...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Single Malt Report: Craigellachie 18 year old 1995 Hepburn's Choice for K&L Wine Merchants

In 2014, Bacardi started releasing a range of single malts from all of its distilleries.  It was a very cool idea and something that I looked forward to.  But I haven't purchased any of these bottles because many of their prices are on the higher side of things.  Also, I don't buy full bottles blindly and I don't know many folks who have bought any of these whiskies, so I haven't been able to mooch.  But there's one exception, Craigellachie 13yo.

A few months ago, a friend had me blind taste a few things.  The last thing I tried was odd.  The first thing I said was, "It's scotch......right?"  It's was that weird.  It almost seemed like an American craft single malt, but one that was very low on oak.  My friend (who has much more whisky experience than I do) had me declare on the spot how I'd grade it.  I said borderline C+/B-, though its weirdness made me lean closer to B-.  He confirmed it was scotch and that it was Craigellachie 13.  And that he didn't understand why certain reviewers were raving about it.  I anticipate that if he ever publicly reviews it, it'll be graded less than a C+.  I won't review it in full until I do a larger, more official tasting.  But in the meantime, I'll lean much closer to the grades & notes from whiskyfun and whiskynotes than those of thewhiskeyjug and drinkhacker.

Anyway, this review has nothing to do with that whisky.  It is instead about a VERY different Craigellachie.  It's a single sherry cask, bottled by Hunter Laing under their Hepburn's Choice label for K&L Wine Merchants in the US.  It was amongst K&L's 2015 single cask exclusives and there are still some of these bottles on the shelves.  I've been pretty happy about K&L's 2015 picks, let's see if this one continues the positive trend.

Distillery: Craigellachie
Ownership: Bacardi
Independent Bottler: Hunter Laing
Label: Hepburn's Choice
Retailer: K&L only
Age: 18 years (1995 - 2014)
Region: Speyside
Maturation: Sherry Butt
Bottles: 580
Alcohol by Volume: 54.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
Thanks to My Annoying Opinions for the sample!

Its color is brown gold.  Well, if I didn't know what sort of cask it came from beforehand, the nose told me right away.  Prunes, dried cherries, dark chocolate, Nutella, and sulphur.  There's a small farmy note reminiscent of Tobermory.  Could that be peat moss in there too?  More chocolate with time, like a hot fudge spill on a forest floor.  It's not a pretty or polished nose, but I like it.  A nice moderately fruity cask (probably more the oak than the sherry) show up on the palate.  Grapes/raisins, dried blueberries, and prunes.  But not too sweet.  The sulphur's lighter here.  Milky chocolate and toffee.  Some heat and a malty rumble underneath.  Dark chocolate and cherry pie filling on the finish.  Black raisins and slight bitterness.  No sulphur here.  The chocolate gets milkier with time.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Wham! Cannon powder on the nose.  Chocolate cherry cordials.  Milky milk chocolate.  Black Mission figs (what a f---ing snob).  A little of that possible peaty thing and some orange oil.  The palate is much milder.  A little cleaner and more Glendronach-y.  Fruity but not sweet.  Small notes of mint, milk chocolate, raisins, and soil.  The raisins and chocolate continue into the finish.  Some pepper.  Maybe a little bit of that farm note.

How about this for cuteness: you can just hop on over to My Annoying Opinions's's's review and witness almost the same exact whisky experience.  And, in an unexpected twist, I also agree with thewhiskyjug's review.  Plus, Sku and I agree about this one, and the Hepburn's Bowmore too.  With all of this positivity, bottles still remain in stock as of today.  Why?

Well, this isn't for fans of the Macallan 18yo style of sherried malt.  It's a rougher or "dirty" (as per MAO's note) sherried style.  Likely the kind of thing that pisses off Jim Murray something terrible.  I did some snooping and discovered that Craigellachie does indeed use lightly peated malt, so that mossy note wasn't just my imagination.  In any case, if your palate likes a little bit of an ass-kicking -- as opposed to a foot rub -- from a sherried single malt then this may be your flavor.

Availability - K&L Wine Merchants only
Pricing - $100
Rating - 88

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Single Malt Report: Dailuaine 16 year old 1997 Signatory for K&L Wine Merchants

This site has a sad lack of Dailuaine reviews, something I need to remedy next year.  I like Dailuaine.  It doesn't put out one of the Great malts, nor often the Very Good malts, but it's pretty reliable and I like to site it as an example of a whisky with a positive floral element.  The nose is so often full of fresh flower blossoms, that I can almost pick a Dailuaine out at a blind tasting.  But I'll need to try twenty more just to be sure.

Like Royal Lochnagar, the Dailuaine distillery is owned by Diageo and used primarily for blends.  After its expansion in 2012, it produces almost 12 times the alcohol that Lochnagar does, much of that also goes into Johnnie Walker.  There are some old Flora & Fauna bottlings floating around out there and also a super-expensive 34yo "Special Release" coming out this year.  Today's Dailuaine is a single cask from the very reliable indie bottler Signatory, and was released exclusively through the American retailer K&L Wine Merchants.

Distillery: Dailuaine
Ownership: Diageo
Independent BottlerSignatory
Retailer: K&L only
Age: 17 years (May 21, 1997 - April 28, 2014)
Maturation: Hogshead
Cask #s: 7195
Bottles: 224
Region: Speyside
Alcohol by Volume: 54.6%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
Thanks to Florin for the sample!

Its color is amber.  The nose begins with orange blossoms and lychee.  Then there's caramel, barley, putty, and a slight papery note.  There's also some fruit, from peach nectar to something reminiscent of Power's whiskies (pears and melons).  After 30 minutes in the glass, the whisky's fruit notes get funkier and overripe.  More vanilla and caramel too.  The orange blossoms become oranges.  The malty palate is quite sweet.  Toffee, tangerines, and tropical fruit cocktail juice.  A little bit of cocoa and plenty of heat.  Man, it gets even fruitier and sugarier with time.  More tangerines than tropical fruits in the extensive finish.  Peach candy, a little bit of caramel.  Some malt and a peppery zing.  It also gets fruitier and sugarier with time.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose gets very malty.  The fruit element recedes.  The orange blossoms return.  Some baking spice like a bright old rye (cinnamon, sugar, and butter?).  Toffee and tobacco in the palate.  Very malty again.  Whipped cream.  Toasty French oak-like notes.  The mild finish is sweet and creamy.  Reminiscent of Compass Box Spice Tree.

Super fruity.  On the sweeter side as well.  I will agree with David O-G of K&L that this is light on oak and can take water well.  Much easier to recommend than yesterday's Royal Lochnagar, this Dailuaine is a solid whisky if it fits your palate, and if you picked it up when they dropped the price to $59.99 you certainly caught a good deal.

Availability - Sold out  :^(
Pricing - $60-$70
Rating - 84

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Single Malt Report: Royal Lochnagar 10 year old 2002 Faultline (K&L exclusive)

After last week's OF THE MOMENT reviews, I'm shifting gears.  The next eight (I cannot count) seven reviews will be of K&L exclusive whiskies.  Now, because I can't be timely with all of these, this first whisky was probably sold out a year ago.  But I'm just warming up.

Royal Lochnagar, Diageo's smallest distillery, goes into the Pinch, Windsor, VAT 69, and Johnnie Walker blends.  And I've heard third- or eighth-hand that it's one of the main malt components for Blue Label.  So there's a chance that many folks have had it, but not on its own.

I'm not sure if I've ever had a Royal Lochnagar single malt before, so I'm just going to say that this is my first.  Though K&L drew rightful criticism for overstating the rarity of independent Lochnagars, indie RLs can be a challenge to find.  Whiskybase has 110+ RL indies, but only 10 have been released since 2013.  And this Faultline was the only one of those to make it to the US.  The only other one I've seen on the shelves is the Dewar Rattray one that BevMo! released 4-5 years ago.
Distillery: Royal Lochnagar
Owner: Diageo
Independent Bottler: Faultline
Retailer: K&L only
Age: minimum 10 years
Region: Middle Eastern Highlands
Alcohol by Volume: 58.2%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: No
Thanks to SmokyPeat for the sample!

Its color is very pale.  The nose starts with a load of ethyl with buttery oak behind it.  Give it a couple minutes...and......Floral perfume.  Lots of soap.  Lots of vanilla.  Lemons.  A little bit of saltwater.  The palate is REALLY hot.  A little bitter and soapy.  Lots of sticky sugars, flower petals, and vanilla.  The finish is heat. Barrel char, vanilla, and woody bitterness.

Okay, that was not what I'd identify as pleasant.  I'm going to water it down...

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose is still perfumy, but clearer now.  Limes, roses, a hint of malt.  Kasugai peach candy, caramel, and confectioner's sugar. Still some ethyl in there.  The palate is pretty malty and mild now.  Sugary and grassy.  Some lime zestiness and a slight farm note.  The finish is clearer too.  Better bitterness.  Lots of woody vanillaness.  Perfumy.

As noted above, I received this sample from Smoky Peat.  Mr. Peat is more of an optimist about current whiskies than I am......and he gave this whisky one of his two or three lowest scores ever.  The reddit review of this Royal Lochnagar is not kinder.

I'm not sure if I've ever written the following: I do not recommend even trying this whisky neatly.  Water is a must.  While that still doesn't turn it into a great whisky, hydration does cool its crazy heat and washes away the soap.  It still seems like a very young malt once it's reduced, which while that is not a bad thing, it may not be to everyone's taste.  It's sugary, grassy, and perfumed.  It's drinkable at 46%abv, perhaps even more so at 40%.  So keep that in mind if you have issues with your bottle once it's opened.

Availability - Sold out  :^|
Pricing - $50-$60
Rating - 74 (with water only)

Friday, October 23, 2015

NOT Single Malt Report: Haig's Dimple Tin Cap Blended Whisky (bottled in 1950s)

To cap off this week's old blend reviews, I'm skipping right over the '60s to get to the '50s.  I've reviewed two of Haig's 1970s cheaper blends, finding one much better than the other, but neither were of the Dimple/Pinch (Dimple in Europe, Pinch in U.S.) variety.  I've had the somewhat current version of the 15yo Pinch (or, again, "Dimple" outside of the US), I found it to be an acceptable blended whisky and hope they can keep it in the $35-$40 price range as long as possible.  This, though, is different.

Photo not of actual bottle sampled,
instead the image is from this page
I really don't know how to continue an intro to a whisky like this so I'll just end it with saying thank you to Sir Cobo for this sample!!!

(Also, please see that previous Haig post for a summarized history about the brand!)

(Also, if you do have an old Haig in your collection, the Haig site does something rare for an official site by providing a little bit of assistance with figuring out your dusty's age.)

Brand: Haig
Ownership at the time: Distiller's Company Limited (DCL)
Current ownership: Diageo
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: minimum 3 years
Alcohol by Volume: 40% (or 70º UK proof)
Bottled: 1950s

The color is a moderately dark gold.  The nose begins with wood smoke and orange oil.  Almond cookies and ocean water.  Grapefruit.  A minerally white wine.  After 20+ minutes in the glass, a fragrant mossy peat note appears alongside vanilla beans and rope.  The palate is a little dusty and musty but not much; the '70s Ballantine's was much mustier.  Instead it's loaded with a gorgeous bitterness and tart grapefruit.  Lots of salt.  Some oily greasy Springbanky stuff in the midground.  A mellow sweetness in the background.  After a while it develops a very literal mineral note, like licking a rock.  Not a long finish, but it's impressively free of sweets.  Lots of citrusy tingle, like lemon and grapefruit.  The rocky-mineral note.  And the bitter note, now reading sort of IPA-ish.

Can I say "they don't make them like this anymore" without sounding cliché?  No?  Well, they don't make them like this anymore because no one bottle ages their blend for sixty years before releasing it to the public.  But really, a load of tartness, bitterness, and rocks with a minimum of sweetness?  I'm assuming that can still be done by someone somewhere.  Right?  I'd buy a bottle of that.

While the palate was my favorite part, the nose was also very good.  It's a shame the finish finished fast, but while it lives its notes are consistent with the rest of the experience.  I'm liking some of these old Haigs, so I have a feeling there may be more posts about them here......maybe in 2016?

Availability - The occasional auction and/or European retailers who sell dusties at premium prices
Pricing - ???
Rating - 86

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

NOT Single Malt Report: Ballantine's Finest Blended Scotch Whisky (bottled 1970s)

One of the most exciting moments for a dusty hunter is when he or she sees the word "QUART" on a whisk(e)y label.  That means the bottle is from the 1970s, at the latest.  I'll be honest, I've rarely had that pleasure.  On one of those rare occasions, I found this bottle.

I was pretty geeked out about this.  I love old cheap blends from the whisky glut era.  One never knows what one's going to find in 'em.  Also, it feels like one's drinking something old, a creaky but vibrant, sometimes sort of moldering, likker that our grandfathers used to drink after long day of beating up scabs.

The fill level wasn't perfect in my Ballantine's, as you may be able to glean from the photos.  The bigger challenge was that the tax strip was virtually gone.  The screw cap was certainly sealed, that wasn't the issue.  The issue was how old was this damn bottle?  After researching a zillion Ballantine's ads from the past 50+ years, I was able to conclude that this specific label (with standard measurements) was used from 1968-1979.  So I'm going with 1970s.  More importantly, the whisky was entirely drinkable.

Brand: Ballantine's
Ownership at the time: Hiram Walker Gooderham & Worts
Current ownership: Pernod Ricard
Distributed by: 21 Brands, Inc.
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: minimum 3 years
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Bottled: probably between 1968 and 1979

Its color is a yellow gold.  The nose can be a bit of an adventure.  At first it's very musty.  Some mild cheese, salty buttery potatoes, and oats.  But after than comes the limes and lemons and vanilla.  A mild maltiness (though not young stuff).  With time (20+ minutes), the citrus moves to the forefront.  Some orange creamsicles now.  A peep of prune juice and wisp of wood smoke.  Lemon creme filling in the palate.  Slight occasional musty moldy note.  Still has a little ethyl bite to it after all these years.  Mild smoke.  Some vanilla and sugar.  As it opens up, it gets very peppery on the tongue.  Some brief oaky moments here and there.  Its finish is shorter than yesterday's '80s Famous Grouse.  It's all Boston creme, toffee, a hint of sawdust, and a spicy nip.

Yeah, it's weird at times.  So are most of the dusties that sit on sunny Southern California shelves for 30+ years.  It takes time open up and let go of the funk, much like my old '70s JW Black Label.  But it's never boring and makes for a pleasant mindless sipper once the weird stuff fades out.  It's also better than the current Ballantine's Finest but not as drastically so as the Grouse issue noted yesterday.  There's definitely plenty of grain filler here and I do wish there was more fruit going on.  But I'd happily buy this for $20 or less (okay, maybe $25 for historical value) any day.

Availability - Happy Hunting!
Pricing - ???
Rating - 78 (needs a little breathing time)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

NOT Single Malt Report: Famous Grouse Blended Whisky (bottled late 1980s)

My first bottle of the modern Famous Grouse was also my last.  It was a 1-liter bottle purchased at Trader Joes for $20.  I wrote the review, giving it 2-1/2 stars (later 74 points), when it was at its halfway point.  By the end of that bottle I hated Famous Grouse.  By the end of the bottle it was no longer "Wow, it's okay!".  By the end of the bottle it was aggressively crappy.

Two-and-a-half years later, while dusty hunting, I saw this 375mL bottle of an older version of the Grouse:

I didn't really know what I was doing at the time, but I did see that it was bottled at 86 proof and the label looked old.  Because it had no tax strip, it was from after 1985.  And with its "proof" measurement, it was from before 1990.  It also had this weird label issue on the back:

This brought to mind the double struck coins and miscut baseball cards from my youth.  Sometimes mis-struck coins were worth something (though, often not), but miscut cards were seen as flawed.  I knew this bottle of whisky wasn't going to be valuable, so I opened it almost as soon as I got home.

The first thing I noticed was that the whisky was good.  I mean, like so good I actually looked forward to pouring a glass of this Famous Grouse.  Because it was 375mL it was consumed quickly.  Luckily, I saved a sample just for this tasting.

Current ownership: The Edrington Group
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: minimum 3 years
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Bottled: probably between 1986 and 1989

The color is a dark orange gold.  Right up front, the nose is very fruity -- tangerines, loquats, and cantaloupe.  A little bit of brine, some honey, some caramel sauce.  Biscotti, the occasional peep of vanilla extract, and malt.  The moderately sweet palate has load of malt right up front.  Lots of salt.  Lots of spiciness -- yes, pepper and cinnamon, but also cloves.  Tart lemons and a wee musty note.  The caramel and musty note grow with time in the glass.  The lemons turn tangy in the medium length finish.  A hint of burnt raisins.  Toffee, malt, and a peppery bite that grows with time, filling the mouth.

This malt bomb doesn't even remotely resemble the current Famous Grouse.  Either its single malt element was enormous or the producers found a grain whisky that complimented it well.  I don't know where the fruity element comes from.  Maybe bourbon cask Macallan?  Or Glenturret?  Not only is it better than almost all of today's major blends, but it's better than many starter single malts (and basically any OB from Glenrothes, which is an ingredient of the current Grouse).  Though he has different notes than I, Serge was a big fan of a 40%abv 1985 French version of Grouse, so take that as you may.  I'm not going to make any grandiose statements, like this is better than everything, but it's a killer deal if found at a sub-$25 price and by comparison it makes the current version of Grouse seem gross.  What the hell happened, Edrington?

Availability - Happy Hunting!
Pricing - ???
Rating - 84

Thursday, October 15, 2015

NOT Single Malt Report: Campbeltown Loch 21 year old Blended Whisky (40%abv version)

How about a blend made up of, "as much as 60%", 21 year old Springbank?  And at $70?  Sounds amazing, right?  You may notice though, that no one ever really raved (okay, maybe Ralfy) about the 40%abv version of Campbeltown Loch 21yo.  No "must buys" or "gold medals" or "5 stars".  I found this silence over a well-aged Springbank product kind of odd, so I bought a sample of it to find out if we were all missing out on something special.  I mean, the single malts coming out of Campbeltown are often fantastic, shouldn't their blends be good as well?  Anyway, as soon as I bought this sample, J&A Mitchell updated the blend giving it more modern packaging and a 46%abv.  Oh well, here's the old stuff.

Brand: Campbeltown Loch
Ownership: J&A Mitchell & Co. Ltd.
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: minimum 21 years old
Distilleries: Springbank (malt) and probably Girvan (grain)
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
(Sample purchased from Master of Malt in 2013)

The color is amber with a slight pink tint.  The nose is very mild.  Takes a moment before it wakes up.  Then...limes and soil.  Light vanilla, light sugar.  Light mango, light fresh apricot.  After 20 minutes a nondescript citrus note takes over -- kinda lime, kinda lemon, kinda grapefruit, kinda clementine.  A tiny bit of sherry, maybe a tinier bit of sulphur.  The palate is pretty malty.  Some strong caramel.  Dried apricots and dried pineapple.  After 30 minutes there's definite oloroso action (toffee, almonds, and dried cherries).  Plus a whisper of peat.  Salt and chewy caramels in the finish.  Some of the dried pineapple.  Eventually it gets some tart grapefruit, dried cherries, and a small smoke note.

Had I not known what I was drinking I'd have had no idea this had Springbank in it because it's yet another blend drowned in water, handcuffed by its minimum level 40%abv.  It's not bad and it's not entirely boring.  Its second wind of oloroso lifted it up a little.  But aside from the sherry and the fruit, there's really not much going on here.  Like many blends, it likely aims for "smooth" but doesn't entirely deliver on that or on any real character.  It needs more of everything.  Luckily, the 46%abv version replaced it.  Though I haven't had that version, I'd go for that one over this one.  Or I'd just buy an actual Springbank single malt instead.

Availability - This version, I don't know. New version, at many European specialty retailers.
Pricing - This version was $55-$75, the new version is $90-$110
Rating - 79

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

NOT Single Malt Report: Compass Box Peat Monster 10th Anniversary Edition

Yesterday I suggested Compass Box, so here's something from Compass Box.

Last September I called the current edition of the regular Peat Monster "merely great", an upgrade over my previous experiences with it, which were merely decent.  So I was very intrigued when I read the news that they were releasing a limited older bigger version in 2014.  Then I discovered that it was going to be in the $100-$120 range.  Less intrigued.  But when K&L put it on closeout for $75, I found myself unable to resist this guy:

As for its ingredients, Compass Box released this tweet:
All of those parts sound good to me.  And they were.  This bottle went very quickly.

Company: Compass Box
Type: Blended Malt (formerly known as Vatted Malt)
Distilleries, Maturation and Age: See above tweet
Limited Bottling: 5700
Alcohol by Volume: 48.9%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(find the official "Fact Sheet" PDF here)

It has a regular ol' uncolored amber tone.  On the nose it starts out with bakery smells, like fresh breads covered in sugar and stuffed with cinnamon swirls; definitely some of my mom's zucchini bread, which goes heavy on the brown sugar.  The peat is very aromatic, as opposed to ashes or smoke.  Lots of toffee, a little vanilla.  Seawater/brine.  A beach bonfire in the distance (I♥Ardmore).  After 20+ minutes it gets smokier and picks up some sharp lime notes.  That aromatic peat continues in the palate.  Some baking spices.  A gentle sweetness.  Sweet dark berries followed by an herbal bitterness followed by tart berries.  That tartness is a little acidic, but not too bad.  After time in the glass, some anise appears.  The sweets and bitters grow, balancing each other out.  In the finish, the peat now reads as moss, smoke, and ashes.  Brine, vanilla beans, and a wormwood-like bitterness.  Tart berries and tart citrus.  It leaves behind that good grimy peaty aftertaste.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The peat gets a little stinkier and aggressive in the nose.  Vanilla frosting.  And to be really vague, it's reminiscent of young Lagavulin, mostly seaweed and rusting boatsides(?!).  The palate gets very peppery and sugary sweet.  Some bitter chocolate in there.  The peat reads as green and mossy.  Sweet and peat in the finish.  A little bit of bitterness lingering.

Very good.  It's right up there with my favorite CBs, Spice Tree and the NY Edition of their Great King Street Blend.

It's a much different creature than the regular version, and I prefer this one's recipe and strength.  The peat is louder and richer, and overall a little sweeter especially with water.  It's a good rainy or snowy evening drink if you actually get that sort of weather by you.  It's missing the sort of complexity that would propel it into 90+ points, but everything else is in line so it sits right on the border grade-wise.  Sadly no one else has since lowered the price on this whisky.  At $100-$120, it's difficult for me to recommend it, but at $75-$80 I felt no buyer's remorse and probably should have bought another bottle.

Availability - Retailers who never dropped their original price
Pricing - $95-$125
Rating - 89 (recommended w/o water)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

NOT Single Malt Report: Chivas Regal 18 year old Blended Whisky

Let's talk about Smooth.  Most scotch buyers want smooth.  Most drinkers do not want to wince.  Most drinkers don't want Islay Stank in their mouths the next morning.  Most drinkers want a quiet but tasty libation.  The cheap blends aren't smooth, and I know this because in a previous chapter of my life I consumed a high quantity of cheap blended scotch whisky.  Many of the whiskies we geeky geeks geek about can be thunderous, trying, or even abusive experiences to most palates.  Some folks don't want Penderecki's Threnody, they want a three-minute pop song.

May I introduce, Chivas 18.  Produced and engineered to be smooth, Chivas 18 is much cheaper than Johnnie Walker Blue Label (engineered for the same purpose).  Hell, Costco has this thing on sale for $45 sometimes, so you can get three (or more) bottles for the price of one Blue.  I will not declare that Chivas 18 is great nor profound whisky, but it tastes good, has some character to it, and has an actual finish.  The last of which cannot be said of JW Blue Label.  But as I cannot write a paragraph without including some complaint, I do mourn the quantities of 18 year old Longmorn, Glenlivet, and Strathisla being expended to create smooth.

Let's have a sip.
Brand: Chivas Regal
Ownership: Pernod Ricard (via Chivas Bros. Ltd.)
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: minimum 18 years
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Bottling: 2014, I think
(Mini purchased at a local liquor store)

Its color is a red orange gold.  Definitely redder than DiageoGold™.  The nose is pretty straightforward at first.  Sherry, vanilla, halvah, hazelnuts, and very distant fruits (melon and pear).  There is a slight burnt note, but it vanishes after a couple minutese.  After 20 minutes, notes of oranges and orange blossoms arrive.  More raisins and prunes.  In fact there's a good funky sherry note somewhere in the back; it's too bad it was watered down so.  The palate is very easy, stress-free, steady, polished, frictionless.  Lots of dried fruits and caramel sauce.  A roasted/malty note in background.  It's lightly tingly, but even that bite is comforting.  It grows fruitier with time, think citrus and tropical stuff.  The caramel remains prominent throughout.  It finishes with the dried fruit, lychee, some flower blossoms.  The slight burnt thing comes back for a moment: e150a?  Finally, caramel candies and a subtle bitterness.

'Tis schmoove.  The thesaurus has "velvety" and "creamy" as synonyms for "smooth" but, due to the level of filtering and added water, Chivas 18 never earns those adjectives.  But it does have a dependable and enjoyable level of fruitiness and some pleasant sherry.  While in its current state there's nearly zero complexity, I do think the potential is present for a really good whisky if it were (here it comes again) bottled at 46%abv, unfiltered, and uncolored.  Instead what we have here is easy drinking.  If you want more from your whisky, go elsewhere......to, say, Compass Box?

Availability - Very wide
Pricing - $55-$70, often cheaper at Costco
Rating - 82

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Something Weird: Bourbon DeLuxe 4 year old, bottled in 1989

A couple weekends ago, I thought I'd tweet out something satirical.  In honor of all those folks who post a carefully lit close up of a 30+ year old Caol Ila / Laphroaig / Brora / Longmorn and ask, "Does anyone know if this is any good?", I posted this:

Yes my much treasured bottle of capital 'B' Bottom Shelf Stuff.  I was warned not to purchase it by two different people who were much more knowledgable than I.  Here's how one conversation went:

MK: "So I found this place that has National Distillers-era Bourbon DeLuxe."
CU: "Don't buy it."
MK: "They have it in their behind-the-glass section, claiming it's a collector's item. It's $50."
CU: "Don't buy it."
MK: "But they have two."
CU: "Don't buy it."
MK: "It's a liter."
CU: "Don't buy it."

So I didn't buy it.  But then I found another place that had it for $21.99.  And I bought it.  And then I quit dusty hunting altogether the next day.  Because this is stupid.  More on that sentence fragment another day...

Back to my tweet.  I realized on one warm evening there was nothing preventing me from opening the Bourbon DeLuxe.  So I hauled it out of storage.  And then I tweeted.  And, I guess, built into my tweet joke was an honest message-in-a-bottle that asked, "Has anyone actually tried this?  And what does it taste like?"

Well, that tweet had 120 interactions.  Most of my tweets have between 0 and 4.  Yet no one responded.

Bourbon DeLuxe was indeed one of National Distillers' brands, purchased by ND after Prohibition (possibly from L Eppstein and Sons of Fort Worth).  Like its better loved Old siblings (Taylor, Crow, and Grand Dad) it went to Beam when National Distillers was purchased.  I've found the ND versions of the "Olds" to be far superior to their current iterations, so I had some hope that my purchase wouldn't be a total loss.  Like my Old Taylors, this bottle has the National Distillers UPC code and has the Frankfort/Claremont designations.  So I figured that JB bottled it with ND bourbon.

Owner: Beam Inc at time of bottling
Distilled by: National Distillers (maybe?)
Brand: Bourbon DeLuxe
Distillery: possibly at Old Crow Distillery, some older spirit may be from Old Taylor Distillery but that's very doubtful in this instance
Location: Frankfort, Kentucky / Clermont, Kentucky
Mash Bill: ???
Age: minimum 4 years old
ABV: 40% ABV
Bottle year: 1989

Upon first sip, it was reminiscent of my 40%abv Old Taylor 6yo from 1991.  This suddenly now makes sense to me since the 1991 OT was 6 years old and the 1989 DeLuxe is 4 year old, which means they would both be theoretically distilled in 1985.  But there was also a sort of bland nuttiness that reminded me of modern Jim Beam White Label.  A week later, a more official tasting:

Color - Very dark reddish brown
Nose - VOC-heavy paint, pecans, hazelnuts, peanut dust, and wood polish.  Sometimes there's a curious nutty sherry note as well.  Caramel and baked bananas in the mid-ground.  With time, a sap note develops and the caramel gets louder.
Palate - Simple and sweet.  Vanilla and caramel.  A vague paint note.  Some spirity heat.  Then it gets sweeter and spicier with time in the glass.  Cinnamon raisin bread, honey butter, and something similar to immature single malt.
Finish - Sour and sweet.  Paint.  Smoky oak.  Raisins in caramel sauce.  Picks up some wood spices after a while.  Quite some length, eventually fading into barrel char.

Sweet, wood, paint.  Not recommended.

First, the paint.  It doesn't bother me too much on the nose, while on the palate it weirdly almost works.  Sort of like taking a drink during a break from house painting.  But when it shows up on the finish and just hangs out in the mouth, it's not great.  In a highball it's worse.

Meanwhile, almost all of the National Distillers bourbon notes are gone, replaced by some funny cheap sherry-like stuff.  The result is a mildly quirky cheap bourbon.  When I first opened the bottle, I'd wished they hadn't watered this down so much.  Now, I wonder if maybe they did us all a favor by reducing it so.

The lesson here is that there was always cheapo bottom shelf whiskey, and even dusty bottles of cheapo bottom shelf whiskey will still be cheapo bottom shelf whiskey when they're opened 26 years later.  This Bourbon DeLuxe fits that bill pretty well.  It's drinkable and mostly acceptable.  And then the finish poops out.  Now I'm left with at least 800mL of DeLuxe.  Woo hoo.

Availability - Happy hunting?
Pricing - ???
Rating - 70 (though this score has been declining with each pour)

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Summer Whiskies: Arran 10 year old (new label)

How about a review with a minimum of schpiel this time?  I'll keep it to the following paragraph:

Before finding a bottle of the new labelled version at price that was clearly a retailer's error, I had tried the old Arran 10yo on a few occasions and always liked it.  I continue prefer Arran in the 10-14yo range.  I've had a handful of Arrans older than that and, while none of there were bad, they all either felt muted or the cask tannins had taken over.  While I received confirmation that the recipe for the official 10 and 14 year olds had changed slightly, I don't know (or remember) how the 10 has changed.  Though I do see from my notes that some older casks were mixed in in order keep the whisky close to the old version.  All I can tell you with any confidence is that the new labelled version hit the shelves in 2014 and the whisky within the bottle comes from ex-bourbon and (mostly refill) ex-sherry casks.

I can't seem to find any of my bottle's photos, so here's
one of the glasses from the gift pack. It was utilized
for this review.
DistilleryIsle of Arran Distillery
Type: Single Malt
Ownership: Isle of Arran Distillers Ltd.
Region: Isle of Arran, Scotland
Age: minimum 10 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon and (mostly refill) ex-sherry casks
Bottling code: L11 10 14
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No

Official pic
The nose begins with a big note of hot cereal (think grits or cream of wheat), then that's met with lots of limes (juice and peels).  After a moment it's vanilla fudge, a note that stays for the duration.  Hints of grapefruit, metal, tar, and wet musty peat moss (if that's a thing) appear.  It's light on the oak and bigger on the spirit.  Not a showy bird, this one.  Quiet and confident, if you'll allow.  The palate is really malty, almost chocolate malty.  Then white chocolate, white peppercorns, toffee, and nutty sherry.  A sizable orange peel note appears after a few minutes, and it almost reminds me of Grand Marnier without the sweets.  Light on the vanilla and caramel.  After 30 minutes, there's a graceful balance of flower blossoms and bitterness.  There's a hint of the white chocolate note in the finish, as well as the orange peel.  A little bit of tobacco from the sherry.  A nice fizzy bitterness (Campari and soda?).

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose is very similar.  More lime, no peat.  Lots of cereal, little oak.  Vanilla fudge.  Maybe some ginger ale and rose blossoms.  The palate gets very zesty and peppery with some buttery toffee at the edges.  Lots of barley.  Still has that bright bitterness.  Hints of sherry in the creamy finish, along with a slight mineral note.  It still has that fizzy bitterness.

It's funny, I opened this whisky as my easy drinking summer malt, but I clearly forgot that it can be pretty complex.  It is a good sipper, but it's not a background drink you pour to ignore.  It has some angles to it and can be austere (yes, the 'A' word) at times.  I know that a lot of whisky geeks rave about Benromach as THE under-appreciated 10yo -- and that is a good whisky -- but Arran 10 should be kept in mind as well.  The price range listed below may look a bit high, but Arran 10 year old's average price in the US is equal to Macallan's, $2 lower than Laphroaig's, and $7 lower than Benromach's.  That's the going rate, folks.

Availability - Most liquor specialists
Pricing - $45-$55
Rating - 86

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Problem with Power's Gold Label Irish Whiskey

John Power & Sons and I
I've viewed Power's Gold Label through a pair of particularly rose-tinted spectacles for thirteen years.  Built into Power's are a lot of sentimental connections and sense memories as it has always reminded me of an intense part of my life and a number of lovely experiences surrounding that time.  Three and a half years ago (my god has it been that long?), I posted a review of the version of Power's I knew best.  It is the whisk(e)y I've purchased the most often in this life.

But as of mid-2013, the Gold Label I knew was no longer.  A new Gold Label with a new label, bottle shape, and higher ABV replaced it.  Usually irked by new versions of good things, I actually found myself looking forward to this change.  Then I saw its new price.  The alcohol content went up 3.2 points -- from 40% to 43.2% -- which is an increase of 8%.  The price (in California) had jumped from $17.99 to $29.99, an increase of 67%.

The fall of Power's
That was enough of a hike to make even me, one of this whiskey's champions, take pause.  I didn't buy it for almost two years.  I didn't see any reason why I should pay $30 for my $18 whiskey.  Meanwhile on the business side, the $18 whisk(e)y market and the $30 whisk(e)y market are two different things, and I wasn't confident of the wisdom of Pernod's decision to move Power's to another market.  Nor did I see or hear any PR push to inspire people to pay 67% more for it nor to get the new demographic to buy it at all.  And it appears as if the market has spoken...

Volume sales dropped 5% in 2013 when the new version was introduced mid-year in the US.  Though that doesn't seem like much, consider that the other six leading Irish whiskey brands increased their volume sales 18% that year.  Then in 2014, the first full year this new edition was on the shelves, the volume sales of Power's dropped another 30%.  Adding it all up, since this new Power's was released the brand's volume sales have sunk 33% in the US, while the other six leading Irish whiskey brands' volume sales have risen by 28%.  That's probably not good.

I assume that Pernod Ricard was attempting to ride the coattails of the legitimate Irish whisky boom (volume sales up nearly 50% in 2014 compared to 2011), by releasing what they thought was a premium blend, something that was a step up from Jameson's.  Quality-wise, Power's has always been better than Jameson's, perhaps due to its focus on pot still whiskey versus Jameson's focus on grain whiskey.  In the end, it's the dollars that matter to Pernod, of course.  And though I don't have the official $ numbers, if I use winesearcher's average prices (rather than my anecdotal ones) with the Impact Databank table for 2012 through 2014, the value drop is 13%.  Yes, the price increase padded the blow, but didn't stop it.  Meanwhile, the rest of the brands have ascended.

But does it taste good?
So......about that whole quality thing.  How about a review?  It was one of my Summer Whiskies and all that.

Distillery: Midleton
Brand: Powers
Current Owner: Pernod-Ricard
Type: Irish Blended Whiskey
Age: likely minimum 3 years
Bottle code: L42861517313:18
Alcohol by Volume: 43.2%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? Probably

The color is the same well-engineered bright gold of its predecessor.  The nose begins with orange blossoms, vanilla bean, and paint.  Then honeydew, cantaloupe, and pears.  Aerosol can propellant and brown sugar.  The palate is loaded with milk caramels.  Then creamsicles and toffee pudding.  Flan.  More caramel than vanilla.  A small cracked pepper note here and there.  Despite all of those dessert notes, it's not as sweet as the Elmer T. Lee I reviewed yesterday.  Salted caramel gelato on the finish.  Vanilla pudding up front and a tart citrus note in the back.  A spicy tingle and a good length.

The good news.  It's still Power's!  They didn't ruin it.  Those were my first thoughts upon my first sip of my first glass from this bottle.  While the nose can be a bit rough at times (as it used to be), the palate is very good (as it used to be).  I think there may be a little more fruit in the nose and the finish might be a little longer than before.

The bad news.  It's still Power's.  It doesn't deliver anything new, despite the extra ABV points and the lack of chillfiltration, despite the new design, despite the much higher price.  And to be honest, that was disappointing.  (Yes, I would have been more disappointed if they'd turned out a completely different lesser product, burying the old Power's forever.)  And while I usually try to savor a whiskey for what it is despite the price, I think the disappointment snuck in and tainted my enjoyment of Power's a little bit.  I started wondering if I was smelling the chemical notes stronger in this version.  Were the caramel notes beginning to overwhelm the rest of the package?  Or have I changed as a whiskey fan over the past two years?

Ultimately, this remains the best non-ultra-premium blend coming from Midleton and probably the best non-ultra-premium Irish whiskey blend overall (though I haven't tried any of Teeling's new things).  So, yes, it probably should be more expensive than Jameson, Paddy's, Bushmills White, 2 Gingers, and Tullamore Dew.  And yes, it's much tastier neat than any bottom (and many middle) shelf Scotch blends.  The thing is though, at $18 Power's was an incredible deal, a bottle I'd always have on hand.  At $30, it's just one of many options.

Availability - Specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - $27-$36 for the new label, the old one can sometimes be found at its old price
Rating - 83

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Summer Whiskies: Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Straight Bourbon (2015)

At some point in the Earth's history, September and October became LA's hottest months.  I really think this happened within the last five to ten years because I don't remember this being the case when I lived here from 1996-2003.  Or maybe I didn't notice it.  But now that I am older and crankier, and can sweat standing still in a snowstorm, not only do I notice this extended heat, but I find this whole situation bullshit.

Anyway, the "summer" I'm referring to in the reviews this week follows the whole solstice-to-equinox fascist measurement.  Lucky old sun my ass.

For casual drinking, I tend to drink more bourbon and beer during the summer than I do during the rest of the year.  They tend to wash over the palate, settle in the stomach, and work with my cracked-out thermoregulation system best during hot days.  Last year my go to bourbon was Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel.  This year my go to bourbon was......Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel.  The ETL was at some point in the recent past easier to come by and commonly priced at $30 or less.  Now its allocations (in America) are getting smaller and people are attempting to flip their bottles for twice or thrice its old price.  I have a little secret shop where I can readily find Elmer, though the bottle's price did go up 10% this year.
Named after the father of single barrel bourbons, Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Straight Bourbon is one of the higher-rye bourbons in Buffalo Trace's portfolio, part of the Age International family, along with Ancient Age and Blanton's.  Like Blanton's, Elmer T. Lee is bottled from individual barrels.  But unlike Blanton's (yet just like Eagle Rare) there is no notation of barrel number or any other helpful information.  Just the bottling code if you can find it.  Thus you can't track down another bottle from a barrel you like, so all preferences, recommendations, and reviews are that much more pointless.

So here's a review!
Distillery: Buffalo Trace
Brand: Elmer T. Lee
Region: Kentucky, USA
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Age: unknown
Mashbill: Buffalo Trace #2 (higher-rye; about 15%)
Bottle Code: B1505421:29K
Alcohol by volume: 45%

I didn't intend to do a whole "life of a whiskey bottle" post with this one but I had somewhat different experiences at the top and middle of the bottle.  So, I'll list the notes here, then summarize below.

Nose - It starts with sweet corn, caramel sauce, cotton, and paint. Slightly minty. It doesn't seem to have much stamina in the glass, getting more candied and woody but otherwise fades out at 30 minutes. But at 40 minutes it suddenly gets very pretty and floral, full of limes.
Palate - Peppery with a mild corn & cherry sweetness.  Some rye spices and hazelnut liqueur.  Vanilla simple syrup with mint.  The oak feels more toasted than charred.
Finish - Sweet with cherry soda syrup, vanilla, mint candy, and ripe banana.  Again the oak feels toasted rather than charred.


Nose - Robotussin, black cherry syrup, and cinnamon sticks.  Juicy Fruit gum at first, bubblegum later.  Brown sugar, split lumber, and furniture polish.  After 15 minutes, vanilla shows up.
Palate - So many sweets: brandied cherries, brown sugar, and orange slice candies.  Then some rye-like spice shows up (nutmeg and pepper), and the orange candies become orange peels.  A hints of corn and bitterness.
Finish - Sweet but milder than palate. Long and sticky. Bubblegum, cherries, brown sugar, corn syrup, and orange peel. A spicy zing of cayenne pepper and ginger.

I found the bourbon to be a little quirky but also a little boring at the top of the bottle, nowhere nearly as interesting as my bottle from last year.  So it actually took three months to get to the middle of this bottle.  Now at this point it has brightened up considerably.  It's become much sweeter, but also has minimal vanilla, caramel, and corn.  It also works very well in cocktails and highballs.  Comparing it to its older sib, Blanton's, I'd say it's sweeter but less spicy.  Normally, I don't have a sweet tooth when it comes to whisk(e)y but this one works for me.

So, if you can find it for $40 or less, then I could theoretically recommend this sweet little number.  I've listed the bottle code in the information above, otherwise it's impossible to know what barrel you and I are buying.  Meanwhile, if you see it for $100+ please enjoy the laugh and don't mourn too much for what you've missed.  There are plenty of other bourbons in the sea.

Availability - Scarce
Pricing - all over the damned place, from $30 to $130
Rating - 85

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Single Malt Report: GlenDronach 8 year old 'The Heilan'

Speaking of young whisky to be appreciated now, I just tried this one last night...
...and decided to call my second audible (both Glendronachs, actually) in two weeks.  I had tried this whisky as part of an OC Scotch Club tasting that I led in July, but didn't really register it then since we were outdoors in 95 degree heat and there were cigars all around.  A lot of people, many of them new to whisky, liked this one the best -- even more than the 33yo Bunnahahbain.

'The Hielan' replaces the 8yo 'Octarine' in GlenDronach's range.  This new whisky is (I think) the first member of the regular range that is made entirely from spirit distilled by the current owners, the BenRiach Distillery Company.  Two elements about this whisky I liked from the start: 1.) Like the Octarine, it has ex-bourbon casks in the mix.  The rest of the official range is made up entirely of ex-sherry casks.  And since Glendronach indies are rare, it's difficult to chase down anything but very sherried 'Dronachs.  Yes, sherried 'Dronachs are often quite swell, but my two experiences with ex-bourbon cask 'Dronach indies were also very positive.  2.) The producers give this starter malt the same presentation as its older siblings: 46%abv, no chilfiltering, and no colorant.  So -- as I often like to say -- there's more whisky in my whisky.  In fact I'm making that my catchphrase.

Let's give this newbie a spin.

Distillery: GlenDronach
Ownership: BenRiach Distillery Company Ltd
Region: Eastern Highlands (on the edge of Speyside)
Age: minimum 8 years old
Maturation: ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltration? No
Added Colorant? No
(Thanks to OCSC for the sample!)

Its color is the lightest gold I've ever seen on a Glendronach official bottling.  The nose is freshly grainy and even a little yeasty, lots of malt.  A hint of savoury herbs.  White stone fruits and milk chocolate.  Small notes of pine sap and peat moss.  A slight ethyl prickle.  Hints of Cow Tails candy and hot carpet.  Cookies in the palate, though light on the vanilla.  Then a burst of pipe tobacco.  Milky hot cocoa, then very dark chocolate.  Some peppery heat on top and a zesty bitterness underneath.  Maybe a little bit of toffee and tart fruit.  In the finish there's a huge hot cocoa note.  S'mores.  Roasted things (malt and nuts).  A citrusy tang.  Thick creamy dessert things minus the sugar.  Not a complex finish but has some decent stamina, especially the hot cocoa part.

Though this isn't the deepest whisky, it's a good bold drink.  The milky hot cocoa thing was so loud (and enjoyable) that I had to see if anyone else experienced something like it.  Luckily most folks do reference milk chocolate and MALT.  So much malt.  Together the milky chocolate and malt shine much brighter than the vanilla note.

Almost as impressive as its quality is its price of €30-35 in Europe.  If 'The Hielan' does make it to The States and the distributor can find it in their cold hearts to price the whisky at $30-35, then we're looking at a significant development.  There are very few age-stated whiskies at that price range now, and even fewer that are of any sort of quality.  But knowing GlenDronach's US distributor's pricing history, they'll put it at $50 and they'll lose me.

But anyway, for other opinions check out Serge's review and also Ruben from whiskynotes.  Though Serge digs this stuff, Ruben finds it "much too malty" and is disappointed by its lack of sherry.  Those are the very reasons I like it.

Availability - Europe only, as of the date of this review
Pricing - €30-35
Rating - 85