...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Meditations on Stay-At-Home Fatherhood and also Girvan 48 year old 1964 Nectar of the Daily Drams (Single Grain)

You will pick your baby's nose.  Write that down and accept it.  There are the nasal sprays and Boogie Wipes.  There are respirator bulbs and the nightmarish Snot Suckers.  But sometimes the wee snoot is just sitting right there on the edge of her nostril and nothing else can remove it like your thumb and forefinger.  And it's not that bad, really.  Unless you get the Iceberg Booger.  You think it's just a little nub and then you pluck it and it turns out to be a half-foot-long succubus, as if her right nostril is goddamned clown car, and you shove the snot in a tissue and you almost throw up on her bedroom carpet.  Other than that, you'll be fine.

During the first three months of Mathilda's life, I probably tripled my drinking.  At least I wasn't sleeping either.  Or eating consistently.  My memories of the first three months have either blown themselves up or are desperately trying to.  I'm glad that nature assumes parents will responsibly maintain a helpless pupa while they can barely keep themselves alive.  There's nothing like seeing the clock read 2:30pm and realize that you haven't eaten or hydrated during the 10 hours you've been awake and then walking to Domino's for bacon & jalapeño cheesy bread and then washing that "food" down with a highball of whatever.

At some point Mathilda started sleeping really well.  And that was the point that I realized I needed to return to the one-drink-a-day life (while staying in four-desserts-a-day mode for the next seventeen years).  When I got to that awareness level my preferences changed drastically.  At the end of a full day of battling (er, safely raising) my ever-calm child, when I finally sit down to have a drink, I no longer have any interest in so-so whisk(e)y.  Not even kinda-good whisk(e)y.  Children teach parents new unknown levels of exhaustion and in the quiet after the onslaught this parent only wants to drink something excellent.  Something so good that I exclaim, "Man, that is f---ing great!" loud enough to wake my child that just took over an hour to put to bed.  And I've had a lot of *shrug* whisk(e)y recently.  I've dumped more whisk(e)y down the drain than ever before.  Whisky, astonish me.

Okay, maybe those expectations are unreasonable with this whisky as it is a single grain.  Even if it is a forty-eight year old single grain.  I was trying to count up how many single grain whiskies I've had, but they've been so forgettable that I don't really know.  There was a single cask Greenore, from Ireland, that was kinda fun.  A couple of North Britishes that were palatable.  Compass Box's Hedonism (a vatting, admittedly) smells very nice.  But I think I've had 15-20 others that weren't far removed from a watery mix of Malibu Rum and blended American whiskey.  I'll settle for:  Single Grain Whisky, be somewhat memorable for positive reasons.

Distillery: Girvan
Ownership: William Grant & Sons, Ltd.
Bottler: Daily Dram
Series: The Nectar
Age: 48 years (1964-2012)
Maturation: probably an American oak cask
Region: Lowlands
Type: Single Grain
Alcohol by Volume: 49.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

Don't worry nervous people, no whisky was harmed in the filming of this event.
The whisky has a brass color, a little lighter than I expected from something that spent almost a half century in a barrel.  The nose starts off with roasted corn, furniture polish, tree bark, and clover honey.  Then it takes on notes that flit between blooming violets and lilac-scented hand cream.  Soon some grape candy joins the party, followed by pine needles.  It grows more candied with time, and picks up some mustiness along the way.  After a good 45 minutes in the glass, there's also some hazelnut liqueur, toffee, pencil shavings, curry powder, roasted grains, and lots of sugar.  It's happily light on the vanilla and devoid of coconut.  The palate has quite a kick for such an oldie.  A real sweetie with lots of wood spice (thinkin' cinnamon syrup and green peppercorns), whipped cream, and caramel sauce.  And then there's all the tannins and wood pulp.  After 45 minutes not a hint of coconut (yay!).  Again, light on the vanilla with some roasted almonds thrown in.  It's mostly oak though very tolerable.  The finish is sugary and toasty.  Those almonds now float in toffee.  Crème fraîche and agave nectar.  Some woody bitterness appears but somehow remains palatable.

Color me almost astonished:  A single grain that I (gasp!) like.  Yes, it did take 48 years to blossom and did cost at least €300 -- though, €300 is not an unreasonable price for a 48-year-old whisky in this market.  It's also enormously oaky, which should not be a surprise at its age, so that's a warning for those who'd rather avoid this sort of thing.  But the oak has allowed some grainy stuff to live on and merge with the tannins and spice.

What it's missing is the artificial-coconut-flavoring note (hence the Malibu rum comment above) that I've found in almost every single grain I've tried.  That note is a dealbreaker for my palate.  The moment I find it, I just don't want to drink anymore.  This Girvan had not even a hint of it.  Could that be attributed to a good cask?

Overall, the nose is the best part, just loaded with decades of oddities courtesy of chemistry.  The palate cannot be accused of complexity, but is very pleasant for those with high oak tolerance.  Meanwhile, the finish is a little on the short side and quite sweet, but never really disappointing.  While I don't think this can compete with great single malts, it would be a good alternative to middling blends and bourbons.  And that's the nicest thing I've ever said about a single grain.

Availability - Possibly a few European specialty retailers
Pricing - €300-€350 w/VAT
Rating - 86

Monday, March 23, 2015

Meditations on Stay-At-Home Fatherhood and also Tomintoul 42 year old 1969 Archives

Back in the '80s and early '90s, my father went on business trips to other states.  Starting around the time I was six years old, he used to sit me down in his home office the night before the trip and tell me that if anything happened to him he wanted me to know that he loved me very much.  These talks would result in me crying uncontrollably, knowing that my dad (who always expresses his love freely on normal days) would die someday and it would definitely be on one of these trips which consisted entirely of him talking to retirees about their annuities and mutual funds.  This talk would come twice a year, every year, and would result in my sobbing every time.  That is, until I was a teenager and began to wonder what the f*** is wrong my father?

Now I am a father and, though science has yet to figure out what hell is going on with the Kravitz Y chromosome, I can begin to understand what he was trying to do.  As a dad, I want my daughter to feel safe, secure, comfortable, and loved at all times.  So I do everything I can to create that environment.  But she's 10 months old and doesn't understand the words I speak.  She recognizes tone and familiar sounds, but the rest of the linguistics are lost.  (To be fair, I don't understand what she says either.)  So, while I'm providing food, formula, and hugs, whatever I am saying to her I am saying for myself.  Eventually she will understand my words, but even then a lot of what I say will also be addressing a subconscious need to feel like a successful loving parent.  I think that a lot of what we do as parents for pre-language children we do also for ourselves.  "I may have made her bottle too hot, waited too long to change her diaper, gotten too frustrated when she wouldn't nap on schedule, dropped too many F-bombs in front of her while we were stuck in traffic, but as long as I sing her the ABCs, direct one-acts between the panda bear and the pink mutant butterfly, hold her when she's upset, and tell her that I love her every day then at least I'm a better father than Adrian Peterson."

My dad, who is very much alive, may have thought he was giving the grim I-love-you speech for my sake but he was likely doing it for himself as well, probably soothing a guilt for being away from his children and one-upping his own father's failings.  Meanwhile, in the process he greatly influenced my constant awareness of my own mortality.  Another instance of doing things with the best loving intent, but not achieving the ends sought.  Is that just fatherhood?  Or is that something we can moderate?  I can't wait to hear from a teenage Mathilda about how my best efforts (let alone my worst ones) warped her brain.  I should probably stop making tugboat horn nosies every time she farts.

On the flip side, I would redirect Jupiter's orbit if it drew out her laughter.  Is that for me?  Is it for her?  Does such a diaphanous instant require assigned ownership once it is released into the universe?  I really don't care.

Regarding language, I'm pretty sure she does comprehend "No" and "Stop".  Those words clearly mean, "Cry at top of your lungs and swing your limbs violently."  But at least she pauses in her latest act of self-destruction when the protest starts.

I think she's going to be teething for the rest of her life.  God help us.

I'm going to pour myself a drink.

Distillery: Tomintoul
Ownership: Angus Dundee
Bottler: Archives (Whiskybase)
Age: 42 years (June 1969 - March 2012)
Maturation: ex-bourbon cask
Cask #s: 4266
Bottles: 60
Region: Speyside
Alcohol by Volume: 42.4%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

Its color is dark gold.  The nose opens with a big beautiful high-rye bourbon note, followed by milk chocolate and mocha.  Then papaya, tobacco snuff, Dr. Brown's black cherry soda, and the corners of an empty old bookcase.  My left nostril finds loquats.  The right one picks up caramel-layered fudge and furniture polish.  With time, the whisky's nose gets very creamy and sugary, developing a slight split timber note.  Though the palate is very gentle it has a refined toffee→orange peel→pipe tobacco→mint→peach nectar progression.  There are moments of rosewater syrup and black pepper.  A bit of almost rancio-like mustiness.  A mild bitter note pulses throughout.  Gradually it all moves towards basil candy and (lots of) dark chocolate.  Plenty of chocolate malt in the finish, along with clementines and toffee.  A hint of wood cinders.  Maybe some cherry cordials and tart lemons.  It's all subtle, but long lasting.

Wow.  I'll list the caveats up front, I guess.  Firstly, I've found that most ultra-aged whiskies can hang out in the glass for a couple of hours without falling apart.  This one needs to be finished before the first hour is up because it fades immediately after that.  Result of the low abv?  Secondly, if you don't like bourbon then this probably wouldn't be your kind of whisky.  The old old oak is unsurprisingly unshy and for a moment the nose is just a kickass spicy bourbon.  It returns to Scotland immediately after that, but still the cask remained vibrant after more than four decades.

But that's it for the qualifiers.  I loved this stuff.  The nose is the star, but the palate progresses in a lovely fashion.  Even though I have limited experience with 40+ year old single malts, I do know that not all of them perform like this one.  So, chasing after ancient stuff and paying premiums won't necessarily land you a winner.  But the Whiskybase fellas did select another gem here.  And to think this was priced at a level now topped by many whiskies half its age in the current market... I sampled this three years too late.

(For other opinions see: Serge, Mark Dermul, Ruben, Macdeffe (and Todd in the comments), and whiskybase.)

Availability - All gone
Pricing - was €160 w/VAT (€132 without)
Rating - 92

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

NOT Single Malt Report: Yellow Spot 12 year old Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey

I hope your St. Patrick's Day was glorious and that you did not drink a drop of Trader Joe's 8yo Irish Single Malt.  While stores are rushing to put up their Easter decor, I'm reviewing an Irish whiskey that I hope will be a better option than at least two of the three that I reviewed on Monday, a whiskey that has recently started appearing on specialty liquor store shelves in the US.

Irish Single Pot Still is one of the world's great whiskies, right up there with Japanese Single Malt, Scotch Single Malt, and American Straight Rye (IMHO).  At the moment the Midleton Distillery has the pot still market cornered, so their products are the only ones I can reference at this point in time.  Redbreast is my favorite, with the 12 year old being one of the best 40%abv whiskies on the planet (I even like it more than their cask strengths and 15yo).  Power's John's Lane is a darker heavier thing and I like it a lot as well.  Meanwhile, Green Spot is good but, despite all of the hype that says otherwise, it's not much more than just good.

Green Spot (once an 8yo, but now NAS) has an older sibling named Yellow Spot.  While Green is aged in refill bourbon and sherry casks, Yellow is a vatting of whiskies from ex-bourbons, ex-sherries, and ex-Malaga wine casks.  Unlike with Green, Yellow's official site doesn't specify if these are refills or first fill casks.  But Yellow Spot does display its age statement, and does so proudly in the center of its front label.  I'm way behind the times in reviewing it, which makes me some sort of a reverse hipster I guess.

Another brilliantly bottled sample from Eric S.
Thanks, Eric!

Brand: Spot
Spot Color: Yellow
StyleSingle Pot Still
Country: Ireland
Distillery: Midleton
Age: at least 12 years
Maturation: a vatting of ex-bourbon barrels, sherry butts, and Malaga wine casks
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? ???

The color is a peachy gold.  The nose leads with orange peel, vanilla, and apricot.  Smaller notes of both golden raisins and green grapes follow.  Plenty of butterscotch in there, along with a lemon tart (as opposed to a tart lemon) or maybe lemon bars.  When the vanilla and butterscotch notes click together, it's reminiscent of a bourbon cask Speyside single malt.  But as the whisky airs out it starts to sniff like a low-rye bourbon.  Citrus and loads of salt start the palate.  Then comes the sweets -- chocolate eclairs, creampuffs, caramel sauce, and vanilla ice cream.  A little bit of bitterness along with the acidic citrus keep the sugars from going overboard.  Mango sneaks into the finish behind a louder salty note.  It's creamy and acidic (all over the tongue).  A hint of fuji apples shows up just before a sherry aftertaste settles in.

I added a few drops of water to drop it to 43%abv.  The nose gets even more bourbony, shedding all of the other characteristics.  The palate gets bitterer, also losing most of the sweets.  And the finish gets very mellow, with vague honey and caramel.

So, bottling it at 46% was a very good idea (attention: Bushmills).  All of the notes I list for the nose were very light or faint.  At 43% things were starting to fall apart.  At 40% it would have been a waste of decent pot still.

Anyway, back to the experience.  The nose was full of fruits, yet not grossly winey.  The bourbon casks definitely hold court, possibly due to a number of first fills.  The sherry didn't show up for me until the finish.  So for my preferences, it was a solid vatting.  And it seems like a single pot still for single malt fans.  (For other opinions see Tim's and Sku's reviews at LAWS and Serge's at Whiskyfun.)

I don't quite get the pricing.  It's a 12 year old whiskey, it's not cask strength, and it's not scarce.  But in the US it's priced at $90-$110.  That's more than twice the price of Redbreast 12 in most areas.  So, I'm not sure what we're being asked to pay more for.  A nicer label?  The used Spanish wine casks?  Mr. Spot's entourage?  In Europe the whiskey runs $60-$80 (before shipping), so that would be where I'd look if I were to buy it.  While Yellow is a full step better than Green Spot, I'd happily recommend Redbreast and Power's John's Lane first.

Availability - Specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - $90-$110 in US; $60-$80 in Europe (before shipping)
Rating - 85 (neat only; and please consider my usual Irish bias)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Single Malt Report: Three Bushmillses

According to all of the neon shamrock stickers on store windows and cases of Guinness in storefronts, I'm going to guess that it's St. Patrick's Day tomorrow.  So, to celebrate the consolidation, conglomeration, and monopolization of the Irish Whiskey industry by Saint Pádraig Ricard in 1966, I am reviewing three Bushmills (part of Irish Distillers from 1972-2005) single malts.  I'm also doing this review to celebrate Bushmills's liberation from Diageo PLC.  If you hadn't heard, a few months ago The Big D swapped Bushmills to Casa Cuervo for Don Julio tequila, $408million, and an inanimate carbon rod to be named later.

Here's my lineup: Firstly, there's Trader Joe's 8 year old Single Malt Irish Whiskey -- key phrase on the back label: "triple-distilled".  (Cooley's single malt is double-distilled, while Bushmills is triple-distilled.)  This whiskey comes to us via the generosity of Florin (a prince) who so loved this whiskey that he could not wait to give me his nearly full bottle.  Secondly, there's Bushmills 10 year old, official bottling, also courtesy of Florin (a prince) who so loved this whiskey that he encouraged me to partake in as much of it as I could carry home.  And thirdly, there's Bushmills 16 year old "Three Woods" from a sample I purchased via Master of Malt exactly two years ago.

Reviewing from left to right...

supposedly matured "in single-use, bourbon oak casks", 40% abv

Its color is light gold.  The nose starts off with pear, dried grass clippings, and paint.  A lot of paint.  Within five minutes the big paint note turns into an even larger cardboard note.  Then comes small notes of lemon peel and unripe banana.  Maybe some tropical fruit.  Orange Pixy Stix.  The palate is startling at first: loads and loads of acidic cardboard.  Eventually there's some whipped cream and flower blossoms.  Kinda garbagey.  Something between burnt meat and a fart.  It finishes acidic too, and sour.  A little bit of menthol, a pear, and fresh grass.

What did they age this in, an empty shoebox?

Availability - Exclusively at Trader Joe's
Pricing - $24.99
Rating - 65

matured "mostly in bourbon seasoned barrels", 40% abv

Its color is light gold, basically identical to the above 8yo, which gives me some hope that the e150a level was at a minimum.  As the nose begins, it's all gummy bears.  Next up, peach and Belgian witbier.  Then a bit of margarine, a hint of turpentine, and toasted wheat bread.  With a lot of air, it develops notes of hay and roses.  There's a lot of ethyl at the palate's start, like a young Irish blend (Bushmills White Label, perhaps?).  Then vanilla and tart lemons.  It gets sugarier and fruitier with time.  Think Hershey's chocolate, peaches, and oranges.  A decent lightly bitter note arises as well.  Sour vinegar in the finish, then cardboard.  An herbal bitterness helps it out, as does some sugar and peach.

I once knew a guy who loved this whiskey.  He's a Russian-American military veteran, a sniper.  I hope he doesn't read this review.

Availability - Most specialty retailers
Pricing - $30-$60 (holy crap)
Rating - 74

16 year old ex-bourbon & ex-sherry whiskies finished for 6-9 months in sweet port casks, 40% abv

The color is rosy gold.  Gummy bears again in the nose, and peaches (but better, riper ones here).  Then Manischewitz Concord wine, blueberry candy, fresh apricots, red grapes, and milk chocolate.  Sometimes it's a little rummy too.  With more time in the glass, it develops additional notes of prunes, orange peel, fresh ginger, and a little bit o' gasoline.  Wow, port then sherry then port in the palate.  Lots of chocolate and vanilla.  Golden raisins, lemons, and fresh grass.  With time, the chocolate and port notes take over completely.  The brief-ish finish is still almost all port and chocolate.  There's also some salt and pepper, prunes, cream, and a hint of tobacco.

A winesky, but a very entertaining one [Ed.: Is Serge writing these comments?].  The nose is zany and the palate is vibrant.  At 46%abv -- here it comes -- this would be a force of nature.  As it is, I might consider getting this at the lower end of its price range.

Availability - Most specialty retailers
Pricing - $55-$85 in the US; $45-$75 in Europe
Rating - 83

Longtime readers of this blog (all three of you) know that I'm a big big BIG fan of Irish whiskey, and usually give the Irishes extra high scores.  But the TJ's 8yo single malt is poor.  I'm sitting here with my fourth glass (in one week, not one night) right now and I can't even bring myself to sip it anymore.  The Whiskey Jug has a very different opinion of it, but if you look at our notes we seem to be drinking entirely different whiskies.  For what it's worth, the bottling code on mine is L14 001 288 15:37.  I recommend avoiding that one entirely.

Bushmills 10 works as a whiskey-to-ignore sort of drink.  There are plenty of bourbons in the $10-$20 range which satisfy that category.  There's no need to shill out three times that amount of cash to achieve the same purpose.  And Bushmills 16 is a hoot.  If you like lots of port in your whiskey, this one might do it for you.  Probably great for dessert.

To me, ultimately the official Bushmills range really suffers from the low abv.  The textures are thin and everything seems watery.  May Cuervo consider bottling the regular Bushmills line at a higher strength someday.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Jim Beam 8 year old Bonded Bourbon, 1795 Cannon Decanter (1961-1970)

Yesterday I reviewed a 100 Month old Jim Beam bottled in a AC Delco Sparkplug decanter in 1977 (and also included a two-paragraph intro on these ceramic whiskey decanters).  It started out being a decent bourbon with a good nose, but almost immediately oxidized in the glass, eventually becoming a watery version of the current Jim Beam White Label.  As I mentioned at the end of that post, most or all of the 40-43%abv dusty bourbons I've owned have oxidized very quickly, whether in the bottle or in the glass.

While I was on the East Coast in early December 2014, I met up with The Coopered Tot for an evening.  And as is his habit, he generously treated me to a flock of excellent OLDE whiskies.  He sent me home with a number of samples as well (thank you, Coop!).  One of these samples came from this:
I know that yesterday's post had said that this was also a 100 Month bourbon, but it appears as if I was wrong.  It lists itself as being 8 years old, as opposed to 8 years and 4 months.  Oh, the failure!  (But I was right when I wrote that it was 100 proof.)  The tax stamp noted that this was held in a bonded warehouse (back when Beam still did this sort of thing) from Spring 1961 to Fall 1970.

"But wait!" says you, observant reader, "That means this whisky is actually more than nine years old [your italics]. It could even be as much as nine years nine months old."  Yes, you are right.  The whiskey in the bottle has to be at least as old as the label says, but may very well be older.

How about a review?
Owner: Beam, Inc. at time of bottling, but now owned by Suntory
Brand: Old Taylor
Distillery: Jim Beam Distillery
Distiller: Booker Noe (I think)
Location: Clermont, Kentucky
Mash Bill: ???
ABV: 50% ABV
Label's age statement: 8 years
Actual age: Over 9 years (Spring 1961 - Fall 1970)

It has a dark cherrywood color, very similar to the Sparkplug decanter bourbon.  The nose leads with a brick of brown sugar and caramel sauce.  Digging deeper...  orange peel, peach candy, Nestle Crunch, and pipe tobacco.  It does have some quirkier notes of furniture polish and cat fur just to keep things interesting.  It gets fudgier with time.  Then maybe some white fruits come along.  Also something reminiscent of young Armagnac.  The palate starts with black cherry ice cream, cadbury creme eggs, lychee candy, and earthy molasses.  It's a real sweetie with a spicy nip.  It picks up more rye character with time; think pepper, cloves, and bitters.  Then honey, mint, and maybe a mothball.  It finishes sweetly too.  Corn syrup, caramel, and honey.  After some time, a green herbalness develops, and some tart citrus hits the back of the throat.

Unlike yesterday's Beam, this one started strong and never let go.  And I wonder if the extra alcohol helped preserve it better both in the decanter and in the glass.  To me this sits above everything else that Beam offers right now.  It easily tops the Knob Creeks and Bookerses I've had, and would make a good sparring partner with Baker's (which I've always liked).  It's not the world's greatest bourbon, but it's solid through and through.  If Beam could reproduce this, I would buy it.

Also, my system has shown no signs of lead poisoning.  Yet.

Availability - Collectors or antique sellers whom haven't dumped the booze
Pricing - ???
Rating - 87

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Jim Beam "100 Month" Bourbon, AC Delco Sparkplug Decanter (1977)

Because I've tended to tramp in Scotch whisky circles more than American whiskey circles, I only found out about Jim Beam's ceramic decanters a couple years ago.  I'd been in dozens of antique stores, walking by them and not realizing what they were.  You may have done the same.

For those who are also new to this...... For four or five decades, Jim Beam bottled some of their bourbon in collectible decanters.  During glut periods it was a way to move more bourbon.  It was also a way for their product to be more convincing as a gift (if a regular old bottle of booze wasn't a good gift enough).  Plus it brought them to the collector market, thus folks who wouldn't often buy bourbon now did so for investing/trading/amassing/hoarding reasons.  The variety of decanters (which stopped production in 1992) is astounding.  Check out this list just from one collector club.  There are currently many such clubs around the world, all of whom are very serious about their decanters' values and conditions.  Collectors tend to encourage folks to not keep the whiskey inside the decanter in order to prevent damage to the container itself.

But what does all of this mean for whiskey fans?  First off, while antiquing I have yet to find a decanter with the bourbon inside.  But Bourbonguy did, and I encourage you to read his post about his Tiffiny poodle decanter.  But is it safe to actually drink the bourbon inside these glazed vessels?  I don't know.  I'm not a scientician so I will not dispense with advice (though the Straight Bourbon forum had a good discussion about these decanters).  But I am willing to consume a little poison from time to time, with this being this blog's 406th(?) whisky review and all.

Tomorrow I'll be reviewing the bourbon from a Cannon decanter (bottled in 1970).  Today, I'll be reviewing one from an AC Delco Sparkplug decanter.  They're both "100 month" bourbons (actually the other one is labelled as 8 years old, yet was really over nine years old, and now I'm just making things confusing), with one slugging an 80 proof, the other 100 proof.

Mr. Smokeypeat's neighbor found the Sparkplug decanter while going through his late father's storage unit.  They opened that decanter up to give the bourbon a try.  And they were super cool to send me a surprise sample of that very bourbon.  Here's Smokeypeat's awesome photo of the decanter:
Whiskey in the laundry room. That's what I'm talkin' about.
(If you insist on a boring photo of the decanter, there are plenty to be found via a Google Image search.)

Smokeypeat posted his review of the bourbon a couple weeks ago.  I held off reading it until I did my own tasting.  I'll reference his review at the end of this post.

Owner: Beam, Inc. at time of bottling, but now owned by Suntory
Brand: Old Taylor
Distillery: Jim Beam Distillery
Distiller: Booker Noe (I think)
Location: Clermont, Kentucky
Mash Bill: ???
ABV: 40% ABV
Age and Bottle year: All of these sparkplugs online show a bottle date of 1977, which can be found on the bottom of the decanter.  One Etsy seller listed the info from the bottle bottom here (scroll down that page for the info).  100 months (or 8 years 4 months) would be age of the youngest bourbon in the bottle, thus it has a distillation year of 1969 or earlier.

At first sips...
...the color is a dark cherrywood.  The nose begins with a big floral note, followed by hazelnuts and marzipan.  Behind that is a chunk of fresh cut timber.  A load of vanilla beans.  Milk Duds and toffee pudding.  The palate is bit thin.  And surprisingly Beam-ish.  Surprisingly as in: I expected time, mashbill changes, and decanter glaze to perk it up.  Some nuts and black cherry syrup.  Hints of black pepper and corn syrup.  Not a whole lot going on in the finish.  It's slightly earthy and bitter.  Some eucalyptus.

Then after 10 minutes of air...
...the nose suddenly gets very very woody.  Green wood and dried bark.  Pencil graphite.  The vanilla remains, some gumballs have joined.  The palate gets bitterer, in an odd wood-ish way.  Very tannic and drying.  Lipton tea.  The finish has that bland tea note too.  Slightly sweet.

After 10 additional minutes...
...the nose has become somewhat paint-like.  The somehow-thinner palate has gone papery.  The finish barely shows.

I saved a final half ounce for the following day.  Had I done that sip blindly I would have thought it was a watered down Jim Beam White Label.

So, at first the nose was very nice, the palate was decent, the finish was fair.  But then air crumbled it, getting worse with time.  Basically the Beam went from a perfectly serviceable whiskey to oaked paint in 20-30 minutes.  I do not think this has anything to do with leeching the material inside the decanter.  Instead, this Beam did what every low abv (40-43) dusty bourbon I've owned has done, and that this is fall apart after extensive oxidation (whether in the bottle or glass).  In this case it happened much faster than it normally does.

Smokeypeat finds a lot of the same issues that I did with this bourbon, minus the nice first few minutes the nose had provided me.  He suggests in his conclusion that someone should compare this to Beam's contemporary eight year old, which is a good point.  From my perspective, Beam Black beats the tar out of this one.  Heck, Beam White may beat this one in a footrace as well.  Tomorrow, I'll report on the Beam that I did compare this 100 Month to.

Availability - Collectors or antique sellers whom haven't dumped the booze
Pricing - ???
Rating - 74 (sort of an average; it started around 80, ended around 68)

Friday, March 6, 2015

Single Malt Report: Bladnoch 1984-2004 Scott's Selection

I'm closing up Bladnoch Week with the oldest and strongest of the bunch, a 1984 from Scott's Selection.  I split this bottle with MAO of My Annoying Opinions.  When MAO last visited LA -- he flew across the country with his wife and children just to drop off my six ounces of whisky -- we had a chance to grab a full lunch of bowel organ soup and blistering fermented bamboo salad.  That's the sort of meal one doesn't fully appreciate until one is weeping on the terlit the following afternoon.  I look forward to his next visit.

I really have no helpful facts today.  Maybe some suggestions.  Don't ignore those random Scott's Selection whiskies still sitting on retailer shelves after 10+ years......unless you live in LA/OC county; those bottles should be left on the shelf for me.  Don't make prop bets and avoid the new table card games in Vegas, they're mathematically awful and designed for suckers.  Don't click on links that lead you to articles on penis size.  Wash your hands after using the bathroom.  Play outside.  Call your mother.

Distillery: Bladnoch
Ownership: ???
Bottler: Scott's Selection (R.I.P.)
Age: 20-ish years (1984-2004)
Maturation: Probably ex-bourbon casks
Region: Lowlands
Alcohol by Volume: 55.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

I tried this one alongside yesterday's official 18 year old, first neat, then at 46%abv, then just below 40%abv...

The color is amber.  The nose is not hot considering its ABV.  First comes the fruits: lemons, limes, and lots of pineapple.  Then dates and dough.  A big hit of caramel.  Hell, it's a pineapple upside down cake.  With some whipped cream.  It's also occasionally meaty and farmy.  A brief whiff of camphor.  When I first hit this bottle, the palate was very soapy.  Thankfully that note, though still present, has since receded.  Now leading the way are lemons, barley, cayenne pepper, and a hint of perfume.  A lemon-creme-filled powdered doughnut.  Bitter honeydew, if that's a thing.  If the nose was a pineapple upside down cake with whipped cream and the palate is a lemon-creme-filled doughnut, then the finish is a pizzelle (with grains, sugar, vanilla, and a baked cookieness).  There's also lots of citrus, some of the cream and caramel from the nose, and some of that soap.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose is all fresh fruit (lemons, figs, pineapples, and melon) with whipped cream.  The palate loses more of the soap, gains rose petals and a light bitterness.  Then tart lemons, sugar, and caramel.  The soap comes back in the finish, followed by swirls of tart→sweet→bitter→sweet.

WITH WATER (<40%abv)
Lots of caramel on the nose.  Lots of barley sugary stuff too.  Citrus blossoms.  The palate is a pleasant over-steeped tea with raw sugar added.  Caramel again.  The finish continues to have a nice sweet/bitter interplay.

My first thought was this was a flapper girl of a whisky.  Then I thought it was the horn section in Tommy Dorsey's Opus One (which just happened to play while I was doing the tasting).  It has that life, perk, and energy.  But, the soap.

MAO posted his review of this specific bottle two months ago, and our findings are so similar that if we had done a simulpost the two reviews would have seemed redundant and perhaps suspicious.  I was glad to see that he found the soap note as well because I'd first tried this whisky the night after I'd had a soapy Imperial and was beginning to wonder if I was beginning to imagine soap.  Overall, he tolerates that note more than I this time.

To me, this whisky would have been a dazzler (90+ points maybe) without the soap.  But the soap is there and keeps knocking the thrills back slightly.  Time and water help wash it away.  Mostly.  Still, I've enjoyed it.  Thanks to this one and the '93 Signatory, I might just keep an eye out for my own bottle of UD-era indie Bladnoch in the future.

Availability - Happy Hunting (in the US)!
Pricing - anywhere from $150-$250
Rating - 86

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Single Malt Report: Bladnoch 18 year old (OB, sheep label, 55%abv)

On Tuesday, it was a Signatory.  On Wednesday, I reviewed a Provenance.  Today, it's an official bottling of Bladnoch.  Tomorrow's will be another indie.  What all of four of these Bladnochs have in common are that they were distilled by United Distillers (proto-Diageo), rather than by the more recent ownership.

As they did with the Benromach distillery, Diageo not only sold the Bladnoch distillery but also -- out of the goodness of their black hearts -- allowed the new ownership to actually distill spirit.  In this case, perhaps in order to prevent direct competition with their own Lowland distillery, Glenkinchie, Diageo only allowed the new ownership to distill a maximum of 100,000 liters annually (as opposed to the 1,300,000 liter capacity it had before).  While 100K sounds like a lot, it's not.  As of 2013, that production put them 96th out of 97 Scotch malt distilleries.  Only Edradour was producing less.  Glenkinchie's capacity is 24 times larger.  (Note: I have also seen a 250,000/liter current capacity listed for Bladnoch via some sources.)

Nonetheless, Raymond Armstrong and Co-ordinated Development Services did start producing spirit in 2000 and squeezed out quite a number of bottlings before they shut down the shop last year.  They had also been renting out 10 of their 11 warehouses to other companies for cask storage (according to the Malt Whisky Yearbook 2013) thus bringing in a more consistent revenue stream.

Meanwhile, they were also bottling some of the whisky that had been distilled by their predecessor.  Today's whisky, an 18 year old, was distilled just before proto-Diageo mothballed the joint in the early '90s.  It was bottled at 55%abv and had an image of two proud sheep on its label.

Distillery: Bladnoch
Ownership: ???
Age: 18 years
Region: Lowlands
Maturation: Sherry cask
Alcohol by Volume: 55%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(This sample was from Florin (a prince), bottled almost 2 1/2 years ago, back in the day.)

The color is Macallan (Sienna?) dark.  The nose feels very closed at first.  Light grassy and oat notes emerge first, with more and more cereal appearing with time.  Then orange peel and dry soil.  After a while the main scent that emerges is that of cucumber skin, taking over almost entirely.  With lots of air, out come golden raisins and polyester couch cushions.  The palate feels a bit tight too.  It goes floral→sweet→bitter.  A bit of single grain simplicity.  Then with air, notes of silverware and mold suddenly appear.  Then a hint of cream sherry.  But sometimes it's just austere and bitter.  Vanilla comes out in the finish, followed by confectioner's sugar and black raisins.  Notebook paper and simple bitterness last the longest.

WITH WATER (approx. 46%abv)
The nose picks up a good figgy note.  The grass and cucumber skin notes remain.  Notes of eucalyptus and circus peanuts follow.  And, oddly, it kinda works.  Ah ha, here's the sherry in the palate, appearing as a big chocolate hit.  An herbal bitterness grows with time, as does quite a bit of green grass/chlorophyll.  The finish is all bitter chocolate, chlorophyll, and baby powder.

WITH WATER (<40%abv)
The nose is gentle, like a light fruity tea. Little bits of orange peel and aromatic bitters, followed by a dry leafy, rooty note.  The palate gets slightly soapy.  Notes of Earl Grey, sugar, cherry candy, soil, and vanilla bounce around each other.  It finishes with cherry candy, caramel, and a light bitterness.

I rarely say this about a whisky, but water is a MUST for this one.  When neat, it's closed and forgettable.  Airing it out helps a little, but it gets more enjoyable when hydrated.  Overall, it's odd, as you may be able to gather from my notes.  I find the cucumber skin note on the nose very pleasant, though others may not.  The chocolate palate note at the 46%abv point is very nice.

These official bottlings were priced nicely back when they were available.  Sadly I missed out on grabbing one.  I doubt I'd go after this particular bottling, but this quirky grassy herbal character I've found in Bladnoch appeals to my nose and mouth.  If you've had some of the sheep/cow-labelled Bladnochs, please let me know in the comments what you thought of 'em.

Availability - Somewhere in Europe...
Pricing - I think it was $70-$90 (pre-shipping) as recently as 2013
Rating - 82 (with water only, when neat it's in the mid-70s)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Single Malt Report: Bladnoch 13 year old 1991 McGibbon's Provenance (casks 1083+1447)

This is the second of four Bladnochs this week.  Yesterday's was weird but lovable (like some of us) and proved to be a good sparring partner for this whisky.

Today's helpful facts: The distillery was built alongside the river Bladnoch in Wigtownshire (real name) in 1817 by the brothers McClelland, though they didn't get the legal license to start distilling until eight years later.  An Irish company (Dunville & Co.) bought the distillery in 1911 and ran it intermittently until it was liquidated 26 years later.  After passing through the hands of six different owners (including Inver House and United Distillers), Bladnoch wound up in the hands of Co-ordinated Development Services, half of which was made up of the brothers Armstrong, also from the neighboring green isle.  Then (as mentioned yesterday) the distillery went up for sale after less than 20 years.

Distillery: Bladnoch
Ownership: ???
Bottler: McGibbon's Provenance (Douglas Laing)
Age: 13 years (July 1991 - August 2004)
Cask #s: 1083 & 1447
Region: Lowlands
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(Thank you to Mr. Cocktailchem himself for the sample!)

The color is brass.  Whiskybase says there's no added colorant and I'm inclined to believe them/it here.  First up in the nose is a combination of anise, grain, and yeast.  Mostly oak free.  Some orange oil, grapefruits.  Hot cereal and flower blossoms.  There's some grimy funk involved that may or may not be related to peat.  With time in the glass, the whisky starts picking up bright notes like confectioner's sugar, roses, peach nectar, and blueberries.  The palate is soft and creamy with a slight peppery bite.  Vanilla shows up for the first time and in quantity.  It all gets sweeter with time, but a subtle tartness keeps it in check for a while.  After some time, here comes the anise, flowers, and grapefruit.  Eventually the sweetness becomes aggressive.  More citrus comes out in the lengthy finish.  That's followed by peppercorns, vanilla, and a hint of mocha.  Again, the sweetness expands with time.

In Jordan's review of this whisky, he mentions that this bottle got better with time.  I had aired my sample out for a while because I got involved with baby-related matters, so perhaps a little bit of oxidation helped things out because I liked this one.  (Also, Jordan and I found more similar notes than we usually do.)

This isn't as zany as yesterday's Bladnoch, but the casks were very reserved, again.  As a result this whisky might feel a little young to those folks used to a lot of oak in their glass.  The sweetness gets a little bold at times and I wouldn't say this was the most complicated of malts, but it's good drinkin' after it has breathed.

Too bad the price on it is so silly.  $90?  I'm not surprised it's still on the shelves after 10 years.  At half its going rate, I would recommend it.

Availability - A few US stores still have it
Pricing - $80-$90
Rating - 83

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Single Malt Report: Bladnoch 20 year old 1993 Signatory (casks 767+773)

Bladnoch Bladnoch Bladnoch Bladnoch.  That's how this week's going to play out.  I'd noticed that I had yet to do a full report on a Bladnoch, and there were four Bladnoch samples from four different sources in my stash.  So the latter could address the former.  Because I do not have four nights of fully functioning senses and sanity in one week, I planned two nights with two whiskies each.  Comparisons often help me figure out whiskies, so hopefully this works.

Bladnoch somehow has a committed following and is often ignored completely when folks write about the Lowlands (as in a recent Whisky Magazine article about distilleries in that part of Scotland).  As of a couple years ago there were only three functioning malt distilleries there, so it's kinda hard to miss, especially with the ongoing drama with its ownership situation.

Sadly, Bladnoch was closed and went up for sale last year.  Its current fate is sort of blurry.  There were a number of posts/rumors on the internet that Vatika Group (an Indian real estate and construction company) had purchased the distillery, but I still haven't found an official public confirmation of a closed sale.  What I did find was a blurb that Vatika backed out of the sale last month.  That hyperlink will send you to the forum run by Raymond Armstrong, one of Bladnoch's former owners.  A forum member mentions Vatika backing out and Armstrong confirms it.  So......I guess the distillery's still up for sale if somebody wants it.

Okay, Bladnoch #1 this week is a 20 year old from Signatory.  It's not one of their cask strength editions, nor is it from their Unchillfiltered series.  It's one of those gold/yellow-labelled bottlings that are presented at 43%abv.  This Master of Malt sample was generously gifted to me by my buddy Tetris (thanks, Tetris!) and was studied alongside tomorrow's Bladnoch.

Distillery: Bladnoch
Ownership: ???
Age: 20 years (March 8, 1993 - April 25, 2013)
Maturation: Hogsheads
Cask #s: 767 & 773
Bottles: 798
Region: Lowlands
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? Possibly
Caramel Colorant? No

Its color is light gold.  On the nose, the first sniff brings one of the most intensely grassy notes I've yet come across.  Think wet grass and wet soil in the morning after a night rain.  That's met by a hint of pine, followed by more than a hint of wormwood.  Then cucumber, celery, and mint leaves.  A distant tire fire.  Maybe there's a little bit of lime candy and maraschino cherries brightening it up around the edges.  The palate is remarkably loud for a 43%abv.  A big burst of bitter rooty dirtiness held together by syrupy toffee.  A blast of barley and sugary sweetness arrives next.  Then, after a half hour of air, suddenly some sherry shows up.  And it's a sweet sherry, full of carob and prunes.  Meanwhile, the bitterness never leaves.  After all that pomp, the finish gets quiet.  Some the palate's residual bitterness remains along with the nose's grassy stuff.  A hint of toffee, some roasted coffee.  Then a curious puff of cigarette smoke lingers on the tongue.

This one is a strange mess, but I love it.  The nose, especially, is a hoot, as it's as far from contemporary oak tech as can be.  Its (good) greenness and earthiness remain strong throughout.  As mentioned, the palate is impressively rich.  The bitter and sweet notes are almost musical together.  The effect of the whisky's proofing down only shows in the mild finish and that's what keeps me from giving this a 90+ score.

Though the whisky came from two hogsheads, one of them probably had once been seasoned with sherry.  Or this was a result of a recasking of sherried Bladnoch.  The smoke note could be the result of some interaction with barrel char, or the barrel's former contents, or some peated residue in the still itself, because I don't think that this was from purposely peated spirit.  No matter the source of the oddities, they're entertaining.

So, this is a whisky for specific palates.  It's gotten no love from whiskybase members -- which is understandable -- but it's not easy to find any remaining bottles out there.  So somebody bought this stuff.  And it did spawn a sequel that contained casks 774 & 775.  In any case, if you have a bottle of this Siggy Bladnoch (casks 767 and 773) then at the very least you probably won't find it boring.

Availability - Happy Hunting (in Europe)!
Pricing - May have been in the $75-$85 (pre-shipping) range
Rating - 88