...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Single Malt Report: Longmorn 15 year old 1992 James MacArthur

Today is the first of five Fridays wherein My Annoying Opinions and Diving for Pearls will post simultaneous reviews of one whisky each week.  Five Fridays, five single malts.  MAO and I split a few bottles, swapped a few samples, and drank a few things, all resulting in this audacious leap forward into the future of whisky blogging.  (And here is MAO's post!)

Today's whisky is a 15 year-old Longmorn bottled by James MacArthur in his/their Old Masters series.  It comes from a single cask that was actually divided into two separate releases (here's its Italian twin on whiskybase).

As per the label, the Longmorn was aged in "Sherry Wood", an oak species called Quercus Lumsdenus, I believe.  The label also carries a quote from the great Scottish poet Robert Burns which reads, "An honest bottle and a good friend." Like most writers, Burns was probably both very lonely and very opinionated, so when he conversed with his whisky he clearly took its silence as a sign of warm approval.

Can you tell that I have nothing else to say about this whisky?  There is a serious shortage of Longmorn on this site, and I have a sad lack of experience with its often prized ex-sherry-cask versions.  So here's the site's first:

Distillery: Longmorn
Independent Bottler: James MacArthur & Co.
Series: Old Masters
Age: 15 years (1992-2007)
Maturation: "Sherry Wood"
Cask number: 62553
Region: Speyside
Alcohol by Volume: 59.5%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: Probably not

As mentioned, I'm new to sherried Longmorns and wasn't sure what to expect, so I did two separate tastings.  The whisky in the second tasting was slightly oxidized.  I'm going to arrange my notes a little differently this time because there are a lot of them, sorry...

Nose neat - At first, cocoa powder and malt.  There are both Kit Kats and Twix, alternating.  Fresh fruits, too, along the lines of apricots and plums. The high ABV is very present at the start.  But after about 15 minutes, something really nice develops.  The cocoa and malt combine and welcome in a fresh mango.  Then some butterscotch, fried plantains (better than bananas), baked apples with cinnamon, and floral powder.
Nose neat with oxidation - More cinnamon and pepper this time. Caramel apples.  The fruits are bolder, while the chocolate is mellower.  Some mint chip, anise, and toffee shows up.  Unless its my imagination, there's a whiff of both wood smoke and the ocean too.
Nose with water - Grows more floral.  A little tooty too.  The chocolate recedes.  But there's orange peel, toffee, toasty grains, and limes.
Nose with water and oxidation - Soiled hay.  The citrus now smells like lemon zest.  The floral powder note is still there, as are the toasty grains.  Both cherry cordial chocolates and dried cherries.  The mango note arises again.

Palate neat - Lots of chocolate sauce: Hershey's to some folks, Midnight Moo to Trader Joe's customers.  Then there's hay, fruit cocktail, a hint of prunes, and a little salt.  It still packs quite a burn for a 15 year.
Palate neat with oxidation - The salt and hay notes are still here.  The chocolate reads more as cocoa powder than sauce.  Some cayenne pepper thrown in.  Then a progression from fruit juice to black coffee.
Palate with water - The chocolate recedes here too.  More malt and caramel.  Both golden raisins and Raisinets show up.  The sherry gets a little dry.
Palate with water and oxidation - Three or four levels of good bitterness operating simultaneously.  The sherry is dry again.  Malt, tart lemons, and maybe some of the nose's mango.

Finish neat - Chocolate first, then molassesy rum, toasted barley, tobacco, and that prune note.
Finish neat with oxidation - Nice and dark.  Coffee, dark chocolate, black pepper, and menthol.  Just a peep of fruits in the back.
Finish with water - Sweet barley stuff up front, with oak notes in the background, and leathery tobacco in the midground.
Finish with water and oxidation - Sweeter, but the bitterness is still present.  Hints of chocolate, caramel, and tobacco (think Black & Milds).

Okay, I'll summarize:
Fresh out of the bottle the whisky is surprisingly chocolatey.  But with some air, the nose gets more complex and gains fruit and floral notes that remind me of the few much older Longmorns I've tried.  The interplay between the chocolate and fruit is nice.  Both the nose and palate demonstrate that the wine and wood haven't submerged all the good barley underneath.  I'm not sure if its because I haven't had much cask strength whisky lately, but this one seemed very hot right out of the bottle.  I think the palate benefits from some water and air, as it seems a bit tight at the start.  Even then, the nose is the star of the show.

Availability - Sparse
Pricing - probably $100-$120
Rating - 87

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Old Taylor ('85) vs. Old Taylor ('87) vs. Old Taylor ('96) 6 year old Bourbon

Once upon a time, Old Taylor Kentucky Straight Bourbon was distilled at the Old Taylor Distillery.  Alternately known as Old Taylor Castle and Stone Castle Distillery, it's really a hell of a thing to see.  Rather than swiping other people's photos, I will recommend that you click over to Fred Minnick's photo essay.  (K&L Spirits Journal has some good pics too.)

The Old Taylor brand, once actually owned by the Taylor family, was purchased by National Distillers after Prohibition had ended.  The distillery itself ran until 1972, after that the production of Old Taylor's distillate was done at other National Distillers distilleries, mostly likely OT's neighbor, the Old Crow Distillery.  In 1987, when National Distillers folded up, Beam Inc bought a bunch of brands including three Olds -- Grand Dad, Crow, and Taylor.  The Old Crow Distillery was closed down that year, its space then used for warehousing barrels.

Along with the brands, Beam picked up all of the related maturing barrels.  Due to the whisky glut in the '70s and '80s, a lot of older bourbons went into brands that had younger age statements.   As has been mentioned on the Straight Bourbon forums, Michael Jackson once wrote that in the mid-eighties, Old Taylor 6yo was around 10-12 years old.  Beam continued to bottle the original stocks until they ran out and segued to their own formula (and new labels) in the early '90s.  In 2009, Sazerac purchased Old Taylor from Beam and are now the current owners of the brand.

I've had limited success at hunting for dusty old bourbons.  But my best find has been '80s Old Taylor bourbon.  They are lovely things.  While I enjoy single malts, Irish pot still, and straight rye more than bourbon, the old Old Taylor has proved to be an exception.  It's incredibly rich, and can be used either as a brisk summertime pleasure or as something to mull over on a cold rainy night.

The first OT6 in this lineup was bottled in 1985.  Tax stamps were being phased out that year and my bottle was amongst those that didn't get that sticky paper seal.  It lists Frankfort, KY as its home, the location of the Old Taylor and Old Crow distilleries.

The second OT6, is a 375mL bottle from 1987.  That was the year Beam took over.  The label stayed the same except for the addition of "Clermont, KY" Beam's home.  One other difference is the listing of ABV along with the US proof, something companies had started switching to in the late-eighties.

The third OT6 has made multiple appearances on the blog this year.  First on its own, then as part of a Beam vertical.  No worries about it making a fourth appearance as it has all been processed by my liver now.  That Old Taylor was bottled in 1996 and was 100% Beam juice.  I tossed it into this lineup for the sake of comparison.  And I needed to finally finish the little 200mL bottle off.

Here are a few additional links about Old Taylor, in addition to the links above, in case you're interested:

Here are the tasting notes in bottling date order, from oldest to newest:

OLD TAYLOR 6 YEAR OLD (bottled in 1985) - 43% ABV

Owner: National Distillers at time of bottling
Brand: Old Taylor
Distillery: possibly at Old Crow Distillery, though some older spirit may be from Old Taylor Distillery
Location: Frankfort, Kentucky
Mash Bill: ???
Age: minimum 6 years old; though it has been suggested by Michael Jackson that 10+ year old whiskey is in the mix
ABV: 43% ABV
Bottle year: 1985

Please note, I zipped through this bottle much too quickly after opening it.  This sample comes from the bottom quarter of the bottle which I decanted into a smaller bottle.  It had already oxidized very quickly and the palate isn't quite what it was upon opening.

The nose leads with a nutty syrup, figs, dried cherries, and a mile of rich caramel.  There's actually a significant malty element (which appealed to this Scotch fan) and a hint of Old Bottle Effect (OBE) metal.  Then there are lavender buds, vanilla beans, cinnamon, cotton, black pepper, an old leather chair, and a slight medicinal note.  The palate starts off with Milk Duds, vanilla ice cream, and dried lavender.  Even with the oxidation, it feels much fuller and thicker than a normal 43% ABV whisk(e)y.  There's a wheaty-ness that might appeal to S-W fans (though I don't think this is a wheater).  The corn element remains very mellow.  Then some cream soda and an old moldy musty note.  Boisterous spices awake in the finish.  Then caramel, wood pulp, dates, and the musty note.  It's simple, but full and sweet.

OLD TAYLOR 6 YEAR OLD (bottled in 1987) - 43% ABV

Owner: Beam Inc at time of bottling
Distilled by: National Distillers
Brand: Old Taylor
Distillery: possibly at Old Crow Distillery, though some older spirit may be from Old Taylor Distillery
Location: Frankfort, Kentucky / Clermont, Kentucky
Mash Bill: ???
Age: minimum 6 years old; though it has been suggested by Michael Jackson that 10+ year old whiskey is in the mix
ABV: 43% ABV
Bottle year: 1987

This sample was taken right near the top of the bottle.

The nutty syrup, figs, and big caramel show up in the nose again, but they are followed by mint leaves, vanilla fudge, and toffee.  Then lavender growing out of freshly fertilized soil.  That's followed by a whole list of fun stuff: dried stone fruits, root beer, cream soda, pipe tobacco, smoky tea, smoky butter, and maple syrup.  The palate is unbelievably rich.  Decadent salted caramel and milk chocolate.  Rose petals and dried lavender.  Vanilla extract meets whispers of smoke and savoriness.  It's a bourbon pudding.  A little more corn in the finish, along with the moldy/musty note.  Cayenne pepper generously sprinkled in caramel sauce.  A little bit of the flora, a bit of sugar, and an herbal twist at the end.

OLD TAYLOR 6 YEAR OLD (bottled in 1996) - 40% ABV

Owner: Beam, Inc. at time of bottling
Brand: Old Taylor
Distillery: Jim Beam Distillery
Location: Clermont, Kentucky
Mash Bill: Standard 15% rye (probably)
Age: minimum 6 years old
ABV: 40% ABV
Bottle year: 1996

From the bottom half of the bottle.

First up in the nose, a bag of salted peanuts.  I missed that note in the Beam review probably due to the nuttiness in the other Beams.  Here, compared to the N.D. OTs, it shouts loudest.  That's followed by mild corn, stale dried fruits, simple caramel and vanilla, notebook paper, banana skin, nutmeg, and Cow Tales.  The palate is decently textured but nothing like its predecessors.  I find those peanuts again, along with caramel and corn syrup.  Also there's both barrel char and some actual uncharred oak.  The finish mirrors the palate.  Maybe some more salt, and then a whole cord of oak.

The '87 bottling is a knee buckler, no joke.  When I saw it in the store, I didn't know if Beam had switched to their own barrels once they bought Old Taylor, so I only bought one bottle.  Per Monday's post, as you can imagine, I wish I had bought more.  The vibrancy of the bourbon even shows itself in a flat wide tumbler glass; it's something to behold.  Had I saved a sample from the top of the '85 bottling, I'd likely say the same about it.  But all I have to go on now is a somewhat oxidized sip.  Still its nose is tremendous and the palate is still thick and tasty.  The '96 bottling is still very drinkable but almost feels like a different liquor genre next to its elders.

I'll cut straight to the meat about the National Distillers-distilled Old Taylor 6 year olds.  The only other bourbons I've had that can compare to the element of sheer joy (though for completely different reasons) are Stitzel-Weller Old Fitzgerald BIB and George T. Stagg.  If you ever find one of these old Old Taylors in the wild, I loudly recommend it.  It will probably be pretty cheap, and even if you don't find it very complex you'll at least enjoy the ride.

[Update 4/13/2014:  Now the 1987 bottling has oxidized very quickly as well.  The palate's richness has largely faded, and the finish has a slight soapy character.  But the nose remains awesome.  You gotta drink these old Old Taylors quickly, I suppose.  Straight from the bottle or mainlining or vaping the whole thing in the first night (slight exaggeration).]

OLD TAYLOR 6 YEAR OLD (1985 bottling)
Availability - Happy hunting!
Pricing - ???
Rating - 90  (was even better before it oxidized)

OLD TAYLOR 6 YEAR OLD (1987 bottling)
Availability - Happy hunting!
Pricing - ???
Rating - 93

OLD TAYLOR 6 YEAR OLD (1996 bottling)
Availability - More so in the Midwest, less so in the East and West
Pricing - $4-$5 for 200mL; for the current Sazerac version $12-$15 (750mL), $18-20 (1L)
Rating - 80

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Poacher Enters The Dusty Hunt

I haven't spoken about this to many people, let alone blogged about it, but I have a reliable spot for dusty bourbons.  Rather, I had a reliable spot.

Many of us dusty bottle hunters have a place that's reliable, usually off the beaten track.  And eventually, with new hunters coming aboard every day, that secret place is found by someone else and he or she relieves the store of what remains.  That's just part of the hunt.  I personally do not believe in hoarding a good find, so I usually leave a bottle or two on the shelf for that next person.  Others have done it for me, and I am grateful for it.  If I ever do "clean out" a store, I will share the spoils because I believe whisk(e)y is best as a group experience.

The store of interest here, let's call it Tasty Liquors, had five different brands of '80s bourbons.  There's one particular brand (to be reviewed soon) in which I have the most interest and have occasionally purchased a bottle, leaving more on the shelf.

On Friday night, I opened a bottle of this bourbon and found it to be enormously enjoyable.  When I'd purchased this whiskey two weeks earlier, there were at least 3 more bottles on the shelf.  On this past Friday night, as I delighted in the delicious stuff, I decided that I'd get one more bottle for myself and one for a friend.  So, first thing on Saturday morning, I drove to the store.

When I got to Tasty Liquors around 8:30am, I noticed that ALL of their dusty bourbon bottles were gone.  Not just my favorite brand, but all of the dusties.  In place of every old bottle was its new/current version.  At first I wondered if the old bottles just went to the back of the store so the newer shinier more familiar looking bottles would take front stage.

(Tasty Liquors is run by a very polite Asian couple and I think they recognize me now since I've been gradually relieving them of their old stuff.  The husband had always looked at me oddly as I'd ask for bottles he hadn't been able to sell in three decades.)

More than a little disappointed by the missing dusties, I innocently asked the wife of the couple if they had any of the older versions left, emphasizing that I'd be happy to buy them, not knowing if she would know what I was referring to.  But the moment I said the name of my specific brand, she said that "they were discontinued".

"Discontinued", an interesting word choice.  The ownership and label had changed 25 years ago, the juice had changed 20 years ago, but discontinued?  No.  After additional careful polite questioning, I discovered that the distributor rep who restocks this bourbon told her that all of those old bourbons were discontinued and needed to be pulled off the shelf and replaced with the newest versions...

...and he left with all of the dusties.  I asked her if he had purchased the bottles.  She was confused by that question and said again that he'd said they were discontinued and needed to be taken away.

When I originally wrote this post on Saturday afternoon, I was really f***ing angry.  Part of it was grumpiness about someone emptying out the whole stash.  Part of the frustration was aimed at myself for not stocking up earlier.  But most of it was irrational righteous indignation.

Distributor reps have quite a bit of access to dusty bourbons.  Which is fine.  Some of them are serious bourbon geeks.  I have a buddy who works for a big distributor and he is the smartest bourbon guy I know.  He buys the fun dusties he finds and it's not a big issue for him since the bottles are always very cheap.  Plus he often shares his spoils.  He's the only reason I've been able to try Mr. Van Winkle's bourbons.

But in this instance, if I have interpreted Saturday morning's situation correctly, a distributor rep walked into a liquor store, lied to the owners and then walked out with up to a dozen bottles of collectable (and delicious) whiskey without paying for it.  Thus it's very possible that a thief cleaned out a liquor store using his unique position to lie to unknowing ownership; a lying thief who has access to many other prime dusty spots.

Could I be wrong about this?  Yeah.  Something could have been lost in translation in my chat with the owner.  The rep could have bought up the old stuff when he replaced it with the new stuff.  And if he didn't, the owners look like complete and utter saps for falling for his BS (though, historically, men have gotten laid utilizing more dubious stories).  Or, perhaps the owners finally wisened up after 30 years and realized that there was a market for the oldies (inspired by my sudden purchases) and found another avenue to sell the bottles at a higher price, thus they fibbed to me.  Or maybe I totally misunderstood and someone else had bought the dusties before or after the new versions were restocked.

But, I don't think so.  Those bottles didn't move for almost 30 years and it's very likely more bottles were needed after my previous purchases.  Thus a call to restock.  The rep had clearly pushed the "discontinued" angle.  And suddenly the dusties were gone, with a somewhat confused owner left in the wake.

I happily welcome this fellow to the LA-area dusty hunt, if he's purchasing his finds.  But if he's not purchasing them...  I know the region this person works in, the stores he stocks, and the company he works for.  I'm not going to spill this info in case I'm completely wrong about what happened.  But if, in my hunt, I find this happening again, I will be more than happy to share this information.  All's fair in the love and war of a dusty hunt unless you're a g****mned thief.

Yes, this is the calmer version of my post.  This sort of experience takes a lot of the fun out of dusty hunting.  I've been beaten to a good stash before, a few times.  But never by something that seemed so much like a scam.  And it didn't have to be that way.  These bottles cost, on average, $15.  Am I an overreacting sore loser?  Let me know.  Have you come across poachers in your rounds?  Do you believe in "cleaning out" a dusty store or do you leave goodies behind?  Or have I just inspired you to hoard even more?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Single Malt Report: Kilkerran Work in Progress 5th Release Sherry Wood

Tuesday: Work in Progress 3rd Release (green label)
Wednesday: Work in Progress 4th Release (beige label)
Thursday: Work in Progress 5th Release Bourbon Wood (light blue label)

Onto the last of the foursome: Work in Progress 5th Release Sherry Wood.  Like yesterday's WIP, it also has a light blue label.  You can tell the two WIP5s apart via the bold stamp reading "Bourbon Wood" or "Sherry Wood".

As I wrote yesterday, the Kilkerran brand (Glengyle Distillery) decided to shake things up in 2013 by releasing two WIPs rather than the usual one.  Each was nine years old.  One was aged in ex-bourbon casks, the other in ex-sherry casks.  This would allow consumers to experience how maturation is proceeding into two type of casks, and it also allows them/us to buy more bottles of Kilkerran.

Whisky Advocate gave Sherry Wood the Lowland/Campbeltown Single Malt of 2013 award, but I'm not going to give you the link because WA's award selections last year were often unintentionally hilarious.  With an independent palate and opinion I trust more, Jordan of Chemistry of the Cocktail liked the Sherry Wood a lot.  His palate takes to sherry better than mine, but I still respect his thoughts on booze of all sorts.

The Sherry Wood is the odd one out in this week's group, with the other three having been matured either exclusively or mostly in ex-bourbon barrels.  But at the same time, Kilkerran's producers had kept the oak element to a minimum thus far, so I hoped they'd do so with this one as well.


Distillery: Glengyle
Brand: Kilkerran
Age: 9 years (2004 - 2013)
Maturation: ex-sherry casks
Region: Campbeltown
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Label color: Blue
Limited release: 9000

The color is medium gold.  Light for a sherried whisky.  The nose still has that piney forest floor element I keep mentioning, which is comforting!  It is matched with a nutty oloroso-type sherry, probably refill?  There's rubber bands, dried cherries, pastry crust, and new car off-gassing.  There are both grassy moments and chocolatey moments.  Soft peat rumbles underneath.  As for the palate, imagine Macallan 12 with much more barley and hay.  It's creamy with nuts (almond paste and hazelnuts), brine, bitter peat moss, or is that moss-meets-baking-chocolate?  Lots of almonds and hazelnuts in the finish.  Salted nutty toffee, a dry sherry, and almond skins.

The nose gets more herbal and farmy, along with anise and creamy sherry.  It grows more candied with air exposure.  The palate holds sticky sherry, black coffee, and sea salt.  The finish is aromatic: flower blossoms and stewed fruits.  Some salt too.

A change of pace on the nose.  Now there's moss, tar, and menthol to go with the oloroso.  The palate also changes a bit.  Caramel, toffee, sweet wine, and something slightly medicinal.  The sherry shows up most in the finish.  Sugared raisins and toffee.

Like the other WIP5, this one swims well.  Actually that helped this one gain a few extra points, as it opened in several different directions as I added more water, all of those turns proving enjoyable.  I'll go a step further and recommend this with water as opposed to without.

The Kilkerran character is still present in the nose and the sherry isn't too intrusive there.  To me, the integration works better here than it does in some of the recent Springbank 10s.  I reference Macallan 12 in the palate notes because I think this would be a fun alternative to the big Mac.  When I've gone back to Mac12 recently, I keep finding it getting less rich and more narrow.  While I don't know if this Kilkerran is "better" than Mac12, it does bring with it more dimensions and more strength.

This WIP5 does have me wondering how it will continue to develop, because the optimist in me thinks this could get exceptionally rich even by age 12.  Kilkerran has a great thing going with their single malts.  For me, the point has come where they've passed Talisker (old stuff not included), as the Skye distillery descends and Glengyle ascends.  What a great moment, wherein one can support a small business over a huge one, not just for philosophical purposes but also in terms of pure quality.

Availability - Many specialty liquor retailers.
Pricing - $60-$70
Rating - 87

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Single Malt Report: Kilkerran Work in Progress 5th Release Bourbon Wood

Tuesday was Work in Progress 3, Wednesday was Work in Progress 4, Today is Work in Progress 5 (Bourbon Wood).

WIP1: White label
WIP2: Gray label
WIP3: Light green label
WIP4: Beige label
WIP5: Blue Label

In each of its first four years, Kilkerran's "Work in Progress" malts had a single annual release.  For the fifth edition, Glengyle Distillery chose to change things up by putting out two simultaneous bottlings, possibly as a way to demonstrate how the whisky was developing in two separate types of casks: Former bourbon barrels and former sherry casks.  And, with any luck, the whisky would be well received and they'd sell twice as many bottles.  Well, they're in luck.  The fifth WIPs have been very well received.

And I'll make it very easy on you, here are a few links:
Serge Valentin gives the Bourbon Wood a very positive review.
Later, he posts that it was his personal favorite whisky of 2013.
Then Sku of Recent Eats and LAWS was very enthusiastic about it, here and here.

Before I even started this week's tastings, I was a very big fan of all things Kilkerran, so you probably know which direction my review is going.  Thus if you so desire, you can skip to the score then click away.  But if you stick around for more words, I'll try my best to give you my perspective.


Distillery: Glengyle
Brand: Kilkerran
Age: 9 years (2004 - 2013)
Maturation: ex-bourbon American Oak barrels
Region: Campbeltown
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Label color: Blue
Limited release: 9000

The color is still a nice amber shade.  And the nose still has the piney forest floor notes!  In fact, the nose is somehow even more potent in this edition than the previous two.  There are toasted grains, anise, sharp cheddar, a savory sort of peat moss, and a pinch of chili powder.  Citrus fruits are starting to show now at this age: lemon zest, sharp grapefruit, and some cardamom spice.  The oak doesn't show much except as the occasional whiff of pencils.  It all gets spicier with time.  The palate starts off doing the reverse of WIP4, going creme brûlée --> peppery spice --> hot cereal.  Then sometimes it goes custardy --> savory --> briny.  There's some apples and brown sugar on oatmeal.  And here's the peat, showing up a little smoky.  Citric sugars start developing over time.  It finishes peppery, grassy, barley juicy, and salty.  Limes and peppercorns.  Candy cane mint and taffy.  An extensive length for something of its age and ABV.

The nose holds moss, yeast, apples, cracked pepper, cheddar, lemon, and a hint of peat.  The palate is light on the sugar.  Some salt and an amber lager.  Toffee pudding with a cigarette.  The finish grows saltier, maltier, and savorier, with hints of smoke and oranges.

The nose gets musky and earthier.  Then, toasted grains along with something savory.  The palate gets sweeter and the beer becomes more of a Belgian ale.  Floral notes start showing up, along with butterscotch.  The finish is all barley and sugar.

Let me sum everything up.  The whisky swims very well.  The oak remains reserved, while the peat does not shy away.  While I love WIP2's bold "outdoorsy" quality, WIP5 Bourbon Wood is the first Work in Progress wherein the quality of the palate and finish can stand proudly next to the nose's.

I do not like encouraging the whisky buying/hoarding craze -- it's a bug that has bitten me much too often -- yet I know how I feel about this "Work in Progress", so let me choose my words here...

As I nosed and sipped this whisky last night, I began to wonder if maybe we should all tone down the talking and dreaming about the potential quality of the future Kilkerran releases.  Instead, perhaps we should see the present clearly and appreciate what we have here right now.

Availability - Many specialty liquor retailers.
Pricing - $60-$70
Rating - 91 (dropped to 90 points in a subsequent review)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Single Malt Report: Kilkerran Work in Progress 4th Release (2012)

So, the next step in Kilkerran Week is......Work in Progress 4, or the WIP with the beige label.

WIP1: White label
WIP2: Gray label
WIP3: Light green label
WIP4: Beige label
WIP5: Blue Label

This release is much easier to find in the LA area.  Off the top of my head, I can think of at least four spots that sell it, compared to zero that sell #2 and #3.  It was with this release that I saw local Kilkerran prices move from $50 to $60.  That's actually not a complaint (if you can believe that), just an observation.  The WIP releases were in fact getting older and a little more popular.  It'll be interesting to see how their pricing structure evolves with WIP6.  It will be a 10 year old, and Springbank 10 tends to be around $60 here.  My guess is that it will be $70.  But this 8 year old will tend to be in the $60 range.  If you can find it for less count yourself lucky.

I really overpaid for a sizable glass of WIP4 last year.  It was very drinkable, though getting a nose on it was difficult using a wide tumbler in a fancy restaurant.  Let me see if I can sort things out better utilizing a Glencairn glass in my whisky corner.


Distillery: Glengyle
Brand: Kilkerran
Age: 8 years (2004 - 2012)
Maturation: ex-bourbon American Oak barrels, possibly some ex-sherry casks?
Region: Campbeltown
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Label color: Beige
Limited release: 9000

The color is amber.  If it's darker than WIP3, it's barely noticeable.  The nose is the star of the show again: Pine, mint, eucalyptus, aloe?, moss, dried leaves; the forest floor.  There's also some burnt paper and sugary barley.  With some air, the whisky grows more floral, but not soapy.  Some caramel sneaks in, along with whole grain toast, and a slight farmy note.  The palate goes from hot cereal to creme brûlée.  From breakfast to dessert.  A slight IPA-like bitterness.  Sweet barley stuff.  Musky melon and maybe a little toffee pudding.  Very mild overall.  Watch out, oxidation silences it.  Vanilla ice cream in the finish.  And maybe a vanilla stout as it's kinda beer-ish.  Toffee and barley.

At first the nose is all barley.  Maybe a caramel puff and a peat squeak.  The floral and farm notes are still there, along with candle wax.  The palate is quiet which may be due to oxidation comment above.  There's yeast and vanilla.  It's a little earthy and bitter.  Maybe some lead?  There's vanilla and fresh apricot in the finish, along with toffee.  It's more tart than bitter.

Firstly, the palate didn't swim or air out well.  It's best right after the pour.  Secondly, it was a little plainer than WIP3.  But I'm not terribly worried about it since that might be due to oxidation in the sample itself.  And also, WIP4 is still quite good.  The nose is excellent, again.  I've noticed that as Kilkerran progresses from #2 to #3 to #4, the peat notes recede with age.  The earthy forest notes are still around as is the bold barley.  And, depending on how one feels about this, more maturation has made it easier to drink.  Now, I'm totally fascinated by how the WIP5s will turn out...

Availability - Some specialty liquor retailers, should be easier to find than WIP3
Pricing - $60-$70
Rating - 87

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Single Malt Report: Kilkerran Work in Progress 3rd Release (2011)

"Michael, since I am also boycotting Diageo, what other distillery's single malt should I try since I no longer purchase bottles of Talisker?"
-- No one ever

Good question, No one ever.  There are many non-Islay moderately peated high quality single malts on the market.  Highland Park, Ardmore, and Longrow are the first brands/distilleries that to come to mind.  They each peat their whisky differently, but most of the time their malts' peating expresses itself at medium levels.  Last May, one of my readers, Mantisking, recommended Kilkerran as a good alternative to Talisker.  Brilliant idea.

I am a BIG fan of Kilkerran's single malts (here's my rave review about WIP #2).  They come from the Glengyle distillery in Campeltown and are owned by the same company that runs Springbank.  (I recommend Chemistry of the Cocktail's envy-inducing distillery writeup for more information.)  They reopened and started distilling again in 2004.  Each year's release is still being called "Work in Progress" as Kilkerran progresses towards a 12 year old single malt in 2016.  Work in Progress #1 was a five year-old bottled in 2009, Work in Progress #2 was 6 years old in 2010, etc.  Like Kilchoman, these young malts from a small distillery are very impressive, easily kicking the teeth out of their older competitors when it comes to quality.

So, since I just bombarded you with a bunch of Talisker reviews.  How about a few Kilkerrans?

I'll start with Work in Progress (WIP) #3 and then, each day, work my way over to their newest releases.  Keep in mind, each bottle has similar packaging, but are color-coded per release:

WIP1: White label
WIP2: Gray label
WIP3: Light green label
WIP4: Beige label
WIP5: Blue Label


Distillery: Glengyle
Brand: Kilkerran
Age: 7 years (2004 - 2011)
Maturation: ex-bourbon American Oak barrels, possibly some ex-sherry casks?
Region: Campbeltown
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Label color: Light green
Limited release: 9000

The color is light amber......good start.  The nose is piney and minty, with new sneakers and baseball card 9-pocket plastic pages.  Then peat moss, dirt, and unripened stone fruit.  Barley, actual barley.  A whiff of sugary candy, very subtle vanilla, denim, and moldy books.  The palate starts with dense toffee and butterscotch with some lemon zest around the edges.  Some pleasantly sharp spirit, with a little bit of smoke and menthol.  Then in the middle, it's as if one just dropped one's Werther's Original into the dirt but picked it up and ate it anyway.  With time, maybe there's hint of an old moldy sherry cask?  A burst of orange and lime skins in the finish.  Then brown sugar, menthol, a smoky toffee, and a caramel-covered prune.

I actually got so involved with this one that I was too far down the glass when it came time to add water.  I'm infatuated with the nose.  The other parts are good too, but the nose was undecorated dirty malt.  Love it.  WIP2 was a little more gritty (in a good way) as there was less oak influence.  But the oak isn't aggressive here (maybe due to refill casks?) as it plays well with the other elements.  That hint of sherry is entertaining, sort of a slight seasoning.  The peat also remains in the background rather than the foreground, peeking out when the time is right.

So, like the second WIP, Work in Progress #3 is for someone who likes some barley and earth and zip in his whisky.  It is still youthful, but the spirit is so good that it's a pleasure when it sings out.  I would happily choose this 7yo over almost every OB 12yo out there.  So I can't imagine what this single malt is going to be like on its twelfth birthday.

Availability - WIP 3 is getting tough to find, some specialty retailers may have it
Pricing - $50-$70
Rating - 89

Monday, March 17, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: Jameson Gold Reserve Irish Blended Whiskey

Happy Irish Whiskey Day!

Two whiskey observations before I do the review.

1.  Green Spot single pot still Irish whiskey -- Yes, it made it to the US in time for St. Pat's Day.  But despite what one retailer says, it is not the Pappy of Irish Whiskey.  More like the Paddy's of Irish Whiskey, perhaps.  As someone who knows Mitchell & Sons' history and as someone who has long since retired his own bottle of Green Spot, I fail to see any connection whatsoever to Pappy Van Winkle.  I am happy that the whiskey has come to The States and pleased that said retailer has sold a lot of bottles.

Green Spot is good stuff; mellow, honeyed, even malty.  And a $40-$45 price point is not bad.  Once upon a time Green Spot was very limited.  But now it is being produced at one of the largest (if not the largest) whiskey factories in the world and Green Spot's production has expanded so that it can be sold in many countries rather than just one.  I've seen conflicting reports about how many cases are actually produced, so I recommend you take those reports with a grain of barley unless Midleton itself gives a figure.  There are at least 80 US online retailers (including Total Wine) selling it.  But if you miss out on Green Spot, it's all good.  It's just whiskey.  Plus there's plenty of Redbreast 12 to be had.

2.  Powers Gold Label blended Irish whiskey -- Price change alert.  If you don't already know, I'm CRAZY about Powers.  It was the perfect $20 Irish whiskey, in my opinion.  It was $20, sometimes $18 if you looked in the right places.  But in 2013, the price suddenly jumped 50%.  Powers is now selling for $27-$30.  Yes, they are rolling out a new version with a slightly higher ABV, but most stores are selling the old version at the new price.  As someone who has been known to shout the praises of Powers, I'm going to cease doing so at this new price level.  I don't see, read, or hear of any big demand for Powers in America.  Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one buying it in Los Angeles.  All of the bottles I have bought have been sitting on shelves for three or four years.  If I buy the new version, I'll review it.  But if your retailer only has the old version and is selling it at $30, I can't recommend it.  Do some snooping.  The old price is still out there, for now.

Now, onto today's whiskey: Jameson Gold Reserve.

Like most of Midleton distillery's blends, Gold Reserve is a mix of pot still and grain whiskeys.  Like many of the Jameson blends, Gold Reserve has a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks whiskeys.  Where the Gold sets itself apart is by the addition of some virgin oak cask-aged whiskey.  Because virgin oak maturation seems to be a craze at the moment, one could say that Jameson was ahead of the curve when Gold Reserve was first released 18 years ago.  They didn't even need to change the label, always listing that (featuring!) virgin oak factoid right on the front.

But the Gold Reserve doesn't have an age statement, so a consumer is left to wonder why it costs three to four times the price of the regular Jameson blend.  In fact, I was that very consumer.  I like Irish blends, I can stomach Jameson, but I wasn't going to by this thing blind.  Luckily I found a bar that served it up for a reasonable price.  I was sold on its quality right on the spot.  But the bottle price remained a problem, as it tends to be in the $65-$75 range.  I was more interested when Costco sold it for $55.  Then when I found a shop clearing it out for $44.99, I grabbed a bottle.

Distillery: Midleton
Brand: Jameson
Type: Irish Blended Whiskey (pot still and grain whiskey)
Current Owner: Pernod Ricard
Age: NAS
Maturation: a mix of ex-bourbon, ex-sherry, and virgin oak casks
Bottle code: L133631382 11:11
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

From my own bottle, sampled neatly from a Glencairn glass

The color is, um, gold.  The nose is clean and creamy.  Very Redbreast-ish, though with more honey and vanilla beans.  Clean laundry (without smelly detergent), apple skins, and pear juice.  Flower blossoms (roses?), hints of black pepper, white bread, and chicken stock.  I tend to dislike banana notes in whiskies, but here it works as it appears as fresh, not-too-ripe fruit.  With some time in the glass, the whiskey releases notes of fresh peaches and cinnamon buns.  The palate... take the basic Jameson's, then sand down the youthful sharp edges, and replace them with Boston creme-filled donuts and eclairs.  Then pears, white grapes, lime juice, brown sugar, and orange pixie stix.  Tons of vanilla and caramel in the finish.  Some confectioner's sugar and a slight tartness.  Much more pleasant than its cheaper brethren, and with a better length.

This is what some of us wish regular Jameson's tasted like.  Or from another perspective, it's Jameson Dessert Reserve.  The new oak is there, but mostly shows up as all of those vanilla notes.  All hints of spirity turpentine, varnish, or cheap vodka stuff are gone, replaced by creamy pot still character.

Whether it's worth $70+ depends on how much one is willing to spend to get a tasty Jameson.  It's my favorite Jameson US-release so far, but it doesn't have much competition.  Jameson Black Barrel is hideous; time, air, water, ice, earth, wind, and fire could not save my bottle of it.  In fact, it got worse as it went along until I had to abandon it altogether.  Jameson 12 is drinkable at best, but sells for more than Redbreast 12 (which really doesn't make any sense).  And while you may not care too much for regular Jameson's, it can still be found for $20.  Are you willing to pay a 250% premium for a sweeter, softer, more drinkable version?  I like Gold Reserve, but not enough to recommend it at that price.  I'm going to have some Powers tonight instead.

Availability - Most liquor specialty retailers
Pricing - $65-$85  (If you can find it for less than $50, it's a good deal.)
Rating - 86

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Taliskravaganza! Day 6: Talisker "The Speakeasy" 5 year old 2008 (K&L exclusive)

Day 1: Talisker 10 year old
Day 2: Talisker 57º North
Day 3: Talisker 1993 Distillers Edition
Day 4: Talisker 23 year old 1982 MacLeod's Vintage
Day 5: Talisker 18 year old 1986 MacLeod's Vintage
Day 6: Talisker "The Speakeasy" 5 year old 2008 (K&L exclusive)

Something young.  Something current.  Something you might be interested in?

On this sixth and final day of Taliskravaganza 2014, My Annoying Opinions and I are posting simultaneous reviews of the K&L exclusive Talisker "The Speakeasy" 5 year old single cask single malt.  And of course, we picked a whisky that leaves me a bit stumped on how to rank/rate/grade it.

Yesterday, I mentioned that independent bottlings of Talisker almost always have to go by another name due to Diageo restrictions.  But apparently, The Laing Whisky Company was free of that restriction this year, bottling both a 5 year old under their own Premier Barrel label and this 5 year old single-retailer exclusive.

When I spotted this swanky label and the "Talisker" appellation in the TTB/COLA database several months ago, I was very intrigued.  An indie baby Talisker?!  So I was happy to split a bottle with two friends of mine when it hit the shelves.

Very young peated whiskies have been hitting the market at an increasing rate over the past two years.  That's partially borne of financial necessity; it means less of a warehousing expense and less of an Angel's Share, meanwhile it gets a product out on the market sooner.  But I also think these young peaters were inspired by all the success that Kilchoman has experienced with their 3-6 year old single malts.  But there's a difference.  Kilchoman's malt was produced/designed (by Jim Swan) to be ready for the market as an ultra-young malt.  And whatever the secret is (the heart of the cut?), many Kilchomans seem more rounded and mature than their age.  Meanwhile, the ultra-young indie bottlings of other peated malts often come across as very young and very brash as one would expect them to be.  That was one of my hesitations when it came to buying this whisky.  Was it ready?

This is a fun bottling from a design perspective, with a very informative and text-heavy front label and a keyhole cutout that reveals a speakeasy scene on the sticky side of the back label.

I'm not mentioning the bottle's sack (really) because I like these labels a lot.  Gimmicky without being too gimmicky.  So kudos there, because I'm usually ornery about that sorta crap.

Okay, enough with that "crap", you're saying.  Let's get to the whisky.  Okay, let's.  I have two different sets of tasting notes: one of The Speakeasy neat, the other with it reduced to as close to the official bottlings' 45.8% ABV as I could without better instrumentation.

Distillery: Talisker
Independent Bottler: The Laing Whisky Company
Retailer: K&L Wines
Age: April 2008 - November 2013 (5 years)
Maturation: ex-refill hogshead
Cask number8
Bottle #:  ??? of 345
Region: Isle of Skye, Scotland
Alcohol by Volume: 58.2%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: Probably not

The color is a very light amber with a greenish tint.  The nose begins with an intensely vegetal peat.  It's very pungent.  Beneath it is anise, nutmeg, juniper, almond paste, and a dark leafy something-or-other (kale?).  Celery, maybe bok choy?  There's some hot rubber and coal smoke in there too.  After the whisky is aired out for 15 minutes, caramel sauce and shortbread cookie notes lend depth.  The palate is hot and spicy.  Cinnamon Red Hot candies, cayenne pepper, and ethyl connect with a very woody peat smoke.  Plenty of barley.  One can picture the wort.  There's also a Laphroaigy iodine and an earthy molasses.  Despite what the label says, it ain't sweet.  It's very dry.  The tongue numbing finish is almost all heat, but there's also plenty of moss, salt, and iodine.  Maybe some vanilla in background too.

The nose becomes very Ledaig-like, with a funky rubbery fishy peat.  Almonds, digestive biscuits (w/o chocolate), and lots of brine.  Some grilled meat, or maybe that's just grilled nasal passages.  Notes of jasmine and lavender perk things up a bit.  The palate is still very large.  All sorts of peppers (serrano, jalapeño, white peppercorns).  Bitter lettuce, horseradish, burnt tree bark, and a specific root-like note I've only experienced in a whisky once before.  Dried herbs and salt.  It's not sweet, though it's sweeter than when neat.  A peppery buzz in the finish, along with soil, peat embers, and maybe some rubber reentering the experience.  A hint of sweetness at the very end.

This is a masochist's malt.  And that's not necessarily a bad thing.  Many of us like a little bruising before we leave a whisky love session.  It comes down to the questions, How much? and How often?

I think the palate and finish show better with added water.  The nose is the nose no matter what you do to it.  It is very dense, very challenging, sometimes weird, usually entertaining.  I like the Ledaig-esque craziness.  I like the full pepper power.  It's intense stuff from start to finish.  It makes me feel like I'm drinking Talisker new make, which brings me to the question...

...why bottle it now?  Do they have other Talisker casks that they're letting age for 8, 12, 23 years?  Because, seriously, how often does someone get his hands on a Talisker cask?  Wouldn't one want to see how much the palate and finish would improve with some more maturation?  While I like young and crazy, I prefer something I'm going to come back to over and over again.  Of all things, K&L's "Island Distillery" baby Ledaig is more more-ish.  Perhaps in frozen realms like Minnesota, a burner like this works better than in Candyland Southern California.

All of that being said, an independently bottled Talisker is like hen's teeth in the US.  It's admirable that the Davids went with this whisky.  If you wanted to get Laing's Premier Barrel 5yo Talisker, it'll be twice the price of this one.  So, technically, The Speakeasy is a steal.  And it is never boring.  If you like Ledaig, then you'll probably enjoy this whisky.  If you're expecting a cuddly yet smoldering Kilchoman, then go for a (more expensive) Kilchoman.

Availability - K&L Wines only
Pricing - $59.99
Rating - 84

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Taliskravaganza! Day 5: Talisker 18 year old 1986 MacLeod's Vintage

Day 1: Talisker 10 year old
Day 2: Talisker 57º North
Day 3: Talisker 1993 Distillers Edition
Day 4: Talisker 23 year old 1982 MacLeod's Vintage
Day 5: Talisker 18 year old 1986 MacLeod's Vintage

Independent single malts from many of Diageo's well-known distilleries (think Talisker, Lagavulin, Oban, Glenkinchie, Dalwhinnie) can be difficult to find.  And when they are released, the bottler often does not have permission to use the distillery's name on their own label.  That's why you'll see names like Lagarubin, Lagamill, or Springnavulin for Lagavulin; and Talimburg, Tactical, and Talistill for Talisker.

As I mentioned yesterday, indie bottler Ian MacLeod Distillers were once able to get their hands on several casks of Talisker.  Though unable to use the word "Talisker" on their labels, they were able to utilize a bit of family pride to market the whisky.  The MacLeod clan was from the Isle of Skye (also Talisker's home) and big picture of the Dunvegan Castle, home of the MacLeod chieftains, sits it in the center of the whisky's front label.  (Click here for whiskybase's bottle shot.)

Today, I'm taking a taste of another bottling in MacLeod's Vintage range.  Like yesterday's whisky, it was taken from an ex-bourbon cask and reduced to a lower ABV.  Yet, despite their technical similarities (spirit origin, cask, and possible warehouse), these turned out to be very different whiskies.  Fun with single casks!

Distillery: Talisker
Independent Bottler: Ian MacLeod
Series: MacLeod's Vintage
Age: May 1986 - June 2004 (18 years)
Maturation: ex-bourbon cask
Cask number1483
Bottles: 264
Region: Isle of Skye, Scotland
Alcohol by Volume: 44%

Sampled neatly in a Glencairn glass, sample purchased from Whiskysamples.eu

The color is amber, a little lighter than the 23yo.  The nose is fresher, with apricots and tangerines. Quite a bit of vanilla coming from the oak, mixing with mossy peat.  A hint of plaster and generic hand lotion. Whole grain bread, walnuts, and Frangelico.  Definitely Frangelico, regular hazelnuts too. The palate is actually peatier than the nose, but it still remains the background.  Vanilla and caramel from the oak.  Lots of lime juice swirls around a malty sweetness.  Tart-sweet-tart-sweet.  A little milk chocolate.  Almost no salt.  The finish is a little nutty (as in hazels not crazies).  Brown sugar and peat moss.  Some toasted seaweed and salt.  Lemon candy, occasional puffs of smoke.  Restrained overall.

Yesterday's MacLeod's spoke with a lean, mean, classic Talisker voice.  But aside from the finish, I wouldn't have known today's whisky was from the same distillery.  In fact, the generous burp that followed this tasting hinted more towards Talisker than the whisky itself.

It's simple stuff, seeming neither old nor young.  But it's still good, the palate being the highlight.  Once I found the Frangelico in the nose that's all I could smell, which is a good thing because the plaster/lotion/walnuts/tangerines combination was not terribly enticing.  I would have liked to have known what this was like at barrel strength and why 44% was chosen as the ABV.  Maybe the off notes were stronger right out of the cask?  Or maybe MacLeod wanted more bottles to sell.

According to whiskybase's page, this was priced around 53euros at its release.  I'm pretty certain you won't be able to find it now for less than three times that price, if you can find it at all.  But it does represent one of the rare independently bottled Taliskers, and one that veers slightly away from the distillery's style.

Availability - None?
Pricing - ???
Rating - 82

23 years old to 18 years old to.........?  For Day 6, we'll go a little younger.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Taliskravaganza! Day 4: Talisker 23 year old 1982 MacLeod's Vintage

Day 1: Talisker 10 year old
Day 2: Talisker 57º North
Day 3: Talisker 1993 Distillers Edition
Day 4: Talisker 23 year old 1982 MacLeod's Vintage

Thank goodness my cold is fading out.  My nose and palate are back in time to experience today's Talisker:  The 1982 MacLeod's Vintage (aka Talisker).

So how do I know it's Talisker, other than by copying down other people's guesses?  Ian MacLeod is the bottler, Clan MacLeod called the Isle of Skye home for generations, and the MacLeod Vintage bottle labels all have the Dunvegan Castle on them.  Dunvegan (Fort Vegan?) Castle, home of the MacLeod chieftains, sits on the Loch Dunvegan shore in Western Skye.

And......Talisker is, at the moment, the only working distillery on the Isle of Skye.  (It would have been funny if he'd stuck Loch Lomond malt in the bottle, but it probably would have been an insult to his ancestors.)

Distillery: Talisker
Independent Bottler: Ian MacLeod
Series: MacLeod's Vintage
Age: November 1982 - June 2006 (23 years)
Maturation: ex-bourbon cask
Cask number: 2548
Bottles: 186
Region: Isle of Skye, Scotland
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

Sampled neatly in a Glencairn glass, sample purchased from Whiskysamples.eu

The color is a light gold.  I doubt that much, if any, e150a was added.  The nose......woo, very farmy. Like, straight up manure.  Manure by the sea.  A solitary cow just crapped in the sand.  Digging beneath the patty, I find tropical fruits (papaya and mango).  A stark oceanic Talisker note follows, think fish, seaweed, and boat exhaust.  Then rotting apples, fresh plums, and vanilla extract.  With a lot of time and air, out comes blood orange juice and geraniums.  Uh oh, here's the old Talisker 10 in the palate.  Lean, light peat, light black pepper, light exhaust, and sea salt.  Peach juice, leather, simple syrup.  The farmy notes edge in here.  Some toasty cereal grains.  Not fully tamed after 23 years, so there's still some bite to it.  Peat and sugar notes grow with time.  Peach and tropical fruit juices in the finish.  Some Juicy Fruit gum, orange hard candy.  Pepper and moss.  A decent length.  Tartness gradually grows with time.

First, a toast to old school indie Talisker.

This isn't complex whisky nor does it taste particularly old.  The palate is very simple, but it represents the type of Talisker that some of us often long for.  It isn't gussied up in refreshed oak.  It can be pretty raw and rough hewn.  The nose announces that this whisky is for farmy fans only, and the rest of it follows suit.  So if you can find a bottle or sample of this, keep in mind that it appeals to specific preferences.

According to whiskybase, this used to sell for 60euros when it came out in 2006-2007.  An independent 23 year old Talisker today......how much would that cost?  200euros?  300euros?  The 18 year old '85 MacLeod's is selling on a German site for 190euros.  Just goes to show that my whisky obsession started a few years too late.

Availability - None?
Pricing - ???
Rating - 90

Friday, March 7, 2014

Taliskravaganza! Day 3: Talisker 1993 Distillers Edition

Day 1: Talisker 10 year old
Day 2: Talisker 57º North
Day 3: Talisker 1993 Distillers Edition

As they do for the rest of the original "Classic Malts", Diageo releases a Distillers Edition (again, where the hell is the apostrophe, people?) almost annually for Talisker's single malt.  The "DE" designation is just fancy talk for finished whisky.  In Talisker's case, they take ex-bourbon cask whisky and finish it in ex-Amoroso sherry casks for a brief but unspecified period of time.  Amoroso is a sweetened oloroso, the sweetening usually coming from mixing in a little Pedro Ximenez (I think...sherry fans correct me if I'm wrong).

Like the Lagavulin 1991 DE, which was released at the same time as this one, there were two bottlings of Talisker 1993 DE, one in 2006 and one in 2007.  I'm going to guess that this one was from the later bottling being that it was still sitting on Master of Malts shelves in January 2012.  But either way, I thought I'd just note that the age of the Talisker Distillers Editions has lessened over the years.  From 2000 - 2007 (vintages 1987-1993), they were 13 years or older.  In 2008 (the 1996 vintage), it was 12 years old.  Then from 2009 until the current version, it's 11 years or younger.  I'm going to guess that age reduction is due to demand.  Or it's possibly due to a level of production efficiency; over the last four years they may just take the regular 10 year old casks and give them the sherry finish.  Also, there doesn't appear to be a Talisker Distillers Edition from the 1994 or 1995 vintages, though again someone please let me know if I'm wrong about that.

I wasn't sold on Lagavulin's DE as much as other people have been, and I'm usually not a fan of briefly finished whiskies, so my expectations for this Talisker were muted.  Now I shall drink the whisky.

Distillery: Talisker
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Isle of Skye
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: refill ex-bourbon casks for 13-ish years, then a brief finish in ex-Amoroso sherry casks
Age: 13+ years
Alcohol by Volume: 45.8%

The color is a rosy gold, though still lighter than the current 10yo.  The nose leads with sugary sherry, sugar-coated raisins (think Raisin Bran), hazelnuts, and brazil nuts.  There's some boston creme filling, Heath bar, raspberry syrup, and orange peel.  Surrounding it all are notes of peat-infused prunes and a caramel syrup tanker spill on a beach.  There's more smoke on the palate, along with a little bit of tar.  It has a nice thick texture and a musical tart-bitter-sweet-tart-bitter-sweet-repeat development.  After a few minutes: a floral note meets passion fruit candy, then a dark-chocolate-and-caramel-type of sherry.  Coffee grounds and simple syrup in the finish.  Caramel sauce, cherry cola, mocha, and sea salt.  Only now does some black pepper inch in.

The nose remains big, maybe even bigger.  More sherry, now with dried berries.  Toffee and a moment of butterscotch.  Slightly briny, floral, and then the carmel syrup spill again.  Silky salty chocolate in the palate.  Malt and sherry play well together (why can't Glenmorangie get this part right?).  Raisinets, a mossier peat, and pipe tobacco.  The finish is sweeter, though the sherry note itself is subtler.  Cracked white peppercorns floating in cherry syrup and caramel sauce.

I can't believe I'm typing the following: This is better than the 10 year old.  Um......*looking for pop music reference to stay consistent with the two previous posts*......she's like the wind......I think I've had a *cough* total eclipse of the heart (mullet with headlights version).

The sherry isn't too overpowering, nor does it make the total package too sweet.  While it's not an Uigeadail beater, if Talisker released a 57ºNorth-strength version of this DE it would definitely give Oogy a chase.  While the individual parts can be a bit simple, what is there is good.  And it has the best mouthfeel of the three so far.

Remember though, this review is just for the 1993 vintage of the Distillers Edition.  The new versions are younger and (from what I've read in whiskybase and Serge's reviews) different.  But folks still seem  mostly enthusiastic about the recent editions.  On the East coast, the newest version is selling as low as $70, meanwhile it's mostly around $90 here in California.  Obviously the former price is much more appetizing than the latter.

Availability - (current edition) Many specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - (current edition) $70-$90
Rating - (this edition)  88

The Taliskravaganza picks up again next week, following a somewhat different path...