...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Life of a Whisky Bottle: Port Charlotte PC7 Sin An Doigh Ileach

Quick history
From approximately 1829 to 1929, the town of Port Charlotte (two miles south of Bruichladdich) was home to an active Lochindaal Distillery.  In honor of this late neighbor, Bruichladdich distillery named its new heavily peated (40ppm) malt whisky, Port Charlotte.  For eight years, 2006-2014, 'Laddie released large cask strength batches of Port Charlotte, naming them them 'PC'.  The number following the 'PC' was the age of the single malt.  Thus the series went from PC5 to PC12.  Around 2010, lower priced and lower ABV versions of Port Charlotte started to appear on the market with names like An Turas Mor and The Peat Project, along with an official 46%abv 10 year old.  Recently all of these have been replaced with the NAS Port Charlotte Scottish Barley bottling.

The once and not really future Port Charlotte Distillery
Though there was official discussion and a lot of rumors regarding the Bruichladdich ownership building an actual Port Charlotte distillery, most of that talk went silent once Remy Cointreau bought the company.  They may actually own the land to build the distillery, but according to the official website, "no decisions on the future of the old site have yet been taken."  I don't think anyone should keep his hopes up for this distillery being built this decade, if at all, because two stills which had been intended for use at the distillery to be were sold to Bruichladdich's former owner's new distillery in Ireland.  But because I don't want to leave you saddened, just know that a new small independent Islay distillery, Gartbreck, started production this year.

And now, my bottle
It's Autumn and I'm finally getting around to reviewing one of my winter whiskies, the PC7.  My other big winter whisky, a Ledaig 15yo bottled in 2001, received its review in August.  I bought my PC7 back in 2013 when some of the PCs could still be had for just under $100.  Now they can't be.  It was nice knowin' ye, PC.  Anyway, I'd tried this whisky previously and liked it enough to dump that chunk of credit card into a 7 year old whisky.  When I opened the bottle eight months ago, I kinda hoped I still liked it.
This sticker was on the bottom of the tin. I noticed
it was covering something up...
Hiding under the label, this is what was actually printed
on the tin bottom.
A nice proletariat glamour photo on the side of
the tin. But is The Worker really going to
spend £100 on a bottle of whisky?
Like with the Ledaig, I took samples from the top third, mid-third, and bottom third of the bottle, in January, early March, and April.  Like with the Ledaig, I'm tasting various points of the bottle at the same time in order to compare and see how much it changed in the bottle.  And just to clarify, I tried the uncut versions against each other, and then later compared the reduced versions.

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Brand: Port Charlotte
Ownership: Remy Cointreau
Region: Islay
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: probably ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks (as per Serge)
Age: 7 years
Distilled: 2001
Bottled: October 25, 2008 
PPM: 40
Alcohol by Volume: 61.0%
Limited release: bottle 23442 of 24000

This bottle's usage:
40% - Swaps and shares
0% - Whisky experiments
20% - Graded tastings
40% - Casual drinking

Nose - First it's peat cinders, toasted sesame seeds, raspberries, and hot tar.  Then it gets a little bready.  A hint of cheese.  Dark cherries.  It gets farmier with lots of time in the glass
Palate - The leavings of a forest fire.  Peated raspberries.  Talisker's pepper, but squared or cubed, like red pepper flakes.  Anise and hay.  A very keen sweetness that never goes overboard.
Finish - Very big and very salty. Charred meat crumbs and mushrooms.  Hay and anise.

REDUCED TO ~50%abv:
Nose - Farmier and cheesier.  Salted smoked meat.  Caramel and greenish peat notes.  There are some stinky socks in there but also berry shisha and molasses candy.
Palate - Big on pepper.  Slightly sugary peat without the berries but with a little more anise.
Finish - But now it gets more berried(!), think cherry gelato.  And in comes a rush of cinnamon candy.

MIDDLE THIRD OF BOTTLE, early March 2015
Nose - Less tar and sesame, more fruit, more grassiness.  A bit of melon and a fruity tea.  Tires, orange peel, and caramel sauce.  I think the peat sniffs a little mossier.
Palate - A very rich syrup of peat + cinnamon + brown sugar + pepper + salt.  Smaller notes of orange and vanilla.  Less of the berries.
Finish - Pepper first.  Then salt, dusty peat, and anise.  Maybe some prunes.  This is the hottest it reads during the tasting.

REDUCED TO ~50%abv:
Nose - Again fruitier and grassier than the top third.  Prettier too, with strawberries, cherries, and honeydew.  Also hella peat.
Palate - Pretty much perfect.  Crossing off that shitty tasting note.  Okay, the syrup has softened, balanced out by a slight bitterness.  Fruit punch without the sugar.  And there's even a hint of barley peeking through the covers.
Finish - Gets sweeter now.  The sugars ride the peat into a pink sunset. <---???

Nose - Salty sea.  Toasty nuts/seeds/grains.  Sage smudge, leather coat, a frappuccino-ish thing, and a hint of yeast.  The mossy peat remains strong throughout.
Palate - Basically the same as the middle third.  Maybe some more cherries and a hint of bitterness.
Finish - Peat first, cinders and ash.  Then tangerines, nuts, some sweetness, and a bitter nip.

REDUCED TO ~50%abv:
Nose - Similar pretty honeydew note from the mid-third.  Peat smoked almonds.  More vanilla bean and a bit of farm.
Palate - Similar to the middle third.  Perhaps more fruit and peat.  Dark chocolate.
Finish - Tobacco and bitter coffee, but the sweet berries remain.

Observation #1: With the pepper and berries and anise, and its massive and (esoterically) dark style, PC7 is the Petite Sirah of whisky.

Observation #2: A not inconsiderable amount of PC7 was consumed for this review, but it was stretched out over two hours.

Observation #3: While I would love to drop some hate on an expensive young product, I just can't here.  This is excellent whisky.  Though my notes make each pour appear to be very different, most of the time the differences were subtle.  And, I'm happy to say that I liked each iteration.  Great with water, great without.  Great at the bottle top, great at the base.

Observation #4: Not too long ago, there were a number of young but very good whisky brands -- Kilkerran, Kilchoman, and Port Charlotte -- about which so many people ended their reviews with "I can't wait to see how great this is when it's 12 years old!"  I may have been part of that group a couple of times, but then I realized that these were great whiskies right now.  While WIP #2 is my favorite of the Kilkerrans, that brand remains consistently excellent.  I do yearn to try older Kilchoman but it's out of my fascination about what happens to this malt whisky, purposely designed to be good young, when it gets older.  What if it doesn't necessarily get be better at 8+ years old?  And then there's Port Charlotte.  The older it got, the more expensive it became, until they gutted the age statement and watered it down.  I've had The Peat Project, An Turas Mor, the 10yo, and Scottish Barley.  None of them are in the same league as the PC7 (or the PC6 or PC8).  Again, this isn't to say that whisky in general is getting worse (that's for another post), but perhaps we should appreciate what we've got now because we have no idea what happens next.

Availability - Used to be the easiest PC to obtain, but now it's been mostly obtained
Pricing - was $90-$100 as recently as two years ago, is now $150-$200 in the US and much more expensive in Europe
Rating - 91

Friday, September 25, 2015

A week of wut? Teemu's Mystery Spirit sample

Earlier this year I had the distinct pleasure of completing a sample swap with Finland's own Mr. Whisky Science himself: Teemu S.  If you haven't gone to Whisky Science yet, you should leave this post right now and go there.  You will learn something there.  Comparatively, this blog don't learn you nothing good.

Anyway, when I received my parcel I discovered what I thought was an error......there were too many bottles.  Oh shoot, had I accidentally requested a higher number than I had thought?  And the extra one had no label.  Turns out, the extra sample was purposeful.

MK's email: What is the 7th mystery dram???
Teemu's email: For me to know and for you to find out.. I'll tell after you have tasted it.

Of course, just then Southern California was hit with a 90-95ºF heat wave.  But I couldn't wait, a week later I tried it and send him my notes.

MK's email: The nose is full of bourbony goodness. Vanilla and butterscotch. Minty menthol, anise, and ripe banana. Hints of charred meat, butter, and buttermilk pancakes. My empty glass has a maple syrup thing going on. The palate is less sweet than the nose leads on. A little woody and salty, but still some corn syrup and creamed corn. A little bit of spice, menthol, and (maybe?) sweet basil. Pretty lengthy finish. Sea salt, caramel, and slightly dusty.  I'm going to go with my nose and say it's bourbon. The nose reminds me of my favorite old-style bourbon by the defunct National Distillers. If it's a current bourbon, I'd be pretty excited.

Yes, sadly, I email my notes in a similar fashion to the way I post them on this site.  But how close was I?  This was good stuff, especially the nose!  Teemu responded quickly:

Teemu's email: Your notes are spot on, very much a "sugarfree heavyhitting spicy bourbon"
It is actually a great old rum.
Albion Velier 1994/2011 casks 7100-7103, distilled in a wooden coffey still in Demerara.
Very much a whisky drinker's rum.
This is "a light young version" of Albion ;)

Well, shoot.  When I drank the second half of the sample, four months later, I found a little more molasses in the nose and palate, but it was never a sugar bomb.  Judge me as you'd like, but I liked this Albion better than the majority of whiskies (and definitely better than any bourbon) I've tried this calendar year.

There's a good reason why a number of prominent whisky bloggers are now reviewing non-whisky aged spirits (or malternatives).  Okay, two good reasons.  Firstly, whisky prices have ascended quickly while the quality has at best remained the same.  Secondly, the universe of hedonistic pleasure gleaned from spirits doesn't end at whisk(e)y.  In fact, there's a lot of sensory overlap between aged rums, brandies, mezcals, and whiskies.  Many of us have been ruined by the goopy sweet bestseller rums, the Korbels and Martels of the brandy shelves, and J. Cuervo.  Had we written off whisky after only drinking Dewar's White and Johnnie Red, then we wouldn't currently be in the middle of our personal whisky voyages.

That's just something I'll ponder for now.  While I doubt there will be any non-whisky reviews this year, I cannot say I'll never go that route...

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A week of wut? A GlenDronach single cask goes fakakta

Three months ago, I reviewed my bottle of GlenDronach 10yo 2002 Virgin Oak Hogshead #4530.  I gave it an 83 rating, declared it Scottish Bourbon, and noted that the cask influence was pleasant.
At that time (early June), the bottle which had been open for two months was at its halfway point.  But ever since I got to its bottom third (early August), it's become less and less enjoyable.  I'm reminded of a quote from a wise whisky friend from Irvine who once said of an open bottle that lingered and lingered in the cabinet, "It's just so much fucking work."  My bottle of GlenDronach has become just so much fucking work to drink.  So I thought it best to review it a second time.
The final four ounces of oak...
Distillery: GlenDronach
Ownership: BenRiach Distillery Company Ltd
Age: 10 years (June 2002- October 2012)
Maturation: Virgin Oak Hogshead
Region: Eastern Highlands (on the edge of Speyside)
Alcohol by Volume: 57.1%
Cask: 4530 (selected by The Nectar Belgium)
Limited bottling: 298

Color -- Dark gold.  That hasn't changed.
Nose -- All bourbon. Or should I say, all oak.  More sawdust than vanilla.  Wood varnish.  Imitation mint extract.  A slight nuttiness, like hazelnuts or Nutella or praline.
Palate -- A slab of bitter oak is the first guest to the party and the last to leave.  Some aromatic wood notes as well.  Vanilla.  Lots of salt and sour lemon.
Finish -- Vanilla and caramel.  Sawdust and heat.  The sour lemon shifts to vinegar.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Nose -- This trims off the rougher oak parts, but is otherwise a load of vanilla, caramel, and barrel char.  Smaller notes of nuts and brine.
Palate -- Very bitter, salty, and oddly sweet.  It's like the many off-kilter craft bourbons that have been bottled too young after being aged in tiny barrels.  Like liking a stave.
Finish -- Sour, salty, and bitter.  Also vanilla.

And, may I add, it's even bitterer on the rocks.  As you can see from my notes, adding water isn't a good idea, so I still prefer it neat.  If "prefer" is the right word.  The nose is still somewhat recommendable for those who are bourbon fans.  Meanwhile, the difficult palate is all I can think of right now.

For my fellow completists, I'll also add that I never applied any Private Preserve, but I did decant the whisky into an 8 ounce bottle, and then later into a 4 ounce bottle, hoping the decanting would help it out.  It did not.  Perhaps oxidation is responsible for the degradation?  The bottle was opened five months ago and was best at the start and still good at the midpoint.  So, I suppose I'd recommend that the bottle be consumed within three months or less before things start to fall apart.  Or maybe there's something to these single Glendronach VO casks that doesn't work for me, since I also did not care for cask #4525.  In any case, I have no interest in trying any more of these VO single casks, ever.

And one final note for those who obtained a sample of this from me, please know that yours did not come from this last third of the bottle.

Availability - Auctions?
Pricing - I bought it for €59 (€49 w/o VAT)
Rating - 73

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A week of wut? Michael's Solid Number Two, the review

After three months, WTF Is This? has come to a (temporary?) close.  But it's a stylish close!  This week I'll be honoring that series with three unique(ish) reviews you won't find anywhere else, hopefully.  First up, my whiskey.

I am a terrible whisk(e)y blender.  The blending failures not published to this site are vast, vast, vast in number.  Vast.  But even a poor blender is entitled to some half-assed success.  Enter Michael's Solid Number Two.  One year and one week ago, I wrote a post about three whiskey blends made from the cask strength version of Balcones's True Blue Corn Whiskey and Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Rye.  Out of the three blends the second one turned out to be very good, thus the subtle literary post title, Michael makes a solid number two.

It was an ultra high (is that name my invention too?) rye bourbon, with a mashbill of approximately 51/40/9 and an ABV of about 51.4%.  For the experiment I made a 30mL sample and let it rest for 18 days.  After discovering the resulting success, I scaled it up to 650mL in the bottle above.  Would've done the full 750mL but I was out of ingredients.  Anyway, I drank it all.  Except for one sample...

Color -- Dark gold
Nose -- Big rye, just like the old label Ritt I had used (and used to love).  Meaty/savory but also highlighted by flower blossoms.  Lots of mint and caramel sauce.  Some saline.  A vanilla bean note grows with time.  It sometimes seems like it's getting younger with time, too, picking up some yeast and new make notes.
Palate -- Hotter than the nose.  And (woo!) really peppery too.  Very thick texture.  A medium sweetness level, mostly fueled by corn syrup.  There's a nuttiness that leans towards roasted peanuts.  A slight burnt note.  Bitter coffee.  Gets drier with time.
Finish -- Extensive and sweet.  Brown sugar and cayenne.  Lemon and lime candies.  Black cherry soda and vanilla.  The bitter note from the palate does an upswing into tangy.

Yep, hits the spots.  Similar to the lower rye mashbill versions of rye (like Rittenhouse) with some more youth and sweets.  It works very well on the rocks, keeping much of its flavor.  Man, I miss this stuff.  I can't tell you how many days this summer I sat praying for another number two.

Availability - All gone, unless you make your own
Pricing - You'd have to buy a bottle of a sold out cask strength corn whiskey and the old label version of Rittenhouse BIB
Rating - 85

Friday, September 18, 2015

WTF Is This? Michter's Toasted Barrel Finish Bourbon

I've been struggling to figure out how to write this post's introduction.  This is my fourth and final attempt.  Here it goes...

I don't understand the lengths to which some new whiskey companies go and the resources they commit to deceiving customers and distorting their brand.  For instance, Michter's.

There once was a distillery near Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania, that was briefly called Michter's in the 1970s and '80s.  Distilling had been going on at the site for almost 240 years when it shut down in 1990, and had gone by other names throughout that time.  Several years after the distillery was closed and abandoned a company named Chatham Imports bought the brand, and have been a Non-Distilling Producer (NDP) ever since -- releasing whiskies distilled (and occasionally bottled) by other companies.  (As of last month, they finally do have their own Michter's distillery up and running, in Kentucky.)  But several years before they distilled anything they had given an employee the title of Master Distiller, parading him around at as many events and distillers' conferences as they could.  And from the sound of it he was out of his league as he shared stages with men who had been actually distilling for decades.  In their advertising they used images of photoshopped barrels and CGI'ed stills that didn't exist.  They created revisionist history about their distillery, keeping things blurry about what distillery they were actually referencing: the non-existent one or the closed one that didn't distill their whiskey.  No, it (whatever it was) wasn't the oldest distillery in the country nor did George Washington's army slake its thirst there.  Chatham Imports seem to be distancing their "Michter's" history as far from the original distillery's history, even suing its surviving Master Distiller into silence.

While some of this depends on the veracity of independent reports, what is clear is that a lot of effort has been spent on distortion.  And I don't understand it.  How many more bottles of bourbon is Michter's really going to sell by committing to this approach?  Why burn so many bridges so early in the game?  And (to Michter's, as well as Templeton and Whistle Pig), why hide or lie about the source of one's whiskey -- especially when it's a good source -- rather than focusing on showing pride in being a successful American small business with big dreams on the rise?

Unlike Bourbon Truth, I do not have unbridled rage over this.  But Chatham's actions do make me uncomfortable enough to avoid buying their products.  There is SO MUCH whisk(e)y on the market right now, so I'll stick to the stuff with less of the creep factor.

I'm going to end this section here and provide you with links below if you want to wade further into this:

Okay, so after all of that, what the hell is this whiskey and why the hell am I reviewing it?  Well, we don't know who distilled the stuff, though it was distilled in KY.  And it is bourbon.  In this case, Michter's takes their sourced straight bourbon (which is at least 4 years old) and finishes it for "an additional period".  They don't state the length of the finish, but do share that the barrel's staves were air-dried for 18 months.  That's a curious random detail which almost led me to think that the finish was 18 months long at first glance.  But the finish was likely not 18 months long.  I'm reviewing this whiskey because I'm curious to see how a toasted oak finish would affect a bourbon.  And I'm kind of expecting a disaster.

Brand: Michter's
Owner: Chatham Imports
Region: Kentucky
Type: Bourbon Whiskey
Age: at least 4 years old
Finish/Length: Toasted Barrels for "an additional period"
Alcohol by volume: 45.7%
Thank you to Smokypeat for the sample!

The color is dark rosy gold, almost the same shade as the 9yo Knob Creek Single Barrel.  The nose is curiously fruity.  Fresh grapefruit, lemon candy, and gummi worms.  Lots of caramel too.  After 10 minutes the oak rolls in.  More vanilla, but also some mint.  At first, there's not much going on in the palate.  Just non-descript sweets and sawdust.  But gradually some savory bits and salty cheese appear.  Then corn syrup and mint.  A mild peppery spice and a slight plasticky note.  The finish is slightly perfumy.  Then black pepper, barrel char, and distant cardboard note.

AS A HIGHBALL (1:1 ratio of whisky and club soda)
Caramel, orange candy, black pepper, and barrel char.

While I wouldn't call this great whiskey, it was much better than I had expected.  The early nose was good and the resulting highball was pleasant.  When neat, the palate doesn't do anything for me, though at least it wasn't hot.  Perhaps that's where the toasted oak came in, tempering some sharper edges, because otherwise I don't see much in the way of new stuff happening.  Usually when I find fruit notes (like those in the nose), it's related back to the original spirit.  And I don't find any spice or nuttiness that I often find in toasted oak whiskies.

But it's okay stuff.  If it were half its price, like $20-$25, and it came from a cleaner parent company then I'd consider buying it.  But it's $40-$60 and from Michter's, so no thanks.

Availability - Some US specialty retailers
Pricing - $40-$60
Rating - 78

Thursday, September 17, 2015

NOT Single Malt Report: Russell's Reserve Small Batch 10 year old Bourbon

Follow me as I leave Beam Suntory for Gruppo Campari.

Russell's Reserve is a brand within a brand (Wild Turkey).  It's a line of age-stated bourbon and rye honoring the Russell family who have been Wild Turkey's master distillers for decades.  There's a 10 year old small batch bourbon (45%abv), a 10 year old single barrel bourbon (55%abv and usually sold as exclusives through specific retailers), and a 6 year old rye (45%abv).

I have mixed feelings about Wild Turkey's products.  While I enjoyed their 101 rye before it was pulled from the shelf (then put back on the shelf) and find Rare Breed to be a reasonable bird, I do not like the current version of their regular 101 bourbon.  I've tried and re-tried it more than I should have and plan on doing an official review of it next year.  With that in mind, I've never gone out and bought a bottle of Russell's.  But Jordan of Chemistry of the Cocktail helpfully supplied me with a good sample.

I tried this Russell's alongside yesterday's unfortunate Maker's Mark and there was really no competition.  Aside from having very different mashbills (rye versus wheat), there was so much more heft and body to one of them...

Owner: Gruppo Campari
Brand: Wild Turkey
Sub-brand: Russell's Reserve
Distillery: Wild Turkey Distillery
Location: Lawrenceburg, Kentucky
Mash Bill: around 13% rye (probably)
Age: minimum 10 years old
ABV: 45%
(Thank you to Jordan for the sample!)

Its color is dark maple syrup.  The nose shows halvah, rye seeds, and hints of orange peel.  Alternating notes of toasted and charred oak.  More butter and caramel than vanilla.  With 20+ minutes in the glass, there's more barrel char.  An almond torte, too.  And a lot more rye than one expects from the rumored mashbill.  The palate has lots of peppery rye.  Mint, musty oak, tart apples, and black cherry syrup appear in the mid-ground.  Smaller notes of orange candies in the back.  It feels big without being hot, and never gets too sweet.  It finishes with some aromatic woody notes, as well as the familiar caramel and vanilla.  There's are also some orange candies and black peppercorns.

AS A HIGHBALL (1:1 ratio of whisky and club soda)
Big vanilla.  Woody.  Maybe a little creamed corn in there.

This was such a relief to drink after each sip of Maker's Mark.  On its own, it won't WOW anyone, but it's very solid.  The rye element here is my favorite part.  I'm fascinated by how strongly it registers considering how little of it is in the mash.  The balance between the nose, palate, and finish is admirable.  Unlike the Knob Creek Single Barrel (KCSB) I tried, the oak is relatively reigned in.  I recommend it neat, though as a highball it isn't terrible.

In the current (2015) market, its price is reasonable for its age.  It appears to be $5-$10 cheaper than KCSB, but I'd pick this one first any day.  It's a few bucks cheaper than Rare Breed and I think I'd pick the Russell's over that one too, though it's a close call.  But it's nice to know that one can still find decent American whiskey at $30ish, while the prices on the whiskies across the pond continue to expand seemingly beyond control and logic.

Availability - Most specialty retailers
Pricing - $28-$45
Rating - 84

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

NOT Single Malt Report: Maker's Mark Bourbon (bottled 2015)

Maker's Mark is a wheated bourbon, which means the producers (Beam Suntory) elect to use wheat instead of rye as the flavoring grain in the mash.  Thus Maker's mashbill is made of corn, wheat, and malted barley.  Maker's, easily recognizable with its angular bottle shape and iconic red wax seal, is very popular from here to Europe to Asia.

I reviewed Maker's 3+ years ago in a humbling blind tasting, finding it to be as unremarkable as I had found it when it was consumed not-blindly.  And by "unremarkable" I mean inoffensive and easy to drink.  This April, while tinkering with cocktail recipes, I bought a 375mL bottle of Maker's, a decision I regretted almost immediately.  Not only was it utterly mediocre (at best) on its own, it was totally flat in cocktails and kinda gross in highballs.  The bottle barely made it to the halfway point before I dumped the remainder down the sink.

I'm giving you this lead-in because if you're a Maker's fan, you may want to avert your eyes and read my other bourbon posts this week.  Or perhaps I can interest you in a single malt?  No?

DistilleryMaker's Mark
Ownership: Beam Suntory
Type: Kentucky Straight Wheated Bourbon
Region: Loretto, Kentucky
Age: minimum 2 years
Mashbill: 70% corn, 16% soft red winter wheat, and 14% malted barley (source)
Maturation: charred white oak barrels
Alcohol by Volume: 45%
Bottle code: L5009MMB

The color is orange-tinted light maple syrup.  Corn bread with honey is the first note in the nose, followed by cinnamon and barrel char.  Then it suddenly turns into a 1990's bathroom counter: cucumber melon hand lotion (Bath & Body Works), Barbasol shaving cream, and cheap cologne.  The palate is very sweet and oddly hot for its ABV.  There's unripe honeydew, a hint of lemon, brown sugar, and a lot of bitter oak.  A sickly sweet aspartame thing bear hugs the tongue.  It finishes all sweet and heat.  A crate load (or a pallet if you will) of overripe bananas.  Bitter oak.  Lengthy.

AS A HIGHBALL (1:1 ratio of whisky and club soda)
Even sweeter now, as if it were a cocktail loaded with simple syrup.  Some barrel char around the sides.

As I mentioned, I used to find Maker's Mark to be just fine.  But this was, at times, actively unpleasant.  The nose was kooky and is what saves it from being a total fail.  But on the palate the bitter oak, NutraSweet, and overripe bananas are cringe inducing.

Some things to consider...... I do not have a sweet tooth when it comes to booze, but if you do like sweeties then perhaps you'd find fewer issues with this whisky; though I really can't imagine the aspartame thing appealing to many folks.  Also, I love rye and this has none.  If you're a wheater fan, perhaps you'd find fewer issues with this whisky.

Please keep in mind that I'm reviewing my actual bottle (bottle code: L5009MMB) here rather than just a sample.  More was consumed and more time was spent on this bottle than my average review.  With all of this in mind, I'll never buy Maker's Mark again.

Availability - Everywhere bourbon is sold
Pricing - $20-$40 (for 750mL); $14-$23 (for 375mL)
Rating - 68

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

NOT Single Malt Report: Knob Creek 9 year old Single Barrel Reserve Small Batch Bourbon (barrel 106, exclusive to The Party Source)

To celebrate the official end of summer (and the beginning of the Southern California heat) I'm reviewing four bourbons this week.  Bourbon highballs feel much better than any drink, besides beer and (probably) water, during this heat.  If the nights actually cool down then a good bourbon neat isn't the worst idea, either.

I'm starting off with the bourbon that's the hardest to find of the four.  And I'm not sure if the specific barrel is still available.  You're welcome!

Knob Creek is a Beam Suntory brand, sort of a sub-brand of Jim Beam bourbon.  There's the regular "Small Batch" 100 proof 9 year old bourbon, an NAS or "patiently aged" straight rye (of which I am not fond), another "small batch" bourbon that is "patiently crafted" with "natural" Smoked Maple flavoring, and finally there's a 9yo Single Barrel Reserve Small Batch(?!) bourbon which punches in at 120 proof.  Wording complaints aside, I've been most interested in the single barrel but didn't want to put down $40 in return for a bottle of hot burning.  Luckily, Friend Florin saved a sample of this bourbon for me.

There's a subset within the Single Barrel Small Batch Reserve bourbons, known as the Private Barrels.  These are barrels selected by specialty retailers (from amongst a number of barrel samples) to sell exclusively in their store.  The Party Source, being Kentucky's darling retailer, sold this barrel #106 at their store.  I don't know if this is the barrel they're currently selling, but I can tell you with quite some confidence that The Party Source no longer ships alcohol.  So the relevance of this barrel may be limited if you, the reader, don't live in TPS's neighborhood.

Owner: Beam Suntory
Brand: Knob Creek
Distillery: Jim Beam Distillery
Location: Clermont, Kentucky
Mash Bill: Standard 15% rye (probably)
Age: minimum 9 years old
Barrel#: 106
Exclusive to: The Party Source
ABV: 60% ABV
(Thanks to Florin for the sample!)

Its color is very red very dark gold.  The nose starts out *whew* WOOD and paint fumes.  After airing it out for a few minutes, I find some cinnamon and caramel candies.  Maraschino cherry fruitiness and cherry lollipops.  Soft on the vanilla bean, yet not so soft on freshly cut lumber.  Hints of mint and rye here and there.  Ah, the vanilla does get louder with time and the fresh lumber turns to dusty wood beams (pun unintended).  Wood, cherry juice, and cinnamon red hots take up dominate the palate at first, though it's not as sweet as those notes suggest.  On the second sip, I find some nice MGP-like rye notes to go with the fruit.  Ginger beer.  It does get sweeter with time.  The finish begins mildly sweet with cherry candy things. Toasted and charred oak alternating.  Some salt, some orange peel.  Like the palate it gets sweeter with time, but also oakier.  Lots of heat.

WITH WATER (~45-50%abv)
Nuts in caramel in the nose.  Sawdust and salty vanilla (if that's a thing).  The palate is sweet and spicy.  Woody around the edges.  Very Beam.  The palate gets aggressively sweet and woody.

Firstly, it was much better at 60%abv than at the lower ABV of its stable mates.  Secondly, it needs to breathe because it's hot and closed when it first hits the glass.  After that, nothing really offends.  I like the fruity notes and the rye moments.  Otherwise the oak takes front stage.  So if you're oak phobic then this isn't for you.  But then again, if you're oak phobic you probably want to stay away from bourbon in general, especially older ones at high strength.

I like this much more than the Knob Creek rye because that one felt half-baked.  If anything, this one might be over-baked.  But again, this isn't bad at the $30-$35 range, if it's priced above that then it's out of its league.  If you're looking for something cheaper, less oaky, and milder then I recommend its cousin Jim Beam Black in 8yo form.

Availability - This barrel was only sold at The Party Source, other non-private selection Knob Creek single barrels are sold at probably all specialty liquor retailers in the US
Pricing - $30-$60
Rating - 80

Friday, September 11, 2015

WTF Is This? Macgavin's Highland Single Malt

Speyside Distillery makes some exceptionally poor whisky.  Their 12 year old is probably the worst official age-stated single malt on the market.  Drumguish is drum-gross-ish.  And Cu Dubh is loose poop in a cup.

So when Oliver Klimek tweeted out that Speyside Distillery was releasing another e150a-flooded thingy, Jordan from Chemistry of the Cocktail had the only appropriate response.

The Speyside Distillery's ownership used to also own Scott's Selection, one of the first indie bottlers to bring cask strength whiskies to The States.  Good stuff (courtesy of other distilleries' casks of course) and at good prices.  When I heard that the company had divested themselves of Scott's Selection, I realized that their (both old and new) management's bad choices extended beyond the confines of what's inside the bottle.

This is unfortunate because they (Harvey's of Edinburgh) are one of the few small businesses remaining in the Scotch industry -- though on the SWA's site, Harvey's lists a Grand Cayman address. The company's former owners specialized in a number of bottom shelf blends, such as Old Monarch, Blackburn, and King Henry VIII, thus malt quality was probably not their first priority.  This new Harvey's ownership seems to have banked on a new "Spey" brand in China and Serge V. seems to like the 18 year old.  Perhaps this means they're attempting to improve things.  Or they're just betting the house on China, which, if economic trends continue, would prove to be another bad decision.

One of the products produced by the previous owners was the Macgavin's series of single malts.  There's little to nothing official about the range online, but I do know that there is or was a "Highland" and a "Speyside" (apparently there's an Islay and Lowland too).  I attended a tasting three years ago (an experience that really deserves its own post) at which I tried both of the "Speyside" and "Highland" whiskies.  According to my notes, both whiskies use single malts from The Speyside Distillery, the difference between the two being "Highland" contains a bit of peated malt.  Way back then I liked the NAS "Highland" more than both the NAS "Speyside" and the official 12 year old.  My whisky buddy JLR (and his wife) were at that very tasting and he bought a bottle of the Highland.  We both eventually departed with much more expensive whisky, but that's another story.  Many thanks to JLR for this sample.

Distillery: The Speyside Distillery
Range: Macgavin's
Ownership (current): Harvey's of Edinburgh
Region: Speyside (but almost not)
Age: ???
Maturation: probably ex-bourbon barrels
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? Likely so
Colorant added? Likely so

Color - Brass
Nose - A light but ever-present grungy peat coated with vanilla simple syrup and white flour.  A little bit of Ethyl (in my life. A little bit of Monica in---oh shit, I'm sorry).  It's quite cheery and candied.  At first.  After 10 minutes, a sour milk note announces itself.  After 20 minutes, it becomes stinky cheese.  After 30 minutes, it starts to pick up some baking spice and caramel.  It sort of redeems itself as the expired dairy floats away.
Palate - Pencil lead, vanilla, sugar, and light smoke.  Watery texture, though not surprising at this ABV.  A slight peppery zip.  Malt first, then oak.  At first.  After 15 minutes, the sour milk note arrives, but then so does an oaky bitterness.  Then some oak spice, sand, and salt.
Finish - A little citrusy, then peaty.  Some of that milky residue comes and goes.  The citrus builds with time, but so does the oaky bitterness.  A hint of cardboard appears after 30 minutes.

First off, this is better than Cu Dubh, Drumguish, and Speyside 12yo.  I'm not saying it's great.  I'm saying it's drinkable.  And its price point doesn't suck.  It wouldn't be the worst idea for the distillery to bottle something like this at 12 years old and put their name on it, discarding the current "Speyside 12" recipe.

It starts off as a C+ whisky and then goes weird after 10 minutes.  It does pick itself back up after more than a half hour, but never gets back to where it was at first.  It's much too thin and light for water, if you're drinking to taste.  But if you're just plopping it on the rocks, go for it.

Availability - Some specialty retailers in the US
Pricing - $20-$25
Rating - 72

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Single Malt Report: Laphroaig An Cuan Mor

Yes, another current Laphroaig!  How about that?!  This one I always remember as "the Duty Free one" since it has a Gaelic name I always forget and never learn how to pronounce.  I was a serious geek about all things Scottish long before I discovered scotch whisky.  Hell, during my long Alba (Gaelic for Scotland!) stay in 2002 I drank only beer.  Despite my love for that country, I find it difficult to take these whiskies with Gaelic names seriously.  The names are designed by parent companies that are not even remotely Scottish but are trying to make their whiskies sound Scottisher to your ears and distract you from the fact that you're drinking very young whisky at an inflated price.  But you've heard this all before.

The Travel Retail-only An Cuan Mor (or Big Ocean) spent the majority of its maturation time in ex-bourbon barrels, then was finished, or "slept", in "the finest European oak", as per the official site.  Thems some nice marketing words, but how long did it "sleep" and why does Laphroaig keep using artificial colorant in its products?  I have a dozens of additional pissy questions, but I'm surly today so maybe I should just review the whisky.

Distillery: Laphroaig
Owner: Beam Suntory
Type: Single Malt
Region: Islay
Age: older than 3 years
Maturation: finished in ex-sherry European oak for an unspecified amount of time after having been aged for an unspecified amount of time in "first-fill-only ex-American white oak bourbon barrels", as per the site. That's a weird place to put the "ex-".  The barrels aren't former American white oak.  They still are American white oak.  Just call them first-fill ex-bourbon barrels, dudes.
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? Probably
Alcohol by Volume: 48%
(Thanks to Dirty Uncle Mike for the sample!)

Its color is orange gold.  The nose is very pretty, gooey rich, for a Laphroaig. Laphroaig candy. 'Phroaig Phlowers. Fresh apricots with Ceylon cinnamon. Pecan pie and milk chocolate at the beach.  Seaweed.  The sherry/European oak character grows with time and starts to feel more like a second maturation than a quick finish.  It picks up a bit of a barnyard note after awhile which brings more character to the package.  It all fades away after 45 minutes, so don't wait so damn long.  There's a deep, almost Ardbeg level of cinders in the palate, which is much drier and phenolic than the nose lets on.  While there are notes of milk chocolate and confectioner's sugar, there's plenty of smoke and a good herbal bitterness to balance it out.  Some bacon in there too, or maybe that's how my taste buds interpreted all of the salt and smoke.  It gets sweeter with time and begins to pick up a big anise note.  It gradually loses some peat but gets spicier and almost gingery.  Big smoke on the finish, and an even more substantial sea salt note.  A bit of charred meat, a little drying.  It feels like the 10yo with more pepper, more sugar, and a longer finale.

This was a lot better than I had expected.  While the nose is richer than the palate, the palate is darker and peatier than the nose.  But it's more of a drinker than a thinker since, as I mentioned, it fades out after 45 minutes in the glass.  I like it better than the Triple Wood, perhaps because there's less woodwork futzing.  In fact, if they just swapped this out for the Triple Wood (NAS for NAS), it wouldn't be a total tragedy.  In the meantime, I'm happy to report that there's a decent NAS Duty Free whisky out there.  I'm less happy to reveal the regrettable and odd $100-$150 price tag.

Availability - Originally just travel retail shops, but is now being sold at some European retailers
Pricing - generally between $100-$150 at duty free shops (though possibly cheaper in Australia and New Zealand airports), European retailers are selling it for $80-$140
Rating - 86

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Single Malt Report: Laphroaig Càirdeas 2015 (200th Anniversary)

Bitch session initiated.

So, there seems to be something weird going on with the distribution of Laphroaig's special releases this year.  While every state east of California received the new 15 year old in July and early August, the Golden State has yet to receive a single bottle.  Meanwhile, the new Càirdeas hit all those states east of us more than a month before California received it.  And while those bottles appeared to have been in decent supply elsewhere (with some Midwestern retailers still selling it), it seems as if barely a handful retailers in California received one case or less each.  Meanwhile (in California) the 2014 Càirdeas is still sitting on the shelves of a much higher count of retailers than those who received any of the 2015.  The 2013 edition took almost a year to sell out here as well.  So has the distributor redirected bottles elsewhere because they thought Càirdeas didn't sell well in California?  Or is there some sort of supply mixup?  I guess I'd lean towards the latter since the 15yo still hasn't arrived.

I have had the opportunity to try the new Càirdeas, though via bottles shipped to CA from two other states.  That seems weird.  I'd like to purchase a bottle of this whisky, but I guess I'll have to wait until Laphroaig gets their logistics issues straightened out.  Or I will never get to buy bottle and life will go on.

Bitch session concluded.

And now for the whisky...

Stolen from my Cairdeas 2012 post:
Since 2008, Laphroaig has been releasing a limited edition bottling in honor of their Friends of Laphroaig group (730,000 and growing), thus the "friendship" Càirdeas name.  The release has coincided with the annual swingin' Feis Ile, the Islay whisky and jazz festival.
This year's Càirdeas coincided with the distillery's 200th birthday.  The whisky is (unofficially) 11 years old, matured only in ex-bourbon barrels, and distilled in their older smaller stills.  What drew my interest in it, other than the ex-bourbon-barrel-only maturation, was that the spirit distilled entirely from Laphroaig's floor maltings.  The Laphroaig we're all used to drinking contains some malt from their floors, but because the distillery's needs easily outpace what they can malt onsite, they have to outsource most of their malted barley.  But this whisky only uses their own stuff and that sounded kind of cool to me.

Thanks to the OC Scotch Club and Florin for the samples!
Distillery: Laphroaig
Product line: Càirdeas
Release Year: 2015
Owner: Beam Suntory
Type: Single Malt
Region: Islay
Age: 11+ years
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrels
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? Possibly
Alcohol by Volume: 51.5%
Limited Release: probably around 25,000 bottles

Its color is a yellow amber, lighter than the 10 year old.  The nose starts out grassy and herbal (especially anise).  It has a little bit of vanilla, but that doesn't stand a chance against the push of oysters/seashells and a dusty earthy peating.  It has an aromatic medicinality.  Okay that's a bullshit shorthand term.  More specifically, there are band-aids and brown sugar syrup, along with hints of lemon, cinnamon, and honeydew.  After a 30 minutes in the glass, it reveals doused bonfires (much like my beloved '90s Ardmores) and fruit scented Mr. Sketch markers.  The palate has some of the modern Laphroaig sweets and vanilla, but again that's overtaken by the biggest dirtiest peat blast of the current Laphroaig lineup.  It's a multi-layered peat; so beyond the big and dirty, there's some farm and green moss wrapped up in it.  And it makes me think of chimney bricks.  There's also a nice sharp slice of salt and bitter around the edges.  With time (30+ mins?) in the glass, the palate picks up some bold fresh ginger and cinnamon bark notes.  The finish has some sweets, but much more salt and smoke and moss and the aforementioned chimney bricks.  And suddenly when I think it's done, the whisky reveals the rare boomerang finish, coming back with a big Talisker-like pepper bite.

For the past two years, I had been losing confidence in the current Laphroaig releases, but this.  This.  This has restored some of my faith.  While the 15yo was very good, this is better than very good.  I like it better than anything else Laphroaig has bottled recently, and it's my favorite of the last four Càirdeases.

So how come?  Is it the barley or the stills?  Or maybe ~50%abv is a great spot for Laphroaig right now, as I noted in my attempts to rescue the lackluster Cask Strength Batch 005.  Or sometimes when enough barrels (allegedly 100 of 'em in this instance) are mixed together something excellent happens.

So what did I just go and do?  I bought a bottle from Minnesota.

Availability - Midwest US is your best shot (as of September 2015)
Pricing - $75-$90
Rating - 90

Friday, September 4, 2015

WTF Is This? Glenforres 12 year old All Highland Malt (1980s bottling)

WTF is this?  It's Edradour!  Mostly.  Or entirely.  Probably.  Edradour, the smallest distillery in the Highlands, was called Glenforres a couple times during its existence.  I've seen this particular whisky listed as both a Vatted Malt and a Single Malt online.  At first I thought it was the former, now I'm leaning towards the latter.  Note the back label:
Okay, that's not really legible.  To summarize, it says that Glenforres is the "smallest" distillery in Scotland -- as Edradour was for decades.  It says that it was built in Pitlochry -- as Edradour was.  And at the bottom, the label says "Established 1825" -- again Edradour.  And according to Dominic Roskrow's Whisky Opus, former owner William Whiteley renamed Edradour as Glenforres-Glenlivet during his ownership.  Thus, Edradour.  But why list "All Highland Malt" on the front label rather than "Single Malt"?  If anyone knows the answer, please share in the comments!
I think this is a pic of the bottle
my sample came from.
Distillery: Edradour
Ownership at the time: probably William Whiteley & Co. Inc.
Region: Highlands (Central)
Age: minimum 12 years old
Bottling year: Probably in the early 1980s
Maturation: Plastic dispensers?
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? Unknown
Colorant added? Not much if any
(From a sample purchased from LA Scotch Club)

The color is amber.  The nose starts with malt and lots of limes.  Then out-of-season cherries, a little bit of wood polish, and a subtle moss note.  Some lychee candies and fresh grapefruit as well.  The whisky hits the palate sweetly in the first moment, but then soap soap soap soap soap soap soap soap soap.  Grapefruit soap.  Dove liquid soap.  Some of the fruits from the nose linger behind.  The finish keeps the grapefruits, but sheds all of the soap, at first.  In later sips, the soap returns.  There are also lemon candies and white gummi bears.  It's pretty salty and bitter throughout.

Well, that was an experience.  This must be the first time I've had a whisky with a nose that would score in the high-80s and palate that would score in the low-50s.  Had I looked at its whiskybase page, I wouldn't have gotten such a surprise, as the community lists it as the 73rd worst whisky of all time (out of nearly 66,000 competitors).  The fruity nose does pull it up out of Failure Land, but I cannot recommend this whisky to anyone outside of malt masochists or people who recreationally drink hand soap.

Availability - Why? You really don't want this anyway.
Pricing - ???
Rating - 67

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Single Malt Report: Edradour 9 year old 2003 Ruby Port Cask, batch 2

As mentioned on Monday, my Edradour experience is minimal.  I have had four unpeated Edradours made by the current ownership, two whiskies that were decent and two that were not.  The better ones were from emphatic sherry casks, the lesser ones were from shy bourbon casks.  Let's see where this one fits...

Distillery: Edradour
Ownership: Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Co., Ltd.
Region: Highlands (Central)
Age: minimum 9 years old
Bottling year: 2013
Maturation: Ruby Port Hogsheads
Limited Bottling: 3100
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(Thanks to Tetris who donated this MoM sample!)

The color is a rosy dark gold.  There is A LOT of sulphur in the nose, the most I've ever experienced from port cask maturation.  Just a wall of struck matches for the first ten minutes.  Behind the wall awaits some grapey port.  Eventually all of the other notes sneak through one by one.  Hay, marzipan, chocolate, and strawberry candy.  Smaller notes of agave nectar, violets, and honey.  The palate is sulphur free at first.  The port feels dry rather than sweet.  Almonds, salt, pepper, oats, and black raisins.  About 20 minutes in, things go a little weird with a sulphur & soap note.  But that vanishes 5 minutes later.  Then the raisins come back in with a salty pepper sauce and bitter chocolate.  A hot ethyl note runs throughout.  The finish has no weird notes.  Raisins, dry red wine, apple juice, the pepper sauce thing, and bitter coffee.

I didn't add water to this whisky because I became fascinated tracking the way it changed in the glass.  Thank goodness the sulphur faded out of the nose because there were good things trapped behind it.  The palate was free of sweets, but it was a bit bland (aside from its gross hiccup midway through).  The finish was the least flawed element.  While it's far from the worst Edradour I've had and is totally drinkable, it is crap compared to yesterday's Ballechin (peated Edradour) that was also aged in Port hogsheads.

Though there aren't many other online reviews of this whisky, I seem to be the only one who was hit by the sulphur note.  That's sort of weird because it's so freaking huge.  Sulphur aside, I'm still not crazy about this one by any means.  I'm not sure why it was bottled at this age, other than to satisfy a need for revenue.  Batch 1 has much lower ratings than Batch 2 in whiskybase, so I won't be too disappointed if I never try that one.  If you've tried either of these batches, let me know in the comments below.  I'd be curious to hear your thoughts.  I'm still not really sold on unpeated Edradour, though their ownership continues to be one of the industry's most reliable bottlers of other distilleries' malts.

Availability - Some specialty retailers in Europe
Pricing - €50-€60 (with VAT)
Rating - 77

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Single Malt Report: Ballechin Batch 3, Port Cask Matured

Before the 10 year old, Ballechin was released as "The Discovery Series", without age statements and in a different sort of cask each year.  They were as follows:

Ballechin batch 1 - First-fill Burgundy Wine Casks (2006)
Ballechin batch 2 - Madeira Puncheons (2007)
Ballechin batch 3 - Port Hogsheads (2008)
Ballechin batch 4 - Oloroso Sherry Butts (2009)
Ballechin batch 5 - Marsala Hogsheads (2010)
Ballechin batch 6 - Bourbon Barrels (2011)
Ballechin batch 7 - Bordeaux Hogsheads (2012)
Ballechin batch 8 - Sauternes Hogsheads (2013)

Thanks to Florin (the local Ballechin fan), I have a sample of batch 3 to report on...

Distillery: Edradour
Malt: Ballechin
Ownership: Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Co., Ltd.
Region: Highlands (Central)
Bottling year: 2008
Maturation: Port Hogsheads
Limited Bottling: 6000
Peat level at time of malting: ~50ppm
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(Thanks to Florin for the sample!)

Its color is light gold with a slight pink-orange hue.  The first big note in the nose is chocolate tangerine peat.  The port level is mild at first but strengthens with time.  Blackberry popsicle.  Hint of menthol.  The peat gets greener with time.  Then suddenly, its a whole pan of raspberry bars!  The palate is much ashier than that of the 10 year old.  Thickly textured, it feels much larger than 46%abv.  Chocolate, toffee, and sweet grapes at first.  Then the 10's chili oil note leaps forth.  And lots of dark berries in peat syrup (or vice versa?).  A little more wine in the finish.  Limeade, salt, and dry peat smoke.  Medium levels of sugar and (peppery) spice.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose becomes milder and softer.  The port and peat become floral.  Lemon zest, vanilla, and maybe a hint of honey develop.  The palate becomes ashier and bitterer.  Less fruit, more straight up sugar.  Acidic, too.   The finish is sweet and ashy.  Floral and acidic.  Maybe some bitter chocolate?  Decent length.

For an non-Islay wine-cask-aged NAS peated whisky, this is hard to top -- though I'm not sure how much competition it actually has.  I'd even say it's better than many age statemented Islay peaters.  The nose, palate, and finish are equally solid, though I don't recommend adding water.  The peat and port not only play well together but also compliment each other.  Good stuff this porty peaty Edradour.

Though this has become difficult to find, I still think its current US prices (floating around $100) are goofy.  Its original US price of $80ish is little more reasonable and, unlike the Ballechin 10, I'd be willing to pay $70-$80 for this Batch 3 because the quality is present in the bottle.

Availability - Scarce in the US and Europe
Pricing - $100 or so in the US; $85-110 in Europe
Rating - 88

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Single Malt Report: Ballechin 10 year old

I will be reviewing a few Edradour products this week.  I know, you're leaping from your windows (with excitement).  My experience with the Highlands' tiniest distillery's single malts is limited but mixed.  The three I've tried that were distilled prior to Andrew Symington's (Mr. Signatory!) 2002 takeover were aggressively soapy.  In fact the old 30 year old is in the running for the single worst whisky I've ever tried.  It was horrifying and worrisome.  To get an idea of the experience see Andy's review from the LAWS site.  My luck with the whiskies distilled since 2002 has been more positive.  And my experience with their peated brand, Ballechin, has been even better.

The malt used for Ballechin is peated at Ardbeg/Kilchoman levels, near 50ppm.  Symington and his distillery manager, Ian Henderson (formerly of Laphroaig fame) began distilling this peated spirit almost as soon as they moved in.  Starting 2006 and ending in 2013, a limited batch of Ballechin was released annually.  Each batch of "The Discovery Series" was aged in a different cask type, from Port to Sauternes to Oloroso sherry and more.  And then in 2014 the first age-stated release came out...

Distillery: Edradour
Malt: Ballechin
Ownership: Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Co., Ltd.
Region: Highlands (Central)
Age: minimum 10 years old
Bottling year: 2014
Maturation: from the back label: "predominantly ex Bourbon casks with a generous top dressing of ex Oloroso Sherry casks"
Peat level at time of malting: ~50ppm
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(Thanks to Florin for the sample!)

Its color appears to be apple juice gold.  The nose has big rich peat, though it's not ashy.  A plate of pork with honey-citrus glaze and grilled corn on the cob.  Serious grilled corn on the cob.  Then there are red (not red delicious which smell like emptiness) apples, orange peel, and ginger powder.  It gets nuttier with time, sort of pistachio-ish.  After about 20 minutes, it gets a little more coastal/beachy.  The palate feels more charred, with dirtier peat.  Slightly vegetal peat notes as well.  Quite sweet, with plenty of vanilla and sugar.  A chili oil bite and some roasted malt.  After 20 minutes, a good rich oak note appears, perhaps from the "generous top dressing of ex Oloroso Sherry casks".  Some sweet baking spices as well.  The finish, though not complex, is extensive.  Sweet and peat.  More Kilchoman than Ardbeg.  The malty element picks up after a few sips, as does a hint of salt.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose is milder and delivers more hay notes.  The peat reads more mossy than smoky now.  Salty/briney.  Something sugared in the far back.  The palate is nearly neutered.  Hints of sweet, salt, and bitter.  Smokier than the nose.  Almost a wood smoke.  The finish is much lighter too.  Briney, smoky, malty.

This is a solid whisky that could easily play in the Islay League.  It can't be accused of complexity and it doesn't swim well, but it smells great and tastes good.  The finish is impressive as well.  I used the Kilchoman and Ardbeg reference in the tasting notes because of their similar peating levels (or possibly the same Port Ellen maltings specs?), and also due to the fact that the Ballechin 10 would be a respectable alternative to the Ardbeg 10 and Kilchoman Machir Bay.  I'd still go with those two first, especially since they're cheaper (it is about $20 cheaper in Europe than in the US, though that's before shipping) and a half step better.  But again this is good stuff if you're looking for a new peated whisky (with an age statement) and don't mind paying the price.

Availability - Many specialty retailers in US and Europe
Pricing - $70-$80 in US; $55-70 in Europe
Rating - 84 86 (apologies for the score change, I was supposed update it before posting in the AM but didn't due to fatherhood forgetfulness)