...where distraction is the main attraction.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Ghost of Whisky Yet to Come? Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask S090122079 Taiwanese Whisky

I skipped right over Ghost of Whisky Present because I'll be damned if I have to drink Laphroaig Select again.

To the future!

There are so many new whisky distilleries being built all over the world that I've given up trying to keep track of them.  With the Scotch whisky undergoing a market correction, and American whiskey probably doing the same within the next few years, I'm not sure there's a market for all these new distillers.  In Scotland alone, 20-30 distilleries were greenlighted (and more than a dozen older distilleries expanded) during the peak of the market and are now producing their spirit while export numbers continue to shrink.  Who's going to drink all this new stuff?  The Chinese and Indian middle classes?  I wouldn't bet on the Americans.  The newbs can price their whiskies as luxury -- you know, avoiding the shrinking middle class -- I suppose, aiming for the US wealthy, but that sector is pretty larded up already.

One new distillery whose single malts arrived at just the right peak time is Taiwan's Yuan Shan Distillery, producers of Kavalan single malt.  Their single casks hit the international market in 2011-2012 to much critical acclaim from both the everything-is-always-amazing crowd to the oldschoolers.  That high regard has continued right up through this year's Malt Maniacs Awards.  Thus Kavalan has established its roots before Nu Whisky arrives, giving it a better chance in whatever form the market takes next.

I have consistently disagreed with all the Kavalan raves, not to be a contrarian dick but because I actually had the opportunity to try six of their whiskies in 2013 and was completely underwhelmed.  Their $100 40%abv NAS whiskies were crap when neat, possibly only good for cocktails.  The $150 4yo single bourbon cask was a hot mess disliked by most of the folks at the tasting.  The $175 6yo sherry cask was so-so.  The $150 5yo Vinho barrique was decent.  The 6yo Fino cask was actually close to GlenDronach quality, but it was priced at more than $300.  Thus I had no idea what all the fuss was about, and was happy to not be tempted by very expensive whisky.

More than two years have since passed and $150 for barely legal whisky has become more prevalent and is, sadly, no longer shocking.  Positive reviews from more reliable sources, such as a couple Malt Maniacs who have relatable palates and also an actual maniac, inspired me to give it another go.

Distillery: Yuan Shan Distillery
Owner: King Car Group
Brand: Kavalan
Region: Yuanshan, Taiwan
Type: Single Malt
Age: 6 years (January 22, 2009 to March 9, 2015)
Maturation: "Sherry Cask", probably a sherry butt
Alcohol by Volume: 57.8%
Limited Release: 559 bottles
Samples purchased from the Whiskybase shop

Its color is cherry syrup.

Enormous sherry on the nose: walnuts, raisins, dried cherries, and cherry snow cone syrup.  Soon a beef broth note develops and expands.  Maybe some mint too.  After 20+ minutes it picks up an earthy dried hay note and maybe some fresher fruit.

The palate has big sticky grapey sherry (almost a PX).  Chocolate and a mild herbal bitterness.  Hints of burlap and soil.  It's quite hot, but still drinkable.

Grape jam and dark cherries in the finish.  Caramel and chocolate (or maybe mocha?).  A little of the palate's decent bitterness.

WITH WATER (46-48%abv)
Raisins, vanilla, and baking spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves) on the nose.  A little more fresh stone fruits now.

The palate still has an ethyl bite.  Taste-wise there are raisins, plums, maybe limes too.  A little peppery and a slight mineral note.

All sherry stuff in the finish.  Plums, grape jam, and black pepper.

This is good sherried whisky.  Due to all of the heat and humidity near Taipei, the whisky feels like it's several years older than your usual 6 year old Scottish single malt.  And the sherry is loud Loud LOUD.  Since Kavalan isn't held to the SWA's laws, I wonder if the producer utilizes paxarette or includes a generous quantity of sherry right in the cask at the start.

Like Tuesday's very different whisky, the nose is the star of the show.  The palate (and definitely the finish) feel muted after the nose's technicolor vibrancy.  But it swims decently, which is nice.  Overall this whisky might be close quality-wise to Glenfarclas 15 and GlenDronach 15, at least on the nose.  That's the positive side of things.  (For a very positive opinion, yes, see MAO's review from last week.)

On the other hand, if you're in the US, getting your hands on a bottle of this will cost you around $150 (with shipping), and that's only while the Euro is weak.  To me, the quality and price still do not match, probably by a factor of two.  But if spending $150 on a bottle of tempered brown poison is a regular occurrence for you, then have at it.  It's good.

Availability - Europe only
Pricing - $150+ if you're having it shipped to the US
Rating - 87

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Ghost of Whisky Past: Hibiki 21 year old blended Japanese Whisky

In the midst of a major transitional period, a 5-8 year timespan that may prove to be the Dark Ages for its two largest producers, the Japanese whisky market finds itself with only very young stock after once being flush with numerous age-stated single malts and blends of excellent quality.  Over a three year period, with demand far outstripping supply, Suntory and Nikka, two publicly held corporations (whose annual production counts for at least 87% of Japanese malt whisky), elected to drain their aged stock quickly and entirely.

While this makes this former fanatic very bitter, I understand that at some point there was going to be a supply issue.  There just wasn't enough of the good stuff to make everyone happy.  What I do question is the management of this supply.  There are ways to regulate outturns and control the market, stretching the stock out another few years while the newer spirit aged.  Yamazaki 12 was heavily stocked at all major retailers week after week, priced at $45 (locally), until it was suddenly totally gone.  Limiting the amounts being exported and raising the MSRP -- which is being done by some Scottish and American whisky producers -- would have irritated many customers, but those same folks would have been much happier to at least have had the option to purchase it at all.  I can see how that may limit short term revenues, but would it have really been worse than tanking a decade's worth of sales just to make a good profit for a few years?

What we're left with are NASes (non-age statement whiskies) from Yamazaki, Hakushu, Hibki, Taketsuru, Yoichi, and Miyagikyo.  Having tried the NASes from the Suntory brands, I don't expect to be buying their products for a long long time.  I do hold out hope that Nikka can make something decent, but what price tag will they apply?  And will the quality of From the Barrel, a dynamite blend, take a dive as a result?

Whisky is much less fun with Japanese whisky in this shape.  (No, Chichibu is not an option while its 3 year old whisky sells for $200-$300.)  I hope the recovery is successful, but when Suntory's and Nikka's aged stock comes back on line there are going to be a lot more whisk(e)y options for consumers in 2023 than there were in 2013.

From the golden years of age statements, here's Hibiki 21, a premium blend from Suntory's Yamazaki, Hakushu, and Chita distilleries.  Five years ago, its US average price was $145.  Today that average has crossed $500, with a number of LA retailers selling it for $800.  I always found the 12yo and 17yo to be pleasant well crafted whiskies.  I've never had the 21 until now.  Thank you to Aaron Krouse (aka aaron197172 of Booze Dancing) for generously providing this sample.

Brand: Hibiki
OwnershipSuntory Whisky
Country: Japan
Distilleries: Yamazaki and Hakushu for malt, Chita for grain
Age: minimum 21 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks, ex-sherry casks, and Mizunara casks
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

Its color is a medium dark gold.

My first written note about the nose: "Rly fucken good." That's probably not helpful.  I suppose some specifics are called for.  Firstly, it noses like a much older single malt, like a gorgeous old 30-40 year old Speyside.  Graceful old oak, delicate tropical fruit, a toffee-coffee-baked-apple-and-apricot warm dessert.  After a while, the toffee almost takes over.  Then some salty air and small notes of tangerines and honey.

The palate feels both old and young.  There's dried fruit, ginger, peppercorns, a floral tea, very dark chocolate, and thick malt.  It's not as delicate as expected.  Nice and dry.  Brief moments of wood smoke and pipe tobacco.  A cooling sensation at the end.

There's old musty creaky oak in the finish.  Some soft sherry and roasted malt.  Armagnac dark cherries (specifically the ones I make; someday I'll have to post the recipe).  Tiny bitter notes and cracked pepper linger longest.

My goodness what a nose.  I'm talking about an all time Top Ten sniffer.  Four hours after the tasting the glass was redolent of the richest caramel sauce.  Had the palate matched the nose, this would have topped Yamazaki 18 as my favorite Japanese whisky.  That's not to say the palate isn't good, in fact it's very good.  It's never sweet, always pleasantly dry.  Very very malty.  It just doesn't stun like the nose.  I also expected a little more time and character in the finish.  But this still gets into the 90-point zone because of that nose.  Though Hibiki 12 and 17 are decent blends, this lives in a separate dimension.

Of course I wish it hadn't tripled in price over the past 5 years.  If you don't mind spending this kind of money, then there are many worse whiskies you can get at this price.  This is in fact, luxurious.  I'm hard pressed to think of a better blended whisky.

(Also, see the reviews by LAWS, Coopered Tot, Booze Dancing, and Whiskyfun for their experiences.)

Availability - Scarce in the US, easier to find in the rest of the world
Pricing - avg price in US is near $500, in Europe it's near $350. It can be found for less than $300 if you do some deeper digging
Rating - 90

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Some final thoughts on the Longrow and Kilchoman reviews

After writing about 16 different Kilchomans this year, I'm suffering from Kilchoman fatigue.  You may be too, after my five posts this week, so I promise this will be the last post about Kilchoman for a long while.

1.  Kilchoman and Longrow are both in my Top Ten Favorite Single Malts list, with the latter being in my top five.  I chose to do these two packed weeks of reviews to end the year thinking that I'd be hootin' and hollerin' with joy about these malts/brands, with there being at least a few super duper whiskies.  Instead, while there were a couple very good items, there were a larger number of not very good ones.  Two things became clear.  First, that these beloved brands were in fact fallible.  And secondly, not only are their cheapest basic single malts (Machir Bay and Peated) respectable, they're better than many of the brands' more premium products.

2.  Getting peat + wine to work well is very difficult, yet most peated whisky producers are doing it damn-the-result style and promptly bottling it in order to expand their product ranges.  In some cases the limited edition hype will clear out the bottles regardless of quality.  But I wonder, are these customers actually opening their bottles?  Or are they hoarding?  Or are they "investing" (aka flipping)?  And for those who are drinking their whiskies, are they so motivated to buy a second bottle or come back for the next edition?  Time will tell if these products can outlast their hype.

3.  Due to the prices of the Kilchoman and Longrow whiskies reviewed over the past weeks, I wouldn't buy a single one of these single malts.  Good-to-very-good young single malts (especially if they're not single casks) will not get me to part with $120 or more.  And I'm one of the fans!

4.  Single malt whisky prices have changed drastically.  The selection of quality whiskies for the lower working classes were abandoned 8-10 years ago.  And now the quality options for the middle classes are fading.  Thankfully, several good basic single malt "expressions" remain.  If we get priced out of those, then the industry (whose volume sales continue to struggle) is going to have to offer us more than NASes to keep our business.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Single Malt Report: Kilchoman 10th Anniversary Release

Happy Christmas, to those of you who do the Christmas!  May you wear your Aunt Clara's bunny suit well.
Yet another ritual stolen from the pagans.
2015 marked the 10th anniversary of Kilchoman Distillery's opening.  Since they didn't actually start distilling until December, their actual 10th birthday is right about now.  In honor of their continuing existence, they released this whisky.

When I read the announcement about this release I, like a number of their fans, got excited that they were putting out a 10 year old whisky!  But it's not a 10 year old whisky.  Nope.  Even though the number 10 is the boldest number on the label, even though 2005-2015 is clearly listed on the label, it's actually a 3 year old whisky.  Or, as per the label, it's a whisky without an official age statement.

Though it "includes whisky from Cask Number 01/2005, the first cask ever filled at Kilchoman", it contains whisky from casks filled between 2005 and 2012.  Thus it's legally three years old......but also selling for $160+.  Though the idea behind this whisky is very cool, the label misleads.  With great regret, I call shenanigans.

Ignoring the preceding editorial, how's the whisky?  I'm very thankful to have gotten a sample of it from my whisky buddy, Brett, who also supplied the Port Cask and Madeira Cask samples.  Thanks, Brett!

Brand: Kilchoman
Region: Islay
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: a combo of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks
Age: technically three years, with casks from 2005 to 2012
Alcohol by Volume: 58.2%
Limited Bottling: 3,000
Colored? No
Chillfiltered? No

Its color shines as a bright yellow gold.

The nose leads off with peated orange blossoms, mint chip ice cream, and rope.  Apricots and dried berries roll in from the various casks.  A nice farmy hint wafts in after a few minutes.

A hardy peat sings the loudest in the palate, one can almost feel both the mossy fibers and smoke.  Mixed nuts in earthy molasses.  Lime candy and black pepper.  Light bitterness, light sweetness.  A chest-filling warmth.  With time it picks up notes of mint jelly and grape jam.

The simple but moderate length finish is peppery and lightly sweet.  Some smoke, salt, and tangy citrus.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The farmy note moves forward in the nose, followed by moderate notes of peat, mint leaves, tree bark, menthol, prunes, and brandied cherries.

The palate develops a bracing bitterness to go with a brown sugary peat.  Small notes of menthol, cayenne pepper, and tobacco float about.

The finish holds cinnamon, pepper, menthol, and black coffee with a little bit of sugar.

The nose is excellent, lovely and full, maybe the most balanced Kilchoman I've ever sniffed.  The palate can't compete, but proves very agreeable in its simplicity.  The whisky swims pretty well, with the nose winning out again.  Price and label gripes aside, this is a well built whisky.  It doesn't necessarily feel older than most Kilchomans, it's just good whisky.  But about that price though, damn.  It keeps me from ever chasing down a bottle.

Availability - Scarce in US and Europe
Pricing - $150-$190, it may be cheaper at the distillery if it's still available
Rating - 88

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Single Malt Report: Kilchoman Madeira Cask Matured (2015)

Released a year after yesterday's Port Cask, Kilchoman's Madeira Cask Matured single malt was distilled in the same year (2010 per the website, 2011 per the bottle, again), but bottled a year later.  So this one is a year older.  The whisky also spent its full life in 20ish wine casks, in this case first fill ex-Madeira casks.  I liked the Port Cask, let's see how a little more maturation fares with this winesky.

Brand: Kilchoman
Region: Islay
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: first-fill ex-Madeira casks
Age: 4 years (2011-2015)
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Limited Bottling: 6,000
Colored? No
Chillfiltered? No
Many thanks, again, to Brett for the sample!!!

Its color is a brassy gold.

The peat is in the mid-to-background in the nose, while ripe apples and limes are up front.  There's lemon cake and vanilla, or is it pound cake in orange syrup?  A small note of peach candy.  By the 30 minute mark the wine has vanished and I'm left with a glass of newmake.

The palate is loaded with cinnamon and tequila.  Reminiscent of their 100% Islay releases.  A roots-and-soil peat.  Gingerbread cookies and a light fruity sweetness.

The simple finish is of cinnamon, tequila, and peppery peat.

Will a little extra water open this one up further?

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose is big on vanilla and marshmallows.  Then gravel, honey, lemon zest, and something synthetic like carpet fibers.

The palate has cinnamon, lots of cinnamon.  Really grassy, vegetal, and sugary.  It's very similar to their newmake.

Cinnamon, vanilla, and marshmallows in the finish.


Other than the nose, this is so similar to Kilchoman's newmake that it leaves me surprised that it's even four years old.  The 3yo Port Cask felt more mature than this.  While I do like Kilchoman's distillate, I expected more from this product.  I'm not a tequila (specifically white tequila here, añejo is fine, and so is mezcal) fan, so those notes do nothing positive for me.  I'm used to a richness in Kilchoman's 3yos, but this 4yo was missing that altogether.  While I'm glad the wine didn't topple the spirit, something needs to wake this one up a bit.  Water does not do the trick.  And then there's the pricing...

Wow, I just shat all over this whisky.  This stuff really isn't a horror show.  I'd drink it again and it's sure to warm a body up in the winter.  But it's the first regular Kilchoman I've had that feels younger than its age, which means that their usual magic didn't work this time.

Availability - Europe only, I think
Pricing - $100-$125
Rating - 75

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Single Malt Report: Kilchoman Port Cask Matured (2014)

In addition to Loch Gorm, Machir Bay, 100% Islay, and the single casks, Kilchoman added some special releases to their range in 2014 and 2015.  The first of these was a Port Cask Matured single malt.  Though not a single cask, it was a limited release made up of single malt aged entirely in (approximately 20) ruby port casks.  Though the official website references that the casks were filled in 2010, the bottle says that the distillation happened in 2011.  So what we have here is a three year old whisky.  If anyone has a good track record with barely legal whisky, it's Kilchoman (specifically their non-100% Islay stuff).  Let's see how it fares with port.

Brand: Kilchoman
Region: Islay
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: ex-ruby port casks
Age: 3 years (2011-2014)
Alcohol by Volume: 55%
Limited Bottling: 6,000
Colored? No
Chillfiltered? No
Many thanks to Brett for the sample!!!

The color is ruby gold.

The nose leads with cherries and baked fruit tarts, but also heaps of peat ashes.  The peat gets mossier with time and the fruits turn into roses.  There are also notes of white frosting, agave nectar, grass, and dandelions.  Vanilla and a Laphroaig-like peat move in at the 30 minute mark.

Peat and heat hit first in the palate, along with a fruity sweetness around the edges.  Lots of fresh pepper and ginger in the back.  A spicy zing all over the tongue.  Though the fruit is plummy at first, it trends towards limes later.

No fruit but limes in the finish.  Black pepper, salt, ashes, and a little sugar.  The moderate heat reads spicy.

Let's see what happens when it gets soaked a bit:

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose gets rawer.  Burning plastic, dog fur, and cinnamon.  Tart berries, rich peat, and Nillas show up later.

Peat peat peat, peppery dirty peat in the palate.  Some molasses and vanilla.  A hint of ginger.  The port shows up as raspberry soda.

The finish still has a spicy bite.  Smoky residue hovers above sea salt and raspberry candy.


I'll tell you what, this beats the snot out of the Longrow Red (also Ruby!) Port Cask Matured whisky.  It's certainly much younger, but in this case that also means the wine is more reserved and usually lets the malt do the shouting.  And with the volume cranked up louder, the peaty spirit is crisp and bold.  The palate stands up to the water very well, though the nose begins to look its age.

While this is better than the Longrow Port Cask, it's still a half step behind Laphroaig's Portwood, so I'd love to see them bottle this at 6 years of age, if they're willing to wait, next time.  And yes, it is a relatively small batch, released at a high ABV by a very small business, but the $120 price tag prevents me (and many of their fans) from plucking a bottle from the shelves.

Availability - Getting a little scarce, especially in Europe.
Pricing - $115-$130
Rating - 86

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Single Malt Report: Kilchoman Loch Gorm, 1st Edition (2013)

Loch Gorm first hit the shelves in 2013 to great anticipation and sold out very quickly (in the LA area at least).  Kilchoman's single sherry casks had been beloved by thousands of whisky drinkers/hoarders to such an extent that people were paying $100+ for these 4 year old bottlings.  So when Loch Gorm arrived at 6 years of age and around $80, one can understand the excitement.

Luckily for me, one of my good whisky buddies, Tetris, scooped up a bottle in time.  He opened it this year and saved me a sample!

Since then the excitement around Loch Gorm has quieted down.  It's now a 5 year old whisky and its price often pushes $100.  But it's still the cheapest way to buy a fully sherried Kilchoman, with the single sherry casks now priced above $130.  I reviewed the 2014 Loch Gorm and found it sulphury, farmy, young, and crazy; definitely enjoyable, but not worth the money, and not yet up to the standards of other sherried Islays.

But now here's the original, distilled in 2007, released in 2013.  Was it worth the hype?

Brand: Kilchoman
Region: Islay
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: Oloroso Sherry Butts, then a two week finish in hogsheads
Age: 6(-ish?) years - 2007-2013
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Limited Bottling: 10,000
Colored? No
Chillfiltered? No

Its color is quite dark for such a young whisky.  Darker than the 2014 edition.

The nose is very leathery.  New sneaker rubber peat and tennis balls.  Riding steadily beneath that is gingerbread and mixed berry preserves.  After 20+ minutes, a nice gianduja gelato note appears.

Peat cinders and cayenne pepper lead off the palate.  Something about Kilchoman's sherry casks frames the peat so that it seems larger than that of the bourbon casks.  A soft cherry fruitiness starts around the edges, then gradually becomes more berried and spreads out.

Loads of smoke in the finish.  Smaller notes of saltines and lemon zest.  It grows more peppery, less sweet with time.  A very good length on it.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose quiets down, closing up rather than opening with water.  Some brighter peat, more floral. Creme de menthe and plastic toys.

The palate gets really herbal and grassy.  Lotsa peat again.  A little bitterness forms.  Dry sherry in the background.  A total absence of sweetness.

The finish is more austere.  Just peat and bitter herbs.

...a richer and slightly more complex whisky than the 2nd (2014) edition.  It's also becomes a different whisky when water is added, and perhaps more appealing to those who like more austere whiskies.  There's plenty of big peatin' existing right alongside plenty of fruit in the neat version, then tight herbal dry smoke when hydrated.  Loch Gorm #1 won't romance you like Lagavulin DE nor knock you on your ass like Ardbeg Uigeadail, but I'd recommend it over the similarly priced (at the time) Bowmore Darkest.

So yes, I think this one's better than the 2nd edition.  Is it due to its one additional year of aging?  Or better casks?  I'd bet the latter over the former.  If anyone has had the 3rd (2015) edition, let us know in the comments what you thought of it.

Availability - editions 2 & 3 can still be found at specialty retailers in the US, but you might have to go to the secondary market to find the first edition
Pricing - was $80, is probably north of $100
Rating - 87

Monday, December 21, 2015

Single Malt Report: Kilchoman 4 year old 2009 100% Islay single cask #344 (K&L exclusive)

Last week was Longrow Week.  This week, it's Kilchoman Week with five whiskies!

Kilchoman blasted out of the starting gates with its first legal whisky in 2009.  Yes, the whisky was (and still is) very young, but it also was surprisingly good for its age.  Under the early tutelage of Jim Swan, the Wills family aimed to create a single malt that could be palatable at a young age without having to overoak the sh*t out of it.  I've heard the one of the secrets to this is taking a very small middle cut of the spirit.  But if it were only that easy, we'd be seeing many others with similar success right now.  If anyone else out there has any other theories about their methods, let us know in the comments below.

Over the past few years K&L Wine Merchants have taken in some many exclusive single ex-bourbon Kilchoman casks that it seemed like they'd flooded the market this year, eventually having to put four of these casks on the "Insider Advantage" sale list.  In August I (along with My Annoying Opinions and Chemistry of the Cocktail) reviewed cask #74.  I liked that one a lot, having split two bottles with friends.

Here's another one of those four casks, #344.

It's one of their 100% Islay whiskies, thus all of the barley came from Islay and was peated at half the ppms of their usual Port Ellen Maltings barley.  I tend to find their 100% Islay whiskies very young, unbalanced, and half-baked in ways that their regular range whiskies do not.  Maybe it's due to the fact there's less peat for the youth (or flaws) to hide behind?  I don't know.  The only one I've liked is the firecracker single sherry cask K&L had three years ago.  Let's see how this one holds up.

Many thank yous go out to reader Ryan S. who sent this sample to me!

Region: Islay
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Exclusive to: K&L Wines
Age: 4 years (July 23, 2009 - June 2, 2014)
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrel
Alcohol by Volume: 60.9%
Cask: 344/2009
Colored? No
Chillfiltered? No
Sample from the top of the bottle

Its color is a nice simple amber.

The nose begins with cinnamon schnapps, yeast, and oceany peat.  Beneath that is orange oil, violets, and a hint of vanilla.  Maybe a slight manure note.  With air it quiets down rather than opening up.

At first the palate is reminiscent of unaged malted rye spirit, with loads of cinnamon candy and white peppercorns.  Very sugary, maybe some toffee in there.  But underpinning this are soil and root notes.  With time, a pencil lead note appears......and starts consuming everything.

The finish is sweet and spicy with tingly heat, lemony stuff, and soil.

Feels like it needs to open up.  How about some water?

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Cassia cinnamon on the nose.  A decent beach and barley note.  A little earthy.  A little soapy.  Some confectioner's sugar.

Uh oh.  The palate goes totally cockeyed.  A harsh earthy note gets very lead-like and metallic.  Then burnt hair meets burnt cinnamon.  It doesn't feel entirely safe to drink.

Mostly heat and the burnt metallic things in the finish.

Maybe some more water might help?

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose is malty with minimal peat.  The cinnamon note is reduced.  Saltines and yeast.

Thank goodness, the unnerving note in the palate has reduced (though not vanished).  It's now mostly sweet and simple.  Hints of black pepper, cinnamon, and soil.

Black pepper and sugar in the brief finish.

Okay, first some positives.  This is a young craft whisky that is NOT overoaked.  Kilchoman was clearly confident enough to not hide anything with woodwork.  The nose is decent when neat.  With a little bit of water some nice stuff pops out.  Also this whisky supports a small business and small Islay farms.

On the other hand, this another 100% Islay that feels its age, or actually younger.  In fact, I prefer the newmake.  In the palate, the lead and metallic notes are unsettling.  As I said in the notes, when water's added it does not feel totally safe to consume.  And of course, though the whisky comes to us courtesy of small businesses, that doesn't matter if there are quality issues, especially when this bottle was originally priced at $110 (then later dropped to $80).

I think I'm done with the 100% Islays.  I've had six or eight (fuzzy memory) of them but there's only one I'd drink again and that one's long gone.  Their regular range is superior in quality, and the Machir Bay is cheaper.

Availability - Sold out just this month
Pricing - started out at $110, then went on sale for $80
Rating - 72 (nose in the low 80s, palate in the low 60s)

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Saturday Malt Report: Inchgower 13 year old 2000 for Austrian Whisky Connoisseurs

Yes, it's another rare weekend whisky review!  This one arrives courtesy of a sample from Cobo.  I've only covered some old Inchgowers thus far, now here's a chance to review a younger one.  It's a single sherry butt (perhaps half of one as per the bottle count) selected by Cobo for the Austrian Whisky Connoisseurs group in Graz.

Distillery: Inchgower
Type: Single Malt
Region: Speyside (Banffshire)
Owner: Diageo
Bottler: Austrian Whisky Connoisseurs
Age: 13 years (2000-2014)
Maturation: sherry butt
Alcohol by Volume: 59.1%
Limited Release: 271 bottles

It has a dark gold color.

The nose is of sherry and the ocean.  Fudgy and fruity (peach nectar and honeydew).  Reminiscent of sherried Yamazaki (wherever it may be).  Meanwhile the spirit still sings through.  There are floral esters peeking out here and there, a little bit of grass and watermelon rind, and an organic note that's almost peat-like.  Ooh, and toffee pudding.  After 30 minutes, larger notes of raisins and tobacco appear.

The palate is moderately sweet and pleasantly sherried, the way Macallan 12 used to be.  Chocolate and salt, easy on the dried cherries.  The melon rind shows up here too.  Some butterscotch and good maltiness.  Limes and black pepper.

The sherry notes retreat in the finish, leaving the green stuff and organic notes from the nose.  Malt, salt, and pepper.  A good herbal bitterness, like a German digestif.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Boldly floral nose, Inchgower spirit!  The sherry gets dirtier, the greener notes get louder.  Some mineral and lime sharpness.  Small notes of pound cake and prunes.

The palate is sweeter, spicier, maybe even richer, but definitely louder.  More vanilla, more tart citrus, and some tobacco.

The good length finish is a now a dessert, all vanilla, toffee, and spice.

This was a very good cask with high quality sherry, oak, AND spirit notes all in tune.  The whisky works well with or without water.  (Sorry about the alliteration there.)  Plus the price was very right (54 euro).  I'm jealous.  Well picked, Cobo!  Now will someone please get a high quality well-priced sherry cask of Inchgower to The States?

Availability - originally was exclusive to AWC, but now it might be found in the secondary market
Pricing - was €54
Rating - 89

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Single Malt Report: Longrow 14 year old 1998 Fresh Madeira single cask

This will be the last post of Longrow Week since I'll be watching a late showing of The Force Awakens tonight.  I was thinking of taking Lyft and a flask of whisky, but knowing me I'll just have the urge to urinate for two hours.  I'd rather take the piss than take a piss if you know what I mean oh never mind.

I finally get a chance to try a whisky which had puzzled me for two years.  Bottles of this 14 year old Madeira cask instantly popped up at retailers all over the LA at the same time in 2013.  It said "cask strength" but somehow was magically at exactly 50%abv, after only 14 years.  Its price of $130-$150 seemed a bit steep considering the price of the regular 14yo and the 14yo Burgundy cask.  When I saw it a fancy bar, I thought it would be a great opportunity to taste it.  The bartender quoted a price of $50, I wished him well, grabbed a club soda, and understood why the bottle remained sealed on the bar shelf.

Gradually over these two years, people actually bought the bottles.  And then one nice day, at Peatin' Meetin' (again), a fellow by the name of Aaron Krouse (aka aaron197172 of Booze Dancing) handed me a sample of this very whisky.  Thank you Aaron!  As it turns out, this madeira cask Longrow was a single cask, thus the price.  And now I get to try it!

Region: Campbeltown
Age: 14 years (June 1998 - December 2012)
Maturation: "Fresh Madeira" cask
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Limited Bottling: 228

Its color orange gold.

The nose is very quiet character-wise, but it's also not hot at all.  Citrus, toffee, chlorine, and applesauce; peat in the far distance.  Feels like it's going to be acidic on the palate.

Though hotter than the nose, the palate is quite pleasant with its vanilla, toffee, and sweet peat.  There's plenty of toasty barley, a decent herbal bite, and lots of pepper in the back of the throat.  Occasional notes of limes, tangerines, and almond paste.

The acidity arrives in the finish.  Limes and pepper and the toasty barley.  A bit on the short side.

Doesn't feel like it ever fully lifts off at this ABV.  I'll add water...

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Some musty fruit (overripe melons and apricots) arrives in the nose.  Orange blossoms and salted caramel.  And that's about it.

The palate registers mildly.  Softer bitterness, a pip of peat, toasty grains, and sugary stone fruit syrup.

The dessert wine starts to sing in the finish, all thick and fruity.  The herbal bitter note lasts longest.

A little more water now...

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Some tobacco shows up in the nose, joining the musty fruit.  The orange blossoms have become orange zest.

The palate is much sweeter -- vanilla, caramel, and apricots.  A peppery bite sneaks in.

The finish remains sweet with the stone fruit.  Hints of pepper and the herbal bitterness.

I don't quite know what to make of this thing.  It's the politest Longrow I've had.  The palate is perfectly respectable.  The finish improves with water.  But the nose is so hushed that sometimes it's not even there.  While it's MUCH better composed than yesterday's Port Cask Longrow, it delivers no whisky joy like Tuesday's Shiraz Cask Longrow.  It's a perfectly reasonable whisky, good for casual sipping.  But holy crap, for $150 that's some fancy casual.

A final note.  Not including the Shiraz Cask from Open Day 2010, this week's three Longrows had US releases, all priced at $100 or higher.  Ignoring pricing, I would without hesitation recommend Longrows CV and Peated above these three.  Then taking into consideration that CV and Peated was/is priced at $50-60, I happily recommend those two NASes even higher.

Availability - A few US specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - $130-$150
Rating - 84

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Single Malt Report: Longrow 11 year old "Red" Fresh Port Casks

The Longrow train keeps running on time...

Today's review is of the Port Cask edition of the Longrow Red series.  Other Red members include Australian Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and New Zealand Pinot Noir finished Longrows.  Unlike the other three this Port version seems to have spent its entire maturation in "Fresh" Port casks.

Ralfy loves this whisky.  Serge does not.  But Serge doesn't like port cask matured whisky.  I do.  It's been the most reliable wine cask for my palate.  I'm excited about this one since I had so much luck with yesterday's 8yo shiraz cask.

Region: Campbeltown
Age: minimum 11 years
Maturation: "Fresh Port Casks"
Alcohol by Volume: 51.8%
Limited Bottling: 9,000
(Thanks to Smokypeat for the sample!)

Its color is rosy.

The nose reads a little sherry-ish at first, as the port takes moment...  Cranberry juice, dark chocolate, chlorine, and a hint of sulphur up front.  Then rubbery smoke, sometimes roses, sometimes clover honey.  Hotter than I expected from the ABV.

Ah, the port is louder on the palate.  Very berry.  Some of the nose's rubbery smoke.  A bit of ginger along with menthol and tart limes.  The sweetness gets very aggressive.

The finish is very sweet.  Lots of cranberry juice and grape drink.  Sour limes that grower sourer.  Just a whisper of smoke.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Still a hot nip to the nose.  Actually it feels hotter, which is weird.  There's rubber, sulphur, new sneaker peat, honey, roses, and cassis.

The palate is narrower, bitterer, and drying.  Blackberry Manischewitz, ginger, rosewater syrup, mossy peat, and tart berries.  Again, it grows ever more sugary sweet with time.

Again the finish is very sweet.  Cranberry juice, cassis, and tart berries.


I don't think I enjoyed a single thing about this whisky.  At the same time I didn't hate it either, though the finish was aggressively saccharine.  To be honest, I wasn't crazy about the 11yo Red Cabernet Sauvignon either when I'd tried it last month.  Yet, I did like Longrow's 14 year old Burgundy cask (a whisky Serge hated).

Not all "wineskys" are the same.  And not all of them suck, no matter how often we've been burned by McEwan and Lumsden.  Sometimes the wine barely registers; sometimes it overwhelms the spirit.  Sometimes it merges perfectly with the malt creating a crazy new creature; sometimes it clashes, farts, and falls apart.  In this whisky's case, these very sweet port casks take front stage, often stepping all over the spirit's dialogue.  When the whisky part of the whisky can actually get a word in, it sounds like gibberish.  And we get dissonance.  If your palate trends towards the sweets then this might work for you, otherwise I'd have difficult time recommending it, especially at its price tag.

Availability - US and UK specialty retailers
Pricing - $95-$110 in US
Rating - 77 (if you have a sweet tooth you'll like it better than I)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Single Malt Report: Longrow 8 year old 2001 Shiraz Hogsheads for Open Day 2010

If I haven't mentioned it before: Peatin' Meetin'.  This was a bottle at the Members' Table -- of which I was the bouncer -- at the 2015 Peatin' Meetin':

Since 2009, Springbank distillery has taken part in Kintyre's annual "Open Day".  It's largely a community/heritage/architecture event, but on the day the distillery gives free tours and release an exclusive whisky, like this one, that the attendees may purchase.

I have no idea how Andy (el jefe del LASC) obtained this bottle, nor how you may obtain it (other than auctions).  Aware that this was a unique situation, I made off with a sample of this whisky before the bottle was emptied.

Type: Single Malt
Region: Campbeltown
Age: 8 years (October 2001 to May 30, 2010)
Maturation: Shiraz Hogsheads
Limited Bottling: 414
Alcohol by Volume: 58.5%

Its color is a reddish gold.

The nose leads with bandages and berries, and it somehow really works.  There's milk chocolate, cinnamon, Three Musketeers nougat, pipe tobacco, and a whiff of a seaweedy pier.

The palate is hot and peppery, with equal parts blackberry syrup and peat smoke up front.  Soon there's a big note of a serious ginger beer (like Fever Tree).  It's fizzy and occasionally reminiscent of a minerally champagne.

The finish is more focused.  More peat, black pepper, lemon pepper(?), and dry red wine.  A little bit of that ginger buzz on the tongue.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Still with the bandages and berries on the nose.  Darker chocolate.  Caramel.  Very aromatic, almost floral.

A chili oil sting appears in the palate, alongside the fizzy ginger.  Lemon lime soda.  Rocks and a bitter black coffee note.

The finish is earthy and rocky.  A little bit of dark berries and bitter coffee.


My old stance against wineskys continues to crumble.  This is such a fun whisky.  The nose is great, even gorgeous at times.  The crazy palate almost feels carbonated, thus my bubbly notes.  Meanwhile the earth and the ginger ride well with the wine.  It's a whisky whose entertainment value would be worth paying a small premium for, in my opinion.  It's not the sort of malt whose zaniness wears out its welcome after one glass.  It made me wish I had a whole bottle to enjoy and share and exclaim "You gotta try this lunacy!"  I have no idea how to score this.

Availability - Secondary market?
Pricing - ???
Rating - 88 (I just palindromed the palindrome age, a good scoring method)

Monday, December 14, 2015

Single Malt Report: Longrow 10 year old 100 proof (US version)

It's Longrow Week!  Because.

Longrow would be in my Top Five distilleries if it was its own distillery, but it's not.  It is one of three single malts currently being produced at the Springbank Distillery.  Longrow is like their Islay malt.  Distilled twice and peated at 50ppm (at time of malting), it can quite easily take on and surpass many of the whiskies made on that nearby whisky island.  On a curious note, the actual bottled Longrow peat experience is not as much of a blunderbuss as that of Ardbeg, Kilchoman, or Port Charlotte.  With some age on it (14-18 years), it can be surprisingly mellow or even floral.

For about a decade -- The Aughts -- Longrow had a 10 year old whisky.  Sometimes it was "Sherrywood", sometimes it was ex-bourbon, usually it was a mix of the two.  On a couple of occasions they released a 100 Proof version.  100 Proof in the UK = 57.1%abv.  In the US it's 50%abv.  So, technically the UK and US versions are two different whiskies.  When I reviewed the UK version I was promptly stunned by how little I liked it.  It was by far the least of the Longrows I'd tried up to that point.  Was it an issue of a bad sample from Master of Malt?  Or was it a subpar whisky?  We may never know, but it's been six years since they released a batch, and there's no sign of them doing it again.

Now I'm going to take a look at the US version, which I've only seen sold at a handful of stores.  Jordan picked up a bottle from The Party Source back in those golden years when TPS shipped things.  He included 2oz of it in one of our whisky sample swaps.

Type: Single Malt
Age: minimum 10 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrels
Region: Campbeltown
Alcohol by Volume: 50%

Round 1

A good old amber waves of grain color.

And those amber waves of grain (read: barley after it's been malted) are right up front in the nose.  Some wood smoke, dried leaves, and mossy peat.  The Longrow lemon note is in the distance.  Burlap, lavender, and a little earthy molasses.  It's quite nude.

Big medicinal peat on the palate.  A slight Dove soap note at first.  Small tropical fruit note.  It picks up a good sweetness with a few minutes of air with hints of violets joining in.  It gets big on lemons after 20+ minutes, though the soap note also expands.

In the mildly sweet finish there are caramel chews, lemon candies, and lemon zest.  Red pepper flakes, violets, and soap.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
A straightforward nose.  Lemons, spearmint, peat moss, and some caramel sauce.

Lemon, sugar, and black pepper in the palate.  Some tart sharpness.  More violets and soap.

Sweets, flowers, pepper, and soap in the finish.

At this point, having finished half the sample, I was left with a conundrum.  While the nose was very good, the soap notes were cloaking the better parts of the palate and finish.  There really aren't very many online reviews of the US version of this whisky, so I was left wondering if there was a flaw in my approach.

So on the following day, I used a different freshly cleaned (hot water, no soap) glass.  I sat in a different room, at a different time of day, and had a second whisky to try alongside it.  Would there still be soap?

Round 2

The nose is sort of reminiscent of bourbon cask Kilkerran with its leaves and soft moss, though with more cinnamon.  But yeah, it's all barley.  Salty, seaweed, hint of mezcal.

The soap seems to have retreated slightly in the palate at first and then it ramps again with time.  More sweets and pepper.  Some white fruit.  Lemons and violets.

Sweet and tangy finish with bigger peat notes than the palate.  Soap, pepper......probably same as Round 1.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The notes for the nose nearly match Round 1.

On the palate the soap turns bitter.  Lemons and violets.

It finishes with lemon zest, pepper, and soap.

Different day, different glass, different room, different time, different tasting setup, same soap.  Perhaps it was a lighter when neat, but it was heavier when hydrated.  Soap aside, there are some good elements present.  Though with the violets thrown in, it may scare some FWPhobes.  Meanwhile the nose is bang on.  No off notes and really decent stuff if you like naked malts.  Overall, I do like this one better than the UK version, but the soap in the palate is a bit too much as it distracts and I don't recommend adding water at all.

UPDATE!  Coincidentally, Jordan (the provider of the sample) posted his review of this whisky today as well.  Though he found different individual notes, he wasn't the biggest fan of this whisky either.

Availability - Scarce
Pricing - $100+, though Binny's usually has it for less
Rating - 78 (neat only)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Single Malt Report: Caol Ila 8 year old 2006 Càrn Mòr

Just to prove I'm not turning into Mr. Caol Ila (thanks to this review and this review), here's a CI that is not immaculate.

I took notes on this whisky five weeks ago and then I couldn't figure out where to fit it into my posting schedule.  It is a whisky that's still available in Europe, so maybe this review will actually be of use to someone.  Man, what another great intro.  Hmm, what else.  I nabbed this sample at the LA Scotch Club curling event a couple months back.  Curling is really difficult.

Distillery: Caol Ila
Independent Bottler: Càrn Mòr
Region: Port Askaig, Islay
Age: minimum 8 years (2006 - Jan 2015)
Maturation: two ex-bourbon barrels
Limited bottling: 600
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

(Note: Càrn Mòr released two 2006 Caol Ilas this year.  This is the batch with 600 bottles.)


A light amber color.  So far so good.

The nose begins with minty peat, oatmeal, and an almost sherry-like nuttiness.  Cinnamon candy, vanilla, ash.  Mezcal.  Quiet for a young Islay.

The palate is sugary sweet.  Burnt things.  Bitterness from burnt things.  Mild peat, mild barley, a little bit of cinnamon.  Some ethyl heat.

More ethyl heat in the mildly sweet finish.  Smoke residue, saltwater, peanuts in caramel.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)

The nose is quite vegetal.  Mezcal and lemony soap.

The palate is the same as the nose but with some weird buttery caramel oak thing going on.  Buttery texture too.

The finish is all cinnamon and black pepper.  Very drying.

Not bad for a mezcal, I guess.  But it's a single malt, see.

It's not a total bust.  The nose is mellow and inoffensive if one's a peat fan.  But the palate isn't great.  Very raw, but not in a fun or informative way.  Adding water REALLY does not help.  It makes one wonder why these two barrels were dumped in 2015.  What was the rush?  Was one just a total turd, thus the need for a second?  They needed either more maturation time or to be traded off to a blender.

Availability - Some European specialty retailers
Pricing - minus VAT plus shipping $70-$90(!) for USers, otherwise €60-€80 in Europe
Rating - 72

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Hanukkah Whisky Report: Caol Ila 20 year old 1975 Rare Malts (75cL edition)

Yes, you read that correctly.  This one.  Happy MFing Hanukkah.

Thank you to Lee Zaro, member of South Bay Whisky Tribe and an all-round good fellow.  He handed me this very sample at (you guessed it) this year's Peatin' Meetin'.  I really do recommend Peatin' Meetin'.

Excellent label by Mr. Zaro
So once upon a Diageo time......before this current era in which they're in the single malt business......before the previous era when they were not in the business of making single malts......but in the era even before that when they were in the single malt business, Diageo (and its predecessor, United Distillers) produced the famed bottling series, Rare Malts and Manager's Choice.  Most of those bottles are long gone now, finding a second life as big ticket items in the secondary market.  If you have an opportunity to taste any of the Rare Malts, I'd recommend seizing the moment.  Many of those whiskies are excellent.

This particular Rare Malt was distilled soon after Caol Ila reopened after its closure in 1972.  Distilling restarted in the new modern distillery in 1974.  This whisky is from '75 and was bottled in 1996 at an impressively high ABV after two decades in American oak.

Distillery: Caol Ila
Ownership: Diageo
Age: minimum 20 years
Distillation Year: 1975
Release Year: 1996
Maturation: probably ex-bourbon casks
Region: Port Askaig, Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 61.12%
Bottle #: 0337


Its color is a light amber, which makes me think they left out the e150a.

The nose begins all oceanside: saltwater, sand, and a little bit of seaweed.  A gorgeous gentle peat.  Some savory notes like smoked finish and chicken stock.  Herbal notes like fennel and anise.  Soft vanilla and brown sugar, mint leaves and cocoa.  After 20 minutes, notes of cinnamon candy and lemon cake appear.

The palate brings plenty of heat but it's not hot, if that makes sense.  Sweet herbal peat, hay, dried barleycorns, and mild baking spices.  Then salted caramel and honeycomb amongst hints of floral esters and chili oil.

The finish is the smokiest point, like salty wood smoke.  A lemon note starts small but grows with time.  Some cassia cinnamon, honeycomb, and an oyster/ocean note.  It lingers and lingers and lingers and lingers and...

WITH WATER (~46%abv)

The nose is now fruitier and maltier.  The peat mossier.  The ocean quieter.  Some funkier mustier notes arise.  And also new carpet.

More -ers for you.  The palate is spicier, bitterer, and saltier.  Again the peat feels mossier.  More floral esters.

The finish remains long.  Bitter chocolate and tangy smoke.

What a lovely whisky.  I know that ABV looks imposing, but I insist this thing works better without water.  While the palate is quite good, the nose amazes.  Its ocean note is utterly transporting.  Close your eyes and you're at the beach.  I'm typing this post the day after the tasting, but the sense memory remains.  That's some good stuff.

We can debate what creates this ocean note in a whisky.  Many whisky writers have romantically claimed it's from the ocean-facing warehouses, but really most of the oceany single malts (especially Diageo's) are aged inland.  In fact, I'm closer to the ocean than Lagavulin's casks and I don't smell like that.  Yet.  Maybe it's from the water source, or the yeast strain, or fermentation time, or where the cooperage is located.  In any case, this whisky is of the ocean.

Availability - Auctions, good luck
Pricing - ???
Rating - 92

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Hanukkah Whiskey Report: Heaven Hill 15 year old Bourbon for Whisky Jewbilee

Hanukkah arrived early-ish this year and caught me unprepared, without presents for others.  Well, if it arrived late, I still wouldn't have bought presents in time because I'm a dick.  BUT, I do have two samples given to me by members of South Bay Whisky Tribe (and Booze Dancing).

Today's item is the exclusive bourbon from the 2013 Whisky Jewbilee, the annual event organized by the fellows of Single Cask Nation (nice guys, but they were also the subjects of a recent lazy unfortunate puff piece in The Daily Beast; see the link for MAO's take and my comments at the bottom of his post).  I have yet to attend a Whisky Jewbilee, because money.  Maybe I will someday, but only if no one there says out loud, "hashtag whiskyfabric!"  That's an inside bloggie joke, but YOU PEOPLE know who you are.

Aaron Krouse, a whiskyfabrician (not a word) also known as aaron197172, handed me a set of remarkable samples at this year's Peatin' Meetin'.  Amongst them was this:

It's on top of a challah, see, because the whiskey
is soooooo Jewish.
It's a Heaven Hill high-rye bourbon, approximately 15.81918 years old, distilled in 1998 (or maybe 1997) and bottled at full power.  There were "fewer than 100 bottles" of it issued in 2013.  Or as per my usual info:

Distiller: Heaven Hill
Bottler: Single Cask Nation
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Distilled: 1998 (or maybe 1997?)
Bottled: 2013
Age: 15 years
Region: Louisville, Kentucky
Maturation: New American oak
Mashbill: high-rye, as per SCN's notes
Alcohol by Volume: 61.3%
photo from the Jewbilee site

Its color is dark, very dark, GlenDronach single oloroso cask dark.

The nose is closed at first.  Maybe some old furniture and furniture polish.  Slightly metallic.  Then gradually that becomes a (good) moldy basement, followed by Frangelico, vanilla extract, and pound cake.

Woo.  The palate is big.  Bigger than 122.6 proof big.  Stagg big.  Lots of fruit (oranges and limes) with the loud rye and oak spices.  A corn sweetness slowly builds.  Cherry snow cone syrup.  Aromatic and spicy, very woody.

Lots of pepper and caramel in the finish and an almost rum-like sweetness.  It eventually focuses in on drying oak tannins.

Lemme hydrate it...

WITH WATER (~50%abv)

The nose gets cornier.  Sugary, bigger vanilla, notebook paper.

The palate mellows out, but is super sweet.  Think orange hard candies and corn syrup.  Barrel char.

It's sweet through the finish with a hint of the rye spice.  Maybe a little citrus.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)

Well, it does not drown at this level.  The nose starts to feel like a younger spritely woody high-rye bourbon.  Mint leaves and soil.

Lots of rye in the palate.  Pepper, mint, and sugar.

A sweet and spicy finish with minty menthol.

Some things became very apparent during this tasting.  First off, the rye element sometimes reads bigger than it does in the current version of Rittenhouse and maybe even in the Pikesville 6.  That's good for my palate.

Secondly, when neat, this whiskey is tremendously oaky, as is the case with many older bourbons.  And, as is the case with many older bourbons, my palate doesn't jive with that.  Other palates may like it better.  I've noticed that long-aged dusty bourbons have oak notes that become silky rich vanilla, caramel, and maple syrup.  Meanwhile, current long-aged bourbons have oak notes that read like......wood.  Is it a change in maturation and barrel processes or is it an Old Bottle Effect?  I don't know.

Thirdly, this thing gets intensely sugary sweet once a little bit of water is added.  I don't have the biggest sweet tooth, but I know some of you do and you'd probably like this more than I.  Adding more water actually reduces the sweetness.

Funny enough, I liked this best at 40%abv.  It's as if the years and the corn have been stripped off and a rye whiskey remains.  The fact that this Heaven Hill can stand up to so much water works in its favor.  Most high powered bourbons that I've tried don't swim so well, but comparatively this one is Mark Spitz.

Availability - Gone, though it might pop up in auctions
Pricing - ???
Rating - 84, but only with a lot of water (79-81 otherwise)

Friday, December 4, 2015

NOT Single Malt Report: Pikesville 6 year old Rye (and Rittenhouse BIB)

WHHHHHHHUT?!  Yes, another of-the-moment whiskey.  I don't know what's gotten into me.  Okay maybe some whiskey.  I really do structure my reviews months ahead of time, but sometimes circumstances call for an audible.

Two weeks ago the man in the fedora belched out The New Murray Testament causing people with tastebuds to ponder his competence and/or his intent.  I have zero interest in reviewing his World Whisky of the Year, but I did have some interest in trying the runner-up: Pikesville 6 year old Rye.  Then just this week, a mensch known for his crisp reviews and sample labels and certain recent eats presented me with a sample of this Very Murray Rye.

And, it was just my luck that I had a bottle of Rittenhouse BIB Rye (Pikeville 6's younger sibling) open for comparison purposes.  To be honest, our home has had bottles of Ritt open almost nonstop for the past two years.  I've been finding the quality of Ritt BIB slipping with each successive bottle, and as a result this bottle has taken a long time to finish.  This decline is not fun, and I keep hoping for the next one to bounce back, but...

Brand: Rittenhouse
Owner: Heaven Hill
Type: Straight Rye Whisky (no 'e'!)
Age: minimum 4 years
Region: Distillery - Louisville, Kentucky; Warehouse - Bardstown, Kentucky
Maturation: New American oak
Mashbill: 51% Rye (per Cowdery here and here)
Bottle Code: B3474
Bottle Year: late 2014
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
(from my bottle, bottom 1/3 of bottle)

Its color is the lighter of the two whiskies.

The nose is very bourbony and corny, in fact I'd guess this was a bourbon if I'd nosed this blindly.  There's also caramel, rock candy, and hazelnuts.  Some flower blossom notes peek out here and there.

The palate is very nutty: walnuts, hazelnuts, halvah (yes, it's not technically made of nuts), and burnt peanuts.  Then comes salt and some rye-ish pepper.  There's a woody bitterness that starts out small but then expands with time in the glass.

The rye spices show much stronger in the finish, joining up with some wood smoke, walnuts, and burnt peanuts.  Like the palate it grows bitterer with time.

And now the older sibling...

Brand: Pikesville
Owner: Heaven Hill
Type: Straight Rye Whiskey (with an 'e')
Age: minimum 6 years
Region: Louisville, Kentucky
Maturation: New American oak
Mashbill: 51% Rye (per Cowdery here and here)
Alcohol by Volume: 55%
Thanks to Sku for the sample!

Its color is the darker of the two whiskies.

There's a mild soapy note in the nose at first, but it fades after a minute or two and is replaced by a green grassy note.  Meanwhile much larger bursts of cherry candies and caramel candies sound out.  Definitely some toffee.  Maybe a little mango.  A nice fudgy moment and an occasional perfumy floral whiff.  A barrel char note appears after 20+ minutes.

The rye grain is bigger in this one's palate than in the Ritt.  Louder spice.  Louder pepper.  Though there's a little bit of sweets, it's less sweet than the nose led me to believe.  The nutty note has been pushed way back, as has the bitterness.  It's still sort of bourbony though.  Mint leaves develop after 20+ minutes.

Quite a spicy zing at the front of the tongue, while black pepper hits the back of the throat in the finish.  Then rye bread and bourbon.  A mint/menthol note lingers the longest.

Well, Pikesville is without question the better of the two.  While my first two bottles of Rittenhouse (old label) were comparable or better than the Pikesville, this current Ritt bottle continues the quality decline.  Which sucks.  Two years ago, I would have been happy to pay $30+ for the quality in the bottle.  Today, I wouldn't pay more than $20.  In fact, this may be my last bottle of Rittenhouse BIB unless Kristen requests we get another.

The real quality difference between the Pikesville and the Rittenhouse is in the palate.  I do like the Ritt's nose.  While it isn't particularly deep, it's very pleasant.  But it's just not that enjoyable to drink.  The burnt nuttiness and woody bitterness is almost abusive at times.  Meanwhile the Pike is brightly spicy with a touch of sweetness and that good mint note.  Its finish is much more pleasant as well.

All that being said, I wouldn't pay $50-$60 for the Pikesville.  There's real competition in the whiskey world at that price range.  It does have the qualities that I would love Rittenhouse BIB to have at its $25-$30 price range.  I almost wonder if the first few batches of Heaven Hill's (DSP KY-1) Rittenhouse BIB were 6+ years old, like Pike, and the new Ritts are barely 4.  In any case, Pikesville 6yo is not only not the second best whiskey world, it won't even be the second best whiskey you drink this week.

Availability - Most US specialty retailers have Ritt BIB in general
Pricing - $22-$30
Rating - 78

Availability - Some US specialty retailers
Pricing - $50-$60, though some shops are now trying to sell it for $100
Rating - 84