...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.


  1. Plan 9 is sort of watchable in its own way. I'd use either Manos or, for younger audiences, The Room as a comparison (though The Room is a bit more watchable since it lacks all that boring padding in Manos and Tommy Wiseau is just captivating for all the wrong reasons).

    And what a waste of Mannochmore. I think the whisky might have been drinkable if it weren't for all that caramel. Whisky enthusiasts to this day continue to speculate over why Diageo did this. Did someone at the company ask how much more black could they make this? And someone else responded with, "None." "None more black."

    1. And I just realized I made this Spinal Tap reference before.

      For a great example of the correct way to make black-colored whisky, there's Black Bowmore or Springbank 12/100. Though there's a good reason why both are even more expensive on the secondary market.

    2. The Plan 9 reference is mostly for its popular infamy and must-see, must-collect status. The Room might work as that has sort of become Plan 9's successor on the internet.

      Loch Dhu is a sad and total waste of Mannochmore, which can actually be decent. On the other hand, Cu Dhub is not that much worse than regular Speyside.

  2. Sounds delicious. I thought I read somewhere that the casks had been treated with some kind of thick sherry flavoring agent, and that a heavy hand with that stuff caused the dark color in this case rather than e150a.

    1. It's possible to get that dark color with old ex-sherry whisky but I highly doubt that is the case with Loch Dhu.

    2. Paxarette was the name.

    3. Sorry for lagging on my response...

      While I'm not saying it's impossible, here's what's working against the Paxarette theory. The SWA banned the usage of Paxarette in the early '80s. Loch Dhu was bottled in the late '90s and Cu Dhub after that. Since SWA ruled Paxarette as an additive, LD and CD could still have been released but not labeled "Scotch Whisky", which they were.

      When you hear old timers rant about how good sherry casks used to be, that quality was partially due to good wood, partially due to nothing-is-good-as-it-used-to-be, and partially due to Pax. It was a rich reduced sherry syrup that distilleries used to freshen up crap casks. Having had the opportunity to try some sherried stuff from the '60s and '70s, I will say that if Pax was indeed the reason for their quality it's damn shame it's gone. It's even worse that it was banned while laboratory-designed e150a is allowed.

      I'm not sure what would happen if someone used too much Pax. Old Glen Grants are coffee black, like the Dhu, but they're also plenty woody, and occasionally awesome. LD and CD, though, were heavy on the chemicals in the palate. But nose-wise you could probably blind sniff LD and not know what the heck it is.

    4. Hi Michael, I just came across this post. Great article! Quick question - you wrote that the SWA banned the usage of Paxarette in the early '80s. Do you have a reference for this? I've been doing research into Paxareete and a source for this ban would be very helpful. Thank you!

    5. Hi polk! Thanks for your comment. I got that info from an old issue of Whisky Advocate, but I tossed all those old issues, so I'm looking for another reference. I'll comment back when I find one...

    6. Ruben at whiskynotes did a great writeup about sherry casks and whisky this year. (https://www.whiskynotes.be/sherry-casks-in-the-whisky-industry.pdf)
      On page 5, he says "the process was banned by the Scotch Whisky Association in the late 1980s, claiming it was an illegal additive". He's a sherry geek on top of being a whisky geek; he was in Jerez when he wrote the document. But he doesn't cite his source.

      Another, possibly clearer reference, is from Teemu of whiskyscience. (http://whiskyscience.blogspot.com/2013/03/pajarete-and-wine-treatment.html) He cites the Scotch Whisky Order from 1990, courtesy of the SWA, which banned all additives other than water and e150a. It's likely that the SWA didn't mention individual additives, such as pax, but they would all be outlawed after that.

    7. FWIW, the current legislation, The Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009, state that "Whisky or whiskey shall not be sweetened or flavoured, nor contain any additives other than plain caramel used for colouring." So paxarette is not mentioned by name but excluded implicitly.

      The Scotch Whisky Order of 1990 includes the same provision for whisky definition:
      "to which no substance other than water and spirit caramel has been

      The Scotch Whisky Act of 1988 does not include such a provision. Moreover, it does not require the casks to be "oak casks", as the laws of 1990 and 2009 do.*

      *Source: Google.com

    8. Thank you so much! Very helpful!

      It's really curious that oak wasn't mandated until 1990. I always assumed that this was mandatory since time immemorial.

    9. This week is the first time that I became aware of the oak issue as well. I don't remember having seen this discussed.

      The SWA 1988 allows that "The Ministers may by order amend the definition of whisky", so it's possible that ministerial orders demanded oak, but I'm just speculating here.

      I'm also not aware of old Scotch aged in other kinds of wood. Scots are practical people, so if bourbon and sherry were aged in oak barrels, that's what they used for Scotch. In Italy and Eastern Europe they do use other types of wood for aging brandy, including ash, chestnut, and mulberry.

  3. On a related note, I've noticed a few references to a nearly clear counterpart to Loch Dhu. Apparently proto-Diageo released a batch of triple-distilled Glenkinchie that was either heavily filtered or barely aged since the whisky was extremely pale yellow. Either way the whisky fell afoul of some regulations so it quickly disappeared.