...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Florin's Mystery Spirit

The mystery man (Florin (a prince)), strikes again!  Last October, he made me go WTF (Whisky to Find!) about Speyburn 10 year and Balvenie 15 Single Barrel.  Then this past February he handed me the above Mystery Spirit sample.  It could be any distilled spirit.  Two ounces of the unknown.  Soon after, he gave a sample of the Mystery Spirit to MAO of Minnesota's Accurate Observations.

Today, MAO and I are posting our educated guesses about the identity of what was handed to us.  Please note, I will be revealing what the spirit is, as my buffoonery was made obvious first.  This is only because I was very thirsty this week.  (Here's MAO's post!.)

My method was to split the bottle into two halves.  Two nights, two levels of oxidation.  I also had various other beverages on hand to cross check.

First half of the sample...
From my email to Florin:

NOSE At first, it's like a very pretty Glenfiddich.  But then some heavy candy esters(?) bubble up never to fade away.  It's very sugary with some floral foundation powder.  After a half hour it's all caramel, rock candy, and Twinkies.
PALATE Lots of candy here too.  I like it a lot but I can't see through it.  It's rich but soft; sweet but it doesn't hurt my teeth.

So what is it?  It's not scotch whisky, unless there's been a massive rum barrel finish to it.  But at the same time it's not like any rum I've had -- and I did try three rums along side it.  I don't think it's bourbon but there's definitely some oak involved.  If there was such a thing, I'd say it was an armangnac liqueur finished in bourbon barrels.  Heresy!  But it's softer and sweeter than the armangnac's [sic] I've tried, so I'm going to say that my first guess would be cognac.

I can't believe I threw in that stupid apostrophe.  Blame parent brain on that.  Anyway, my guess was wrong.  He told me I wasn't even on the right continent.  A hint could have been read into that statement, but I missed it.

Second half of my sample...
...which I drank the next day, seemed much different than the first half.  Was it oxidation from sitting in a less-than-half full bottle or was it my imagination?  From my next email to Florin:

Maraschino cherries, marshmallow, musky melons, something malty (too many Ms)

I get some cherry stuff and... Rye, there's something like rye in here.  But it's light on the rye element, and it's kind of fruity.  

Honestly, due the dual personalities of the nose and palate, I can't say for certain what this is.  Unless it's some extra light 40% ABV Canadian rye, I don't think it's all rye, due to the nose.  I'm going to go with a bourbon.

And I'll double down on this delusion.  I'll say it may be one of Four Roses's.  A blend of their recipes.  It's very light in texture and heat, so maybe their Yellow Label.  40% ABV.

First, the good news.  I was correct about the ABV.  I was right about the continent, and the country.  And I was wrong about everything else.

Okay, MAO, don't read further for fear of spoilers...

Unless you got this one right on the first try...

Damn it...

The Mystery Spirit was Laird's 7 1/2 year old apple brandy.

Yup, apple brandy.

Here's what hurts.  I love Calvados.  It's my favorite brandy.  And, behind only Whisk(e)y and The Mistress, it's my third favorite spirit.  The young stuff (less than 10 years) is often full of rich apple and pear notes, and I mean baskets of the eau de vie from which it came.  After that (up to 18 years), the oak and spice moves in but the fruit still lingers on.  Then at some point in the much older stuff, the fruit returns in a more baked or cooked fashion.

But I found not a hint of apple in this American apple brandy.  There were a couple of other fruits in there and a lot of sugar.  The spicy rye and other whiskey notes must have been from the oak.

The differences between Calvados and this version of apple brandy are in the apples themselves and the oak.  The Norman farmers use the varieties that grow in the Calvados region.  Meanwhile, Laird's uses American apple varieties, and probably those grown in the Northeast.  Calvados is aged in very large (often refill) casks made of lightly toasted French oak.  Laird's uses American white oak and, from what I can tell, it's charred, not toasted.  So, perhaps, the maturation and wood integration happens quicker with their brandy than its relative in France.  And those American oak characteristics have a large presence which may be more familiar to bourbon and rye fans than French brandy fans.

Or, I'm just searching for excuses for my swing-and-a-miss.

I'm actually working on a half bottle of Clear Creek's 8 year old apple brandy, but they aged theirs in French Limousin oak.  Their brandy has actual apple notes in the nose, and faint hint in the finish.  Similar to Laird's brandy, I like the nose better than the palate.  The Clear Creek version is twice the price of Laird's, and though it's better I don't think it's that much better.  All of that being said, the Laird's 7.5 year old brandy is very enjoyable and has more life to it than most blended whiskies and single malts at its price range ($25-$30 for a 750mL).

Have you tried this version of Laird's apple brandy?  Or have you had their younger BIB version?  Or the 12 year old?  Let me know what you think below.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Single Malt Report: Fettercairn 17 year old 1995 Exclusive Malts (K&L exclusive)

Here's an acronym for you: FLAB.  Yes, FLAB.  Going in, I expected BALF, but I got FLAB.

When I had read that the two K&L Davids (Driscoll and Othenin-Girard) were working on a deal with a third David (Stirk) to bring some more of his Exclusive Malts to the US, I was pretty stoked.  I enjoyed the first round of EMs that he'd brought earlier in 2013.  More sounded good.

The whiskies were announced.  There would be an Aberlour, a Bowmore, a peated "Island" (also known as Ledaig), and a Fettercairn.  The Aberlour and Bowmore from the original round of single casks were two of my favorites, so I looked forward to K&L's casks.  The Ledaig was to be all of 7 years old; and a baby Ledaig is always at least interesting.  Then, Fettercairn.  Fettercairn doesn't have the best of reputations and I personally find the current official versions of all of Whyte & Mackay's distilleries' single malts to be underwhelming at best.  So I didn't give that exclusive single cask a second look.  I anticipated Bowmore to be the best, then the bourbon cask Aberlour, then the baby Ledaig, with Old Fett bringing up the rear.  B A L F

But the Bowmore was so-so (or worse in some folks' opinions), with disappointingly weird aggressive oak.  The Aberlour was a little better, but had much of the same strange ultra-new oak stuff.  The little Ledaig was quite good, better than just interesting.  And the Fettercairn...?  Here's to the F in F L A B.

Distillery: Fettercairn
Independent Bottler: The Creative Whisky Co. Ltd.
Series: The Exclusive Malts
Retailer: K&L only
Age: 17 years (October 25, 1995 - 2013)
Maturation: "Oak Casks" (information!)
Cask number2800
Bottle #:  ??? of 243
Region: Eastern Highlands
Alcohol by Volume: 57.1%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: No
Thanks to Florin for the sample!

The color is just between light gold and amber.  The nose starts with vanillas, caramels, roses, and fresh stone fruits (white nectarines and white peaches).  Then comes butter, butterscotch, and ocean air.  After letting the whisky breathe a bit, out comes a burst of lemon zest.  The palate is syrupy and fizzy, with sweet golden raisins and lime juice.  It's very rich with fudge and toffee notes.  There's a spicy citrus thing that mixes with a little caramel and butterscotch.  After considerable air, the whisky develops a eucalyptus-flavored coffee (is that a thing?) note.  In the finish, the fudge becomes mocha.  The spicy citrus, caramel, golden raisins, and toffee remain.

The nose mellows out quickly, even with just a few drops of water.  It's still ocean-ish.  The floral, vanilla, and caramel notes remain.  More citrus and fudge.  There might be some soap, but that also might be my expectation of Fettercairn malt.  The palate is mildly sweet, and noticeably tarter.  There's sweet cream, brown sugar, mocha, a hint of wood smoke, and something prune-ish.  Spicy citrus again in the finish, along with brown sugar and caramel.

First off, this is much better without water.  It has none of the alcohol heat issues that the Linkwood (reviewed here) had, even though the Fettercairn is four years younger.  Its richness stands up best neat.

I'm not sure what sort of cask this came from because I found all sorts of things going on with it.  I'm thinking it may have been a refill sherry cask made from American oak.  I realize that Driscoll says this is "unsherried" in this post, but in the same paragraph he compares it to their 10yo Faultline North Highland which was definitely lightly sherried (also confirmed by folks who bought it).  To make this even blurrier... At a tasting I attended last year, Stirk mentioned that sometimes he has no idea what oak his casks are made of when he's purchased them.  After bottling the whisky inside, he has opened a few and found different char levels on different staves in the same cask.  Maybe this is one of those casks with a variety of lineages.  It's a nice one, whatever its makeup.

In addition to the richness and entertaining interplay between the oak and spirit, this whisky is a pleasure to drink.  It sold out the quickest of the four K&L exclusive Exclusive Malts, so someone clearly knew it was a good thing.  I won't take Fettercairn for granted anymore, specifically the indie releases.  I wish I had purchased the F, not the B.

Availability - K&L Wines, but it's now sold out
Pricing - $89.99
Rating - 88

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Single Malt Report: Linkwood 21 year old 1991 Sovereign (K&L exclusive)

For all that may be said (or has been said) about their spirits blog and promotional emails, K&L Wine Merchants usually selects very good single cask spirits (from Scotland, France, and the US).  Their general spirit selection (curated by The Davids to fit the limited shelf space) is difficult to fault as well.

Even when their single cask selections fall short of expectations -- from the oak issues with last year's Bowmore and Aberlour Exclusive Malts or the Bruichladdich Chenin Blanc cask -- these are outliers.  Many of us remember disappointment first and satisfaction second.  Also, tales of the Bruichladdich are fun to tell and hear.

This week I'm going to take a look at two of their single cask releases, one from 2012, the other from 2013.  I will tell you ahead of time that neither were disasters and one might even have been a pleasant surprise.

Linkwood.  The US gets very few bottlings of Linkwood Distillery's single malt.  There are no official bottlings from Diageo (surprise!) in The States.  On the indie side of things, I've seen a Gordon & MacPhail version and a Chieftain's bottling; apparently there's one Signatory floating around and perhaps one Exclusive Malt.  But that's it.  Many of us have enjoyed Linkwood as part of the late great Johnnie Walker Green Label.  It has also been in an unknown number of other blends.  The distillery cranks out 3.75 million liters of alcohol a year, so we've had Linkwood in some form or another, but didn't know it at the time.

In the late summer of 2012, the Davids bought three casks from Sovereign, one of the Laing family's numerous indie whisky brands.  These were a Caol Ila, Caperdonich, and Linkwood.  I liked the first, loved the second, and now here's the third.

There's not a lot of online feedback about this whisky.  The Davids have said that this cask did not sell well, to the extent that they "wouldn’t choose something that tastes like" it again.  Two of the LAWS dudes were less than enthused about their own experience with it.  But my friend Daniel, whom generously shared a significant portion of his bottle with me, liked it a lot.  So I thought, what the heck, let's get a Linkwood review onto Diving for Pearls, finally.

Distillery: Linkwood
Independent Bottler: Sovereign (Douglas Laing)
Retailer: K&L only
Age: 21 years old (1991 - Aug 2012)
Maturation: ex-bourbon hogshead
Cask numberHH8696
Bottle #:  ??? of 228
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Alcohol by Volume: 58.8%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: No

The color is a light to medium gold.  It's immediately very hot on the nose.  It's a sensory burn with hints of acetate and chlorine, so watch it!  Gotta air it out.  For a while.  The first notes that emerge are fresh peaches, apricots, and apples.  Then almond paste, peach yogurt, and caramel.  There's also this note where tapioca pudding meets paint fumes.  So that heat doesn't entirely go away, even after 45 minutes.  It's also hot on the palate, but not as aggressively so.  First there's lime peel, cracked black peppercorns, and barley.  Then, with time and air, vanilla bean and tangerine peel develop.  It's simple but pretty solid.  Citrus makes up much of the finish, along with vanilla and a hint of milk chocolate.  I think I get some tonic in there as well, but that might be the lime notes tricking me.  There's a decent length to it, but it's mostly heat.

Now lots of caramel notes develop in the nose.  Then peaches, brown sugar, flower blossoms, and cherry bubblegum.  The palate opens a bit.  Sweet lemons, vanilla, caramel, toasted grains, limes, and mint.  It's sweeter and buttery with spicier pepper notes -- all likely coming from the oak.  The finish mellows out, all citrus and malt.

Some main points here:
--It needs lots of air.  All of the online reviews I've read (though there aren't many) mention the big alcohol heat.  Yes, that heat's undeniably present, but it improves if you give the whisky 25-45 minutes to breathe.  Yeah, that's a long time for a whisky that's not 45 years old, but that's my recommendation for enjoying it more.

--It's much sweeter and oakier with water.  It's also an easier beverage when hydrated.  I appreciate that this was released cask strength, as this allows us to tinker with it on its own.

--It's reminiscent of Green Label, if one was to remove the peated elements from the JWGL's vatting.  That's a positive feeling, but it also made me which I'd had some Green Label at hand.

--This isn't very complex whisky, but it's reasonably solid across the line.  It just needs a lot of air in order to open up.  And if you're an oak fan, adding a little bit of water should improve the whisky for you.

My Linkwood experience is very limited, but I can see how it works very well in blends or vattings.  I'd be curious to know how the old Flora and Fauna release fares and how Linkwood stands up to refill sherry casks.  It seems like a solid Speysider, one that Diageo could release as an easy 43%ABV drinker, but in the meantime I may explore it further via the indie bottlers.

Availability - K&L Wines, though it has sold out
Pricing - It ran from $109.99 to $135.99
Rating - 84

Friday, June 20, 2014

Glendronach 33 year old 1975 Duncan Taylor Three Generations versus GlenDronach 15 year old Revival

I wouldn't have been able to do today's Taste Off without the assistance of two good guys.  I'd like to thank Daniel for sharing (read: giving) a significant part of his bottle of GlenDronach Revival with (to) me.  And thank you to Jordan for finding the '75 Duncan Taylor 'Dronach for a gosh darned bargain -- then splitting it with MAO, Florin (A Prince), and me.  Please see this link for MAO's review.

Here are today's whiskies...
...nuzzled up together in Mathilda's Baby Bjorn seat.

Glendronach is best known for the quality of their sherry cask whiskies, but this 1975 was actually from a former bourbon barrel.  Since Duncan Taylor has taken down the page explaining the "Three Generations" name, here's the best story I've been able to assemble: Albert Shand (former Glendronach master distiller) distilled the spirit, his son Euan coopered the cask and filled it, and his grandson Andrew (of Duncan Taylor) bottled it.  Three Generations of Shand.

In order to gain some perspective on this older ex-bourbon Glendronach, I matched it up with the aforementioned official GlenDronach 15yo Revival.  I did review Revival two years ago, but my palate has changed since then, plus that review was off of a mini.

Here's another photo of the two whiskies to give you a better idea of the color differences between a sherry cask and a bourbon cask:

Ex-sherry cask in the middle. Ex-bourbon on the right.
Roses on the left
Let's start with the more familiar Revival, previously reviewed here

Distillery: GlenDronach
Ownership: BenRiach Distillery Company Ltd
Region: Highlands (near the Speyside border)
Type: Single Malt
Age: minimum 15 years
Maturation: ex-Oloroso sherry casks
Bottled: 2012
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chill filtered? No
Caramel Coloring? No

The color is mahogany.  The nose begins with molasses, dirty(?) prunes, figs, dates, and fudge.  There are also hints of moldy sherry funk that tend to be found in much older sherried whiskies.  Then things get really interesting......smoked toffee, iodine, and something invitingly skunky.  Is that you, Peat?  With time, black grapes and orange oil take over.  Espresso, grapes, and raisins lead off in the richly textured palate.  The sweetness of the fruits is mostly balanced by the bitterness of the coffee.  There's also a little bit of eucalyptus in there.  The espresso and sugary raisins continue into the finish, as well as a eucalyptus glow.  There's a definite hint of smoke in the back of the throat.

I liked this much more than last time, especially the elements that (I think) are the results of the malt's light peating.  The sherry in the nose was more funky than I'd remembered it to be, and that's a big plus in my book.  So the nose is excellent, the palate remains just good (though miles better than Macallan 12 or 18).

Then the Three Generations:

Distillery: GlenDronach
Ownership: BenRiach Distillery Company Ltd
Bottler: Duncan Taylor
Type: Single Malt
Region: Highlands (near the Speyside border)
Age: 33 years old (1975-2008)
Maturation: ex-bourbon cask
Cask: 706
Alcohol by Volume: 51.4%
Chill filtered? No
Caramel Coloring? No

It is of a light gold color in the glass.  Lots of orange oil in the nose.  In fact, there's orange everything: peel, juice, candy, etc.  Cream-filled caramel chews show up next.  Lots of rose blossoms.  There's American oak sawdust in there, along with softer sandalwood notes.  Subtle hint of peat, again?  After an hour of air, the whisky opens up into tropical fruit (papaya?), horse manure, and lime juice.  The palate has more of an alcohol bite to it than the Revival.  It's also very tannic.  Oak smoke and a drying bitterness.  A progression of orange→malt→sugar in the background.  Some of the nose's rose blossoms float in bitter and fruity teas.  Perhaps stemming from the fact that I've been huffing this whisky for an hour, I suddenly get some palate clarity.  This a cocktail of Campari, simple syrup, and tea.  In the finish, the tropical fruit returns, now more like Kern's guava nectar, followed by the wood smoke.  There's an intense interplay between bitterness (oversteeped black tea) and sweetness (simple syrup), followed by a citric tartness.

Wow, LOTS of oak in the nose, almost like an old bourbon -- coconut, caramel, honey, vanilla, etc.  That's then followed by orange oil and a strong floral tea.  I think some more malt shows up after a little while.  More floral tea again in the palate, lightly sweetened.  Water has prettied it up.  Some good bitterness keeps it from being too fragile.  The oak smoke remains.  The finish is full of flowers, citron, and that good bitterness.

I've never found so many tea-like notes in a whisky before.  Could this be from all of the q.alba tannins?  It never ruined the party, instead it left me searching my sensory vocabulary for a match.  Though, I can imagine the oak could make other palates grumpy.

The main elements that appeared in both Revival and Three Generations were rose blossoms, oranges, and coy peat.  Otherwise, the differences in cask maturation made them much different whiskies.  I liked the bourbon cask GlenDronach, but the real surprise for me was how much I enjoyed the very sherry Revival.

A final thought.  I've been gradually assembling the bit and pieces for a Taliskravaganza-type series on Glendronach during some month in 2015.  Samples of these two will be added to the bunch, as it will be fun to see how they perform alongside the other 'Dronachs.  But for now...

Availability - Most liquor specialists
Pricing - $75-$90 in the US; $55-$70 in Europe pre-shipping
Rating - 89 (picked up two more points)

Availability - Happy hunting!
Pricing - $280-$350, was $169 in Oregon not too long ago
Rating - 86

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Single Malt Report: Tomatin Decades

I don't think it's much of a secret that I am part of the whisky crowd that bemoans the growing prevalence of NAS (no age statement) bottlings in the single malt market.  But I'm not against all NAS whisky.  In fact some of it has proven to be fantastic.

I don't think it's a bad idea for a brand's starter/cheapest malt to be an NAS bottling (examples: Bowmore Legend, Glen Garioch Founder's Reserve, Glen Grant Major's Reserve).  These whiskies underline the fact that these were the youngest and least expensive of the line to produce.  So while the company isn't advertising their age, they're at least honest(-ish) about the product.  They could call the whisky Glen Garioch 8 year old, but by removing the age statement altogether it allows them to be flexible in case it becomes 6 year old stuff in the future.  As long as they don't fling the NAS's price above the first age statement product I don't mind.

When a brand, like Macallan, rids itself of all its age statements and tries to get people to buy into all out lies like "color determines quality" and then charge much more for the disclosure-free products, I find that creepy and aggressively dishonest.  And I'm not sure how that is good for the future of the single malt market.  When companies, like Diageo (via Mortlach) name their NAS product Rare Old when it is the most prevalent and youngest in the line (and charge a premium for it and put it in a smaller bottle and...), that's a level of brazen bullsh*t that enters snake oil salesman levels.  Or when a company, like Diageo (via Talisker), plop their NAS bottling at a price above an older age statement whisky without offering a reason why, I don't really see how that's good for the consumer or for the future of the brand in general.

What negates much of my above arguments is the fact that some of my favorite modern whiskies are NAS whiskies.  Ardbegs Corryvreckan and Uigeadail, while probably no longer at their peak, are excellent.  My two bottles of Laphroaig Quarter Cask were much more complex and tasty than the 10 and 18 year olds.  Longrow CV (ye be mourned) and Longrow Peated both kick(ed) ass.  And then there's Balvenie Tun 1401, which is the argument stopper of all argument stoppers for a good reason.  Via the Tun 1401s, David Stewart has crafted some of the best whisky I have ever nosed or tasted.

Then there's Tomatin Decades.
Decades is like Tomatin's version Tun 1401.  It's in honor of master distiller Douglas Campbell's 50th year with the company.  Like Stewart, he has selected casks from different barrels and different years (different decades, if you will) in order to create a single new creation.  (On a side note, Glen Grant has done something similar, "Five Decades", with Dennis Malcolm recently).  Tomatin has actually gone a few steps further than other NAS whiskies by disclosing the vintages and cask types of its ingredients, and not just via whisky blogger leaks, but by listing the information on the box.

Here are the ingredients:
One refill sherry hogshead - distilled May 17, 1967
Oloroso sherry butts - distilled December 7, 1976
Refill sherry hogsheads - distilled June 21, 1984
First Fill Bourbon Barrels - distilled September 24, 1990
First Fill Bourbon Barrels of peated spirit - December 7, 2005
(inner box pic from Jordan's review)

Yes, there are some elements that have come from an unstated number of casks, but, seriously, is there another N.A.S. whisky that has so much A that has been S'ed?  (Please insert A and S jokes as you prefer.)

I actually did my Tomatin Decades tasting two months ago and was going to post the review it next month, but I was inspired by Jordan of Chemistry of the Cocktail's Monday review (please see here!) to toss this thing online ASAP.

Distillery: Tomatin
Ownership: Tomatin Distillery Co. (Takara Shuzo Co. Ltd., Kokubu & Co., The Marubeni Corp.)
Region: Highlands
Type: Single Malt
Maturation and Age: See above ingredient list
Bottled: 2011
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Limited bottling: 9000
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colored? Unknown

The color is a dark amber.  The nose starts out with a flood of fruit: guavas, then peach puree, then fresh orange juice, then peach pie.  Rich vanilla beans becomes vanilla yogurt.  After some air, the whisky reveals some sharper (younger?) spirity notes, followed by lots of flower blossoms and butterscotch.  If one took the nose's fruits, then stripped out the sugars leaving only the oils and essences behind, that is how the palate starts.  Some tartness is balanced by a very light sweetness.  Some limes begin to show up after a while.  With more time, it all becomes more liqueur-like, thicker and sweeter.  Hints of bitterness show up here and there, framed by the sweetness.  Lots of citrus oils -- lemon, lime, and orange -- in the finish.  A hint of mocha too.  The sugars slowly expand with time.

All of that fruitiness is reduced in the nose, but it's still present.  More toffee and caramel and flower blossoms.  Cologne.  Key lime pie cream.  Hot olive oil.  The palate gets tarter.  More citrus up front, tropical fruits in the background.  Some maltier notes start to develop, fortifying the fruit front.  Sweet and tart limes backed by a bitter black tea in the finish.

I really enjoyed Decades.  If, like me, you're a sucker for those fruits, then you're in for a treat.  Jordan and I both found floral and fruit angles in it, though he finds more flowers and I get more fruits.  He found some peat and young spirit in the early part of his bottle and less as it went on.  Since my review was from a whiskysamples purchased sample and I didn't find any peat, I'm thinking my sample came from somewhere mid bottle.

Like many of Tomatin's products, Decades is priced well, especially considering how much old whisky is floating around inside.  It also contains whiskies distilled in 1976, Tomatin's supposed great vintage (if you buy into whisky vintage theory and I'm not sure I do).  It's not cheap, but it's being sold at a fraction of the Tun 1401 price.  While it doesn't unseat the Tuns, Decades is still a terrific whisky.  I wouldn't mind if they tried a second batch.

Availability - Some specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - $85-$120 in the US, though it was on sale for $60(!) in Oregon recently
Rating - 91

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Single Malt Report: Talisker 25 year old (2012 bottling)

Yesterday it was the whisky on the left, today it's the one on the right.

In 2011, when whisky exports really blasted off, Diageo was faced with a supply and demand issue with their lauded Talisker 25 year old.  Demand was up but supply was limited.  So they were faced with two solutions when it came to produce the 2011 bottling.  They could water it down a little and thus increase the supply.  Or they could raise the price on it in order to temper and/or cash in on the demand.

They did both.  They watered it down and raised the price.  Revealing their true character as a rotten parasitic drug dealer, they added powdered baby laxative to their cocaine then withheld it from their addict customers unless they were paid more for it.

I'm quite serious.  They were asking whisky fans to pay up to $100 extra for a half cup of water in the bottle.

On the bright side, there are now lots of 45.8% ABV bottles of Talisker 25 on the shelves.  It seems like even the whisky junkies aren't desperate enough to pay $350-$450.  So if you're willing and possess the shilling, they (the bottles, not the junkies) are yours!

So, with all of this being said, how did I wind up with a quarter bottle of the 2012 release?  One of the states in our union has a liquor board that runs deep clearance sales each month.  This state liquor board decided to price their remaining bottles of Talisker 25 at $139.  Yup, $139.  So, four of us split a bottle.  The three others, celebrities all, were Sir MAO of North Opinionston, St. Jordan of Port Ester, and Florin, backup midfielder for Ghana.  See here for MAO's review.  See here for Jordan's review.  Florin has yet to weigh in on the whisky as striking unionized plumbers are still chasing him around the half-built stadium in Porto Alegre.

As mentioned yesterday, I did a little Taste Off between the 2001 release and this 2012 release.  I followed it up with a second round to double check my notes.  Here it goes.

Shiny packaging!

Distillery: Talisker
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Isle of Skye
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: Likely a combination of ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks
Bottled: 2012
Age: 25 years
Alcohol by Volume: 45.8%
Limited bottling: 6318
Chillfiltered? Likely so, per my observation
Caramel Colored? Yarp.

The color is DiageoGold™.  In the nose, I'm not getting much in the way of peat or smoke.  But there's definitely lots of wet sand and black peppercorns.  There's both toasty American oak and some naked spirit, but they sit separate from each other.  Citron, vanilla, grass, cinnamon, newspaper ink, more vanilla, and orange-flavored dried cranberries.  Then there's the unmistakable scent of cardboard box.  Much more peat on the palate, very mossy.  Hints of gold raisins and cranberries meet a glassful of caramel sauce.  It's malty and sugary with quite a bit of cayenne pepper.  A light grassiness eventually develops alongside fresh lemons and limes.  The lively peat moss continues into the finish.  As does the pepper, lemons, and limes.  There's a hint of smoke, but overall it's very sweet.

More citrus and sand in the nose.  Orange and lime and cardamom.  Some brief peat moss.  A candied note develops amidst some dustiness.  There's a decent amount of pepper in the palate.  Some vanilla, meek peat, coconut cream.  Nothing aggressive.  Pleasantly dry, spicy, and drinky.  Sorta like an old blend.  As for the finish, not much.  Peeps of pepper, salt, and sugar.  Tangy yogurt, along with touches of smoke and vanilla.

A quote, out of context:

"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."
--L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between

Or maybe the context sort of works in a tiny whisky-related way.  While there's no heartache or death involved, there is no doubt something that has been lost in Diageo's process changes in the new Talisker 25s.  It could be lower quality casks.  It could be a change in the blending recipe.  Or it could be Diageo's values, er, hydration choices.  I hesitated to add even a drip of water to the 2012 edition because it already felt extremely light when drinking it neatly.  This is no longer a tiger.  It's a thin sleepy tabby.

The whisky itself isn't bad at all.  The nose is good, aside from the cardboard note (which Jordan also notes in his review).  The palate is decent, like a good aged blend.  It's upper B-grade whisky.  But next to the 2001 edition, it's sad.  As you'll see below, I'm giving it the same grade as I gave the ten year old.  And that wasn't a better version of the 10.  Frankly, the ten year old is still more interesting, (positively) challenging, and bolder once one gets through the oak issues.  The 25-2012 is more graceful and silky, but that's about it.

If the stores in your area are selling this for over $400, my condolences.  That would make for one of the worst price-quality-ratios in its range.  At the old $250 price tag, it's still wobbly.  If you want to spend $100+ on an older Talisker, I recommend you seek out the 18 year old with the previous label (see here).  That lively, graceful, and delicious malt is one of my all time favorites (though I'm not yet sure about its newest version, either).

Availability - Most specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - $300-$500
Rating - 87

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Single Malt Report: Talisker 25 year old 1975 (2001 bottling)

Thirteen years ago, Diageo released the first annual(-ish) 25 year old Talisker.  It came with a listed vintage year, something not done for the following Talisker 25s, and was bottled at an ABV of 59.9%, a potency unmatched by the future releases.

I'm very pleased to say that, thanks to reader Cobo, I had a sample of this first T25.  I'm even happier to say I have now consumed it.

In order to help gauge its quality and characteristics, I matched it up with another Talisker that will be reviewed tomorrow.

Today's is the darker one on the left.  Tomorrow's is the one on the right.

Distillery: Talisker
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Isle of Skye
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: Likely a combination of ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks, probably a mix of European and American oak as well.
Distilled: 1975
Bottled: 2001
Age: 25 years
Alcohol by Volume: 59.9%
Limited bottling: 6000

The color is an slightly orange dark amber.  The nose contains multitudes. To begin, there's the magical moldy sherry funk that I only seem to find in older sherried whiskys of the paxarette era. It's not just a pruny fudge, but old sweaty sherry casks stored in damp caves or warehouses of stone.  There's manure-y soil, anise, mint, and spicy basil leaves.  Bright fresh seemingly-young peat scents emerge here and there.  There are young green leafy notes, balloon rubber, and un-burnt hops.  Lemon custard and key lime pie.  After an hour in the glass, it's a syrup made of cocoa, anise, molasses, and peat moss.  The palate has a dense mouthfeel and is very earthy (manure!) and salty.  Then come the notes of candied orange peel, toffee, tobacco, coffee grounds, and peat moss with the constant roll of the moldy sherry funk behind it all.  It finishes with a thick nutty custard, lightly peat smoked.  Mint leaves, coffee, salt, and earthy molasses.  It lasts and lasts and lasts.

In 1954, Nat King Cole covered Charlie Chaplin's 'Smile'.  The song has often been part of my whisky tasting music, but it wasn't until this Talisker tasting that it all clicked.  The whisky is Cole's voice in a glass.

Talisker 25yo 2001 feels both very old and very youthful at once.  There are definite hints of the baby Talisker spirit I found in "The Speakeasy" existing comfortably with old dirty dusty European oak rumbles.  Rocks and soil and green leaves cohabiting with dense creamy citrus-laced desserts.

I'm going to spoil a bit of tomorrow's review by saying that though that whisky is related this whisky, it is in name only.  And it's not even fair competition.  This first Talisker 25 is stratospheric.  I'd trade half of my (sh*tty) collection for a bottle of it.  This is not just Talisker's A-game, it's Scotch Whisky's A-game.

Thank you, Cobo, for providing me with the opportunity to try it.

Availability - Happy Hunting :(
Pricing - originally less than $200, but now this edition is usually in the $600-$800 range
Rating - 95

Monday, June 9, 2014

Three Monday morning single malt rants

Good morning, I'm pissed off.

1.  Ardbeg Arrivederci (sp?) arrives and I don't give a sh*t -- But it's one of those I don't give a sh*ts that I'm curious to explore.

As recently as two years ago, Ardbeg was my favorite distillery.  I thought all three of their regular range whiskies were super duper.  Seriously, check out the top of my Whisky Rankings.  I went to Ardbeg Day event when they released "Ardbeg Day".  There was free food, I met cool people and drank free whisky.  The Day whisky itself was enjoyable, but I think I left with a bottle of Corry instead.  When Galileo came out, I thought "Hmm, that sounds a little weird. It's not for me, but I hope it's good!"  It was strange to see moderately negative reviews of an Ardbeg special release and it was stranger to see the stuff stay on the shelf for a long time (it's actually still at some stores).  The next Ardbeg Day event didn't actually come to the LA/OC area.  I thought that was kinda weird since that event visited much smaller locales.  But I forgot about the whole Ardbeg Day thing quickly because there were a lot of personal things going on at the time that were much more important.  I had a chance to try that year's limited release, Ardbeg Ardbog, a couple months later.  It wasn't bad but when it came to age and quality the price tag ($100) didn't make any sense to me.

After that I started noticing that the newer bottlings of the regular range, while still good, were no longer great.  Part of me wanted to believe that quality had fallen because Whisky Sorceress Rachel Barrie had left.  But another part of me suspected (as many others had) that Ardbeg was out of the older stocks that made Uigeadail great.  Ardbeg gradually dropped their denial of this, see (or hear) this interview with Bill Lumsden, and are now upfront about it on their distillery tours.  As of 2012, according to an interview with Lumsden in Roskrow's 1001 Whiskies book, the distillery was still primarily using 1998-1999 French Oak cask whisky mixed with "slightly younger classic" ex-Bourbon barrels for Corryvrecken, but if you check out the link to Jordan's distillery tour you'll see that Corry now uses 8 year old ex-French Oak whisky.  So, if I'm interpreting this correctly, the elements in Corryvrecken also have been getting younger.  I'm not necessarily saying that younger whisky is worse than older whisky, but Ardbeg did change those two whiskies' recipes to include only different and younger elements but then kept the names and prices the same.  The 10 year old is still 10 years old, but it tastes much oakier now than it used to.  And honestly, if I was to consider only the current product, I doubt Ardbeg would now make my Top Ten.

So when there was a lot of hubbub about bloggers (or other freebie receivers) selling their free gilded review samples of Auriverdes a month ago, I found myself not caring at all.  I've skipped all reviews of the stuff, I've deleted all of their marketing emails about the whisky's goofy ass name, and I avoided the Ardbeg Day event that actually came to the LA/OC area.  Auriverdes is another 10-12 year old whisky that's not a single cask and not actually cask strength but is selling for $100 or more.  And though the two kinds of toasted oak cask heads sounds like fun innovative stuff to some folks, I see it as Lumsden doing John Glaser-lite.  I do hope it tastes good, but that's the best thing I can say about it.  There are many more fascinating whiskies out there that come to us with no hype and lower prices.

2.  Talisker Storm hit my lips -- I finally had the opportunity to try Talisker Storm.  Talisker Storm makes for the perfect storm of issues I've had with the whisky industry: it has no age statement yet is priced more than the 10 year old, it only exists because the producer trying to push more new oak content into the whisky (possibly because the spirit itself is suffering), and it was made by Diageo.

I'll give you the bad news first.  There is indeed a lot of the same sort of new oak gunk/sweetness in it that you'll also find in the current Talisker 10, Laphroaig CS batch 005, and many US craft whiskies that are being rushed into the market.  At least Diageo was thoughtful enough to be upfront about its use of "rejuvenated" casks in the product description.

The good news is that there's a lot more iodine, salt, and pepper in it than in the current 10 year, especially in its expansive finish.  So at first, you'll be like ewwww and then a second later you're all hmmmm.  So it's not a total failure.

Had they set it up in the Bowmore Legend or Laphroaig Select-style starter malt category and gave it a price of $29.99 (maybe even $39.99), I'd almost recommend it.  But it's priced $60-$65 on the East Coast, and $70-$75 in the West.  And they really should tone down that sweet oak sh*t because there could be good young whisky hiding underneath.

3.  Losing the spirit of Laphroaig -- I'm learning that I'm not the only one concerned about officially bottled Laphroaig right now.  Though batch 005 of their 10yo Cask Strength wasn't bad, it was much oakier and aggressively sweeter than the four batches before it.  And to me, a "not bad" Laphroaig 10yo CS is far below the quality established by its predecessors.  But the issues don't stop at the CS.  I've now heard (hearsay!) complaints about then newest bottlings of the Quarter Cask and the 18 year old from both long time fans and newer geeks.  And, the aforementioned Laphroaig Select?  With a combo of Oloroso sherry butts, new oak, PX seasoned hogsheads, Quarter Casks, and first fill Bourbon Casks, it sounds like they're attempting to do their version of Longrow CV.  Except it's oak oak oak oak oak.  And after reading Serge's thorough and funny trashing of it (something I don't think he's ever done to an regular range OB Laphroaig, though he didn't like the recent duty free QA Cask either), I have started to think the Select is just a garbage can whisky -- made up of all these cask odds and ends that fell short on the quality control end of their regular releases, mushed together, and sold for a price not much less than the 10 year old.

Laphroaig used to pride itself on not having a Master Blender.  They claimed to just fill a bunch of ex-bourbon barrels up with their spirit and, after some maturation, that was their product.  And it kicked ass.  But under Beam's ownership, they now have at least 11 whiskies in their range and only three of them are solely from former bourbon casks.  It's clear that there has been an effort to create more products.  And by doing so with NAS or young stock the solution was more oak, both in quantity and type.  Whether or not the quality is slipping, there is A LOT of blending going on at Laphroaig.

Just to show I'm not a complete Luddite when it comes to Laphroaig, I loved my two bottles of QC bottled in 2010/2011, enjoyed last year's Port Wood Cairdeas one-off, found the Triple Wood to be decent, and the PX Cask to be mostly drinkable.

But here's the thing, Beam Suntory.  Every other distillery in Scotland (and beyond) can tinker with new oak, multiple maturations, and wine finishes.  But no one else can make Laphroaig.  Be careful not to lose track of what makes you unique in an attempt to mimic the rest of the market.

Friday, June 6, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: Four Roses Single Barrel OBSK barrel 37-1B

On Tuesday, I found a single barrel of recipe OBSO to be a powerful woodsy whiskey with a good nose.

On Wednesday, the single barrel of recipe OESK turned out to be a hot and closed whiskey that wasn't to my liking.

Let's take a look at the letters:
B is the Four Roses high-rye (35%) mashbill
E is their mid-rye (20%) mashbill
O is their fruity yeast
K is their spicy yeast

Thus Tuesday's was a high-rye bourbon that used a fruity yeast for its fermentation, and Wednesday's was a mid-rye bourbon that used a spicy yeast.  What if I had a sample of Four Roses Single Barrel that had both the high-rye mash and the spicy yeast...

Thank you to Florin (local ambidextrous oyster shucker and Master Distiller) for this very sample.  Of all places, BevMo! (I'm not responsible for the exclamation mark) sold this single barrel exclusively.  It looks as if there's another exclusive single barrel on the shelf now too.  Kudos to BevMo!!

DistilleryFour Roses
Type: Kentucky Straight Bourbon (Single Barrel)
Region: Lawrenceberg, Kentucky
Age: 10 years, 8 months
Recipe: OBSK (high rye, spicy yeast)
Maturation: charred white oak barrels
Warehouse: DN
Barrel #: 37-1B
Alcohol by Volume: 55.0%

The color is an orangey copper.  The nose starts out a little chocolatey, milk chocolate and chocolate milk.  Then maybe some raisins slip in, followed by roasted peanuts and almonds.  Then cream corn meets cookie dough.  There are also notes of Rittenhouse Rye BIB-style baking spice, carob, and vanilla bean.  It's a little zany but I like it.  The palate hauls out bigger wood.  Some definite wood smoke, too.  But oak doesn't smother the rest.  There's corn syrup, sweet corn, dried cherries, cough medicine, and a back and forth ping-ponging of corn and rye whiskies.  There's a progression from dried stone fruits to table salt that reminds me of some sherried single malts.  And it's very SMOOTH (you're welcome) considering the alcohol content.  The finish shows some of the nose's chocolate character.  Then more corn whiskey, barrel char, espresso, and menthol.  Also, it made my burps taste like banana.

As I noted in the notes, there are parts of this bourbon that are reminiscent of some sherried Scotches.  I think it has to do with the chocolate, dried fruit, espresso, and nutty characteristics.  But I actually like this better than most sherried malts because it brings so much more to the experience, such as all the rich rye and vibrant corn spirit piping through.

According to BevMo!'s site, Jim Rutledge selected the barrel for them himself.  He likely knows that BevMo (okay, enough with the !s) brings with it a customer base of substantial size, so providing them with a kickass barrel would be a good business maneuver as it gives him a chance to build the Four Roses fanbase even further.  While this one overshoots his preferred 6-8 year age level, it's not oak juice, it's much better formed than Wednesday's OESK, and it's easy drinkin'.

I liked this one enough to keep an eye out for other OBSKs, though other barrels aren't guaranteed to deliver the same exact characteristics.  Though, again, please note: there's at least one more single barrel (an OBSO) on the BevMo shelves, so be a smart customer and check out the informative stuff Four Roses lists on their bottles.

Pricing - $64.99 - $69.99
Rating - 88

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: Four Roses Single Barrel OESK barrel 24-3G

Here's a very similar set up to yesterday's bourbon post.  Another after-midnight review of another 4RSB from Four Roses's gift shop.  And another thank you to JLR for the sample!

This time the barrel housed a different recipe -- OESK, the 20%-rye mashbill with a spicier yeast strain -- for a longer period of time, 11 years 11 months.

I have more thoughts on this bourbon, but first, the review.

DistilleryFour Roses
Type: Kentucky Straight Bourbon (Single Barrel)
Region: Lawrenceberg, Kentucky
Age: 11 years, 11 months
Recipe: OESK (medium rye, spicy yeast)
Maturation: charred white oak barrels
Warehouse: VE
Barrel #: 24-3G
Alcohol by Volume: 59.7%

The color is reddish brown, almost maroon. The nose has a medicinal character up front again.  This time, it's bandages and eucalyptus.  Then a salty jerky note pops up, followed by maple, smoky caramel, and cherry candies.  It's actually very tight and closed.  The palate starts with black cherry syrup and rock candy.  Tight sharp oak (vague!).  Eucalyptus and saline.  Then a dark Willett rye-esque spice which, along with the oak, gets more aggressive with time.  Lots of salt, savory, and bitter notes in the finish.  Lots of cracked pepper.  Then alcohol heat and sourness.

The whole thing was so tight that I decided to add water to attempt to loosen things up, bringing the ABV to the 43-45% range...

With water, the nose gets creamier and more sugary.  Vanilla, orange oil, and mint.  The maple and eucalyptus/menthol note remains.  But this all fades out after 10 minutes.  The palate is still very closed. More bitterness, rye spirit, green peppercorns, and salt.  Bits of oak, as if they was floating around in there.  Black cherry, black pepper, and simple barrel char in the finish.

It seems silly to start with discussing scoring right now, but I'm going to do so in order organize my thoughts.  When I finished the tasting late last night (this morning) I was going to score this in the 80s.  But as I was in between sleep and consciousness, a few things revealed themselves.  Firstly, I didn't really like this bourbon.  And, had I been tasting it blindly, I would not have paused to grade it in the 70s.  My desire to like and support Four Roses had caused me to inflate my score by a few points.

I don't think this is a bad bourbon, instead it's not one that appeals to my nose and palate.  It probably will appeal to other folks.  What fascinates me is that all of those youthful peppery spicy notes that I'd thought were from the rye, may have actually been from the "K" yeast.  Meanwhile, this whiskey was very closed compared to yesterday's Single Barrel.  (Note: this sample was from the top of the bottle, which may have played a part.)  Hydrating it helped out the nose, but then air then silenced it.  Water did not open the palate at all.  In fact, it felt as if the palate closed further.  Like yesterday's bourbon, the finish was my least favorite part.  Water only corrected it slightly.

It's possible that the OESK recipe is not for me.  Or, could this barrel have spent too much time aging?  According to Lloyd Christmas, Four Roses's Master Distiller Jim Rutledge's
favorite peak for flavor is six to eight years. Once the sugar produced in the barrel with the interaction of the wood and whiskey is gone, they have about six months to get it out of the barrel before the whiskey turns the corner and starts getting worse.
While I'm not saying that this whiskey turned the corner for the worse, it did age for almost 12 years.  That jumps Mr. Rutledge's peak by quite a distance.

Again, it could be that the recipe that doesn't work for my palate.  Is it the E (mashbill) or the K (yeast) that rubbed me wrongly?  The B (mashbill) and O (yeast) seemed to be a good combo.  In the next review, some letters get swapped and hopefully I find out more...

Availability - Four Roses visitor center / gift shop
Pricing - around $65
Rating - 78

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: Four Roses Single Barrel OBSO barrel 4-1D

For my last week of Mathilda Rose-specific whiskies, I'll be reviewing three Four Roses single barrels.  Three 4R of three different recipes.  Three because she brings the fourth rose.  Also, that's all the Four Roses samples I have at the moment.

She's been extremely active since she arrived and her parents have been extremely inactive as a result.  For instance, I was going to do this tasting at 9pm last night, but then she became "fussy" (a polite euphemism).  The solution?  Dancing.  My whisky music became our groove tracks for the next hour or two.  Our favorite tune of the night was Groovy Gravy by Q and the Cos.

As a result, I didn't complete this tasting until after midnight.  From what I gather, this situation may occur on regular basis.  That's not a complaint.  Any night I can dance with my daughter and drink barrel strength bourbon is a night I want to repeat.

My experience with Four Roses is sadly limited and I know I'm coming to it a couple years too late.  But now it's time to find out if the "better late than never" clich√© holds up in this case.

From all reports (and not just those from retailers), Master Distiller Jim Rutledge is a nice personable dude.  Also, he and Four Roses are very open about their mashbills and yeast strain usage, as they note these factors on their single barrel bottlings.  For instance, today's bourbon was from the OBSO recipe -- a high rye (35%) mashbill with a fruity type of yeast.  It's this recipe, along with three others, that are blended together to make the Four Roses Small Batch bourbons.

Today's sample of the OBSO is brought to us by my friend JLR.  Last year, he and his wife travelled the bourbon trail and he picked up his bottle from the Four Roses gift shop.  Thanks JLR!

DistilleryFour Roses
Type: Kentucky Straight Bourbon (Single Barrel)
Region: Lawrenceberg, Kentucky
Age: 10 years, 8 months
Recipe: OBSO (high rye, fruity yeast)
Maturation: charred white oak barrels
Warehouse: BN
Barrel #: 4-1D
Alcohol by Volume: 54.1%

The color is dark copper.  The nose is very woodsy, or rather lumberyard-ish.  It has a sharp medicinal streak along with some band-aids, characteristics reminiscent of some favored peated single malts.  There are also big notes of hazelnuts, halva, and corn syrup, with vanilla extract steadily rolling in the background.  After a lot of air, the bourbon releases something like butterscotch with mint leaves and a side of maple syrup.  The palate is also medicinal.  Cough syrup, cherry Sudafed, Halls menthol.  Then there are pinches of milk chocolate and caramel.  Sweetness meets lots of black peppercorn spice.  It gets woodier with air.  That medicinal thing continues into the finish, along with sea salt and Angostura bitters.  There's a dry rye spice-meets-menthol note that carries on for a long time.  Wood pulp, bitter greens, and pepper develop after a while as well.

Keeping in mind that the sample came from the bottle third of the bottle, and that the pour sat in my glass for well over an hour, this bourbon's unfading power was very impressive.  There's an steady consistency in characteristics across the nose and palate.  While I enjoyed the nose the most, the palate was quite good.  The finish was both raw and woody, sharp and not for delicate palates.

I don't know if this particular barrel is still available in the gift shop -- and I'd bet it probably isn't due to Four Roses's popularity -- but if it is, it isn't a bad choice for those of stronger sensory constitutions.  I'm looking forward to the next two recipes...

Availability - Four Roses visitor center / gift shop
Pricing - around $65
Rating - 86