...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, July 31, 2015

WTF Is This? Shieldaig Highland Peaty Single Malt

WTF Is This? is back.  Today......to the cheap stuff!

Shieldaig Highland Malt (I added 'Peaty' above because that's what Total Wine's website calls it) is one of Total Wine & More's "Spirits Direct" brands, which means that it is a generic-style product sold exclusively at Total Wine.  Except it's also sold at Ace Spirits in Minnesota, which is something I cannot explain.  (It can be explained!  See the comment section below.)  Anyway, there are a number of Shieldaig whiskies -- NAS 'The Classic' blend ($14), a 12yo blend ($17), NAS Speyside single malt ($18), 12yo Speyside single malt ($30), 18yo Speyside single malt ($43), and this NAS Highlander ($18).

A new Total Wine branch just opened up in Long Beach and they've been sending us coupons every other week for their Spirits Direct and Winery Direct stuff attempting to lure me into buying one of these things I'd otherwise not consider.  So I took the bait, a 10%(!) off coupon, and moseyed over to the store.  I was tempted for a moment by the 18yo malt which was $38+ with the coupon.  But I realized that 18 years or not, that whisky would have me out 38 bucks (plus CA sales tax) if it was crap.  More intriguing, and much cheaper, was the peated whisky.  The "Highland".  Yes, quotes.

While in the store, I tried to figure out which Highland distillery provided the whisky.  The town of Shieldaig is in fact in the Highlands, in the Northwest.  What was nearby?  Ben Nevis made peated stuff for blends.  Out East was Glen Ord which used a little bit of peated malt.  But then again, the brand Shieldaig also made an unpeated Speyside so the Highland distillery didn't necessarily need to be near the town, a town name that was probably just used for branding purposes.

When I got home from the store, I did something I almost never do: immediately open the bottle.  Yes indeed, the whisky was peated.  But I couldn't find a specific distillery style.  And then while admiring the bottle I noticed this:

A classic Highland Malt from the Islands...

So.  If we're really going to use the now outdated Scotch Geography (because the brand uses it for its products), the Islands are not part of the Highlands.  "The Islands" is its own region.  So Highland, is really "Highland".  Another imaginary branding device, "Highland" conjures up images of tougher stuff than a Speyside.  But if it's from "the Islands", which distillery could it be?  Is Highland Park trading away their duff barrels?  Peated Jura?  It's doubtful that Diageo is handing over any Talisker at this point, especially since they're already using their crap casks in their own products (OOOOOOHHHH BURN!!!).  Maybe it's peated whisky from Mull; baby Ledaig is that you?  I don't know.  But here are my notes.

Label: Shieldaig
Owner: William Maxwell & Co. Ltd.
Retailer: Total Wine & More
Distillery: ???
Type: Single Malt
Region: Highlands Islands
Age: no statement
Maturation: probably ex-bourbons of multiple types
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? It is likely so.
Artificially Colored? Probs.

Its color is very gold.  Since the whisky is probably younger than this blog, e150a was likely deployed generously.  The nose is very peat forward, which is a surprise.  There are notes of rainsoaked sheep and dry dogs.  It is sugary, with plenty of caramel.  Slightly floral.  Caramel sauce with cinnamon.  Something like cinnamon peat.  Cassia cinnamon bark.  Some ethyl.  Less peat in the palate.  Very sweet.  Thin watery texture.  Barley, vanilla, and more cinnamon here.  The occasional weird sour and bitter notes vanish quickly.  The finish made up of peat, heat, vanilla, and touch of tartness.

I was about to write this off as a low C- whisky, slightly better than Grangestone's NAS Double Cask and Finlaggan Old Reserve, but then, as I usually do for reviews of cheaper whisky, I fixed myself a highball.  And it wasn't bad.  In fact, it didn't even need any bitters.  It delivered peat, grain, vanilla, and caramel in a straightforward flaw-free way.  And that's how I'm going to recommend it: 1 part whisky, 1.5 parts soda water, no bitters, ice optional.  I'm not saying it's orgasmic, but it'll do.

As for the whisky's source?  I don't know.  It's in a simple peaty state wherein they could probably change up the source when needed without much fuss.  I would be interested in this as a 12 or 18 year old (and a 43%abv wouldn't hurt) and would pay the Speyside prices for it.  But I doubt there's much 12 or 18 year old peated whisky being tossed aside right now.  In the meantime, this is what Shieldaig is slinging.  It's not incredible, but it is peaty, it is a single malt, it is better than Finlaggan Old Reserve, and it is $18 (or $16 if you have the current coupon!).

(Another great reader came through with some info about Shieldaig and the possibility of the malt being Talisker.  See the comment section below.)

Availability - Total Wine & More
Pricing - $17.99
Rating - 77 (best as a highball!)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Single Malt Report: Bunnahabhain 33 year old 1980 Whisky Doris

When I saw that this post would be of the 450th whisky I've rated, I decided to bust out something fancy.  Searching through the samples, I reflected on life and then pondered what whisky defines me as a person, ultimately finding--

Actually, I already had this whisky scheduled and then just noticed the mini-milestone while updating the Big Whisky List yesterday.

Anyway, I had the opportunity to try this Bunnahabhain last week and thought it would be a fun change of pace from the previous two whiskies.  It is not peated and it is old and it is sherried.  A mere two years ago, 30-40 year old Bunnas could be had at reasonable prices.  Now they can't...

...except for this one.

At the current exchange rate, this 33 year old single cask can be had for $150ish (minus VAT, before shipping).  There are other distilleries' single casks half its age that are going for that price, and the official 25yo (multiple cask) Bunnahabhain is $400 in California.

Before trying this whisky, I'd had a small but positive experience with this Whisky Doris, going 2 for 2 with their bottlings.  But those WDs were A-level whiskies.  So, though I don't blindly buy bottles at that price, I was flirting with this whisky online.  And then, magically!, I was asked to lead a tasting event that had this as part of the lineup.  From that event, I departed with my own sample and now I'm going to give it an official review.

Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Independent Bottler: Whisky Doris
Age: 33 years (May 1980 - November 2013)
Maturation: Sherry Butt
Cask number: 92
Limited bottling: 236 of 460
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 45.6%
Chillfiltered? No
mit Farbstoff? Nein

This one gets the paragraph treatment today:

Its color is dark gold, though lighter than a young bourbon.  The nose has some oak up front but it's mellow and toasted.  The sherry is very laid back.  So, at first there's honey and roasted nuts.  Then suddenly there's a burst of blackberry syrup.  Then raspberries simmering on the stove.  Toffee, almond extract, pipe tobacco, a hint of cantaloupe.  Toasty sandalwood (like a mizunara cask, but not).  Some roasted malt in the background.  There's no mustiness and no sulphur to be found.  The palate leads with mandarin oranges, or are they blood oranges?  Roses.  Lots of dried berries.  Maybe some raspberry candy.  Whispers of nutmeg and pepper.  Later on there's a silky creamy note and more exotic fruits linger in the distance.  It finishes with fresh berries (raspberries and strawberries) in sugar.  Dark chocolate with berry filling.  Hints of tobacco and lime.  But it's not too sweet, just gentle, graceful, and drifting along.

Gentle, graceful, and drifting along.  I adore this whisky.  Kristen liked it too, which is a hell of a thing to type.  This isn't a sherry bomb.  It's very delicate.  It's what the angels left behind after taking a mighty share.  Perhaps it was a second-fill sherry butt?  Or good warehouse placement?  Or maybe it was just Time.  In any case, it's another excellent cask by Whisky Doris, so excellent that it just became my birthday gift to myself.

Availability - A few European specialty retailers
Pricing - €140ish (minus VAT, without shipping)
Rating - 92

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Single Malt Report: Bunnahabhain 13 year old 1997 Murray McDavid, Chateau Lafite ACEing

Yes, another 1997 Bunnahabhain!  But this one's a different creature than yesterday's.  Today's was bottled by Murray McDavid -- yes, the one indie bottler whose name alone inspires a physical response in many a drinker.  This particular Bunnahabhain spent the better part of its life in ex-bourbon casks, then was ACEd finished in Bordeaux casks (courtesy of Chateau Lafite Rothschild).

Often Murray McDavid's whiskies come across as unbalanced who-knows-what'll-happen experiments to salvage crap casks. While that's not necessarily a bad thing -- strange whisky often equals fun whisky -- only once was I convinced that anyone should pay money for a MMcD's tootling product.

But because this was a '97 Bunnahabhain and because Jordan (Mr. Cocktailchem) had a sample to swap, I figured what the hell.

Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Independent Bottler: Murray McDavid
Age: 13 years (1997-2011)
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks
Finish: Bourdeaux casks from Chateau Lafite Rothschild
Limited bottling: 1200
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: No

Color - Sazerac cocktail.  Think orange, peach, pink, and gold. At least it's not maroon like the $300 McEwan wine spit bucket known as Black Art (Parts 1 through 4).

Nose - The peat reek stands tall above the wine.  Smaller, well-incorporated notes like brown sugar, cinnamon, coconut, and creme brûlée appear.  With time, the peat element peels back, revealing a big vanilla buttercream frosting note.  Then there's peach candy and something PX sherry-ish.

Palate - Aggressively dirty peat with an underpinning of something sweet.  But then they flip-flop as something (the wine?) gets very sweet very quickly.  A big peppery spiciness, like white and green peppercorns, rumbles beneath.  Some overripe stone fruits here and there.  A bit of salt.

Finish - Ashes and char.  Cigarettes and cracked pepper.  Hint of sweet wine, sort of like Madeira.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Nose - Wine gets stronger, peat weakens.  More frosting.  Some peachy stuff.  Lots of lemons.

Palate - Peat and sweet.  An herbal bitterness now appears.  The peat is up front.  The sugar and overripe stone fruits are in the exhale.

Finish - Peat smoke, sweet wine, sugar, and salt water.

The nose was a surprise, working even better when I had the second half of the sample the day after the tasting.  Wine element is not only pleasant, but also plays very well with the malt, in the nose.  I'm less convinced about their interplay in the palate.  I'm not sure where the palate's aggressive sweetness is coming from as it feels more like a dessert/fortified wine rather than a Bordeaux.  If the sweetness is due to the malt, as Jordan mentions in his review, this would be the first time I've seen this level of sweets in a '97 Bunna.  Or perhaps it was due to some booming first-fill bourbon casks.

While I'm in no way panning this whisky, Jordan is a bigger fan of it than I.  He had a whole bottle of it to ponder, so I recommend giving his review a read.  I wish I'd discovered the dry and savory notes he found!

As mentioned, the nose is very good and the palate shows better (for me) with some water.  It's also the second best Murray McDavid bottling I've had and the best of their wine finishes I've tried so far.  It's an MMcD experiment that is worth paying for, though I'm not sure how much retailers are charging for it as it has become scarce.

Availability - Scarce
Pricing - $??.??
Rating - 83

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Single Malt Report: Bunnahabhain 16 year old 1997 Chieftain's hogshead #3181 (K&L exclusive)

Adult voices speaking in babytalk tones shriek out from Mathilda's toys over and over and over and over and over as I write this post.  I'm going fugging (per Norman Mailer) crazy.

Last week I reviewed a pair of 2015 K&L exclusive single casks (here and here) from friends' samples.  Today, I'm reviewing a single cask K&L found in 2014, and it's from my own bottle!  Bottles of this one are still on the shelves, and have an Insider's Advantage price, so I wanted to make sure I got a review out before they're all gone.  I'm straining to be relevant here, people.

In 1997, Bunnahabhain experimented with distilling some highly peated (50ppm? 38ppm, thanks Jordan!) spirit and then promptly discontinued the exercise for more than decade.  It seems as if they traded most of those peated results away to independent bottlers.  And I've really liked the results.  '97 Bunnahabhain is kinda punk.  It's scuzzy and imperfect and tends to play only power chords.  So when I read that the K&L Davids were bringing back a cask I was very excited.

And then it arrived with a $130/bottle price tag and I was a lot less excited.  My hope was that someday it would wind up on clearance and drop below $100 dollars.  Four months ago, that very thing happened.  $97 is still on the high side (though I guess mathematically appropriate), but luckily my fellow '97 Bunnahabhain geek Jordan (of Chemistry of the Cocktail fame) was willing to split a bottle with me.

So with the final two ounces of my half bottle, I did an actual tasting last week.

Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Independent Bottler: Ian MacLeod
Brand: Chieftain's
Age: 16 years (August 1997 - May 2014)
Maturation: Hogshead
Cask number: 3181
Limited bottling: 259
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 56.1%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: No

Color - Dark gold.  In the bottle it looks almost as if it's a first fill sherry cask.

Nose - In my first pour from the bottle, all I got was bus exhaust.  Which was great.  But, onto the official nosing...  It's deep and dingy.  Charred, burnt pine.  Sometimes a little sugary (confectioners') and candied.  Orange blossoms, dark chocolate, and salty ocean air.  Big peat, but also graceful peat.

Palate - More smoke than moss.  More honed and refined than any other '97 Bunny I've had before.  Dark chocolate and mellow vanilla sweetness, but also some peppery charred beef around the edges.  There's a richness that almost seems sherried, like a sweet nutty praline thing.

Finish - Extensive vibrant peatin'.  Pleasantly subtle vanilla, sugar, and salt.  Pipe tobacco.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Nose - The burnt piney note remains in the forefront.  Burnt pan scrapings.  Pencils.  Hints of oranges and limes.

Palate - Sweeter and more aromatic.  An almost floral peat (NOT Bowmorian).  Still quite strong, a little rougher young spirit shows up.

Finish - Shorter.  Salt, slightly bitter, and peat residue.

This makes me wish more indie '97 Bunnahabhains would make their way to The States, but since this clearly did not fly off the shelves I don't know how many more of these we Yanks will ever see here.  For some reason even the peated '89 Juras sell out faster than the '97 Bunnas.  Is that due to the allure of larger age statements?

I'd recommend this bottling to those former fans of Ardbeg who have lost confidence in the single malts coming from LVMH.  I'd also recommend it to geeks who like indie Caol Ilas and Bowmores.  As mentioned in the notes, there's something sherry-ish to it.  Whatever it is, it works.  If anyone else finds this characteristic let me know in the comments.

As Mathilda's toy threatens "I SEE YOU, MONKEY" for the fourth straight time, I'm getting creeped out and will end this post thusly.

Availability - K&L Wines only
Pricing - $96.99 via Insider's Advantage
Rating - 88

Friday, July 24, 2015

WTF Is This? will return next week

Hi folks.  Due to personal circumstances, I will be unable to post a WTF Is This? this week.  But the series will indeed return next week.

The WTFs have been really fun to do and I hope you've enjoyed them too!  I have added another three weeks' (Fridays') worth of them to my schedule.  I'll try to keep it going as long as possible, as long as I have WTF-type whiskies at hand.  I haven't really been soliciting samples since I cleared out the last Dram Quest list, but if you have whiskies that are the weirdest, worstest, mysteriously magnificent, or just generally unknown and you want to send one over for a WTF post then drop me a line.  Thank you much.  Back to more reviews next week.

Here is a water buffalo eating a watermelon.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Single Malt Report: Bowmore 12 year old 2001 Signatory (K&L exclusive)

After my second year of posting whisky reviews, I took a tally of my posts and realized that Bowmores made up one out of every eight of my reviews.  Since then I've reviewed a grand total of two.  This week, I'm reviewing another two.  Both are twelve years olds, distilled in 2001, matured in hogsheads, bottled by independent companies, and sold exclusively through K&L Wine Merchants.  But there the similarities end.

Monday's Bowmore was aged in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead.  Today's was aged in a refill ex-sherry hogshead butt.  While the hoggie was shy in Monday's Bowmore, today's Bowmore highlights a very active (and excellent) cask.  While both bring plenty of power, Monday's was young and wild, today's shows its age as well as its strength.

Distillery: Bowmore
Independent Bottler: Signatory
Retailer: K&L Wines
Age: at least 12 years (September 2001 - July 2014)
Maturation: refill ex-sherry butt
Cask number: 1371
Bottle count: 565
Region: Islay, Scotland
Alcohol by Volume: 59.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
(Thanks to Florin for the sample!)

Its color is gold.  The nose begins with a mild plum wine-like sherry note that dovetails with a strong mineral (lots of rocks) character.  A campfire the following morning.  Clover honey, oranges, and again more plums than prunes.  After some time in the glass, there's a little note of struck matches but it's just a hint, a seasoning.  Lots of charred meat with a honey glaze in the palate.  Honey pepper sauce.  It's a sweet sherry but not cloyingly so.  A vibrant sugar→peat smoke→sugar→cayenne pepper progression.  Great thick mouthfeel.  The moderate length finish is a little ocean-y.  Then there's the honey, pepper, and peat.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose seems peatier now, almost hotter too.  Still a very well integrated peat + sherry combo.  Maybe some more nuts now, hazelnuts and walnuts.  Orange zest and cinnamon.  That hint of sulphur.  Moss and char in the palate.  Salt, pepper, and honey.  Some peppery bitter lettuces.  Less sweet now, still well balanced.  The sweetness also calms down in the finish.  The smoke note builds with time, as does the black pepper note.

Richer and more complex than Monday's Bowmore, this might have a better peat and sherry combo than the current iteration of Ardbeg's Uigeadail.  Of course Oogy is engineered using hundreds of casks while this is just a single cask, so they're very different whiskies.

Unless my sherry receptors were hyperactive during this tasting, this refill sherry cask feels like a first fill.  Perhaps that's due to how much smaller a hogshead is than a sherry butt [Ed. note: this was actually a sherry butt].  Yet the sherry hasn't smothered the spirit; and the spirit hasn't overwhelmed the cask.  The parts work very well together.  And now I wonder what they did with the cask after the whisky was dumped.  Fill it with Bowmore spirit?  Or another Islay?  Or maybe toss a fruity Speyside in there to create something fun?

In any case, another great cask from Signatory, one of my favorite bottlers.  This whisky is on sale at K&L via their Insider's Advantage program.  As of mid-July there are a number of cases of this stuff left.  I might just pick up a bottle.

Availability - K&L Wines only
Pricing - $79.99 if you're signed up for their Insider's Advantage
Rating - 89

Monday, July 20, 2015

Single Malt Report: Bowmore 12 year old 2001 Hepburn's Choice (K&L exclusive)

Today's generalization: With two exceptions, every independently bottled non-FWP Bowmore I've had has been very good.  Now, let me clear away all of the qualifiers in the previous sentence: Independently bottled Bowmores are very reliable.

(Those two mentioned exceptions were reviewed here and here.  Though they were both by David Stirk's Exclusive Malts/Casks, that same company also released an excellent Bowmore when Stirk first brought his whiskies to The States.)

Over the past few years, K&L Wine Merchants have gotten into the indie Bowmore game by picking five or six single casks to sell exclusively through their stores.  Though my previous run-in with one of those exclusive Bowmores wasn't entirely positive, I was still willing to give the others a try.  Luckily two of my whisky pals gave me samples from their bottles of current K&L exclusive Bowmores.

Despite having the same age, vintage, cask size, and price, these two Bowmores are very different from each other.  I'll be reviewing the first one today, the second one tomorrow.

Distillery: Bowmore
Independent Bottler: Hunter Laing
Retailer: K&L Wines
Age: at least 12 years (2001-2014)
Maturation: ex-bourbon refill hogshead
Cask number: ?
Bottle #:  ??? of 266
Region: Islay, Scotland
Alcohol by Volume: 58.4%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
(Thanks to SmokyPeat for the sample!)

Hepburn's Choice is one of Hunter Laing's smaller brands, one that they don't tout on their site.  Their releases are often bottled at 46%abv, uncolored and unchillfiltered.  But the single casks that K&L picked up are bottled at full strength.

Its color is Five Beer Piss, my favorite whisky color!  The nose begins with young, though buttery, malt.  There's vinyl, peat (bog as opposed to smoke), lemons, and fruity Ceylon cinnamon.  Give it some time and find some VapoRub-style menthol.  Then comes an herbal note somewhere between rosemary and thyme.  Perhaps a hint of elephant cage.  The palate is hot and raw, but in a good way.  Lots of smoldering peat; the PPMs feel much larger here than in the nose.  Vanilla, cinnamon, brown sugar, salt, and peppercorns.  It finishes with burnt leaves, burnt pages, and the nose's menthol note.  It gradually picks up some sweetness, salt, very green grassiness, and hint of bitterness.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
This pretties the nose up a little.  More lemons, some orange blossoms and mint.  Less menthol, though the peat bog stays strong.  The palate is softer though saltier.  Still smoky, still sweet.  Gets sweeter with time.  A nice wormwood bitterness floats below.  The finish gets sugarier.  The bitterness and smoke mellow a bit.

More Katherine than Audrey Hepburn, this one.  Though K&L says this was a second-fill hogshead, it feels like a fourth or fifth-fill hoggie.  It seems half its age.  I mean we're almost in Talisker "Speakeasy" territory here.  But like the Speakeasy, it's really solid strong spirit.  One could reasonably argue that it's one-note, but a good note it is.  I'm going to score it a couple points higher than the Speakeasy because it's less of a novelty and more of a whisky one would want to consume on multiple occasions.

I'd say this was a brave pick by the Davids because it isn't exactly a crowd pleaser.  But peatheads should find that it delivers.  As is the case with many indie Bowmores, this one's peat levels feel far larger than those of the official bottlings.  In fact this one's peat strength is reminiscent of the Islay distilleries to the south.  This could be due, again, to the cask's restraint.  The whisky swims very well, so if you find it too booming at full strength, watering it down will help.  But it'll read as a young bold Bowmore no matter what.

Availability - K&L Wines only
Pricing - $79.99
Rating - 86

Friday, July 17, 2015

WTF Is This? Forged Oak 15 year old Straight Bourbon Whiskey

A Diageo bourbon?  How could I resist?  When I saw that SmokyPeat (who is more optimistic than I about...well...everything) totally panned Forged Oak and concluded "This stuff is the worst," I was intrigued.  Then he offered me a sample.  I took it.

I'll start with the positives.  A lot of effort and skill was utilized for the bottle label design.  And the result is nice, detailed, textured, and metallic.  Though while the muscular 7000-point deer is a striking visual, big bucks are really more in Scotch's domain.  (Puns!)  SmokyPeat's bottle was number 44877.  Woo, limited.  Wait, this was the positive section.

Since there is no Forged Oak Distillery now, nor fifteen years ago, who made the bourbon in the bottle?  Despite Diageo's marketing department's enthusiastic usage of the words "Stitzel" and "Weller" for every Orphan Barrel press release, neither this bourbon nor any of the other Orphan Barrel whiskies were distilled at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery.  Some of the barrels may have been "found" (read: aged) at the Stitzel-Weller warehouses, but those warehouses are far from defunct and Diageo has been regularly using them since at least 1992.  Instead the spirit was distilled at the New Bernheim Distillery just before Diageo sold the distillery to Heaven Hill in 1999.

Thus the distillery is in regular use, as are the warehouses, and with 50000+ bottles (250+ "orphan" barrels!) the bourbon itself is not in terribly limited supply.  Luckily this was the lowest priced of the Orphan Barrel bourbons to date, originally priced near $70 (though it's now selling for $100+ in California).  So what it is is a 15 year old low-rye bourbon.  The end.

Owner: Diageo
Brand: Orphan Barrel
Orphan: Forged Oak
Distillery: New Bernheim
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Mashbill: 86% corn, 8% barley, 6% rye (yep, more barley than rye)
Age: minimum 15 years
Bottle #: 44877
Alcohol by Volume: 45.25%
(Mid bottle sample from SmokyPeat. Thanks!!!)

The color is a reddish brownish gold, pretty normal for a bourbon of its age.  It has one of the nuttiest (as in actual nuts, not craziness) bourbon noses I've experienced.  There are hazelnuts, sesame seeds, peanuts, and a can of roasted mixed nuts.  Alongside the nuts are notes of rock candy and caramel.  Hints of floral vanilla bean and baby urine.  It gets woodier with time; like green woody stems.  Considering its age and abv, a surprising amount of ethyl burn remains.  The palate?  Woof.  Really oaky; pulp, char, bark, roots.  Tannic, astringent, and bitter right out of the gate.  Gradually it picks up some sugar, vanilla milk, and pepper.  Salty and a little malty.  Still tannic and very drying in the unpleasant finish.  Lotta heat, pepper, sugar, and Purple.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose gets a little musty.  Lots of sawdust.  Burnt pasta on the stove.  Anise and fennel.  The palate is very woody and aggressively saccharine.  Slightly eggy.  Nope, I'm done.  Maybe some vanilla and confectioner's sugar in the finish, but it's really bitter.

Part of me, deep down, wanted to write a rave review about this whiskey, as a punkish tweaking of expectations.  For what it's worth, Whisky Advocate and The Whiskey Jug loved this stuff.  Then I tasted the bourbon and I did not love it.  My opinion lies somewhere between that of SmokyPeat's and Sku's.

No one else lists the nut notes that I found, but then again everyone seems to have his own unique notes for the nose.  And I like the nose the best, though "like" may be too strong a word.  The palate is mostly oak juice with a little bit of sweetness and salt, and of zero interest to me.  Adding water turns the palate into an awful slurry, so I really don't recommend going that direction.

Forged Oak?  More like Forced Oak!  (A forced joke.)  It seems to me that Diageo had a bunch of old over-oaked bourbon of which they needed to rid themselves.  The whole "oops, look what we found" story sort of makes sense here because I can't see anyone purposely letting their stock get out of whack like this.  But this whiskey may appeal to those who like lots of oak effects as the spirit soaked these barrels clean through.  It is absolutely not for me, so I can't compliment it on its low-for-15-year-old-bourbon original MSRP.  I wouldn't pay $20 for it.

Availability - Many US specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - from $70 to $120
Rating - 71 (neat only, adding water lowers it into the 50s)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Meditations on Stay-At-Home Fatherhood and also Glen Spey 21 year old 1989 (Diageo 2010 Special Release)

Today's four meditations:

Your child's excretory proclivities will be of boundless interest to you and your partner, but no one else.

Your arm muscles will adjust as your child gets heavier and heavier.  Soon her 25 pounds seem normal, while infants who weigh 15 pounds are almost dangerously feather light.  You begin to think, I'm getting so strong!  Then you go back to the gym to start lifting again and you discover, no you are actually not stronger.  You are weak.  You only have Dad Strength, a currency useless with everything else in life.  Meanwhile your back muscles are fucked.  Sorry dude.

You will now treasure every time you can go to the bathroom alone.  Sometimes, half the reason you go to the gym is to hand your daughter off to the child care brigade so that you can utilize the fitness club's dirty-ass latrine in semi-peace, serenaded by gray matter curdling pop-dance beats.  Otherwise, enjoy the challenges faced by your own excretory proclivities at home as your infant crawls between your ankles while you are upright or attempts to climb into your lap while you are in a state of focused repose.

FACT: Every time you are unable to stop your child's weeping 10% of your soul dies.  It exits the body through the sternum and vaporizes in the troposphere.  The good news is that, thanks to math, your soul will never be reduced to absolute zero.  Unless you run for public office.

Today's single malt:

This whisky has appeared on this blog before.  I reviewed a sample of it in April 2012.  It was referenced again in January 2013.  And then in May of this year, I mentioned it was the bottle I opened to celebrate Mathilda's first birthday.  It gets so many mentions because I enjoy it thoroughly, and also because I often repeat myself.

Part of this whisky's charm, and why it's probably difficult to compare it to other Glen Speys, is due to its creative maturation.  Back in 1988, someone at Diageo for some reason thought it would be a good idea to season 20 to 30 virgin American oak casks with sherry before filling them with newmake.  The mix of the new oak with the sherry and the fruity Speyside malt is a hell of a thing.  I'm not sure if anyone else has released something like it since.  Especially anyone named Diageo.

Distillery: Glen Spey
Owner: Diageo
Age: minimum 21 years (1989 - 2010)
Maturation: new American oak seasoned with sherry
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Alcohol by Volume: 50.4%
Limited Release: 5844 bottles

The color is a reddish gold.  The nose starts with rye and corn.  Or is that my nose interpreting the oak's influence as rye whiskey and bourbon whiskey?  Then there's lime peel, nutty sherry, and almonds in toffee.  There's a note that exists somewhere between cookie dough and Play-doh.  Then milk chocolate, pencil shavings, pipe tobacco, and roasted coffee beans.  Vanilla bean and incense.  Hints of honeydew.  The palate has a whole bunch of ripe fruits in sugar: think loquats, apricots, and tangerines.  Wood spice, like an oaky old rye.  Baklava with rose water syrup.  It gets more floral (definitely roses) with time.  Cigar tobacco.  A subtle bitterness appears, but I'm not sure if it's from the spirit or oak.  It finishes floral and sweet, citric and toasty (both grains and oak).  Vanilla, halvah, toffee, tangerine-ish citrus, and a hint of tropical fruits.  Some drying tannins.

WITH WATER (~43%abv? I don't know, I had a foot cramp mid-hydration and lost track of how much water I added but I never add water to this whisky anyway and run-on sentence.)
Lots of maple and vanilla in the nose.  Some tropical fruit, but also a bit of wood pulp.  The palate is very tannic, bitterer.  There's tart grapefruit, vanilla, some nuts, some pencils.  The finish is woody.

At times it's as if someone mixed a little old rye or high-rye bourbon into well aged Speyside.  Not only does it work, but damn this thing sings.  The oak, the sherry, the spirit all combine into something that's both pretty and muscular.  BUT, I concur with MAO, do not add water.  Neat only.

Also, this was released back when Diageo's annual special releases didn't cost as much as a mortgage.  In fact, this one went for $150ish in some areas -- I found it for $120ish in the UK -- but it still stayed on many retailer shelves for 3-4 years.  Considering how many lesser whiskies sell out much quicker while being more expensive and less limited, and considering how many great reviews this got (from MAO, Sku, Murray, and Serge), it took considerable effort for the hoard-happy whisky community to avoid cleaning this out years ago.  And I am thankful for it.

Availability - Still lingering around in a couple dozen specialty shops around the world
Pricing - $150-$250
Rating - 91 (neat only)

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Spring Whiskies: Old Taylor 6 year old Straight Bourbon (1991 bottling)

To all the folks who lust after Stitzel-Weller dusties, y'all can have 'em (except maybe leave a single Old Fitz for me somewhere).  My preference is for the stuff National Distillers used to make.  If you want to read about a man falling in luff with ND-era Old Taylor, see my post from March of 2014.  Also, I encourage you to read that post for more information and good links about Old Taylor.  Today's post will focus just on this particular bottle.

This particular bottle, found in a neighborhood liquor store, cost all of $12.19 before tax.  The bottle itself is from 1991...
...which means that this was likely from the last batches of the old label old version of Old Taylor.  After this it was replaced by an all-Beam version of OT.  Like my 1987 bottle, this one lists both Frankfort (ND's home of Old Taylor and Old Crow distilleries) and Clermont (Beam), KY.  It also has the National Distillers UPC prefix 86259.
But unlike my beloved 1985 and 1987 bottles this bourbon was bottled at 40% ABV, rather than 43%.  And that, as I shall now demonstrate, makes a difference.

Owner: Beam Inc at time of bottling
Distilled by: National Distillers
Brand: Old Taylor
Distillery: possibly at Old Crow Distillery, some older spirit may be from Old Taylor Distillery but that's very doubtful in this instance
Location: Frankfort, Kentucky / Clermont, Kentucky
Mash Bill: ???
Age: minimum 6 years old; though it has been suggested by Michael Jackson that 10+ year old whiskey is in the mix
ABV: 40% ABV
Bottle year: 1991

Its color is dark gold.  The nose leads with cinnamon, rye, and vanilla custard.  Small perky highlights of dried blueberries, raspberry candy, and tangerines appear from time to time.  Then there's barrel char, bubblegum, jasmine, and denim.  With 30+ minutes in the glass, the whiskey picks up more rye-ish spices and a lot of caramel.  The palate is charry, slightly bitter, slightly sweet.  And watery.  There's a hint of soap, though that's due to bottle oxidation as I've found with all of my dusty Old Taylors; if I don't empty the bottle in two months, the soap demons come to take it away.  There's a very rich vanilla note which is met by cayenne pepper, tart berries, and tart citrus.  Time in the glass makes it slightly fruitier and bitterer.  The finish is simple but of decent length.  Sweet, floral, peppery.  The palate's berries sweeten up here.  The soap note shows up briefly.

I didn't add water due to the palate's thin nature, but I have put it on the rocks during a couple hot weekends.  With ice, it turns into a refreshing vanilla and halvah sipper.

The noses on these dusty Old Taylors leave me wonderfully prone to superb superlatives.  They're my favorite bourbon sniffers, and one of my favorite whisk(e)y smells overall.  (I can confirm the gorgeous aromas also show up in National Distillers' Old Grand Dad bourbons too.)  I don't know if this is due to decades in the bottle, or that this stuff used to smell this great back in the '70s, '80s, and '90s.  I've never smelled anything like it in contemporary whiskies.

On the other hand, the palate was disappointing, even discounting the soap note.  OT was excellent at 43% (and 50%) abv, but Beam seems to have broken it by reducing it to 40%.  In my stash there's an '89 that's 43% and a '90 that's 40%.  So it seems as if Beam tried to stretch out the last of their ND stocks during the final couple of years.  A bummer indeed.  It's not terrible, but it falls far short of the nose.  I might just finish off the last couple ounces on the rocks the next time the heat jumps above 90ºF.

Availability - Happy hunting!
Pricing - ???
Rating - 82 (gained a couple points by working well on the rocks, but if the palate had matched the nose then this would have been near 90)

Friday, July 10, 2015

WTF Is This? Ardbeg Perpetuum.

BOOM!  Almost-Relevant whisky.  Yes, this is still Diving for Pearls.  For those who have been reading my rambling for years know much of this Ardbeg intro, but for those who are newish...

As recently as three years ago, Ardbeg was one of my Top Five favorite distilleries.  They could do no wrong with their regular range of Ten, Uigeadail, and Corryvreckan.  I didn't find their Ardbeg Day events annoying and I eagerly awaited their annual special releases.  But then we each went or separate ways.  To adapt to demand and shortages or fiscal demands, Ardbeg changed the recipes of Oogy and Corry.  The whiskies got younger, the oak/wine got louder, and the balance couldn't hold.  What once was the best peated whisky on the market became just pretty good.  Meanwhile, I grew up.  The aggressive marketing began to read as circus barker gibberish and their special releases provided diminishing returns.  For instance:
Ardbeg Alligator - Woo hoo!
Ardbeg Day - Almost as good as Oogy!
Ardbeg Galileo - Someone screwed up, right?
Ardbeg Ardbog - Not bad, but $110?
Ardbeg Auriverdes - Who cares?
Ardbeg Perpetuum - No.

Usually when these special releases come out, LVMH's marketing team buries some information about the actual whisky contents within their storytelling.  But this year, they and Bill Lumsden are playing especially coy about Perpetuum's content.  They say it is “inspired by the main styles, ideas and quirks of fate which have influenced Ardbeg recipes over time. It combines different styles, different flavours, different dreams and different trials, all skilfully married together in a melange of the very best Ardbeg has to offer.”

So it's mystery meat.  $110 mystery meat.  Thanks to the Orange County Scotch Club, I was able to try the stuff and then I pirated a sample.

Distillery: Ardbeg
Owner: LVMH
Age: NAS
Maturation: one would assume so
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 47.4%
Release Year: 2015
Limited Bottling: 72,000

Tasting Notes:
Color - Pee.  Which usually means urine for a good time.

Nose - More burnt and mossy than the Ten.  Then cinnamon rolls, if fact there's a lot of cinnamon (cassia) in here.  New tires, ocean / seashells, and Laphroaig-y band-aids.  Eggy sulfur hits first, later it becomes struck match sulfur and singed tennis ball fuzz.  With 15-20 minutes of air, a new oak note develops, then totally takes over by the 25 minute mark.

Palate - Burnt and bitter (but good bitter).  Black licorice, mint, sweet basil, and a little bit of white sugar.  Between the burnt note and something meaty, it reminds me of Balcones Brimstone at times (though better).  Moments of hazelnuts and nutty sherry.  A curiously thin and watery texture.

Finish - Charred ribs, sugar and cinnamon, peat, rubber, and cheap cigar smoke.

1.  In Ardbeg's own description they're admitting this is a garbage pail whisky.  And that's not necessarily a bad thing.  There are some very good garbage pail whiskies (see the late Longrow CV).  But this is what they went with for the distillery's 200th anniversary?  Really, Ardbeg?  Why don't you show a little pride and release a cask strength version of the Ten?  You know, "This is us now, two centuries in, at full power. Deal with it."  It doesn't even have to be ten years old.  Just make it all bourbon cask, bottle it at 60%abv, and even bitter old Diving for Pearls would buy a bottle.
2. On the nose, I could do without the eggy sulfur, but I didn't mind the matches.  The new oak note was out of whack with the rest.  The palate was good and the finish was actually better.  But the very thin mouthfeel was strange.  That was the only thing that stood out when I first tried it at the club event two weeks ago.  I found that thinness again this time.  It was so watery that I didn't feel the need to add more.
3. As decent as the good parts are, overall the whisky is nothing that Ledaig can't do better, regularly.
4. In fact, it's nothing that Ardbeg's own regular range doesn't do better, regularly.

And again, #4 is the main problem.  The perpetual problem, if you will.  Each year the special release comes out, and each year it fails to top their regular cheaper stuff.   Exclusivity -- which is what I assume Ardbeg Day geeks are paying for -- does not equal quality.  So, if you're shilling out $100-$130 in order to hoard, flip, or brag about young brown liquid, then that's your financial decision (though you may want to read this).  But if you're thinking about buying Perpetuum to drink, then you can find much better whisky for less money, and some of those better bottles will still say Ardbeg on the front.

Availability - Unsurprisingly still available at many specialty retailers
Pricing - $100-$130, though much more on the secondary market
Rating - 81

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Spring Whiskies: Glenlivet Nadurra 16 year old, batch 0309H

Ha HA! I did take a picture
of this one.

Man, the last time I reviewed the Nadurra was way back during this blog's first few months of whisky reviews.  I'm not even sure which batch I had reviewed.  Things have changed since then.

I've always thought Nadurra was in a league separate from Glenlivet's 12 and 15 year olds, sort of like Glenfiddich's Distillery Edition compared to its own 12 and regular 15.  But I actually like Fiddich's 12 and 15, while I cannot say the same about Glenlivet's 12 and 15.  In fact, it's difficult to name any official 10-12yo single malt that I like less than the current Glenlivet 12.

Unlike some of its younger brethren, Nadurra 16 is all ex-bourbon barrel stuff.  In some batches, one can find really good casks in the mix.  While I've heard that recent batches (from 2013 and especially 2014) didn't match the quality of earlier ones, I can neither confirm or deny that possibility.  What I can confirm is that as of 2015 the age statement has gone away and the prices have risen.  Meanwhile, there are now NAS cask strength bourbon barrel batches, NAS cask strength sherry cask batches, and 48%abv batches of both for duty free.  Recently I had a glass of the CS sherry stuff and found the nose to be better than the palate, though with air the palate improved.  But overall it wasn't good enough to inspire me to buy a bottle.

Wow, that last paragraph was a mess.  I'll move on.

This bottle of Nadurra was from batch 0309H, which means it was the eighth batch overall and was dumped together in March 2009.  The bottling code on the back of the bottle shows April 2009.  And on the front it has the old Nadurra label.

Brand: The Glenlivet
Ownership: Chivas Brothers (Pernod Ricard)
Region: Speyside (Livet)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: American (ex-bourbon) oak casks
Age: minimum 16 years
Batch: 0309H (batched in March 2009)
Bottled: April 2009
Alcohol by Volume: 55.1%
Colored? Possibly
Chillfiltered? No

The color is a medium gold; there appears to be less e150a here than in Glenfiddich's Distillery Edition.  The nose begins very fruity: exotic tropical stuff, overripe peaches, clementines, and ripe honeydew.  Over time the fruit notes become more floral.  Meanwhile there are also notes of salted caramel ice cream, toffee pudding, and key lime pie, along with brief moments of vinyl raincoats and barrel char.  The palate is fruity up front too, more like lemon and lime zests.  It's thick and (wood) spicy.  Puddings, hard candies, and lollipops surround a roasty malt core.  Time in the glass reveals smaller notes of salt, burnt grains, and black peppercorns.  The long finish has rich vanilla and caramel, along with black cherry soda and lime lollipops.  This sweetness is met by a hint of spicy rye spirit and black peppercorns.

WITH WATER (~43%abv)
In the nose the tropical fruits recede, giving way to oakier things like barrel char, caramel candy, and toffee.  The clementine oranges are still in there.  As is a note that I can only describe as Mathilda's all natural baby wipes (some combo of cucumber/chamomile/licorice root).  The palate reads almost like a sweet and simple floral bourbon.  Lots of wood spice and caramel.  It finishes floral as well.  Also some powdered ginger, cinnamon, and char.

I reeeeeeaaaaaallllly like this batch, but until this official tasting I had never added water.  While it's acceptable whisky at 43%, it's much better when neat.

Some folks might find it to be too much on the sweet and fruity side.  Perhaps the oak gets a little loud sometimes.  And it's not the most complex thing.  But d-a-m-n do I dig it.  It smells and tastes delicious.  I wish Glenlivet hit this sweet spot more often.  And, you know, I don't really have any commentary other than that.  Recommended.

Availability - (all 16yo batches) still easily found at most specialty retailers
Pricing - (all 16yo batches) a wide range, from $60 to $90
Rating - (this batch only!)  89

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Spring Whiskies: Glenfiddich 15 year old Distillery Edition (2013)

Because I drink seasonally, I employ strategery when opening my bottles.  For instance, I don't open Octomores or Ardbegs in the summer because I don't crave soot and smoke in warm weather.  On the other hand, I don't open up light fruity whiskies in the winter since that's when I want heavier darker things in my glass.  Thus, it was a Spring of The Glens here.  My spring whiskies were two Glendronachs, one Glen Spey, one Glenlivet, and one Glenfiddich.  I reviewed the two Glendronachs last month; I'm making the Glen Spey last a long time; the review for the Glenlivet will be later this week; and I'll be damned but the 'Fiddich is all gone except for today's salvaged sample.  Hell, this big cork topper is all that's left of the bottle.

Yes, I never did review my winter whiskies.  I'll be sure to do so right in the middle of summer, at the least appealing time.

Anyway, back to the Glenfiddich.  As per my request, my lovely wife picked up a one-liter bottle of Glenfiddich 15 year old Distillery Edition from the duty free shop in OR Tambo (Johannesburg) Airport last December.  It's really one of the only whiskies of interest in a travel retail market full of overpriced NAS one-offs.

I reviewed the 15yo Distillery Edition last April from a purchased sample.  This time it's from a much larger and reliable source.  In the concluding section of last year's review I wrote, "Finally, an adult whisky from Glenfiddich", "a Glenfiddich that can easily compete with other upper echelon Speyside/Highland malts", "it's a real whisky and it's good to know what Glenfiddich can do", and that Oliver Klimek was right about something.  After obtaining my own bottle would I find those same statements to be true?  Or did that liter of whisky just magically and quickly vanish on its own?

Photo borrowed from last year's post because
I didn't even think to take a pic of my own bottle.
Brand: Glenfiddich
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks
Age: at least 15 years old
Bottle Code: L3
Alcohol by Volume: 51%
Colored? Probably
Chillfiltered? No

The color is reddish-orange gold.  There's quite a bit of (mostly American) oak in the nose, right up front.  Stuff like vanilla ice cream, Cow Tales candy, and milk chocolate.  Then dried apricots, canned peaches, black licorice, and lime juice.  Smaller notes of Pledge furniture polish, dried grass, something green like dandelion stems, and maybe some moss.  While plenty of caramel and vanilla live in the palate, there's also vibrant floral esters throughout.  Then milk chocolate, orange candies, and a hint of salt.  A peppery note builds with time.  The finish gets more orangey and floral than the palate.  I also found the canned peaches, caramel candies, and lemon candies.  To counter that are some tight tannins and a whiff of smoke.

WITH WATER (~43%abv)
At first the nose is silenced.  But gradually notes of canned peaches, lime zest, caramel, dried grass, and moss appear.  The palate is much more peppery now.  It's also thick and sweet.  Big notes of lime and oaky caramel, along with a hint of ginger.  The finish is also sweeter and still holds on for a while considering the added water.  Oranges, limes, and barley are what make it up.

The nose is very complex for a Glenfiddich, to which we can probably thank the higher ABV and lack of chillfiltration.  But it drinks so easily at 51%abv and that's where it wins.  That's why this one-liter bottle was drained much too quickly.  It's very rich without being very complex.  It holds up well with water, but I prefer it without.  Compared to last year's sample, my bottle had a little less sherry and a little more US oak.

Otherwise, everything else I have to say confirms my first review.  This is highest quality product in Glenfiddich's regular range and it's a shame it's not part of their regular range in the US.  While the 12yo and 15yo are very good values, the 15yo Distillery Edition is very good whisky.  As long as they keep selling these 1L bottles via travel retail, this will always be my first choice at duty free shops.

Availability - Everywhere except for the US
Pricing - this bottle was $70 for the full liter, otherwise 700mLs will run about $60-$80 with int'l shipping
Rating - 87 (neat only)

Friday, July 3, 2015

WTF Is This? Glen Gyle 8 year old Vatted Malt Whisky

This is Glen Gyle whisky, but it is not made at Glengyle distillery.  It is instead a Loch Lomond-owned brand of vatted Highland malt whiskies.  Because Loch Lomond would not sell the brand name to Glengyle's owners once the distillery reopened, Glengyle had to name their whisky something else.  They went with Kilkerran, the name of the nearby church.  Glen Gyle is an older small sparsely distributed brand, so the Glengyle / Glen Gyle issue seems on the surface like a weird dick move on the part of Loch Lomond.  Or......did Frank McHardy and company really just want to name their whisky after a church?  If anyone knows more information about this situation, please let me know.  I'd be happy to remove my "dick move" comment if it's unwarranted.

There's almost nothing online about Glen Gyle, other than the Glengyle/Kilkerran situation.  There were a few bottles in online auctions.  There's a mostly blank page in Whiskybase.  Here are some better bottle photos.  And that's it.  There's no additional information about it in any of my whisky books.  If you know more about this whisky, please let me know and perhaps together we can fill in the blankety blanks.

I do know one thing, I'll never have the opportunity (or desire) to do three Loch Lomond products in one week again!
Sample was from this very bottle

Brand: Glen Gyle
Current Ownership: Loch Lomond Distillery Co.
Type: Scotch Vatted (or Blended) Malt
Age: 8 years
Bottling year: I'm guessing late '80s or early '90s
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
(Sample purchased from Southern California Whiskey Club)

Its color is very gold considering its age, perhaps thanks to e150a?  Lots of fruit upfront in the nose: lemons, limes, and pineapple.  Then caramel and marzipan.  Gradually the esters steer towards roses and grapefruit.  Hint of hot cereal.  Also a tiny bit of blended Irish whiskey coarseness.  But overall, the whole nose is quite vivid for a 43%abv 8yo.  The palate is very sweet and malty.  Lots of lime.  Hints of peat and wood smoke.  Tannins gradually creep in, drying things out.  Vanilla and dusty sherry funk show up later on.  After a half hour, it's all bread crust, toffee, and pineapple.  In the finish it's citrus, more vanilla, and caramel.  Simple but inoffensive.  Smoke settles into the aftertaste.

Wow, that was unexpected.  I like this whisky.  I'm not sure what happened to the brand, and I seriously doubt they could get the quality whiskies they'd need for it, but if they could recreate this it would be great in the $30 range.  Loch Lomond Co. could actually have a hit on its hands.

I think there's some older stuff in the mix, maybe some old underproof sherried casks.  The subtle smoke is exactly the sort of thing I like in a number of Highland malts.  Though I remember reading somewhere that Glen Gyle contains Loch Lomond whiskies, either they're buried beneath stronger stuff or the distillery used to make better whisky than they do now.

So, if anyone out there has had Glen Gyle 8yo or knows more about it, please share in the comment section.  Thanks!

Availability - Auctions?
Pricing - ???
Rating - 84

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Where's the Love? Loch Lomond Batch 1 That Boutique-y Whisky Company Single Grain Whisky

Well this is a nice little triangle, isn't it?  In one corner, there's the oft troubling messy whisky from Loch Lomond.  In the next corner is the indie bottler whose samples (sold by their own retailer) always come out weirdly.  AND!  This is an NAS single grain.

Some random trivia:
--Loch Lomond is often cited by Tintin fans as Captain Haddock's booze of choice.  Well, it ain't this Loch Lomond.  Captain Haddock was introduced in 1940.  The distillery wasn't built until 1965, with production commencing in 1966, and the whisky not entering markets until around 1970.  So the make-believe character was drinking make-believe whisky.  Blistering barnacles!
--Loch Lomond distillery is not a member of the Scotch Whisky Association.  So that's kinda punk.
--There's a hand-knitted stuffed stegosaurus next to my computer right now and he's trying valiantly to make it look like he's not interested in what I'm typing.

Distillery: Loch Lomond
Owner: Loch Lomond Distillery Company
Independent Bottler: That Boutique-y Whisky Company (TBWC)
Age: damfino
Maturation: yes
Type: Single Grain
Region: Highlands (Western)
Alcohol by Volume: 52.4%
Limited Release: 191 bottles
(Sample purchased from Master of Malt by Tetris and donated to D4P. Thank you!)

The color is gold.  The nose is......unique.  I've never smelled a whisky like this, grain or malt or blend.  At first it was pine sap, citron, and lychee.  And then WHAM, this huge note of mango seed.  Having gnawed on my share of mangos (awesome in salsa, btw), I've discovered this intense sourness when I get to that that big-ass seed in the middle.  This whisky smells like that flavor.  While that scent doesn't go away entirely, some caramel and cinnamon join it after some time.  Kristen found a butterscotch note when she sniffed.  The palate has a mellower version of the mango seed thing.  There are larger notes of Red Hots candies, burnt wood, and especially fresh ginger.  The usual blah grain note is well hidden under all of this excitement, but it does gradually emerge.  And along with it comes an ever growing note of juniper.  Soon it's just juniper, ginger, and mango seed.  And that is exactly what carries through in the finish: juniper, ginger, and mango seed.

WITH WATER (a little below 40%abv)
The nose mellows out.  Citron, mango seed, caramel, cinnamon, and now some bread crust.  My first note about the palate: "barrel-aged gin".  Juniper, lime, ginger, mango seed, cinnamon, sugar, and caramel.  The finish doesn't change much other than getting sweeter.

I swear this is barrel-aged gin.  And I was about to write a whole big paragraph about it since I though I was being so original, but then I discovered that someone on Master of Malt's site already made this same observation.  So click here (and scroll down to the User Reviews) for the guy or gal who discovered it first.

But unlike the person who left that review, I kinda like this stuff.  Not necessarily as a whisky, but instead as an experience.  While I'd be totally happy to hate on TBWC and Loch Lomond, I can't here.  This is weird enough to be cool.

Unfortunately, it seems to be totally sold out.  It does make me wonder how Loch Lomond's grain whisky fares in general.  MoM has an 18yo single cask of LL's single grain, but $140 for 18yo grain whisky?!  No thanks.  If you've had any experiences with Loch Lomonds single grains, let me know in the comments below.  This one was a hoot!

Availability - Sold out?
Pricing - was €47.50 or £37.95 two years ago
Rating - I don't really know how to grade this.  I dunno, 80?