...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, August 28, 2015

WTF Is This? Birthday Edition: Old Ren B.I.B. Bourbon 1936-1944

A deep cut for the Birthday Edition..

If you're a frequenter of whisky blogs, you may have heard of this bourbon.  If so then that is due to one Joshua Feldman, a certain Coopered Tot.

Josh posted twice about Old Ren.  The first post was an extensive historical tour of the whiskey, the distillery, and Ren Clark.  It's a hell of an article and I highly recommend it.  Four months later, Josh posted a followup piece about a certain aspect of the whiskey's style.  Let's see if I can recap 3000 words in about 300...

The Bourbon!
Distilled in Fall 1936, Bottled in 1944 at 100 Proof (50%abv). 4/5 quart bottle. It was bottled by W.P. Squibb Distilling Co. Inc. of Vincennes, Indiana, as a one-time order for Ren Clark, the man with the hat and rabbit on the front label.  Brought to the twenty-first century via the always reliable The Coopered Time Machine™.
The Distillery!
Graham Distillery Company, Illinois Distillery No. 6.  No, not a NDP.  Yes, a real bourbon distillery in Illinois.  Located in Rockford, it seems to have operated before and after Prohibition, but is now in Bourbon Distillery Heaven.  The Graham family had a spiffy house, the distillery, and a cotton mill all in the same part of town.  (Here's a link to a Straight Bourbon discussion about Graham.)

The Bottler!
W.P. Squibb Distilling Co. Inc. had its own distillery in Indiana, for a while.  They named it Old Quaker Distillery and ran it until Schenley bought it during Prohibition.  Old Quaker's motto: "You don't have to be rich to enjoy rich whiskey." Yeah, that's nice. Tell that to the Scots. Anyway, Old Ren was bottled at their planet (formerly Eagle Brewery) in Vincennes, Indiana.

The Magician?!
A. Renerick Clark was indeed a magician, president of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, and co-founder of the Texas Association of Magicians.  He also was a banker and an executive for multiple oil companies, which is how he obtained the big bucks to leisurely peddle the magic arts.  He also opened a tiki bar, Polynesian Village, in Forth Worth, Texas, with his business partner Desi Arnaz.  (Yes, Mr. Lucy.)  He also thought it would be great to buy a large parcel of well-aged bourbon and have it bottled in bond.

For more information, I recommend Josh's post and all of the great links he provides.  Now, about the whiskey.  Is it any good?

The Review!
It has a cherry wood color with some maroon highlights.  In the nose a pretty floral layer lingers beneath dusty old sturdy furniture in the attic (old oak, lacquer, must, and dust).  Rock candy.  Dense caramel sauce and vanilla beans.  Hints of dried oregano and thyme in the background.  After 20 minutes it's lime→cream soda→vanilla→caramel.  After 30 minutes it's white chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies and maple syrup.  The palate is whisky candy.  Loads of rich vanilla.  Mint gelato and oranges at the edges.  Chocolatey rye.  A malty sweetness.  Its spiciness increases with time.  And it still has a heck of a bite to it after all these years.  Intensely aromatic vanilla leads in the finish.  Vanilla extract.  Also vanilla beans.  Vanilla.  Gentle oak spice.  Has that malty sweetness again, but a peep of bitterness keeps it from going overboard.  Maybe some black pepper.

¡The Vanilla! 
Vanilla was the first note Kristen found as well.  And wouldn't ya know it, that was what Josh's second Old Ren post was about.  In it, he and two lawyer/geeks delve into the laws behind the "Straight" designation for American whiskies.  Why the "Straight" issue?  Because of this:
The bottle labels were originally produced with the "Straight" designation.  And then it was covered up by those printed red boxes.  One could ponder, "Was this because a vanilla flavoring was added, thus challenging the Straight nomenclature?"  But because the bourbon was designated Bottled-In-Bond by the government, it legally couldn't have any flavor additives anyway.  Or did Ol' Ren pull a fast one in order to make sure...
...there's magic in its taste?

Or was it a super vanilla-y batch of bourbon that developed more vanilla notes after 70 years in the bottle?  This is the option we're left with because as of now no one has been able to prove otherwise.

I'm giving this a high score because I loved the intensity of that vanilla character.  The finish went on for twenty minutes.  Overall, it wasn't massively nuanced or sophisticated.  Instead it was a whiskey that puts a smile on a face and that was needed the night before my birthday.  Thank you, Josh!

Availability - In a magical place
Price of admission - Whatever is asked
Rating - Vanilla, er, 90

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Birthday Booze! Glen Grant 37 year old 1974 Berry Brothers & Rudd (cask 7643)

For my birthday this year, I thought it best that as a stay-at-home father I should celebrate by remaining completely sober all night.

HA HA! HA HA! Ha Ha! Ha. ha. ha. ha.


I'll move on.

So, I drank some things on my birthday, including a 1978 Calvados (reviewed here) and a 1978 Benriach single cask (reviewed here).  I ended the night with a 37 year old whisky.  A single sherry cask of Glen Grant, bottled by Berry Brothers & Rudd.  Old Glen Grant tends to be reliably excellent, which makes one wonder why new Glen Grant isn't reliably excellent.  But then again, none of us are as good as we used to be while the mind, the body, and humanity at large decays into the fetid garbage heap that is the future.

I've been reading too many Nihilist Arby's tweets.

So much to say about this whisky in this introduc--

Distillery: Glen Grant
Ownership: Campari
Bottler: Berry Brothers & Rudd
Range: Berrys'
Age: 37 years (1974 - 2012)
Maturation: some sort of ex-sherry cask
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Alcohol by Volume: 47.8%
Chill filtered? No
Caramel Coloring? No

Its color is very dark gold, maybe some maroon highlights.  In the nose, the sherry starts out dry almost smoky.  More nuts than dried fruits.  There are small notes of dried herbs and menthol.  With time, the fruits do come out to play.  Then dark chocolate and mint leaves.  On the palate, dry nutty sherry splashes up against a wall of malt.  Again, with time, the grapes emerge.  Unlike yesterday's Benriach, the bitterness is more herbal/wormwood than oak-related.  Then bits of cigar and toffee.  Pretty rich without being very sweet.  Orange peel and dark cherries meet roasted malt in the finish.  Then lime, toffee, a soft bitterness, and a hint of smoke.

WITH WATER (~46%abv, just a few drops)
The nose becomes maltier.  A little bit of toffee.  More dried berries than grapes.  Never a hint of sulphur.  Meanwhile, there's less malt in the palate.  It's sweeter, with raisins and dried blueberries.  No more smoke or bitterness in the finish.  But there are more berries and overall sweetness.

A couple years ago, someone was nice enough to share with me an official Macallan 18yo that had been distilled in 1984.  Not being a fan of the current version of Mac 18, I tried the '84 with doubts.  But, thanks to more malt, drier sherry, and a touch of smoke, I declared, "Now, this is good."  This Glen Grant reminds me of that particular Macallan.

Nothing about the whisky propels it into the Excellent realm.  Instead, it's a very solid, very full, graceful sherried whisky without major flaws.  Serge V. came to a similar conclusion, though with a few different notes.  Meanwhile, one of the other Maniacs found it sweeter than I did.  In any case, good stuff.

Availability - Secondary market?
Pricing - Used to be around $170!?!? (Sheesh, Berrys' has a 23yo non-sherried Bunna going for $220 nowadays.)
Rating - 88

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Birthday Booze! BenRiach 32 year old 1978 cask 4387 Virgin Oak Finish

BenRiach Distillery Company acquired a large quantity of casks when they purchased the actual BenRiach distillery.  There are/were casks from The Glenlivet Distillers Ltd. containing whisky distilled between 1965 and 1978.  And there were even more casks from Seagram Distillers with whisky from 1978 to 2002.  Thus because Billy Walker & Co. bought the place in 2004, the vast majority of their bottled whisky was distilled by another company.  That includes both their regular range (outside of Heart of Speyside and the new 10 year old) and their nearly 400 individual single casks.

Some of these single casks include peated spirit that Seagrams started distilling in 1983 (according to the Malt Whisky Yearbook).  Many of them contained unpeated spirit.  Some casks were released as is.  Some were recasked or finished in new or different casks.  The sample I purchased from whiskysamples.eu almost two years ago was of an unpeated single malt distilled in 1978, originally casked in what was likely a former bourbon barrel-turned-hogshead, then finished in a Virgin Oak hogshead.  I bought the sample because it was from 1978 and also because I was curious as to the impact a new oak cask would have on long-aged whisky...

Distillery: Benriach
Ownership: BenRiach Distillery Company Ltd
Age: 32 years old (late 1978 - July 2011)
Maturation: Primary - refill ex-bourbon cask (a guess). Secondary - virgin oak hogshead (listed). Length of time for each unknown.
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Alcohol by Volume: 50.9%
Cask #: 4387
Bottle count: 354
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Coloring? No
(Sample purchased from the old whiskysamples.eu)

The color is dark gold, like a young bourbon.  The nose begins with mild notes of white peaches and yellow nectarines, creamy vanilla, milk chocolate, and shredded wheat cereal.  But with time, the oak takes over.  Lots of worn out wood and tree bark.  The palate starts with tobacco, caramel, orange zest, and black pepper.  There's a medium level of bitterness.  A little bit of ethyl.  A small note of papery cardboard shows up late, along with a lot more oranges.  It finishes with the tobacco, pepper, and mild bitter notes.  Some more pleasant things then show up, like dried fruit (apricot and pineapple), wheat bread, and a curious hint of smoke.

Strangely, the nose gets tighter.  More of that tree bark note.  Green leaves and tomato plants.  Caramel and maybe some pears.  Lots of wood spice and wood bitterness in the palate.  Vanilla beans and caramel.  More oddness, in that the finale is now the most complex part.  White fruits, caramel, sugar, butter, black pepper, and wood bitters.

What an odd duck.  If I'd tasted this blindly, I would have no idea what its age was.  I'd certainly never guess it was 20+, let alone 30+.  Part of the reason is due to the original cask and the new cask being in conflict with each other.  There's both bland oak and big oak happening at the same time.  It's better neat and best before it breathes too much.  If it could just drop the woody bitterness, the finish would be very good.

I'm going to guess the obvious: the new ownership came upon a limp cask and decided to spruce it up with fresh new oak.  To me, that didn't work.  In fact, the whisky might have been better before it was futzed with.  Normally I'm a big fan of BenRiach's official products (and they tend to be one of the better exotic cask finishers), but I'm not sure why they didn't bury this whisky in the 25yo or 30yo (or even the 20yo) or sell it to a blender rather than releasing it as a single cask.  While it has its issues, it is drinkable, but I expect more from a 32 year old single cask from a good distillery.

If you're looking for another take, whiskybase voters totally disagree with me.

Availability - A few European retailers
Pricing - it was about €200 three years ago, now it's around €330-€500
Rating - 81

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Birthday Booze! Lemorton 35 year old 1978 Calvados Domfrontais, the final chapter

This year's birthday booze started out with a huge pour of the 1978 I'd opened last year.  Back in 2012 I began the ritual of opening up a special (and expensive) 1978 whisky that I'd only drink on my birthday.  That precedent-setter was a Balblair 1978, and it was good for three birthdays' worth of posts.  Since 2012, a funny thing happened.  Or not so funny, I guess.  The price of 1978 whiskies has risen exponentially.  Hell, 1988 whiskies are now more expensive than 1978s were three years ago.  So while I do have a pair of '78 single malts in the stash, those will be the last.  Vintage be damned, I'll just open something fun on my birthdays.

Meanwhile, last year, I decided I would open up a 1978 that I'd found for a fraction of the price of a single malt.  It was a calvados, a calvados brandy from the Domfrontais region of Calvados, Lower Normandy, France.  While calvados brandy is usually made primarily from apples, there is an exception.  Pear trees flourish in the Domfrontais region's soil, so local brandy makers have added these fruits to their calvados mash.  To get the "Domfrontais" appellation on the label, the calvados distillate needs to be made up of at least 30% pear.  The Lemorton family's calvados distillate content is 70% pear.

For more words, see last year's post.  And for even better info see Charles Neal's site.

To the booze!

Type: Brandy
Country: France
Region: Calvados (in Lower Normandy)
Subregion/commune: Domfront, Orne
Family: Lemorton
Distillate: approximately 30% apple / 70% pear
Distillation: once through a column still
Year distilled: 1978
Year bottled: 2013
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
(from just above mid-bottle)

The color is bourbon brown, pretty dark for a calvados.  The nose starts out all apples and honey, and though other notes appear, the apples and honey always remain up front.  There are some roses, lemon peels, oaty granola or maybe oats & brown sugar, and a hint of sweat.  But in the palate, the pears take over.  Small notes of salt, pepper, and clover honey.  A mild sugariness, never cloying.  After 20-30 minutes, tart apples come rolling in.  Honey is the biggest note in the finish.  Then, Macintosh apple skins.  Yes, I know that's the wrong apple for this juice.  A mild dryness lingers.  Hints of baked apples and pears show up late.

So any changes since last year?  Yep, much less wood spice now.  Less pepper too, though that may have come from the wood as well.  That has made the liquid an even easier drink now.  Perhaps slightly less complex though.  The pear notes have receded and the apples have largely taken over.

You readers will not see this getting reviewed next year.  I'll open something else then.  While this is still an enjoyable drink, there's nothing to keep it from being anything other than a nice everyday comfortable spirit for the warmer days.  Okay, nothing other than the price and age statement.  But it's open now and it's meant to be enjoyed and, frankly, it's not a world beater.

If you're looking for a calvados brandy distilled in 1978, there aren't many (or any?) others being sold in the US, so this would fit your needs.  But you need to ask yourself, is the age or year of distillation really that important?  The Camut 6 year old can stand toe-to-toe with this one any day, and at less than half the price.

Availability - A dozen or two retailers in the US and Europe
Pricing - $150-$180 (US), $120-$140 (Europe)
Rating - 84

Friday, August 21, 2015

WTF Is This? Mosstowie 1975-1994 G&M Connoisseur's Choice

No, Mosstowie is not a distillery.  It is a fungal disorder quickly contracted by the body when walking barefoot through the Highlands.






That "joke" doesn't even work.  Mosstowie usually pronounced with a hard 'ow', like "Ow, that was painfully poor", rather than 'oh', like "Oh, what wonderful wit."

Look, this is what passes for original content when the writer is an insomniac stay-at-home father.

Soooooooo, Mosstowie was the single malt produced from two Lomond stills (rather than pot stills) at Miltonduff distillery between 1964 and 1981.  Back in the '50s and '60s, Hiram Walker installed Lomond stills at their Miltonduff, Glenburgie, Scapa, and Interleven/Dumbarton distilleries as a way to create a wider variety of whiskies for blenders from one single setup.  Their fates were brief: Glenburgie's Glencraig Lomond stills (like Miltonduff/Mosstowie's) were scrapped in 1981, Interleven distillery was closed in 1991, and Scapa's Lomond has been heavily modified.  So Hiram Walker's Lomond stills weren't what one would call a full success.

Today's review is of a 1975 Mosstowie that was released amongst Gordon & MacPhail's expansive (but originally not expensive) Connoisseur's Choice range in 1994.  Many many thanks go out to Teemu of Whisky Science with whom I did some sample swappin'.

Distillery: Miltonduff
Malt: Mosstowie
Ownership at the time: Hiram Walker
Independent Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail (Connoisseurs Choice)
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Distillation year: 1975
Bottling year: 1994
Maturation: probably not first fill casks
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

(pic source)
Its color is a medium-to-dark gold.  At first, the nose is almost all spirit-driven.  Hay, seaside, barley, and a hint of white fruits.  Then there's carob, caramel, and buttery shortbread cookies.  After 15-20 minutes in the glass, a maple syrup note appears and quickly expands. A little sawdust and furniture polish.  At the start, the palate has a nice slight funky musty thing going on (OBE, is that you?) which quickly dissipates. Hints of coffee beans and dark chocolate.  Barley, caramel, and those shortbread cookies.  Maybe a peep of orange zest. It's never too sweet. Texture's a little thin. About 15 minutes in, vanilla and wood spice notes begin to show.  After 25 minutes, a big wood bitterness takes over.  The finish begins with a sugary vanilla breakfast cereal (specifically Trader Joe's Vanilla Almond Clusters). Then a roasted note, reminiscent of the palate's coffee and dark chocolate.  A little peppery tingle on the roof of the mouth.  There's a peep of bitterness at first, that then expands along with the bitterness in the palate.

The LAWS guys liked this whisky and mentioned no particular oddities.  Meanwhile both Johannes (of Malt Madness lore) and Serge (of Whiskyfun Gone Wild) both make point to reference that the palate gets really woody after a while.

I agree with the Europeans on this one.  To me, the oak even grows loud in the nose.  But before that happens, this is an acceptable middle of the road single malt.  The low ABV likely keeps much of its potential richness at bay, but the whisky is simple and pleasant, and would likely appeal to many blend drinkers.  And then the oak rumbles in and zaps it.  I don't know what causes this sort of thing to happen.  Spirit issues from the stills?  An imbalance from too much added water?  Caramel colorant?  Or maybe just some weird casks.  So, to somewhat echo Johannes, I'd have to say this one's a drinker not a thinker.  And make haste!

Availability - Auctions
Pricing - $$$ !!! ???
Rating - 82 until the fifteen minute mark, at which point it loses 5 points; at the half hour mark it loses another 5 points.  This is all very exacting and scientitious.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Single Malt Report: Talisker 18 year old 1979 Cadenhead's Authentic Collection

Today I'm reviewing a 18 year old Talisker, distilled in 1979, bottled by Cadenhead in their old tall green bottle "Authentic Collection".  It comes to this blog courtesy of the most generous Cobo.

My experience with the Authentic Collection is about 50/50.  Half of the time I find these very high ABV whiskies to be intensely hot and tight.  Water tames the heat, but does little to open up the whisky.  The other half of the time, these whiskies prove to be excellent.  Let's see how this one -- which I've been waiting to find an excuse to open -- fares.

Distillery: Talisker
Ownership: Diageo
Independent Bottler: Cadenhead's
Range: Authentic Collection
Age: 18 years old (July 1979 - April 1998)
Maturation: "Oak Cask", yup
Region: Isle of Skye
Alcohol by Volume: 61.1%
(Thanks to Cobo!)

The color is of pale straw, which is often the color of the whiskies in this range.  The nose starts off with just ocean, burnt wood, and a seaweed-peat combo.  Then suddenly there are peated cinnamon buns, shortbread, lemon, and smoked toffee.  The palate leads with peat cinders and a generous helping of chili oil.  Behind that, there are smaller notes of smoked almonds, fruity shisha, and cherry candy.  Lots of smoked salt in the finish.  Then lemon juice, shortbread, and barley.

Okay, this whisky feels closed.  Adding water...

WITH WATER (~50%abv)
Out come the lemons in the nose, and some faint limes and tart peaches. Then paste, seaweed, and white frosting.  The palate has cinnamon, salt, cigars, and black peppercorns.  In the finish the pepper goes more cayenne.  Still the salt, cinnamon, and tobacco.

Trying a little more water to see what happens...

WITH WATER (~43%abv)
In the nose, the peat gets slightly farmier.  Still lots of ocean air.  Now some brown sugar and a hint of jasmine flowers.  A better bitter peat smoke shows up in the palate.  Gentle notes of brown sugar and vanilla get somewhat corrupted by a cardboard note.  The finish is fading, now tingly, sweet, and salty.

I can't believe I'm writing this, but I'd take the new Laphroaig 15yo (reviewed on Tuesday) over this 1979 Talisker without a second thought.  Thanks to previous experiences, my expectations for older Taliskers are set pretty high.  So while this is not a bad whisky, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed.  As referenced earlier, like many of the green bottle Authentic Collection whiskies, this Talisker bottled at a high ABV and shows very little oak.  The latter is a good thing.  The former, not always a good thing.

At full strength it felt tight, but the nose was decent and I enjoyed the big chili oil heat in the palate.  The nose picks up some new complexity at 50%abv, though the palate gets simpler.  At 43% the nose remains nice though simple, while the palate and finish seem to be falling apart.

Had I not known what this was a '70s Talisker perhaps I'd be less critical.  But still, I don't think I'd find it any more expressive or complex.  It's still a peppery barnburner, full of ocean and barley.  And that's about where it stops.

Availability - Auctions?
Pricing - ???
Rating - 83

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Single Malt Report: Laphroaig 15 year old 200th Anniversary

200K views for me, 200 years for Laphroaig...

Many long time whisky fans reminisce fondly about the old Laphroaig 15.  I am not amongst their number.  The 15 was fine but I always preferred the rawer 10yo and Cask Strength.  In 2009, the 15 was replaced by an 18 year old.  Imagine that, an official bottling replaced by an older whisky.  Again, I found the 18 to be decent though unremarkable, brighter than the 15, though quieter.  But in 2013, Laphroaig changed the design of all of their labels, and I was told by friends with reliable palates that the 18 had changed and improved.  I tried it and I agreed.  But now, in 2015, there's an undying rumor that the 18 year old is on its way out, to be replaced by a 15 year old.  IF, if, if that is true then that is some very quick turnaround/turnover.

Meanwhile, Laphroaig celebrated its 200th anniversary (1815-2015) earlier this year by releasing......you guessed it, a limited edition of a 15 year old.  Perhaps, I should put the limited in quotes.  It's a 72,000 bottle "limited" release.  (If someone mocks Diageo for their 50000+ bottle limited bourbons, then it would be hypocritical of him not to mock Beam Suntory for their 72000 bottle limited scotches.)  As of the day I am writing this post, neither this release nor the 2015 Cairdeas has made it to the West Coast, though they are both for sale in much of the rest of the country.

The reviews of this new 15yo have been very positive, so I purchased a pair of samples of it from the Whiskybase Shop to see if the whisky is worth the hubbub.

Distillery: Laphroaig
Owner: Beam Suntory
Type: Single Malt
Region: Islay
Age: minimum 15 years
Release Year: 2015
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrels
"Limited" Release: 72,000 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chill-filtration? Possibly
Caramel colored? Possibly

Drinking Laphroaig on a 95ºF summer's day was a little unusual for me, so I switched on The Flaming Lips' Christmas on Mars soundtrack for this tasting because it made sense.

The color is light gold with an orange hue.  The nose's first notes are mango, vanilla, shortbread, and a very soft peating.  Then comes grapefruit, Campari, dried grass clippings, and orange gummi bears.  But after a good 20+ minutes in the glass, the whisky emits some good Laphroaig stink and a whole pile of citrus peels.  The peat moss is much bigger on the palate.  A nice bitter edge to the smoke.  There's the grapefruit and Campari from the nose.  Then some smaller notes of lime, caramel, and peppercorns.  The finish has quite a bite for a 43%abv whisky.  Tart citrus, an herbal bitterness, and lots of pepper.  A moment of tropical fruit punch.  Smoke and sweetness lingers longest.

Since Laphroaig 10yo is often bottled at 40%abv overseas, I thought I'd check out what this 15yo would be like at that level.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose is full of orange peel and peated orange marmalade.  Vanilla and the seaside.  The palate is still pretty bold.  Wet wool left by the fireplace.  Very green peat.  Sharp peppery spearmint leaves.  A good bitter nip in the finish, along with some dirty peat and soft sweetness.

I'm uh...um...impressed.  All of Laphroaig's recent tootling around with oak in their NAS and AS stuff had resulted in my low expectations.  But this is good whisky.  While the oak is present, it never intrudes.  It's a mellower version of the 10, but still loaded with character.  Plus the whisky thrives with a few drops of added water.

If this is the stuff that would allegedly replace the new 18, then that wouldn't be a total tragedy.  Just a small bummer perhaps.  Pricing for this whisky starts at $80 in the US.  Personally, I won't pay that price for a 43%abv 15yo from a conglomerate.  You may feel differently.  Perhaps 72,000 bottles is super limited in your opinion, and thus the pricing is reasonable.  I would feel differently.  But as for the liquid itself, the quality is there.  If only we could have a world where the 10, 10CS, 15, and 18 would live together in harmony.  Maybe next decade?

Availability - apparently all over the US, except for the Best Coast
Pricing - $80-$100
Rating - 88

Monday, August 17, 2015

200,000+ Views (as per Google Analytics)! Thank you!

Lady and Gentlemen!

This blog somehow just zipped past another nice round-numbered milestone.  Thank You Thank You Thank You to all of my readers no matter how you found this site or how frequently you visit.  I appreciate stealing your attention while you're at work or in bed or on the can.

This second 100K happened much quicker than had been expected thanks to one fateful series of posts written in early January.  What Was the Scotch Whisky Boom series has been viewed 10,000 times (by actual humans).  That number is astounding and frightening and sexually invigorating.  Perhaps the series told people what they already knew or what they wanted to hear or what they already feared.  Whatever the reason, those posts struck some sort of chord and has kept me rechecking my charts out of sheer paranoia that I've gotten something wrong.

While it's now no longer a secret that the so-called-Boom is in the past tense, I still witness so many whisky geeks buying out of scarcity fears.  And I still see prices rising.  Next January, I'll update the spreadsheets and graphs, as long as the figures are still being made public.  At that point I'll also update the pricing spreadsheet and share that with you all as well.  If any one of my beloved readers has access to industry data that is more granular and specific than that released by the SWA, and is willing to provide it anonymously so that I may apply deeper analysis, together we may be able to create something of interest and assistance to many Scotch drinkers.

There were also 90,000 views that weren't connected to the Boom series.  The Top 25 All Time posts hasn't changed a whole lot since last May, so if you want the old long list you can click over there.  But let's see what's happened since then.

Firstly and most importantly, my daughter was born.  Everything else is sorta quiet compared to her.

Also, I went to Japan.  My brother got married.  Mathilda turned one.  I went through a long buying freeze.  I left the dusty hunt.  And this stay at home dad squeezed out over 140 single malt reports whenever his daughter allowed him.

Aside from the Scotch Boom stuff, here are the Top Dozen new posts:
1. A Friendly Reminder to Kill Your Whisky Gods
2. The original Suntory Royal SR review -- okay, so this was posted the month before the 100K marker but the number of clicks this review gets baffles me
3. Grangestone Double Cask review
4. Usquebach Old-Rare review
5. Whisky Observations from Japan (or Where the Hell is the Japanese Whisky?)
6. Glen Scotia 12 year old (old label) review
7. Talisker 25 year old (2012 bottling) review
8. Four Roses Single Barrel OBSK barrel 37-1B review
9. Balcones Rumble, batch R12-3 review
10. Karuizawa Spirit of Asama 48% review
11. R.I.P. Willett 4 year old Family Estate Single Barrel MGP Rye
12. Hello, Loch Dhu and Cu Dubh. Goodbye, 2014.

Some odd ones in there.  Um, Glen Scotia 12?

And the ten countries with the most views were:
1. United States of America, making up 52% of the total views
2. Canada
3. United Kingdom
4. Germany
5. Australia
6. Netherlands
7. India
8. France
9. Sweden
10. Finland

While blend reviews made up 18% of my first 100K posts, they only accounted for 12% of the second 100K. While the big four malts (Macallan, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, and Glenmorangie) made up 14% of my first 100K, they made up less than 7% of the second 100K.  So even if I discount the Scotch Boom views, it's clear that people are coming to my site for things other than the super popular whiskies.  And if you look at that list of Top Dozen new posts above, readers are clearly going for some of the quirkier things.  And that's great because that's the path I prefer to travel as well!

One final thought regarding the Boom's demise.  If whisky's popularity continues to shrink then will my pageviews -- and those of other whisky bloggers -- do the same?  Probably.  That's how it goes.  As industries contract, so do peripheral businesses.  I guess that's one good thing about running an independent site, I won't be losing revenue.  Can't say the same thing about blogs and publications that directly rely on an expanding industry for financing and content.

This week I'll celebrate this recent milestone with one relevant whisky and one irrelevant whisky and then a WTF? whisky (super irrelevant!).  And the following week will be a whole bunch of stuff that I'm sure will be brilliant.

Thank you!

Friday, August 14, 2015

WTF Is This? Pride of Orkney 12 years old Vatted(?) Malt

Last Friday, it was Pride of Islay 12yo.  This week is its cousin, Pride of Orkney 12yo.

A similar starting schpiel to last week's:  This is a Gordon & MacPhail product from the '80s and early '90s, and part of a range of Prides, such as Islay, Lowlands, and Strathspey.  And almost verbatim... I'm 75% sure this is a vatted (or blended) malt.  Most online resources say as much.  But whiskybase shows it as a single malt, so I'll leave that parenthetical question mark in the title.  If you do google Pride of Orkney, you'll mostly find auction listings and most of those are of this very mini (50mL) version.  Not a lot of reviews of it out there, other than one from a certain prolific Frenchman, so hopefully this post will help someone on this planet.

The label does state "Highland Malt", which is funny because just two weeks ago my chosen WTF whisky had labelled another Island whisky a "Highland Malt".  So the usage of this vague, marketing/branding terminology goes back long before the recent whisky craze.  The label also displays a photo of St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, which is right up the street from Highland Park distillery.  So, that may have folks thinking this is a Highland Park, if it is indeed a single malt.  But Scapa distillery is also in Kirkwall.  The difference in distance from the distilleries to the cathedral is all of 1 kilometer (2.8km for Scapa, 1.8km for Highland Park).  Thus again, I'd be happy to accept that this is a vatted (or blended) malt of the two Orkney distilleries.

Brand: Pride of
Pride of what? Orkney
Ownership: Gordon & MacPhail
Type: Scotch Vatted (or Blended) Malt
Age: minimum 12 years
Bottling year: most likely somewhere in the 1980s or 1990s
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
(Many thanks again and again to Cobo for this opportunity!)

The color is a dark brownish gold.  Like the Pride of Islay, it leaves one wondering: is it big on sherry or big on e150a?  The nose has much less sherry in it compared to the Islay.  More cereal notes.  More American oak, though not nearly as much as current whiskies display. There's something grungy and dirty on top (sorta Campbeltown-ish, if we can call that a region).  But underneath there's orange zest and vanilla.  With time in the glass, the whisky picks up some green apples, maple wood, and a hint of soapy florals.  The palate is loaded with tobacco and cocoa powder. More sherry perhaps? Minimum sweets at first.  White fruit essences, especially those green apples. It's lightly grassy with some mint leaves.  A little vanilla balanced with a little bitterness.  Gets sweeter with time.  The finish is sweeter than the palate.  Still has that balance of vanilla and bitterness. Menthol and sherry.

This is a satisfactory whisky.  Its pleasures are the reverse of the Islay, wherein this one's palate is much better than the nose.  Like the Islay, the finish is the Orkney's weakest point, possibly the result of the ABV.  Then again, the whole package is so acceptable that I can't imagine it getting that much better at 43% or even 46%.  The peat is nearly silent and the sherry restrained as the spirit pads about casually.

Again, if you have a 70cL bottle in your stash, or one of these minis, you're sitting on an acceptable whisky which I can't imagine would be worth the effort to flip on the secondary market.  So drink it and be moderately satisfied.

Availability - Auctions, I s'pose
Pricing - ???
Rating - 82

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Life of a Whisky Bottle: Ledaig 15 year old (2001 bottling)

This whisky and I have some history.  It was introduced to me three and a half years ago at a most formative tasting, one that introduced me not only to Ledaig, but also early Corryvrecken and Willett's single barrels of LDI/MGP rye.  It left me wondering, what is this weird Ledaig stuff?

It also left me searching for my own bottle of the now extinct white-labelled 15 year old.  My online searches took me as far as Yorkshire, UK.  Lucky me, for my wife had a business trip near the retailer around that time.  Lucky me, for my wife received the whisky parcel at her hotel.  Lucky me, for my wife couriered it back to our home.  Lucky me, for my wife.

My plan was to open the bottle this past winter.  But then Long Beach had late summer heat until November.  Then we were traveling in December.  So it wasn't opened until January of this year.  Thus the bottle's winter was short, as was its open life.

As an experiment, I took samples from the top of the bottle, the mid-third, and the bottom of the bottle, in January, February, and April.  I've done Life of Bottle posts before where I've done tastings throughout the bottle's life, but this time I would taste various points of the bottle at the same time in order to compare and see how much it changes and oxidizes or oxygenate in the bottle.

One thing to note before I dive into the results, this whisky was bottled in 2001......which means that the whisky in the bottle is older than 15 years.  In 1982, Tobermory distillery (which makes Ledaig single malt) was closed and turned into apartments and (yes) cheese storage by the real estate company that owned the facility.  Production restarted in 1989.  This means the whisky in my bottle was 19-20 years old, or possibly older.  If that sounds a bit nutty, consider the entry in The Whisky Monitor for the 2003 bottling, which was 21 years old or older.  These are the sorts of things that happen when whisky industries have gone through a long term down period, and also when companies are establishing an age stated range (like current GlenDronach).

Now, onto the tasting.  My Annoying Opinions and Chemistry of the Cocktail will be posting simul-reviews of the whisky from this very bottle.  I'll include links to their reviews as soon as I am able...

And here they are!
MAO's review: http://myannoyingopinions.com/2015/08/12/ledaig-15-43/
Cocktailchem's review: http://cocktailchem.blogspot.com/2015/08/whisky-review-ledaig-15-year.html

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Ledaig
Type: Single Malt
Region: Isle of Mull
Age: minimum 15 years old, though actually 19 years or older in this case
Maturation: probably ex-bourbon barrels
Bottling year: 2001
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Colored? ???
Chillfiltered? ???

This bottle's usage:
24% - Swaps and shares
0% - Whisky experiments
20% - Graded tastings
56% - Casual drinking

Color - Gold
Nose - A cheerful green/herbal note; think anise and cucumber skins.  Wood smoke and gentle peat moss.  Raspberry candy and rhubarb pie.  Dry leaves, grilled fish/seaweed, and wet sand.  With plenty of air, the candied notes remain, but not the herbal note.  A farmy hint appears as does a louder cinnamon note.
Palate - Pretty peppery and lightly sweet.  Barbecue and charred meat.  Salt and toasty barley.  A hint of tobacco.  With time an herbal bitter note grows and grows.  The peat expands.  The cinnamon note arrives, along with hints of tropical fruit punch and peach liqueur.
Finish - Sweeter and more vanilla-ed here.  Beachy and salty.  Slight lime tartness and herbal bitterness.  With air, the cinnamon shows up here too, as does the peach liqueur.

MID BOTTLE, February 2015
Similar to the 1/15 notes but with the following differences: 
Nose - More citrus and rhubarb pie.  Some dark chocolate and citronella candles.  With air, it remains bright and fruity, but also a little floral. Maybe a note of floral soap.  Salty cheese and butter.
Palate - Much more vanilla now. More direct overall. Bigger sweets, bigger bitter.  Some anise and pepper, less charred beef.  With time, a butter note develops. Cinnamon. More peppercorns and wormwood. Peat's a little dirtier. 
Finish - Peat is louder, as are the sweets and bitter.  Oddly, it feels longer.  With time, the peat and bitterness vanish, replaced by butter, cinnamon, and dried herbs.

Similar to the 1/15 and 2/15 notes but with the following differences: 
Nose - Fruitier still. More grassy, more anise, less smoke, less grilled fish/seaweed. Peat feels cleaner, saltier.  Hint of cardboard.  With time, it gets a little farmier.  Maybe some lime candy.
Palate - Mildest peat yet. Mild overall. Vanilla, pepper, and hay.  Picks up some more spice and florals with time, but also awakens that cardboard note.
Finish - Sugary vanilla, salt, and lots of cracked pepper.

Observation #1: The first thing that struck me was how subtle and graceful this was compared to my experience with it three and a half years ago.  Back then I was seduced by its big weird smoke and strength.  Now, after having tried quite a number of modern Ledaigs, I'm fascinated by this whisky's calm.  It's certainly the mellowest Ledaig I've ever tried.

Observation #2: Usually I find the first pour from a bottle to be closed and a little jumbled.  The middle third is often my favorite part.  This time the top of the bottle proved to be the most complex.  The mid-bottle pour from this bottle was definitely the friendliest and brightest.  But really there wasn't a heck of a lot of change between the two.  Oxygen didn't do too much work over that first month.  But after three months, and with the bottle spending most of its open life less than half full, oxidation had started to affect the whisky.  The edges were gone, the palate had begun to flatten out, and the finish started to vanish.

Observation #3: As I'd mentioned in the intro, I searched for this bottle long and far, finding it 5,500 miles away and buying it at a considerable price.  Two years later, I discovered two stores in my neighborhood still carried that very bottle and at almost half the price.  Two facepalms transpired.

Observation #4: I don't know if there's anything on the market quite like it, but at the same time it is not worth $100+.  If you do have one of these and you do open it, I recommend hitting it with some Private Preserve (or something like it) once you get to mid-bottle.

Observation #5: It's not a 92-point whisky, but it's still very good.  I'm glad I opened it rather than keeping it tucked away all crowded in with other lonely bottles.

Availability - Happy Hunting!!!
Pricing - $60-$120
Rating - 87

Friday, August 7, 2015

WTF Is This? Pride of Islay 12 years old Vatted(?) Malt

A Gordon & MacPhail product from (I think) the '80s and '90s, the Pride of Islay is part of range of other Prides which include Orkney, Strathspey, and Lowlands.  I'm 75% sure this is a vatted (or blended) malt.  Most online resources say as much.  But whiskybase shows it as a single malt, so I'll leave that parenthetical question mark in the title.  If you do google Pride of Islay, you'll mostly find auction listings and most of those are of this very mini (50mL) version.  Not a lot of reviews of it out there, other than one from a certain prolific Frenchman, so hopefully this post will help someone on this planet.

The good news is that it has an age statement, and if my math is right it possibly contains Islay malt that was distilled in the 1970s.  The less-good news is that it was bottled at 40%, which makes me wonder if it was a sort of budget bottling by G&M.  If the whisky optimist in me was still alive, he would hope that this whisky was produced during a glut and thus has rare and old and magical sh*t in it.  But he's dead, so the realist just hopes this'll be a reasonable drink for the night.

(As always, if anyone out there knows more about this whisky, please let me know in the comment section below.  Thanks!)

Brand: Pride of
Pride of what? Islay
Ownership: Gordon & MacPhail
Type: Scotch Vatted (or Blended) Malt
Age: minimum 12 years
Bottling year: most likely somewhere in the 1980s or 1990s
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
(Many thanks to Cobo for this opportunity!)

The color is a very dark gold with orange highlights, a curious shade for a 12 year old whisky.  This is either a sherry Fat Man or a colorized product.  And in fact, in the nose, there is a gorgeous first burst of fruity musty chocolatey sherry.  Or perhaps those fruits, those tropical fruits, arrive courtesy of the mature spirit itself.  Then there's a note of men's cologne, you know, floral yet masculine.  Occasionally there's an odd mustardy egg note in the far back, but it's so faint and elusive that I may be imagining it.  What I'm not imagining is a nice yellow nectarine note, though.  After some time in the glass, the nose is primarily toffee and tangerines.  The peat reads sort of twiggy and herbal, rather than straightforward smoke or moss.  The palate is very citrusy and sweet, with a big caramel hit halfway through.  The sherry is much softer, as is the floral note.  It gets tarter and saltier with time.  There's a hint of soap and the texture is a little thin.  And there's a tiny bit of cardboard box in the far back, though that dissipates quickly.  The shortish finish picks up that musty moldy sherry cask note from the nose.  There's some salt and lime.  After a while it gets zestfully clean tart and picks up a peep of peat.

This is quite unlike most current blended malts and Islay single malts.  The peat is very gentle registering as a slight seasoning.  I know Monsieur Valentin gives the peat level (from 0-9) a '6', but compared to modern whiskies it feels like a '2' to me.  It also has that old funky sherry note, which I've always enjoyed.  And it's much fruitier than the most of the current peaty distilleries' products.

But that's all in the nose.  The palate is fine but not much more.  The thinness is of more concern than the subtle soap and cardboard notes.  The finish is shorter than I'd hoped, though I liked its tart zip.

I have no clue what went into this.  Assuming it was vatted (which I am assuming) I'd guess there's probably Laphroaig and Caol Ila, maybe some sherried Bunnahabhain.  I've never had young Port Ellen so I have no idea if that's swimming in here.

If you have a 70cL bottle in your stash, or one of these minis, you're sitting on a perfectly acceptable whisky (with a very good nose) which I can't imagine would be worth the effort to flip on the secondary market.  So when you open it, perhaps set moderate expectations.

Availability - Auctions, I s'pose
Pricing - ???
Rating - 83

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Single Malt Report: Kilchoman 5 year old 2008 cask #74 (K&L exclusive)

Well, I've written plenty of stuff about Kilchoman this week already.  There was the Loch Gorm on Monday, Sanaig on Tuesday, and a murder of whiskies yesterday.  So I'll keep the intro short.  Today, I'm reviewing of one of their single casks.

Cask 74 from 2008 is being sold exclusively through K&L Wines.  It was originally priced at $110.  It did not sell out after a year on the shelf so K&L chose to add it to their sale/clearance section (also known as Insider's Advantage), selling it for $83.  As mentioned yesterday, I enjoyed it when I tried a sample, but due to the price I wasn't so moved to buy a whole bottle on my own.  Luckily I was able to split one with Florin, My Annoying Opinions, and Chemistry of the Cocktail.  MAO and Jordan will be posting their reviews today as well.  I'll post links to them once I am conscious...

And here are their links:
-- MAO, a snippy man who has lost every breakdancing competition he's entered, posted his review here.
-- Jordan, who has won all of those dance-offs, but only because he owns the judges in Portland, posted his review here.

Region: Islay
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Exclusive to: K&L Wines
Age: five years (Feb. 22, 2008 - December 16, 2013)
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrel
Alcohol by Volume: 58.4%
Cask: 74/2008
Colored? No
Chillfiltered? No

Color - Bright amber

Nose - Starts with lemons, brown sugar, vanilla, and barley.  Baked potato, dried thyme, and dried oregano follow.  Then burnt plastic, saline, and vanilla-tinged smoke.  It's a little rooty, and has some Laphroaig-like medicinality (not a word!), which is balanced by a subtle nectarine note.  But it keeps returning to lemons or lemon creme.  After 15 minutes, here comes the cow poo.  And rainbow candy canes, of course.

Palate - The peated malt feels both green and floral, as opposed to smoky.  Lots of lime and fresh yellow stone fruit.  Vanilla bean, white sugar, anise, and a hint of something savoury.  It gets very candied at times.  Picks up some cinnamon candy and cracked pepper notes later on.

Finish - Smoke, salt, Underberg, and lemon gummi worms.  A brief whiff of cow.  Hint of cinnamon gum (Big Red).  It's quite sweet.

WITH WATER (~46%abv, from two tastings)
Nose - It gets leaner with the oak receding and the peat moving forward.  Some pepper, oyster-y salt, and confectioner's sugar.  Burnt hay, anise, and new carpet.  Hint of cinnamon.

Palate - The sweets are still there but it's a little farmier and bitterer.  Sweet basil, mint, and anise.  Tart citrus and lollipops.  More mossy than smoky.  Still pretty rich; more vibrant than Loch Gorm and Sanaig.

Finish - Shorter, but not short, if you follow.  Here the smoke comes totally to the fore.  In the background are smaller notes of sugar, bitterness, farm, and a peppery zip.

As noted, I tried this with water twice.  First when comparing it to Loch Gorm and Sanaig, then again on its own.  Happily my notes were nearly the same.  One thing I realized immediately was that when reduced to around 46%abv, this single cask is more enjoyable than Loch Gorm 2014 and Sanaig, from nose to palate to finish.  And when tried neatly, it's even better.

I found less cinnamon and less oak than David Driscoll notes on K&L's site.  But I'll agree with him that it is very good whisky.  I don't think it's "more flavorful, satisfying, and exciting than anything I've tasted from any Islay distillery over the past year" since, just off the top of my head, I know that I liked K&L's own 2001 Signatory Bowmore, the newer Laphroaig 18yo, and a couple of Kilchoman's single sherry casks better.  BUT I like this cask, and at the ripe old age of 5 years 10 months it might be the oldest Kilchoman single cask I've had so far.

At its current closeout price of $83, it's about a cheap as a Kilchoman single cask bottling gets nowadays.  If you think $83 is cheap for a 5 year old whisky, that's sorta up to you.  But I'm really happy I had a chance to split this with some good fellows.  I hope they liked it too... (Update: I liked it the most, so I guess I win.)

Availability - K&L Wines only
Pricing - $82.99 if you're signed up for their Insider's Advantage
Rating - 88

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Notes From a Tasting: Six Kilchomans (March 2014)

Back in March of 2014, I attended a paid whisky event hosted by WhiskyRedhead of the SCWC (amongst other affiliations).  The special guests were David Othenin-Girard of K&L and James Wills of Kilchoman.  The event was located in the moody confines of the attic at Sassafras in Hollywood.  Here's a terrible photo:

The following whiskies were poured for us attendees as James (the son of the distillery's owner) regaled us with stories of their successes and failures:

Kilchoman Machir Bay
Kilchoman 100% Islay 3rd Edition
Kilchoman 2007 Vintage
Kilchoman Single Bourbon Barrel #360
Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel #74
Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel #172

Since I had a significant drive back home, I tasted only the first three at the event, then bottled samples of the last three for a future home tasting.  (Please note, these pours were smaller than my usual review samples, thus there are no grades.)

Though I did not take significant tasting notes on the first three, I can sum up my reactions thusly:

Kilchoman Machir Bay - Remains a very solid (borderline B/B+) whisky, which is feat considering its 3yo to 5yo age.  Hope they don't raise its price any time soon.
Kilchoman 100% Islay 3rd Edition - The 100% Islays never do it for me. They're the one part of Kilchoman's range that consistently tastes extra young and partially baked.  This edition is no different.
Kilchoman 2007 Vintage - Not only the best of the first three pours, but it's probably my favorite Kilchoman yet, and the only time I'll agree with one of Whisky Advocate's awards.  The word had gotten out about it even before WA's award, so finding a bottle of it in Southern California was nearly impossible.  Nearly.  :)

Three weeks later, I was presented with an evening alone at home.  So I fired up a film Kristen would never want to see: Hardware, a 1990 sci-fi horror with a totally disposable first two-thirds that then give way to an impressively brutal finale.  After that, it was time to taste the three bourbon barrels side by side.  (Again please note, these pours were smaller than my usual review samples, thus there are no grades.)

Kilchoman Single Bourbon Barrel 5yo 2007, cask #360 59.9%abv
Nose - Roasty toasty barley and moss.  Vanilla and cinnamon with savory herbs.  Basil and tri-tip.  Band-aids.
Palate - Big peppery candied peat.  Mint and buttered wheat toast.
Finish - Cayenne, peppermint, and a barrel of barley
Verdict:  Not complex but monolithic, it feels even bigger than the Octomores.  It probably would have been a fun one to own had I lived in a region that had actual winters.  Since it was bottled in 2012, it had sold out long before the tasting.

Kilchoman Single Bourbon Barrel 5yo 2008, cask #172 60.2%abv, a K&L exclusive
Nose - Now it's the sugars that feel enormous.  Lots of honey, caramel, and cherry candy.  Lemons, dried oregano, and "cinnamint".  Gets more floral and peaty with added water.
Palate - Dry and herbal.  No sweetness or vanilla/caramel.  But it does get spicier with water.
Finish - Very very drying.  Grainier with water.
Verdict: Wasn't a big fan of this one, though it improved with water.  The nose was youthful, decent.  But the palate and finish really didn't do much for me, and felt out of balance.

Kilchoman Single Bourbon Barrel 5yo 2008, cask #74 58.4%abv, a K&L exclusive
Nose - Anise, barrel char, and mmmmmmmmanure.  Peppery greens.  Brown sugar.  Gets very farmy and molassy with added water.
Palate - Almond paste, burnt moss, lightly sweet.  Pretty herbal.  Gets even more herbal and grassy and peaty with added water.
Finish - Well balanced spice, bitter, and sweet.
Verdict: Not sure why I saved the lowest abv for last, but this was the clear winner.  Every element was enjoyable.

Afterwards, I knew which one I liked and would be happy to purchase, but......K&L's price was $110, an amount I was unwilling to pay for a 5 year old whisky.  So, I closed up my notebook and put it back on the shelf, never expecting to look at that page again.

And then one year later, the two K&L barrels appeared in their clearance ("Insider Advantage") email, along with two other ex-bourbon Kilchoman singles.  Either K&L had flooded the market or people weren't willing to pay the original price, or both.  Three of the casks were now $80 and the #74 was $83 for some reason.  Out came the notes to make sure which was the good barrel.  Then I split one bottle of cask 74 with Florin, MAO, and Jordan.

Tomorrow, I take a proper dip into cask 74 and find out if it was really worth my excitement...

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Single Malt Report: Kilchoman Sanaig

I'm still trying to figure out what's up Sanaig, the new member of Kilchoman's range.  It's half ex-bourbon, half ex-sherry, so it seems to sit perfectly between Machir Bay and Loch Gorm.  Seems like a smart safe design move.  But it has only been released in Continental Europe.  It's not a one-off experiment turd-dumpling duty free thing.  Nor has the distillery announced that it was a limited bottling.  Nor is it listed on their website.  The price, around €50, is reasonable as far as Kilchoman goes.  So I guess I'm wondering, when is it coming to the US?  We Yanks have hungrily consumed everything else the young distillery has sent across the Atlantic, why not this one?  Why can't we have it?!?!?!?!?

And should we really even give a crap?  Let's find out...

I dig the purple label!
Sample courtesy of OC Scotch Club.
Brand: Kilchoman
Region: Islay
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: 50% ex-Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels / 50% ex-oloroso sherry casks
Age: 4-5 years old
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Colored? No
Chillfiltered? No

NOTE: I tried this alongside the Loch Gorm (a fully sherried Kilchoman) and an all ex-bourbon barrel Kilchoman.

Color - Medium gold, curiously darker than the 2014 Loch Gorm.

Nose - Lots of newmake-y herbs, grass, and cinnamon red hots.  Lemon candy, peppermint patty centers, leather, and dirty-ish peat.  I also for some reason wrote, forebodingly: "Burnt planet".  The nose doesn't change much with air.  It may pick up some generic wood smoke, yeast, and more sugars.

Palate - Wow, a lot of tequila and mezcal.  Hot cereal (like cream of wheat) with mesquite smoke.  Yeast.  Black and red ground pepper.  With time it gets sweeter.  Some orange notes arise.  And finally after almost thirty minutes some sherry peeks out.

Finish - Lots of dirty peat.  Some sherry-ish dried fruits.  It's long, sharp, and bitter, though it softens with time.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Color - Farmier and yeastier.  Dark chocolate.  The cinnamon note becomes almost floral.

Palate - Aggressively peppery and salty.  More peat, more sherry.  Hints of white tequila and rye distillate.

Finish - Tennis ball can, black peppercorns, and hay.

Man, I think Kilchoman's new make feels longer matured than this.  The sherry also doesn't register much until the finish, though it does get louder when water is added.  One wonders if there were refill casks in the mix.

While Sanaig, priced at Machir Bay's level, is a good way to experience near-nude Kilchoman, I'm not sure we US Americans are missing a whole lot by not having it here.  Ruben at whiskynotes does like this a little more than I, though he doesn't seem to find much sherry influence either.  And one Reddit person loves the hell out of it, but his notes are so much different than mine that it appears as if we had different whiskies.  Meanwhile, my score would be the second lowest for Sanaig on whiskybase.

It appears as if I'm lowballing my favorite mini distillery this week.  Will it continue...?

Availability - Continental Europe only
Pricing - around $55-$70
Rating - 82

Monday, August 3, 2015

Single Malt Report: Kilchoman Loch Gorm, 2014 edition

First there were the seasonal releases (2009-2011 Spring, Summer, etc.).  Then there were the vintage releases and the 100% Islays.  And the single casks, ex-bourbon and ex-sherry.  Then in 2012, the first member of Kilchoman's regular range came out: Machir Bay, made up of a lot of 3yo, some 4yo, and a hint of 5yo whisky, and almost entirely from bourbon casks.

The second member of the regular range, Loch Gorm, arrived with hoopla the following year.  Kilchoman's single ex-sherry casks had been fan favorites ever since they'd first appeared.  While I can't speak for Europe, it was very difficult to find a bottle of a Kilchoman ex-sherry single cask in the US unless one acted very quickly.  With the demand their prices increased, from $89.99 (in 2011) to $129.99 (in 2015).  Then in 2013 when Loch Gorm, the all ex-sherry member of Kilchoman's regular range appeared, its MSRP was around $79.99 (as opposed to Machir Bay's $54.99).  Would a price of $80 for 5 year old non-full-strength whisky actually work in the market?  Apparently.  I'd thought about splitting a bottle but when I searched the LA area a month after the release, everyone was sold out.  Some stores had had it priced as high as $100.  Poop, was my audible exclamation, more or less.

Now it's 2015.  This year's edition of Loch Gorm was released......and it's sitting untouched on shelves at quite a number of locations on both coasts.  It has the same limited bottle count (10K) as the previous versions.  Winesearcher lists its average US price as $92, so that hasn't gone up much.  But it's no longer The New Thing, so perhaps its novelty has worn off.  Maybe after it lost that sheen people started asking themselves, is this 5 year old whisky worth $90?  In Europe its average price is $75, and not only is it available there but the previous edition (from 2014) can be had as well.

This isn't a tragedy.  The market has adjusted.  Loch Gorm has taken its place in a distillery's range and it's available for customers who are willing to pay the asking price.  What I'm trying to say is, now that it's not very current, I am going to review it.

Brand: Kilchoman
Region: Islay
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: ex-oloroso sherry casks
Age: 5 years old
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Colored? No
Chillfiltered? No
(Thanks to Smokypeat for the sample!)

NOTE:  This sample was tried along side an all bourbon cask Kilchoman and a 50/50 bourbon/sherry cask Kilchoman.

Color - A light gold, which makes sense since though this is all sherry casks, the whisky didn't spend that much time in 'em.

Nose - Mint and sulphur.  Lots of sulphur.  It's very medicinal; I'm having flashbacks to childhood meds that have probably since been banned.  Old school hospital antiseptic.  Those medicinal/antiseptic notes soon turn metallic and plastic.  Underneath that are dried berries and cherries.  Orange pixy stix.  Give it twenty minutes in the glass and some dried herbs show up, then hints of farm and slivovitz.

Palate - Thick mouthfeel.  Sweet and sulphur.  Tennis ball can.  Black pepper and a decent bitterness.  Lime, sweet basil, and mezcal.  After twenty minutes in the glass it picks up a concrete→dried fruit→smoked salt progression.  Then, curiously, large notes of vanilla and caramel.

Finish - Drier, saltier.  The peating feels mildest here.  There's the tennis ball can, orange peel, and peppery heat.  It gets sweeter with time, also picking up the vanilla and caramel notes.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Nose - Between the sulphur and the pharminess, this is a glass of pharts.  In a good way.  You know.  At the same time it gets a little floral.  Maybe some dried apricots.  But many more prunes and struck matches.

Palate - The good bitterness remains, as does the tennis ball can.  Pepper, vanilla, mild peat, and a sort of sweet sherry.

Finish - Cinnamon, peat, and sulphur.

If you can handle big sulphur and animal farm notes, I'll think you find the whisky swims well.  I was surprised by the amount of sulphur present in the nose, though there's less of it elsewhere.  Overall the nose is quirky and probably the best part.  The palate betrays the whisky's youth, which I didn't mind.  The finish was the most muted element, and that isn't the best time to fade out.

As I noted above, I tried this alongside other Kilchomans.  By doing so, I confirmed that at 46%abv Kilchoman matured in bourbon casks proves more enjoyable for me than Kilchoman matured in sherry casks.  In fact, if they were the same price I'd probably buy a Machir Bay before this.  But as you'll see, I'm still giving this a good score because it is good whisky.  I'm a big fan of Kilchoman and all their non-100%-Islay stuff.  They make young whisky of exceptional quality.  And here they're getting very close to matching the quality the rest of the young sherried Islays.  But they're not there yet.

Availability - This edition has gotten scarce in the US, easier to find in Europe.  The 2015 edition can be found at some specialty retailers.
Pricing - $80-$100 in the US, $70-$90 in Europe
Rating - 85 (it swims well)