...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Single Malt Report: Auchentoshan 23 year old 1990 Archives #6850

On Wednesday and Thursday I reviewed Auchentoshan whiskies and today I will again review an Auchentoshan whisky.  And then that's it for Auchentoshan here, for the foreseeable future.  There ain't no samples of it left in my stash.

Today's Lowland single malt is the oldest of this week's three, but also has the lowest alcohol-by-volume.  The good folks at Archives, who are also the proprietors of the Whiskybase shop, selected a hogshead which may have been losing more to the angels (or devils or thieves or rats) than the cask owner may have desired.  Archives and Whisky-Fässle split the cask which was weighing in at a total of 47.7%abv and had an outturn of only 142, which means it had a loss of around 60% of its contents.  That's a lot of empty cask space.  These sorts of casks can be pretty fun, though they can also be pretty gross.  Having enjoyed a number of Archives's whiskies, I'm betting on the former.

Distillery: Auchentoshan
Independent Bottler: Archives
Range: The Indian ducks and their allies
Age: 23 years old (11/11/1990 to 9/2014)
Maturation: Hogshead
Cask #: 6850
Limited bottling: 71
Region: Lowlands
Alcohol by Volume: 47.7%

The color is the lightest of the three whiskies, a nice straw color.

That straw comes through on the nose.  Oats, barley, rice cakes.  Lightly earthy.  Soon it develops a nice cookie dough note that lingers throughout.  That's followed up cherry Jolly Ranchers, fresh raspberries, and sesame seeds.

The softly layered palate has some earth, honeyed sweetness, something savory (beef stock?), white fruits, lemons, and limes.  A nice barley delivery.

The lightly sweet finish shows honey, lemons, and toasted oak spices.  Despite the fragility of notes, it lasts for a long time.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The fruit gets louder in the nose, with stone fruits joining the berries.  Black licorice.  Still lots of cereal grains.

The palate becomes surprisingly complex.  Moss, barley, fresh herbs, something metallic (copper?), and a nice compact white fruit and honey concoction.  Yet the sweetness is kept mild and steady.

The finish has the fresh herbs and moss.  Mild honey sweetness again, now encased in a menthol glow.

It was Jordan of Chemistry of the Cocktail who convinced me to try this.  And the really weird thing about this whisky -- considering my experience with indie Auchentoshans and this cask's strange outturn -- is that it's not at all weird.  Between the hay, earth, grains, berries, and green herbs it proves to be a very rustic whisky.  Something nice and light for a country spring evening.

What is unusual about it is its youth and the prominence of the barley spirit.  I'm going to guess that may have something to do with the mostly empty cask.  Time has softened the rougher parts of the new make, but left its heart.  CJ and Menno and whomever else has the good nose over there, have done it again.

Availability - Only through Whiskybase Shop
Pricing - €135 pre-shipping
Rating - 89

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Single Malt Report: Auchentoshan 15 year old 1997 Old Malt Cask #HL9807

This is the second of three indie Auchentoshan reviews this week.  As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I enjoy independently bottled Auchentoshan better than the official ones because the indie Auchs are consistently odd, in a good way.  This whisky, whose sample was provided by Florin (a prince) is from the Laing family's Old Malt Cask range.

Distillery: Auchentoshan
Independent Bottler: Hunter Laing
Range: Old Malt Cask
Age: 15 years old (12/1997 to 5/2013)
Maturation: refill hogshead
Cask #: HL9807
Limited bottling: 211
Region: Lowlands
Alcohol by Volume: 50%

Though older than yesterday's 13yo, its color is noticeably lighter.

Once again, the nose fires all sorts of notes out at once.  Peach nectar, anise, menthol, whipped butter, strawberry candy, and cookie dough.  Giving it some time in the glass......it gets rosier, picks up some lemon candy, and something moss-like without actually being peat.

The palate starts out with a pleasantly dirty earthy note.  A bit of a pepper sting up front.  Ginger beer.  The third sip suddenly produces a massive floral note.  Violets, perhaps?  And then the curious mossy note from the nose.

The finish is long and citrusy, growing more sweeter with time.  Smaller notes of caramel and green herbs appear here and there.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Now there are band-aids in the nose.  Dirty hay, too.  Then berry jam and a solid malt note.

The farmy note shows up in the palate too.  But it's also sweet and lemony with some baking spice around the edges.

The finish is sweet, spicy, citrusy, and farmy.

Again, an indie Auchentoshan that keeps cranking out simultaneous dissimilar notes, and then changes course, and then does it from a different angle.  I don't know what to say other than, it usually works.  If you're looking for a well sculpted consistent whisky, then this won't do it for you.  Though I like it, I wouldn't actually go out and buy a bottle of the stuff because I can imagine it gets exhausting pretty quickly.

Availability - Perhaps some specialty European retailers
Pricing - $60-$80 (without shipping)
Rating - 82

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Single Malt Report: Auchentoshan 13 year old 2000 Exclusive Casks

Going from triple-distilled Irish whiskey to its mate a triple-distilled Scotch Whisky 150 miles away by air.  I'm not the biggest fan of Auchentoshan's regular official range, yet I've always enjoyed independent releases of its whisky.  And I have to ask, am I the only one who finds every single indie Auchentoshan odd?  Will this week's three bottlings continue the weird streak?

First up is the youngest and strongest of the three, a 13 year old from The Creative Whisky Company's Exclusive Casks line.  My last post about one of their whiskies caused some hubbub.  Let's see if this one will do the same.

I actually wrote about this whisky a year and a half ago while doing an eight-whisky tasting.  The whisky was weird (as usual, as mentioned), but not my brand of weird.  I was promptly told privately, by two people whose palates I respect, that I was out of my Vulcan mind.  Try it again, they said, it must have been the sample!  Okay then somebody give me a new sample, I said.  Nothing.  So I went out and got the sample myself, grabbing THE LAST bottle of it anywhere (according to Total Wine's website) for March's OCSC event.  And, indeed, the whisky elicited some "That's interesting" comments from club members.  I tried a half ounce and found it most......drinkable.  Here's a review of a larger sample, nosed in the dark confines of my whisky cave.

Distillery: Auchentoshan
Independent Bottler: The Creative Whisky Co.
Exclusive to: Total Wine & More
Age: 13 years old (2000 - ???)
Maturation: likely (2) refill American oak casks
Limited bottling: 488
Region: Lowlands
Alcohol by Volume: 53.6%

Its color is light yellow.

Its nose begins with a pleasant mix of barley, lemon zest, and spearmint.  And then a blast of white rye spirit slams through.  Giving it a few minutes......now there's papaya and cloves.  Black cherry soda.  Big League Chew (bubblegum).  Okay then.

The palate is barley spirit-forward as well, though never too sweet.  Some Ceylon cinnamon and clover honey.  Suddenly it develops a rooty earthy note.  Some mushrooms too.  And here's the bubblegum.

The finish gets sweeter than the palate.  Some sugar in with the cinnamon.  It's bold and fizzy.  Fudgey at times.  Rich and sticky.  And the bubblegum.

Dear god, what'll happen if I add water...

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Oooh, the nose gets super fruity and totally nails the candy shop thing better than Glenmorangie Milsean (and without the wine cask futzing, mind you).  Bubblegum, gummy bears, Big Red chewing gum.

The palate remains rich at this strength.  Big Red gum, honey, fresh ginger, and rock candy.  Still has that slight earthy thing underneath.

It finishes sticky sweet.  Bubblegum, oranges, and a fragrant floral tea.

It's a cracker.  And damn it, Andy, I found the Big League Chew note too.

It's the nose that wins here, with or without water.  It's all a bit schizo, especially the neat palate, but it usually works.  It may even work best *glup* with water, which pulls things together as best as possible.  But trying to corralling its separate parts is like herding two-year olds, yet slightly less stressful.

So what about that original mini-review?  I caught all the candy and barley notes in both instances, but I didn't get the fetid cheesy notes this time, which definitely helped it out.  Perhaps six months in a half empty sample bottle did the whisky no favors the first time.  I still say this is some weird whisky, but this time I can see what the fuss was about.

Availability - Gone
Pricing - $80
Rating - 86

Monday, April 25, 2016

A tale of two Bushmills White Labels: Diageo era (2015) and Irish Distillers era (1980s)

I've always had issues with Bushmills White Label blended whiskey.  Even when I was not so choosy about my Irish whiskies, it was the last one I'd go for.  Sometimes I'd wondered if this was Diageo's fault.  (Of course he'd wonder that, you're thinking.)  It was as if they'd taken the Johnnie Walker Red Approach to this blend.  Bushmills's Ulster malt whiskey is perfectly serviceable stuff, sometimes quite good, so was Diageo taking potentially salvageable malt and drowning it in the cheapest grain whiskey they could find?  From an accountant's perspective the answer is, of course they are.  It's their cheapest product, it had better have the cheapest ingredients.  Yet, this Irish fan knows that all of the Republic of Ireland's Midleton Distillery's blends, priced the same or less than Bushmills White, are of higher quality.  And Bushmills even uses Midleton's grain whiskey.  It's not like the Catholics know something the Protestants don't know.  About whiskey, I mean.  So......I start to blame the producers for giving up on quality control.


When dusty hunting in Southern California, one is lucky if one finds something cool in 1 out of 10 stores.  During a particularly fruitless dusty hunt, I found myself going 0-for-11.  Store 12 proved to be uninspiring too, so when I spotted an old 200mL of Bushmills for $5 I bought it, figuring it would be my lone thing to show for the day, like the little gold painted plastic trophies with sharp edges given out to Little Leaguers at the end of the season because their parents paid the league entry fee at the start of the season.  I filed this trophy next to another, an '80s Early Times bourbon.

When I bought it, I thought the whiskey was from the 1990s, but upon unearthing it recently, I saw that it was actually from the '80s.  A bonus trophy!  Like for the kid who draws the most walks on his team.  It's not that he's a good baseball player; he doesn't swing because he doesn't actually know the strike zone because he probably needs glasses but he hasn't told his parents yet because his dad just got laid off from the paint factory for drinking BUSHMILLS on the job and the boy has heard that glasses cost a lot of money.  Whew, I didn't know where I was going with that but I saved it right there.  The bottle is post-1980 because it measures in metric and pre-1989 because it doesn't have the government warning.

I also had a mini of the current version of Bushmills White because I'm a masochist.  That bottle has an early 2015 bottle code and a Diageo reference on the back, thus it was made during Diageo's ownership period.  But since Diageo didn't buy Bushmills until 2005, who made my bottle of the old stuff?  Irish Distillers owned Bushmills from 1972 to 1987, when it was then sold to Pernod Ricard.  I believe my bottle is genuine Irish Distillers stuff because Brown Forman was the bottle's importer and Brown Forman was under contract with Irish Distillers to import Bushmills to the US.

So if you've skipped down here because you're getting all TL;DR on me, see at least the above paragraph.

Taste Off!

NEAT (40%abv)

Diageo 2015 bottling
Its color is quite light so there is, thankfully, a minimum of e150a colorant in the mix.  The nose is fruitier and more floral than I'd remembered, though often it smells like straight up grain whiskey.  There's some dried apricots and vanilla, though that fades quickly.  It gets very grassy after 30 minutes in the glass.  The palate is hot.  Big on notebook paper and a plain sugariness.  Some nondescript white fruitiness.  A hint of shortbread.  Bitter, sour berries.  Feels like a watery Jameson.  Here's the heart of the problem, it finishes rough and bitter.  It has the vague vanilla and shortbread notes, but it ends up reading as something between a cheap Canadian whiskey and vanilla vodka.

Irish Distillers 1980s bottling
Its color is similar to the current version, maybe a hint lighter.  The nose is very malty, and the fruit and flowers are well defined.  Fresh lemons, citronella, orange blossoms, and jasmine.  Gets more biscuity (or cookie-ish for us Americans) with time.  After 30 minutes, a rich vanilla bean note arrives and the citronella brightens.  A much thicker mouthfeel in the palate.  Malt and milk chocolate.  Mandarin oranges and toasted oak spices.  Simple but rich.  It finishes mildly with nice notes of vanilla cake and caramel sauce. Hints of citrus and baking spices linger underneath.

Comments: So far the Irish Distillers blend has the advantage, but part of that is due to the weakness in the Diageo version's palate and finish.  The '80s blend has a thickness and lusciousness that is missing from most current Irish (and Scottish) blends.  And I can only guess that's due to less grain and a better matured malt content.

Normally, I do a round on the rocks when reviewing cheaper blends.  But I just couldn't bring myself to add ice to this stuff because I just always drink Irish whiskey neat.  So I decided to add water and drop the ABV quite a bit, much like blenders (allegedly) do when assembling their products.

WITH WATER (~30%abv)

Diageo 2015 bottling
The nose is still there, a good sign.  Fizzy, like ginger ale and tonic water.  Orange candy, generic vanilla and caramel, and some plain woody notes.  A hint of malt and lime in the palate.  Tangy, woody.  Mostly watery vanilla.  Not much in the finish.  Tangy with a peppery bite and little bit of vanilla.

Irish Distillers 1980s bottling
Oh my goodness.  The nose is incredibly rich.  TONS of chocolate.  Egg creme soda.  Circling notes of caramel chews, toffee pudding, and butterscotch.  "Holy crap," says my notes.  Vanilla beans, orange blossoms, and fresh limes.  A gorgeous rose note.  A whole bowl of fresh citrus fruits.  The palate remains plenty thick.  Better vanilla notes.  A touch grassy, but also brightly peppery and fizzy.  A little bit of the rosy notes show up in the finish, along with vanilla beans and peppercorns.

Comments: Stunned. The '80s bottling's nose was one of the loveliest I've ever experienced, and it went on and on.  I've never found a blend to open up like this at such a low ABV.  I'm just going to enjoy the rest of this bottle at 30%abv.  The current version doesn't totally collapse, but it is breaking apart.  These are two very different whiskies at this point.

That was so much fun that I decided to add some more water for the final few milliliters just to see what would happen.

WITH WATER (~25%abv)

Diageo 2015 bottling
The nose is still perky, now all lemon juice and Belgian witbier.  The palate is bitter with moderate notes of vanilla and caramel.  Not much left of the finish, as it's mostly just bitter.

Irish Distillers 1980s bottling
That nose is still kickin', full of Balblair fruitiness.  Honeydew, mango, and lychee.  Maybe some ocean air.  The palate is very creamy.  Cream puffs, milk chocolate, and malt.  The fruit returns in the finish, with just a hint of tartness.

Comments: The current edition's nose is still pretty good, but the palate is done for.  Meanwhile, Mr. '80s still works very well.  Even the palate is keeps on clicking.

The 1980s bottling is the sturdiest 40%abv blend I've ever had.  And, in my experience, it has one of the best noses on any blend, period.  At 30%abv it's pure joy.  Bushmills White Label once had a very good recipe with exemplary ingredients, but I fear that was lost long ago.  The good news about the current version is that it's better than I'd remembered (faint praise!).  I thought I'd be giving this one a super low score, but the nose works moderately well for a $20 blend.  The palate is still problematic and the finish is worse.  Yet, it's better than most $20 scotch blends (even fainter praise!).  But if you're out treasure hunting around old liquor stores and you're in a rut, don't be so quick to pass up on an old Bushmills.  You may be in for a treat.

Diageo 2015 bottling
Availability - Everywhere
Pricing - $16-$28 for 750mL in the US
Rating - 71

Irish Distillers 1980s bottling
Availability - Happy hunting!
Pricing - my 200mL cost $5.19
Rating - 89 (add water!)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Single Malt Report: Talisker Port Ruighe

Each week, my reviews have some sort of theme that ties them together.  This week originally had no theme, since I was just trying to review some current stuff.  But now I realize that there is a line that connects all three reviews.  GlenDronach Peated, Highland Park Dark Origins, and Talisker Port Ruighe are all recent NAS products that venture into new territory for their well respected distilleries.

Talisker Port Ruighe (pronounced por-tree, I believe) entered the market right on the heels of Talisker Storm in 2013.  Those were released in April and May, then Talisker Dark Storm appeared in July, and soon after that Talisker Skye showed up.  Suddenly Talisker had a whole portfolio of NAS whiskies.  And I wondered, did any market ever really ask for this?

I've had Storm and Skye.  Storm was a mixed bag, though better than I'd expected and certainly had more punch than Skye.  I've grown to like port cask whisky more and more over the past few years, so I'm holding out a little bit of hope that Talisker can pull it off.  I mean, Amrut does a mean port finished whisky, can't Diageo pull off something of similar quality with so many more resources at their disposal?

Distillery: Talisker
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Isle of Skye
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Age: ???
Maturation: A combination of whisky aged in American oak casks, European oak casks, and "deeply charred" casks is then finished in ex-port wine casks.
Alcohol by Volume: 45.8%
Chillfiltered? Yes
Caramel Colored? Yes
(Thanks to Brett for the sample!)

At first the nose is like The Speakeasy with a layer of sugary candy on top.  Lots of cinnamon, peat moss, and raspberry jam.  Then maybe some prunes, definitely a quantity of struck matches, and an old parmesan wedge.

The palate is smokey mezcal with grape candy and very strong acidic notes.  Red Hots candies, salt, a little bit of cayenne pepper, dried apricots, hay, and mild peat.

The very sweet finale has spoons of raspberry and strawberry jam and lots of fruit acid.  Swisher Sweets and applesauce with cinnamon.  Maybe a hint of peat.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose has a little bit of that Milsean candy shop thing, but here it reads like someone spilled a glass of port on a new carpet.  And some orange pixy stix.  And it's slightly cheesy.

The palate dissolves mostly into narrow sensations rather than notes.  Bitter, sweet, slightly farmy, very acidic.  Grapey port.

The finish is just like the palate, though quite long.

If you were to tell me this was a complete failure of a whisky, I'd have a hard time disagreeing with you.  As if Talisker Port Ruighe were Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban's chain smoking dyslexic brother, absolutely nothing congeals in this whisky and all its parts fly off in separate directions.  It's as if someone in the warehouse dumped a bottle of cheap port into a 5 year old Talisker cask, stirred it once, and then said, "I got yer finish right here!"  So, yes, this doesn't come across as a professionally produced whisky.

But I kinda like it.

There's something about it.  It's like watching a video of a golden retriever releasing the parking brake, staring happily from the driver's seat window, and coasting a Plymouth Voyager down a steep hill.  It's dumb and a disaster in motion.  But it's funny.  Just like this whisky.

Availability - Europe and (maybe) travel retail
Pricing - $45-$85 - I'd buy if it were $30
Rating - 74 - this includes a 10 point bonus for being such a silly puppy

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Single Malt Report: Highland Park Dark Origins

When I said that a bottle could get none more black than Ardbeg Dark Cove's, I was wrong.  Highland Park Dark Origins's bottle is in fact more black.

Scotch companies seem to like to use the whole foreboding thing in their product names -- Dark Cove, Dark Origins, Loch Dhu, Tempest, Storm, Storm, Storm, also Storm, and who could forget Dark Storm.  And I guess a gigantic killer whirlpool (Corryvreckan) counts too.  What this scariness really attempts to do is cover the lack of age statement on all of these whiskies.  Except Loch Dhu 10yo, and that worked out so well.

Ignoring the rest of those, today's review is of Highland Park Dark Origins.  There appears to be conflicting reports about whether or not this NAS bottling is replacing Highland Park's 15 year old.  If you google "Highland Park 15 discontinued", you'll find the answer to be both yes and no, with those yeses and nos both coming from brand reps.  If the answer really is yes (which would stink), then the only way Dark Origins is really "replacing" the 15yo is in its price point.  The 15yo was the HP whisky with the most American oak influence, meanwhile Dark Origins focuses on the sherry.  It is possible they brought the Dark Origins to the market while they gradually phase out the 15yo because they want to have enough older stock for the more popular 18 year old.  But that's all theory at this point.  HP15 is still rather easy to find.  For now.  Here's the tasting.
Official photo
Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: both first fill and refill sherry casks, though there's twice the amount of first fills compared to the 12 year old
Age: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 46.8%
Chillfilltered? No
Colored? Unknown
(Purchased 50mL bottle)

The color is of a 12 year old bourbon.

There's a lot of rubbery sherry in the nose.  In fact, that's the main element.  Then there's dark chocolate, menthol, and walnuts.  After 20 minutes, it opens up a little bit, showing some mango juice, red berry notes, and pencil shavings.

The palate starts off with horseradish, roots, and arugula. But the notes are too mild to really be exciting.  Just a slight bitterness.  More rubber sulphur and a hint of dried berries.  After 20 minutes, there's more sherry, more berries, more sweetness, and a metallic note.

The finish is green and dirty like the palate, but, also like the palate, not bold enough to be of much interest to those of us who like that style.  There are also brief notes of bubblegum, sherry, cinnamon, and bitterness. It's of a good length and gets sweeter as it goes.

Watering it down to the range's usual US strength...

WITH WATER (~43%abv)
The nose is a little more salty and floral, but otherwise pretty similar.  Still plenty of rubber.  Maybe some plastic and caramel.

The palate is much quieter, though somewhat sweeter.  The rougher notes have nearly vanished.  Some more sherry shows up, as does some pepper.

Black pepper, cinnamon, sugar, and a hint of mesquite chips in the finish.

First off, I'm with Team MAO/Sku.  This is definitely sulphurous.  Some of European reviewers call it smoke or peat, but to me this reads as sulphur.  Peppery sulphur, struck match sulphur, and lots of rubbery sulphur.  I find barely any actual smoke character, except maybe in the finish.

I have to say, I don't get this whisky.  It's unlike the rest of the HP range, but not in a fun way.  It's not terribly complex, nor is it a pleasant drink, nor is there much in the way of good mature spirit showing.  Plus the sherry element cannot compete with the richness of the rest of the HPs.  It's not a bad whisky.  It's fine, but the rest of the regular range (including the 15) is damned good.

Dark Origins is preferable at its bottled strength.  Having lowered the abv to 43, I can see why they didn't bottle it there because it thins out and washes away.  Had those green and dirty notes been amped up a bit in the palate then this could be recommended as a cool quirky Highland Park. But they're not, so I'll stick to the rest of the regular range.

Availability - Most specialty liquor retailers in the US and Europe
Pricing - $60-$100 (US & Europe)
Rating - 80

Monday, April 18, 2016

Single Malt Report: GlenDronach Peated

Glendronach, famed for its high-quality sherried malts made from a previous owner's distillate, have recently brought two new and very different products to the market.  GlenDronach Heilan and Peated are the first products made from the current ownership's (Benriach Distillery Company) spirit, and neither have much of a sherry cask influence.

Heilan has an age statement, 8 years, and is quite malty-licious in my opinion.  Meanwhile Peated, the newer "expression", does not have an age statement.  Though Glendronach spirit has previously held a tiny bit of peating, the Peated spirit is made exclusively from peated malted barley (PPMs unknown).  The spirit spends it's first maturation in ex-bourbon casks for an unknown period of time, then has a second maturation in ex-oloroso and ex-PX casks, again for an unknown period of time.  Peat + sherry can be fun if done well.  Let's see what happens here.

Ownership: BenRiach Distillery Company Ltd
Region: Eastern Highlands (on the edge of Speyside)
Age: ???
Maturation: first ex-bourbon, then a combo of ex-oloroso and ex-PX sherry casks
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltration? No
Added Colorant? No
(Sample was purchased)

Its color is a light amber.  Must've have been the wettest of sherry casks.

The nose starts with light peat, ocean, seaweed, and yeast.  Sort of Ledaig-Lite.  A slight sulphuric note in the background, but also some peach candy and marshmallows.  Occasionally, there's a super floral new make note......okay, not occasionally, the new make takes over after 20 minutes in the glass.

The palate is malty and sweet with vanilla peat.  White frosting, pears, rock candy.  It gradually develops a slight bitter sting.  Some pepper and seaweed here and there.

A very sweet finish, with hints of peat moss, marzipan, marshmallows, and seaweed.  Ah, the floral new make shows up again.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Not much change in the nose, really.  Maybe more yeast.  Some oats.  It's a little fartier than before.

The palate does shift a bit.  Cinnamon and peat candy.  More bitter smoke.  Bigger cereal grain notes.

The very very sweet finish has hints of peat and saltwater, but is mostly sugar.

I was going to hazard a guess that this was younger than 8 years old before I tried it, specifically because Glendronach already has an 8yo, meanwhile this has no age statement.  Then, as I went through this tasting, I started to think it was 6 years or younger.  By the time it was done, I started to wonder how many days over 3 years they waited before bottling.

The good news is Glendronach priced it low(ish), similar to the 8.  And if you're an enthusiast of naked malts, this is indeed pretty nude.  I can't imagine how many rounds these casks went through previous to this filling.  And if you don't like sherry, that's good news because there's very little of it to be found in Peated.

I like a good new make which is why I won't totally roast this whisky.  But man, this is really really really young, sort of reminiscent of Kilchoman's 100% Islay releases which always seem a half step removed from their raw distillate.  The whisky leaves me wondering why they were in such a hurry to release this stuff.  In the end, I can only recommend this to people who want to experience 'Dronach's peated new make.

Availability - Mostly Europe, only a few US retailers so far
Pricing - $45ish in Europe, $60ish in US
Rating - 79

Saturday, April 16, 2016

WTF Is This? Garrison Brothers Cowboy Bourbon, batch 2 (and also a rant)

What this is is expensive.  Priced between $190 and $250 and without an official listed age statement (though I've seen unconfirmed rumors of 3 to 6 years), this batch is cheaper than the first round.  The first batch cost $170 for a 375mL bottle.  Clearly this is for oil barons who want to show some Lone Star pride, or for Vladimir Putin to swig while he's sumo wrestling a water buffalo.

From what I gather it is legitimately distilled in Texas.  And they are calling it "bourbon" rather than going for the whole Texas Whiskey type thing like Balcones.  My good whiskey friend Linda (who is of course an oil baroness), shared this sample with me.  She mentioned that it fit the "weirdest damned thing in your collection" description from my Dram Quest.  When then I saw the whiskey's ABV, I knew it was time for the belt buckle.

Distillery: Garrison Brothers
Brand: Cowboy Bourbon
Type: Bourbon Whiskey
RegionBardstown, Kentucky (Distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana)
Age: 3? 4? 5? 6? years?
Batch: 2
Limited release: 5,200
Alcohol by volume: 67.5%

There's a lot of cherry and crimson in its color, much like many of Balcones's whiskies.  But, you know those Texans.  A buncha Reds.

The oak reads more toasty than charred in the nose, actually.  There's also dried cherries, clay, rubber, and sesame seeds.  Cinnamon gum and vanilla.  A green wood note appears after a while.

The palate is cinnamon, cinnamon, cinnamon.  Very sweet, all spirit with some burnt wood.  A smaller note of mint extract.  It's not as hot as expected, though.

It finishes with cinnamon and chili oil.  Something acidic.  Some vanilla and woody tannins.

The nose is mostly wood.  Pulp, sawdust, and vanilla.  Then cinnamon, sesame seeds, and clay.  Finally, turpentine.

The palate is a weird mix of sour and sweet, like white vinegar in Goldschlager.

It finishes with cinnamon, vanilla, and sweat (not sweet).

The nose is maple syrup, sawdust, and vanilla.

The palate is mostly sugar and cinnamon, but it's very drying.

Just heat and wood in the finish.

Just what we were all looking for, Barrel Proof Fireball Cinnamon Whisky.

Firstly, go Texan and leave water out of this thing.  The nose is very entertaining and holds some promise......then breaks that promise when you taste the whiskey.  It's a huge hit of barely matured spirit + loads of wood.  So most of you have been to this dance before.  Though this time it costs $200.

It's products like this and Hudson Four Grain Bourbon, and the lame ploys by the big boys like Jim Beam Single Barrel (which only exists to get you to pay $30 for $8 whiskey), and all the misinformation passing as truth in products like Templeton Rye and Gifted Horse, that lead some readers (on Twitter and in his comment section) to wonder if Chuck Cowdery had intended parody when he wrote that we are currently in "The Golden Age of American Whiskey".  Where he sees the wide variety of shelf after shelf after shelf of bourbon brands as a big free market full of wonderful, I don't.

Yes, this is a very exciting time to be an American whiskey producer, possibly the most exciting time.  But for customers, more does not equal better.  The mediocrity quotient is so very high right now, as is its price.  I have stopped drinking "craft" whiskeys (other than this one due to its potential weirdness quotient) because most of them taste less than half-baked.  I need to save my liver for when (or if) they're allowed to fully bake.  And I also do not want to promote the majority of what I see on the big shelves, which is <2yo whiskey selling for >$40.  Once the market actually does what a market does and distills down the brands who turn out whiskey too early at an inflated price, then we may see a great bourbon era.  Great for the drinkers, that is.  There are going to be a lot of sad investors who bought in at the top and sadder owners of crushed small businesses, just like there are after every bubble bursts.

But none of this explains why this whiskey costs $200.

Availability - A few dozen specialty liquor retailers still have it
Pricing - Nearly two cases of Old Grand Dad 114
Rating - 72

Friday, April 15, 2016

Single Malt Report: Inchgower 20 year old 1995 Hepburn's Choice for K&L Wines

When searching for a sherried malt for last month's OC Scotch Club event, I selected this Inchgower, a whisky of interest to me since its arrival at K&L Wine Merchants.  I enjoy Inchgower quite a bit, but its indie bottlings almost never make it to The States.  Plus the one sherry cask Inchgower I have tried was excellent.  So I was looking forward to it.  It turned out to be a hit (possibly the biggest) at the event, especially with cigar fans.

from the K&L site

Distillery: Inchgower
Bottler: Hepburn's Choice (Hunter Laing)
Type: Single Malt
Region: Speyside (Banffshire)
Age: 20 years (1995-2015)
Maturation: sherry butt
Alcohol by Volume: 57.5%
Limited Release: 496 bottles
Exclusive to: K&L Wine Merchants

The nose begins with toffee, some classic Inchgower flower notes, and (curiously) old ex-bourbon-cask-style tropical fruit notes.  There's dusting of cocoa, lime candy, then some autumnal leaves.  Almond brittle candy.  After some time in the glass, the whiskey gets a little woodier with bigger caramel notes.  Maybe some whipped cream.

The palate starts with the Macallan-style clean sherriness that many of us used to love 5+ years ago, a characteristic now missing from current Mac.  Here it's deeper and fuller than any of Mac's 43%abv bottlings (including the 25yo).  A real toffee/caramel/nutty sherry cask.  There's bitter dark chocolate, salted caramels, a smoky note, and salt (smoked sea salt?).  There are smaller notes of dried blueberries as well as the nose's florals.

It finishes with nutty sherry, salt, and tart limes.  Small notes of flowers, dried berries, and mild oak.  A good length to it.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Here come some more familiar sherried notes in the nose.  Prunes, raisins, and smoky dark chocolate.  Three Musketeers nougat.  Aromatic toasted wood spices.  Roses and mangos.

The palate picks up big dried leaf notes, almost Kilkerran-like.  Subtle smoke and lime notes meet with a sweeter sherry.  A little bit of the salt remains.  A medium bitter dark chocolate.

The good length remains in the finish.  Big sherry cask-style dried fruits.  Brown butter.  A peep of oak.  Some salt and savoury notes.

Wow, this is terrific.  It swims very well too.  Even though the cask and its previous contents are of much influence, lots of well-matured spirit notes remain.  There's definitely something smoky going on here too.  Good fruits, flowers, sweets, earth, chocolate, toffee, salt.  I can't find anything wrong with it.  And it's not like I'm not trying.  It ranks with the dirtier K&L Craigellachie and Chieftain's Fettercairn as my favorite current sherried whiskies I've tried this year.  I give the Inchgower the advantage because it takes to water so well.  A darn good selection by K&L.

Availability - At K&L only
Pricing - $99.99
Rating - 90

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

It's a Laphroaig Cask Strength Taste Off! Batch 005 versus Batch 006

Some of you may be wondering, "How many times is this bastard going to review Laphroaig CS batch 005?!"  I'm all out of that whisky now, so this will be the last time, I promise.

Laphroaig CS Batch 005 was an odd misstep in a very high quality series of whiskys.  A big raw Kildalton malt in your face, the Laphroaig CS was always reliable in its first four numbered batches (and in the batches that came before the numbered ones).  Batch 005 was weird.  It wasn't particularly peaty, but was oaky and sweet instead.  Air and time in the bottle did not help it one bit, though watering it down to 48% did assist a little.  The fact that Batch 005 dropped at the same time that Laphroaig began expanding their range with more oak and wine focused NAS releases was additionally concerning to some of us Laphroaig fans.  So we waited, dearly hoping to find out that Batch 006 would be better, or else we'd all have to start shilling out $120 for Lagavulin 12.

Distillery: Laphroaig
Owner: Beam Suntory
Type: Single Malt
Region: Islay
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrels
Age: minimum 10 years
Batch: 005, Feb 2013
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? Probably not
Alcohol by Volume: 57.2%
Sample taken from my own bottle

The nose begins with vanilla cookies and a mossiness reminiscent of Compass Box's Peat Monster.  Then there's cinnamon, band aids, anise, and a teeny bit of kumquat.  Then grass clippings with brief moments of peaches and flowers.  Overall, it smells very sugary.

Small notes of salty seaweed and cinnamon start off the palate only to be run off the whisky road by some ash and LOTS of sugar.  There's a vinegar tang to it.  Maybe some menthol.  Peat encased in a sugar glaze.  The politest, though tooth-rottingest Laphroaig CS ever.

The finish is sweet, heat, and peat, in that order.  Some lemon sourness in the back, or maybe that's the vinegar note.  Salt and menthol.  Decent length.

WITH WATER (~48%abv)
White flour and peat candy in the nose.  More barley, less vanilla.  Peach candy, maybe some blackberry candy too.

The palate gets very green, like vegetation, moss, and an herbal bitterness.  Candied smoke.  Aggressively sweet.

It finishes sweet and tangy with candied smoke.

Huh.  This time when I dropped it to 48%abv it became even sweeter than when neat.  When it's neat it's just not very Laphroaig-ish, let alone cask strength Laphroaig-ish.  Just a young sugar bomb of unknown origin.  The oak is loudest in the nose, though a little tamer than the last time I tried it.  It's not terrible, but there's not much to recommend about it unless one is dying to have a super sugary Laphroaig.  There are so many better cask strength peaty options out there, and not only from Laphroaig.
RATING: 80 (with or without water)

Distillery: Laphroaig
Owner: Beam Suntory
Type: Single Malt
Region: Islay
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrels
Age: minimum 10 years
Batch: 006, Feb 2014
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? Probably not
Alcohol by Volume: 58.0%
Sample taken from OC Scotch Club event

The nose is very farmy at first.  Then it opens up after a few minutes.  Limes and mango juice.  Mothballs, hydrocortisone cream, and Bengay cream.  Aloe and pine needles.  Rotting seaweed.  After 20+ minutes in the glass, the whisky develops a sour milk note that slowly changes into vanilla frosting.

The palate is sweet and spicy and toasty.  More of the classic Laphroaig reek than the 005, but it's still toned down.  It's very vegetal, maybe even seaweed and fresh cabbage.  Oooh, finally, the iodine!  Then wood spice and lots of acidic lime juice.

Lots of salt in the finish.  Smoke and seaweed.  A bit acidic, a little sweet, and some vanilla hiding in there.  Good length.

WITH WATER (~48%abv)
A nice fruitiness now appears in the nose, mingling with a soft peating, reminiscent of the official 18 year old.  Some cinnamon custard.  Both doughy and salty.  A dingy medicinal note in the back.

The palate becomes very focused.  All sharp tart lime notes and raw biting peat.

Earth, salt, and cigarettes in the finish.

Though the names "Almost There" and "Work In Progress" belong to other companies' whiskys, they would be appropriate for this batch of Laphroaig Cask Strength.  This was a good rebound following batch 005.  It has a bit of the pure Laphroaig character that previous batches featured.  There's less oak and sugar than the 005, though it's not totally absent yet.  But it's getting much closer to what Laphroaig fans look for and expect.  I like it much better when it's reduced to 48%abv, but it finishes well either way.
RATING: 86 (with water)

Yes, #006 is a full step up from #005, thank goodness.  There's still room for improvement (like please tone down the sweets!), but I'm going to try to be an optimist here and hope #006 is a sign of better batches to come.  Oliver at Dramming.com had good things to say about Batch 007, so maybe things are on the right path.  In any case, if you're a Laphroaig geek and you have the opportunity to choose between a bottle of batch 005 or 006, I recommend going with the latter.  Or maybe you can dive blindly into #007.  If you've had that batch, please let me know in the comments what you thought of it.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee Release versus Ardbeg Uigeadail

Subtitle: Michael puts his whisky where his mouth is.

I've spent a lot of digital ink poking fun at Ardbeg's annual special releases, specifically how not special they are.  Year after year, these releases with silly names (and sillier stories) hit the shelves priced 50-100% more than Ardbeg's regular range, yet fall far short of the regular range's quality.  But I've been over this many times, so rather than repeat myself I'll direct you to this extended rant and my review of Ardbeg Perpetuuuual Disappointment.

Rather than do another bitchfest review without real context, I decided to do a blind taste test between this year's Ardbeg Bright Shiny Thing Dark Cove and the regular range's Ardbeg Uigeadail.  They're bottled at almost the same ABV, both made up of a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, and neither have an age statement.  But Dark Cove costs almost twice as much as Uigeadail (or 50-75% more depending on where you're located, or 200-300% more in the secondary market).

I obtained the Dark Cove committee release sample via my friend Brett when he threw it in as a surprise addition to a sample swap.  The Uigeadail (bottled in 2014) is from Florin's bottle which he gave away when he was reminded that he didn't like Ardbeg.  Many thanks to Brett and Florin!

Distillery: Ardbeg
Ownership: Glenmorangie Plc (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy)
Type: Single Malt
Region: Islay
Product: Dark Cove (committee release edition)
Age: ???
Maturation: "dark sherry" and ex-bourbon casks
Bottling year: 2015
Limited release: ???? bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 55.0%

Distillery: Ardbeg
Ownership: Glenmorangie Plc (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy)
Type: Single Malt
Region: Islay
Product: Uigeadail
Age: ???
Maturation: ex-oloroso and ex-bourbon casks
Bottling code: L140281507 6ML
Bottling year: 2014
Alcohol by Volume: 54.2%

My blind tasting glasses were marked A and B.  Let's see which is which:


Nose -- Starts off with tennis ball peat, sugary smoke, cinnamon, and a'Bunadh-like rich sherry. It smells like Peatin' Meetin', which is a thing you should attend.  Then there's a sandy beach, prune syrup, a little bit of new oak, peated mixed berries, a small pretty flower blossom note, plums, and hay.

Palate -- Mmmmm.  Thick.  Salty.  Sugary smoke, as on the nose.  Chili oil heat and a slight umami note.  Dried berries, apple juice, and peated molasses chews.

Finish -- Very long.  Salty bitter chocolate.  Soot, brown sugar, an ethyl bite, and a cloud of smoke.

WITH WATER ~47-49%abv:
Nose -- Becomes very farmy and picks up some cereal and yeast notes -- Ardbeg via the Isle of Mull?  Raspberries, cinnamon sticks, wood smoke, oceany peat.  After 10 minutes the farm notes fade away and salty peat takes over.

Palate -- Water seems to close it up, rather than open it.  It's tighter, bitterer.  Sherry has been washed away.  Vanilla, cinnamon, and lots of moss.

Finish -- Peated vanilla, cinnamon, and salt water.

If I know Oogy, this is Oogy.  The nose is massive and complex for what is likely young whisky.  The palate is simpler but really hits the spot.  Water seems to split its personality -- good strange nose, bland plain palate.  So, forget the water.  This is a good drink, not as awesome as in years past (if this is indeed Uigeadail), but still one of the best sherried peated OBs out there.

Then there was...


Nose -- Less outright sherry than in "A".  Still has that tennis ball peat, and rubbery peat too.  It has the cinnamon too, though here it's joined by apples and pears.  There's a louder alcohol element and some of the 10yo's sootiness.  After 10 minutes, the whisky abruptly shifts gears into something very different.  An intense barbecue note, with wood smoke and charcoal, bursts forth.  There's burnt veg, burnt chocolate, and huge caramel sauce note.  But then after 30 minutes, that enormous charred landscape is smothered by new oak -- ultra levels of butter, vanilla, and bland caramel.

Palate -- Curious large notes of white fruits. Much less sherry than "A" again.  It's super spicy (think wasabi + cayenne + Red Hots candies).  Then there's char and ashes.  Spearmint leaves, sugar, and a mild Oloroso.

Finish -- Pool chlorine and peat.  Sugar, pepper, ash, and lots of ethyl heat.

WITH WATER ~47-49%abv:
Nose -- It changes again.  Pencil lead, peach scented markers, spearmint, charred meat, but much less peat.  Some tangerines......but then the oaky vanilla returns.

Palate -- Very sweet.  The spice and the mint remain.  Mild peat.  Honey.  Sugary caramel.

Finish -- Sugar, salt, peat, ethyl heat, cinnamon, and mint.

To be honest, it was once I tasted "B" that I knew "A" had to be Uigeadail.  This must be Dark Cove.  For all the marketing talk about the "dark sherry casks", there really isn't a whole lot of sherry going on here.  But there is a lot of influence coming from new oak or rejuvenated oak or super-charred first fills.  Like "A", this is much better without water.  The palate is fun, but the finish feels very young and rough.  The nose is puzzling.  That middle section, between the 10 and 30 minute marks, was fantastic, like Supernova but better.  But after that, it's just gloppy.  If only it could harness that inferno throughout, then we'd be looking at something special.  So overall, it has some good to excellent parts, but the oak and (the probable) youth get in the way.
RATING: 85 (bouncing between 79 and 89)

"A" = Uigeadail √
"B" = Dark Cove committee release √

Again, though I was somewhat sure "A" was Uigeadail at the start, the palate and finish on the Dark Cove that gave it all away.  And, just to be thorough, the Uigeadail was a micro-shade darker in color than the Dark Cove, the supposed "darkest Ardbeg ever".  Maybe they mean the darkest ever Ardbeg bottle glass?  None more black.

Let's ignore all the dumb "dark" talk, shall we?  The Dark Cove has its moments, and if you can get it to sustain that scortched earth thing longer than I did, and can keep away all that oak stuff, then you will like it more than I.  I'd certainly rank it higher than Perpetuum and Auriverdes (god, these fugging names), so there's that.  But Uigeadail is still better, easier to find, and at half the price.

Availability - Most specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - $55-85
Rating - 88

Availability - Winesearcher shows 20+ US stores carrying it as of today
Pricing - anywhere from $100 to $200 on the primary market
Rating - 85

Friday, April 8, 2016

Four MGP Ryes and Two Judges

The Two Judges, my much better half and I:

Not pictured: Willett
The four MGP ryes:
--Single Cask Nation's MGP 8 year old Rye, barrel #52
--Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7 year old Rye, barrel #849 for K&L
--Redemption 7 year old Barrel Proof Rye, batch 6
--Willett 6 year old Family Estate Single Barrel Rye, barrel #122

With this being Kristen's birthday week I elected to review this string of MGP barrel proof rye.  Why?  Because my wife and I both enjoy the stuff.  And I'm not sure if I can say that about many (or any) other whiskies.  Before I did my four tastings, Kristen tried them (via small pours mind you, because damn) all side by side and ranked them by preference.  Here are her notes:

Kristen's notes:
Single Cask Nation's MGP 8 year old Rye, barrel #52 -- "Smells a little industrial, or am I influenced by the sample label's typeface?  Unremarkable overall."  RANK: 4

Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7 year old Rye, barrel #849 for K&L -- "Burns longer on the tongue. Cinnabon, is that you?"  RANK: 2

Redemption 7 year old Barrel Proof Rye, batch 6 -- "Burns longer in the back of the throat. A little hotter than I'd like."  RANK: 3

Willett 6 year old Family Estate Single Barrel Rye, barrel #122 -- "Least hot. Smoothest. Smell is vegetal. Cilantro?"  RANK: 1

"On my birthday I'll drink champagne! :)"

Yes you will, my dear.

So since she's always right, how did I fare?  Here's a summary of my reviews.  For the full reports click the links.  And because I'm silly, I gave these whiskies scores.  Anyway...

Michael's notes:
Single Cask Nation's MGP 8 year old Rye, barrel #52 -- "...very hot and difficult at full strength.  In fact, I didn't want to drink anymore of it while doing this tasting."; "...soooooper woody"; "...adding water...cleaned [it] up reasonably well."
Score: 80, though much lower without added water. -- RANK: 4

Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7 year old Rye, barrel #849 for K&L -- "I wouldn't say this Old Scout is very complex, nor markedly better than the former regular 7yo release, but it's reliable as heck.  Could set your watch to it, as the old saying goes."
Score: 87 -- RANK: 2

Redemption 7 year old Barrel Proof Rye, batch 6 -- "This isn't as much of an immediate hit as the Old Scout, but it's close."; "...a little young and rough at times, thus less 'smooth'"; "...the nose is great and the palate is perfectly acceptable, but I do wish there was more going on in the finish. "
Score: 85 -- RANK: 3

Willett 6 year old Family Estate Single Barrel Rye, barrel #122 -- "...in a different league than the other three ryes this week"; "...most exotic nose I've ever experienced on a rye"; "The palate...takes on different personalities...remains totally in balance throughout. The finish brings in new characteristics and flexes plenty of stamina."
Score: 90 -- RANK: 1

On her birthday, I'll drink champagne.  But then it's back to whisky in the morning.

Well, we agreed.  Which is good.  So, if you won't take my whiskey word for it, listen to the lady.  We've both always loved our Willett ryes, but we've also really enjoyed the Old Scout stuff (including the bourbon single barrels).  On such things historic eternal relationships are based.  Happy Birthday, Kristen!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

NOT Single Malt Report: Willett 6 year old Family Estate Single Barrel #122

And then there was Willett.  Of course there was going to be a Willett.  This is Diving for Pearls, so you can be sure of three things when you visit this site.  One, I'll give Single Pot Still Irish whiskeys ridiculously high scores.  Two, I'll bitch about all prices all the time.  Three, there will be Willett.

Once upon a time (as recently as two years ago), Willett Family Estate Single Barrel ryes were 4-6 years old, bottled at 55%abv, and were priced from $40-$55.  At the height of their popularity these regular releases were replaced by barrel proof versions, aged 6-8 years, and priced from $80-$200.  I remember the first time I saw a 7yo Willett selling for $129.99.  I came home and told my wife, "Willett has arrived."  It was now priced for "collectors", or rich dumb shits, or I don't know.  Now considered to be in the same realm as the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, and Weller 12, these single barrel Willetts are priced far from the grasp of the original fans.  Much of this has to do with retailers bloating prices.  But it does seem as if the suggested retail prices are as follows: 6yo - $80; 7yo - $90; 8yo - $120.  I bought one six and two sevens, spending more than I ever have (and probably ever will) for an American whiskey, and then I bid Willett adieu.  I covered all of this better in a post last year.

This is my bottle of one of the 6 year old single barrels.  I opened it this winter because we were repeatedly told that El Niño was going to open up the skies and everyone in California needed to build an ark.  And nothing is better than sitting next to a crackling fireplace, sipping Willett with someone you love, while rain thrums against the roof.  So open the bottle we did!  And then it never rained.

BottlerKentucky Bourbon Distillers (also known as Willett Distilling Company)
Brand: Willett Family Estate Single Barrel
Type: Straight Rye Whiskey
Age6 years
MaturationNew American Oak
RegionBardstown, Kentucky (Distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana)
Barrel: 122
Bottle: no info listed
Alcohol by Volume58.2%

The last of the four MGP ryes this week, this is the only one that actually came from my stash.  Specifically, this pour came from about the midpoint.  No water was added

The nose is remarkably fruity at first.  Lots of musty overripe tropical fruits and orange oil.  Toasted oak and toasted almonds arise from underneath eventually taking over, mingling with smaller notes of mint, caramel, and vanilla bean.  With 20+ minutes in the glass, the rye grows darker (if something can smell darker). Burnt bacon and wood smoke notes meet arugula and jalapeños.

Enormous pepper and dill notes are balanced out by brown sugar and dark cherry sweetness in the palate.  Sometimes there's a bright fresh note like lemon-cucumber water, but then that's swooped away by raspberry-syrup-filled dark chocolate.  With time the pepper note moves from black corns to cayenne.  Things get a little earthy and bitter, though again it's met with a fruity sweetness.

In the finish there's toffee and bubblegum, but also peppercorns and a slight herbal bitterness.  Some dark cherry syrup.  Marzipan and mint.  A rye seed or two.  Tremendous length.

You know, I'd prepared this whole screed about how this was not only not worth the $200 prices dumb retailers are selling it for, but that it wasn't even worth the $80 I'd paid for it.  But, it is worth the $80 I paid for it.  This whiskey, like a number of Willetts before it, has the It Factor.  It's in a different league than the other three ryes this week, though two of them were quite good.  Is it better than the the ol' $45 4 year olds?  Possibly not.  But if one takes quality into account, those 4yos were underpriced (gasp! I said it!).  Other than the BTAC Thomas H. Handy releases, there was no comparable rye on the market back then, and those THHs started at $80.  Is this whiskey worth $200?  NOPE.  That's not an insult.  This is the first time I've found a contemporary American whiskey to be worth nearly $100.

So, what is this It Factor?  It begins with the most exotic nose I've ever experienced on a rye, but then the nose progresses, developing into new angles, never drifting too oaky or spirity.  The palate also takes on different personalities, but also remains totally in balance throughout.  The finish brings in new characteristics and flexes plenty of stamina.  I have no idea how the Kulsveens do this, but they do it.

Tomorrow, I'll reveal what my wife though of these four ryes, and if we need the UN to help sort out the ensuing conflict.

Availability - 
This barrel may have sold out, but there are other 6yo Willet ryes out there

Pricing - I bought this one for $79.99, but have seen other 6s selling north of $100
Rating - 90

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

NOT Single Malt Report: Redemption 7 year old Barrel Proof Rye, batch 6

On Monday, it was Single Cask Nation's single MGP barrel.  On Tuesday, it was one of K&L's exclusive Smooth Ambler MGP barrels.  Today, it's a small(?) batch of barrel proof MGP rye bottled by Redemption, a Bardstown Barrel Selections brand.

Redemption also has a regular 46%abv MGP rye release without an age statement (though I think it's two years old).  They have two different MGP-distilled bourbons as well.  So basically, no MGP would mean no Redemption.  And Redemption, much like Smooth Ambler and Willett, publicly recognizes their product's source and correctly lists "Distilled in Indiana" on their labels.

Today's sample comes to us courtesy of the generosity of Mr. Sku of Recent Eats fame.

Brand: Redemption
Company: Bardstown Barrel Selections (with the barest of bare bones website)
Type: Straight Rye Whiskey
Age7 years
MaturationNew American Oak
RegionDistilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana
Mashbill: 95% rye, 5% malted barley
Batch: 6
Alcohol by Volume61.3%

For comparison purposes, I tried this rye side-by-side with yesterday's single barrel 7yo Old Scout rye.  No water was applied to either.

The nose is much closer to the Old Scout than the SCN barrel.  Cinnamon bread and carrot cake lead off, then a little bit of whole grain mustard.  There's some rumbly rye spirit throughout, though it's not hot, considering the ABV.  A hint of rye bread and dill.  Bits of plaster and vinyl.  Maybe some dried cheese.  A nice late hit of cloves arrives later on.

Spices in the palate.  Cassia cinnamon, ginger powder, and cardamom.  Then vanilla, maraschino cherries, and a little bit of black pepper.  Robotussin.  Grape juice (weird).  It's plenty sweet and a little warmer than the nose, but still very palatable.

It finishes with black cherry soda, cayenne pepper, tart berries, and some sharp young rye stuff.  The sweetness mellows out.

This isn't as much of an immediate hit as the Old Scout, but it's close.  It can be a little young and rough at times, thus less "smooth", yet it's still fun if one's up for an adventure.  I'm always down for some excitement.  For me, the nose is great and the palate is perfectly acceptable, but I do wish there was more going on in the finish.  If this was priced in the $50-$60 range, I'd get a bottle.  But it's up in the $80-$90 range, so I'll leave it on the shelf for someone else.

Availability - Many specialty liquor retailers in the US
Pricing - usually $80-$90, though some places on the East Coast have it closer to $70
Rating - 85

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

NOT Single Malt Report: Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7 year old Rye, barrel #849 for K&L Wines

If you're new to American whiskies, here's the scoop with this rye.  Smooth Ambler is a whiskey company based in West Virginia.  Though they're distilling their own spirit right now -- and bottling some of it -- they started their business by bottling rye and bourbon that was actually distilled by Midwest Grain Products (MGP) in Indiana.  This was their "Old Scout" brand.  Their MGP rye was a 7 year old, released in batches assembled from a number of barrels, and bottled at 49.5%abv.  Occasionally they also released barrel proof single barrels of rye (and bourbon).  And sometimes they sold those barrels exclusively through specific retailers.  From what I've read, they've started to run short on all those rye barrels.  In the meantime, they're focusing on releasing their own whiskey.

The rye whiskey I'm reviewing today (7 years old, barrel 849) was one of the MGP single barrels that was sold only through one retailer, in this case K&L Wine Merchants.  I foolishly(?) missed out on securing one of K&L's single Old Scout rye barrels, but luckily Whisky Man Florin did not.  So, many thanks to Florin for this sample.

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
Retailer: K&L Wine Merchants
Barrel: 849
Alcohol by Volume61.7%

For comparison purposes, I tried this rye side-by-side with the SCN rye from yesterday's review.  No water was applied to either.

There's gentler oak and much less ethyl on the nose of this rye compared to that of the SCN rye.  It starts with caramel sauce and salty air.  Then cinnamon and loads of whole cloves.  With time in the glass, the whiskey develops sizable notes of vanilla fudge and cream soda.

Entirely drinkable at this ABV.  The palate starts off peppery and briney, but also has a good dose of brown sugar and snickerdoodle cookies.  Some spearmint leaves too.  A nice bitter bite around the edges, with mulled wine in the middle.  It develops a little bit of a fizzy bitter lemon note after a while.

Caramel, brown sugar, and spearmint in the finish.  A bit more of a spicy zing with time.  And then molasses.  The mint leaves soon turn to mint candy.

It's as if this isn't even remotely related to yesterday's whiskey.  I wouldn't say this Old Scout is very complex, nor markedly better than the former regular 7yo release, but it's reliable as heck.  Could set your watch to it, as the old saying goes.  Even with all the alcohol and years of oak, it isn't a palate wrecker like the SCN.  Thank goodness.  If you have a bottle of barrel 849 in your stash, there's no need to hoard it for eternity.  Bust it out the next time you want some fulfilling big rye.  Meanwhile, the rest of us will be without.  :(  Enjoy!

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - $54.99
Rating - 87

Monday, April 4, 2016

NOT Single Malt Report: Single Cask Nation's MGP 8 year old Straight Rye, cask #52

My wife likes MGP-distilled rye, I like MGP-distilled rye, and we have the folks at Willett to thank for that.  But Willett is far from the only company that ages and bottles whiskey from Midwest Grain Products WonderFactory™.  In honor of my wife's birthday, I will review four MGP ryes from four different companies this week.  She actually had first dibs on all of these, and she provided her own notes and rankings.  On Friday, after my reviews are complete, I'll reveal her rankings and compare our findings.

First up:  A single barrel of 8 year old MGP rye bottled by Single Cask Nation.  This sample arrived via a swap with my friend Linda who has provided me with a number of great (or at least entertaining!) American whiskey samples recently.  She prefers bourbon over rye, but she and her husband, Brett (with whom I swap scotch samples), are SCN members and are happy to try all sorts of whiskies.  Thanks, Linda!

Distiller: Midwest Grain Products
Bottler: Single Cask Nation
Type: Straight Rye Whiskey
Region: Lawrenceburg, Indiana
Age: 8 years
Mashbill: 95% rye, 5% malted barley
Maturation: New American oak
Cask: 52
Limited bottling: 131
Alcohol by Volume: 60.9%

The nose is sooooper woody.  As in pulp and bark.  Underneath that it's salty, buttery, and briney.  Next, there's dried cheese, pickles, and something slightly eggy.  Distant dark fruit notes mingle with halvah.  With time, it develops varnish, coconut hand lotion, and fresh oregano notes.

The palate is pretty darn hot.  But there are more familiar rye notes here than in the nose.  Definitely some dill.  Cherry popsicles, marzipan, caramel, and vanilla.  Some generic barrel char.  20 minutes in, a big green herbal note appears.

On the finish, there's heat.  Lots of heat.  Gotta work through that.  Then sugar, peppery rye, sawdust, caramel, and a hint of orange peel.

This was tough.  I have never added water to a barrel proof MGP rye, but this time I felt it was necessary.

WITH WATER (~50%abv)
The nose is nuttier, think almonds and cashews.  Less heat.  Eventually that egg note fades out.  Slight floral note meets a larger vanilla one.  Still some sharp wood/bark notes.

The palate is earthier and more peppery.  Much less heat, though it holds onto the sweetness.  Some drying tannins.  Hints of mint and lemons.

The finish is also less hot, though more drying.  More mint and pepper.  Cherry candies.

I know it's sexier to sell (and buy!) whisky at full strength, but some whiskies work better at lower proofs.  This whiskey was very hot and difficult at full strength.  In fact, I didn't want to drink anymore of it while doing this tasting.  When I drank the last quarter ounce the following day, I couldn't finish it off and started feeling like I was already tired of drinking rye this week.  But by adding water and dropping it to 50%abv during the tasting, I found that it cleaned up reasonably well.  The C grade whisky became a low B-.  Not that that's a great grade for an MGP rye from an MGP-biased reviewer, but it's better.  So if you bought this cask from SCN and it's not really doing anything for you, add water, maybe even generously so.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - actually, I have no idea. It doesn't appear in SCN's current or archive bottle pages. If you remember the price, let me know and I'll update this.
Rating - 80 (with water only, 5-10 points lower when without water)