...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Single Malt Report: FEW Spirits Single Malt Whisky

Evanston, Illinois was a dry city until 1972, almost forty years after national prohibition was repealed, partially thanks to the efforts of suffragette Frances Elizabeth Willard a century before.  When naming Evanston's first post-prohibition distillery, distiller Paul Hletko honored (or insulted) Willard's efforts by using her initials, F.E.W.  From distiller Hletko's interview with Martha Stewart Magazine:
A true grain-to-glass distillery, Few [sic] ferments, distills and bottles all of its products from scratch on-site. All the grain used in our products—corn, wheat, rye and barley—is grown less than 100 miles from the distillery, and other ingredients are sourced from even closer: I planted hops in my own backyard for my American Gin.
I went with Martha Stewart's site since FEW's official site provides nothing but vague gibberish about the company's origins.  Anyway, FEW makes a bourbon, rye, white gin, and barrel aged gin, with similar easily recognizable labels depicting the 1892 Chicago World's Fair.  They also made this single malt whiskey once upon a time, though I'm not sure if they still do.  It no longer appears on their site and it's starting to get scarce on the West Coast.

Distillery: FEW Spirits
Region: Evanston, IL, USA
Grain: Malted Barley, a portion of which was smoked using cherry wood
Age: damfino
Maturation: American oak
Alcohol by volume: 46.5%

I obtained this sample at a paid LA Scotch Club event, a curling event actually.  The whisky intrigued me since Serge and Whisky Jug were very enthusiastic about it.  But when two of the LASC members, who are both LAWS members as well, emphatically encouraged me to take the bottle away from them, I started to have my doubts.  And I declined taking an additional sample.  Was that a good decision?

Tasting Notes:

It's color is a dark bourbon brown.

Immediately the nose is homemade cinnamon applesauce, then Hostess apple pies, then real peach pies.  Buttery dough.  It's all very vivid, with lots of barley running through it.

First there's just a ton of cinnamon in the palate.  Then peach lambic and a sweet witbier.  A few minutes later it's clover honey, sawdust, halvah, and Play-Doh.

It finishes plenty sweet.  Cinnamon, honey, and Play-Doh.

WITH WATER (~40%abv):
Cinnamon schnapps and apple schnapps on the nose.  And then here comes the Play-Doh, along with a little bit of banana bread.

How about cinnamon Play-Doh on a palate?  Small notes of black pepper and apples.  Not that sweet.

It's also less sweet than before in the finish.  All black pepper and cinnamon.

More words:

I'll start with the positives.  It really is its own creature and is bottled at a good ABV.  The nose is unique, in a positive way.  Lots of lively spirit kicks around throughout...

...but then in the palate that whole uniqueness turns into an awkward curiosity.  While the beer notes are certainly palatable, the sweetness and oak are not.  And it begins to feel like a lot of American craft/artisan/handmade whiskies, somehow both undermatured and woody.  Adding water turns it into a total jumble, though it does cut down the sweetness.  Meanwhile, I don't understand its pricing at all.

Caveat: Almost everyone online seems to like this whisky more than I do.  Until the LAWS dudes post their reviews, the only other folks who have released less than positive reviews are a few of the Booze Dancing guys.  If you've tried this whisky let me know what you thought of it in the comments section below.

Availability - Many liquor specialists
Pricing - $60-$80 (yeesh)
Rating - 76

Friday, November 27, 2015

Whisky #501: Highland Park 18 year old

After a review of a whisky that probably can't be had here's a whisky that probably can be had! Yes, there are a dozen of the classics that I need to review or re-review someday.  But I have this one right on hand.  And it's good.

Highland Park 18 aka The Good All 'Rounder aka F. Paul Pacult's Honeybaby aka Damn, Remember When This Cost Only $XX!  Well, I indeed found a bottle at its three-years-ago price and brought it to the tasting I led for the OC Scotch Club last week.

Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: rumored to be 45% first fill sherry and 55% refill sherry casks, mostly European oak
Age: minimum 18 years
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfilltered? Probably.
Colored? Probably not, since both the man in the fedora and the man in the bothy say HP doesn't
Bottle code: see below, may be a 2010 bottling

Tasting Notes:


Color -- Rosy gold

Nose -- It starts out with orange sherbet, roses, and hints of peach candy.  While there's definitely sherry the mix, it isn't grapey sugary, rather it's something drier and mellow.  Then toasted walnuts and a peppery peat.  After some time, notes of smoky prunes and salted caramel ice cream come out.

Palate -- Lightly sweet and malty.  Much more European oak / Oloroso sherry showing through.  Dried berries and grape juice.  Lots of milk chocolate and toffee.  Dried apricots and a gentle herbal bitterness.  Peat is in the waaaaaaay back.  Yeah it's "heathery" if heather was smothered in toffee.

Finish -- Hints of smoke and malt mixed with larger notes of dried berries and milk chocolate.  A little bit of a peppery zing.  A burst of sherry arrives retronasally.

WITH WATER (~40%abv):

Nose -- All of the neat notes merge together and get a little blurry, though the sherry feels louder.  More tobacco, less fruit.

Palate -- A little more herbal and bitter, in a good way.  Less sweetness.  Dried cherries and a hint of sherry.  The texture goes watery, though.

Finish -- Very dry sherry now, along with a hint of wasabi.  Some salt and dried grass.

Verdict:  Much better when neat.


Somehow I keep forgetting how very reliable HP's age-stated whiskies always are.  The 12, 15, and 18 are unerringly solid, each with their character.  The 18yo is the most graceful of the trio and the most luxurious feeling in nature.  The sherry element is good, but much more restrained and a better team player than in Macallan (HP's Edrington mate).  There's peat, but it's a quiet thing.  Meanwhile, the whisky is loaded with well-matured malt notes.

Would I like this at 46%abv and unfiltered?  Of course.  It seems to hit a wall at 43%abv, and begins to crumble at 40%.  But since HP bottles many of their products at 40%abv in Europe, I guess we should be glad they didn't do so with this one.

Once upon a time, this whisky was a no-doubter.  But then economics had to come along and spoil the fun.  In 2007, the average US price was $75.  As of today, it's around $135.  That's an 80% increase (versus 15% inflation) in eight years and that's a chasm many of its fans (including this one) hesitate to leap.  Still, considering that Macallan 18 is now $235, HP18 almost looks like a bargain.  But it's not.  I'd still buy it over Mac 18 if they were the same price, and I happily recommend it over Mac 18 any day to anyone who has that kind of walkaround money.  And if you can find it for under $100, that's even better.

Availability - Most liquor specialists and even the occasional corner liquor
Pricing - $100-$150

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Whisky #500: Abraham Bowman Virginia Rye (exclusive to The Party Source, barrel #2)

And some of you are going, "Huh?"

Okay, maybe some backstory?  I'll try to keep it brief.

Abraham Bowman is a whiskey brand owned by A. Smith Bowman, which is in turn owned by Sazerac.  A. Smith Bowman does have its own distillery in Virginia and (according to Sku) rather than distilling grain mash, they distill spirit that has already been distilled by Buffalo Trace.  In 2011, they released three single barrel ryes exclusively through The Party Source in Kentucky.  For these whiskies, Bowman took Thomas H. Handy rye spirit (sources here and here) and re-distilled it.  They were all left to matured longer than Buffalo Trace's Handy releases -- somewhere around 10 years -- and all have very high ABVs.

In 2012, Florin (a prince) poured a glass of barrel #2 for me.  It was the best American whiskey I'd ever had.  Over the years it has kept that title.  But I wondered recently, had I begun to inflate this memory?  I've had a lot of American whiskey since then.  And other people (see the links above and also LAWS) raved about barrel #1, but no one to my knowledge had reviewed barrel #2.  Thankfully, I had a sample of this very rye, which I opened on Mathilda's 18-month birthday.

The important thing to remember is:
Change is goo.
Brand: Abraham Bowman
Company:  A. Smith Bowman
Owner: Sazerac
Type: Straight Rye Whiskey
Final Distillation: March 14, 2001
Bottled: May 12, 2011
Age10 years
MaturationNew American Oak
RegionFredricksburg, Virginia (though originally distilled in Frankfort, Kentucky)
Barrel: 2
Retailer: The Party Source
Alcohol by Volume67.3%
(Sample acquired via a swap with Florin three years ago. Thanks!)

Tasting Notes:

Color -- A red brown, like cherrywood.

Nose -- Enormous wood notes.  Vanilla beans, butter toffee ice cream, pencil shavings, and Hershey's syrup.  Weaving within the oak desserts are mint leaves, cherry candy, Macintosh apple skins, and (maybe) slivovitz.  It also picks up some orange oil notes after a half hour.

Palate -- Not only does it have most of the nose's notes, but it's also loaded with thick gooey rye, salt, limes, and chili oil.  So much toffee.  Almond cookies, vanilla mingling with toasted nuts.  It's also a little malty at times too.  The peppery spice box notes lift off at the 30 minute mark.

Finish -- All night long.  Chili oil and brown sugar.  Oak smoke and toffee.  Then the rye hammer lands and spice fills the face.

More words:

As wonderful as I'd remembered.  You may ask, "Did you try it with water?"  And I may answer, "Nope."  This should be experienced in its full thunderous form.  Very bold but very composed and, well, delicious.  Multiple times during this tasting I discovered I'd gotten lost in reverie.  I can't think of an American whiskey I've tried that can match this rye.

I'm of many minds about this, partially because I am Sybil, and partially because of the utter shitshow that the premium American whiskey marketplace has become.  It would be wonderful if Bowman would produce more of this rye at full strength because people need to try it.  But it would royally suck if they only released it exclusively through a retailer that doesn't ship.  What would suck even more royally is that if they did release more single barrels today then most retailers and all flippers would sell it for 5x its MSRP and no one would actually open a bottle.  So maybe it was best that it was sold four years ago.  Some people actually drank it.  Change is goo?

Availability - None
Pricing - ???
Rating - 94

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thank You!

Tomorrow I will publish my 500th officially graded whisky.  Yes, there have been an additional two dozen whiskies (or so) that I've given only letter grades to.  And yes, there have been fewer than five hundred single malt reports.  But still, 500.  That's a very round number.

This is still my best drawing ever.
These whisky reviews would not exist without you.  My content exists thanks to my friends with whom I do sample swaps.  My content exists thanks to those friends who randomly send me goodies from their collections.  My content exists thanks to local whisky groups and the good people I meet at events.  But most of all, my content exists because I have readers.  Stories do not exist without an audience, so the simple fact that you voluntarily come to my site to read about my ongoing whisky journey means that it exists on a more significant plane than just notes in my eleven whisky notebooks stacked in the corner of my desk.

While I would love to write more deeply considered meditations on the whisky industry (and/or anything other than whisky), being a stay-at-home father has made that more challenging than before.  I don't drink during the day, I don't blog during the day, and I rarely tweet or facebook during the day.  My recreation in the evening is to plop down in my whisky chair -- it's not made of whisky, yet -- with an ounce (or two?) of whisky, put on some jazz, avant-garde, or classical music that hopefully matches the drink and then attempt to document my discoveries on paper.  On the weekends I type up my scribbles, add in the terrible humor, a few photos, and use a random number generator for the final rating.

Next year will bring some changes, all good, some of which I hope to share here.  I have most of my reviews already scheduled for the next four months, though I'm still sorting out the extent to which I'll review non-whisky spirits.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, a full sequel to What Was the Scotch Boom is on the docket for the new year, unless the SWA chickens out and doesn't release their full report.

In the meantime, welcome to the new divingforpearlsblog.com!  Look for Whisky 500 to be published tomorrow, and Whisky 1000 by 2019...

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Single Malt Report: Caol Ila 31 year old 1984 Cadenhead 20th Anniversary London Special Edition

On the same night that my friend asked me to grade a blind sample of Craigellachie 13, I was given a second blind pour.  That one was awesome.  I was asked to name the distillery.  It was definitely an old whisky, super duper fruity.  I declared it a Speysider, and guessed that it was an old fruity ex-bourbon Longmorn (because I do love them so).  My friend asked, "Do you find any peat in there?"  "Nnnnnnnnnnno," I replied cautiously.  "Yeah, neither do I.  It's a Caol Ila."

I've had long matured peated whiskies whose phenolics go light and floral over time.  But this was the first time I'd had one whose peat totally melted away like this.  A few months later I had the pleasure of sampling it again at Peatin' Meetin' (the whisky gets a brief mention in this week's boozedancing post), and I walked away with my own sample before the bottle was emptied.

Keep in mind this whisky is only sold at Cadenhead's London shop (whose twentieth anniversary this bottling celebrates) and they don't ship outside the UK.  So I guess if you're in Cadenhead's London whisky shop and are googling for a review of this whisky, then here is a review of this whisky.

pic from the official site

Distillery: Caol Ila
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Port Askaig, Islay
Independent Bottler: Cadenhead's
Range: 20th Anniversary London Special Edition
Age: 31 years old (1984 - May 2015)
Maturation: first fill ex-bourbon barrel (source)
Limited bottling: 168
Alcohol by Volume: 54.3%

Its color is amber, lighter than Tuesday's "Unpeated" 12yo.  The nose starts with fruit, lots of fruit.  Peaches, nectarines, loquats.  Later on there's honeydew.  Strawberry candy and orange blossoms.  Turkish delights.  There's a little bit of butter, honey, toffee, and musty oak.  On the palate it's malt and toffee first.  Then tart oranges and lemons.  The texture is so silky it's almost erotic.  Almost.  A soft mouth-filling oak spice lingers and lingers and lingers right into the finish [note: this description is getting saucy], where it's reminiscent of old armagnac.  Then malt, salt, and lemon oils.  It's not loud but it's long.

Oh man.  I'd violate my $200 rule and several moral standards for one bottle of this stuff.  If you're in the shop and looking for peat, then find a younger CI (or one of the usual suspects).  But if you're searching for something of the old gorgeous Speyside style and don't want to spend $500+, this is a viable option.

Anyone going to London soon?  I'm kidding.  Sort of.

Availability - At the shop itself
Pricing - £176
Rating - 93

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Single Malt Report: Caol Ila 12 year old 1997 "Unpeated Style" (2010 Edition)

Every October, Diageo announces their annual special releases.  This announcement used to be anticipated with great excitement.  Then, two years ago the prices ballooned so abruptly that the releases were met with considerable consternation by many whisky geeks, and detailed defense from the usual industry apologists.  The next year the prices swelled further.  The uproar wasn't as loud, largely due to (disgusted or defeated?) acceptance.  This year the prices continued their steep rise.

I used to bitch about the "special release" prices, but now I view them with curiosity.  There are plenty of the 2014 releases still sitting on retailer shelves, right next to the 2013s.  Are these same retailers going to front the money for the 2015s now too?  Why?  Do they really want the $1100 single grain to sit next to the $400 21yo Oban and the $800 Convalmore and the $500 Strathmill?  The impressionable very wealthy are chasing after Pappy Van Winkle.  The somewhat-less-impressionable very wealthy are sweeping up the Port Ellens and Karuizawas.  Who exactly is going to hand over $500/bottle for a 30-hogshead outturn of Dalwhinnie?  If there was a market for this then I'd understand an attempt to corral some saps.  But......wuh?

Anyway, amongst the annual uber-expensive thingies, there are always a pair of whiskies for (cough) the rest of us: Lagavulin 12 CS and an "unpeated" Caol Ia.  Two teenage-or-younger non-single-cask whiskies running between $110-$150.  A super deal, right?  At least the Lag 12 is usually very good.  The "Unpeated Style" Caol Ila isn't as reliable and is usually not unpeated.

In November 2013, I reviewed the 2012 special edition of the Caol Ila "Unpeated Style".  While the whisky wasn't terribly special it did seem mostly unpeated.  That review was part of a small series of posts on Caol Ilas.  Today's review is of an even smaller series of (2) tangentially related Caol Ila reviews.  No this is not the 2015 release -- though at least that one will be a 17yo -- instead I'm reviewing the 2010 version which has gotten many (Florin, MAO, Serge, etc.) recommendations......and I actually have a sample of it.  Thanks Florin!

Distillery: Caol Ila
Ownership: Diageo
Age: minimum 12 years
Distillation Year: 1997
Release Year: 2010
Maturation: 1st-fill bourbon casks
Region: Port Askaig, Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 57.6%
PPM: ???
Chilfiltered? Probably not
Colored? Probably
Limited bottling: "fewer than 6000 bottles worldwide" per the official site

The color is a dark amber.  On the nose the peat is at a whisper.  But there are some big pretty floral notes and some fruits.  Melons, fresh lemons, a tiny bit of grapefruit.  Then rosewater syrup and honey.  Some mellow aromatic woody bourbon barrel notes.  Not much heat on the palate, considering the ABV.  It's very malty and the big floral esters show up here too.  There's a pip of pepper and a peep of peat.  Orange oil.  Limoncello, but the homemade kind, not the sugar bombs sold at Ralph's.  Some caramel sauce and toasty oak spices.  The finish has roses, malt, pepper, and wood smoke.  Hints of bitter chocolate and toasted almonds.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose gets thicker, if that makes sense.  More salt, some chocolate, a hint of sharp cheddar (really).  The floral element now bigger than the fruit.  Lots of malt in the palate.  Very creamy.  There's a slight green herbal note, but otherwise it's a solid malt hit.  No real change in the finish.  Malty, floral, a little citrus tang.

Good whisky this.  The oak notes are nice and the maltiness remains strong throughout.  There's some peat in there, but mostly as a seasoning.  Not super complex, but good fruit and good texture.  This all works best without added water.  And it's just pretty, the second prettiest Caol Ila I've had, and easily my favorite of the "Unpeateds" I've tried.

Next, on Thursday, the prettiest Caol Ila ever...

Availability - this edition is now pretty scarce
Pricing - this edition was $60-$70 when it came out, now it'll be over $100
Rating - 88

Friday, November 13, 2015

Single Malt Report: BenRiach Aloysius Snuffleupagus

Billy Walker fell victim to sentimentality.  As the co-owner of and director of whisky operations at Benriach Distillery Company Limited, about to release the first of his cask-finished 12 year old peated whiskies, he struggled to find a name for his product.  Late at night in his lonely palace on a gated hill in Cape Town, memories of his joyful innocent childhood filled his thoughts and a name escaped from his lips.  Snuffleupagus.

Big Bird's imaginary friend perfectly represented his new whisky.  The sherry-finished single malt was pleasant and enigmatic, furry and a little lumpy, but had a great nose.  The actual Aloysius Snuffleupagus, from the groundbreaking reality series "The Street", was seemingly not of this world, but instead from the very edge of The Unconscious.  He was not shiny and giggly; something dark weighed on those long eyelashes.  Visually, he was a child's version of Dickens' nighttime "undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato".  Yet he was never the brown acid night terror of H.R. Pufnstuf.

But as Billy Walker, a child of the early '70s, got older he left "The Street" behind for matters of commerce.  How would Mr. BenRiach have felt, as his wealth grew, to turn the channel back to the show he'd once loved so much, to witness how the producers had committed to Marxist manipulation, utilizing songs, happy faces, and bright graphics trick children into seeing everyone as equals in the global economy?  In 1985, he would have seen how the show had dared to reveal that Aloysius Snuffleupagus was not a figment of the imagination.  This hairy overweight sexually-ambiguous ethnically-complex being was real and needed to be treated with equal dignity and respect.  As usual, Oscar the Grouch provided the lone voice of dissent.

But Mr. Walker was too busy watching the green stock ticker on his IBM personal computer that day.  It was twenty-two years later, in February 2007, just before the bottle labels were to be printed, when one of his unpaid interns asked how many cases of this single malt needed to be sent to Snuffy's residence, that the plans began to unravel.  Soon Walker and his lawyers were on their way to where the air is sweet in order to head off any legal action.  Though Aloysius had no attorney, he was represented by his domineering mother Hortense Snuffleupagus (née Jones) who proved to be immovable, even after given promises of international notoriety.  Mrs. Snuffleupagus saw fame as nothing but another tool of control and oppression wielded by the ruling class in their commanding heights.  Plus she asked for way too much money.

Grief stricken, but unwilling to display his moment of weakness, Billy Walker immediately elected to go with his second choice, naming his peated scotch whisky after the Ancient Greek Father of History and a Latin word that means stinky.  Because that makes sense.

Behold BenRiach Heredotus Fumosus.

Meanwhile, Herodotus be all...
"What the Halicarnassus?!"

Ownership: The BenRiach Distillery Company
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks for most of its life, then finished in Pedro Ximenez casks
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colored? No
Sample obtained via swap. Thanks to Jordan D.!

Its fur color is reddish brown.  The peat element of the nose is quite sizable considering the ABV.  There are also lots of rose petals, dried cherries, and baked plums.  There's also a note of sugary olives, reminiscent of Smith & Cross rum (a massive spirit and a steal at $30).  Smaller notes of toffee and black raisins/currants.  A nice chocolate, plummy palate.  The peat is milder (in the mid-palate) and there is a bright fruity note from the finishing casks.  Cassis, baked apples, and concrete(!).  Good oily mouthfeel.  It finishes with a minty menthol glow, mesquite smoke, maraschino cherries, and those baked apples.  A small spicy zing and a dried herb note in the aftertaste.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Though the volume has been turned down the peat, sherry, and oak all get a little grimier in the nose.  More cough syrup and band-aids.  Maybe a hint of sulphur.  Eucalyptus and dried grass.  Medicinal in the palate as well.  Darker fruit (berries, dried stuff, etc.) and a little bit of good bitterness.  Some of that eucalyptus/menthol.  It keeps the oily mouthfeel and never gets too sweet.  Menthol, mellow wood smoke, light bitterness, and salt in the finish.

The whisky was much better than I'd expected.  I'm usually not the biggest fan of PX casks and am ambivalent about most finishes, but this whisky is well composed and never sticky sweet.  It's too bad I found it too late in its history.  If it were still around, I'd recommend it as a decent alternative to Uigeadail, definitely over Laphroaig's PX Cask.  But, alas, it's gone.  May its friendly namesake live on in all his fuzzy huggable glory.  And Snuffleupagus too.

Availability - Happy hunting
Pricing - $55-$75
Rating - 88

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Single Malt Report: BenRiach Importanticus Fumosus

In May 2007, BenRiach released three 12 year old peated whiskies, each finished in a different type of cask, each with its own portmanteau faux Latin name: Arumaticas Fumosus (Jamaican Rum), Heredotus Fumosus (Pedro Ximenez sherry), and Importanticus Fumosus (Port).  In July 2008, a fourth product was added to this range Maderensis Fumosus (Madeira).  Their website is especially cute when it says that these names "literally" translate over, like Importanticus Fumosus "literally" means smoky port.  It doesn't, but it's totes hilarious from top to bottom because Latin, LOL.

The thing is, Latin-ish names aside, peated BenRiach is usually pretty good.  And I really like the Arumaticus Fumosus.  Jordan from Chemistry of the Cocktail hooked me up samples of another two of the finished peaties via a sample swap earlier this year.  Sadly it appears as if the Fumosi have mostly vanished from the shelves.  Their production was limited from the start, as was the outturn of their 18 year old replacements.  So, in order to stay consistent in my approach, I will now review a whisky that is on its way out.

Ownership: The BenRiach Distillery Company
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks for most of its life, then finished in "Aged Tawny Port Hogsheads"
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colored? No
Sample obtained via swap. Thanks to Jordan D.!

Its color is that of a dessert wine gold.  The nose starts off with a tarry rubberband peat with big whiffs of prune.  There's a funky rummy note, along with rotting apples and overripe nectarines.  "Curiously port-y" was my note before I realized that this one was the port finished whisky, for some reason I thought this was the sherried one.  After some time there's a minor barn note and a berry trifle of sorts.  The palate has an ashy peat that shows up at the beginning and end, though disappears in the middle.  That space is filled with cherry candy.  It's sweet right up to the point of too much without toppling over.  There's citrus custard, black pepper, and tart berries.  An small bitter bite that feels more woody than herbal.  Peat and mixed berry jam in the sweet finish.  Orange and lime peels.  That woody bitterness.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Less peat in the nose, but more berries.  Tarter apples.  Definitely desserty.  Like the nose, the mild palate is short on peat, but tall on berries.  There's oak, wine, bitterness.  The finish is also winier than when neat.  Sugary berries, tart limes, very little peat.

While this an okay whisky -- a league above Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban, though that's not saying much -- it never registers as particularly impressive.  The cask finish doesn't work as well as the rum does in Arumaticas Fumosus.  Sometimes it's just sweet and winey, sometimes that bitter oak element sneaks in.  It's better to sniff than to sip, but the palate isn't really a disaster.  I think BenRiach is starting with some good stuff pre-finish, which helps prevent a whisky slurry in the end.

As mentioned earlier, this one has become difficult to find.  If you're determined to locate it, I suggest trying European retailers.  There are more bottles of it on that continent and they tend to be $10-20 cheaper than here.  But if you're looking for a great port-matured peated whisky (which is also nearly impossible to find), I recommend Ballechin Batch 3.

Availability - Happy hunting
Pricing - $70-$80
Rating - 81

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Single Malt Report: BenRiach 17 year old Septendecim (peated)

Such is my skill with languages that even after two years of high school Latin I had no idea that septendecim was an actual real word, let alone Latin for 17.  I do know that in Spanish it's diecisiete and in Italian it's diciassette.  The latter I had to doublecheck via Google Translate.  But on a similar vein, I'm pretty sure "Authenticas" means neither 21 or 25, nor "Curiositas" ten, in Latin, so why did BenRiach go with those names for three of their whiskies?  I'm not sure why Benriach couldn't just call it BenRiach 17, other than to differentiate it from the unpeated 16 year old.  This is amazing content.  I'll move on.

I don't have a sexy sample pic saved on my camera
so here's the official bottle photo.

Ownership: BenRiach Distillery Company
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Age: minimum 17 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
Sample obtained during a paid event held by LA Scotch Club

Nice to see an official 17 year old whisky whose color is a light amber shade.  The nose begins with a simple farmy candied peat.  Underneath that are apple skins, ash, and burnt cotton candy.  With time it picks up some violets and a little bit of caramel.  Same simple sweet peat in the palate.  Almonds and amaretto with peeps of vanilla and jasmine.  Smaller notes of bitterness, dusty soil, and sweet apples.  It finishes sweet and earthy.  Hints of lemon and cocoa.  Not long, but not short.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose is much brighter.  Lemons, grapefruit juice, lychee, and confectioner's sugar.  A little bit of vanilla.  Less peat.  The palate is more floral and mildly sweet.  The peat's up front, then vanishes quickly.  Some apple juice and a spicy tingle.  There's also a mineral edge in the background.  Its finish is of vanilla, sugar, citrus, and pepper.

I liked this.  Kinda hits the 'B' grade dead on.  I wouldn't call it a complex whisky, but it does develop a different personality when enough water is added.  It delivers peat and sweets, some fruit and spice.  The oak either remains in the distance or compliments the spirit.  In that last aspect it succeeds where the peated single cask reviewed yesterday does not.  It also makes me very interested in trying the port-finished 17yo Solstice.

Septendecim appears to be a lot scarcer than it used to be.  Personally, I would not consider buying it in the $90 range, but at $70 it becomes a good 'maybe' -- considering age, the less altered state of the liquid, and its general quality.  If it is on its way out then it's not the biggest of tragedies, losing the superior Authenticas 21 has been a bigger bummer.

Availability - gradually getting scarcer in the US
Pricing - $70-$90
Rating - 85

Monday, November 9, 2015

Single Malt Report: BenRiach 19 year old 1994 Peated Single Cask #7187 for K&L Wine Merchants

It's Benriach week at D4P!  And I'm starting it off by concluding my series on K&L exclusive whiskies.  In the past I've reviewed a number of items from the distillery's official range (and you can find those reviews here), this week I'm focusing entirely on their peated whiskies.  These Speyside peaters often make for very good alternatives to the usual Islay distilleries' malts.  They're different than the Ileachs' styles but usually of considerable quality.

Because I'm a big fan of the now-discontinued BenRiach Authenticas 21yo, I've often eyed K&L's exclusive semi-annual BenRiach peated single casks with some interest.  Last year, cask 7187 was originally priced at $150 which was way more than I'm willing to commit to a blind purchase.  But thankfully they dropped the price to $110 after it took a while for the bottles to move.  Even more thankfully, I found three suckers brilliant gentlemen to split the bottle with me: Florin, Jordan of Chemistry of the Cocktail, and MAO of My Annoying Opinions.  I think they all (or at least Florin and Jordan) dug into their portions long before I did.

As on Friday, we're doing a triple simultaneous review.  MAO and Jordan will be posting their reviews at the same time I'm posting this one.  Here's MAO's review and here's Jordan's review.

Distillery: BenRiach
Ownership: Benriach Distillery Company
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Retailer: K&L only
Age: 19 years (????, 1997 - April 2014)
Maturation: former Bourbon barrel
Cask #s: 7187
Bottles: 236
Alcohol by Volume: 53%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

The color is quite dark, a brown gold, looking almost like a first fill sherry cask.  There's plenty of nose to spare here.  Stone fruit, vanilla, and a mossy peat.  And lumber.  Furniture polish.  After some air, the peatiness goes a little Laphroaig-ish with band-aids and iodine.  Then there's molasses and maybe some pine sap.  A bourbon-like rock candy note too.  On the palate it's all cocoa, black pepper, peat, and heat for a while.  Gradually the band-aid note eases in.  Then it becomes a little winey, like a super dry red.  Tart and bitter.  Tart berries.  Lots of peppery bite.  Overall it feels a bit closed and tight.  The finish is brighter than the palate.  It's long and very peppery.  Seaweed and ocean.  A sprinkle of sugar.

Will water open it up...?

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Ah ha!  Here comes the elephant manure in the nose.  Always a plus for me.  Then codeine cough syrup meets Children's Cherry Sudafed.  Tree bark.  Leafy but also sugary.  Not much new happening in the palate.  Still a sharp bite.  Rocks and bitter oak.  Slight floralness (florality?).  Earthier peat.  The drying finish is all peat, oak, and black pepper.

A little more water...

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose does get more aromatic.  More medicine.  Some orange peel.  The palate mellows out.  But it is sweeter with milder spices and more vanilla.  But the finish has shortened considerably.  Mostly black pepper.

Much like the Faultline Blend, this whisky benefits from added water.  While I like "sharp" austere whiskies, this one's palate's edge feels driven by oak rather than the spirit, when neat.  Though I recommend not being shy with the water in order to perk up the palate, one may also find that this hydration kills the finish.  But whether neat or diluted, the nose is always the best part.  Had the palate matched the nose then this would have been a heck of a whisky, and I would have purchased a bottle of my own.  But it doesn't so I didn't.

I think the quirk is in the oak.  While it works in the nose, complimenting the spirit, it has taken over the palate/finish.  Perhaps this will work for some fans of woody barrel strength bourbons.  This cask did wind up selling out within the last week or two -- which is bummer because I'd hoped to review more available selections -- but if you missed out there's little reason to mourn the loss for long.  There are more peated BenRiachs out there...

Availability - recently sold out
Pricing - $110-$150
Rating - 80

Friday, November 6, 2015

NOT Single Malt Report: Faultline Blended Scotch Whisky

K&L Wine Merchants has its own spirits label (and separate LLC?) "Faultline" under which they've released rums, gins, single malts, a cognac, and a very good bourbon.  Last year they tried their hand at creating a blended scotch whisky.  They aimed to design something affordable ($25) that appealed to existing scotch fans.  This meant there would be peat but no added colorant.  A high abv (50%abv) and a high malt content (undisclosed).  While they target Johnnie Walker and Chivas drinkers in their marketing blurbs, I think their true competition is the blend they'd lauded for the last few years: AD Rattray's Bank Note.  Bank Note is lightly peated, bottled at 43%abv, made of 40% malt whisky, and sells for $20 (or less).  While I really enjoyed my first bottle of Bank Note (reviewed here) my two subsequent bottles were of lesser quality.  Could Faultline replace it?

Since Florin, Jordan from Chemistry of the Cocktail, MAO from My Annoying Opinions, and I already had plans on splitting another K&L exclusive whisky, I suggested we also split this Faultline blend.  A big financial risk, yes, but they agreed to it.

Jordan and MAO will be posting their reviews this morning, in a spectacularly coordinated simul-post.  I'll post their links as soon as my daughter allows me. And here are their reviews: Jordan's and MAO's.

Bottler: Faultline
Retailer: K&L only
Age: minimum 3 years
Type: Blended Scotch Whisky
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfiltered: Probably not
Colored: No

My first taste did not go well.  My note: Johnnie Walker Red with peat.  Three weeks later I took an official set of notes.  Eight weeks after that I took another set of notes.

Review 1 - Three weeks after opening:

Its color is light amber.  The nose is lemony and piney.  Mossy peat in the background.  Hint of peppermint.  Quite some ethyl prickle.  After 15 minutes the lemon strengthens.  On the palate, wow, almost identical to the Shieldaig Highland Single Malt at the start.  A bit of grain in there.  Definitely young and brash, but it's dirty in a not-bad way.  Some light oak-driven sweets, like caramel.  Some pencil lead and bitterness in the finish.  Hint of citrus.  A decent length.

Bringing it down to the usual corporate blend strength...

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Pine and peat in the softer nose.  More floral notes.  Lemon creme pie.  Still some ethyl.  The palate is much grainier, sweeter.  Less peat, but it's still there.  A little lead.  Low on The Gross Factor found in major blends at this price.  Some spiciness in the finish.  Hints of earthy peat, bitterness, and lead.

Review 2 - Eleven weeks after opening:

Bit of grungy dirty peat in the nose, reminiscent of the Shieldaig Highland, though with more butter and sugar.  Sort of like a peated single grain.  Vanilla, whole wheat crackers, hints of apples and savoury herbs.  Maybe a whiff of rotting seaweed.  The palate begins very ashy.  Almonds, pine, and soil.  Mildly sweet and peppery.  A surprising lack of heat for its ABV, though there's a small vodka-ish note in the background.  A growing bitterness back there too.  Lots of ashes and bitter tea in the finish.  Expanding notes of sugar and vanilla.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
A mellower, brighter peat in the nose, almost like a young current Talisker.  Sugary stuff.  Mesquite.  Sweet barbecue sauce on the palate.  Small notes of lead and bitterness.  Vanilla.  Quite sweet overall.  The finish still has a decent length.  It's very sweet and low on the peat.  The bitter and the lead.

Sugar and peat.  Very clean and crisp.


1. The whisky improved with each successive tasting.  Because I kept my portion in a small bottle, I doubt that much oxidation/oxidizing occurred.  Was it me?  Was it the whisky?

2. While I respect the decision to bottle the blend at 50%abv, I liked it better when it was dropped to 40%abv.  Though it was simpler, it was also more focused and better to drink.  It also makes for a very good highball.

3. The lead and bitterness are difficult to navigate and ignore.  Considering the fact that I didn't look at my first review's results before doing my second review, I'm confident in my discovery of those notes as they appeared both times.  I'd be curious if Jordan and MAO found those notes.  The LAWS guys are over the moon about this blend, yet they make no mention of lead or a sharp bitterness.

4. This is more enjoyable than Johnnie Walker Red, Dewars White Label, Cutty Sark, and most other major lower-priced NAS blends.  If I knew that Bank Note would always be as good as my first bottle, then I'd always go with Bank Note first.  But, Johnnie Walker Black Label has plummeted in quality so drastically, that I'd pick Faultline over it right now.

5. Yet Faultline doesn't remind me of any of those blends.  It's Total Wine's NAS Shieldaig Highland Single Malt ($18) to which it bears its closest similarity.  So my guess is that whatever malt that Highland was (Ledaig? Baby Talisker?) is the same that provides the peated base for the Faultline.  And I think I'd go with this blend if I had to choose between the two whiskies.

6. So, in an imaginary world where Black Label, Shieldaig Highland, Bank Note, and Faultline were the same price, I'd go with Bank Note first and Faultline second.

Availability - K&L Wines
Pricing - $24.99
Rating - 78  (best with water or club soda)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Single Malt Report: Glen Ord 17 year old 1997 Signatory for K&L Wine Merchants

Last Monday, I said I was doing eight K&L whisky reviews in a row.  I have no idea what I was talking about because I only have seven of their whiskies to review.  At one point in my life I was good at the maths.

I like Glen Ord and really wish Diageo would give it a good release here in The States.  "The Singleton" version they do in Asia isn't bad, but a 12 year old 46%abv (or 45.8%) would be much preferred.  There's some good whisky coming out of that distillery and I do believe they expanded its annual production to 10 million liters (unless that expansion was nixed with the rest of their big investment plan last year), additionally blend sales are falling.  So maybe someday?  Right.

It's a good thing several dozen casks from the '90s made their way to the indie bottlers.  This one in particular was bottled by Signatory for the US retailer K&L Wine Merchants.  Like yesterday's Glenburgie it's from a hogshead, but unlike yesterday's single hogshead there are still some bottles on the shelves.  How or why people bought more Glenburgie than Glen Ord, I don't know.  Let's find out...

Distillery: Glen Ord
Ownership: Diageo
Independent BottlerSignatory
Retailer: K&L only
Age: 17 years (April 30, 1997 - August 1, 2014)
Maturation: Hogshead
Cask#: 800089
Bottles: 272
Region: Northern Highlands
Alcohol by Volume: 58.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
Thanks to My Annoying Opinions for the sample!

Its color is light gold, again.  The nose is HOT.  Takes a while before I can sort through it.   There's caramel and oranges first.  Then vanilla and peach.  Powdered sugar donuts and apples.  There are also rubberbands and an unmistakable something that exists right between earthy and sulfurous.  Enormous heat in the palate.  Beneath that is vanilla, almonds, and caramel.  Equal parts sweet and salt.  Cream of wheat.  And again that in-between earth and sulphur note, though smaller here.  It finishes with the sweet and salt.  Long and hot.  A light bourbon with hints of citrus and rubberbands.

It calls, desperately, for water.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose gets more honeyed now.  More floral as well.  The oranges, peaches, and vanilla are still there.  A hint of the sulphur thing.  The palate becomes tangier.  Vanilla, pepper, a little nutty.  A bitter wood note.  The sweet and tangy finish has vanilla, cherries, and wood pulp.

More water...

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose has been trimmed to oranges, peaches, vanilla, and honey.  The pleasant lightly oaky palate feels a little oaky, but there's still plenty of fruits (lemon and dried apricot).  On the finish it's caramel, wood pulp, and dried apricots.

The charms of this one are largely, though not entirely, lost on me.  Firstly, for a more enthusiastic(!!) take on this whisky, see MAO's review from May.  Also a few folks on whiskybase liked it better as well.  None of them mention the curious note that kept floating to the surface (for me), one that I couldn't figure out if it was a dirty earthy thing or a sulphur note from the spirit (rather than the cask).  I didn't mind it much; in fact it was the most entertaining part of the whisky.

Overall, I don't dislike this whisky.  I found it to be hot when neat.  Adding water improved it and I think its money spot is somewhere between 40% and 46%abv.  In that range, it's a decent drinker, comfortable, free of oddities and noise.

Of all the 2015 K&L exclusive whisky releases this was the one I was considering getting first.  And at $80, it is what passes for an excellent deal for a 17yo Highlands single cask.  But I'll be letting this one go.  More for y'all.  20+ bottles still available as of Halloween.

Availability - K&L Wine Merchants only
Pricing - $80
Rating - 81 (with water only)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Single Malt Report: Glenburgie 19 year old 1995 Signatory for K&L Wine Merchants

Glen Whatsit?  Glenburgie.  It's a thing.  It's actually a big thing, a Pernod Ricard-owned Speyside distillery that cranks out over 4 million liters of alcohol a year.  Since they don't release regular official single malts of it, where the heck does all that whisky go?  The Ballantine's monster.  And the Old Smuggler littler monster.

Now technically, the Glenburgie distillery that made today's single malt no longer exists in the same form.  In 2003 its previous owners, Allied Domecq, knocked the whole thing down and rebuilt it.  It reopened in 2004, then expanded in 2006.  That old distillery had a pair Lomond stills (courtesy of Hiram Walker) from 1958-1981, which produced the Glencraig malt, a rare whisky though not one of the romantic ones.

The thingy I'm reviewing today is a regular potstill-distilled Glenburgie bottled by the reliable Signatory folks for K&L Wine Merchants.

Distillery: Glenburgie
Ownership: Pernod Ricard
Independent BottlerSignatory
Retailer: K&L only
Age: 19 years (June 13, 1995 - August 1, 2014)
Maturation: Hogshead
Cask #s: 6449
Bottles: 258
Region: Speyside
Alcohol by Volume: 54.9%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
Thanks to My Annoying Opinions for the sample!

Its color is light gold.  The quirky nose starts normally with lots of fruits: apricots, oranges, and peaches.  In the background are notes of stale bread and old milk.  Then fresh parsley and ground cardamom.  There's a farty note, more from the spirit (probably) than the cask.  After 15-20 minutes it straightens out a bit.  Rum balls, pencil lead, hints of flower blossoms and toffee pudding.  At the 30 minute mark it's dried grass clippings and fresh lemons.  The palate begins with a lot of caramel sauce and fresh herbs.  Roasted nuts and malt.  There's a fruity orange candy sweetness that starts out mild then grows with time in the glass, eventually taking over entirely.  The finish stays mildly sweet throughout.  A nutty burnt/browned butter note.  Some citrus peel, malt, and mushrooms.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose is more focused.  A fruit and crème fraîche dessert.  But more canned fruit cocktail than fresh fruit.  A little vanilla, a little pencil lead.  In the palate it's oranges, caramel, vanilla, brown sugar, malt, and cayenne pepper.  The finish is much briefer.  But it's orangey and malty.  Some caramel and pepper.

The palate is pretty straightforward, nothing mindblowing but nothing offensive.  Solid "Speyside" (whatever that means at this point in time) stuff.  It's the nose that's more challenging, but I like it better than the palate for that same reason.  Still, I doubt its sniffer will scare any single malt fan away.  I would have recommended this with water had the finish hadn't been cut so short.  But if you do find oddities in the whisky when it's neat, have confidence that adding water will clear those away.

Since whisky grading is totally an exact science, I'm going to give this one more point than the K&L Dailuaine, because it is exactly one point better.  Or because of the Glenburgie's fascinating nose.  Or because it's Monday.  For a more enthusiastic(!) take on this whisky, see MAO's review from June.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - $60-$70
Rating - 85