...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Single Malt Report: Amrut 100, batch 2

Ah, the Amrut gimmickry.  Though it seems to consume its entire range, in some cases their production choices aren't that unusual.  They have a peated and a non-peated release as well as cask strength versions of both.  That's doesn't seem too nutty.  Amrut Fusion is a blend of whiskies from two different countries, something that's been done by Canadian, Japanese, Scottish, Irish, and American companies.  Intermediate Sherry and Portonova are just whiskies with partial maturation in ex-sherry and ex-port casks, something that's prevalent in scotch.  Kadhambam is sort of a kitchen sink / garbage pail whisky with all sorts of casks involved.  Jim McEwan did the same with his execrable Black Art series and Longrow did so with their (more successful, in my opinion) old CV.  What really works for those Amruts is the resulting whisky.  It tastes good.

And then there is the Amrut 100.  Why is it called '100', you ask?  The whisky was finished in 100 liter virgin oak casks, it is bottled at 100 UK proof (57.1%abv) in 100cL (1 liter) bottles, and each country that carries it gets all of 100 of said glass vessels.  I would have loved to have seen them age it for 100 months as well, but apparently that didn't make it into the Grand Gimmick Budget.  To make matters even better, the General Manager of Amrut "is pretty sure this latest Amrut single malt will be another perfect collectors' item."  Oh geez.  How about we drink it instead?

Distillery: Amrut
Region: Bangalore, India
Age: minimum 3 years
Batch: #2
Maturation: first in ex-bourbon casks, then in 100 liter new oak casks
Limited release: 100 in the US, 600(?) worldwide
Bottle: 38 of 100
Alcohol by Volume: 57.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? ???
Sample obtained via a swap with My Annoying Opinions.  Thanks, MAO!

The nose is very buttery with large notes of caramel, mint extract, and wet cardboard.  It's grassy with hints of lavender and lemon peel.  The smoke is almost buried beneath the oak.  Ethyl.

It has a nice thick mouthfeel.  The hot palate holds notes of vanilla, black pepper, salt, and granulated sugar.  Smaller notes of tropical fruit punch and limes float about.

The finish is a little fruitier than the palate. It's sweet and peppery with a citric tartness. Moderate levels of vanilla and cardboard linger.

WITH WATER (~50%abv)
More smoke and more lavender on the nose.  It's still buttery and full of caramel.  Some pencil shavings and moss as well.

The palate picks up a metallic note and more limes.  Buttery chardonnay with black pepper and Red Hots candies underneath.  A little bit of malt shows through, countered by vanilla and notebook paper.

It finishes floral and peppery with mild cassia cinnamon notes.  Tree bark and pencil shavings in the background.

The oak mellows out in the nose, thank goodness.  All that's left are faint vanilla shadows.  Meanwhile grapefruit, fresh ginger, and menthol characteristics evolve.

Lots of ginger in the palate.  Then cinnamon, vanilla, notebook paper, and a light bitterness.

The finish is mildly sweet with a gingery tingle.

This one didn't do it for me, though it does improve considerably as more water is added.  The cardboard, paper, and butter notes intrude aggressively as the casks themselves sound off much too loud.  Half-sized new oak barrels in Bangalore must be very difficult to manage so I can imagine this was quite an undertaking but the end result isn't for me.  The peat reads best with a little bit of water, but then vanishes with more hydration.  More fruit (or something!) would have been appreciated.

MAO liked this one more than I did.  Sku and Serge also liked a version of the 100, but I think they reviewed the first batch.  I will say that we all agree 100 takes water well.

Okay, I'm burnt out on these multi-maturations.  The next three Amrut reviews will be all single casks.

Availability - Scarce
Pricing - two US stores have it for $170, European stores have it closer to $110
Rating - 79 (with water only, low-to-mid-70s when neat)

Friday, February 26, 2016

Single Malt Report: Amrut Portonova, batch 1

If you're keeping score:
Amrut Intermediate Sherry, batch 4 yesterday
Amrut Portonova, batch 01 today

If the Intermediate Sherry is Amrut's sherry sandwich, then Portonova is their port sandwich.  First the whisky is aged in ex-bourbon casks (and maybe some new oak casks).  Next, after an unspecified length of time, that's dumped into first-fill port pipes.  And then, after an unspecified length of time, that whisky gets dumped back into ex-bourbon casks.  (How about that for cut-and-paste!)  Not much dilution on this one as it's bottled at a booming 62.1%.

This is from Portonova's very first batch.  There have been at least four batches so far.  My Annoying Opinions and I did a pair of sample swaps last year, the contents of which inspired this Amrut series (continuing next week!).

Distillery: Amrut
Region: Bangalore, India
Age: minimum 3 years
Batch: #1
Maturation: First: ex-bourbon or new oak casks; Second: first fill ex-port pipes; Third: ex-bourbon casks
Alcohol by Volume: 62.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? ???

Nose -- Granola with dried blueberries and Big Red gum at the start.  Very grapey and floral, though that's matched by some soil and (maybe?) a hint of peat.  Strawberry maple syrup and dark cherries.  Sometimes it feels like Amrut Fusion + new oak.

Palate -- Plenty hot, but less so than the lower ABV Immediate Sherry from yesterday.  It's like a cask strength port.  Lots of sweet grapes, berries, and apples.  Ah, those chocolate jelly rings that we used to eat during Passover ('cuz they're pareve).  Tart fruit (apples and blackberries) notes develop midground after some time.  A nice herbal, earthy bitterness settles in at the back of the tongue.

Finish -- Dark bitter chocolate.  Earthy and chili pepper spicy.  Some tingly lime notes.  Sugary grapes and raspberry candy (those jelly rings, again?), though it's less sweet than the palate.

WITH WATER (~50%abv)
Nose -- SO MUCH CHOCOLATE: fudge, cocoa, milk chocolate bars; yet it's still very floral (blooms, not perfumes).  Raspberry candy.

Palate -- Much mellower, less sweet, maybe even a tad malty.  More spices from the oak(s).  The berries and grapes remain, but now it's their essence rather than their sugars.  That good earthy bitter note remain as well.

Finish -- Malt, oak tannins, and dry red wine merge into a whole.  It's very earthy, almost peaty again.  Lingering notes of cinnamon and chili powder.

This is excellent.

Okay, maybe I'll write a little more.  Something about this whisky reminds me of the also excellent Ballechin Port Cask Matured single malt.  Actually, if you take that Ballechin and bump it up to cask strength then it would probably be pretty close this one.  This is enormous, rich, and delicious.  And I swear it's a little peaty too.  Highly recommended to those folks who like a little port in their whisky.

This specific batch drew a very positive review from MAO and won a bunch of awards from the Malt Maniacs in 2011.  What I cannot tell you is that the rest of the batches are this good, because I haven't had them, and there will always be batch variation.  That's what keeps me from running out and getting the newest edition.  Also, it's expensive.  But if you can find batch 1 you're in for a big treat.

Availability - This specific batch has probably sold out. The newest batches are available at many specialty retailers in the US and Europe.
Pricing - current batches run $105 to $150(!) in the US, $80-$115 in Europe
Rating - 90

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Single Malt Report: Amrut Intermediate Sherry, batch 4

If you're keeping score:
Amrut Intermediate Sherry, batch 4 today

Amrut Intermediate Sherry is what it sounds like, a sherried whisky sandwich.  First the whisky is aged in ex-bourbon casks (and maybe some new oak casks).  Next, after an unspecified length of time, that's dumped into ex-sherry butts.  And then, after an unspecified length of time, that whisky gets dumped back into ex-bourbon casks.  You get some water with your sherry sandwich, but not much, as they drop the strength to 100 UK proof (or 57.1%abv).

(Commentary starts)
One of the differences between the young Asian distilleries Amrut and Kavalan is Amrut never got into the business of selling four year old single casks for $300+ a pop.  But what they did do was price much of their range and special editions above $100, and did so while rarely stating the whiskies' ages.  To top that off, Blackadder, Amrut's main indie bottler, is now selling their single casks for $150-$200, often without an age statement.  Meanwhile, Kavalan usually reveals their single casks' ages, no matter how much the youth makes us chuckle or cringe.  So, who's being more of a pain in the ass?  You choose.  Though I do like Amrut's whisky better.  BUT because of the pricing, I've never bought anything other than Amrut Fusion and am relying on friends to provide me with samples from their swanky bottles.
(Commentary ends)

This sample came to me courtesy of Aaron Krouse (aka aaron197172 of Boozing Dancing).  Thanks, Aaron!

Distillery: Amrut
Region: Bangalore, India
Age: minimum 3 years
Batch: #04
Maturation: First: ex-bourbon or new oak casks; Second: ex-sherry butts; Third: ex-bourbon casks
Alcohol by Volume: 57.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? ???

We're going to go swimming with this one.

The nose starts off with ethyl and salt.  It needs a few minutes.....then it gets cakey (cinnamon, brown sugar, almond extract, and walnuts).  Smaller notes of vanilla and strawberry candy appear here and there.  It's not as immediately accessible as Kadhambam.

The palate is more pungent, though still hot.  There's baklava, honey, dried apricots, and some new sweet oak.  It gets a little floral after some time in the glass, then picks up a large acidic citrus note.

Sweet and heat in the finish.  Sour candy, molasses, baklava, and maybe a hint of berries.  Sherry hits late in the aftertaste.

It cries out for water.  Let's drop it to Kadhambam/Fusion strength:

WITH WATER (~50%abv)
The nose is still pretty tight.  I get some cinnamon, dates, and golden raisins.  Fruit cake, perhaps?

The palate gets a little scotchier.  Feels like refill sherry casks.  Toasted oak, a dusting of cocoa, and lots of white and red peppercorns.  Very sweet.

The finish is musty and peppery.  Less sweet than the palate.  Some black raisins in there.

Moar water plz:

WITH WATER (~43%abv)
Ah, good nose.  Caramel sauce, fresh apricots and oranges, vanilla, and carob.

The palate is nutty and savory.  Black pepper, nutty sherry, and sugar-covered raisins.

Cinnamon and nutty sherry in the finish.

Maybe just a little more water:

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Mostly citrus and black pepper in the nose.  Smaller notes of American oak, carob, and fresh oregano.

The palate has been silenced.  Quiet notes of sugar, vanilla, black pepper, and bitterness.

Mostly pepper and sugar in the otherwise acidic finish.

This is very hot at full strength, a bit of a palate wrecker actually.  I liked it best at 43%abv where the ethyl dropped away and everything pulled together.  Despite my occasional references to sherry in the notes, the sherry influence was very mild.  I found much more US oak action throughout.

Keep in mind, this whisky will vary from batch to batch.  So all the 20+ batches won't be like this one.  I tried this particular version alongside a little bit of the Kadhambam and found this one suffered a bit in comparison.  Batch 4 isn't bad, in fact it's probably a more cohesive unit (specifically at 43%abv) than the Kadhambam, but it never shifts into the next gear.  And, dang, is it a little raw.

Availability - This specific batch has probably sold out. The newest batches are available at many specialty retailers in the US and Europe
Pricing - current batches run $110 to $135 in the US, $70-$100 in Europe
Rating - 82 (with water!)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Single Malt Report: Amrut Kadhambam, batch 03

The Amrut Assault continues.  Yesterday was Amrut Fusion, batch 29.  Today, it's Amrut Kadhambam, batch 03.

I'm going to tell you ahead of time: this whisky is a hell of a thing.  As I write this, it's been 24 hours since I wrote my tasting notes and I still haven't really gotten my head around it.  Firstly its construction is nutty (or adventurous or silly).  As per the official press release Kadhambam is...
"...the result of Amrut Single Malt Whisky and a small portion of Amrut Peated Single Malt Whisky being initially matured in ex-Oloroso sherry butts. It was then put in ex-Bangalore Blue Brandy casks and matured for a further period. Next it was emptied into ex-rum casks and matured for a further period. Both the brandy and rum casks had previously been used to mature Amrut’s own rum and brandy..."
You follow that?  It's mostly unpeated whisky and a little bit of peated whisky first matured in ex-sherry butts.  Then that whisky gets a second maturation in Indian brandy casks.  And then that stuff gets a third maturation in Indian rum casks.  Murray McDavid, eat your heart out.

Distillery: Amrut
Region: Bangalore, India
Age: minimum 3 years
Batch: #03
Maturation: ex-Oloroso sherry butts, then Indian brandy casks, then Indian rum casks
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? ???
(This sample arrived via sample swap with My Annoying Opinions. Thanks, MAO!)

Its color is darker and redder than Fusion's gold.

So many things going on in the nose.  A combination of tar and aged cheese leads the way, then fades after less than a minute.  It's replaced by dried berries and dried cherries.  Honey and coriander.  Then sherry vinegar and beef stock.  Ten minutes later it shifts gears to hard toffee, a nutty dry Oloroso, and some Jamaican rum funk.

The very rich palate starts off with layers of malt and fresh berries.  There's plenty of hot ethyl still cooking.  Lots of salt and spicy toasted oak notes.  After twenty minutes it all settles down into dark chocolate and blackberries.

The sharp finish is a little drying, musty, and salty.  Sherry residue and grape jam.

Adding a little water...

WITH WATER (~43%abv)
It's almost a different whisky.  The nose is mostly milk chocolate and caramel.  Baked raspberry filling.  A little bit of the dried fruits and coriander.  The palate is really dark chocolatey.  Then figs, sugary rum, and wood smoke.  Milk chocolate, black pepper, and dry sherry in the finish.

A little more water...

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
It noses like a nice sherried scotch (think Macallan 12 from five years ago).  There's some dusty-whisky-style old creaky oak.  Definitely some rye bread underneath.  The palate has fudge, berry syrup, and a nice soft herbal bitter bite.  It finishes with wood spice, toffee, and grape jam.  A decent length considering the ABV.

Here's an attempt to encapsulate the crazy:  The whisky totally appeals at all three of the above strengths.  The sherry butts speak the loudest throughout, while the rum casks provide subtle shading.  I'm not really sure what the brandy casks bring to the conversation, but at least they don't inhibit anything.  The overall character keeps shifting with oxidation and water, thus it never really congeals, but it always pleases.

Sadly, the Kadhambam has gotten difficult to find.  There was a fourth batch released in 2013.  Was there ever a fifth batch?  Will there be one?  If they do bring it back, it would be a fun buy if they kept the price down.  Ha.

Availability - Becoming scarce worldwide
Pricing - it used to run $90-$110 stateside, a few bucks cheaper internationally
Rating - 88

Monday, February 22, 2016

Single Malt Report: Amrut Fusion, Batch 29

The AMRUT ASSAULT begins!  Eight Amruts in two weeks.  And I'm starting with an old (with old meaning "since 2012" in this case) favorite.

I reviewed Amrut Fusion back in April of 2012 -- batch 04 in that instance -- and loved it.  Loved it, Loved it, 90 points, etc.  But in the final section of my report I detailed how the Fusion may have the largest carbon footprint and requires the most petrol of any whisky in existence. I ended the piece saying, "As tremendous as this malt is, I will probably never buy a bottle (mini or otherwise) of it......until container ships are run on happiness."  Well, container ships still run on civilization's black tar heroin, but I bought a bottle anyway.  At least I waited nearly four years.

So, what is Amrut Fusion exactly?  One part unpeated Indian barley and one part peated Scottish barley are mashed and distilled separately, then (like many human beings) are married together in ex-bourbon casks for a short period of time, ultimately getting bottled at 50%.

Note the "short period of time" mentioned twice.  Because of the heat and humidity in Bangalore, the Angels are big ol' drunks, sucking down 10-16% of a cask's contents per year.  But that also means interaction between the oak and spirit is intensified during maturation.  The last I'd checked, Amrut was following SWA's guidelines, so its single malt whiskies are at minimum three years old.  But, again, three years in Bangalore ain't like three years in Aberdeen.

I've had the Fusion on a number of occasions, at tastings or bars, since my review and I've continued to enjoy it every time.  This liquid reviewed in today's post was from my own bottle at just above the halfway mark.  This was one of my Winter Whiskies, though sadly our winter didn't really show up.  El Niño took a pass on Long Beach.

Oddly, the whisky's metal tube says, incorrectly, that it's bottled at 46%abv.
Distillery: Amrut
Region: Distillation - India (Bangalore), Maltings - Scotland and India
Age: minimum 3 years
Batch: #29, March 2015
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? ???

The nose starts out with lots of barley, cinnamon, and ripe banana.  Actually it's not banana, but chirimoya (deep cut!).  With a few minutes of breathing time, a fascinating balance of characteristics develops.  On one level there are notes of white spirits like kirsch, eau de vie, and rye new make.  Then there are the phenols, clove cigarettes and heathery peat.  And then there are the fruit and flower notes like melon, lemon candy, and roses.  Considering the maturation environment, it's surprisingly light on the oak.

The peat is much louder in the palate, smoldering, very rich.  A load of spice, like cloves, cinnamon candy, cigar tobacco, and chili oil, keeps any young sweetness in check.  There's also hard toffee, ripe banana (in a good way), and a tiny bit of cocoa.

The finish is heat and peat forward.  Some spearmint leaves, charred beef, chili oil, hints of young rye, and caramel.  It's never sweet, though it's not terribly long either.

WITH WATER (~43%abv)
The barley is met with a HUGE hit of anise in the nose.  That's followed by dried cherries, wood spice, butterscotch, orange oil, and cinnamon.

The water totally tames the palate, sweetening it up.  It's malty and desserty now.  More cinnamon and vanilla.  Marzipan.  A mellow bitterness meets with a spicy zing.

The finish gets increasingly sweet as well.  Some caramel and a slight bitterness mingles with the peat.

This is very young, but very good.  I prefer it neat, but if you need to sweeten it up then add water, a little at a time.  A lot of elements ping about in the complex nose, and something new seems to show up every time I pour a glass.  And though the palate is less complex, it's focused and rich, my favorite part of the whisky.  The finish is its weakest spot, but it's not terrible, just a little brief and narrow.

The price on this whisky has only gone up only $5-$10 over the past four years (hooray!), though the days of finding it for under $60 in California are over.  But Amrut has kept the good bottling strength and the quality remains high, so one will find more excitement in a bottle of Fusion than many single malt scotches in its price range.

Availability - Many specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - $60 to $80
Rating - 87

Friday, February 19, 2016

Single Malt Report: Glenmorangie Milsean

(I was going to paste The Drudge Siren gif here, but I figured my rant would be obnoxious enough.)

Because I haven't been a fan of any of the releases from the series, Glenmorangie's Private Edition range is a mystery to me.  It comes down to "Why?" and "Whom?"  Why is Bill Lumsden still producing these whiskies?  And for whom is creating them?

I'll start with the Whom?  I know there's still somewhat of an Ardbeg cult out there awaiting Lumsden's annual winey peaty stuff.  But is there anyone still breathlessly checking the calendar, anticipating the next Glenmorangie Private Edition?  Like the Ardbeg special editions, GlenMo's Private Editions rarely eclipse the quality of the cheaper regular range, but unlike the Ardbeg specials the GlenMo Privates don't have much of a presence on the secondary market.  Meanwhile, every single one since Finealta (2010) can still be found on the shelves in Southern California.  (Okay, maybe not Ealanta, but that's due to Jim Murray's enthusiasm.)  At the time of this post, there are a few local retailers that have three or more of the Private Editions side by side at their original prices.  Are there other countries where these things do fly off the shelf?

Then, Why?  I have no doubt that Dr. Bill is awesomely talented.  I think he improved the classic 10 year old; the Astar was great; and the 18 is a good drink.  And on Islay, his team keeps cranking out the solid Ardbeg Ten.  But what's with all the wine, man?

Milsean: re-toasted Portuguese wine cask finish
Taghta: Manzanilla sherry cask finish
A Midwinter Night's Dram (ahem, High West got there first, bruv): Oloroso sherry cask finish
Dornoch: Amontillado cask finish
Duthac: PX sherry casks
Companta: Two kinds of French wine casks
Artein: Super Tuscan wine cask finish
Glenmorangie Pride 1981: Sauternes secondary maturation
Sonnalta: PX sherry finish

And that doesn't include the five wine-finished products in the regular range.  Again, why?  They're far from the only ones doing wineskys.  Most distillers/producers who do release wine-finished whiskies are trying to correct bad casks or are trying to sell young ones.  Is this what GlenMo is up to?  Or are they trying to update their old Wood Finish series?  Their regular single malts have experienced exceptional growth over the past half decade, so could this be an attempt to exploit this popularity by expanding the brand?  Or are wine-influenced whiskies now their Brand, period?  Or is Dr. Bill -- rumored to be a spectacularly profane joke teller (really) -- kinda bored with the Glenmorangie spirit?  I mean, look at this packaging:

When my whisky buddy, Andy, and I picked up a bottle for our whisky event, we started riffing on what the hell this looked like.  I called it French Clown Whisky.  Andy said it looked like something you'd buy at a carnival, along with cotton candy and a corndog.  But then he nailed it, "The box looks like it should be holding my popcorn at a movie theater."

Hard to top that one.  Though to me, the design and font strikes of something Gallic (not Gaelic, despite the name).  And I began to wonder...what kind of French entertainment would this be like...?  Would it be a light fluffy lark like the works of Sartre and Noé?  Or would it be soul-destroying nihilism like Maurice Chevalier?  I shuddered at the thought.

Distillery: Glenmorangie
Ownership: Louis Vuitton Moet-Hennessy (accents and umlauts not included)
Range: Private Edition
Age: no age statement
Maturation: ??? years in ex-bourbon casks, then 2+ years in re-toasted Portuguese wine casks
Region: Highlands (Northern)
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Limited release: 5,000 cases
Chill-filtered? No.
Colored? ???

Its color is a slightly peachy gold.  I'm assuming that's the Portuguese casks at work.

The nose indeed achieves the candy shop effect Lumsden was aiming for.  Orange brandy and cherry bubblegum.  A big white chocolate note reminds me of Brenne's single malt.  Give Milsean 15 minutes to breathe and you may find notes of circus peanuts and violets.

The palate is very sweet with some ethyl heat.  Lots of bubblegum and raspberry Schweppes.  Lime lollipops.  After that breathing time, a big note of vanilla marshmallows develops in the midground.

The cloying finish starts out all Cherry Sudafed and sugar-free (read: aspartame-loaded) raspberry popsicles.  Gradually it picks up some vanilla and a spicy buzz.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Most of the fruity sweets wash out of the nose, leaving some oaky whisky.  Big vanilla, caramel, and toffee notes take over.  Some mint extract in the back.

The palate picks up a big bitterness, beneath which vanilla and confectioner's sugar lies.  I'm just going to list my notes as I wrote them: "really bitter, wow, woody and cardboardy papery".

The finish is all bitter marshmallows, if that were a thing.

Well, since Lumsden was aiming for a sweet shop, he succeeded. This is sort of a flavored-whisky without any added flavoring.  But does the market really need another sweet whisky?  Both Forbes and Serge Valentin (what a team!) say this whisky is for bourbon folks.  I'd say it's for people who drink Mountain Dew Code Red for breakfast.  If there's a Venn diagram of those two demographics, then this whisky is sure to please the crowd where the circles overlap.

But it's not for me.  I will say that the nose is very pretty and sort of lifts expectations.  And there are no big flaws in the palate, when neat.  But the finish proves too sweet for my teeth.  In the Forbes writeup, Lumsden suggests one "add a few splashes of water".  I found adding water knocks it totally out of whack.

Personally this is not a whisky I'd choose to drink again and most of the people who drank it at last night's OC Scotch Club event feel the same.  Once again, I'd take the 10 year old over this Private Edition.  But for the sweet teeth out there, you may find this one tickles your cavities.

Availability - Most specialty liquor retailers, as of the date of this post
Pricing - $90 to $120
Rating - 79  (this may appeal more to those seeking only sweet whiskies)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Compass Box Blended Malt Triple Taste Off: Oak Cross, Spice Tree, and Peat Monster

Finally, our third set of three CBs.  This time it's their three main regular range blended (or vatted) malts: Oak Cross, Spice Tree, and Peat Monster.  I've reviewed each of these before, but this time these samples were poured by me, rather than purchased from a retailer.  Plus these were all bottled in 2014.

Company: Compass Box
Type: Blended Malt
Distilleries: approximately 60% Clynelish, 20% Dailuane, and 20% Teaninch
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No

Company: Compass Box
Type: Blended Malt
Distilleries: approximately 60% Clynelish, 20% Dailuane, and 20% Teaninch
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No

Company: Compass Box
Type: Blended Malt
Distilleries: Ardmore, Laphroaig (current batch), Ledaig (current batch), Caol Ila (past batches)
Age: ???
Maturation: Fact sheet says just refill American oak, Tasting video says "30% first fill American oak, 70% refill American oak", so it might change from batch to batch
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No

The Spice Tree sample came from my own bottle, gifted to me by my lovely wife.  The Oak Cross and Peat Monster samples were from two different OCSC events.  Because I know Spice Tree pretty well and Peat Monster is much different than the other two this Taste Off was not done blindly.


Its color is a yellow amber.  The nose is big on flowers and fruit.  There's lemon, banana bread, peach schnapps, fresh apricots, orange marmalade, and floral teas.  There are also smaller notes of vanilla and pencil shavings.  When it comes to the palate, the bad news is that the mouthfeel is thin and there's little development.  Caramel and butter cookies balance with some bitter citrus and black pepper.  Vanilla, notebook paper, and a soft citric sweetness lingers in the background.  A little bit of spirity heat stays throughout.  The finish gets sweeter, focuses on vanilla and caramel.  Meanwhile some burnt oak and bitterness runs through the middle.

Comments: This one feels like it's lost something over the years.  It has a very good nose but a flat palate.  The finish does even less for me.  I wish some of the nose's fruits showed up on the palate and that the finish did something.  Maybe it needs the extra three points of ABV.  Maybe it needs more age.  Maybe it needs more Clynelish.  Not a bad whisky, but it no longer can keep up with...

This one has the darkest color, a medium gold.  LOTS of spice (obvs) in the nose, much of it is probably from the French oak, but it's sometimes reminiscent of American rye whiskey.  Other major notes: Spice cake, butterscotch candy, cocoa, fresh tobacco, and tapioca pudding.  With some breathing time, the whisky develops notes of salty beach air and lychee candy (Kasugai).  That spice cake shows up in the palate as well with notes of cloves, nutmeg, and (non-cassia) cinnamon.  There are limes and oranges, fruity shisha, dried apricots, toffee pudding, and a little bit of soil.  It finishes with rich vanilla ice cream topped with caramel sauce.  Oh, and butterscotch and toffee.  Cloves in the back along with a hint of cantaloupe.

Comments: I love this stuff.  My wife, who prefers American whiskey over Scotch, likes Spice Tree as well.  At times it seems to be the Scottish cousin of straight rye whiskey.  In any case, it's the one regular Compass Box whisky that consistently nails the nose, palate, and finish.  And man, does it stick the finish.

Very very pale in color, which is always appreciated here.  A surprising amount of oak spice on the nose in this one.  Perhaps there were some active US oak barrels in the mix?  The peat registers at a low rumble, kind of like a sugary Laphroaig.  There's some burnt beef and a hint of manure.  Caramel and whole wheat toast.  After 20ish minutes in the glass it finds a rotting beachside seaweed note and some dried herbs.  The palate is REALLY vegetal in its first few moments.  Then horseradish and cigarettes.  Cinnamon candy.  Somehow rooty, sweet, and tangy at the same time.  A peppery tingle throughout.  After those 20ish minutes in the glass, the whisky starts to get mossier and bitterer.  The decent length finish has a lot of salt and beach notes.  Some sage, moss, burnt bark, and black pepper.  It gets sweeter and sweeter with time.

Comments: Ye olde peat cow seems to get bolder every time I try it.  It's no longer as politely peaty as it use to be.  There's an edge to it now, something appreciated by some more than others.  Maybe there's more Ledaig in the mix.  Or maybe they're using younger whisky.  There's some young(?) sugariness to it that doesn't really dance so well with the other parts, keeping it from fully congealing.

These were all better than yesterday's blends, thank goodness, and at least two of them sorta earn their price.  I keep getting the feeling that the Oak Cross and Peat Monster (and Asyla) are using younger ingredients than they used to.  Perhaps that was inevitable, as Compass Box's popularity might eventually put a squeeze on their own stocks.  It doesn't hurt Peat Monster too much, but Oak Cross feels like it's fallen a step over the past couple of years.  It has gotten thin and plain, as if it has been filtered or bottled at 40% ABV.  Meanwhile, Spice Tree remains one of the best blended malts on the market, and it's a Scotch I feel confident in recommending to rye and high-rye-bourbon fans.  It has also held its price -- never moving more than $5 in its national average -- over the past five years, something I certainly treasure.

Availability - Most specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - $40 to $60
Rating - 82

Availability - Most specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - $55 to $75
Rating - 89

Availability - Most specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - $45 to $70
Rating - 85

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Compass Box Blended Whisky Blind Triple Taste Off!

A lot of info to get through here, so I'll cut the usual schtick and get right to the candidates (all bottled in 2014):

Company: Compass Box
Type: Blended Whisky
Contents: 50% Malt Whisky (Teaninich and Glen Elgin) and 50% Grain Whisky (Cameron Bridge)
Age: ???
Maturation: first fill ex-bourbon casks
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
Official product fact sheet PDF

Company: Compass Box
Type: Blended Whisky
Contents: 54% Malt Whisky (of which is 52% "Northern Highland (malty/fruity)", 31% "Northern Highland (grassy/perfumy), 17% "Speyside (meaty)") and 46% Grain Whisky ("Lowland")
Age: ???
Maturation: 66% first fill ex-bourbon casks, 26% New French oak "finish", 8% first fill ex-sherry butt
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
Official product fact sheet PDF

Company: Compass Box
Type: Blended Whisky
Contents: 67% Malt Whisky (numerous distilleries, amongst which Laphroaig, Clynelish, and maybe Dailuaine are included) and 33% Grain Whisky (Cameron Bridge)
Age: ???
Maturation: "A combination of first-fill Sherry casks, first-fill and refill ex-Bourbon barrels and a small portion of new French oak finishing."
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
Official product fact sheet PDF

All three samples were purchased at an OC Scotch Club event.

Awesome picture and great spelling, dude.
Thirty milliliters of each whisky poured its own Glencairn glass were arranged so that I did not know which was which.  So I numbered them 1 and 2 and 3.  First I tasted them neat, then added 1mL of water to each whisky at their halfway points.  Once the tasting was complete, I ranked each, graded them, and guessed which was which.  Two genuine surprises resulted......


The nose begins with Band-aids, lemon peel, and salty broth.  It's slightly herbal and has a bite of young rubbery peat.  Smaller notes of oats, sweat, and dog fur appear here and there.  The palate is very grassy with young herbally peat up front.  Ginger and dried oregano in the midground.  Bitter oak and pencil lead in the background.  It finishes mossy and gingery.  Mesquite smoke, vanilla, and an oaky bitterness develop after a few moments.

With water:
More rubbery peat in the nose now.  More vanilla too, followed by hints of dried cherries and dried apricots.  The palate gets mossier, though it loses the lead note.  A slight stone fruitiness mingles well with a good soft bitterness.  Large notes of vanilla and brown sugar.  The bitterness improves in the finish as well, meeting up with vanilla and extinguished cigarettes.

By far the best nose of the three, whether neat or hydrated.  Though at the same time, it has the weakest roughest palate and a finish I didn't care for.  It shouts youth and maybe even some cask issues at times.  It fact it was comparable to the $20 Shieldaig Highland single malt I reviewed last year.  That doesn't bode well for a $40+ whisky.  The good nose can't totally save it.  GRADE: 79

The nose is very mild, sometimes almost silent.  There are subtle notes of fresh peach, apricot, and cucumber.  Then there's toasted barley, vanilla, caramel, and American oak char.  It's really grassy.  The palate has the big grass note, though here it's dried clippings.  Vanilla, caramel, pepper, and mocha are in the midground.  A whiff of smoke meets a lot of fresh ginger.  It finishes simple and spirity.  Mostly pepper, salt, and ginger.  Maybe a little bit of caramel.

With water:
The nose is still super grassy, but now there are bigger fruit notes.  Bartlett pears and an orange creamsicle.  More grass in the palate.  Some dried herbs.  A hint of cardboard and some green woody bitterness.  The finish is mostly wood spice and bitterness, then grass and paper.

This had the weakest nose of the three, though it did improve when the water was added.  Meanwhile the halfway decent palate totally collapsed when watered.  The finish was so-so, but again didn't react well to the water.  Overall it was the most disappointing of the three.  I can see how it makes for an okay unchallenging neat sipper, but with it falling apart when hydrated I wouldn't have much confidence when it's hit with ice or club soda.  GRADE: 77

The nose has some sharp mineral notes which for some reason remind me of young Clynelish.  Small pine needle and bubblegum notes meet larger notes of roses, orange, and pear.  After 15-20 minutes in the glass, it fades into caramel and toasted almonds.  The fizzy palate is loaded with toffee.  There's some vanilla, whipped cream, and definitely some malt.  A hint of cardboard.  This has the best mouthfeel of the three whiskies.  It finishes fizzy like a ginger beer.  Then wood spice and vanilla.

With water:
The caramel and toasted almonds remain in the nose.  It's more sugary now and picks up some cardamom.  The palate simplifies into vanilla, sugar, caramel candy, and ginger powder.  Rock candy, vanilla, and black pepper in the finish.

The nose ultimately ranked between the other two, but I probably would have it in first had it not nearly vanished after airing out.  This had the best palate, and really the great mouthfeel alone put it ahead of the others.  But then the finish was just so-so, again.  Water narrows it down rather than opening it up.  GRADE: 81

NOSE (best to worst) - 1, 3, 2
PALATE - 3, 2, 1
FINISH - 2, 3, 1 (but I didn't really like any of them)

#1 - Great King Street Glasgow Blend (79)
#2 - Asyla (77)
#3 - Great King Street Artist's Blend (81)

#1 - Great King Street Glasgow Blend
#2 - Asyla
#3 - Great King Street Artist's Blend

So, there's the first surprise.  I guessed them all correctly.  But that wasn't due to expertise.  I knew the Glasgow Blend would be the peatiest, thus #1 was a dead giveaway.  Then I just had to guess between #2 and #3.  I've had the Artist's Blend a few times, and #3's palate seemed familiar so I placed it there.  It was a 50/50 shot and I got lucky.

Second surprise?  I was underwhelmed by all of three whiskies.  I've been a big Compass Box fan ever since I first tried their stuff three years ago so I take no pleasure in writing any of this.  But I found these three whiskies to be, frankly, boring.  They all feel quite young and the charms of Asyla totally escape me.  If you're looking for whisky to sip and forget, I suppose these are all fine, but most major 12 year old blends will serve those needs better at a lower price.

This was a disappointing Taste Off.  Let's see if the next one goes better.

Availability - Most specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - $40 to $60
Rating - 77

Availability - Most specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - $35 to $55
Rating - 81

Availability - Scarcer than the Artist's Blend, but still sold at many specialty liquor stores
Pricing - $35 to $55
Rating - 79

Monday, February 15, 2016

Notes from a Tasting: Original US editions of Compass Box Asyla, Eleuthera, and Peat Monster

There will be a lot of Compass Box reviews belching forth from this site over the next few days.  One disclaimer: there will NOT be a review of either Not a Luxury Whisky nor Flaming Heart 15th Anniversary included amongst these posts.  I'm focusing on the regular range, stuff that's more affordable.  I haven't tried the Luxury thing, but I did have a couple sips of the new Flaming Heart.  It's good but I have a difficult time reconciling its $130 price tag.  If I can source good samples of any of their special releases I will certainly review them.

Let's start off with a little warmup.  Back in October I unearthed my samples (purchased from Southern California Whiskey Club) of the original US editions of Asyla, Eleuthera, and Peat Monster.  I tried them side by side in the order I list them below, comparing and contrasting.  They were small samples (about 15mL) so I'm going to give them letter grade range below, rather than an exact number grade.

COMPASS BOX ASYLA blended whisky, 40%abv
Nose - First there are the fruits lemons, limes, and peaches.  Then some toffee and salty air.  Lots of dried herbs too.  Some shortbread cookies show up after some air.

Palate - Very soft and mellow.  Mild sweetness, vanilla, a little bit of flower blossoms.  Lots of first-fill-ex-bourbon oak.  Some sharper young stuff underneath.

Finish - Sweet.  Think brown sugar, vanilla, and orange oil.

Comments: Very nice nose, somewhat forgettable palate.  Probably could have used the 46%abv at which they bottle their vatted malts.  I have doubts that the components reached their 10th birthday.  In any case, it's not bad stuff, it's fine.  There's just not much motivation to pay $45-$50 for it.  Grade range: C+/B-

COMPASS BOX ELEUTHERA blended malt, 46%abv
Nose - Starts off with a big ol' Band-Aid note, followed by peat moss and a little bit of seaweed.  Some moderate notes of vanilla and orange zest too.

Palate - Gentle warm peating.  Limes and oranges and marzipan and "hint of horse shit".  Don't ask me, I just work here.  It starts out lightly peppery but gets progressively more peppery with time.

Finish - Peppery again here.  Some toasty oak and light citrus.  Much longer than the Asyla's finish.

Comments: I reviewed this blend of 15yo Clynelish and 12yo Caol Ila almost three years ago when it was still kinda available.  Though my notes are a little different I generally agree about the quality and the blending skill.  This really seems like a single malt.  Grade range: B

COMPASS BOX PEAT MONSTER blended malt, 46%abv
Nose - Very leafy.  Fresh herbs.  A bit of American oak, but not much.  Cinnamon, molasses, and vanilla bean.  Tart apples, sort of like cider vinegar without the stank.

Palate - A peating level that won't offend.  Mellow smoke, a little bit of tar and concrete.  Lots of  sugars, along with cocoa and mint.

Finish - Brown sugar, vanilla, and a little bit of moss.  A good long salty finale.

Comments: I think I've tried every version of The Peat Monster, but it's never shown to be a monster.  They're all cuddly peat cows.  These early batches were more herbal than smoky or mossy.  The most recent batches, like the one I reviewed 16 months ago, are getting better, louder, and fuller.  Perhaps there will be another review this week.  Grade Range: B-/B

Okay, a good start.  Tomorrow, a blind Taste Off......

Friday, February 12, 2016

Valentine's Whisky Report: VAT 69 Gold blended whisky (bottled in 1980)

This one is for all you lovers out there.

No word really conjures the beauty of a beverage like "VAT".  Forget Value Added Tax and the Joker falling into a vat of acid.  VAT rhymes with tender words like rat and plutocrat and scat and shat.  And hey, this isn't even a vatted malt.  It's just a cheap high-grain blend.  A cheap high-grain blend that single-handedly destroyed Shackleton's Antarctic voyage in 1915.  Okay maybe not single-handedly.

VAT 69 has been loved by such romantic fictional individuals like Jack Torrance from The Shining, the murdered manwhore Chris Laverly of The Lady in the Lake, and Sergeant Deadhead.

"Hey baby, when things get cold,
nothing helps out a Trans-Antarctic Expedition
like a little VAT 69."
There is a story behind the name and it's très chaud.  When wine and spirits producer William Sanderson was creating his own blend in 1882 he sent 100 different samples to independent judges.  The judges unanimously selected sample 69, but not because it was the best one, but rather they were hammered and couldn't stop giggling about 69.

And that's it for your history lesson today.

The whisky (Gold Label edition!) being reviewed here was discovered by this intrepid blogger who spent two years bravely rescuing the shittiest whiskies from their Long Beach liquor mart prisons.  The guards asked for only $12.99 to free it.

Brand: VAT 69
Ownership at the time: William Sanderson & Sons Ltd. (owned by DCL)
Current ownership: Diageo
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: minimum 3 years
Alcohol by Volume: 43% (or 86 US proof)
Bottled: 1980

Its color is light golden, as the label says.

The nose has a thick frosting of old bottle blend stank that one just needs to wait out in order to get underneath.  Once there, it gets very nice.  There are vanillas and caramels, with little strawberry and raspberry candy notes.  Orange blossoms, dried grains, and candy canes.  After a while it becomes all flowers and fudge.

Quite some pruney sherry in the palate.  There's a little bit of the stank, then a spicy zing and some citric acidity.  There are mothballs and bland caramel, but also some dark chocolate.  A big barley note lurks beneath.

A lot of the old school pruney sherry in the finish.  Then a menthol glow meets a cinnamon sting.  Not much there there but it lingers longer than expected.


VAT 69 is mostly butt.

*drops the mic*

*stumbles and falls offstage*



No, that was my original commentary, written before I opened the bottle.  VAT 69 is not mostly butt.  The nose is really nice, actually, once it's aired out.  A little bit weird in the mouth at times, but still wholly consumable.  It takes a while to finish, which sometimes is good, sometimes not.

But the bottle is haunted by The Genie's Fart, a phenomenon I've experienced with every dusty blend I've bought from Long Beach shops.  As soon as the bottle is opened, a fetid rotten vegetable odor puffs out.  Once freed, it usually never returns.  Sometimes it penetrates the liquid itself, like with the '72 Haig I reviewed last year at this time.  Here, it does so more gently than that Haig, still lingering in the nose.  Thus you may experience a little toot in the face if you rush into things.  So for God's sakes, people, take your time.  These things are only as filthy as you want them to be.

Availability - 
Happy Hunting?

Pricing - snuggled up at $12.99
Rating - 79

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Single Malt Report: Balvenie Tun 1509 batch 2

The last of the Balvenie Bye-Bye series is one of the Tuns.  When I first scheduled this series a couple months ago, I had thought the Tun 1509s were gone from the US.  Upon arrival they'd instantly vaporized in California, with the only lingering bottles now selling in the $500-$600 range (by retailers intending to battle the secondary market I suppose).  To me, when a whisky reaches that point it's as good as gone.  But then I noticed last week that Tun 1509 is still available in a number of saner states, often selling near its original $300 price.  In fact, winesearcher shows that the average US price for Batch 1 has dropped since its October 2014 release, from $400 to $361.  And if one were to ignore the California opportunists, the average price would drop below $350.  What a bargain!
Anyway, if you don't know the story behind the Tun 1509s, here it goes.  Once upon a time there were nine batches of Balvenie Tun 1401, the supreme example used without irony by industry apologists to try to prove non-age-statement (NAS) whiskies were good.  (Part of the reason the Tun 1401s were "good" was because all of the casks in the mix were over 25 years old, with many being well over 30 years old; meanwhile the vast majority of NAS whiskies are closer to 5 years old.)  A couple years ago, Balvenie stopped putting casks to marry in Tun 1401 and built a larger tun, #1509.  With a larger tun, the new batches would be four times the size of the 1401 batches.  Cheaper casks too, with a lower ratio of ex-sherry butts.  And since we didn't actually know the age of the casks in the mix, the more cynical of us started to wonder if the whisky was also younger than the 1401s.  This feeling was then backed up by reviews on reddit, whiskyfun, and whiskynotes.  So what's the tally here?  More bottles per batch, made from cheaper casks holding likely younger whisky, and a higher MSRP.  If this surprises you, then you must be new to scotch whisky.

I was a very big fan of the Tun 1401 series.  To me, they were blending masterpieces.  Though I was able to try four of the batches, I was never able to purchase a bottle for myself.  And that's a bummer.  But you know what?  It's just whisky, man.  Tun Money can buy a lot of things.

For an OC Scotch Club event, we were able to obtain a bottle of the second batch of Tun 1509 for $300ish.  It turned out to be very popular, surprise surprise.  Luckily I was able to pour a sample for myself before the bottle was emptied.  Let's see how it do.

Distillery: Balvenie
Ownership: William Grant & Sons
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Type: Single Malt
Age: damfino
Maturation: "23 American oak hogsheads and barrels + 7 European oak sherry butts + 2 sherry hogsheads"
Alcohol by Volume: 50.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? Hopefully not

The nose starts off with fresh fruit, think peaches and apricots. Dark berry syrup and orange oil. Then it's reminiscent of the excellent apricot rugelach my wife made in December. Sugar cookies, a smoked vanilla bean, and creme brûlée. Then lychee black tea, a hint of aloe, and a little bit of grapey sherry.

Right off the bat, the palate is quieter and narrower than the nose, mostly toasted grains and toasted oak.  With 20+ minutes it develops lots of tiny notes of berries and stone fruit, then bigger notes of almond torte and honey.  A mild sweetness rests in the middle, with a mild spicy undertow.

The almond torte turns into a berry fruit tart in the finish. Then a note somewhere between vanilla ice cream and creme brûlée.  Honey, soft tingly baking spices, and a slight oversteeped bitter tea note.

WITH WATER (~42-43%abv)
The nose becomes hushed.  Creamy and sugary, a hint of florals.  Vanilla, almond extract, and lime juice.

The palate leads with aromatic wood spices, vanilla, and caramel. You know, wood stuff. Then smaller notes of malt, toffee, and floral honey.

The wood spice and malt sit further apart in the finish, along with vanilla and floral honey.

A good, sometimes very good whisky. Best on the nose, and best when served neatly. The oak is always present, but doesn't get loud until the finish.

I'm giving it a good score below, as you can see, but I feel so unenthusiastic about this whisky because of its predecessors. The fact that I even thought to add water to it was a bad sign, as I had never thought to hydrate a 1401. But I'll push aside history here and try to quantify things.

Balvenie Tun 1509 batch 2 is a half step better than the Doublewood 17yo, which itself is a half step better than the Doublewood 12yo.  Or with approximate grades and national prices:
Balvenie Doublewood 12yo: B-/B -- $58
Balvenie Doublewood 17yo: B -- $148
Balvenie Tun 1509 batch 2: B/B+ -- $390

Ignoring the price, I can say this is good, sometimes very good whisky.  And ignoring its older siblings, I can say this is good, sometimes very good whisky.  But I can't ignore those things.  As a short term financial decision, I'd say this was a success.  But as far as the product goes, I don't see this as a step forward for Balvenie.

Availability - It can be found, just not on the West Coast. Look East.
Pricing - anywhere from $350 to $600
Rating - 88

Monday, February 8, 2016

Single Malt Report: Balvenie 15 year old Single Barrel (ex-bourbon, #11161)

Each successive one of these Balvenie Bye-Byes was removed from the range more recently that the one before.  And each is older than the previous.  Today's will look more familiar than the others to many scotch fans.
Actual bottle reviewed!
But wait, you say, the 15 year old Single Sherry Cask is on the shelves everywhere.  And, yes, I say, this the 15 year old Single Barrel when it was pulled only from former bourbon casks.  In 2014 (give or take a couple months), this expression (I'm not a fan of that word) was replaced by two(!) other expressions: the 12 year old Single First Fill Bourbon Barrel and the 15 year old Single Sherry Barrel.  The 12yo entered the market at the same price point as the old 15yo, and the new 15yo Sherry was $20-$30 more expensive.

I have to say I've always appreciated this Single Barrel series.  It's a little nerdier than most official single malt bottlings.  There's actual information on the label, each barrel is different, some are occasionally older than 15 years, and the ABV is higher than most OBs.  The current 12yo, 15yo Sherry, and 25yo Single Barrel releases are still cool in theory, it's their prices that keep me away.

This past November, I found this particular bottle selling near its original 2013 price.  So I scooped it up for an OC Scotch Club event, the same event which had the a'bunadh #50.  They're cool events, you should go to them.  There were two other bottles of this Single Barrel on the shelf, but I left them for others.  And they vanished before the next month.  Here's my review from the bottle:

Distillery: Balvenie
Ownership: William Grant & Sons
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Type: Single Malt
Age: 15 years (September 23, 1997 to February 13, 2013)
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrel
Alcohol by Volume: 47.8%
Barrel #: 11161
Bottle #: 103
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? Not much if any

The nose is straightforward: oats, barley, lemons, and tangerines.  Smaller notes of fennel seeds, soil, roses, and raspberries appear here and there.

The palate is richly malty.  Ovaltine, milk chocolate, and hard toffee.  Then citrus peels and toasted marshmallows.  It's almost smoky at times and has a little bit of a buzzy chili pepper heat.

The decent length finish has that milk chocolate note and little bit of the toasted marshmallow.  But its biggest note is citrus tanginess (think lemons and limes).  Some rose petals and black pepper too.

Let's see what happens when it's dropped down to Balvenie's usual ABV...

WITH WATER (~43%abv)
The grains remain in the nose and most of the fruit departs.  It gets a little fudgier, like vanilla fudge.  There's some ultra minerally white wine and a hint of grapefruit.

The palate still has the Ovaltine and toffee, but the whole thing feels jumbled, like a deck of cards that's been mushed together, some cards face up, some down, some bent in half.  It's a little bit drying, some salt in the back, some heat.  Maybe some limes.

Limes, malt, black pepper, and a sudden bitterness show up in the finish.

With the oak playing a quiet supporting role, the malt really gets a chance to shine here.  Like most Balvenies this whisky isn't complex, it's just a very good drink.  The nose has more character than the palate and the finish is very pleasant.  I recommend this one be served neatly, since water seems to muddle the best parts.  The more added, the bigger the mess.  The higher ABV serves it well.

As part of the joys and frustrations with single barrel releases, different barrels will have different characteristics and qualities -- see my other Balvenie 15yo SB reviews here and here.  I do think that most of their 15yo ex-bourbon Single Barrels will tend to fall in the 80s scores or B grades, so if you do find one of these former SBs you'll have to gauge whether you're willing to pay the asking price (see below) for that level of whisky.

Availability - Some bottles are lingering on the shelves at random retailers
Pricing - anywhere from $85 to $135
Rating - 87 (neat only)

Friday, February 5, 2016

Single Malt Report: Balvenie 12 year old Signature (Batch #5, 40%abv edition)

On Wednesday I reported on Balvenie's late 10 year old Founder's Reserve.  Today, I'm reviewing Founder's's replacement, the 12 year old Signature.

Like Founder's (and unlike Doublewood), Signature was a blend of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casksm but it's NOT an ex-sherry finished product.  It came into the market in 2008 as Founder's was being phased out.  In 2012, the Signature was then phased out entirely.  Perhaps it was due to an aged stock shortage (2011 was a big year in volume sales for the industry) or the distillery wanted to prevent confusion between their two 12 year old whiskies.  In any case, out it went, never to be replaced by another married-rather-than-finished product.

On a side note, Balvenie's official site has an "Archive" page devoted to their former whiskies.  You'll recognize many of those products.  There's a Founder's Reserve page in there too.  But there is, conspicuously, no listing of the Signature.  This is especially weird because I remember their "Our Range" page listing the Signature even after it had been phased out.  You may start your conspiracy theories......now.

Today's sample was purchased from Master of Malt in the spring of 2013, thus it's the UK's 40%abv edition.

Distillery: Balvenie
Ownership: William Grant & Sons
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Type: Single Malt
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, married
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Bottling year: 2011
Chillfiltered? Likely
Color added? Probably a little bit
Note: I tasted the Founder's Reserve and Signature side-by-side.

The Signature's color is noticeably darker than the Reserve's.  More age?  More sherry casks?  More e150a?

Lots of toasted grains arrive first in the nose.  Then caramel, strawberry candy, and salty seaweed.  There's cat fur (though that note has been questioned before), orange oil, and saltines.  After 20 minutes, a youthful cinnamon bark note shows up, and maybe some furniture polish.

Some surprising thickness to the palate, considering its ABV.  It's all honey, caramel sauce, and vanilla at first.  With air, the caramel sauce becomes toffee pudding.  Then there's toasted marshmallow and hints of circus peanuts and zesty oak spice.

That oak spice stays through the finish.  Vanilla, malt, and small moments of toffee and circus peanuts.  A decent length to it all.

The Signature felt bolder and fuller than the Founder's Reserve at times, but perhaps that's because more oak pokes through.  It feels a little heavier, despite the lower ABV.  But at the same time, this 12yo had more young notes than the 10yo.  I still liked it a lot, and at 43% it probably could be as good or better than the Doublewood.  It's yet another very nice drink from Mr. Stewart's lab.  Goodness, I remember when Founder's Reserve, Signature, and Doublewood could all still be found on LA's shelves in early 2011 for $45 or less.  Now we just have Doublewood pushing $60.

Availability - Secondary market, or perhaps on a lucky dusty hunt
Pricing - ???
Rating - 84 (the 43%abv edition may be a few points higher)