...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Single Malt Report: Springbank 16 year old 1991 Rum Wood

I'm a little surprised and disappointed by my experiences with the first two rum cask Springbanks I've tried.  Grade-wise, the first one was a low C and the second was a borderline C+/B-.  Those aren't whisky fails, but come on, this is Springbank.  My expectations are higher.  Perhaps they're too high since I'll be enjoying the excellent Springbank 12yo Calvados Wood alongside all three of the whiskies I'm reviewing this week.  Perhaps (perhaps!) what's needed is a secondary maturation approach (not a finish), like the Calvados Wood.  Then how about a 16 year old Rum Wood?  Eight years in ex-bourbon barrels, then eight years in "fresh Rum" barrels...

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Owner: Springbank Distillers Ltd.
Region: Campbeltown
Type: Single Malt
Age: 16 years (June 1991 - August 2007)
Maturation: refill bourbon barrels for the first 8 years, "fresh Rum" casks for the other 8
Alcohol by Volume: 54.2%
Limited Bottling: 5,100 bottles
(From a purchased sample)

The color is a light yellow gold, paler than Monday's 9yo.

The nose leads with peaches, clementines, and flower blossoms, which is a surprise after my experiences with the other two ex-rum Springbanks.  Toasted grains in the background and wee hints of brown sugar and vanilla.  Pie crust.  After 20 minutes, a bright madeira note develops.

A bit of heat on the palate.  Lots of limes and lemons.  The peat reads more roasted than smoky.  A combination of vanilla extract and tapioca pudding.  The sweetness increases with time.  Eventually notes of roses and peaches appear.

Vanilla ice cream leads off the finish.  Tart limes and lemons, that drift a bit acidic at times.  Sweet rum and a peppery heat.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose gets even fruitier, like Balblair fruity, picking up some honeydew notes.  Demerara rum around the edges.  Cow Tales candy.  Milder floral notes.

Melon, peaches, and watermelon Jolly Ranchers candy in the palate.  Hints of vanilla and toffee.  As per these notes, it gets more desserty.

The shorter, though similar, finish has louder sweeter fruit and a bit of toffee.

Whew.  A good ex-rum Springbank that works well with or without water.  I like the strong fruit notes, and can definitely appreciate the light rum touch.  The peat is barely there, so sometimes this reads a little more Highland/Speyside than Campbeltown.  It doesn't hold a candle to the Calvados Wood, but it's still a solid B-grade whisky.  It would be nice if Springbank gives this rum cask maturation approach another spin again, and not charge $200 for the result.

Availability - Scarce
Pricing - all over the place, from $180 to $350
Rating - 86

Monday, March 28, 2016

Single Malt Report: Springbank 9 year old 2001 Demerara Rum Cask by Cadenhead

In honor of my 900th(!) post, I'll be doing a week of Springbank.  Because.

At some point last year, one of y'all commenters referenced something about seeking out rum cask Springbanks.  Well, I reviewed one last May and that did not go positively.  How about we try again with TWO rummy Springbanks in a row?

The first is this single cask of 9 year old Springbank matured entirely in a Demerara rum cask, which was probably an ex-bourbon barrel judging by the bottle count.  It was released by Cadenhead, an indie bottler who has the same ownership as......Springbank!  So the hope is Cadenhead would have a leg up on the honey casks.

Distillery: Springbank
Region: Campbeltown, Kintyre
Independent Bottler: Cadenhead (their website never works)
Range: Wood range
Type: Single Malt
Age: 9 years old (2001 - October 2011)
Maturation: Demerara rum cask (which may have previously been an ex-bourbon barrel)
Limited bottling: 228
Alcohol by Volume: 57.1%
(Many thanks to Lee Zaro for this sample!)

A sticky young rumminess shouts out first in the nose.  That's then joined by estery florals and pear eau de vie.  A medium molasses note meets a hint of peat.  Golden Delicious apples and granulated sugar.  It's very bright, but it's mostly new distillate of some sort.

The tight simple palate starts of mostly as peppery ethyl heat.  Raw new make, all grassy, sweet, and floral.  Then some salt and a little more smoke than on the nose.  A little bit of vanilla bean in the background.

The finish is mostly apple eau de vie and floral esters, a soft bitterness, and a nudge of peat.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
On the nose, the eau de vie switches over to kirschwasser.  Maybe even something like peated cherries.  Then a little bit of caramel, molasses, and cassia cinnamon.  Some cereal notes finally peek through.

This is curious.  Tea?  The palate takes on a grassy macha-like note, as well as a grassy-but-bitter roasted mate note.  The peppery heat remains, but there's more sugar this time and just a hint of malt.

The finish is almost identical to its neat form.  Maybe with a little more pepper, but otherwise quieter.

This is the youngest Springbank I've ever had in terms of character, not in terms of numbers.  I'm not entirely sure why they bottled it at this point, but luckily I like eau de vie and other unaged brandies.  I recommend at least trying it with water.  The nose is the highlight, by far.  The odd tea stuff in the hydrated palate sort of works for me, but will likely not work for everyone.

Speaking of everyone, the online tasting notes for this whisky vary so widely it seems like everyone's drinking something else.  See Serge's notes, the whiskybase crowd's notes, and the official ones.  The only set I can relate to are the writeups by the two German whiskybase fellows.  But I will agree with Serge in that this whisky is a curiosity.

Availability - Scarce
Pricing - well over $100 at this point in time
Rating - 80 (I suppose)

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Autumn Whiskies: Clynelish Batch 2, That Boutique-y Whisky Company

Ah, the spoils of my contest victory:

All commentary aside, I would like to thank Master of Malt for my prize!  I really do appreciate it.  Now, onto the commentary.

In the three years that passed between receiving this bottle and opening it, I reviewed three whiskies from That Boutique-y Whisky Company (TBWC).  And none of those three whiskies were good.  The first batch of Allt-à-Bhainne was oh so ugly.  The second Aultmore batch was a mess.  And the first batch of Loch Lomond grain whisky was basically gin.  The catch here is that all three reviews were courtesy of 3cL samples purchased from Master of Malt.  And I've found a lot of weird issues with MoM's samples of their own whiskies.  So this would be the first time I'd be reviewing a TBWC whisky directly from the bottle.

I also came to this review irritated with TBWC's entire approach towards their whiskies.  As I wrote in a previous review:
No age statement. Check.
No indication of maturation or casks used. Check.
500mL bottle. Check.
Priced higher than whiskies bottled by more established companies who offer their products with age statements and maturation information and 700mL bottles. Check.
Oh, but the ultra-relevant cheeky labels! Check.

In this instance the label featured a dialogue starring the I Can Has Cheezburger cat and referencing Batch 1's label.  Indeed.  But MoM did send this to me for free and it is Clynelish, so I put aside my preconceptions and gave it a chance.

Distillery: Clynelish
Owner: Diageo
Independent Bottler: That Boutique-y Whisky Company
Type: Single Malt
Maturation: yes
Age: damfino
Bottled: 2013
Region: Highlands (Northern)
Alcohol by Volume: 50.6%
Limited Release: 319 bottles

The nose begins with big oaky notes of caramel and butter.  But then there's the pine sap note I also found in the other TBWCs.  Alongside that are alternating notes of citronella candles and orange peel.  After 20 minutes notes of Valentine's Day heart candies and grapefruit-scented hand lotion appear.  After 30 minutes, here comes some maple syrup.

A solid combo of cocoa, caramel, and citrus leads the palate.  Then vanilla bean and pine sap.  Grapefruit lotion curls around a slight tannic bitterness.  This is much sweeter than the van Wees 23yo.

Big orange and lime notes make up most of the finish.  Some pepper in the back of the throat, then the tannic bitterness.  Very warming and very sweet.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The maple syrup remains in the nose, joined by simple syrup and vanilla.  Perfumed and mossy.  Sawdust, limes, and a broadening herbal note.

The bitterness gets a little cleaner in the palate.  There's vanilla, sugar, caramel, a light floral note, and some citric tartness.

The simple finish is tart, sweet, and bitter.

These notes were taken from the middle of the bottle.  The first third of the bottle was rough going, very sharp, bitter, and loaded with the pine notes.  Gradually the oak kicked in and the rest of the whisky opened up.

Like the other three TBWCs I've tried, this is likely a young whisky (<10yrs) though aged in a very active (new oak?) cask or casks.  The nose is better when neat, but the palate brightens up with the added water.

While I wouldn't call this a great whisky, it works.  It's the best of the four TBWCs I've tried and competes quite well with the much older Clynelish I reviewed on Thursday, though it loses in the complexity department.  But, sadly, this 500mL bottle of young whisky (long since sold out) was priced higher than the 700mL bottle of old whisky (which took longer to sell through).  Such is the state of this strange marketplace.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - it was around £60
Rating - 82

Friday, March 25, 2016

That time I won a whisky

April 2013.  It was a different time, a time in which I was still reading a zillion blogs, including a number of "blogs" written by retailers.  One of the retailer blogs I perused was that of Master of Malt.  From time to time the MoM blog would hold contests and give away whisky bottles to the winners.  Sometimes those contests revolved around who could provide the best caption to a silly bit of photoshop.

On the 12th of that April, I was a stressed out wreck working at a job I hated.  Most mornings I snuck peeks at whisky blogs.  Sure enough, MoM was holding Caption Contest #4.  The prize for the best meme-style caption would be a bottle of Clynelish Batch 2 from That Boutique-y Whisky Company.  Here was the photo:

The moment I saw this, I knew exactly what I'd submit, if I'd actually submit anything.  I'd never entered their contests because I figured the prizes were limited to UK residents.  But I could see the caption very clearly in my mind and, crap, I was miserable.  So during my lunch break, I typed it up and sent it in.  And then forgot about it, because life went on.

On April 23rd, the MoM blog posted "Winner of the Caption Contest!".  I scrolled down, looking at the honorable mentions.  There were fun jokes about apes and dogs and Darwin and pooping and drinking.  All pretty solid silly stuff.  Then I saw the winning submission.

It took a moment for it to process but then ... .... Holy sh*t, that's mine!  I, I won...something.  I'm a winner!

Sure enough, MoM emailed me that day.  Then less than a week later, my bottle arrived.

I opened the bottle up this past Autumn, about a year and a half after it arrived.  Tomorrow, I'll review my winnings.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Autumn Whiskies: Clynelish 23 year old 1991 van Wees The Ultimate

It remains a mystery.  A 23 year old Clynelish bottled by a reliable independent company, with a rave review from Serge, selling for €70(!!!!), remained unsold at European retailers for months.  Seriously, how does that happen?  Though I don't like buying blindly, I could not pass this up.

To put a finer point on what a bargain this was, consider that many of the needlessly mythical 1997 Clynelishes are going for TWICE the price of this older scarcer vintage.  In this case we have indie bottler, van Wees, to thank.  Their "The Ultimate" series is often both well priced and of good quality.

Distillery: Clynelish
Independent Bottler: van Wees (The Ultimate)
Type: Single Malt
Region: Highlands (Northern)
Age: 23 years (October 29, 1991 - November 11, 2014)
Maturation: Hogsheads
Cask numbers: 13213 and 13214
Bottle: 296 of 507
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
(Sample pulled from the middle of my bottle)

With all of that in mind, I was very unimpressed with this whisky when I first opened the bottle.  It was a swirl of odd musty notes and burnt plastic.  And this wasn't just from the first pour.  The upper third of the bottle was very difficult.  But gradually, very gradually, it began to clear up...

The nose leads with lots and lots of lemons.  Other fruits roll in and out: peaches, tangerines, pears, and a hint of banana.  There's also quite a bit of honey and barley on top, with small notes of cocoa powder underneath.  After 30 minutes in the glass, the whisky picks up notes of sugar snap peas and watermelon rind.

At first the palate proves simple.  A jumble of citrus fruits meet pepper meets baking spices.  Then a small musty dusty note in the background.  But after 20+ minutes in the glass, the whisky opens up.  A big spry fresh herbal note bolts forward, followed by honeydew, Angostura bitters, and a wisp of smoke.  It's never sweet, but it does have a slight plastic note.

In the impressively long finish, the citrus fruits take a backseat to toffee, fresh tobacco, barley, and the musty dusty note.  Like the palate, it's never sweet.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The oak moves forward in the nose with small notes of caramel, vanilla, and pencil shavings.  But the fruit (grapefruit and watermelon rind) remains.  New curious notes of parsley, cilantro, and burnt barley appear, as does a brief floral note.

Fresh parsley and thyme hit first in the palate, then cucumber skins.  It's slightly bitter and has a whiff of mossy peat.  A bit of the plastic note lingers.

Those vegetable and bitter notes carry into the finish.  It also picks up the watermelon rind note form the nose and gets slightly sweeter overall.

As you may have gleaned from the notes, this is a quirky whisky.  Actually, the nose is great, period.  The palate presents more of a challenge.  Not only does one need to get to the middle of the bottle to find the good spot, but once one pours it in a glass it needs a lot of air to really open up.  Once there, though, it can be very entertaining (positively or negatively, depending on one's palate).  The plastic and strange musty notes never really left this whisky and they're what keep this whisky from soaring.

Availability - Scarce
Pricing - it was priced €70-€80 last year
Rating - 84

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Autumn Whiskies: Ardmore 13 year old 1990 Gordon & Macphail, cask 12275

Calm yourselves.  Calm yourselves.  Yes, I finally opened a bottle from my Ardmore stash.  For those who don't know, I'm a committed fan of independent Ardmore, specifically of the distillations done before they switched to the indirect heating of their stills in 2002.  I bought several bottles of single cask Ardmore, then guarded them like Smeagol and his ring.  And then this one found its way to freedom.

Being that the whisky lived in the bottle almost as long as it lived in its cask, the expected happened upon opening:
Thanks to my increasing (but still novice) skill at salvaging broken corks, I was able to pluck out the lower half the cork without losing it into the whisky.  As you can see in the background, I have a stash of saved corks with various gauges, and I was able to match up the George T. Stagg closure to this bottle.

Distillery: Ardmore
Independent Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Region: Highlands (Eastern)
Type: Single Malt
Age: 13 years old (October 19, 1990 - October 1, 2004)
Maturation: refill bourbon barrel
Cask: 12275
Alcohol by Volume: 58.6%

Its color is of pinot grigio.  A good start.

The nose is very spirity up front.  Barley with a light band-aid peat.  Salt water and beach tones.   Mild horse stable and citronella candle notes.  Soft sugariness meets green grapes and limes.

The palate is a touch hot at first.  There's a moderate sweetness, tart citrus candy, a slight herbal bitterness, and wood smoke.  Hay in a horse stable.  The oak feels more toasted than charred giving it an aromatic spice note I can't pin down, though it reminds me of Spice Tree.  A cayenne pepper bite develops after some time in the glass.

The finish is full of cooling menthol with a little bit of sweetness underneath.  Then wood smoke, herbal bitterness, and the hay in a horse stable note.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The gentler nose picks up more citrus and mint.  The peat mingles nicely with the fruit.  The farmy note remains, now existing alongside a little bit of seaweed.

The palate gets creamier and saltier.  The peat goes peppery, Talisker-style.  A little bit of cocoa floats in the background.

The simple finish becomes more warming, holding onto that peppery peat note.  It's sweeter than the palate, but keeps the nice herbal bitter note.

Thanks to the refill barrel, this Ardmore is youthful without being under-matured.  It may read closer to 8-10 years than almost 14, but it works because the spirit is so damned good.  I would have loved if more fruit had shown up on the palate to give it more complexity and to demonstrate the best Ardmore characteristics.  But still, it has the beachy peat, wood smoke, and good bitterness I like so much.  If you can find this bottle, I think it's worth the $70ish I paid for it two years ago, but definitely not the $125 I saw it selling for elsewhere.  Save that money for an older Ardmore or for groceries.

For another take on this whisky, see Chemistry of the Cocktail's review of this very bottle.  He found more fruits than I, but also more alcoholic heat.

Availability - Happy Hunting!
Pricing - probably all over the place
Rating - 87

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Autumn Whiskies: Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7 year old Rye, batch 39

Spring has sprung.  That means it's time for me to write about my Autumn Whiskies: one Old Scout Rye, one indie Ardmore, and two indie Clynelishes.  I'll review them in the order of expected post complexity: from easiest to hardest.

First, up the rye.  As you may know, Smooth Ambler is a West Virginia-based spirits company that has until recently bottled only whiskies produced at Midwest Grain Products WonderFactory™.  Like a few other new companies, they did the NDP (non-distiller producer) approach while their own distillery was being built.  Now they are distilling, so now they're bottling their own stuff, MGP stuff, and their stuff blended with MGP stuff.  For instance, their Old Scout line will continue to be MGP whiskey probably until their own bourbon and rye gets old enough.  Though I have heard stirrings that the rye batches were temporarily(?) discontinued.  If you know more about this than the usual rumors, please let me know.  (After I'd written this post, I found out the rumors are true, this rye has been discontinued for the time being.  Crap.)

I've haven't had a bad Old Scout yet: two single barrel bourbons, one K&L exclusive bourbon, and three of the rye batches.  Click here for some of those reviews.  My Autumn bottle was of the 7yo rye, batch 39.  It was a good drinker.  My wife and I enjoyed it, but I got the last drop.

Oh, my beard was so tiny at that time. Adorbs!
Brand: Old Scout
BottlerSmooth Ambler
Type: Straight Rye Whiskey
Age7 years
MaturationNew American Oak
RegionMaxwelton, West Virginia (Distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana)
Mashbill: 95% rye, 5% malted barley
Batch: 39
Bottled: 6/9/14 (by Nathan)
Alcohol by Volume49.5%

I'll keep these notes short and sweet because this one hits the target every time.

The nose has some nice dark fruitiness, like black cherry syrup.  Rye bread at the periphery.  Cloves, nutmeg, and carob in the middle, then smaller notes of oak pulp, clover honey, and lemon zest.  After 20 minutes in the glass, the whiskey picks up some barrel char, mint, and caramel.  The black cherries become maraschino red cherries.

The palate is very creamy, full of vanilla extract and spice cake.  Corn chips (though there's no corn in this).  Gingerbread, heavy on the ginger.  With that time in the glass, notes of black pepper and rye bread show up.  A little bit of lemon, a pinch of salt, and a hint of umami underneath.

More ginger in the finish, along with the nose's black cherry syrup.  Some tannins and citrus tang on the tongue.  Vanilla bean and soft rumbling heat.

This was such a reliable rye.  I know these Old Scouts are getting tougher to find, but if you locate batch 39, know that you won't be disappointed.  That is, of course, only true if you like MGP rye.  Smooth Ambler set the ABV at a good point so that it's very drinkable neat.  Its price is/was very reasonable for a 7 year old MGP rye, especially since other companies (specifically Redemption) are selling 7yo batches for twice the price, though all of 10 degrees higher in ABV.

Availability -
Many batches are still being sold by specialty liquor retailers, but they're getting harder to find

Pricing - $40-$55
Rating - 87  (this batch only)

Monday, March 21, 2016

WTF is This? Benriach 26 year old 1987 Exclusive Casks

Though I have criticized his whiskies before (and will now again), I like David Stirk.  When I met him in person three years ago, he was friendly, very funny, and a great presenter.  He also jumps head first into discussions with whisky geeks online, more so than most (or any other?) independent bottler.  I just tend to find cask-related problems with many of the Exclusive Casks/Malts releases.

There were the Bowmore and Aberlour bottlings for K&L (both of which I probably scored too highly), which had odd goopy buttery layers of oak sitting on top of immature spirit.  And then found the same problem with two whiskies (Glen Spey and again Bowmore) from the first round of US Exclusive Casks.  The first Ardmore he brought to The States one of the only indie Ardmores I don't like.  But when the Exclusives DO work well, it's usually because the cask stays in the background, like with the K&L Fettercairn, K&L "Island Distillery", and the very first Bowmore he brought to The States.  But I will say I did like the cask influence (whatever sort of cask it was) on an Exclusive Casks Ben Nevis.

But then there's this Benriach.

photo courtesy of Steve H.

I split the bottle with whisky buddy Steve H., and I think we're both glad neither of us were stuck with a whole bottle.  There appears to be a 26yo Benriach sold as a single cask by Exclusive Casks in Texas.  That cask sounds good.  This is not that cask.

Distillery: Benriach
Independent Bottler: The Creative Whisky Co.
Exclusive to: Total Wine & More
Age: 26 years old (1987 - ???)
Maturation: Oak, lots of oak
Limited bottling: 629
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Alcohol by Volume: 48.7%

Nose -- Bitter wood, burnt bark, coal, and lots of burnt peanuts.  Ammonia, walnuts, soap.  Peach, perfume, peach perfume, and caramel.  The soap note grows with time.

Palate -- Burnt peanuts, burnt hair, and loads of sugar.  Underneath there's some malt, toffee, roots, and pepper spice.  With time an acidic citrus note develops and, along with the sweetness, takes over the entire palate.

Finish -- Very sweet and very burnt.  There's some malt and toffee.  Citrus, no, diet orange soda.  It pics up the soap and woody bitterness after some time.


WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Nose -- The burnt stuff turns into lead.  Orange Pixy Stix and vanilla perfume.  Hint of white vinegar.  Smaller note of burnt wood.  Nope, here comes the burnt peanuts.  And "orange chicken" glaze with a savory stock.

The palate is less burnt, but insanely aspartame sweet.  Burnt peanuts.  Maybe a hint of apricots.

Finish -- Peppery and cloying a.f. (as the kids say).  Lots of acid and caramel.  The burnt stuff gradually drifts back in.

Rarely have I found a whisky that's off-putting on so many levels.  The wood smells totally wrong, worse than an over-oaked old bourbon.  Then I'm not sure what's worse: the burnt peanuts or the overwhelming Nutrasweet.  Or the ammonia.  Or the soap.  Or the perfume.  Or the lead.

Time for conjecture!  What happened here?  Because there are 629 bottles, a lowish abv, and no cask number listed, I'm going to guess this was a batch of 3 or 4 casks.  Maybe even one that was underproof, thus the abv.  Perhaps the casks weren't larger than 200L due to so much apparent wood contact, specifically American oak contact.  Was this an attempt to bury (or blend out) a problem cask?  Possibly even that hypothetical underproof one?  Or because so many things are going haywire, were there multiple weak casks?

This whisky left me wondering "How?" and "Why?"  I've had only half of my bottle split and I don't foresee any reason to consume more of it.  As this is sold exclusively through Total Wine & Spirits (except in Minnesota), I truly hope unknowing customers aren't shilling out $150+ for this as a special occasion whisky.  And I hope this won't be someone's first experience with Benriach, because it would likely also be their last.  And I'm sure The Benriach Distillery Company Ltd would care for that about as much as I cared for this whisky.

Availability - Total Wine & Spirits exclusively (except in MN)
Pricing - $160
Rating - 56  (with water, high-40s without water)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A West Cork Trinity (or three whiskies) on St. Patrick's Day

Over the next few years we're going to start seeing a lot of new Irish distilleries trying to maneuver their way into the market.  One new distillery that beat the rest of them to the shelves is West Cork.  West Cork fired up their stills in 2003, then moved to a larger location in 2013.  And according to some sources, they've now hired the famous former Springbank master distiller, Frank McHardy.  They only distill grains indigenous to Ireland: barley and wheat.  Thus no corn in their grain whiskey.  They use only local natural spring water and they even malt some of their barley on site.  For more information on West Cork Distillers, see their official site, as well as these two posts courtesy of K&L Wines.

Since I fell for Irish whiskey before Scotch whisky, I'm always on the look out for more good stuff from Éire.  Many thanks to Jennifer Oakley of Kentfield Marketing Group LLC for these three samples.  So, yes, Warning: I didn't pay for these samples.

West Cork Blended Whiskey, 40%abv

Color -- Curiously this is the palest of the three.

Nose -- A fruit bomb.  Apples, apricots, a small note of banana, and strawberry Bubble Yum.  A steady vanilla note hovers above a hint of plaster (something I often find in Irish blends).  It's slightly floral at first, but grows much more so with time.  Violets, perhaps?

Palate -- Very very peppery at first.  In fact it takes a while before I can find anything else.  Then comes the brown sugar, caramel sauce, and Red Hots candies.  After some time a bold fresh ginger note appears.  The texture is pretty thin, despite the absence of chill-filtration.  Overall it's sort of reminiscent of a young Scotch grain whisky.

Finish -- Similar to the palate.  Lots of brown sugar, ginger, and pepper.  It grows bitterer and sweeter with time.

The palate was so very different from the nose that it took awhile for me to figure out what I was tasting.  Had the palate matched the nose, I would happily recommend this.  As it is, it's certainly better than Bushmills White Label, though that's not saying much.  I don't think it can stand up to Middleton's blends, but it can easily replace any of the Cooley-based blends.  While it sounds like I'm damning this one with faint praise, the ability to match established brands so quickly is impressive.  But I'm still sticking to my usual Middleton blends for now.  ($20-$30)
Rating -- 77

West Cork "The Pogues" Blended Whiskey, 50%malt/50%grain, 40%abv

As if Shane Macgowan needed more whiskey, West Cork partnered with The Pogues to get a little name recognition to sell this high malt blend.  Apparently, Frank McHardy was already involved with this one.

Color -- And this, curiously, is the darkest of the three by far.

Nose -- Wheat, barley, yeast.  Irish soda bread.  Burlap.  It's simple but very pleasant.  Not much oak getting in the way.  Smaller notes of flowers, strawberry candy, and maple syrup develop over time.

Palate -- It has the pepper note of the other blend, but here it's more under control.  It's less sugary than that one as well.  The lead notes are almonds, vanilla, ginger, and caramel.  Some citrus around the edges.  A light bitterness.  Maybe even some pie crust here and there.

Finish -- Toasty and lightly nutty.  A little bit of citrus tang, meets sweet & salty caramel, and ginger.

A definite step up from the regular blend and *SPOILER* my favorite of these three whiskies.  While the palate is different in character than the nose again, with much more oak showing, it's a very easy drink and all its parts work together.  This one can certainly tangle with most of the Irish blends on the market.  Good on ya, West Cork & Co. ($30-$45)
Rating -- 81

West Cork 10 year old Single Malt, 40%abv

Though West Cork started distilling 12+ years ago, when they released this single malt they elected to marry their whiskey with that of another distillery; due to the characteristics I'm finding, my guess is Cooley.  In Scotland, this would be a blended malt.  But apparently, even though this whiskey uses single malts from two distilleries they can still call it a single malt in Ireland.

Color -- Right between the other two, a light gold.

Nose -- Lots of banana!  Overripe banana, baked banana, banana candy.  Then cassia cinnamon, mint, and honey.  Then lemon candy, classic Old Spice, and Now & Later candies.  With time it gets a little grassy.

Palate -- Very similar to the nose, though thankfully a little lighter on the banana.  There's caramel, marzipan, malt, and a hint of pepper.  It's somewhat rummy overall, but then develops a small meaty note after 20+ minutes in the glass.

Finish -- A pleasant lingering pepper and ginger bite.  Not at all sweet.  Some tart limes.  The meaty note in the palate becomes a bit of a funky mouldering note in the finish.

I'm not a fan of banana notes in whiskey and this is the banana-est whiskey I've ever experienced.  The late off-notes in the palate and finish are off-putting as well.  That being said, this is the least sweet of the three, which works in its favor.  The palate is mostly well balanced.  I have a feeling this will appeal to other people more than it does to me. ($30-$40)
Rating -- 73 (fans of banana notes will like this much more than I)

As mentioned, the winner was "The Pogues" blend.  I knew it immediately, as it was nice and bready on the nose, while showing perk and balance in the mouth.  The prices on all three of these whiskies are very reasonable for such a small distillery.  The regular blend and the single malt are priced competitively.  Unless you hoard Pogues memorabilia, I wouldn't recommend paying $40+ for that blend.  But if you find it in the $30s and you actually like Irish blends and my notes sound appealing, then I'd recommend it.  In any case, I look forward to the future when West Cork puts out a single malt that's 100% its own.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Three more new Chieftain's single malts: Braeval, Glen Grant, and Fettercairn

On Monday I reviewed the first three of the six Chieftain's bottlings poured at a recent Southern California Whiskey Club event.  To quote that post: "The Whiskey Jug and Bozzy were also in attendance, see the Jug's post here, and Bozzy's posts here and here.  As I am wont to do, I took my pours in sample bottles back home with me so that I could process these whiskies in my hermetically sealed whisky laboratory."  Today the three oldest (and most expensive) of the half dozen.  Let's get to it.

My pic this time! As I mentioned on Monday, I paid for these samples via the event.

Braeval 19 year old 1996-2015 Chieftain's
finished in a former red wine cask, bottled at 46%abv

Nose -- It starts off very nutty, think hazelnuts and cashews.  Underneath those nuts, a layer of milk chocolate and fresh cherries.  After 15 minutes or so, those notes dissolve into vanilla fudge.  With more time some notes of grass and clay arise.  With water, it gets a little grainier, dustier, and grassier.  The wine has been washed away aside from some berry candy.  A mild vanilla note develops as well.

Palate -- I know this sounds like nonsense, but there's a note that exists in the curious intersection of cotton candy and umami.  A slight plastic note.  Strawberry and peach candies.  Grows increasingly floral with time.  With water, it gets perfumy, tannic, and drying.  Notes of vanilla, plastic, sugar, and tart citrus arrive.

Finish -- Milk chocolate and dried berry notes make this feel like it was finished in an ex-sherry cask.  Secondary notes of honey and peaches show as well.  With water, there's floral perfume, cherries, and sugar.

The sherry-like finishing blankets over most of the great Braeval fruits that are often found in ex-bourbon cask versions.  While water makes the nose less winey, it moves the palate from floral blossoms to floral perfume.  Aside from that I found it to be a decent average Speysider.  ($110-$125)
Rating -- 82

Glen Grant 20 year old 1995-2015
first-fill bourbon cask finish (refill cask for its first maturation)
bottled at 55.1%abv

Nose -- Honey, limes, vanilla, and salted caramels arrive first.  Then silly putty, rose petals, and a hint of mint.  It gets more candied with time, and even picks up a big note of nougat.  With water, it picks up a big Cow Tales candy note which is balanced by a moderate earthy note.  Vanilla bean and a hint of roses.  A little bit of tropical fruit eeks out.

Palate -- Big.  Rich oak, lots of vanillins.  Lots of malt too.  Rich caramel, pepper, acidic citrus, and out of season peaches.  With water, now the citrus moves to the fore.  It's tart and peppery, lightly sweet.  Small notes of vanilla and caramel.

Finish -- Subtler than the palate.  Slight coffee bitterness.  Tart lemons, oak spice, caramel chews.  Pretty tannic.  With water, it's pretty drying.  A simple mix of pepper, vanilla, and sugar.

I wonder if this would have been better if it had been bottled at 46% (which is what I lowered it to when I added water).  The nose is the best part, then the palate.  The finish gets a bit difficult with its woody tannic assault.  I kept looking for the good Glen Grant fruits (as I did with the Braeval) but rarely found them.  So it's another good middle of the road Speyside, but it's quite expensive. ($145-$160)
Rating -- 84

Fettercairn 19 year old 1996-2015
ex-Oloroso sherry butt
bottled at 57.4%abv

Nose -- Insane.  Coming across as if it's almost peated, the nose also shows hints of floral soap, peppery sulphur, red Starburst candies, toffee pudding, caramel chews, and Loch Lomond-style industrial funk.  With water, there's a rumble of peat and sulphur.  Then dark chocolate, toffee, newspaper ink, and cheap cigars.  It smells old and musty.  The dirtiest sherry imaginable.
Important: Kristen's notes on the nose!  Smoke, marshmallows, and dried apricots.

Palate -- "Wow," says my notes.  Big chocolatey sherriness meets a bitter herbal liqueur.  Almond torte, stewed prunes, and hot pepper sauce.  A bit of an industrial edge makes the whole thing feel like Glendronach-meets-Springbank.  With water, it gets nuttier and more peppery, with no sweetness to be found.  Maybe some hints of dried cherries and prunes.  It's earthy and herbal as hell.

Finish -- Massive.  Some of the nose's dusty sulphur meets up with bitter dark chocolate, prunes, and toasted oak.  It's almost smoky.  With water, it gets a little drying and bitter.  Some dried fruits and dirt.  Gorgeous dirt.

Fettercairn!  Often this distillery's stuff leans close to a Loch Lomond-type mess, but sometimes, sometimes, it totally works.  But only if you're into the style.  In this case it's three parts sherried Springbank, two parts sherried Glendronach, and one part Loch Lomond.  It feels much smokier than it should be; I don't know if that's due to the spirit's sulphur or the cask's sulphur or some actual peat sneaking in somewhere, but it works very well.  It's the only one of the six whiskies that had The Wow Factor, so it gets the highest score.  Price-wise, yes $120 is expensive.  But consider that single cask 19yo sherried Springbank and sherried Glendronach are $200+, and one suddenly gets a different perspective. ($120-$135)
Rating -- 89  (Please read the tasting notes rather than just relying on the number. This whisky won't appeal to all palates.)

Of these six whiskies, my favorites come from the sexy sexy distilleries of Glenburgie and Fettercairn.  The Glenburgie highlights barley and fruit, keeping the oak tinkering to a minimum.  Meanwhile, the Fettercairn is big and rough and crazy, bringing in some brawny dirty sherry to a funky spirit.  There were no duds amongst the six as they all sit in the B- to B+ range.  And even though these were mostly Speysides, there's a good variety of experiences amongst the bunch.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

OC Scotch Club Tasting on 3/24 at Chapter One

Hello, I am the author of this blog and I will return you to the regularly scheduled whisky reviews tomorrow, specifically the second half of the Chieftain's tasting (see part 1 here).  In addition to closing my eyes while tapping on random keys to create my posts, I do other whisky things, some of which I document on Facebook and (much more on) Twitter (and someday soon there will be an Instagram page aside from my personal one).

One of my favorite whisky things to do is lead whisky tastings for groups of happy whisky people.  When presenting I go light-to-medium on history and production trivia, depending on the audience, but I do not tell the crowd what they're supposed to smell and taste in each whisky because that knocks the humanity part right out of the situation.  If one smells bubblegum while I smell burnt shrinkwrap, that's cool.  That's the experience.  That subjectivity is why we're drinking this stuff in the first place.

Once a month, I lead tastings for the OC Scotch Club.  Andy Smith (aka Mr. LA Scotch Club) and I confer a few weeks before the event and select bottles.  Then we book a location.  Then we invite people to show up and drink whisky while I drone on at the center of the party.  Because we like weird stuff and familiar good stuff, we tend to pick some of both.

For instance, we're having Dinner and Whisky at Chapter One in Santa Ana on the 24th.  For food there's burgers & Mac 'n Cheese & Fish 'n Chips & Caprese to choose from.  All awesome things.  But then there's the whisky, even awesomer.

Auchentoshan 13 year old 2000 Exclusive Casks.  Everyone I know who tried it thinks it one of the best indie Auchies ever.  So I tracked down the last bottle available.

Ben Nevis 18 year old 1995 Montgomerie's Select.  It's Ben Nevis, so that's enough for me.  For you, just know that Ben Nevis is an old-school, often lovely, sometimes unusual, always entertaining single malt.  Plus this one is actually available at all or most Total Wines around here, so in case you like it at the tasting you can easily track it down for a relatively reasonable price.

Fukano Japanese Whisky (the K&L cask).  Wait, that's not scotch.  Of course not.  It's a malty bourbony whisky that's actually made from rice in Japan, which Andy scooped a bottle of it before it vanished.  I might even pour this one first because it's delicate.  If you want to know what all the hype was about, here's a chance to taste it.

Inchgower 20 year old 1995 Hepburn's Choice (K&L excl).  It's a 20 year old sherry bomb from a distillery that doesn't get enough love, probably because there are so few indies (and offishys?) of it.  Plus it's a double decade sherried whisky that doesn't cost $200+.  This is the one I'm looking forward to the most.

Lagavulin 12 year old Cask Strength, 2014 edition.  Finally, I drop the sledgehammer at the end.  It'll leave everyone's face feeling warm and peated.

So, there it is.  Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside, Islay, and the most eastern Scottish isle, Japan.  If you're in the Orange Country area on March 24th, I recommend you click on over to the site and buy yourself a very-inexpensive-for-California food-and-whisky ticket.  I mean, friggin' Lagavulin 12yo CS and bacon-loaded Mac n' Cheese?  Hope to see you there!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Three new Chieftain's single malts: Glenburgie, Linkwood, and Mortlach

A couple weeks ago I attended a Southern California Whiskey Club event featuring six new Chieftain's (independently bottled) single malts.  The Whiskey Jug and Bozzy were also in attendance, see the Jug's post here, and Bozzy's posts here and here.  As I am wont to do, I took my pours in sample bottles back home with me so that I could process these whiskies in my hermetically sealed whisky laboratory.

I split these whiskies up into two tastings and thus two posts.  There are many words to follow, so I'm just going to get right to it.

(Note: I paid for this event out of my own yoooge wallet.)

Pic lifted directly from the SCWC site and then graffitied by me.
I took at least a dozen bottle photos at the event but cannot find them
on my phone, thus the delay on this post as I tried to dig 'em up.
Is this a long enough photo caption?
Glenburgie 16 year old 1998-2015 Chieftain's
aged in a hogshead, bottled at 46%abv

Nose -- A bit of fruit (white and citrus) arrives right up front, meeting nicely with butterscotch.  Then some healthy notes of honey and toasted oak spice.  Small cask notes of fresh banana and maple syrup.  After some time in the glass, the barley leaps into the forefront.  With water, it gets younger.  More grain, more cinnamon, and apple skins.  A hint of caramel sauce.

Palate -- Both very malty and full of fresh apricots and peaches.  Smaller notes of butterscotch, Heath Bar, Juicy Fruit gum, and vanilla bean.  Some cayenne pepper hits the back of the throat.  Even with a lot of air, the fruits stay strong.  With water, it remains fragrantly fruity, but creamier.  Malty as heck.

Finish -- A little dry, but still softly stone fruity.  Delicate, malty.  Picks up a little vanilla with time.  With water, it becomes all lemon, vanilla, and apricot.

This sorta-silent-still (the distillery was demolished and rebuilt in 2003/2004) whisky was easily my favorite of the three, possibly because there's no alternate cask finishing or maybe because I just enjoy its fruit and grain.  It feels young for a 16yo, but in a good way because the oak limits itself to cameos that enhance the experience.  I suppose they could have released this at cask strength, but it feels like they hit its honey spot at 46%abv.  ($90-$100)
Rating -- 88

Linkwood 17 year old 1997-2015 Chieftain's
finished in an ex-Oloroso sherry cask, bottled at 46%abv

Nose -- Starts off with an eggy sulphur then eases into gunpowder.  Some dry cheese, then toffee and vanilla.  It needs some air......now there's grape drink and raisins.  It remains leathery and earthy.  With water, tennis balls and blue rubber racquetballs.  Smoky raisins and the earthy note.

Palate -- Big sticky sherry.  Very grapey, sometimes almost like grape soda.  The cask is much cleaner here than in the nose, comparable to Macallan at times.  There's some nice spice cake action as the whisky gets sweeter with time.  Baked apple too.  With water there's not much change. Clean sherry, sweet stuff, maybe some citrus forming.

Finish -- Long, sweet, spicy, and grapey.  A raspberry jam note too.  With water, it loses the berries, focusing on grapes and sugar. A hint of cheddar.

Linkwoods can be difficult to find in the US, so this was a rare chance to try a single malt version of one of Diageo's main blend malts.  But there's a dichotomy in this whisky: a dirty nose and clean mouth.  In both cases it's due to a very loud sherry cask finishing.  It improves considerably with air and water, but it never really does anything that other cheaper sherried whiskies don't.  ($90-$110)
Rating -- 81

Mortlach 18 year old 1997-2015 Chieftain's
finished in an ex-Pedro Ximenez cask, bottled at 46%abv

Nose -- Not sulphuric, unlike the Linkwood.  The PX is also rather reserved.  Tropical and stone fruits, dried and fresh.  Think dried pineapple and dried apricots.  Picks up a big raisin note with time.  With water, the sherry gets a little bigger and dirtier.  The fruits fade.  Roasted nuts, especially walnuts.

Palate -- The sherry is gentle, but it's there, almost floral.  Green grapes and apples, sea salt, limeade, and mixed nuts.  With water, it picks up a little tartness, a nice bitterness, and a peppery bite.  Dried berry/grape notes arrive and sharpen.

Finish -- The sherry and its dried fruit edge their way up front, but there's still the salt, green grapes, and some orange zest.  With water, there's not much change.  Maybe less citrus and more pepper.

This whisky's good bourbon cask side isn't entirely smothered by the PX, which is appreciated because bourbon cask Mortlach can be great.  I like it better than the Linkwood due to its fruit and complexity.  Water narrows it, pushing the sherry forward, so I recommend it neat.  ($90-$100)
Rating -- 84

The Glenburgie won the day, though none of these really flopped.  The Linkwood may appeal to palates other than mine and the Mortlach fits somewhere in between the other two.  My preferences and tasting notes hew much closer to The Jug's than Bozzy's.  Let's see what happens with the next three...

Friday, March 11, 2016

When Heaven Hill Goes Malt: Parker's Heritage Collection 9th Edition, 8 year old Straight Malt Whiskey

Released annually by Heaven Hill, the Parker's Heritage whiskies are a tribute to Master Distiller Parker Beam.  Since Mr. Beam was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), a portion ($5) of each bottle sold gets donated to the ALS Promise Fund.  Meanwhile, the whiskies themselves have become big time collectors' items, fetching big money on the secondary market.  It would be nice if the flippers who sell their bottles for 3x the MSRP would also donate at least $5 to the ALS Promise Fund for each bottle they sell, but since they don't, fuck 'em.

Most of the previous editions were experimental bourbons, some super old, some super strong, some wheated, and some were mashbill mixes.  (The eighth edition was a wheat whiskey. Thank you, Richard for catching that.)  This ninth edition is a Straight Malt Whiskey.  Like a Straight Rye whiskey, a Straight Malt Whiskey (something rarely seen) must have 51% of its mashbill be its listed grain, thus malted barley in this case.  The mashbill used by Heaven Hill here was 65% malted barley and 35% corn.  It was distilled by Craig Beam, Parker's son, in late 2006.

I'd like to thank Mr. WSKY-CVLT (aka Dirty Uncle Mike) -- the rare man who actually opens his bottles and drinks them --for this sample.

Distiller: Heaven Hill
Brand: Parker's Heritage
Region: Louisville, Kentucky
Type: Straight Malt Whiskey
Age: 8 years old, distilled in 2006
Maturation: New American oak
Mashbill: 65% malted barley, 35% corn
Alcohol by Volume: 54%

Color -- Glendronach

Nose -- It starts with pinesap, lemon-scented Mr. Clean, freshly sliced ginger, and eucalyptus.  But at the same time it does the candy shop note more successfully than Glenmorangie Milsean.  Minor notes include caramel, new tar, and melon rind.

Palate -- MINT.  Mint leaves, mint toothpaste, and crème de menthe.  Some white fruits and chocolate thrown in for good measure.  Simultaneously it shows off an alternate personality: oaky bourbon.  Vanilla, caramel, and cherry candy.

Finish -- Cocoa melts into milk chocolate.  Add in the mint and we get Andes candies.  It grows sweeter with time, and has an occasional bitter nudge that matches up with tart limes.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Nose -- It gets a little malty and salty.  A little bit of the pine and caramel remain.  And here comes the mint.

Palate -- At turns malty and bourbon-y.  The mint tones down.  Cherry candy and wood pulp get louder.  An growing bitterness appears.

Finish -- Good length.  Less sweet.  A coffee bitterness and just a whisper of mint.  A new sourness.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Nose -- Spearmint candy canes with a little chocolate in the background.  Clean malt underneath.

Palate -- Mint extract.  A weird bitterness arrives, towing behind it a slight soapiness.

Finish -- Minty metallic soap.

What a strange whiskey.  The nose works really well, with or without water.   But the neat palate tastes like some odd bourbon cocktail.  It straightens out with a little bit of water, but then falls apart as more water is added.  The finish works best when neat, but (like the palate) it crumbles at 40%abv.  Yesterday, Josh from Sipology mentioned that the mint character can be found in other Heaven Hill products (see the tweets here) so that helped me understand those curious notes.

I'm thankful to have had an opportunity to try this since the stuff is neither fish nor fowl.  It was a unique experience and the whiskey deserves points for that.  Because of its quirks, I thought it best to list some other opinions of the whiskey:

--For a variety of takes here are those by the LAWS guys.  'Fuji' is one of the few folks who found the mint note too.
--For a mixed review see Red, White, and Bourbon.
--For a positive review, see The Whisky Jug's post.
--Axis of Whisky found a bit of mint in it too, but liked it more than I.
--And Whisky Advocate gave it an 84, which I think translates into D- in their system.

Apparently I'm the only one who got bugged out about the minty intensity.  So take that fact as you'd like.  It's very cool that Heaven Hill released an experimental American malt with some age on it.  I hope other producers try it (maybe with some rye in the mashbill!) and find a more balanced result.

Availability - Here and there, mostly in the secondary market
Pricing - Primary market only: $100 to $300 (yup)
Rating - 78

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

When Heaven Hill Bourbon Goes Wrong: Evan Williams Bottled-In-Bond (2015)

Speaking of anal leakage: Evan Williams, everybody!

I'm just kidding.  :(  Evan Williams Black Label is probably the lone non-soul-corroding whisk(e)y under $10.  It's a solid C grade bourbon, and of better quality than a number of whiskies priced much higher.  In the family line there's also Evan Williams Green Label (even cheaper!), Evan Williams Bottled-In-Bond (with a white label), Evan Williams 1783 Small Batch (not distilled in 1783), Evan Williams Single Barrel (complete with vintage attached, getting younger each year), and a 23 year old (hella expensive).

Today I'm reviewing EW's Bottled-in-Bond (aka BIB).  And not just any old EW BIB, but my bottle of EW BIB.  I purchased it a month ago at a reputable retailer (in fact, the same one from whom I purchased my Elijah Craig 12), stored on a shelf away from light and heat.  I specify this because upon opening the bottle I found the whiskey to be F***ING AWFUL.  Like Scary Bad.  Possibly the worst bourbon I've ever had Bad.

Needless to say, I was disappointed.  I had a 95% full bottle of something that I'd expected to be at least okay.  Rather than crying into my bourbon (I save that for Mondays) I decided to leave the screw top off of the bottle to let the stuff air out for four hours and, with subsequent pours on other days, left the top screw top off for 15 minutes at a time.  I was hoping that would open up the bourbon to some degree.  Eventually I just took a big sample from the middle of the bottle and dumped the last third down the sink.  So this review is of the hopefully oxidized mid-bottle.

 Heaven Hill
Brand: Evan Williams
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Bottle Code: see below
Age: minimum 4 years
Region: Louisville, Kentucky
Maturation: New American oak
Mashbill: 75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malted Barley (I think)
Alcohol by Volume: 50%

Regarding the bottle code, I found F190 50640 on the bottle shoulder, but I don't think that references the bottling date.  Elijah Craig bottles have a second code printed on the bottom of the bottle with a 13-digit code that most likely tells its date.  This bottle of EW BIB had no such thing.  I searched but found nothing, which is kinda weird.  Like the whiskey itself.

Neat --
Varnish, dill, and sawdust in the nose.  That's followed by hazelnuts and paint VOC fumes.  Then cherry candy and pencils.  After 20+ minutes airing it out, the nose delivered a peat-like phenolic blast, a slight egg note, and a wall of clay.  It triggered a "What IS that?" response for almost an hour. (Sorry for the change in verb tense.  We shall now return to our regularly utilized indicative present.)

The very sweet palate grows woodier as it goes.  There's a distinct vegetal edge that never leaves (leaves ↔ vegetal, get it? Ha!).  There's the cherry candy, hazelnuts, sawdust, and clay from the nose.  But there's also a distinct metallic note crashing right into a sharp sourness, underneath which floats twigs and burnt grass.

The very very sweet finish is a combo of brown sugar, celery, peppercorns, and burnt plant matter.  It always turns acrid at the end.  In fact, screw the rest of this tasting sample.

As a Highball -- Ugly.  I recommend adding as much bitters as you can take.
As an Old Fashioned -- Actually, not terrible.  It's the best way to drink it.  Its strangeness translates into a vivid cocktail.  Almost sherry-ish.

Those were the notes for the heavily oxidized version of this whiskey.  The bottle's first pour smelled of metal, dirt, and pencil lead.  It tasted of metal, burnt bark, vinegar, and sugar.  The finish was worse.

I have no doubt that other batches of EW BIB don't taste or smell this way, but my bottle did.  Some of the problem might have been due to a corruption in transport or even within the batch itself.  But that doesn't account for all of the issues.  For instance, the only items in the nose that seemed to signal spoilage are the phenolics and the egg.  The rest are things that can appear in a bottom shelf young bourbon.  The metal and the acridity are the only concerning notes in the palate/finish.  Remove those notes and, honestly, we're left with something that still doesn't really beat Evan Williams Black Label, in my estimation.

Thus this bottle's (or batch's) ceiling was never going to be particularly high, even if it had been reached.  The potential and actual quality difference between my bottles of EC12 and EWBIB was striking considering I paid only $9 more for the former.  I know which one I'll be buying next time.

Availability - Much of the Southeastern and Western USA. Unavailable in many states.
Pricing - $12 to $19
Rating - 65  (up from the low-40s at the start of the bottle)

Monday, March 7, 2016

When Heaven Hill Bourbon Goes Right: Elijah Craig 12 year old Small Batch (2015)

Let's get whiskey politics out of the way first.  Since its creation, Heaven Hill's Elijah Craig 12 year old Straight Bourbon had its age statement listed on the front of bottle.  Then last year the age statement was replaced on the front label by a barrel, and the "12 years" reference was moved to the small font on the back label.  The reaction to this from the online bourbon geek community was a combination of despair and irritation.  They'd seen this happen before with other bourbons: the age statement gets moved from its prominent perch and hidden, only to be removed altogether shortly thereafter.  These concerns were publicly addressed by Heaven Hill's ambassador Bernie Lubbers in a sarcastic patronizing manner, denying any "devious" and "misleading" conspiratorial intent and insisting that the whiskey would remain 12 years old.  Seven months later, the age statement was removed altogether.  Bourbon fans' anger grew, not just because of the age drop, but because of the denial and its tone.  For a wider recap and some links, see Sku's post on this subject matter.

I'm not shocked by Heaven Hill's decision since I've witnessed scotch single malt producers stoop to desperate measures to convince their customers that age does not matter a whit.  The tone of Heaven Hill's ambassador's denial was ill chosen and I understand why folks would be pissed at him.  And I understand why Heaven Hill will now be seen as less trustworthy.  But like it or not, Elijah Craig (NAS) Small Batch has arrived.  And people will buy it.  You can elect not to buy it.  I'm in no hurry to get a bottle myself.

The 12 year old version of Eljiah Craig, where it still can be found at its suggested retail price, is a tremendous deal.  Out where I live, it's going for $25.  $25 for a 12 year old whiskey.  $25 for a 12 year old whiskey that's bottled at 47%abv.  $25 for a 12 year old whiskey that's bottled at 47%abv and tastes very good.

Distiller: Heaven Hill
Brand: Elijah Craig
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Bottled: 2015 (code 42 21 132 15 19:10)
Age: minimum 12 years
Region: Louisville, Kentucky
Maturation: New American oak
Mashbill: 75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malted Barley (I think)
Alcohol by Volume: 47%

I'm reviewing a large sample plucked from the midpoint of my own bottle, a bottle whose contents were consumed rapidly.  We didn't really have a winter here, thus very little Scotch Weather.  And on 75-90ºF days, my tummy says bourbon drinks better than its Scottish cousin.  That's my excuse.

The nose leads with brown sugar and old furniture.  Caramel sauce and Sugar Daddy candies.  Vanilla extract and doughnut glaze.  Sometimes it smells like a mint julep tastes.  It gets prettier with time, growing almost floral (blooms not perfumes).

The palate is simple at first: all corn syrup, salt, and baking spices (a rye and oak tandem).  It gradually picks up a cayenne pepper-type bite, vanilla bean, a little bit of tannin, some tart citrus, and a soft Rittenhouse Rye-like note, all elements held in a creamy texture.

Those spices stick around for the finish.  Then there's vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, simple syrup, and clover honey.

In a Highball -- Acceptable.
In an Old Fashioned -- Very good.  The bourbon finds a good mate in the orange.

Though the palate can't be accused of complexity, it is very very nice.  And SMOOTH(!)!)!()0º_)!1!  The nose shows more dimension and depth.  And the finish is delish.  That's why my bottle's contents vanished lickety-split.  Yes there's plenty of oak, it's a 12 year old bourbon.  But what you're getting are the vanillins and palatable compounds, not boring wood nor burnt stuff nor bruising bitterness.

If you haven't tried EC12, and you can actually find it for $30 or less, and you actually like bourbon, I recommend scooping up ONE bottle while you can.  One bottle.  Leave some on the shelf for others. If you buy a case instead, then karma shall break every cork, oxidize all your whiskies, your stomach shall become bloated, and your head plucked of all but three hairs.  Also anal leakage.

Availability - As of March 2016 it's still at most specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - $25 to $35 (USA), $40-$60 (Europe)
Rating - 87 (bumped it up a point at the last minute)

Friday, March 4, 2016

Single Malt Report: Amrut 4 year old 2009 single ex-port pipe #2712

I never thought I'd type this, but I'm enjoying port cask aged whisky to the point where I'm actively seeking it out.  I have been rescued from the crippling Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban Experience!  ANYWAY, I reviewed a 4yo 2009 ex-bourbon cask on Tuesday and a 4yo 2009 ex-PX cask on Thursday.  Today it's a single ex-port pipe Amrut, but this one is peated.  I adored the first batch of Portonova, now lemme see how this one fares.

Distillery: Amrut
Region: Bangalore, India
Age: 4 years (June 2009 to August 2013)
Cask #: 2712
Maturation: ex-port pipe
Bottle count: 357
Alcohol by Volume: 59%
Sample obtained via a swap with My Annoying Opinions.  Thanks, MAO!

For those interested in color, this one is by far the darkest of the three single casks.

The nose is malty with a side of lemons and limes.  Mellow peat and hay meet milk chocolate, caramel, and buttery oak.  After 15 minutes of air, it opens up further.  Seaweed, band aids, and pencil shavings.  Geraniums, lemons, and honey.

The palate is hotter than the PX cask's.  At first the peat arrives as ash and cinders, alongside a light raspberry and strawberry jam note.  It grows port-ier with time, and really improves.  It's earthier and picks up some cigar tobacco.  But then the dark berry notes arrive alongside a little bit of hot fudge.  It feels dark, if that makes any sense.

The biggest notes in the finish are the cigar tobacco, ash, and dark berries.  Small notes of fudge and herbal bitterness float behind.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Now the nose starts off with maple syrup and a chunk of American oak.  More limes than lemons.  The peat has become farmier, and there's now a hint of bacon.  Lemon pepper and dried berries in the waaaaaay back.  Kind of Springbankish at times (vague!).

The palate gets earthier and leaner.  Maybe silkier in texture.  Mild sweetness, mild woodspice.  Molasses, malt, and a hint of red bell pepper.

The finish is spicy and peppery.  Mild malt, sweets, and earth.  Peat cinders linger.

This one needs some air, but it's my favorite of the three single casks.  The palate and nose are true pleasures once they open up.  The port character doesn't ring out very loudly and there are a lot of US oak notes in the nose, so I wonder if (like yesterday's PX cask) this was also a finish.  The combination of the oak(s), wine, grain, and peat work very well together no matter what the story is.  I prefer it neat; it holds up with some water though it becomes a different whisky.

Again, of the three, this one would be the bottle I'd buy, but......it is the most expensive, despite being the same exact age as the others and having the highest bottle count.  I'll pass it up at this price, but had it gone for the same price as the ex-bourbon cask I'd have happily bitten.

Availability - Europe only, and it's getting tough to find
Pricing - 80-100 euros
Rating - 88

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Single Malt Report: Amrut 4 year old 2009 single ex-PX sherry cask #2701

On Monday, I reviewed the Amrut 100 release.  On Tuesday, I reviewed one of their single ex-bourbon casks.  Today, it's a single ex-Pedro Ximenez sherry cask.  It's the same age as the ex-bourbon, but the cask size is different.  The ex-bourbon cask (#3445) produced 172 bottles, while today's cask produced 301.  If this was a sherry butt, then WOW it lost a lot of liquid, and thus strengthens the stories about the thirsty angels of Bangalore.  Or does it?  More on this below...

Distillery: Amrut
Region: Bangalore, India
Age: 4 years (June 2009 to August 2013)
Cask #: 2701
Maturation: ex-PX sherry cask (and maybe something else)
Bottle count: 301
Alcohol by Volume: 62.8%
Sample obtained via a swap with My Annoying Opinions.  Thanks, MAO!

The nose leads with raspberry jam, brown sugar, roses, and dried cherries.  Give it a few minutes and out comes some mild fudge notes and menthol and some vague hints of the cinnamon and ginger spirit character.  After 15 minutes, a big rich vanilla bean note takes over.

The palate is not as hot as expected, reading less like ethyl and more like chili oil.  In fact it's very peppery: hot pepper sauce and the biggest red bell pepper note I've ever tasted in a whisky.  Some grilled zucchini too, believe it or not.  Sugary raisins around the edges.  Some fudgy notes after some time in the glass.  A slight earthy rooty thing in the middle and tart limes in the back.

The finish is fudgy and sweet and hot.  There's pineapple juice, mint, black peppercorns, as well as the tart limes and raisins from the palate.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Any sign of the PX has totally vanished in the nose.  There's lemon, caramel, vanilla, and roses.  Hint of mint, hint of malt.  Okay, maybe a touch of chocolate and raisins.

The palate picks up more black peppercorns and loses most of the red bell pepper.  There's also toffee, malt, and a hint of the PX in the background.

The limes are less tart now in the finish.  Nutty brown butter, toffee, soft bitterness, and a near absence of sweetness.

In the comment section of MAO's review of this very bottle, he and a commenter discuss the likelihood that this whisky was actually only finished in PX casks.  Meahwhile, the bottle's label only references the "Px-sherry" part.  If it really was only finished in the sherry cask, then Amrut pulled a GlenDronach.

I didn't know about this when I took my notes, but I was fascinated by the very strong American oak influence in the nose.  I also noticed that the PX barely showed up in the palate and then almost totally vanished altogether when water was added.  Thus I would not be surprised if this whisky was the result of two or three ex-bourbon casks having been dumped into a PX cask for a finish.

Nonetheless, I really liked this whisky.  The nose, with and without water, was appealing and the palate was peppy and fun.  Somehow the vegetable notes worked in its favor.  I enjoyed it more than the bourbon cask and the fourth batch of Intermediate Sherry.

The price on this whisky is 10-20euros more than the bourbon cask of the exact same age.  If it's more expensive due to the sherry cask, then maybe the label's missing "finish" was no accident.

Availability - Europe only, and it's getting tough to find
Pricing - 70-85 euros
Rating - 86