourbon-cask Highlander.  Gorgeous, but huh?  The palate, while limited and subtler, was very focused and mostly Springbank spirit driven; thus positive in its own way.

Here's where things get interesting.  Over a year ago, Jordan at Chemistry of the Cocktail reviewed the same whisky from the same bottle but found completely different notes.  BUT, the whisky has been opened for more than a year since Jordan's review.  Thus oxidation has very much set in and, I believe, has worked some wonders on the whisky's nose.

I'm becoming more and more of a fan of the effect limited oxidation has on a bottle of whisky.  The booze at the top of the bottle can be a bit tight or harsh.  The booze at the bottom can get soft.  But at mid-bottle, it's juuuuuuust right.  Of course this isn't true 100% of the time, but it seems to be happening more often than not with my own bottles.  And, in my opinion, it has occurred with Florin's bottle of Longrow 10 year old as well.

I score this one highly due to this great experience, but please note, there can be considerable batch variation in Springbank's products.  I cannot promise your bottle of Longrow 10 (if you can find it) will kick this much ass.  In fact the odds are likely against it, especially since I don't know what year my sample was distilled and bottled.  But if you like Longrow and Springbank, this whisky shouldn't disappoint.

Availability - Happy hunting!   :)
Pricing - $75-$100  :(   (sadly, buying it from the UK won't be much cheaper)
Rating - 91

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Single Malt Report: Arran Port Cask Finish vs. Arran Sauternes Cask Finish

With the introduction out of the way (posted yesterday), I can get directly to the whiskys.
Here they are:

The one on the left is the Arran Port Cask Finish.  The sample was provided to me by Jordan of Chemistry of the Cocktail via a recent sample swap.  Thank you, sir.

The one on the right is the Arran Sauternes Cask Finish.  The sample was provided to me by Linh Do,  writer of Bliss in a Barrel and fellow SoCal whisky carouser.  Thank you, ma'am.  Also, full disclosure: Linh has done some work for Arran in the past.  My sample was part of a swap and there were no requests for a review.  I am reviewing it here because it was nice/fun/constructive to compare it with another one of Arran's finishes.

Arran Port Cask Finish
DistilleryIsle of Arran Distillery
Type: Single Malt
Ownership: Isle of Arran Distillers Ltd.
Age: around 8 years before the varied secondary maturation
Maturation: maturation #1: ex-bourbon barrels; maturation #2: former port casks
Region: Isle of Arran, Scotland
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Bottled: October 2010
Chillfiltered? No.
Colored? No.

As per the pic at the top, this one has the darker color of the two, with a little purple or red apple skins mixed in with the malty gold.  I find toasty, slightly nutty malt in the nose up front.  Then grape juice and blackberry syrup sneaks up next.  Some Chambord, ripe plums, and orange pixie stix.  Then there's some toffee and a hint of apple juice.  Behind all of this is a bit of an alcohol nip from the young spirit.  The palate is not port heavy (which is a good thing for my palate).  More grape skins than juice here.  Rich caramel.  Brown sugar syrup.  Seawater, milk chocolate, and a moderate sweet level.  It can be a little hot.  It finishes with the caramel; I actually wrote "caramel" twice in my notes, so I guess there was a lot of it.  Hints of the salty seawater, toffee, and milk chocolate.  A sweet orange candy note.  And plenty of spirity bite.

The port reveals itself more in the nose with the water added.  Some berries.  Now there's some blueberry syrup mixed in with the blackberry.  Orange peel.  "Tiny grapes", not sure what I meant, but there it is.  The malt is still quite present though, swimming amongst the port notes.  More port in the palate too, reading as sour berries.  There's a nice bitterness too.  And again, the malt hangs on.  The finish brightens up.  Milk chocolate, salted caramels, sweet grapes, and sour grapes.

Without a doubt this feels young due to all of that alcohol heat.  As Jordan mentioned in his review, it doesn't take much water to calm the whisky down.  But I'd love to see what it would be like with a couple more years in bourbon barrels.  It's already better integrated than Glenmorangie's Quinta Ruban, but at 10-12 years old this Arran Port Finish could be mighty.  And I like that it's bottled at 50% ABV which allows the consumer to tinker with it as he or she pleases.

Availability - Some liquor specialty retailers
Pricing - $70-$80
Rating - 84

Arran Sauternes Cask Finish
DistilleryIsle of Arran Distillery
Type: Single Malt
Ownership: Isle of Arran Distillers Ltd.
Age: around 8 years before the varied secondary maturation
Maturation: maturation #1: ex-bourbon barrels; maturation #2: former port casks
Region: Isle of Arran, Scotland
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfiltered? No.
Colored? No.

Its color is a dark gold.  The nose is full of very rich toffees and caramels.  Honey on baked peaches, roasted almonds, creme brûlée, and the current corn syrup version of Frosted Flakes. It actually reminds me of a wheated bourbon.  It smells like it's going to be a sweetie.  Indeed, the palate is sweeter than that of the Port finish.  Honey and caramel mostly, along with some dark berries.  The heat is present but less so than in the Port.  The berry note in the palate turns into jam in the finish, like boysenberry and grape jams (yeah, perhaps a little unusual for Sauternes).  The sticky sweet fermented grapes and honey that follow are more Sauternes-like.  Again, the heat.

The nose is slightly plummy, but mostly it's fresh peaches and apricots.  It's lightly floral, maybe a flowery honey.  Perhaps a little sulfur too, but quietly, like a mild seasoning.  The palate is almost all caramel sauce on vanilla ice cream.  Now it reminds me of a hypersweet Speysider.  Sweetness continues on into the finish with moments of sour and salt.

Like the all the other Sauternes-finished whiskys I've tried, this is a dessert malt.  While Glenmorangie's Nectar D'Or could be considered "richer", the Arran Sauternes Finish is actually less syrupy and less winey.  As a result, it actually feels better arranged and more casual.  But it's still quite sweet.  Like with the Port Cask Finish, the alcohol bite reveals this whisky's youth so a little more age probably wouldn't hurt it (especially at its price).  I'm not the biggest Sauternes finish fan, but I would definitely drink this one again, along with a dessert in the summer.

Availability - Some liquor specialty retailers
Pricing - $70-$80
Rating - 82

Monday, December 23, 2013

My introductory Arran Cask Finish shpiel

(I'm a-travelin' right now, so my posts may be a little disjointed for the next two weeks...)

I'm not the biggest fan of finished whiskies.  And I'm not referring to emptied bottles when I say "finished", though those can make me sad too.  I'm referring to whisky that has had a brief additional maturation period in a cask type (usually wine-based) different than that of the original barrel the spirit had been poured in after its distillation.  (For instance, the whisky sits in an ex-bourbon barrel for its first twelve years, then an ex-sherry cask for another six months.)  On the bottle label you'll see references to "finish" or "finished in" or "double maturation" or "triple maturation" or (ugh) "ACEing".

This "finishing" or "multiple maturation" procedure has become widespread in the whisky industry.  In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if we've reached the point wherein more than 50% of officially bottled single malt products have had undergone this technique.  As I stated above, and also in every post I've written about whisky finishes, I tend to not like the results of the finishing process.  It often feels like the producer is trying to slather makeup over a scar, paint over a stain, or put lipstick on a whisky pig.  In the resulting product, the wood, wine, and whisky often seem to sit separate from each other, never fully integrating.

For me the biggest offender is in fact that largest purveyor of finished single malt Scotch, Glenmorangie.  In their case, they're not trying to hide anything with their sherry, port, and sauternes finishes.  Instead, via finishing, they have created multiple pricier products.  That's fine for them since these whiskies sell very well.  I just don't see any of them improving on their starter malt, the non-wine-finished spartan 10 year old "Original".  In the "Original", the malt shines and plays nicely with the American oak.  I do not feel the same about their finished single malts and they had kind of ruined me for the rest of the finished whiskies on the market.

Enter Arran single malt.  The Arran distillery is a baby in the Scotch industry, having run its first distillation in 1995.  Early in their business life they wanted to create a variety of whisky products, so they used different kinds of casks and, yes, they also utilized finishes.  They tried a little bit of everything and seemed to have not held anything back from the market -- casks of Amarone, Argonnne, Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Brandy, Calvados, Champange Grand Cru, Chateau Margaux, Cognac, Cream Sherry, Fontalloro, Madeira, Marsala, Montepulciano, Moscatel, Pinot Noir, Pomerol, Port, Rum, Sauternes, St. Emilion, and Trebbiano d'Abbruzo.  So it's not like they're not trying.

Though one can still find a couple of their single wine cask malts floating around here and there, now that Arran's whisky is a bit older and more successful (critically and financially) they've trimmed back on the experimental releases and focused on more reliable or better selling products.  Of the finishes, they're down to Port, Sherry (actually it's Amarone, a red wine), and Sauternes......much like a certain older Highland distillery.

I've liked Arran's 10 and 14 year old regular releases a lot.  So, I looked forward to trying some of their other whiskies, even their wine finishes. Though the single malt within Arran's cask finishes tends to be young, around eight years old (if that's still considered young in today's market), I was pretty confident in the quality of their stuff.

Though I gripe about sherry finishes, I can usually drink them without too much of a fight.  (Again, that third cask finish is actually a red wine finish not a sherry.  Thanks to Jordan for the heads up.)  But I tend to struggle more with port and sauternes finishes.  And wouldn't you know......two of my whisky buddies shared samples of the Arran Port Cask Finish and Arran Sauternes Cask Finish.

Tomorrow, the results of the Taste Off...

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Life of a Whisky Bottle: Bowmore 11 year old 2002 Exclusive Malts (K&L exclusive)

On Monday, I posted about one of bottles from The Cabinet.  Today, I'm writing about another.  It's another peated winter whisky, though one with its own story and fate.

Earlier this year, The Creative Whisky Company (CWC) finally entered the US market with about a half dozen single cask, cask strength "Exclusive Malts".  One of those malts was a Bowmore 2001.  It was very good and very pricey and now very gone.  Not too long after that first batch of Exclusive Malts had mostly sold out, K&L Wines announced they were getting their own exclusive set of single casks from the same company.  (On a side note, there were a bunch of Davids behind this.  David Stirk runs CWC, while K&L's spirits buyers are David Driscoll and David Othenin-Girard.)  I decided to pre-order one of the K&Ls and went with the Bowmore 2002.  Reasoning: I love love love indie Bowmores.

Once the whisky bottles arrived at the K&L warehouse, David Driscoll publicly admitted (here and here) he had noticed that the Bowmore's nose wasn't quite what he'd remembered it to be when he'd sampled the casks in Scotland.  Now it was full of new oak and no peat.  He wasn't sure what the culprit was -- the cask, the shipping, or the bottles -- but with time or oxidation, he said the nose came around.  He and I swapped a couple emails as I wanted to make sure I should still go with this Bowmore or another of their upcoming exclusive Bowmores.  In the end, I stayed with my original choice.

Distillery: Bowmore
Independent Bottler: The Creative Whisky Co. Ltd.
Series: The Exclusive Malts
Retailer: K&L only
Age: March 12, 2002 - 2013 (11 years)
Maturation: "Oak Casks"
Cask number20098
Bottle #:  ??? of 271
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 56.3%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: No

This bottle's usage:
39% - Swaps and shares
17% - Whisky experiments
8% - Graded tastings
36% - Casual drinking

Before I continue, note the small percentage of the bottle utilized for actual casual drinking.  Please also note, that is no tragedy.  I had difficulty with this whisky.  And I'm sort of hoping those folks to whom I have swapped (or will swap) this Bowmore like it better than I.

Upon opening the bottle, the nose issue that Driscoll had mentioned was somewhat confirmed.  It was not peaty at all.  What David D had sniffed as new oak, read to me as rancid dairy.  It was kinda gross (official terminology).  What made it stranger is that the palate was actually very peaty and held none of the off-putting nose note.

More and more often, I'm finding that at the very top of its bottle, a whisky is not in its best form.  Somewhere in the middle-third, in its interaction with tiny amounts of oxygen, the malt opens up and hits its money spot.  [Or sometimes, if it's a roughie (like Monday's baby Ledaig), the last-third of the bottle shows it best.]  So, putting my faith in that observation and David's comment that time or oxidation helped this Bowmore out, I gave it time.

I set aside a sample from the top of the bottle so I could taste it alongside the whisky at a later date.  Once the bottle drew near the last of its middle-third, I compared the two versions of the same whisky.  Please note, though the first sample was taken on the same day I'd found the rancid dairy note, it was decanted into a small sample bottle and thus may have experienced minor oxidation in the process.

Top of the bottle:

Color - Amber
Nose - Butterscotch, cinnamon, and ginger powder.  Have to really search for peat since this is mostly buttery oak.  Black licorice, cardamom (of course), vanilla beans, and cut wood.  Did I mention butter?  Did I mention oak?
Palate - Barbecued peat with a fresh ginger zing.  Caramel, butter, and red hots candies.  In fact there's a lot of chewy cinnamon candy in here.
Finish - Butter, grass, and cinnamon candies.  Peat becomes more vegetal with just a peep of smoke.

W/WATER (sub 40% ABV)
Nose - More peat revealed.  Much less butter.  Lemon zest.  It's leaner but less all over the place.
Palate - Sweeter and peppery.  Peat is just hanging in there.  Lots of butter, though.  Here's the cardamom and the cinnamon candy.  A little tartness too.
Finish - Lightly bitter, lightly sweet.  Coriander and faint peat echoes.

End of the bottle's middle-third:

Nose - Fruit breads.  Cinnamon on carrot cake.  The butter's still there, but better integrated.  The licorice is more subtle.  Very light peat moss, a little sugared now.  It's actually sort of Christmassy, I suppose.  Oak still blocks out much of the Islay shoreline.
Palate - Cinnamon with a coffee-like bitterness.  Peat is less smoky and a little sweeter.  A hint of citrus juice blends.  The oak rolls along more toasty than charred.  Very dense mouthfeel.  A bit narrow, but tasty in its narrowness.
Finish - Sweet, as in Nutrasweet.  Smoked cinnamon sticks and a hint of bacon.

W/WATER (sub 40% ABV)
Nose - A better (or more classic) Islay peat funk.  Oranges and vanilla.  Very candied.
Palate - Grassy, light on the peat, and light on the butter.  Mild cracked pepper.  A tannic dryness.  Have to be very careful with water because this one's easily broken.
Finish - Brief.  Some vanilla and a little veggie peat.

Conclusion #1: It was better than I'd thought...
Conclusion #2: ...though that may be the result of giving it a lot of focus.  All of my previous less positive experiences came while drinking it casually.
Conclusion #3: Even though it was better than expected, it takes some work to get it into its best shape.  It needs just the right amount of air and time in the bottle, not to mention airing it out in the glass.  And though it does take to water, the drinker has to be very cautious because it drowns quickly.  I like playing with my whisky, but this one requires a hell of a lot of attention, and even after all that tinkering I am left wondering if it was worth it.
Conclusion #4: Oak. "Oak Casks" indeed.
Conclusion #5: It appears as if my whisky experience does not match up with that of the employees of K&L. That's not the first time.  I loved their exclusive Caperdonich, but found it to be quite different than their official notes.  In that case, it was for the better.  I've also heard (hearsay!) similar observations regarding a couple of the other current K&L exclusives -- if I try them and feel the same, I'll let you know.  Yes, tasting notes are all subjective but I'm seeing enough of a gap to make me disregard the official notes going forward and rely on my own actual interest in the whisky.  Which is actually how we should all be buying stuff anyway.
Conclusion #6: In the current whisky market, the price is good.  The official 12 year old -- which is diluted, filtered, and colored -- is much less interesting but not much cheaper.  Also, the most recent official Tempest (er, Dorus Mor) was a 10yo selling for over $100.  Since K&L's inventory lists a hell of a lot of bottles remaining for this Exclusive, I'm wondering if they'll need to price it for clearance next year as they had with the Caperdonich this year......though, I'm not sure how much lower the price can go on this.
Conclusion #7: My expectations were set very high due to my experiences with independently bottled non-FWP American-oak-matured Bowmore.  While with manipulation this one can still be decent (provided the drinker loves lots of oak), this is my least favorite out of the fourteen I've tried over the last two years.  Compared to non-Tempest official bottlings, this whisky would fare well.  But up against Tempest?  Farewell.

Availability - K&L Wines
Pricing - $75.99
Rating - 81

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Life of a Whisky Bottle: Ledaig 6 year old 2005 Blackadder

Once upon a time (June 2013), I paid over $100 for a bottle of 6 year old whisky.  Twenty-four hours later the remorse set in.  Why had I excitedly but blindly purchased a bottle of infant whisky for three figures?  Firstly, I liked the distillery's peated malt.  Secondly, I'd always wanted one of the indie bottler's Raw Cask whiskys.  I'm a big sucker for the pile of char at the bottom of every bottle.

The whisky was Ledaig.  The bottler was Blackadder.  And my normally thrifty better angels were out taking a sh*t that particular afternoon.

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Ledaig
Independent Bottler: Blackadder
Age: September 14, 2005 - July 2012 (6 years)
Maturation: ex-sherry cask
Cask number9011
Bottle #:  118 of 166
Region: Isle of Mull
Alcohol by Volume: 64.0%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: No

This bottle's usage:
24% - Swaps and shares
7% - Whisky experiments
24% - Graded tastings
45% - Casual drinking

First thing's first.  What it is not is a Raw Cask bottling, so there's no barrel char sprinkles at the bottom of the bottle.  What it is is a 64% ABV very young whisky from a famously difficult distillery.  Normally I save whiskies priced at that level for special occasions.  But I couldn't think of a single occasion that I wanted to celebrate with a face full of hot weird peat.

But an occasion presented itself.  In late August I was scheduled to have eye surgery, not corrective surgery but actual invasive cutting.  Unexpectedly (and sincerely surprising my doctor) my body healed itself.  Woo hoo!  Time to celebrate.  Here are the tweets that followed:

I immediately realized this one was going to need some air; as in, months of it.  This was not an issue because this past September, October, and much of November were hot as hell.  And a 64% ABV Ledaig is not easily consumed in a leisurely fashion during 90 degree heat.

The above tweets were my impressions of the very first glass.  Needless to say, the generally poisonous nature of the whisky receded with time.  I saved two samples from the top of the bottle then a pair from mid-bottle.  And now that I'm in the bottle's bottom third, there's plenty to taste.  The following tasting notes combine my experiences from three different comparisons I conducted this year:

Top of the bottle:

Nose - Rubber -- rubber bands and sneaker tread.  Burnt moss, gunpowder, and mezcal.  Oak pulp, elephant dung, and toffee. And something once bright and floral crushed by the aforementioned elephant crap
Palate - Heat, so much heat.  New sneakers and tennis ball fuzz.  Bushels of green mossy peat, melted plastic, and salt.  Bananas and a light sweetness in the far background
Finish - Extensive, like I just smoked a cheap cigar.  Also urine and gunpowder with growing sourness.

W/WATER (approx 43-46% ABV)
Nose - Horseradish, chlorine, and dirty hay.  Harshness mostly becalmed, but still some acetone / nail polish.
Palate - Synthetic burnt quality.  Soil, bitter chlorine, very green bitter peat, and a slight tartness.
Finish - Still large, all char and ash.


Nose - Big alcohol heat. Just a hint of the sherry oak, fresh fruits also possibly from the sherry cask (which is much appreciated at this point).  Peat is much clearer now, like rotting vegetation and seaweed.  Parmesan cheese, cap gun recently fired, dog manure, cinnamon-sugar combo, caramel, lemon zest, seawater, and new cheap shoes.
Palate - Very buttery.  Tire fire, torched veg, and plastic.  A little sweetness, but mostly sour.  Apples and a hint of very dark chocolate and prunes.
Finish - Burnt stuff from the palate, peat ashes, gunpowder, citrus tang, hints of prunes and chlorine.

Nose - Peated cream of wheat with mint.  Body odor, used socks, and severe sneaker peat that cannot be drowned.  Something between cocoa powder and gunpowder, nail polish, apples, chlorine, and a little generic citrus.
Palate - Getting more pleasant now. Hay, burnt toast, burnt peat.  Something sweet & creamy in the far background, but also a little sour and leathery at the same time.  Mild vanilla, ground black pepper, dirt, and more gunpowder.
Finish - Now it's cigarette throat.  Burnt peat, gunpowder, tart, but also a little sweet.

Final third of the bottle:

Nose - More fruit!  Bananas and out of season peaches.  Caramel and honey.  Brighter and with less manure.  Sneaker peat and gunpowder remain.  More immediately pleasant than before.
Palate - Less heat, with the peat becoming more tobacco-like.  Very strong bitter lettuces, along with horseradish.  It's very dry and fruit-free.
Finish - Peat gets mossier here, but still plenty of smoke.  A little vanilla.  Much less chlorine.

Nose - Still richer and fruitier than earlier points.  Mossy peat.  Farmy farts.  Vanilla.  Cinnamon and honey.
Palate - A little barley and sugar sweetness eking out, as does some sweet spice.  Peated oatmeal.
Finish - Smoked pencils, ashy, maybe some sweetness, but mostly smoky mezcal.

Conclusion #1:  I have no idea why Blackadder was in such a hurry to bottle this whisky so soon.  With fuller maturation, this could have been a thunderous beauty.
Conclusion #2:  There is no reason why this should be $100, even in this market.
Conclusion #3:  I'm a f***ing idiot for paying so much for this whisky.
Conclusion #4:  But it is not terrible.  In fact, as it exists right now with oxidation, the whisky is a bracing winter chimney.  At mid-bottle it was a rumbling volcano on a stinky peat farm.  At the top of the bottle, it could be weaponized.
Conclusion #5:  Because so few bottles came from a sherry cask, I'm sort of wondering if Blackadder split the cask into two releases, with this one (reviewed by Serge) being its mate.  In fact, I'm convinced it is.  It has the same cask number......  If so, it definitely seems like Serge got the top of the bottle and it almost took the man down.  Impressive, in a way.
Conclusion #6:  Can I recommend this?  Only to those not sulphur sensitive...... Who wants to send a sample to Jim Murray?!  One would also need to really enjoy intensely farmy whisky, and thus not be afraid of finding some poop (notes) in one's drink.  One would need to live in a colder climate than I.  One would also need no qualms about paying $100 for a non-Kilchoman non-BTAC baby whisk(e)y.  Also it will burn one's mouth.  Are those enough qualifiers?
Conclusion #7:  I swear this is 128 proof mezcal.

Availability - Sparse. Maybe a handful of US specialty retailers
Pricing - $90-$110
Rating - 79

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Single Malt Report: Pulteney 1977-2005 Scott's Selection

Here we go with a sequel to Tuesday's post:  A new simultaneous whisky review!

Click on over to My Annoying Opinions to see MAO's review (direct link) of this same single malt.  I have no idea what he thinks of it.  No, seriously, nada.  After Tuesday's dual post, I am fascinated by the unique experiences two people have with the same whisky, and in this case from the same bottle.  I don't even know what anyone else thinks of this stuff because there are no other reviews of it online (that I can find).

Though it's missing its commonly provided first name, this is indeed OLD Pulteney.  And it's actually old.  The oldest Pulteney I'd had until this point was the 17 year old official bottling, which I quite adore.  I've never had an indie Old P, though I do have a younger one awaiting me in The Stash.

Here's what I've gathered about the naming of the whisky: The distillery is Pulteney, it is situated in Pulteneytown, a once-thriving fishing village named after Sir William Pulteney.  The product issuing forth from the distillery is called Old Pulteney.  I've seen a couple other independently bottled Pulteney malts leave the "Old" off the name, but most of them seem to keep it attached.  In this case, Scott's Selection is basically listing the distillery's name and the year of distillation.

I saw this bottling before in one of those random Scott's spottings I'd mentioned on Tuesday.  In fact, there was some considerable whisky-lust-at-first-sight, but alas she was too costly for me.  Thus many thank yous are owed to MAO, who organized a four-way split of this bottle he found in his home state.

Distillery: Pulteney
Bottler: Scott's Selection
Age: 28-ish years (1977 - 2005)
Maturation: my guess is probably ex-bourbon cask
Region: Northern Highlands
Alcohol by Volume: 56.9%

The color (see MAO's pic above) is slightly darker than the Highland Park, edging towards the light gold area of pretty whisky shades.  At first sniff, the nose gives off a blast of something pretty phenolic, which is unexpected.  Sadly, it has never returned.  Early primary notes are of bread, yeast, a nice lychee/floral thing, and saline nasal spray.  The fruits which are in the background ease out with some air; mostly peach schnapps and fresh apples.  Give it more than 30 minutes of air and some bubblegum and "old lady" perfume. (Quotes per my notes.)  The palate shows lots of salt and plenty of heat.  There's also a solid wall of tartness.  Those who don't like the salt and tart in the OBs may want to give this wide berth.  There's an occasional subtle mothball (naphthalene or menthol?) note.  After some time in the glass, the whisky reveals some unsmoked tobacco and plain cookies (think stale ladyfingers).  That tartness continues in the finish and is met by milk chocolate, a hint of vanilla, and dried apricots.  It can be a little astringent, so some air helps.  Curiously, I get some medicinal character and cigar smoke lingering in my mouth for awhile.

WITH WATER (around mid-40s ABV)
Now the fruits arrive in the nose.  The peach schnapps is bested by fresh peaches.  And cherry lollipops.  Some tropical fruit too, probably mango; I also wrote papaya in my notes, but it's been a long time since I've nosed a papaya (Sexual imagery unintended).  There's also some fresh grass and pine sap, along with sugar cookies.  The palate gets narrower.  There's some lightly rummy sweetness before a hoppy IPA bitterness moves in.  The tartness remains.  The finish gets sweeter.  Bitter and floral notes tangle (or tango).  The pine sap shows up here too along with a little cough medicine.

So.  Phenols in Old Pulteney?  Wut?  Due to the dearth of reviews on this whisky, I went to the source that is Serge's site.  Though he hasn't reviewed this particular Pulteney, he has reviewed 59 others.  I was specifically looking for something from the '70s or earlier.  He mentioned some possible peat in a couple of them, but the only one he seemed confident about peating was this Whyte & Whyte specimen from 1974.  Do I think this Scott's Pulteney was peated?  I can't be 100% certain as the nose note did not return when I went back to the whisky this evening.  I still get that medicinal and smoky thing in the finish, but that could possibly from the spirit and/or barrel.  So, I don't recommend going to this whisky expected something peated, in fact you'll get more of a peat kick from officially bottled Clynelish (which, like Pulteney, supposedly uses unpeated malt, but its results often contradict that).

I'm wondering as I'm typing this, did MAO find any smoke or peat?  He found more of it in the HP than I.  And I'm probably making a much bigger deal out of this issue than it deserves because the characteristics in question were brief.

More importantly and totally subjectively, I really liked this whisky.  As I mentioned above, it's loaded with the salty tartness I like the official Old Pulteney range.  It can be a bit tight on the palate, but it hits the right spots for me.  The remainder of my quarter bottle is going to vanish quickly.

Availability - Happy hunting!
Pricing - $170-$220 (half the price of the non-CS official 30yo)
Rating - 91

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Single Malt Report: Highland Park 1986-2007 (Scott's Selection)

And now for something slightly different...

A simultaneous review!

At this very moment a review of this same whisky is posted at My Annoying Opinions.  A couple weeks ago, I split a bottle of this Highland Park 1986 Scott's Selection three ways with M.A.O. and his friend.  It gave us the ability to dig into a somewhat older single malt without risking $200ish on a blind purchase.  M.A.O.'s opinions have indeed annoyed a number of folks in the whisky blogging community, which is a good thing because our "community" was/is in definite need of some challenges.  I have yet to step into the discussion he has started (ignited?), but I do intend to address it in the new year -- because it's going to be difficult to continue writing about whisky unless I do so.  No matter my opinion about his blogging opinions, I respect his reviews.  I've also found his palate preferences are often similar to mine.  I recommend hopping over to his review of this whisky because as I write this, I have no idea what he thinks of this Highland Park.

(UPDATE: Here's the link to MAO's review.  And his notes are quite a bit different than mine...)

Scott's Selection is a fascinating independent bottler.  I've found semi-dusty Scott's bottles in random corner liquor stores in California, New York, and Arizona.  So they're not that difficult to find, for now.  And their prices are often much lower than other indies.  And the quality of their output tends to be decent, occasionally very good.  If I had an issue with them it would be the total lack of disclosure on their labels.  There's no mention of cask type, amount of casks, amount of bottles, or actual age.  I've seen two bottles labelled "Sherry Wood", but I'm pretty sure I've had a couple other Scott'ses that were aged in sherry casks while the label said nothing about it.  So what you'll get is: Highland Park 1986-2007, 54.1% ABV.  No more, no less.  So you'll have to pardon some of my data below.

Distillery: Highland Park
Bottler: Scott's Selection
Age: 21-ish years (1986 - 2007)
Maturation: probably an ex-bourbon cask (if it's an ex-sherry cask it's an eighth-fill)
Region: Islands, or Northern Highlands
Alcohol by Volume: 54.1%

The color is at just between light gold and amber.  See MAO's pic above.  The nose has a surprising youthful spirity nip to it, sort of suggesting old school paint (as in, not the safer low-VOC paints for sale now).  It's not too strong, but it shows the oak hasn't been aggressive over the 20+ years, which is fine by me.  But black licorice, vanilla, and tapioca pudding push that tougher note to the background.  Give it some time......peach taffy, fresh plums, clove, jasmine flowers, and yeast notes arise.  I've also been finding cardamom notes in many Highland malts recently; maybe it's my nose.  This whisky is no exception, considerable cardamom.  Not much peat, unless maybe a vague grassy veg peat?  In the palate, hot cereal (think oatmeal or cream of wheat) arrives early.  Then fresh apricots and a soft custardy note -- vanilla + brown sugar + caramel.  With some time in the glass, the whisky delivers an expressive rich citrus liqueur.  Like the nose shows, there's still quite a bite to this stuff.  The citrus liqueur notes continues into the finish along with a cayenne peppery heat.  It sweetens up here and brings with it a wisp of wood smoke.

My first impression of it neat was, per my notes, "Take a cask strength version of the 18yo, remove the sherry and 75% of the peat."  Yet it still feels a bit brasher than an 18 year old whisky.

WITH WATER (low 40s ABV)
More oak and fruit in the nose.  Fresh cut uncharred wood.  Peaches and orange zest.  Caramel sauce.  Just a hint of the licorice, cardamom, and vanilla remains.  An orange soda note builds up after some time.  The palate gets "more pleasurable!"  Mild vanilla, orange zest, burnt wood, more sugars, and a slight bitterness.  Even at this lower strength, a lot of texture remains.  It's softer now, though very drinkable at this spot.  The finish is much briefer.  It's sweet and lightly tart.  The citrus and pepper become milder.  The jasmine note makes a curious return.  And there's that hint of smoke again.

Rarely do I prefer a whisky with water added, but this one really grew on me once it was hydrated.  I don't mind some sharpness in my whisky, but this HP cozies up to the nose and tongue better when its ABV is reduced a little.

The near lack of phenolics was somewhat expected.  Having had some older whiskies made from highly peated malt, I've come to realize that lengthy maturations mellow out the PPMs.  This is no exception.  Highland Park's malt doesn't start with much peating, so as it gets older that which was there is no longer.

I've actually been on a search for non-sherried Highland Parks.  When MAO mentioned this bottle, my ears (or eyes) perked up.  I didn't know what the sherry situation was going to be like, but thought it was worth a try.  And it is.  While I don't think this whisky will WOW anyone, I also don't think it's going to offend.  It does offer an alternate look at Highland Park -- removing the sherry element and most of the peat -- if you're in search of that experience.

Availability - A few liquor shops in the US still have it
Pricing - $150-$200
Rating - 86  (approx. 86/100; it picks up the 1/2 star, or 5 points, with added water)

STAY TUNED!  On Thursday, you may just find another simultaneous review here......

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Single Malt Report: Glengoyne Cask Strength, Batch 1

On Tuesday, I reported on GlenDronach's first batch of their new sherried NAS Cask Strength single malt.  Today, it'll be the first batch of the new version of Glengoyne's sherried NAS Cask Strength single malt.  These two young Cask Strength whiskies were released around the same time late last year.

This version of Glengoyne's CS is part of the brand's newly refreshed range.  Previously there had been a 10, 12, 17, and 21 year old, along with a 12 year old cask strength.  The new range, presented with new handsome modern labels, swaps out the 17 for a 15yo and 18yo, and the CS loses its age statement.  The old range is still available all over the US, while the new range has been slow to get here.  Specifically, this cask strength bottling has yet to cross the ocean.

In October 2012, I reviewed the old 17 year (please see the review for more info about the distillery) from a sample and enjoyed it immensely.  From there I bought my own bottle and discovered a whisky much more heavily sherried than the one from the sample.  Since I'd poured that original sample myself, I pondered if there may have been some batch variation.  I had read that at least 35% of the casks in the 17 were first-fill sherries, so could they have upped the sherry casks?  Since their site now says most of their casks are ex-sherry, my theory might hold up.

This new Cask Strength edition is certainly sherried, though more softly so than the GlenDronach.  I've eyed the old Glengoyne 12yo Cask Strength on a couple of occasions as it can still be found here and there, meanwhile this first batch of the new CS can also be found in Europe as it hasn't sold out as quickly as the 'Dronach.  Let's see how Glengoyne fares.

Distillery: Glengoyne
Ownership: Ian MacLeod Distillers
Age: NAS
Maturation: ex-Oloroso sherry Spanish oak casks (possibly a mix of first- and re-fill casks)
Region: Highlands (South)
Alcohol by Volume: 58.7%
Batch: 1 (2012)

The color is a dark reddish amber, perhaps "sienna" if this was a Macallan.  First thing I smell in the nose is PEAT! OMG PEAT!!!  I'm kidding, there's no peat.  That was just a poke at the Glengoyne marketing folks (who will probably never read this review), who make a point to brag about the lack of peat in their whisky.  Okay, I'll start again.  There's a lot of buttery oak in the nose.  Lots of lightly spiced toasted oak as well.  Pencil eraser, paint thinner, golden raisins, shoe soles, and stale black raisins.  It's actually very closed.  Needs lots of air.  After twenty minutes: orange sorbet, pencil shavings, a distant meatiness, and a puff of eggy sulfur.  The malt is much louder in the palate.  Lots of young barley spirit.  There's a slight rubberiness and significant heat.  Sherry meets vanilla beans meets juicy raisins, but it's not sweet.  The finish is very drying and the sherry announces itself the loudest here.  A little chocolate, a lot of stewed prunes, and sea salt.

On the nose, oh my goodness.  Everyone's favorite horse, Hoof Hearted, arrives in first (please click here and turn up the volume for a 16 second explanation).  Airing it out a bit, the whisky become reminiscent of the 17yo with a soft sherry duvet.  More pencil erasers now and more sugars, but less of the solvent.  Also some nice lemon peel and dried ginger.  The palate is very creamy with a nice coffee bitterness.  Vanilla custard and whipped cream.  That pleasant bitter note lingers in the finish, along with a little tanginess and very milky chocolate.

Here's a rare instance wherein I'll recommend adding water, but then please give the nose a little air if you know what I mean.  It's not bad when neat, but it's very tight.

One thing I found curious about this whisky is the oak.  There is a significant presence of butter and vanilla, vanillin notes which can be found in casks of charred American oak.  Many distilleries are now using American oak for their sherry casks since it is easier to come by and much cheaper.  So I actually thought that was the oak involved in this whisky's maturation.  But Glengoyne states very clearly that their oak is felled in Spain.  Toasted q.robur and q.petraea can also deliver vanilla notes, but I've never found such a strong ones coming from a European oak-aged whisky.  Perhaps they char the oak as opposed to a medium toasting, thus bringing more vanillins to the surface?  This is not a complaint, more of an observation (and an opportunity for someone to weigh in on this).  It was very interesting to experience a heap of chocolate coming from GlenDroanch's sherry casks and big dose of vanilla coming from Glengoyne's sherry casks.

Ultimately this wasn't as lush and rich as the GlenDronach.  It needs a considerable amount of air as well as some careful watering to open it up.  Once it comes to life, it's a pleasing drinker, one I might try again especially if additional batches are released.  Now how about one batch for The States?

Availability - Europe only
Pricing - $80-$95 depending on shipping costs
Rating - 81

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Single Malt Report: GlenDronach Cask Strength, Batch 1

GlenDronach Distillery produces a single malt I often recommend to folks (especially those who are looking to expand beyond Macallan), but rarely buy for myself.  A lot of that has to do with my sherry issue.  For those unfamiliar with "my sherry issue", here's a brief recap:

Sometime around February 2012, I realized I didn't like ex-sherry cask matured whisky.  I could appreciate it and sort out which were higher quality and lower quality versions, but I never desired actually drinking the stuff.  There was a palate turnoff that equated to something like, "I don't want sherry, I want whisky!"  So, I tended to search out ex-bourbon cask-matured or low oak influenced malts.  As a result you'll tend to find somewhat of a paucity of reviews on sherried whisky around these parts.

But over the past year, I've been able to pinpoint where things sherried go wrong in my mouth.  Firstly, sherry-finished malts rarely seem to pull the oak, wine, and spirit together.  Instead, all the parts bang around separately and the spirit itself loses in that battle.  Glenmorangie Lasanta is an example of this.  Meanwhile, full powered, cask strength whisky fully matured in sherry barrels can me very happy; for instance, this lovely legal lass.  Whiskies that are a mix of ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks -- see here and here -- can be very welcoming.  Though my palate finds the sherry element first in these malts, it tends to yield and accept and sometimes embrace.  And then there are the inexplicable miracles like Yamazaki 18.  I long for more delights, so I leave myself open to the possibility of the miraculous.

I have reviewed GlenDronach's official 12, 15, 18, and 21 year olds.  They're all decent, with the 15 being the strongest and the 21 possibly being the weakest.  The prices on the older whiskies are much more reasonable than those of similarly aged Macallan.  Plus the ABVs are 46-48% and the whisky is not chill-filtered.  Thus, I'm happy to recommend them.  But I've never bought them.

Then there are the GlenDronach single casks.  Of these casks, the oldies' lore grows more each year, with everyone from the Malt Maniacs to Jim Murray gushing over their quality.  So the 35-40 year old bottles usually vanish before hitting the shelves.  Thus the next level of casks, those of the early '90s, become much desired.  Those are also scooped up very quickly.  I've tried three of them and I've enjoyed every one.  I had the pleasure of officially reviewing my favorite, the aforementioned "lovely legal lass".  Thanks to its cakey, nutty, tobaccoy, and chocolatey nature, I would be happy to buy a bottle of it -- if I had $160 just lying around.  That one has been my favorite GlenDronach.

But now it has a challenger.

Distillery: GlenDronach
Ownership: BenRiach Distillery Company Ltd
Age: NAS
Maturation: a mix of former Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks
Region: Eastern Highlands (on the edge of Speyside)
Alcohol by Volume: 54.8%
Batch: 1 (2012)
Limited bottling: 12,000

That's right: No Age Statement.  I'm about to gush about a no age statement whisky.  So shoot me (full of GlenDronach Cask Strength Batch 1).

12,000 doesn't sound like that limited of a release, but this stuff is GONE.  Due to its success, the distillery has released a second and third batch.  And I believe the new third batch's turnout was 16,000 bottles.  Each batch is proving to be slightly different.  To me that's a good thing, since the blenders are not trying to force an exact replica each time.  But please note: I have not tried batches 2 or 3, so I cannot speak for them.  I shall address Batch 1.

The color is of a dark gold with some crimson around the edges.  At first sniffs, the nose is full of cocoa powder, gunpowder, and dates.  Then, slowly, notes of honey, nutmeg, something between cardamom and ginger, and tangerines ease out.  With 15-20 minutes of air, out come the prunes, cinnamon, and Elmer's glue.  The palate is full of thick sticky sweet PX sherry.  Hershey's Special Dark, toasty malt, cracked black pepper, and tapioca pudding follow.  Lots and lots of chocolate in the finish.  The sherry gets a little drier.  Some pipe tobacco develops, as do figs and prunes.  But mostly, hot fudge sauce.  Oh, so much hot fudge sauce.

The nose gets grape-ier.  As in fresh red grapes and grape juice.  And raisins.  It gets a little dirtier too, with very earthy molasses, leather, and something farmy (used hay in the sun?).  This is met with notes of cardamom and caramel sauce.  It's like a Macallan with some dirt under its nails.  Ah, here's the chocolate in the palate.  Milk chocolate-covered dried fruits this time.  It's sweeter now, but also has some of that earthy note from the nose.  Perhaps actual earth?  Milk chocolate again in the finish.  There's also some citrus tanginess along with dried apricots.

It's the chocolate that gets me.  That hot fudge thing in the finish lasted about 5-10 minutes.  Beyond that, the rough and tumble notes in the nose (gunpowder, glue, soil, and hay) prove to be a lot of fun.  Some of it might be due to youth or a quirky cask or two, but it provides the percussion to the malt's bass line, the fruits' lead guitar, and the chocolate's vocal harmony.

Now, can we get some of this in The States now please?  Maybe Batch 4?  Hopefully closer to Aberlour A'bunadh prices ($60-$70) than Glenfarclas 105 ($85-$95) prices.  Price aside, I would choo-choo-choose this above any of the regular OB range (12yo-21yo).  It's livelier, bolder, rougher, fruitier, and chocolatier than any of them.  And, gasp, it makes me want to try some more sherry-matured whisky.

Availability - Sold out, though Batches 2 & 3 can be found via European retailers
Pricing - Batches 2 & 3 are $85-$110 depending on shipping costs
Rating - 91