...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Single Malt Report: Springbank 16 year old 1999 Local Barley

I bought this bottle to celebrate the completion of our massive move from California to Ohio. It was also the third-most expensive bottle I'd ever purchased. So when I opened it, I really hoped it was good.

There had been a lot of excitement around this release since the previous Local Barley releases, distilled 30 years earlier, are part of whisky history/lore. The European bottles from this new release were snapped up immediately at the start of 2016, but the US bottles were not. And many are still available. Is the price that holds people back? Or is it because this isn't some super sherried release? What, everyone isn't into craft whisky...?

...because this is actual craft whisky. The (prisma!) barley is from Low Machrimore Farm, a few miles from Springbank, and was floor-malted at the distillery. It was, of course, distilled at the distillery, and then bottled right there. But, the oak is not from Kintyre. Sad!

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Owner: Springbank Distillers Ltd.
Region: Campbeltown, on Well Close, just off of Longrow
Age: 16 years (September 1999 - January 2016)
Barley: Prisma, from Low Machrimore Farm
Maturation: 80% ex-bourbon and 20% ex-sherry casks; probably refills, IMO
Limited bottling: 9,000 worldwide
Alcohol by Volume: 54.3%

Its color is light gold. The nose is full of cereal grain notes—especially barley (duh) and wheat—wrapped in roasted seaweed. There's also white meringue, lemon and orange peels, and a low rumble of fresh manure. The palate is darker, inkier and heavier than the nose. Lemons and dingy peat. Or is it peated grapefruit candy? Soil, limes and a Talisker-pepperiness merged with malty richness. A little bit of pineapple sweetness in the back. The finish strikes earthy and inky, as well. A grapefruit and Campari bite meets serrano pepper heat and a peachy sweetness.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Barley, anise, apples and oranges on the nose. Then dockside air and honey. The palate has lots of citrus essence, minus the sweetness, especially limes and lemons. Malted barley and whisper of cayenne pepper. Baked apples with fruity Ceylon cinnamon. It finishes with salty peat and roasted grains and nuts. Lemon and a gentle brown sugar sweetness.

Yeah it's good. It's the epitome of clean crisp single malt bottled at the perfect time. The casks served their purpose of maturing the whisky without intruding upon it, which may have happened five or ten years later. The development in the nose is subtle but quite remarkable as the lemons gradually ease forward over ten minutes, to be followed by a bundle of oranges. The ink and honey notes are also lovely, in their own ways.

It's my favorite bottle I opened in 2016. That's why I saved it for the final review. Is it worth almost $200? I don't know. Because I bought it to celebrate this important moment in my family's life, it was worth it to me. Your experience and valuation will different from mine.

As 2016 draws to a close, may I just request that all of you take care of yourselves. Don't help this year claim any more good people. Please.

Availability - easier to find in the US than in Europe
Pricing - $170-$200 (US), $150-250 (Europe), original SRP was £95
Rating - 90

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Single Malt Report: Springbank 29 year old 1974 Chieftain's, cask 1778

I've referenced a little LA Scotch Club event a couple times this week. It's called Springbank Spring Break. It used to be an annual event, but then whisky prices soared, making the event more challenging to arrange. Andy, the head of the club, was able to pull one together in 2016. It was a hell of a thing, and my final LASC event before moving to Ohio.  There were many great whisky opportunities to be found at the event, but picking up a full sample of this whisky may have been the highlight.

I'm skipping the stats section because all the pertinent info is in the pics above.

In 2015, I experienced a 30 year old 1972 Springbank from Chieftain's that was possibly the best single malt I've ever had. That one was from a bold sherry cask. This one is from a hogshead. So they're different creatures. Still, though. Excitement!

Its color is medium gold. The nose starts with peaches, mango and butterscotch. Then the oceanside, roses, cherry candy and some warehouse funk. A small whiff of struck matches lingers. With time, that sulphur note grows and a dried grass note arises. Still there are new moments of chocolate malt and apricot jam. The palate's first notes are of cocoa, vanilla bean and clementines. On the succeeding sips there's ginger beer, a little bit of smoke and tart berries. With time, it grows maltier and bitterer. Bitter chocolate, bitter herbal liqueur. It finishes with butterscotch, mango and malt. Sweet. Slight ashy tobacco note. With time, the sweetness calms down and hints of bitterness and vanilla ease in.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The whisky gets remarkably cloudy with very little water added. The nose mellows out. The sulphur vanishes. Fresh flowers and fresh fruit. Butterscotch. Brief farmy peat. The palate continues to get maltier. There's some toffee, apricots, limes and clementines. A mild bitterness balances out the sweetness. Mild metallic and peat notes. Some brine and ash in the finish. Some bitter chocolate and fruity sweetness merge.

This isn't the friendliest Springbank around, but if you like a little bit of good sulphur and an herbal bitter bite to your whisky then I think you'll get on just fine. The amount of sulphur is a bit curious considering that this was likely an American oak hogshead; perhaps those notes came from the spirit itself. The fruit notes are nice and there's an impressive maltiness for something its age. While its kinks get straightened out when water is added, I think I preferred its quirkiness. Though it is very good whisky, it is bettered by a number of recent (and MUCH cheaper) Springbank releases, and falls considerably short of the old sherry cask Springers I've tried.

Here are some more opinions:
--The whiskybase community is nutso about it.
--The LAWS chaps, who sampled this very bottle, have thoughts similar to mine about the whisky...
--Serge, also has a comparable opinion, though slightly less positive.

Availability - Scarce in the primary and secondary markets
Pricing - $800+
Rating - 88

Monday, December 26, 2016

Single Malt Report: Springbank 25 year old (2014 edition)

The Intro

In November 2014, Springback Distillers announced a release that marked a milestone in their distillery's modern era, a 25 year old single malt. Though there were sporadic distillations run since 1979, the stills didn't resume regular production until 1989, so the 25 year old whisky was being pulled from the earliest months of this new period. Springbank didn't restart their floor maltings until 1992, so the early washes were from sourced malted barley.

The Pre-Tasting Emotions

The distillery has done such a great job showing off their ex-bourbon and ex-sherry cask work that the cynic in me wonders why the heck they had to finish this important bottling in port casks. I have grown to love many port cask-matured whiskies, but in this case I wonder if this particular short finish was done to mask some problems with uninspiring cask results. The Springbank geek in me isn't so concerned. I think they did this finish to differentiate the 25 from the rest of the range. Plus, again, port casks can be fun. Yet......though this was a very limited release, it's still widely available across Europe after over a year on the shelves. And, as far as I can tell, though there were 2014 and 2015 editions, there was no 2016. Is that a supply issue or a sales issue? So many questions, as the cynic continues to battle the Springbank geek...

The Notes

Label designed by Magneto
Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Owner: Springbank Distillers Ltd.
Region: Campbeltown, on Well Close, just off of Longrow
Age: minimum 25 years
Maturation: a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks married in port casks for a few months
Release year: 2014
Limited bottling: 1200 worldwide
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
(Sample poured at a paid LA Scotch Club event, then tasted in my hermetically sealed cocoon)

The color is light gold, a good sign. The nose begins very fruity, think kiwi, peaches and lychee. There's some dusty oak and roses. Maybe some grain. 20+ minutes later... Hints of farmy peat, caramel candy, strawberry candy and maple play hard to get. The palate feels very light, and a little soapy. Slightly mossy with a strong bitterness. Some cocoa and roses. Burnt wood, burnt peat. Hints of tar, cardboard and something chemical. A strong dried herb note shows up in the finish. Bitter, burnt, soapy, sweet, fruity, tarry.

The Wut

I......um......This was worse than the cynic expected. I actually agree with Serge on this, even though our palates take to port maturations much differently. It's just not very good whisky, which comes as a shock to this Springbank geek. It's not bad whisky either, but I can't think of a single official bottling of theirs I liked less.

The subtle but pretty nose keeps the whole thing out of the C-grade range, barely. The palate feels younger and crooked, but not in an enjoyable way. The problem isn't the port casks, surprisingly. They did nothing here, except inject a little fruit and cocoa, if I'm being generous. I fear the distillery had a handful (or fewer) casks that survived the quarter century, and stayed at a respectable and legal bottling strength, but were really not honey barrels. Judging by the current 18yo-20yo single casks selling for nearly $300, and the 21 year old single casks selling for closer to €400 in Europe, one begins to wonder why the 25 year old release hit the market at only £350. We're they trying to make the 25yo more affordable (whatever that means these days) for their loyal fans? Or did they know this wasn't their hottest ticket?

Yes, in the US it costs almost twice (or more!) than what it's going for in Europe, but that's just yet another importer issue. Whether it's selling for $450 or $850, I do not recommend it. I'd say get a case of the 12 year old Cask Strength bottling (and if you're in the US, you'd be able to throw in a few additional Longrow 18s too), if you really want to spend that kind of crazy money on Springbank stuff. Or you can just buy one bottle of the 12yo CS and then ponder your next move in the world of distilled spirits.

Here are some more opinions:
–The whiskybase community is orgasmic about it, but I don't see any grades from the veteran guys I've grown to trust, there are at least two high grades by people who are or were selling bottles, and only 2 of the 86 raters wrote reviews of their own, so take that as you may.
–The LAWS guys, who sampled from the same bottle as I, give it a mix of B- and B grades.
Ruben of whiskynotes gave it an 86, but wasn't impressed.
–As referenced earlier, Serge gave it a 78.

Availability - Still available at a few dozen retailers worldwide
Pricing - from $450 in Europe to $1000 in the US, because shit be crazy
Rating - 80

Friday, December 23, 2016

Single Malt Report: Springbank 18 year old 1996 Hunter Laing "Old & Rare" for K&L Wine Merchants

In late 2015, K&L Wine Merchants brought in a pair of big guns (er, casks) from Hunter Laing's "Old & Rare" series, a 29 year old Longmorn and an 18 year old Springbank sherry hogshead. Both bottlings had $300+ price tags and their own polished wood caskets. Though neither zipped off the shelves, K&L did give the Longmorn a hell of a price cut to get it moving. But they did not reduce the Springbank's price. Both eventually sold out, which means we won't see an end to this sort of pricing any time soon.

Both of these whiskies were featured at an LA Scotch Club event I co-hosted in April 2016. The Springbank was the bigger hit of the two, in fact I believe it was the favorite of all four of the women attendees. I reviewed the Longmorn in June, finding its nose AWESOME and the rest much less awesome. That one was from a refill ex-bourbon hogshead. This Springbank is from a sherry hogshead, and has more oomph to the ABV. I really don't know what to expect here.

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Owner: Springbank Distillers Ltd.
Region: Campbeltown, on Well Close, just off of Longrow
Independent Bottler: Hunter Laing
Range: Old & Rare
Age: 18 years (October 1996 - July 2015)
Maturation: sherry hogshead
Bottle count: 200
Alcohol by Volume: 56.7%
Exclusive to: K&L Wine Merchants

Its color is a very dark brown with a slight red tone. The nose has an immediate lovely combination of fresh herbs, seaside and iodine. Followed by an immense fudgy note. Like actual chocolate fudge. Some dark cherries in there. After 20 minutes, a boat fuel note starts rumbling underneath. The palate is dark, rich and hardy. Baking chocolate, black coffee and chili oil. Brine and an intense earthy note. It finishes with old basement, menthol and green peppercorns. It's smoky, earthy and dry with the palate's chili oil note lingering on and on and on.

Sweet Mother of Maybelline, this was tremendous. I forgot to add water, but I'd rather have it neat where it's hypnotic on the nose and unrelenting on the palate. This was definitely one of the best K&L exclusive casks I've ever tried. A shame about the price, though.

Availability - sold out
Pricing - $299.99
Rating - 91

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Single Malt Report: Springbank 12 year old 1990 Sherry Wood

This 12 year old Springbank was distilled the year after the distillery restarted, using barley from a different supplier since their own malting floors had not yet reopened. It's part of the old Wood Expressions series seems to have been replaced by the Longrow Red range and the occasional alternative cask Springbank release. The bottle count from this bottling was significantly more limited than the distillery's current limited editions. I'd never even seen this one until I spied it on a friend's shelf. Many thanks to Mr. Perkins for this sample!

(On a related note, I tried Springbank 13yo 1989 Port Wood while in Scotland this year. It's a very nice dessert whisky and the port pipes never get out of hand. It's on par with, if not better than, the better known 16yo 1991 Rum Wood.)

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Owner: Springbank Distillers Ltd.
Region: Campbeltown, on Well Close, just off of Longrow
Age: 12 years (1990 - June 2003)
Maturation: "Sherry Butts"
Limited release: 1799 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 52.4%

Its color is darker than the 12yo CSes. The nose is very fruity, exotic stuff (to Ohio, at least), especially lychee and papaya. There's toffee, a lot of buttery caramel, whiffs of peat and grass, and woody smoke. The sherry notes (prunes and dark chocolate) are subtle. There's toffee, peat and a peppery zing to the palate. More classic dried fruits here than in the nose. Kinda of a sherry, ginger and rock candy cocktail. Hints of peach and pencil lead. Buttery caramel and tart citrus. The finish is sherry, orange syrup, root beer barrel candies and an ethyl buzz. It's the sweetest, simplest and hottest part of the experience.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose has toffee, caramel, malt and mint leaves. Very little sherry action, no peat. Ah, but the sherry shows up in the palate, mostly as dried fruit. There are menthol and tart citrus notes, as well as a bit of smoke. It's all quite mild. It finishes with prunes, raisins, salt, and that's it.

This one starts off great and gradually sinks as it goes, ending with a lackluster finish. There's an odd American oak weight to it all. The peat and sherry seem to be burdened with existential struggles, never knowing where or when they are. When they do show up it's in sudden bursts followed by sudden absences. And that's when they do show up. They regularly miss their call times in the nose. Okay, enough crap metaphors. It's a good whisky that had promise of being much better. When tried next to the first batch of the 12yo CS series, its flaws are more pronounced. On its own, it's better.

Availability - 
Maybe the secondary market?

Pricing - ???
Rating - 83

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Single Malt Report: Springbank 12 year old 2003 Burgundy Casks

Where I was when this whisky came out? Somehow I missed its announcement and arrival. I'm quite seriously the only person on the planet who adored the Longrow 14yo Burgundy Cask release (see here for my review; yes that's the score I gave it; hey wait, don't leave!), so I have oddly high expectations for this Springbank release.
NOT the color of the whisky
Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Owner: Springbank Distillers Ltd.
Region: Campbeltown, on Well Close, just off of Longrow
Age: 12 years (November 2003 - May 2016)
Maturation: 1st fill Burgundy wine barrels
Limited release: 10260 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 53.5%
(Many thanks to awesome Vik for this sample!)

Very little pink or red in the whisky's color, rather it's moderately dark gold. The wine notes are pleasant and reserved in the nose. There's more lime than grapes or berries. Some brine, dingy peat and a little bit of vanilla. Okay, there's some sherry cask-like toffee. Caramel and chocolate. The chocolate note grows with time. Some praline jumps in. It's more grapey in the palate, like a subtle(-ish) PX. But it's also quite earthy, peaty and bitter. The PXy(!) sweetness sits around the edges while the sharpness (led by the big herbal bitterness) rams through the middle. The finish has a soft ginger bite, mint and smoked cheese. A little of a sherry cask note, along with vanilla syrup.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose is more floral, more vanillaed (I'm just cranking out the fake words right now), but no fruits other than a hint of raisin. A good amount of toffee and milk chocolate and whiff of grain. The palate has become less bitter, less sharp, less peaty. Instead there's malt, toffee and a touch of horseradish. The mild finish has that slight bitterness, roasted nuts and seawater.

While the Burgundy cask Longrow was a sweetie pie, this Burgundy cask Springbank limits the sweets and delivers a youthful jab. It feels neither "first-fill" nor "Burgundy", but rather like a second-fill sherry cask. As a result it's similar to the regular 12yo CS range—perhaps slightly less honed—without being different enough to require a 30-50% premium. That being said, if it were priced the same as the CSes, I'd certainly consider getting a bottle. I appreciate the quality of Springbank & Co.'s wine casks and hope they continue their good work.

Availability - more so at American specialty retailers than at European retailers
Pricing - $100-$130 worldwide
Rating - 86

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Single Malt Report: Springbank 12 year old Cask Strength, batch 11 (53.8%abv)

Hey, look at this! Another 12 year old Springbank! And a more recent batch of their great Cask Strength series. By the time they got to batch 11, the cask recipe had changed but was still comprised of mostly ex-sherry cask whisky.

It's interesting how most of these "Cask Strength" batches have moderately low alcohol content. I wonder if that's related to Springbank's old earth-and-stone dunnage warehouses. Or maybe they've been adding in some low ABV casks that are in dire need of a home. In any case, it works for me. I'd rather have a 53.8%abv single malt than a 63.8%abv single malt, but that's a post for another time when I have more words. Let's get to the whisky.

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Owner: Springbank Distillers Ltd.
Region: Campbeltown, on Well Close, just off of Longrow
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: 70% ex-sherry cask / 30% ex-bourbon casks
Alcohol by Volume: 53.8%
Batch: 11
Release year: 2015
(Sample from a LASC event this past Spring)

The nose is mostly fruity and metallic at first. After a couple minutes there are some leathery and peppery (good) sulphur notes. Then dried apricots, almond extract and saline. The sherry feels mostly dry, though there's an occasional grape jam note. The palate is a bright minty anise-y thing with musty warehouse notes. It's waxy and oily. A mild dried fruit sweetness is joined by toasted oak spices. It finishes with a cooling menthol buzz. It's slightly dirty, with that warehouse note. But there's also a good amount of honey lingering about.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The cask notes have been washed out of the nose. It's all barley and cereal grains, almost like a young Tobermory. There are some hints of toffee here and there. Whole wheat toast with apple butter. The palate is all funky musty moldy warehouse floor, at first. Gradually some dried fruit notes slip in, then vanilla bean, tangy citrus, pepper and menthol. It finishes with an orangey sweetness, pruney sherry and a pinch of black pepper.

Batch 11 is a simple dirty version of Springbank 12 year old Cask Strength. It's also a very different, probably better whisky once water is added. Though I enjoy the musty notes when the whisky's neat, there's not much else that lifts it up, especially compared with the first batch of 12yo CS. But once water is added, the good grain notes lift up and compliment the funk. Overall, it's a mid-quality Springbank CS, but that puts it at a much higher standing than most whiskies in its price range.

Availability - Possibly at some US specialty retailers, make sure to check the label's ABV
Pricing - $75 - $100
Rating - 86

Monday, December 19, 2016

Single Malt Report: Springbank 12 year old Cask Strength, batch 1 (54.6%abv)

Okay, I'm going to finish out 2016 with two weeks of Springbank. Our Campbeltown experience was one of the highlights of our Scotland trip this year. I'm not 100% sure which Springbanks I'm going to pick, but I think I'm going to start with a foursome of 12 year olds (sorry no 12yo 100proof, unless you would like to send me a sample), then switch to (SPOILER ALERT!) some non-12-year-old ones. Some will be relevant. Some will not. You know, the usual. But this time, it's Springbank.

First up it's the inaugural batch of Springbank 12 year old Cask Strength, bottled in 2010. Six years later they're on batch #13. May they never stop. Sherry cask Springbank is a nice thing.

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Owner: Springbank Distillers Ltd.
Region: Campbeltown, on Well Close, just off of Longrow
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: a 60/40 mix of first-fill and refill sherry casks
Alcohol by Volume: 54.6%
Batch: 1
Release year: 2010
(Sample acquired via a swap with Jordan of Chemistry of the Cocktail. Thanks, Jordan!)

The nose is free of ethyl burn, but full of peated peaches, 3 Musketeers bar (milk chocolate and nougat) and ginger ale. Slight buttery note, a hint of tar. Almonds and limes. The palate changes gears nicely: fresh white fruit → rich sherry cask. Sort of like a lightly-peated Glendronach 15. Moderately dark chocolate, cayenne pepper and a lovely fruity sweetness. A little bit of barley and ginger ale in the back. The sweet finish has loads of raisins, currants and dried berries. Orange candy and smoky cherries.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose gets more herbal. Lots of mint leaves and fresh ginger. Canned peaches and a whiff of peat smoke. Thick creamy toffee and butterscotch in the palate, with a berry compote. Roasted nuts and grains. Lime candy. The finish has a gingery buzz, lots of dried fruits from the sherry casks and a dusting of cocoa.

They really nailed the cask mix this first time out. And though I've tried only half of the Springbank 12 year old cask strength batches, this is my favorite. There isn't a hint of heat, despite the ABV. The sherry casks are restrained in the nose, but roar into the palate. The combination of fresh and dried fruits, chocolate, smoke, nuts and toffee is a complete joy. It's absolutely amphibious, traveling well in and out of water. Recommended, if you can find it anywhere.

Availability - Happy Hunting!
Pricing - ???
Rating - 90

Friday, December 16, 2016

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Baker's 7 year old versus those two batches of Booker's at 107 proof

I've always liked Baker's better than Booker's bourbon. Named after Jim Beam's grandnephew, Baker's has always been bottled at 107 proof and at 7 years of age. I do hope those two factors remain in future Baker's bottlings, but who knows. In addition to the recent Booker's announcement, Beam removed the 9yo age statement from Knob's Creek this year, took away the 8yo statement on Jim Black a year before, and OGD 114 may be disappearing next year. So what awaits Baker's?

Well, it awaits a Taste Off here. I took Booker's batches C05-A-12 and 2015-06, proofed them down to 53.5% and let them sit for a day. Then I lined them up next to Baker's batch B90-001 (a batch number that hasn't changed for several years) to see what worked best at that ABV.

For stats on Booker's batches C05-A-12 and 2015-06, see their reviews.

Baker's 7 year old 107 proof, batch B90-001
Owner: Beam Suntory
Brand: Booker's
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Distillery: Jim Beam Distillery
Location: Clermont, Kentucky
Mash Bill: 77% corn, 13% rye, 10% malted barley (probably)
Age: 7 years
Batch: B90-001
Alcohol by volume: 53.5% ABV

Baker's @ 53.5%abv - Brown sugar, caramel and limes. Hints of roses and cucumber skin. Play-Doh. More toffee pudding with time.
Booker's C05-A-12 @ 53.5%abv - Flowers, paint, oregano, sawdust and a little bit of hazelnut.
Booker's 2015-06 @ 53.5%abv - Orange oil, pine needles and sap, floral soap. Hints of vanilla and simple syrup.
Winner: Baker's, just slightly over 2015-06

Baker's @ 53.5%abv - NOT HOT. More savory than sweet. Smaller notes of wood smoke and toffee. Larger notes of mint, dark cherries and ginger.
Booker's C05-A-12 @ 53.5%abv - Bitter, floral, salty and nutty. Black pepper and root beer. Grows nuttier with every sip.
Booker's 2015-06 @ 53.5%abv - Less bitter than C05. Salty. Lots of toasted (grain and oak) notes. Wood spice.
Winner: Baker's

Baker's @ 53.5%abv - Mild. Tangy and salty. Subtle maple and corn sweetness. Black pepper.
Booker's C05-A-12 @ 53.5%abv - Bitter. Hot. Dry as hell. Fouls up the palate.
Booker's 2015-06 @ 53.5%abv - Not bitter. Warm. Ginger.
Winner: Baker's, just slightly over 2015-06

With 5 additional drops of water
Baker's - The nose is slightly more floral, nutty, narrower. The palate gets a spicy rye edge to it, along with vanilla frosting. Holds onto the savory note. The finish is similar to the palate.
Booker's C05-A-12 - The nose gets more desserty (sugar and corn syrup) with a side of barrel char, then out of nowhere it's all peanuts. The palate gets very sweet. Otherwise it's bitter, nutty, and full of floral soap. It finishes nutty, peppery, perfumy and bitter.
Booker's 2015-06 - The nose is very corny, like polenta. Then vanilla, Play-Doh and molasses. The palate is mild, with small notes of vanilla, caramel, ginger beer, and sawdust. Nuts and sawdust in the finish.
Winner: Baker's, again 2015-06 isn't too far behind.

That Baker's was the overall winner didn't come as a surprise to me, but there were two revelations. Firstly, Booker's 2015-06 wasn't that far off in my esteem when proofed down, and if I were to consider how it registers at full proof, it's probably about even with Baker's. Secondly, I wasn't terribly thrilled by any of these three whiskies. I thought I'd be doing a whole writeup about how awesome Baker's is, but......it's perfectly fine bourbon, nothing more. Though it does tend to be cheaper than Booker's in bars, I'm in no hurry to buy another bottle of Baker's any time soon.

Booker's batch C05-A-12 is flat out fugly when proofed down. I think that kind of broke my spirit. My palate is still messed up from it, 7 hours later. Don't be surprised if this is the final BARD Friday of 2016. BARD Friday will start up again in January. In the meantime, there are a couple of other spirits I have in mind for the last two Fridays of this year.

(Note: the two Booker's ratings will not change)

Baker's 7 year old, batch B09-001
Availability - All US specialty retailers, as well as many non-specialty retailers (depending on your state)
Pricing - $40-$60
Rating - 83

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Booker's, the billionaire's bourbon, batch 2015-06 Noe Secret

In 2015, Beam Suntory announced they were starting a line of men's lingerie, called Booker's Secret. Like Versailles (in Kentucky) is pronounced the way it's spelled, this lingerie is also pronounced the way it's spelled, correctly. Likely this underwear didn't originally have anything to do with the bourbon brand, because you don't want your bathing suit area anywhere near barrel proof bourbon. Take a fella's word for it. Perhaps it was another one of the late Booker Noe's entrepreneurial brainstorms. In any case, the lingerie brand failed because Beam priced its products too low, ultimately leading to their wildly successful 2016 decision to double the price of Booker's bourbon. The lingerie line's demise was commemorated in the naming of this particular bourbon batch, No(e) Secret.

Owner: Beam Suntory
Brand: Booker's
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Distillery: Jim Beam Distillery
Location: Clermont, Kentucky
Mash Bill: 77% corn, 13% rye, 10% malted barley (probably)
Age: 6 years, 8 months, 7 days (seriously)
Batch: 2015-06 Noe Secret, the sixth release in 2015
Alcohol by volume: 64.05% ABV

The nose starts off with a solid combo of honey, cinnamon and lime juice. Then pears, anise and barrel char. With about 20 minutes of air, it develops vanilla and carob notes. The palate leads with a serious quantity of The Beam Peanut Note®. Loads of sugar, but much of it has a peachy fruitiness. Ethyl, cinnamon red hots candies and cherry hard candies. Brown sugar and a mild bitterness. It finishes with ethyl heat and wood spice. Burnt peanuts, black pepper and tangy citrus. Never gets too sweet.

WITH WATER (~53.5%abv, Baker's level)
The nose becomes more floral and picks up a hint of maple syrup. Anise, caramel and a slight malty note. With time, sawdust takes over. The palate is bitterer, though it's not a deal breaker this time because it reads more herbal than it usually does. There's a mild sweetness, ginger, mint and chili oil. It finishes with wood, heat and more sweets (cherry candy), but none overwhelms the others.

At least this babe can swim, unlike the batch from yesterday's review. The nose remains the best part, neat or proofed down, again. The palate is serviceable with or without water. And the hot woody bitterness is a full step lighter than any other Booker's bourbon batch I've tried.

This is the first batch I'd actually consider buying, though at the $40-$45 end of the spectrum. It would be probably be a lot of fun in Old Fashioneds or high proof Sazeracs. Still, if Beam doesn't magically raise the quality when the price goes up, then I won't be missing anything when I ignore it on the top shelf.

Availability - This batch might be lingering at some retailers, though probably not for long
Pricing - Booker's in general can still be found for $40, though it averages around $60 countrywide (Note: This is before the price increase hits.)
Rating - 83

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Booker's, the billionaire's bourbon, batch C05-A-12

There seems to have been two versions of batch C05-A-12. One is the bottling I'm reviewing today, aged 7 years 1 month and weighing in at 65.0%abv, possibly specific to the US market. Then there's one that's aged 7 years 5 months, with a 64.25%abv which I've seen on European sites. If any of you brilliant bourbon boyos know the story behind that, please weigh in via the comment section below.

Here's what I've gleaned from the internets about this batch.
--The 'C' means it's from Beam's Clermont distillery and/or warehouses.
--The '05' refers to the year this stuff was distilled and barreled, as in 2005.
--The '12' represents the number of dead rats they found in the barrels when blending this batch. There were actually 11 and a half, but because Booker didn't "do decimals", the company rounds up.
--The 'A' stands for Anthropophagus, the Joe D'amato classic wherein George Eastman eats a fetus and then his own intestines. A metaphor.

Bottle shot
Owner: Beam Suntory
Brand: Booker's
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Distillery: Jim Beam Distillery
Location: Clermont, Kentucky
Mash Bill: 77% corn, 13% rye, 10% malted barley (probably)
Age: 7 years, 1 month
Batch: C05-A-12
Alcohol by volume: 65.0% ABV

Berry and cherry candy on the nose. Walnuts. OAK. Chambord. Floral perfume, little bits of vanilla and caramel corn. Very berried on the palate too, like lollipops. Chili pepper heat. Bell peppers too. Very sweet and grapey. A hint of peanuts. The most controlled wood content I've experienced in a Booker's, though that's not saying much. The finish goes corny. Some tart fruit in the back. Sweet and smoky. And here comes the burnt bitter oak note I always find (and wish I didn't) in Booker's.

WITH WATER (~53.5%abv, Baker's level)
The nose gets more floral and more vanilla-ed. Hard toffee candy. Salt water taffy. The water has washed away most of the fruit in the palate. Feels woodier and hotter. Oooh, and bitterer. Medicinal. Maybe some hard cheese. The finish is bitter, woody, saccharine.

I'll start with the positives. This is the best Booker's batch I've had thus far. The neat palate is palatable, but the nose is by far the highlight throughout.

As mentioned in the notes, I always find an off-putting hot bitter wood note in Booker's that's dialed up to a degree I haven't found in any other major (non-crafty) high proof bourbon, nor any other Beam product. When neat, this batch avoids this note until late in the finish. When proofed down it fills the finish and sneaks into the palate. In fact this batch tastes awful when water is added. It's decent when neat and the nose never fails. But I still can't see myself even paying the old price for it when Beam has other better cheaper products.

Availability - 
This batch is probably long gone

Pricing - Booker's in general can still be found for $40, though it averages around $60 countrywide (Note: This is before the price increase hits.)
Rating - 81 (neat only, proofing it down drops it ~20 points)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Two paragraphs on Booker's bourbon

Hmmm......just glancing at current international business and political news and......oh look, the Western world has officially entered the GREED IS FUCKING GREAT AND PEOPLE ARE FUCKING* SHEEP era. Of course, the world whisky industry has been in that mode for at least four years now, and I don't see any chance of it stopping until there is no world whisky industry. In the most recent occurrence of customers-be-damned behavior in the whisky world, Booker's bourbon will see its retail price double. The online bourbon community had some feelings about it, to put it mildly.

For those of you who are Booker's fans—though I am not amongst your number—I understand your frustration. Suntory has done a crap job with many of their brands for some time now. I'm sorry to see this habit bleeding over into American whisky. But for those of you who keep raving about what a great business maneuver this is, all I have to say is...Who cares? Seriously. Who cares if it's great corporate strategy? Do you have considerable financial investments in STBFY? Are you an employee of Beam Suntory? If the answer to the previous two questions is "no", then why do you feel the need to cheer this avarice? This price bloating has no positive effect on your life, but will have very negative repercussions on your purchasing power, and (if you even are a whiskey fan you may want to be concerned that this) will have more destructive long term effects on the bourbon industry than whatever short term gains Suntory may hope to achieve. Or maybe you just want to see the whole whisky industry collapse. I wish I could join you in that endeavor, but I can't. There are millions of people employed by these companies and peripheral industries. When the whisky boat sinks, it ain't the corporate officers who drilled the hole that suffer. It's the blue-collar workers who don't have a lifeboat.

In honor of this latest cheerful news, I will review the following whiskies this week:
Wednesday - Booker's bourbon, batch C05-A-12
Thursday - Booker's bourbon, batch 2015-06 Noe's Secret
Friday - Baker's 7 year old bourbon

*adjective or verb?

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Dusty Vat, my only great blend

Blending scotch whisky is an art form. Blending scotch whisky is an art form at which I have failed. Blending scotch whisky is an art form at which I have failed, repeatedly. Blending scotch whisky is an art form at which I have failed, repeatedly, damn it.

But then, this past August, I was in possession of several partial ounces of unexciting single malts. These were reviewed samples that I just could not finish. Amongst these samples were three dusties. Since I had little desire to drink them on their own, I thought what the hell, I might as well blend them. Plenty of lessons had been learned from my previous failures with scotch blends and I hoped to apply them to this mysterious alchemy.

The end result was exactly 6 fluid ounces of a blended malt, with ingredients from Speyside, Highlands, Lowlands, Islay and Campbeltown. I named it The Dusty Vat.


18mL Glenallachie 11yo 1985 Signatory cask 4063 (43%abv)
19mL Bladnoch 16yo 1980 Signatory cask 89/591/20 (43%abv)
19mL Port Ellen 14yo 1983 Signatory cask 266 (43%abv)
20mL Glenturret 10yo official bottling (40%abv)
39mL Tomintoul 16yo official bottling (40%abv)
5 mL Laphroaig 10yo official bottling (2016 UK release, 40%abv)
25mL Kilkerran 12yo official bottling (2016 UK release, 46%abv)
25mL Macallan Cask Strength (60.1%abv)
7mL filtered water, applied to Macallan CS before adding to the vatting

So, yes I sorta buried the lede. There's Port Ellen in the mix. But it wasn't particularly good whisky, so I hope nobody gets the vapors over me putting it in a blend.

As mentioned in the ingredients, I proofed down the Macallan CS (for 48 hours) before blending it in, to make sure it didn't overwhelm the other ingredients.

Speaking of overwhelming a blend, Laphroaig. If you're going to do your own blending, please please please be gentle with the Laphroaig because its character easily dominates everything else in the recipe. Personally, I recommend keeping Laphroaig at 5% or less of the vatting. In this case it makes up 2.8% and is fully present, bringing a lovely layer to the mid-palate.

The Highland/Speyside contingent makes up 61.5% of the malt. Ex-bourbon cask whisky makes up at least 80% of the vatting, and most of those casks were likely refill. Even the Macallan CS felt more like American oak than European when drunk on its own. My goal was to focus on the spirit and not oak, much like whisky producers of earlier times ⇐ admittedly a romantic notion.

THE DUSTY VAT blended malt, 43.05%abv

The nose is full of "barley barley", as per my notes. A hint of woody peat smoke. Peated Good & Plenty candy. Fried plantains, grilled pear and oxidizing/browning apples. Hints of vanilla bean and oloroso sherry cask. There's also an actual dusty note lingering about. 

On the palate there's LOVELY peat, WTF?! Then lemons, caramel candies, toasted marshmallows, graham crackers and a nice sharp bite. It's malty, has a bit of musty warehouse to it and a bright plummy foreground.

Wood smoke and earth lead the finish. Some peppery heat, barley and scorched marshmallows. An almost total lack of sweetness.

Wow. It's now gone and I am sad. I'm just going to lie to myself (and you) and say this is what '50s Teacher's must have tasted like. Though the majority of the blend's ingredients are mediocre-to-OK Speyside, the dusty and old school style whisky transforms the thing. That touch of Laphroaig also goes a really long way (as mentioned above). I'm staring at the empty bottle now. I don't know if I can ever top this vatting, but in my heart I'll always have The Dusty Vat.

Availability - 
Gone. :-(

Pricing - Buying the individual ingredients would cost hundreds of dollars or pounds or euros nowadays
Rating - 88

Friday, December 9, 2016

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Two scenes from High West's A Midwinter Night's Dram

Corporations and independent distilleries

Our favorite indie distilleries are getting bought up, one by one. And I don't expect it to end any time soon. In some cases, the distillery had already proven to make a high quality product (see: Westland), thus a future was clear and the purchase had promise. In other cases, the distillery had created overpriced low quality product (see: Hudson Whiskey), and, well, I don't know why William Grant bought them.

In yet other cases, the wisdom behind the purchase is questionable because the distillery had not yet proven to distill a product of quality but instead gained notoriety from good blending of great sourced whiskies. For instance, High West. This is not meant as a poke at the Perkinses. There hasn't been enough time for their own whiskey to come to the market. But that's not their problem now, and they made out with a nine figure sale.

My question to Constellation Brands is...why buy them now? High West's great success was from blending together purchased barrels to create Rendezvous Rye, Bourye, and their brethren. How do you scale that up? Is there some sort of scheme to push ahead in line to grab more MGP distillate? How do you plan on making teenage Barton rye appear upon demand? Or are you banking on as-of-yet unproven products?

I've been thinking about this a lot recently, because it'll probably be only a few months before Smooth Ambler is scooped up too [UPDATE: Holy crap.] . And then another half dozen companies that did well thanks to MGP distillate. Willett, perhaps?

Awkward segue

Anyway, this has (hopefully) little to do with today's whiskey review. Rendezvous Rye is a favorite in my house, and I've enjoyed seeing High West tinker with their formula by doing extra maturations for private barrels. A Midwinter Night's Dram takes this to a more committed direction as the producers create a widely(-ish) distributed Rendezvous varietal by sticking it in port barrels and French oak barrels for an unspecified amount of time. Is it a short finish or an extended secondary maturation? I don't know.

So there's my intro, or my two intros. And sure enough I have tried two editions (or "scenes") of A Midwinter Night's Dram. Thank you to WhiskyWithRyan and Florin (a prince) for these opportunities.

The Stats

Product: A Midwinter's Night's Dram
Distillery: Barton/Tom Moore and MGP distilleries
Producer: High West
Ownership: Constellation Brands
Type: Blend of Straight Rye Whiskies
Region: Utah (High West), Indiana (MGP), Barton (Kentucky)
Age / Mashbill: 16 years, 80% rye 10% corn 10% malted barley (Barton) + 6 years, 95% rye 5% malted barley (MGP) -- more of the latter than the former in the mix
Primary Maturation: charred white oak barrels
Secondary Maturation: "port and french oak barrels"
Alcohol by Volume: 49.3%

ACT 2.6, SCENE 1120

I recently met with a pair of local whiskey geeks to do some public drinking. One of these gentlemen, Ryan, brought his bottle of AMND. Because I took my notes in outside my usual hermetically sealed tasting location, and spent much of the time in conversation, I'm going to give this a grade range rather than a specific score.

You can see the rosy brown color in the accompanying photo. The nose has a vanilla + smoked toffee shell with a lemon + cocoa interior.  The port is subtle in the palate, at first. A few scattered red berries. Peppery rye, dark chocolate and mint. Then the port influence expands with time as a nice tart berry fruitiness moves to the fore. The finish brings the nose and palate together. Vanilla, mint, tart raspberries, lemon candy and black licorice.

I wasn't blown away by the whiskey's nose, but the finish was so layered and lovely that I'll happily ignore the weak link. I'd expected this to be a port-soaked soaked thing, but instead the elements held a good balance most of the time. Good stuff.

RATING RANGE: 86-89 (B/B+), for Act 2.6, Scene 1120 only

ACT 2.9, SCENE 1322

This second scene/batch's nice sized sample comes to Diving for Pearls courtesy of Florin. I've been looking forward to trying it for, what, two years? Now's a good time.
Since I am tasting this in my hermit zone, it will get scientifically precise score, rounding up to the nearest ten-thousandth.

The nose is the opposite of Corti Brothers Exquisite Whiskey's schnozzola. One can actually smell the whisky part. But there are plenty of blackberries and blackberry jam. Also black pepper, wood smoke and orange peel. Burnt grain and soil. A little bit of milk chocolate in there, and a small flower blossom note. Okay, more chocolate's coming; it's sort of hot fudgy.

The palate also has plenty of well-aged, but still peppery, rye. There are some tart berries, sour limes and a zippy bitterness. I'd expected chocolate, but found toffee instead. Also some fizzy raspberry schweppes. Fresh ginger and cayenne pepper. Ah, bitter cocoa. Hints of clove, cinnamon and nutmeg. Grape juice tries to poke out but the spicy rye hammers it down.

The zippy bitterness runs into the finish, as does the pepper, nutmeg and clove. It has weird glue and notebook paper notes at first, but those vanish with later sips. There's some grapey sweetness, toasted marshmallows, and wood smoke, but a youthful rye rumble continues underneath.

Perhaps the port is slightly louder in this scene, but a desserty Rendezvous Rye is an acceptable Rendezvous Rye to me. I liked this batch better than my high strength Barrel Select bottle I reviewed in October, and it stands up pretty well to the regular Rendezvous. Which is all good news. I hope High West keeps produces subsequent scenes.

A Midwinter Night's Dram distinguishes itself as a different product than the RR, is more expensive to produce and is legitimately scarcer. The question is, how much of a premium would one be willing to pay for it? If I find it for $80 or less, then I'll go for it. But I can't say its quality calls for most of the prices I'm seeing online. It's very good American whiskey, but I'm not paying three figures for very good American whiskey.

Availability - A few dozen specialty retailers in the US
Pricing - $70-$140, a few idiots are charging $200+
Rating - 87 (for Act 2.9, Scene 1322 only)

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Single Malt Report: Benromach 25 year old (2004)

On Monday, I reviewed Benromach 10 year old 100 proof.
On Tuesday, I reviewed Benromach 1999 Origins batch 2.
Today, I'm reviewing the discontinued Benromach 25 year old release.


Benromach distillery has been mothballed and passed around quite a bit.
  • It was built in 1898 just before the Pattison's disaster took its toll on the industry, but its owners (who also owned the now-forgotten Glen Nevis distillery in Campbeltown) kept the place open.
  • Thirteen years later, it was sold to Harvey McNair.
  • Three years later, it was mothballed.
  • Five years later, it was reopened.
  • Then it was sold to John Joseph Calder...
  • ...who immediately flipped it to a group that called itself Benromach Distillery Limited
  • Twelve years later it was mothballed.
  • Six years later it was reopened.
  • The following year Joseph Hobbs bought the distillery...
  • ...then immediately flipped it to National Distillers (yep, the US folks)
  • Fifteen years later ND sold it to proto-Diageo (DCL/UD).
  • Thirty years later, 1983 (if you're keeping track), it was mothballed again.
  • Ten years later, Gordon & MacPhail bought it.
  • Five years later, it was reopened.
It's been eighteen years since then, and Benromach has not been closed or resold. Thank goodness. The 25 year old single malt I'm reviewing today was bottled by the Gordon & MacPhail ownership, but was distilled and casked by United Distillers. Thank you to Florin (a prince) for this generous sample.


Distillery: Benromach
Ownership: Gordon & MacPhail
Ownership at time of distillation: United Distillers
Region: Speyside (Findhorn)
Age: minimum 25 years
Maturation: refill American oak hogsheads
Bottling year: 2004
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? ???
Caramel Colored? Not much, if any

Its color is a mild yellow gold, which has me thinking there's a minimum of e150a in here. Lovely musty warehouse notes arrive first in the nose. Then caramel, farmy peat and a little bit of roasted malt. Some smaller notes of peaches, yogurt, popcorn and buttery (American) biscuits. It's all quite delicate. The palate is malty, spicy and mildly sweet. Oranges, cinnamon, powdered ginger, cayenne pepper and vanilla extract. It really improves with time. The citrus gets bolder and tarter. There's a nice transition: bitter bite → toffee kiss. The finish is a bit short. There's the musty warehouse and a whiff of smoke. Lemon candy, malt and gingery spice.

A much gentler mammal than this week's other two Benromachs, the 25 year old's rough edges have been mostly trimmed off with time and down proofing. Its peating is very subtle, but there is more oak present than I had expected. It's not particularly complex, but it hits most of its notes well. The finish is the one disappointing part, and I wonder if that's mostly due to it being watered down. Long-aged whiskies don't swim well, and had this batch originally had a mid 50s abv, then a not inconsiderable amount of water would have been applied before bottling. Even though that's just speculation, it's time for you to sing the song with me...Had they bottled this whisky at 46%abv...

Availability - Auctions/secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 84

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Single Malt Report: Benromach 1999 Origins Batch No. 2 (Port Pipes)

If you were left scrambled by yesterday's post, I'll clarify: I'm reviewing a few Benromachs this week. Yesterday was the 10yo 100 proof and tomorrow will be the out of production 25 year old. Today, it's batch 2 of the Benromach Origins series.

The good folks at Gordon & MacPhail decided to do some experimentation with the Benromach single malt once they purchased the distillery. Aside from all the winey "Contrasts" bottlings, they have also done a series of heavily peated and organic whiskies. The Origins are sort of their own range. Each batch represents a little tinkering done to the production process as a way to alter the end result. Batch 1 was distilled from Golden Promise barley and was matured in sherry casks. Batch 2 spent its entire life in port pipes. Batch 3 was from Optic barley. Batch 4 was the next round of port pipes. Batch 5 was the next batch of Golden Promise.

The releases started in 2008 and seemed to have ended in 2013. I hope the experiments haven't ended because Benromach tends to do good work, and it would be great to see them push the envelope a little further. Batch #2 was released in 2010. Thank you to Florin (a prince) for this sample.

Distillery: Benromach
Ownership: Gordon & MacPhail
Range: Origins
Region: Speyside (Findhorn)
Age: either 10 or 11 years old (1999-2010)
Maturation: Port pipes
Peating: 8ppm (I think)
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

Its color is rosy gold. The nose starts off with grape Bubblicious, milk chocolate and tangerines. Beneath those notes lie clay and smoldering hay. Then a raisiny sherry-like note shows up, followed by blackberry jam and cassis. The palate is quite malty and peppery. Tart berries, tawny port, fresh ginger, burnt grains and a growing horseradish bitterness. With time in the glass, it picks up some almonds and dark chocolate. The bitterness gets pretty raw in the finish, though there's plenty of sweet port and raisin residue to provide dimension. There's also some cayenne pepper and "burnt stuff".

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose gets earthier. Some cocoa powder. Blackberry jam, plums, and bread pudding full of raisins. The palate hasn't changed much. The sweetness is a little richer and the bitterness slightly tamer. There's a chocolate-coffee stout note showing up now. The finish is less bitter as well, with more fresh stone fruits and a hint of moss.

While I can't say that all the disparate elements (wine, oak, peat, barley) have fully merged in batch 2 of Benromach's Origins experiments, the whisky is still good and fun. It doesn't come across as heavily produced or tweaked to appeal to every drinker. The bitterness might turn some palates off, but I dig it. The port notes are most appealing in the nose, unless you hate wineskies. Adding water does seem to pull things together a bit and tone down the noise. This has left me interested in the other Origins, so I might pick one of them up if the price is right.

Availability - Not easily found in the US or Europe
Pricing - $70+
Rating - 83

Monday, December 5, 2016

Single Malt Report: Benromach 10 year old 100 proof

Rating - 90
Pricing - $80-$100 in US, about half that price in in Europe (w/o VAT or shipping)
Availability - Easily found at European retailers, a bit scarce in the US

I don't know. All I can say is that this and Springbank's Green 13 year old are my favorite sherried whiskies right now, and they both have the same pricing problem in this country.

I think the regular Benromach 10 year old is tremendously underrated. If you disagree then that doesn't necessarily mean you won't like the 100 proof because it's a different animal. The regular 10yo doesn't have the ultra-sherry wallop the 100 proof hauls with it. I don't understand why the hell it costs $90 (almost twice the price of the 10yo) in the US when it can be had for half that price on the European continent. Maybe the word Imperial is expensive to print here.

And you know what? I love this whisky. I dig it so much I absolve all those assholes who loved this and told us that Bruichladdich Ten was the shit. When I brought my bottle to my final OCSC event it was wiped out almost instantly. So I bought another (from the UK, again).

Okay, I'll cut the crap and conclude this thing. A lot of people raved about Benromach 10 year old 100 proof when it came out last year. And by "came out", I mean it was released in Europe. So I waited for it to get released in the US. And I waited. And waited. And waited. And then it arrived with the name "Imperial Proof" and was price almost twice what it went for in Europe. Plus it only seem to come in to a handful of states. So, I said screw it and bought a bottle from the UK.

I'm sure you've run into this problem. One or more well-known relatively-independent whisky reviewers goes of his/their gourd(s) raving about a Whisky of the Year. I try it and it's......okay. It's better than mediocre, nothing exciting, well made, but nothing of which I'd ever buy a full bottle. Unless I've already bought a bottle based on the recommendation(s), and now I'm none too happy.


The finish leads with rich sherried notes like the old red label Macallan Cask Strength, that are then matched with a heap of peat smoke. There are hints of grape jam and green herbs. It's the sweetest part of the whisky, but that's kept in balance by a lovely earthy aftershock.

The palate is loaded with tar, burnt tobacco, peat ash and dried berries (leaning towards blueberries and currants). Some of that rubber ball note. Malt! Hot chocolate with a sprinkle of cinnamon and cloves. A gorgeous wormwood bitterness ripples underneath.

Big bold sherry and big bold peat in the nose. Leather, iodine and moss. Dried dark cherries, dark chocolate, dark plums. Blue rubber ball. Hints of cassis and a jammy PX.

Its color is dark gold.

(Sample taken from my own bottle)
Colorant added: Doubtful
Chillfiltration: No
Alcohol by Volume: 57%
Maturation: 80% bourbon, 20% sherry, then is married for a year in (first-fill?) oloroso casks
Age: minimum 10 years
Type: Single Malt
Region: Speyside (Findhorn)
Ownership: Gordon & MacPhail
Distillery: Benromach


I'll be reviewing Benromach single malts this week!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: James E. Pepper 1776 Barrel Proof Straight Rye

To begin with, this whiskey has nothing to do with the actual James E. Pepper, nor his old brands, nor the year 1776. It's a two year old MGP-distilled rye bottled by a non-distiller producer. So I'm not going waste your time with another American 'craft' whiskey company's fish tale; I'll just focus on the liquid, which was distilled by the funnest whiskey factory on these shores, The Midwest Grain Products WonderFactory™. The regular Pepper rye, also from MGP, is bottled at 50%abv. They did a smaller batch of "barrel proof" rye and, thankfully, it was priced under $40. Thank you to Florin (a prince) for this sample!

Distiller: Midwest Grain Products
Bottler: James E. Pepper (via Georgetown Trading Co.)
Type: Straight Rye Whiskey
Region: Lawrenceburg, Indiana
Age: 2 years
Mashbill: 95% rye, 5% malted barley
Maturation: New American oak
Alcohol by Volume: 58.6%

There's a lot of pickle juice in the nose which clashes with an aggressively perfume-y floral note. Brown sugar, vanilla and Old Spice aftershave. There's a root beer note that swings toward cream soda after a while. The palate is hot. Hot. And also hot. White, unaged rye. Peppercorns. Brown sugar syrup. Rice pudding. The aforementioned heat starts to turn bitter and acidic on the tongue, soon going metallic and bloody. It does seem to mellow after 30 minutes, though perhaps my tongue is dead. The finish is hot, sweet, metallic and ashy. An undercurrent of paint fumes.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Fewer pickles on the nose, more perfume. Pine needles and orange candies stuck to the carpet. Gives the illusion of smelling more mature because the roughness is watered down. The palate is milder, with some new Brazil nut and earthy/rooty notes. But it's also turning more chemical by the minute. Still bitter. A hint of caramel sweetness in the background. The finish is the same as the palate with the addition of some pickle juice and paint.

I am going to assume the tasters over at J.E.P. found something special in this rye that I did not. Though I am a rabid MGP rye fan, I'm having a difficult time finding something positive to say about this whiskey. Why they didn't give this very very very very young rye a few (or several) more years in oak to let it finish baking, I don't know. At this point it's hot, metallic, chemical and ashy. Again, MGP rye is the easiest whisk(e)y to sell me on, but I doubt I'd ever drink this one again. In fact, this makes me not want to try the regular 100 proof version. (FWIW, I wasn't a big fan of their barrel aged brown ale either.)

Availability - A couple dozen US retailers still have it
Pricing - $35-$40
Rating - 71

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Single Malt Report: Auchroisk 34 year old 1975 Old Malt Cask, cask DL5522

Auchroisk looks like it's pronounced like some you say when you burn your toast, but instead it actually sounds like oh-thrusk, which I hope helps to explain some of my bad Auchroisk jokes strewn about social media this week.

I'm closing up the two-week five-part Auchroisk reviews with the oldest of the batch, a 34 year old from the Laing's Old Malt Cask range. The Man in the White Fedora gave this cask an utterly-hyperbolic review in his 2012 tome. Of course, he reviewed a 50%abv version of this bottling that's never been seen before or since. So if you're looking to buy that one, you may find it on a shelf next to the magical Ardbeg Uigeadail he proclaimed the 2009 Whisky of the Year, a bottling never seen before or since. The actual cask DL5522 was bottled at 47.7%. Thank you to Cobo for this sample!

Distillery: Auchroisk
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Speyside (Central)
Independent Bottler: Douglas Laing
Range: Old Malt Cask
Age: 34 years (April 1975 - September 2009)
Maturation: refill hogshead
Cask numberDL5522
Limited bottling: 228
Alcohol by Volume: 47.7%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

The nose starts off with quite a bit of overripe melon up front, then anise and peppery mint leaves in the back. Lots of grain and little oak, except for a hint of vanilla. Tangerine juice. After 40 minutes, it picks up a plum wine note.  The palate is similar to the nose, but with more toffee. The overripe melon and tropical fruits have moved into the background. There's a tart austere (oh that word) edge to it, as well as a young green note. Was this a 5th refill? After a half hour, citronella candles take over. The short-ish finish has roasted malt, salt and a hint of cocoa. A little bit of lemon, some bitterness. The citronella candles are the loudest.

This one gets brownie points for not being over-oaked, nor trying to please the crowd. The citronella note gets abusive after a while, but that can be avoided by finishing the dram before the 30 minute mark. On the other hand, the nose takes quite a while to lift off. My main gripe with it is the oddly brief finish. Yesterday's 18yo Auchroisk had such a long vibrant finale, that it put this oldie to shame when tried side-by-side. Overall this 34yo is certainly a decent whisky, and I'd be happy to drink it again and again, but it definitely exhibits proof that age and price do not necessarily determine quality.

Availability - Secondary market?
Pricing - was £175 back in 2009, dunno what it goes for now
Rating - 84

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Auchroiskin' all week: Auchroisk 18 year old 1988 Blackadder cask #8954

This is a curious whisky. I'll list what I've observed. Here's the label, from whiskybase:
It has a different design than the usual Blackadder label, though they kept the font in the same family. The whisky was reduced to 46%abv (not the usual Raw-ass Cask approach), but somehow only 105 of these diluted bottles came from a hogshead which doesn't appear to have been split with anyone. And this is the first "Aberdeen Distillers" bottling I've seen. More do exist and they do appear to be a lightweight version of Blackadder bottlings, like a cross between Signatory's "Vintage Collection" and "Unchillfiltered" ranges.

So, it's a diluted Blackadder from a rarely seen (at least in my whisky shopping travels) range from a cask that may have had serious evaporation or leakage or fell victim to a warehouse worker's thirst. But it is Auchroisk and I'm having some Auchroisk luck recently. Thank you Florin, a prince, for this sample.

(UPDATE: Florin may have explained the weird bottle count issue in the comment section below. It seems likely there was at least a second release of this same cask...)

Distillery: Auchroisk
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Speyside (Central)
Independent Bottler: Blackadder
Range: Aberdeen Distillers
Age: 18 years (December 1988 - August 2007)
Maturation: Oak hogshead
Cask number8954
Limited bottling: 105
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

Note: as per the photo above, I tried this alongside the whisky from the next review.

The nose is loaded with orange peel, white gummi bears and tropical fruit candy right up front. An undercurrent of brininess keeps things from getting too wild, but it remains fresh and crisp throughout. With time it picks up more lemons and a hint of overripe melon. The palate is malty, salty and tart. A bit sharp up front, creamy around the edges. Tropical fruit candy, sweet limes, apricots and a hint of oak. It has a nice long finish highlighted by peach, vanilla bean, baked pear, apricot preserves and a slight earthy note.

Damn. Whatever happened to this cask, Blackadder might want to (accidentally?) replicate it. In fact, I liked this more than most of the full-powered Blackadders I've tried. It's right up there with Monday's official 20 year old Auchroisk. So don't be weirded out by anything on the label, in fact pretend you didn't even read my intro.

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 87