...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Hello, Loch Dhu and Cu Dhub. Goodbye, 2014.

With the appearance of Mathilda, the sweet little elfin Kravitz queen, in my life, 2014 has been a year unlike any other.  When people ask me what it's like being a father, I tell them that I am learning so much about myself.  And I leave it at that.  You newer parents out there know that the things you learn about yourself aren't always wonderful, shiny, and glorious.  We hold within us the potential of great loving kindness, but we are also capable of a bunch of other shit.

I will publicly opine further on fatherhood in 2015, but no further at the moment.  It's time to move forward to the review I've anticipated the most this year.*  Yes, I've reviewed Laphroaigs 25, 30, and 40.  I've reviewed two different Talisker 25s.  One official Brora.  A 35 year old Calvados.  Two Karuizawas.  A 1975 Glendronach.  Four Kilkerrans, a trio of Littlemills, a pair of dusty Old Taylors, and one George T. Stagg (twice).  But this.  This is bigger.

Loch Dhu and Cu Dhub are the two black whiskies, loaded to gills with the industrial colloid e150a (caramel colorant), though Diageo claimed Dhu's blackness was from double-charred casks (tee hee, Diageo funny).  Loch Dhu is well despised yet well collected, meanwhile the vitriol and excitement for Cu Dubh seems to be more restrained.  The Dhu seems to be the Plan 9 From Outer Space of whiskies**, while The Dhub is Dino de Laurentiis's King Kong.  Or is it The Terror of Tiny Town?  I'm hoping for at least a Myra Breckenridge, featuring Rex Reed as an aspiring transexual.

Distillery: Mannochmore
Ownership: Diageo
Age: minimum 10 years
Maturation: mystery oak
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? Yes
Caramel Colored? holy moley
(Thank you to the great Andy Smith for the sample of The Black Lake)

Distillery: The Speyside Distillery, proud producers of Drumguish
Ownership: Speyside Distillers Limited
Age: NAS
Maturation: mystery oak
Region: Speyside (indeed)
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? Probably
Caramel Colored? Quite
(This sample was purchased from Master of Malt)

-- Loch Dhu -- Soy sauce

-- Cu Dhub -- A reddish black tea

-- Loch Dhu -- Burnt prunes. Burnt raisins. But mostly, burnt caramel (that's the first thing Kristen noticed too).  Then Worcestershire sauce intermingling with Kikkoman's regular soy sauce.  Fresh celery, carpet, shredded wheat nuggets, and old library books.  It's somewhat fungal, like foot fungus.

-- Cu Dhub -- Ooh, very cabbagey.  Farty fart farty.  Pencil graphite meets imitation vanilla extract meets brown sugar meets styrofoam.  Lots of sour milk and warm Coca Cola.

-- Loch Dhu -- Burnt coffee, and lots of it.  Cardboard, or like licking a whisky label.  Horseradish and dirt.  It's so chemically, like someone tried to make a diet salty coffee soda syrup then gave up, added new make, and called it whisky.  Bitterness.  Sadness.

-- Cu Dhub -- So much caramel.  Weird sweetness, maybe aspartame?  A cardboard box holding burnt prunes, ground black pepper, and overripe bananas.  And the sour milk.

-- Loch Dhu -- It's still coffee-ish, but with ammonia.  Acrid boiled collard greens.

-- Cu Dhub -- Rotting veg, burnt grass, Jersey City.  Longer than a goddamn car alarm.

These are sincerely broken things.  I mean, you smell 'em and you drink 'em and you wonder if steeping your kitchen garbage bag in hot water would produce a better result.

Color - I guess Dhu-Dhu wins because it's blacker.
Nose - Cu Dhub's nose is awful awful awful.  Loch Dhu's is actually fascinating, like it's some sort of failed herbal liqueur.
Palate - Meanwhile Cu Dhub is sort of drinkable.  I might even pick it over Cutty, if I was blindfolded.  But crap it all, Loch Dhu earns its reputation in the mouth.  I can't believe someone bottled and sold this.
Finish - Here things only get worse for both of them.  Loch Dhu is slightly worse due to the aggressiveness of the chemicals.

Neither of these whiskies made me concerned about my wellbeing, so they don't make my bottom 5.  But they're damn close.  These sorts of levels of e150a would be an interesting free experiment, especially if they don't turn out to be carcinogenic.

If you're looking to obtain a bottle of either of these, why?  I'm not even going to assist you in your search.  Either you're looking to "invest" in whiskies or you have masochistic tendencies that would be better served by indulging in the BDSM scene.

And with that, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Availability - Unhappy hunting!
Pricing - One million dollars. Or $200-$400.
Rating - 45

Availability - It's around, sorta
Pricing - $30-$60
Rating - 47

* - Since writing this review, I have discovered that Serge did this same taste off exactly 10 years ago.  Ha, so much for originality...
** - And I have also just discovered that Tim Read already made the Plan 9 reference years ago.  That's neat.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Single Malt Report: Benromach 10 year old (maroon label)

I bought a bottle of Benromach 10 year old (for $41!) three weeks ago and opened it promptly.  It's been a chameleon malt, taking on different characteristics with every pour.  It can't be accused of being boring, so I'd say it has been a successful purchase no matter how I finally rate it.

I've been a bit slow to explore Benromach.  The distillery's ownership (indie grandpa Gordon & MacPhail) seems to have been inspired by the Mark Reynier-era of Bruchladdich, cranking out nearly 100 "expressions" over the last decade, an approach that didn't excite me much.  But within the past year or so they seem to be focusing their range.  There's a 10 year old (and a higher proof companion), an organic, a heavy peater, a couple wine finishes, the Golden Promise barley "Origins" malt, the Traditional youngin, and some old stuff.  There seems to be a minimum of marketing push behind their products, which is refreshing (to me), but also results in them being forgotten or ignored when perhaps they shouldn't be.

But now that the new release of their 10 year old has received raves from some of the top European whisky bloggers, I doubt that whisky geeks will be passing over Benromach now.  In July, Ruben from whiskynotes said it is "One of the best widely available, standard whiskies around".  In October, the whisky earned a good review from Serge Valentin, inspiring him to call the distillery "the Springbank of the East".  And then (SPOILER ALERT), just last week, Ralfy declared the 10 year old to be his pick for the malt of the year.

Please note, my bottle has the old packaging......though in Serge's review he did say "the juices aren't meant to have changed" with the new packaging.  So, will I like this as much as Ralfy does?  I'll say this much, unlike the energetic Scot in the Manx bothy, I will not be offering investment advice in this review or any other.

OwnershipGordon & MacPhail
Age: minimum 10 years
Region: Speyside (Findhorn)
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? Probably
Caramel Colored? Probably

Above, I mentioned that this was a chameleon malt.  Here were my thoughts from my first three glasses (spread out over two weeks):
First pour: Mild, lightly peated, easy on the oak
Second pour: Lots of sherry powering above the peat
Third pour: All barnyard! Cows, horses, sheep, and damp dirty hay.

Let's see how it goes with my review pour(s)...

The color is medium gold.  The nose has a substantial level of peat for a whisky that doesn't publicize its peatiness.  It's a farmy peat which merges well, rather than competing with, a rich sherry note.  There's also a strong note of vanilla, mesquite honey, and burlap.  That's followed by Good & Plenty, then Hot Tamales candies.  Gradually a band-aid note comes through, followed by a cocoa butter & orange oil combo.  The palate begins with a chocolate and cigar tobacco sherry note.  Small notes of seawater, limes, and wasabi linger beneath a layer of manure-y peat.  It still has a bit of an ethyl bite to it as well.  The finish grows sweeter and saltier.  Lots of sherry and dried cherries.  The peated element recedes into cigar smoke.

This is almost great stuff.  I'll start with the negatives and end with the positives, then probably go negative again, knowing me.

The palate is thin and much milder than the zippy nose.  It just dissolves when water is added.  This could be due to the 43%abv and filtration or the whisky itself is fragile at this point in its life.  The peat and sherry begin to take on a nice Uigeadail-like note but then it quickly fades away.  Similarly, the finish is briefer than I expected, which is a shame because there's the start of something good in there.  Because the whisky doesn't seem to be engineered to fit an easy drinking style, I want to love it.  But instead, I just like it.

That being said, I like it.  It's comparable in quality to much more famous and wider-selling 10 year old single malts, if not better.  For instance: it takes Macallan 10 year old Fine Oak, then improves it with great farmy peat (think Ledaig) and a better sherry balance.  I like its sherry notes better than those of Springbank 10 and it has a peep of Laphroaig 10's band-aids.

It's a good sub-$50 whisky......if you can find it for that price, which you probably won't in a year.  Above $50, it isn't something I'd rush out to buy again.  But as Laphroaig 10 crosses the $50 marker and Springbank 10 crosses the $60 pricepoint, it's good to know that there are still some entertaining and challenging single malts, like Ledaig and Benromach, at similar or lower prices.

Availability - Most specialty retailers
Pricing - $48-$60
Rating - 86

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

"DougDogz" Old Scout 8 year old Bourbon vs. George T. Stagg 2013 release

Happy Holidays!  This was an unexpected treat:

The very generous Sku (of Sku's Recent Eats) provided me with a sample of his sample of "DougDogz" Old Scout 8 year old Bourbon a few months ago.  I had first tried it during a very bourbony evening, enjoying it more than some of my favorite dusties, and then waxing romantic over its quality.  When planning this post, I was left with the happy quandary of what I was going to taste with it in order to gain perspective.  I chose last year's Stagg Sr., upon which I've already lavished praise.  But in the process of the nosing and the tasting, I actually gained a considerable amount of perspective on the Stagg instead.

The "DougDogz" moniker refers to Doug Phillips, a bonzai buff and professional glazier who became a whiskey aficionado icon due to his personal selection of historic (and now almost mythical) casks of rye and bourbon from Drew Kulsveen's (Willett) warehouse, six to eight years ago.  For more information, I recommend Sku's two posts (part 1 and part 2) about Doug and his whiskies.  Don't worry, they're not TL;DR pieces (unlike mine) thanks to Sku's succinct style.

Recently, Willett ended its private barrel selection program, likely due to decreasing supply and/or the desire to hold onto the gems for their own official releases.  So Doug went elsewhere to find a honey barrel.  And he found it at Smooth Ambler's warehouse.  Smooth Ambler has done a few Old Scout (MGP-distilled) barrels for retailers like Kenwood Liquors and K&L Wines, and in 2014 they sold bourbon barrel #900 to Doug.  Let's see how it stands up next to Stagg.

Brand: Old Scout
BottlerSmooth Ambler
RegionMaxwelton, West Virginia (Distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana)
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Age: 8 years
Distillation date: 4/21/06
Barrel: 900
Bottles: 122
Alcohol by volume: 61.9%
(thank you to Sku for the sample!)

Its color is a rosy mahogany. The nose is loaded with spicy oak: fruity cardamom, clove, and cilantro. (This is why I goofily thought this was a rye at first.) Then some more C's: creamed corn, Corn Pops, and clover honey.  The sugar cereal note expands with time.  After 40+ minutes in the glass, the whiskey starts to release big notes of vanilla bean and shisha.  The palate delivers a steady sweet→dry tone poem that's unique to my experience.  It's very bright, with tangerines and orange peel; then rich caramel, mint syrup, and toffee. This gives way to a dry, lightly spiced, almost mineral note.  This continues into the finish.  There's a floral, fruity note from the esters (there, I finally used the word!) which then switches to a tingly peppercorn-filled, almost savory note.  It's endless.

WITH WATER (below 50% abv)
Lots of baked goods in the nose.  More corn, more caramel.  Some honey mustard and dry cheese.  The sweetness becomes simpler in the palate as a bold bitterness moves in.  Grape jam, orange peel, granulated sugar, and black cherry soda are the leading notes.  The bitterness lingers into the finish, merging well with the maple-black-cherry ice cream character.  There's also a little bit of citrus and pepper in the mix.

Distillery: Buffalo Trace
Brand: George T. Stagg
Region: Kentucky, USA
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Distilled: 1997
Release: Fall 2013
Age: approx. 15 years old
Mashbill: Buffalo Trace #1 (lower-rye; about 8%)
Alcohol by volume: 64.1%
(from my bottle)

Its color is an Earl Grey tea (steeped for 3.5 minutes, I dunno, WTF) brown. The nose is full of butters and nuts: roasted hazelnuts, almond paste, almond butter, butter.  There's leather, fruit breads, and toffee.  Caramel syrup is always present, but it takes almost 30 minutes for the vanilla to roll in.  The palate is just as aggressively medicinal as it was when I first tasted it.  Cherry Sudafed (from the '80s) and Robotussin (the good kind, from the '80s).  A bitter black sherry soda.   A Campari and Amaretto cocktail topped with caramel syrup.  A little salt in there too.  The finish goes from black cherry to maraschino cherry. Tobacco, barrel char, vanilla, caramel.  The bitterness remains, as does the medicine.

WITH WATER (below 50% abv)
The nose picks up some orange gumdrops and salted caramel gelato.  Lots of caramel, in fact.  The nuts and leather remain, but are much subtler.  There are also some smaller notes of burnt paper and manure.  There's the Robotussin in the palate, as well as an almost Laphroaigy antiseptic note.  Then cayenne pepper, corn syrup, and wood smoke.  The mouth drying finish is slightly bitter and medicinal.  Some fresh thyme in there too.

As I mentioned above, I gained some new perspective on the Stagg 2013.  I always knew it was the most Islay-esque of bourbons, with its medicinal, earthy, occasionally smoky style.  But the brutality of its delivery became very apparent next to DougDogz.  And while Stagg's boldness is to be commended, getting punched in the face is not always the preferable way to receive one's bourbon.  If the mood is right, Stagg can be excellent.  But it can also be exhausting.  And I'm beginning to think that I like some of the Elijah Craig Barrel Proofs better at similar/higher ABVs and younger ages.

The DougDogz Old Scout is more graceful than the Stagg, while being just about as complex.  DougDogz's sweet-dry-spice progressions (also noted in Sku's review) are excellent and give it a step up on the Stagg.  Its spice is very vibrant for a bourbon, which is why I first made the mistake of thinking that it was a rye when nosing it.  But the spice is coming from the excellent barrel, as opposed to the spirit.  It's incredible that this was only baking for eight years.  A hell of a barrel pick by Mr. Phillips.

Availability - You'd have to ask Doug
Pricing - ???
Rating - 91

Availability - Happy hunting?
Pricing - MSRP was $79.99 or $89.99, it has been sold for up to $450
Rating - 88 (downgraded from 92)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Old Scout 7 year old Rye, batch 11 (and also Rittenhouse Rye BIB)

Smooth Ambler is a West Virginia-based company that bottles bourbons and ryes produced by other companies (usually MGP) while their own spirit matures in barrels.  Unlike a number of smaller bottling companies, Smooth Ambler openly states that their rye is from Indiana.  I really wish companies (like Templeton) would disclose when they're bottling MGP rye, not only for legal and ethical purposes, but also because I freaking love that rye.  Seriously, flaunt that sh*t.  Thus, Smooth Ambler does right on that account.

I've been eyeing Smooth Ambler's Old Scout rye ever since it started appearing on the shelves at relatively reasonable prices.  And then I had this sample (thank you, JLR!) sitting around for about a year.  I don't know what took me so long, but here it goes...

...but wait.  Old Scout needed a sparring partner so that I could get some perspective, so I went with Rittenhouse Rye BIB.  Rittenhouse tends to be about $10-$15 cheaper than Smooth Ambler, but it has a similar ABV and I adore the stuff.  It received a rave review from me last year and has since been my House Whisky.  This is our second bottle since the label change.  Anyway, I was bringing in an experienced champ to spar with the newbie.

Brand: Old Scout
Bottler: Smooth Ambler
Type: Straight Rye Whiskey
Age7 years
MaturationNew American Oak
RegionMaxwelton, West Virginia (Distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana)
Mashbill: 95% Rye
Batch: 11
Bottled: 3/14/13
Alcohol by Volume49.5%
(sample from swap with buddy JLR, top 1/3 of bottle)

Brand: Rittenhouse
Owner: Heaven Hill
Type: Straight Rye Whisky (no 'e'!)
Age: minimum 4 years
Region: Distillery - Louisville, Kentucky; Warehouse - Bardstown, Kentucky
Maturation: New American oak
Mashbill: 51% Rye (per Cowdery here and here)
Bottle Code: B1494
Bottle Year: 2014
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
(from my bottle, top 1/3 of bottle)

The rye is Rittenhouse Rye-colored.  The nose starts with a very balanced mix of orange oil, vanilla extract, dried coriander, fresh dill, menthol, and made-in-China-toy plastic.  It gradually releases notes of melting brown sugar, milk chocolate, pine needles, and VOC-full paint.  The palate starts out a bit sharp with more heat than expected from its age and ABV.  But it softens up in under ten minutes.  There's lots of mint, some cayenne, ground cumin, and lemon pepper.  So it's nice and spicy.  After a while there's an expanding note of sweet meyer lemons, but it's not too sweet overall.  Some stone fruits start to show up in the finish, along with caramel, black pepper, and bread crusts.

With water:
The nose gets fruitier (vague!) and sugarier (not exactly English!).  It becomes very pretty and floral.  Some black licorice, sarsaparilla, green peppercorns, and curry powder too.  The rye grain's intensity increases in the palate.  It gets spicier, with some chili powder slipping in.  Though the spice is met well with candied sweetness.  More vanilla as well.  More mint, vanilla, and lemons in the finish.  Spicy and sweet.

The rye is Old Scout-colored.  The nose is very nutty (hazelnuts and almonds).  There are smaller notes of wood smoke, rose blossoms, baklava, and nutmeg.  It opens up slowly, the nuts receding slightly.  Then limeade, Cow Tales, and menthol arrive.  The palate is even nuttier: almonds, pecans, peanuts, and walnuts.  Lemon curd on salt rocks.  Sourdough bread.  It's almost totally lacking sweetness.  Ah but a sweet creamy (almost malty) note arrives in the finish.  Then smoked almonds skins, caramel, cayenne, and limes.

With water:
Smoked hazelnuts and peanuts lead the nose.  A hint of orange peel, but a lot of corny bourbon showing through.  The palate becomes almost unbearably nutty and sweet.  Perfumed, too.  At least in the finish some bitterness and fresh parsley jump in.

So....that didn't turn out the way I'd expected.  The champ got knocked down.  Old Scout showed very well, its nose and palate were surprising.  Or maybe it shouldn't have been so surprising since I'm a fan of MGP rye.  It also swam well, while the Ritt couldn't even float.

I am not saying that Rittenhouse's quality has declined since they changed labels.  We went through a previous bottle with the new label with great speed and joy earlier this year.  But the particular batch (B1494) of Rittenhouse from this review was good (though a bit aggressive on the nutty side of things), not awesome.  It's still worth its price, but I know there are better batches out there.

Meanwhile, I don't know if other batches of Smooth Ambler Old Scout Rye are as solid as batch 10.  But I'm willing to take a chance on a bottle if find one for less than $40.  Costco had it for $30, but that zoo's record with whiskies is 0-2 for me, so I skipped it.  Anyway, pleasant surprise this Old Scout.  It'll probably be the next rye I buy.

OLD SCOUT 7yo RYE, batch 10
Availability - Many US specialty retailers
Pricing - $35-$50
Rating - 87

Availability - Most US specialty retailers have Ritt BIB in general
Pricing - $22-$28
Rating - 82 (adding water not recommended)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Three Bourbons At Once!

Wow, I must be thirsty this week...

Three bourbons today, from three different locales, lined up in one Taste Off.  I'm going to list the findings the same way I did for Tuesday's Canadian collection.  But unlike the whiskies from Tuesday's post, all three of these bourbons were from their actual bottles.

McKenzie Bourbon Whiskey (Finger Lakes Distillery), 5 years old, Batch 15/2014, 45%ABV
I visited the Finger Lakes Distillery last summer and wrote a post about these Upstate New York liquor makers.  In that post, I also reviewed batch 10 of their bourbon (70points).  At the time I found all of their whiskies to be quite young and jumbled.  At their distillery tasting, I liked the wheat whiskey better than the rye, bourbon, and pot still -- which is unusual for me.  Actually I liked their gin even better, but anyway......from what I gather they do indeed distill their own stuff.  This winter I had an opportunity to try another batch of the bourbon, courtesy of my in-laws.

Beanball Bourbon (Cooperstown Distillery), 5 years old, Cask #7, bottled 5/12/14, 43%ABV
Another Upstate NY distillery.  Despite the fact that they do distill their own gin, they're currently bottling MGP bourbon.  And the label actually does reference the Indiana part.  The bottle I sampled was a 375mL from the distillery shop (courtesy of the in-laws).  In stores, Beanball Bourbon is actually 6 years old and 50%abv.  So this is lighter and younger than their normal retail whiskey.

Blanton's Single Barrel (Buffalo Trace Distillery), Barrel #109, bottled 9/15/13, 46.5%ABV
I've written two posts about barrel 18.  At the top of the bottle the whiskey good, at the bottom of the bottle it was excellent.  My in-laws have a bottle of barrel 109 which has been enjoyed two-thirds of the way down already.  Another difference between the earlier bottle and this one is that the old one was open for nearly two years, while this one has been open for a just a few months.  So while I'm hoping that oxidation does great things for this Blanton's as well, there hasn't been as much time.

The Colors
McKenzie -  The darkest of the three, curiously. Maybe a little extra char on those barrels?
Beanball - The lightest, almost like a first-fill ex-bourbon single malt.
Blanton's - A little lighter than the "maple syrup" color I've previously seen in Blanton's.

The Noses
McKenzie - Paint fumes, turpentine, roasted corn, and (um...) matzos appear first.  Later on: mint chewing gum, fresh cut wood, honey mustard, and fresh pears.  That matzos note hangs on throughout.
Beanball - Bark and sawdust first.  Then corn syrup, dijon mustard, and something faintly fishy.  Then minty toffee (if that's a thing).  Finally a green woody burst followed by peanut candy, very Brown-Forman-ish.
Blanton's - Mint leaves, cherry candy, roasted corn, and sesame seeds arrive first.  It eases into caramel sauce, orange pixy stix, and salty beach air.  With additional time, the vanilla and butterscotch candies arrive, though those notes remain mild.

The Palates
McKenzie - Lots of fresh pears with caramel sauce and butter. Some peppery spice, but otherwise not many signs of rye. Seems kind of wheaty too. Lots of corn. It's still quite raw and grainy.
Beanball - Bubblegum, soap, and candy corn make up the entire package for a while.  After some time, there's a little bit of pepper and a woody bitterness.  A very thin mouthfeel.
Blanton's - A spiced cane syrup.  Black cherry syrup.  Salt and cayenne pepper.  Toffee and Robotussin.  After a while, this all converges into single point: Sugar Daddy pops.

The Finishes
McKenzie - The pears remain prominent here.  Some newspaper, mint, and vanilla notes show momentarily.
Beanball - Just vanilla, corn, banana, and bitterness.
Blanton's - Sweet and spicy. Lots of pepper. Caramel-covered apples.


McKenzie Bourbon Whiskey, Batch 15/2014 - $35-$45
I'll start with the good news.  This is an improvement over batch 10, with fewer odd spirity vegetal notes.  I like the fresh pear character, though I have no idea where that note comes from; probably the distillate.  I like the fact that it goes easy on the usual oaky notes of caramel and vanilla.  But.  This is still the rawest five-year-old bourbon one will find.  Even Breckenridge's two-year old whiskey feels more mature than this.  Ultimately it's not really my cup o' bourbon.  I'd love for an Upstate NY distillery to succeed but I'm not sure to whom I can recommend this whiskey.
Rating - 75

Beanball Bourbon (distillery shop only), cask #7 - price unknown
Very watery, that's the first thing I thought of during the tasting and it's the first thing that came to mind while typing this up.  It's very light, probably inoffensive to most palates.  But I don't think it will appeal to most palates either.  My in-laws bought the bottle and they weren't enthused with their first pours either.  There may have been something good here at barrel strength, but now the bourbon barely exists.  As mentioned above, the retail version of Beanball is a year older and 50%abv, that would likely be of more interest than this distillery shop bottling.
Rating - 72

Blanton's Single Barrel, barrel #109 - $50-$60
A full step ahead of the other two bourbons......but also a full step behind barrel 18.  Barrel 109 is good bourbon, with a great nose and vibrant palate.  But there's not much here that you can't get elsewhere, which is a bit concerning for a bourbon that's approaching the $60 mark, especially with the high quality stuff at half its price.  Again, it's not bad.  It's good.  I'd be happy to drink it again.  But it ain't great, and with American whiskey you'd better be bringing at least your B+ game at this price level, not your B- stuff.
Rating - 82

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Four Canadian Whiskies At Once!

Like many American whisky bloggers, I don't know a whole lot about Canadian whisky.  There are a whole bunch of interesting sounding ones (the Alberta Premiums and the Highwoods) that never make across the border.  I live too far from the border to do a quick stop and grab.  Heck, I haven't been to Canada since, what, the Reagan administration?  In the mid-'80s my family went to Montreal and saw the Expos play at Olympic Stadium.  There were so few people in the stands that between innings we heard the third baseman sneeze and a fan yell back, "Bless you!".  And then my mom got robbed on the subway on the way back to our hotel that night.

But otherwise, Canadians rule.  And I love whisky.  So this has to work, right?  Before this Taste Off I'd only had Canadian Club, Windsor, and Black Velvet.  Time to expand my horizons a little.  So, here I go.  Dropping four on you at once.

JP Wiser's Rye, NAS blend, 40% ABV
Along with Forty Creek and Lot 40, JP Wiser's is a Corby Spirit and Wine Limited (46% owned by Pernod Ricard) brand.  Other Wiser's products sold in The States include Wiser's 18 year old, Wiser's Deluxe, and Wiser's Spiced.  Curiously the flavored "Spiced" as a higher ABV than the non-flavored products.  The Deluxe was, once upon a time, a 10 year old.  Meanwhile the regular "Rye" (a blend) I'm tasting here does not have an age statement.  It tends to retail around $15-$20 per 750mL.

Pendleton, NAS blend, 40% ABV
Pendleton is produced by Hood River Distillers (who also own Lucid Absinthe and Clear Creek) and tends to retail for $20-$25.  Hood River is an American company, but the Pendleton spirit is distilled in Canada.  They don't hide its northern origins, nor do they refer to it as "rye" on the label.  There's also a more premium Pendleton called 1910 which is aged around 12 years, but the one I'm reviewing is the cheaper product.

Canadian Club Reserve, 9 year old blend, 40% ABV
Ah yes, another Canadian Club review!  The Reserve used to be a 10 year old, but was reduced to 9 years right around the time Canadian Club's starter whisky lost its age statement altogether.  Still, it's remarkably cheap, easily found for $15-$17.

Collingwood "Toasted Maplewood Mellowed", 21 year old rye, 40% ABV
Yes, the odd man out.  It's a sample from an actual bottle (thank you Florin!).  And it's an actual rye.  The whole "Toasted Maplewood Mellowed" thing refers to the fact that the rye barrels which made up this batch were married in a vat full of toasted maplewood staves.  The Scotch industry can't do such a thing, nor can it seem to price a 21 year old whisky at Collingwood's $50-$60 range.  Of course there's a law for the former, but none for the latter.

The Colors
Wiser's - Medium gold, looking a little dark for a young blend
Pendleton - Amber, by far the lightest of the four
Club 9yo - Dark gold, some e150a orange too
Collingwood 21yo - GlenDronach gold, the darkest of the bunch

The Noses
Wiser's - Begins with vanilla, turpentine, honey, and white fruits (probably red & golden delicious apples if more specifics are desired).  The next wave of notes include oak pulp, caramel, and margarine.  After a while there are small unusual notes of grape juice and aerosol hair spray.
Pendleton - Turpentine, neutral grain spirit, chlorine, and lacquer make up the entire nose for a good ten minutes.  Later on small notes of cinnamon, mint chewing gum, dried apricots, and caramel start to appear.
Club 9yo - The rough edges of the previous two whiskies are absent here.  There's vanilla, pear, pastry dough, and baking spices.  After some time in the glass the Club starts showing some barrel char, sawdust, melting sugar, and something malty.
Collingwood 21yo - Wow, actual fresh rye bread.  I wrote "real kosher rye from NY".  Much of that (the bread) was consumed in a previous lifetime.  Beneath the rye bread are notes of caramel sauce, peaches, bubblegum, orange pulp, and tapioca pudding.  Later on fresh apples appear along with rosewater syrup and yeast.

The Palates
Wiser's - Very sugary, with rye in the background.  Lots of Nillas!  Then pepper, caramel, brown sugar join up with Absolut Peppar.  Very watery texture.
Pendleton - Vanilla.  Vodka.  Chicken stock, caramel, and horseradish bitterness fill in the middle.  Lemon peel shows up after the whisky has been aired out.
Club 9yo - More oomph than the nose, in both positive and negative fashions.  Grain spirit meets peppery rye, though not in unison.  Vanilla, toasted walnuts, and brazil nuts are some of the prominent notes.  It picks up more spicy zing with time and it still feels kind of raw for its age.
Collingwood 21yo - Toasty and aromatic.  Rye seeds and lots of dried fruits, along with raspberry fruit leather.  Never overwhelmingly sweet.  Roasted peanuts (not the weird fake peanut note I've found in Beam and Brown-Forman bourbons).  Licorice (the root, not the candy).  Somewhat bready and earthy.  Very unique.

The Finishes
Wiser's - Gets grainier here.  Lots of pepper.  The vanilla grows along with the sweetness.  Short.
Pendleton - Vanilla vodka, oak pulp, and (finally) some rye.  Longer than the Wiser's.
Club 9yo - Vanilla, notebook paper, caramel, and little bit of rye-related baking spice.  A bit drying.
Collingwood 21yo - Edges out the Pendleton for the longest finish.  It keeps some of the sweets and fruits from the palate.  Maybe some nuts.  Lots of sticky rye.


JP Wiser's Rye (blend) - $15-$20
For a $15 whisky, this isn't bad.  Its wateriness and occasional vodka notes keep me from saying that it's actually good.  I will say that it is noticeably better than the current NAS Canadian Club "1858", if you're looking for a Canadian whisky in that price range.
Rating - 76

Pendleton (blend) - $20-$25
Not a total fail, but the intensity of the poisonous elements were too big for me.  The nose makes you think the fluid is for rinsing paintbrushes, and the palate required plenty of crackers and water to allow me to move on to the next whisky.  This is difficult stuff.
Rating - 67

Canadian Club Reserve 9 year old (blend) - $15-$17
It's engineered not to offend and it thus succeeds.  But the blend doesn't always feel in balance and the oak's vanilla rides pretty hard.  It does make me interested in trying the old 10 and 12.  Overall, it's much better than the NAS CC, and only just a little better than the NAS Wiser's.
Rating - 78

Collingwood 21 year old Rye - $50-$60
A singular whisky.  There are notes in this one I still can't figure out.  It's pretty bold for 40%abv, though I'd be curious to know what it would be like at 46%abv.  Don't know if it would be too much or gorgeous.  But here as bottled, it's the best Canadian whisky I've yet tried.  It's not for all tastes, but it's something I might buy.  And, believe it or not, it's from Brown-Forman.
Rating - 86

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Single Malt Report: Springbank 12 year old Cask Strength, Batch 7 (50.3%abv)

I'll now follow Tuesday's Batch 6, with Batch 7 today.  This batch seems to be the one on the shelf now in the US.  As I mentioned in the previous post, most of these "cask strength" Springbank 12s have relatively low ABVs, with this one being the lowest of all.  It's basically a 12 year 100 proof.  I liked Batch 6 a lot, let's see how Batch 7 fares.  Thank you to smokypeat for this sample!

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Age: 12 years
Maturation: a 60/40 mix of first-fill and refill sherry casks
Region: Campbeltown
Alcohol by Volume: 50.3%
Batch: 7

On a side note, it's been a long night of baby-related drama.  When I wrote these tasting notes they were coherent, but my lucidity is evaporating so I apologize if my typing descends into gibberish.

The color is a rosy gold, darker and redder than batch 6.  The nose leads off with barbecued seaweed, matchstick sulphur, and mellow sherry.  The peat note that gradually develops is ashier than the usual Springbank peat.  This is followed by hints of fresh thyme and Dove soap.  With time, the whisky gets mossier, dirtier, and grimier.  Much more prune emerges as well.  The palate has a big salty bite.  The peat and dry sherry commingle well, though they seem rather quiet and closed.  A hint of dryer sheets keeps appearing.  With time, the palate gets tangier (or more orangey) and a mild herbal bitterness shows up.  Pepper and salt lead the finish, followed by peeps of sherry, ash, and sulphur.  The bitterness grows.

WITH WATER (approx. 46%abv)
A lot of toffee appears in the nose.  Maybe smoked toffee pudding.  Caramel, vanilla, mild peat smoke, and rubber bands follow up.  Very little outright sherry.  A hint of citron.  Gunpowder and oloroso grows in the palate, followed by dried cherries and apricots.  Lots of sugar.  Tangy tangerines, mossy peat, and flat Vernors ginger ale.  The finish gets sweeter with sort of a lollipop aftertaste.  A hint of fresh tobacco meets pepper and lemon.

Water helps this out a lot, opening the palate up a bit and giving the nose that toffee pudding note I do adore.  I'm not terribly impressed with it when neat; in fact, the sulphur note is its more interesting element.  Air also improves it in its neat state, somehow bringing out its bolder rougher elements.

While Batch 7 is decent stuff, I enjoyed #6 much more.  If 7 is the only batch that's available to you, then I recommend airing it out and experimenting with water application.  There are good elements within, they just need to be freed.

(For more positive reviews see smokypeat's, Serge's, and whiskybase.)

(UPDATE 12/121/14: My Annoying Opinions reviewed this same batch.  See his review here!)

Availability - Some specialty retailers
Pricing - $75-$95
Rating - 83 (with air and water, a few points lower without)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Single Malt Report: Springbank 12 year old Cask Strength, Batch 6 (53.1%abv)

Here's something else to be thankful for: Springbank bottled at high strength.  The official bottlers have cranked out at least nine batches of the 12 year CS over the past four years.  From what I've gathered, all the batches have been made up of 60% first-fill sherry casks and 40% refill sherry casks.  But compared to the CS sherry bombs by Aberlour, Glenfarclas, and Macallan which often clock in at 60+%abv, the Springbank CSes (other than batch #2) are at noticeably lower ABVs; with batch 7 down to 50.3%.  Yes, the Springers are a couple of years older but their angels appear to be taking expedited bigger bites.  Either that has to do with a difference in climate between the Campbeltown & Speyside warehouses or Springbank has been applying more water to the mix before bottling.  I guess a third (less likely) possibility is that the spirit is going into the barrel at a different ABV to start off with.  A fourth, even less likely, possibility is that they add underproof older stuff, though I think the days when they did that have long passed.

Anyway, higher ABVs do not mean higher quality.  I'd leap for a Springbank before any of those others without a second thought.  For me, even an average Springbank can be more interesting that many distilleries' best stuff.  Yes, I am a fan.

[PLEASE NOTE: There seems to be some confusion between retailers about some of these Springbank CS batches.  Even though my sample from Master of Malt says "Batch 5", it is in fact Batch 6.  Batch 5 had a 52.2%ABV.  David Allen of Springbank provided Ben's Whisky Blog with the official Cask Strength batch ABV data in July.  I'll go with that official info.  I've also reached out to Springbank for further clarification.]

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Age: 12 years
Maturation: a 60/40 mix of first-fill and refill sherry casks
Region: Campbeltown
Alcohol by Volume: 53.1%
Batch: 6

Its color is apple juice.  The nose starts off as fuzzy mossy golden raisin Springbank ice cream.  Pepper, spent matchsticks, and peat swirl together into a single object.  A single rose blossom in black engine grease.  Leather shoes in wet sand.  In the palate there's a surprising grapey GlenDronach-style sherry burst.  Grape jelly too.  Meanwhile the moss doesn't entirely give into the sherry.  There are some fresh strawberries there, as well as sea salt.  Hints of mango, vanilla, and sulphur.  Grape jelly again in the finish. Sweet PX-ish sherry.  Strawberries, lemons, and salt.

WITH WATER (approx. 46%abv)
The peat moss has receded in the nose.  There's more straightforward oloroso sherry.  A mild dried fruit note.  Wet sand, boat exhaust, and (maybe) a little bit of dirty hay.  The palate is still grapey, though things get saltier and tarter.  The peat strengthens and some wormwood bitterness builds, merging with milk chocolate and caramel.  The sherry knocks the peat out of the finish.  Salt, mint, and milk chocolate.

This really works, both with and without water.  The dirty and the pretty work well together.  I like the big sherry when the whisky is neat, but I also like how the palate gets more rugged with hydration.  While I do like the defunct 100% bourbon "10 year old 100 proof" bottlings a little bit more, I was plenty impressed by this batch of sherried Springbank......so much so, I've decided to do another Springbank 12yo CS review on Thursday.

Availability - this batch was Europe only (I think)
Pricing - was in the $70-$80 range
Rating - 88

Friday, December 5, 2014

Single Malt Report: Longmorn-Glenlivet 13 year old 1974 Cadenhead

First off, I'd like to thank Cobo for supplying me with this whisky.  Older versions of Longmorn are amongst my favorite things.  Whatever the Longmorn folks used to do at the distillery worked very well.  I don't know if the change happened when they switched to steam firing in 1994 or further back when Seagrams took over and management changed in 1978.  Clearly, I need to drink more Longmorn in order to explore this further.

So here's how this one worked out.  Cobo drank the first half of the mini and then he sent me the second half.  There was about six months of oxidation sitting between the two tastings.  That time allowed for quite a bit of change as there were some differences in our experiences.  More about that after my notes...

Distillery: Longmorn
Ownership now: Pernod Ricard
Ownership then: The Glenlivet Distillers
Independent Bottler: Cadenhead
Age: 13 years (1974 - 1988)
Maturation: "Sherry Wood"
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

The color is light gold.  The nose first gives off a slight dusty metallic whiff.  It's not as strong of an Old Bottle Effect as other dusties I've had, but again this one had some air before my tasting.  After the OBE vanishes quickly there's a rush of tropical fruit (think mangos and pineapple) and strawberry Bubble Yum.  Underneath that is an earthy note, a little manure and hot hay.  Smaller notes of jasmine flowers and toffee linger, as does something pine-ish from the wood.  Whole lotta malt in the palate, though the sweetness stays reined in.  Plenty of oranges (peel and oil).  Peeps of Campari-like bitterness, Tobermory-esque porridge, and farm-y......farminess.  It's very lightly sherried and there are hints of the nose's tropical fruit.  Both of those elements linger through the finish, intertwined with the malt note and citrus oil, the whole package growing more candied with time.  There might be some cough syrup and mocha hiding in there too.

While this didn't buckle my knees like the ol' Scott Selection Longmorns (a pair of which were recently reviewed by My Annoying Opinions), I still really liked this Cadenhead bottling.  The fruit, earth, malt, and bitters just clicked for me.  And that might have had something to do with the six months of oxidation.  Cobo sampled this mini when it was first opened and found it to be tight, hot, woody, and sour.  I found those same difficult characteristics in the old North Port-Brechin Cadenhead mini I'd tried last year.  Do these little green bottles need some serious oxygen to open up?

If you do have the luck of finding bottles of '60s to early '70s Longmorn nowadays, they will cost money.  Those single malts age very well, thus the 30+ year olds are gorgeous and graceful and bold and lively and adjectives.  This 13 year old ain't quite there, but it's still very very good with some air.

(For more opinions on this whisky see the whiskybase listing and Johannes's review at the bottom of his Longmorn page.)

Availability - Auctions?
Pricing - Unknown
Rating - 89

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: Booker's Straight Bourbon, batch 2013-6

Here's the other unexpected review I got to do during Thanksgiving weekend.  I've had Booker's a couple of times and found it to be good (though very hot).  My brother-in-law likes the stuff and often has a bottle on hand.  So, here's batch 2013-6, sampled from mid-bottle.

Owner: Beam Suntory
Brand: Booker's
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Distillery: Jim Beam Distillery
Location: Clermont, Kentucky
Mash Bill: Standard 15% rye (probably)
Age: 7 years, 6 months
Batch: 2013-6
Alcohol by volume: 62.95% ABV
Bottle code: L3255
Thank you, Andrew!

It has the color of maple syrup.  The nose starts off with nothing but tree things (forest, sap, charred pulp).  Gradually a corn syrup note evolves, as do rock candy and hard caramel candies.  Then toasted sesame oil and dry soil.  It almost burned my nose at first sniff but then softened up with air.  The palate shows candied smoky oak, caramel-covered tree bark, sea salt caramel sauce, and cotton candy.  Lots of candy corn too.  Smaller notes of used french fry oil and black cherry syrup arrive later.  It's not complex, though the delivery is intensely hot.  The hot finish has a big note of smoky char.  Then some burnt corn and bananas meet a green woody bitterness.

I'd never added water to Booker's before but I gave it a try here...

WITH WATER (around 46-50% abv)
More nuts and caramel appear in the nose, as do lemon peels, horseradish, and celery seed.  Maybe some sherry-ish prunes.  The palate gets sweeter, with richer caramel and toffee.  Some vanilla and cherry lollipops as well.  The green woody bitterness starts to appear here.  The finish is sweet too, with lots of sugar, corn syrup, and cherry lollipops.

One thing I've noticed about Booker's is that its ethyl burn is more intense than bourbons with higher ABVs (specifically the BTACs and Elijah Craig BP).  Perhaps that's due to its younger age or it has something to do with warehouse climate.  Beam shows its pride in the high ABV by using multiple decimal places in its listing, but more alcohol doesn't necessarily mean more flavor.  For instance, I find their Baker's product to be more vibrant than Booker's even though it is bottled at a lower abv (53.5%) and at about the same age (7 years).

Adding water improved things with this batch.  When neat, the nose is hot oak juice.  With water, it starts developing a wider variety of characteristics.  When neat, the palate is hot and simple, though better than the nose.  With water, it becomes richer.  The finish ain't great when neat; water softens and sweetens it up.  That's why I'm going to recommend adding water to this batch.  I still want to recommend Baker's over Booker's overall, but I won't do so until I try them side by side.

Availability - Most US liquor retailers
Pricing - $45-$65
Rating - 79 for this batch (with water only, 5+ points lower when neat)

Monday, December 1, 2014

Single Malt Report: Bushmills 12 year old Distillery Reserve

I just did a pair of unplanned reviews this past holiday weekend.  My brother-in-law, Andrew, had a few interesting items on his bar shelf.  I'll post one today, one on Wednesday, and (perhaps) on Friday there will be a review of a surprise sample someone else sent me.

First up: Bushmills 12 year old Distillery Reserve.

Sold only at the Old Bushmills distillery itself in Northern Ireland, the Distillery Reserve is "mostly" matured in ex-oloroso casks.  Andrew's buddy, AJ, brought him back this bottle which was at its midpoint when I got into it.  It had been a while since I'd had any Bushmills, which was mostly due to my Diageo issues.  I used to find Bushmills White Label (aka White Bush) to be anywhere from bland to crap.  Black Bush and the 10 year old single malt were better than the White, but not enough for me to spring for a bottle.  But again keep in mind, it had been six or seven years since I'd had anything except for the White.  The good news is that the 12 year old is much better than White Label.

Brand: Bushmills
Owner: Diageo (soon to be Jose Cuervo)
Distillery: Old Bushmills Distillery
Location: County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Type: Single Malt
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: "mostly" ex-oloroso casks, thus probably some ex-bourbons in there too
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Bottle code: L2166
Thank you, Andrew!

The color is DiageoGold™.  The nose is full of fruity fortified wine notes like plum and orange.  Those are met evenly with a rush of roasted walnuts and almonds.  Smaller notes of Twix wafers and mint chip ice cream pop up.  Towards the end of the experience, a big note of dulce di leche emerges.  The palate is more reserved.  Milk chocolate, orange cream, and spearmint leaves arrive first.  Hints of lime and vanilla bean later on.  Something about it was reminiscent of Glenfiddichs 15 and 18 (though more spirity) but I couldn't put my finger on it.  The finish gets much sweeter with notes of caramel, cherry syrup, and orange oil.

Andrew's wife, Leslie, thinks this whiskey's nose the best part.  I agree with her.  The nose is great, very rich and full for a low abv whiskey.  That low abv is probably what keeps the palate from rising above 'good'.  Its texture is watery and the flavors never really lift off.  That being said, it's very drinkable.  It finishes lightly as well, dissolving and vanishing a bit quicker than I'd like.

Overall, this was a surprise.  The nose was good enough to carry this into B-grade territory.  I'll say (as I often do) that this could be a killer at 46%abv.  And since it's only sold to distillery visitors, it's not like they're exporting millions of cases.  So why not have a lighter hand with the water there, Big D?  You'd rather lessen the quality of a product so that you can squeeze out a couple hundred more bottles a year?  Of course you would.

Anyway, this is decent whiskey.  I don't know what they're charging for it, but hopefully it isn't much higher than what one would normally pay for "decent whiskey".  If you (the reader) are visiting Bushmills, see if they'll allow you to try a drip of the 12 during the "Tasting Experience" because I always encourage folks to try before they buy.

Availability - Distillery only
Pricing - around 36GBP (thanks to Ol' Jas for the info!)
Rating - 84