...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Whisky 600: Box Whisky Advanced Masterclass Number One

The Box Whisky Distillery is located way up at the 63rd parallel in Sweden.  To give you another idea of how north it is -- the most Northern distillery in the world, they claim -- the 63ºN runs through the center of Alaska, the top of Hudson Bay, the bottom of Greenland, and the center of Siberia.  Whisky drinking climate indeed.

They do not control the temperatures in their Norrland warehouse, which must allow for some interesting maturation being that the temperatures outside can have up to a 100ºF span (-20ºF to 80ºF) during the year.  They use two types of casks, first-fill American oak and ex-Oloroso sherry from Spain.  After importing both cask types, they re-cooper them all down to 39.25 liters.  They use Pilsner Malt, the unsmoked stuff from Sweden, and the smoked from Scotland (wherever the hell that is).  They use French distiller's yeast and ferment for "unusually long periods".  I know that "" part sounds vague and questionable, but if you've drunk any Swedish drink or eaten any Swedish food (no, IKEA's Äppelkaka doesn't f***ing count) then you know they really like to ferment stuff. Filmjölk in da house!

You knew this was coming.
In 2013, Box released a boxed set of five 200mL bottles called Advanced Masterclass Number One - Toasting.  Along with the set is the class text, a website which actually anyone can view.  It's very informative (data heavy!) and I recommend anyone interested in whisky to give it a read.  Google Translate does a good job with the Svenska, though I do like the part when "the spirits are walking in and out of the oak". Spooky!

The distillate is the same in all five bottles, having been from one distillation run.  It was all barreled (the site even has data on the trees that were felled for the barrels) on April 26, 2011 and then bottled on November 1, 2013.  From the site, here's the meat of the set/class:
The contents of this box is stored for 30 months in 100-liter barrels of new Swedish oak with five different roasting degrees. It is not old enough to be called whiskey, but it does not matter in this case since the purpose is merely to understand how different roasts affect the odor and taste.
Five whiskies.  Five levels of cask toasting/firing/charring: Light, Medium, Medium+, Heavy, and Charred.  (Yes, they share the data behind these levels too.)  The student is to read the text, then nose and taste the whiskies and guess which one (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) was from which toast level.


Six of us split the cost of the Masterclass bottles (thank you, Andy, for initiating this opportunity).  Everyone else took the test almost a year ago, I think.  I just got around to doing it last week.

COLOR
Visually, one can begin to sort the whiskies out.  Whiskies 2 and 4 have the lightest color.  Whiskies 1, 3, and 5 are noticeably darker.  Since they all spent the same time in the casks, the darker the tint, the heavier the toast.  And this proved correct on the nose and palate.


THE WHISKY:

WHISKY 1
NOSE - Neat (56%abv) - Golden raisins, yeast, cocoa powder, twigs and leaves. With time, some more caramel arises along with a hint of orange peel, and big chocolate croissant note. With water (~44%abv) - Caramel, milk chocolate, and grassy, with a hint of new make.
PALATE - Neat (56%abv) - Salted caramels, barrel char, malt, cigar tobacco, and a nice peppery zing to lift it all up. With water (~44%abv) - Curiously hotter.  Peppery, lightly sweet, lightly bitter. Some toffee.
FINISH - Neat (56%abv) - Sweet, caramelly, with toasted grains. With water (~44%abv) - Grass and herbal

WHISKY 2
NOSE - Neat (56%abv) - Lemons, mangoes, leaves, and spicy basil leaves.  With time, notes of underripe peaches and pine sap show up. With water (~44%abv) - Loses the fruits except for a little bit of lemon.  Cardamom, curry powder, burnt butter, and grains.
PALATE - Neat (56%abv) - New make.  Confectioner's sugar, heat, slight floral note.  Some caramel and almond paste to give it a little depth. With water (~44%abv) - Sugar, vanilla, sourness, raw spirit.
FINISH - Neat (56%abv) - Not much other than sharp new make and caramel. Maybe some salt and pepper. Plenty of heat. With water (~44%abv) - Drying, bitter, with some vanilla.

WHISKY 3
NOSE - Neat (56%abv) - Caramel, vanilla, nougat, mint and marzipan.  Then vanilla fudge and cherry lollipops. With water (~44%abv) - Caramel, vanilla, fresh wheat bread, lemon, and malt.
PALATE - Neat (56%abv) - Very nutty.  Cashews, almonds, pecan pie.  Caramel and a hint of prunes. With water (~44%abv) - Caramel, vanilla, creme brulee.  Very desserty.
FINISH -  Neat (56%abv) - Caramel, almonds, and toasted oak. With water (~44%abv) - Sweet and creamy.

WHISKY 4
NOSE - Neat (56%abv) - Burnt grains, burnt paper, black raisins, and agave nectar.  The rawest of the bunch. With water (~44%abv) - Burnt, vegetal, and yeasty with cilantro and saltines.
PALATE - Neat (56%abv) - All grain at first.  Hay, mild tartness, very drying, a hint of vanilla. With water (~44%abv) - Toasty, mildly nutty, light on the vanilla.  A decent bitter bite.
FINISH - Neat (56%abv) - Drying with hints of sweetness and barley. With water (~44%abv) - Tart, bitter, and sweet. All of which barely show up.

WHISKY 5
NOSE - Neat (56%abv) - Milk chocolate, menthol, and tree bark.  Then big note of Three Mustketeers candy bars. With water (~44%abv) - Very rich, almost sherryish. Toffee, malt, pepper, and milk chocolate.
PALATE - Neat (56%abv) - Marzipan, sugar, rosewater syrup, and caramel sauce. With water (~44%abv) - More complex. Milder sweets, nice toasty oak.  Hints of vanilla and nuts.  Malty and peppery.
FINISH - Neat (56%abv) - Mellow sweetness and caramel, with a cooling zip at the end. With water (~44%abv) - Vanilla, nuts, chocolate malt, and mint. Very aromatic.

FINAL THOUGHTS AND GUESSES:

Whisky 2 and 4 do prove to smell and taste the least oaky; while 1, 3, and 5 feel more oaky...
WHISKY 1 - My second favorite of the bunch.  With all this wood spice and caramel, I'm guessing this is Charred.
WHISKY 2 - Excellent fruity nose, but that's all from the spirit.  It's not the roughest of the bunch so I'm going with the second lightest toasting, Medium.
WHISKY 3 - My favorite of the bunch.  A nutty dessert.  I'll go with the second heaviest toasting, Heavy.
WHISKY 4 - Too sharp and unformed for me.  Raw.  Thus, Light.
WHISKY 5 - This one swam the best.  I'd say it even improved with added water.  Some oak on the nose, but much less in the palate, so I'll go with the middle setting, Medium+.

Before I show my test results and spoil the whole thing, I'll conclude here with my final comments and rating.
photo source
This was an excellent whisky experience.  Not only was it informative and often delicious, but these were legitimately five different whiskies.  I wish more whisky companies (especially those who claim to be committed to their fanbase and experimentation) would offer something like this.  Buffalo Trace does stuff like their Single Oak project and Experimental collection, but no one's doing this in Scotland.  Maybe one of the legion of new distilleries could try this, thus setting themselves apart from the rest of the pack.  I highly recommend this set, though I also recommend you split the cost with friends because it's very expensive.

Availability - 
Europe only

Pricing - $200 and up
Rating - 92


***SPOILER ALERT***
***I AM NOW GOING TO SHOW THE TEST ANSWERS.  SO STEER AWAY IF YOU WANT TO BUY THIS THING AND TAKE THE TEST.***


Well, I got them all wrong.  But!  At least I was only one-off with all of them, save one.

Whisky 1 - Medium+
Whisky 2 - Light
Whisky 3 - Charred
Whisky 4 - Medium
Whisky 5 - Heavy

In hindsight I should have known #3 was Charred since it was all gooey and chewy rich with non-spirit notes.  Should have gone with my gut there instead of studying the text's charts.  Meanwhile, the difference between the Medium and the Medium+ was drastic.  While their toasting levels were relatively close, the resulting whiskies were completely different.  Curiously, Medium+ is the one toasting level that the website doesn't give specifics, but the results are much closer to Heavy than Medium.  In fact, Whisky 4 (the "Medium" one) smelled and tasted almost unaged.  Perhaps their actual unaged spirit is pretty good on its own (the "light" one smelled great) and needs more than a Medium toast to come into its own.  In any case, I'd be happy to purchase a full bottle of 1, 3, or 5 if it were at a reasonable price.

Friday, May 27, 2016

NOT Single Malt Report: Noah's Mill Bourbon, batch 15-18


Upon the recommendation of one Bourbon Truth, I purchased a bottle of Noah's Mill, batch 15-18.  I'd drunk Noah's at bars before but never my own bottle.  Mr. Truth was so very ecstatic about this particular batch, and I found a bottle for such a good price while in Arizona, that I risked a blind buy.  After I bought the bottle, I found an emphatic negative review of this same batch by Reddit user XenonBloom, then a moderately positive one by user ShooterFlatch.  I handed out some samples from my bottle to get some feedback.  My friend Linda, who knows bourbon probably better than I, liked the whiskey a lot.  My Annoying Opinions has a sample and once his sniffer is back to 100% functioning power, you may see his review of this bottle.  (And I'll try to remember to post a link of his review when it's up.)

Though bottled by the Willett folks, Noah's Mill was distilled by the Midwest Grain Products WonderFactory™ another undisclosed Kentucky distillery.  It used to have a 15 year old age statement, but now it's NAS.  I've read online that it's now a mix of bourbons between 4 and 20 years old, but I don't know if that's just rumor.  What is curious about Noah's Mill is that nowhere on the bottle is the word "Straight".  As in "Straight Bourbon Whiskey".  Does this mean there are additives in the mix?  Or are they using whiskies younger than 4 years, and thus by not stating the <4yo age, they then can't call it "Straight"?  I know they're not required to use the Straight designation, but it just seems a little odd to me.  Anyway, on to the review!


Brand: Noah's Mill
Owner: Kentucky Bourbon Distillers Ltd, (aka Willett Distillery)
Distillery: unknown, other than that it's in Kentucky
Type: Bourbon
Mashbill: ???
Age: ??? (maybe 4 to 20 years, thus maybe 4 years)
Batch: 15-18
Alcohol by Volume: 57.15%

NEAT
Right up front, the nose shows furniture polish, lumberyard, roasted corn, and honey.  It opens up considerably with air, picking up flower blossoms and an orange meringue thing.  Burnt vanilla beans (if that's a thing).  A hint of mango juice and confectioner's sugar.  On the palate the heat reads as chili oil.  It's not too sweet, but rather leafy with some bitter chocolate and halvah.  With some breathing time it picks up some white fruit juices and almonds.  It has a BIG tannic finish.  Very spicy, almost rye-ish.  Lots of black pepper and burnt toast.  Caramel, vanilla, and barrel char.

WITH WATER (~50%abv)
The nose gets fruitier and reveals some nice green herbal notes.  Less oak, more old school Robotussin.  Melting sugar and rock candy.  Not much change in the palate.  Less heat, more sweet.  More black pepper than chili oil now.  A slight tart and bitter bite.  The finish is also sweeter.  Still drying and tannic with bitter wood notes.

COMMENTS:
I love the nose on this one, though it needs a lot of time to open up and adding some water won't hurt it either.  Two things I like about the palate: A.) it's not super sweet; and B.) the oak is the quietest here.  The palate doesn't take to water as well, so overall I'd recommend it neat, even with the high ABV.  Like the nose, the palate works best with a lot of breathing time.  The oak does roar back into the finish, so be prepared for that.  When it comes to big American oak, I think it works much better in American whiskies (appropriately) than in Scottish ones.  But here the finish's wood attack is a bit above my tolerances.  I will naively guess there's quite some old whiskey in this batch or else the barrels were extra active.  It still makes its way into the "B" range because the nose is so good.

If you can find this batch for less than $50 and you have a high oak tolerance, then I recommend it.  But if your retailer is selling it for $60+ and you're more of a Scotch fan, my recommendation would be much less emphatic.

Availability - Noah's is widely available at US specialty liquor retailers, look for the brown sticker on the side of the bottle (see above photo) for the batch number
Pricing - $45-$65
Rating - 84

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Balmenach Trio: Balmenach 26 year old 1988 Signatory for Binny's, cask 2805

As referenced on Tuesday, I did a blind tasting of three 1988 Signatory single cask Balmenach samples.  I did so in order to not let any sort of bias slip into my tasting experience.  In each instance, I graded each whisky and guessed which one was released by whom.  You'll be relieved to know that I got all three guesses wrong.  I mean, what does K&L taste like?  (*insert your own personalized joke here*)

I obtained today's sample via a group bottle split, courtesy of My Annoying Opinions.  As I mentioned in the two previous reviews, these 1988 Balmenachs have been getting good reviews and word of mouth.  In his review of this cask, MAO references the suspect Magical Vintage theory (see 1998 Laphroaig, 1972 Caperdonich, 1997 Clynelish, etc.).  As 1997 is for Clynelish, 1988 is the "vintage" which has the most indie releases for the Balmenach distillery.  Does the prevalence of these casks have some psychological influence that leads to the "Magical Vintage" idea?  I don't know.  Perhaps it's possible that well matured Balmenach is in fact good whisky, no matter what year it was distilled.  Hopefully there are more casks sitting warehouses in Scotland that will someday let us know if this is true.

On one final note, MAO was not a big fan of this particular Balmenach.  I am a big fan of this particular Balmenach.


Distillery: Balmenach
Ownership: Thai Beverages plc (via Inver House Distillers)
Independent Bottler: Signatory
Age: 26 years (October 18, 1988 - September 1, 2015)
Maturation: Hogshead
Cask#: 2805
Alcohol by Volume: 51.6%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
Exclusive to: Binny's

NEAT
The nose starts with a big ol' barley note, along with papaya and loquats.  Some lovely bright oak, sometimes piney, sometimes a little old school musty.  A small medicinal note is followed by a smaller metallic one.  The pine gets a little bigger with time and is lifted up by a solid fresh ginger note.  Toffee, barley, peach and apricot pie (with some cinnamon in the filling) start off the palate.  It's plenty sweet, but that's balanced by a moderate bitter note and a spicy zing.  Some vanilla shows up later on, along with a rye-like baking spice note.  Its nice long finish goes a little tropical, picking up bananas, rum, applesauce, and barley.

WITH WATER (~43%abv)
The medicinal note goes towards band-aids in the nose.  Then some dusty barley, citronella candles, and funky fermenting tropical fruit.  The palate gets milder.  It's peppery, salty, and tangy.  Some caramel sauce and dried apricots.  The finish is mostly the same as the palate, though less fruity.

COMMENTS:
While the European cask (2819) had a bigger brighter perkier nose, this one's nose was more complex.  This cask's palate and finish are the best of the three.  The fruit and spice and bitters play very well together and the long exotic finish really hits the spot.  It's close to getting itself a 90+ rating, but the whisky doesn't swim particularly well, especially when it comes to the palate where it flattens out.  As I mentioned above, MAO had a different take on this whisky.  Since our reviews came from the same bottle, take a look at his post in order to calm the great optimism I've now instilled in you.

Availability - 
Binny's

Pricing - $130-$150 depending on their sales
Rating - 89

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Balmenach Trio: Balmenach 25 year old 1988 Signatory for K&L Wine Merchants, cask 2900

Inver House Distillers owns a number of respectable malt distilleries.  There are the more familiar stars from the North Highlands: Old Pulteney and Balblair.  There's the rising star, AnCnoc.  And there's Speyburn, a distillery which produces the best value 10 year old single malt in Speyside.

But then there's Balmenach, a distillery whose malt is used almost entirely for blends, including Hankey Bannister (*frowny emoji*).  Originally owned by DCL (proto-Diageo), it had a pair of Flora & Fauna releases about twenty years ago.  Inver House purchased the mothballed distillery in 1997, and an official single malt under the Balmenach name hasn't been seen since.  Curiously Inver House does sell some casks to a company called Aberko who then uses it for their 18 year old "Deerstalker" brand......except of course for the times they use Allt-a-Bhainne.  And, just to confuse things further, Aberko uses Braeval's single malt for their 10 year old Deerstalkers.  So, still, there isn't very much Balmenach to be found.

Thus we go to the independent bottlers once again to find out what Balmenach tastes like.  As I mentioned yesterday, Signatory's 1988 single casks of Balmenach have been receiving very positive word of mouth.  I was able to obtain samples of three of these single casks and did a blind tasting of the bunch.  Yesterday, I reviewed cask 2819 (sold in Europe).  Today it's a cask that was sold exclusively through K&L Wine Merchants in the US.  Thank you to Brett for the sample!


Distillery: Balmenach
Ownership: Thai Beverages plc (via Inver House Distillers)
Independent Bottler: Signatory
Age: 25 years (October 25, 1988 - April 25, 2014)
Maturation: Hogshead
Cask#: 2819
Bottle count: 148
Alcohol by Volume: 56%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
Exclusive to: K&L Wine Merchants

NEAT
The nose is more floral (jasmine and roses) than cask 2819's candy blitzkrieg, though there is a slight sugary candy shop note.  There's the lemon bar note and some lemon juice, but also some lemon bathroom cleaner.  Salty beach meets dusty dry soil.  A little bit of green grass.  The only time the oak shows up is in a small caramel note.  White peaches, caramel, and slight tart bite start off the palate.  Those are followed by cayenne pepper, rosewater syrup, and limes.  A bit of a Grand Marnier thing appears after 30 minutes.  The light finish is lightly floral and creamy.  Some vanilla, limes, and lemons show up as well.

WITH WATER (~47%abv)
Lemons, limes, roses, cherry candy, and roasted barley in the nose.  The palate is still quite aromatic, though also tangier and bitterer.  There are lemons and limes and very little sweetness.  Still a decent oomph to it.  It finishes with salt and sour lemon candy.

COMMENTS:
No big flaws to this one.  It had my second favorite palate of the three, but the finish was on the short simple side.  Its nose is good, but the sniffers on the other two casks were damn good so regular "good" equals third place.  Even though it finishes third out of three overall, it's still an impressive whisky for a distillery that has historically gotten no love from anoraks.  I'm glad K&L took a chance with this cask.  The risk paid off for them as it sold out pretty quickly.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - $150
Rating - 86

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Balmenach Trio: Balmenach 25 year old 1988 Signatory, cask 2819

It started innocently.  A number of 1988 Balmenach single casks by Signatory started showing up on European retailer websites.  The prices weren't terrible.  And I thought, Balmenach?  Balmenach.  So, I started snooping around for reviews and discovered that people really liked these single casks.  Had we all been missing out on a nearly unheard of distillery all these years?  I'm all for unsexy brands, so I kept an eye on the progress.  More of these '88 Signatory single casks kept appearing, and soon a few made their way to The States.  I was intrigued, but I wanted to try a few of them in order to challenge my skepticism.  So I added it to my new Dram Quest, and sure enough I lined up samples from three of these casks:  One cask sold in Europe, one cask sold exclusively through K&L Wine Merchants, and one sold exclusively through Binny's.  I lined them up and tasted them blindly, so as to not let any biases slip in.


First up, cask #2819, sold in Europe.  I purchased this sample from Whiskybase Shop in The Netherlands.

Distillery: Balmenach
Ownership: Thai Beverages plc (via Inver House Distillers)
Independent Bottler: Signatory
Age: 25 years (October 18, 1988 - August 12, 2014)
Maturation: Hogshead
Cask#: 2819
Bottle count: 245
Alcohol by Volume: 54.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

NEAT
The nose is full of citrus and candy.  Lemon bars, lemon creme filling, creamsicles, orange juice, and orange hard candies.  Vanilla, Cool Whip, and sugar cookies.  After 40+ minutes, some moderate notes of leaves and softly toasted oak appear.  The palate is more peppery than the nose and less fruity.  It's mildly sweet with limes and tart raspberries.  Slight musty basement note mingles with peppercorns and the growing tartness.  It finishes peppery, tart, tangy, and musty.  Small sugar and lime notes show occasionally.  A good length to it.

WITH WATER (~45%abv)
There's a little more vanilla and a lot more caramel in the nose now.  More flower blossoms, too.  The fruit reads as apricots rather than lemons.  The palate becomes much quieter, though also sweeter.  There's a slight creak of oak, but a better bitter note develops simultaneously.  No more mustiness.  A little bit of tart citrus.  The finish keeps its good length, getting sweeter and more tannic.

COMMENTS:
Of the three Balmenachs this week, this one had the best nose.  It's a sheer delight to sniff, both with and without water (though, without is preferred).  Meanwhile the palate, while perfectly okay, is very different than the nose.  It's neither a fruit basket nor a bag of candy.  I'm glad it wasn't tooth rottingly sweet, but it's a bit tight and water doesn't open it up at all, though it may require more hydration than I gave it.  But, goodness, that nose is awesome and that's what keeps the score up.  Perhaps the palate plays better at the midpoint of a 700mL bottle.  If you're working on a bottle of this, please let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

Availability - It might still be found at some specialty retailers in Europe
Pricing - $120-$130 (w/o VAT, w/o shipping)
Rating - 87

Monday, May 23, 2016

OC Scotch Club Event: Michael's Last Stand

This is me workin' the hard sell for my LA/OC/SD readership.  Reviews shall return tomorrow...

As mentioned in a post two months ago, I help Andy Smith run the Orange County Scotch Club.  For the past ten months, I've been leading the tastings, talking a little bit about the history and processes behind Scotch whisky and its distilleries, and pouring the goodies.  It's been a great honor and a lot of fun.  I've met some excellent people and consumed some very good malt whisky.  But next week will be my final event because my family and I are moving out of the area.  More on that another time.

Michael's Last Stand
at Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club
on May 26th

As it's my last go around leading an OCSC event, I elected to go with whiskys from my own recent purchases and my own secret cabinet of oddities.

Here are the scheduled whiskies:


Caol Ila 18 year old -- It's sadly no longer available in the US -- probably because they don't set aside enough casks, using most 18yo CI for Johnnie Walker Platinum -- but I was able to grab a bottle from the UK.  I adored this stuff the first time I tried it 2+ years ago, so I'm looking forward to sharing this one with all!

Ben Nevis 16 year old 1998 Càrn Mor from a Fino Sherry butt -- Ben Nevis + Fino cask.  Couldn't pass it up.  This should be a real trip.

Springbank 17 year old 1997 Sherry Wood -- I reviewed it, loved it, and bought it.  There's a nagging feeling inside of me saying this will be the last time we'll ever see a fully sherried cask strength teenage Springbank for under $200.

Benromach 10 year old 100 (UK) Proof, 57%abv -- I'm FINALLY getting around to this one.  I'm a fan of Benromach's regular 10yo, and that one's only 43%abv.  The plaudits are numerous for this big baby so let's try it out and compare it to...

Benromach 19 year old 1978 Scott's Selection -- Distilled by DCL (neo-Diageo) before the distillery was mothballed and sold to G&M, this is this indeed my birthday whisky for 2016.  I'm opening it a few months early this year in order to share with whomever shows up to this event.  And yes, I snuck a sniff already after I salvaged the bottle's shattered cork.  If the palate matches the nose, holy moley.

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE?!?!?!?
As soon as we sell 20 tickets, I'm going to start pulling more bottles from my cabinet.  The more bodies, the more bottles.  I clearly need help drinking my whisky and here's your opportunity to assist.  We're only two tickets away now...

With dinner served on the pool patio of a fancy yacht club and optional post-tasting cigar smoking, this shindig will send my ass out in style.  For more information on this May 26th event, please see the official site.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Mathilda Malt Report: Macallan 37 year old 1969 Duncan Taylor Rare Auld, cask 8360

Closing up this week of vibrant old expensive stuff, I've elected to go with a Macallan.  "A 37 year old Macallan?!" you squeal.  "Yes, from an ex-bourbon cask," I intone.  "F*** that," you bemoan and walk away.  And you miss out on something good.

I've had a handful of ex-bourbon Macallans from independent bottlers, and I've liked them all because they allowed me to experience the actual Macallan character freed of its sherry shackles.  The result is usually very good whisky.

This single malt is the first of a number of reviews of the five olden whiskies from last week's delightful Calabasas event.  I'll sprinkle the other four reviews here and there.  Despite what this week demonstrated, I don't want to smother you excellent readers with reports on impossible to find/afford whiskies.  But since my daughter just turned two, I figured I should let my hair down, because it let me down.  (Dr. Katz reference!)

Distillery: Macallan
Ownership: The Edrington Brand Group
Region: Speyside (Central)
Bottler: Duncan Taylor
Series: Rare Aultd
Age: 37 years (September 1969 - October 2006)
Maturation: "oak casks" -- um, thanks, I guess? And I do believe this is one "cask"
Cask #: 8360
Bottle #: 129/178
Alcohol by Volume: 45.8%

So two things happened during and before this tasting.  Firstly, this wasn't from a bourbon cask.  It's definitely a refill sherry cask.  So much for my intro.

Secondly, it finally happened... The Spill!  I had the glass sitting on a normally very stable nightstand, but when I opened one of the drawers, the entire nightstand toppled over.  Many things went airborne, including the 37 year old Macallan.  Magically, the glass landed in a random open spot in one of the drawers, though not before half of the sample hit the carpet.  Thus my shorter palate notes below:

The color is a light yellow gold.  Definitely a sherry cask on the nose, but as per the color it's a refill and the result is more cask than sherry.  The orange peel notes I usually find in Highland Park 18 are here as well, but mustier and more delicate.  Primary notes of fudge, butterscotch, and fresh roses mix with smaller ones of canned peaches and dried berries.  Amongst these prettier things is a moderate amount of salty meat and an emphatic metal grease note.  The palate is quite potent for the ABV, even after 45 minutes of air (and the spill).  It's very creamy with lots of both malt and exotic wood spice.  Then apple pie filling, lime zest, creamiscles, cinnamon, and a hint of pecans.  The impressively long finish has a strong barley note which sits atop the toasted oak, followed by black pepper, pecans, and mint leaves.

Many of the guys from the Calabasas event liked this whisky the best and I understand why.  It's a tremendous single malt that really sticks the landing with one of the longest finishes I've ever experienced.  The nose is gorgeous, and though this did turn out to be from a sherry cask the mature spirit powers right through.  The rich palate is well punctuated by that aforementioned finish.  It's a toss up between this one and the Ardbeg for my favorite this week.  In either case, they're both grand whiskies if you can find 'em and afford 'em.

Availability - Auctions?
Pricing - Thousands?
Rating - 91

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Mathilda Malt Report: Glenfarclas 34 year old 1968 Old Stock Reserve

Now that these reports have moved from Islay (Ardbeg and Port Ellen) to Speyside (Benriach), let's stay there in Single Malt Central for the last two reviews.  With the previous three whiskies seeming to be from primarily ex-bourbon American oak casks, I'm going with a whisky from a pair of ex-sherry European oak casks.

Between 2000 and 2003, Glenfarclas had a series they named "Old Stock Reserve".  And it was indeed old stock that they bottled for that label, ranging from 1967 to 1970 distillate.  Some were in squat dumpies, while others were in classic tall bottles.  They all had the nice simple labels seen below:

Though Glenfarclas continued to bottle old vintages, they ended the Old Stock Reserve series name pretty quickly, replacing it with a number of different names until settling upon the current super expensive "Family Casks".  Many thank yous go out (again) to Cobo who sent me a sample of the 1968 OSR from his own bottle.


Distillery: Glenfarclas
Ownership: J. & G. Grant
Region: Speyside (Central)
Age: at least 34 years (February 7, 1968 - January 8, 2003)
Maturation: two ex-sherry casks
Cask #: 686 & 687
Bottle count: 341
Alcohol by Volume: 54.1%

Tasted alongside yesterday's 35 year old Benriach.

Its color is a very dark crimson brown.  The nose is enormous.  Damp attic, oloroso, hot fudge, blackberry syrup, and old cognac.  Then cloves, clementines, leather, and carob.  After 30 minutes, it picks up more old wood character.  After 45 minutes, the fruit comes in; think mango and apples in honey.  A fresh cilantro note lingers in the midground.  Lots of baking spices in the palate.  Cloves, nutmeg, black peppercorns, chili oil.  Then baking chocolate, cherry juice, and a sandalwood note reminiscent of mizunara casks.  Plenty of tannins and salt with a mild woody bitterness that actually works for me.  A hint of fired caps and apples.  The actual sherry wallop hits later on, after 30+ minutes of air, and then carries through to the lengthy finish.  Prunes and pipe tobacco.  Macintosh apples and a hint of fresh peach.  Toffee and clover honey.  A sharp tart bite meets an increasingly sweet dessert wine.

To say this is oak-heavy would be an understatement.  Normally that doesn't work for me, but that's usually with American oak.  Here (with what I believe is European oak) one can actually feel the time in the cask, the toasted staves gradually giving into the spirit, the hardy stuff left behind after decades of evaporation.  It's not punishing like the 1970 single cask bottled for K&L a few years back.  It won't pucker your cheeks and dry out your tongue.  Instead it's the aromatic spices and tobacco and chocolate which stand up front, slowly mixing with the spirit's and wine's fruits.  Yes, it is oak dominant, probably to the point where it may be slightly out of balance towards the tannins.  But it provides a more dynamic experience than the cleaner 35yo Benriach.

Availability - Auctions?
Pricing - $??? - $????
Rating - 90

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Mathilda Malt Report: BenRiach 35 year old

As you may have heard, Billy Walker (a scientician) just made an absolute fortune by selling the Benriach Distillery Company to Brown Forman.  Some of us had a studied thoughtful response to the news.

While you may feel differently, I find all of Brown Forman's American whiskies to be especially foul.  All of them.  Okay, some of the Old Forester Birthday Bourbons and the occasional JD Single Barrels are drinkable, but those are the only exceptions.  Their brands' regular ranges are bad enough to make me nauseous while typing this.  Meanwhile, I really like Benriach and Glendronach.  So, my hope is that Brown Forman leaves a good thing alone.  Then there's my unsupported conspiracy theory that Walker pulled a Bruichladdich and got out when aged supply started running low.  In any case, Brown Forman finally got back into the Scotch game just when whisky needed more corporate futzing.

One little treat Billy Walker & Company did make before departing was the 35 year old BenRiach.  OC Scotch Club bought a bottle for our April event.  I was unable to attend the shindig, but the man of the hour, Andy, saved me a sample.

Distillery: BenRiach
Ownership at time of distillation: Glenlivet Distillers Ltd / Seagrams Distillers
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Age: at least 35 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks
Alcohol by Volume: 42.5%

Its color is dark gold.  There are rich bourbon notes in the nose, as in actual bourbon, like Elijah Craig and Blanton's.  Then cream puffs and vanilla pudding.  Lime juice, fresh cherries, and candy canes.  Honeydew and watermelon rind.  With time it focuses on the melon notes, with hints of flower blossoms and green tea.  There's also something slightly earthy/smoky in the far background.  Baskets of fresh peaches in the palate, along with watermelon rind and tangy limes.  Butterscotch, salted caramel, and vanilla beans.  With 40+ minutes in the glass, it develops a fizzy ginger beer note, as well as agave nectar and a hint of hay.  More peaches in the finish. Peach nectar, peach candy, summer peaches.  Then vanilla bean, agave nectar, black pepper, and a bit of tannin.

Yum.  Without a single rough or troubling note, this whisky is a glass full of hugs.  Supposedly there are sherry casks in the mix, but I'm mostly getting good American oak and well-matured spirit.  The fruits and flowers and desserts notes are what I imagine folks would call "Classic Speyside".  Andy and I both thought this was going to be momentous, judging by the Malt Maniacs' reviews.  It turned out to be very good, just not momentous.  Andy gave it a B+ and I'm having a hard time putting it in A- territory.  The finish is on the shorter side and the palate loses steam once the peaches fade out.  Or maybe I'm just naughty and expect more than hugs in return for a A- grade.

Availability - European specialty retailers
Pricing - $500-$650
Rating - 89

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Mathilda Malt Report: Port Ellen 25 year old 1982 Old Malt Cask


Port Ellen.  It's expensive.  It's also frequently excellent.  I've never had a Port Ellen that wasn't great.  Okay, I've had all of five PEs but anyway.  This is the last Port Ellen sample in my stash and very likely the last review of the dead Islay distillery here on this blog.  I certainly can't afford a bottle and I don't think anyone is actually opening his or her Port Ellens anymore.  Anyhoo, this (paid for) sample is from the LASC Dead Distilleries event in 2014.  I worked the door and took my pour home with me.

The undertaker is sorry for your loss.
Distillery: Port Ellen
Ownership: Heartless Bastards
Region: Islay
Bottler: Douglas Laing
Age: 25 years (November 1982 - January 2008)
Maturation: refill ex-bourbon barrel
Cask #: I have no idea, two other folks have reviewed this cask but neither listed a cask number, also Whiskybase has no listing for it
Limited Release: 300 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 50%

I tasted this alongside yesterday's Ardbeg 30 year old...

Its color is five beer piss.  Yay!  The nose is very spirity.  Burnt barbecue sauce on the grill, arugula, mint leaves, celery, and Spanish smoked paprika.  Some cashew butter, cassia cinnamon, veggie peat.  Was this from a 15th-fill barrel.  This is like young Talisker and Caol Ila.  After 30 minutes, a little bit of brighter fruit sneaks in.  Then yeast and parsley.  Kristen said it smelled like sewage.  The palate is aggressive and herbal.  Think weed and hot basil.  Quite sweet and grassy, then rock candy and brown sugar syrup, making it feel slightly rummy.  More smoke than moss in the finish.  Black pepper, brown sugar, and paprika.  Simple but full.

Had I not been present when the bottle was opened, I'd never believe this was a 25 year old anything, let alone a Port Ellen.  It reads like an Islay, but an uncut 5-8 year old Islay through and through.  So it's not bad, but it shows nearly no signs of actual maturation.  I would think one would want something more out of a $1000 whisky, unless you're, you know, "investing" or something.  Money aside, this is still a solid B grade whisky that would appeal to us fans of zany young peaters.  Just don't go in expecting A grade stuff like I just did.

Availability - Auctions and black market
Pricing - $1000ish
Rating - 85

Monday, May 16, 2016

Mathilda Malt Report: Ardbeg 30 year old Very Old (bottled 1997)


Though she's been two years old at heart for at least seven months, my little girl had her second birthday yesterday.  And that means......it's Old Whisky Week on Diving for Pearls!

(pic source)
Eighteen months ago, whisky enthusiast Cobo emailed me to see if I'd be interested in splitting a bottle of long defunct Ardbeg 30yo with his whisky club.  I said yes.  Cool story, bro.

My only previous experience with old pre-GlenMo Ardbeg was via older bottles of Ardbeg Ten.  But this whisky is not 10 years old.  In fact, it sat in an unopened bottle for almost two decades.  The distillate used was from 1967 or earlier, and was the product of the distillery's own malting floor.  So, it's actually pre-Allied and pre-Hiram Walker.

Thus I begin the Mathilda Malt Reports...

Thank you, Cobo, for this opportunity!
Also, that's supposeed to be cumin on the right.
Distillery: Ardbeg
Ownership: Ardbeg Distillery Ltd.
Region: Islay
Age: at least 30 years
Bottling year: 1997
Maturation: maybe refill ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks???
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

Its color is dark gold.  The nose begins with a very clean defined medicinal note.  Then there's mesquite and a Peruvian spice rub.  Loads of cumin.  Its subtle peat reads similar to Kilkerran's, sort of twiggy and leafy.  A soft note of peach skin underneath.  After 30+ minutes in the glass, the whisky picks up small notes of old furniture and menthol, as well as (more prominently) glazed donuts, a peach tart, honey, and pineapple.  The palate begins very salty with a gradually building pepper and herbal bitter element.  That's well balanced by notes of pears and white grapes with whipped cream and Kit Kat bars.  Again, it's much subtler than today's Ardbeg, though there's a bite to it that builds with time.  30+ minutes later there's smoked shortbread, pie crust, and (not frosted) shredded wheat.  A little bit of refill sherry cask action shows up in the finish, with hints of dried stone fruits (apricots and cherries) and Oloroso.  Maybe a little of that pie crust.  There's a wee puff of smoke and soft aromatic peat, but that stays in the background while salt, pepper, and horseradish lead the way.

With its peat dialed back, this Ardbeg is so much more focused and graceful than anything distilled by the current ownership.  Yes, that is partially due to its advanced age and partially from (what I'm assuming are) refill casks.  But, take away the cask tinkering and the massive peating, then let the stuff sit for a generation and then maybe Bill Lumsden could get to this sort of whisky.  Though that doesn't seem to be of interest over there.

But my complaints about the current production are irrelevant to the quality of this 'Very Old' 30 year old.  It feels heavier than 40%abv and really does well with lots of air.  The nose, with its spices and fruit, is the star and its finish is even better than the palate.  With the fruit, salt, and mellow peating it feels more Highland and (other) Island than what we're currently experiencing from southern Islay.  I don't know if anyone is drinking this stuff anymore, but if you're reading this post and you have tried this whisky, please share your whisky thoughts in the comments below.

Availability - Auctions and black market
Pricing - $1300 to $2100
Rating - 91

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Grand Epic Tasting of Calabasas

I've never led a private tasting like this before and probably will never have the whisky opportunity to do it again.  It was a dreamy Thursday night.

The bottles
The placemat

The host then brought out his 20yo AD Rattray Bowmore because what we really needed was a baker's dozen.  I got home at 2am, then "slept" for four hours, woke up, and started prepping for another event (bachelor party!).  I'm just coming to grips with how incredible this experience was.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Single Malt Report: Laphroaig 17 year old 1997 Signatory for Binny's (cask 3354)

On Monday I reviewed a 15 year old Signatory Laphroaig.  On Wednesday, it was a 16 year old Signatory Laphroaig.  Today, it's......a 17 year old Signatory Laphroaig.  This one is being sold exclusively through Binny's.  Yes, I'm reviewing a whisky that is actually still being sold!  We can all thank MAO for this review, as he cut me in on his bottle split.  He reviewed it in March.  Here goes my take...


Distillery: Laphroaig
Ownership: Beam Suntory
Independent BottlerSignatory
Age: 17 years
Maturation: Hogshead
Cask: 3354
Alcohol by Volume: 54.7%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

NEAT
The peat in the nose reads reasonably large, mostly as ash and elephant stall.  Large notes of menthol and grapefruit. Moderate notes of cotton candy, mothballs, and cheap plastic toys.  After a while in the glass the peat gets a little greener, mossier, and organic.

Rich sweet peat in the palate.  Mint, salt, and an herbal bitterness.  It gets sweeter with time, but doesn't go too far in that direction.  Lemon and lime candy.  A brief spicy zip.  A dessert Laphroaig.

Lemons, salt, and black pepper in the finish.  Peat candy and simple syrup.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Greener peat in the nose.  Orange peels, cocoa powder, apple juice, and a hint of manure.

The palate becomes more complex.  A bigger better bitterness.  Mustard, chili oil, some tart citrus, a little bit of sugar, and more smoke than moss.

That good herbal bitterness carries through into the finish.  There's still some smoke and sugar, along with the tart and tangy citrus.

COMMENTS:
While the whisky works either way, I think I like it better with water.  The nose comes into focus and the palate improves, pushing back much of the sweetness to reveal more depth.  Overall this one falls between this week's two previous Laphroaig reviews.  There's some quality dirty peat from the 15yo and the sweets from the 16yo.

Though MAO liked this one more or less as much as I did, we found different things going on.  He caught less peat on the nose, and the mothballs appeared once he added water.  He found that the palate got sweeter with water, while I saw it going the opposite direction.  But we both found plenty of citrus notes and, ultimately, plenty of Laphroaig peat.

Availability - Exclusively through Binny's
Pricing - originally $170, occasionally on sale for $130
Rating - 86

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Single Malt Report: Laphroaig 16 year old 1997 Signatory for K&L Wine Merchants (cask 3365)

Three years ago, I was mulling around a secret LA-area whisky treasure trove when I noticed a 1998 Laphroaig from Signatory's Unchillfiltered Collection.  It was a from a sherry butt and was priced $10 more than the '96 Laphroaig from the same range ($79.99 versus $69.99).  The shop's whisky buyer had pointed me to many gems in the past, so I asked him why the younger whisky was more expensive than the older one.  He said that was due to it being the new release and he recommended I buy it immediately.  I didn't.  When I returned two months later, that same '98 was $119.99.  The indie Laphroaig price explosion had begun.

(On a related note, during that same visit, the gentleman pointed out a 20+ year old bourbon distilled at Stitzel-Weller and bottled by Willett.  It was $199.99.  He recommended I buy that immediately.  I didn't.  That same bottle now sells for over $1000 on the secondary market.  Clearly he knew something I didn't.)

pic from the K&L site
because I can't find my
danged sample photo
Presently, indie bottlers believe Laphroaig (especially those from the mid to late '90s) commands steep prices.  The quality is usually high and the demand is great, especially as the official bottlings have drifted towards NAS and/or wood wonkery.  The single cask I'm reviewing today was sold exclusively through K&L Wine Merchants, right on the edge of the indie Laphroaig price hike.  K&L's pre-sold it for $99.99.  The following year K&L had another single cask of Laphroaig from Signatory.  That one was 15 years old and sold for $170.  What a difference a year makes.

Though I never got around to buying this whisky my buddy, Tetris, did and he supplied me with a generous sample (Thanks!) to review.

Distillery: Laphroaig
Ownership: Beam Suntory
Independent BottlerSignatory
Age: 16 years (April 28, 1997 - July 9, 2013)
Maturation: Hogshead
Cask: 3365
Alcohol by Volume: 55.2%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

NEAT
The nose is more floral, mintier, and vanilla-woodier than Monday's 15yo.  Definitely some tree sap.  More of a normal clean cut un-Laphroaig peat going on here.  A citronella candle.  A hint of exotic/tropical fruits.  New cheap sneakers.  After 15 minutes, there are new notes of roasted cashews, grilled pineapple, and dish soap.

The palate is both dingier and sweeter than the nose.  Very sugary.  Peat candy.  Lemon and orange hard candies.  Tart limes.  Gradually the peat gets a little more organic, but then there's also a bit of green wood bitterness.

Mild peat residue in the finish.  Citrus and sugar.  Tart, bitter, and ocean salty.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose is a little more Laphroaigy.  It's got some toasty peat, ocean air, and seaweed.  Less fruity, more focused on the phenolics.  Some chocolate maltiness underneath.

The bitterness improves in the palate.  Less sweets, more herbal.  A little bit of pepper heat.  Perkier peat.  Burnt/char notes and menthol.

Extinguished cigarettes, eucalyptus, and sugar cookies in the finish.

COMMENTS:
When neat, this is a safe Laphroaig for people who are not fans of Laphroaig.  The peat notes seem like they could be from any distillery and the palate is plenty sweet.  I think it improves measurably when water is added, with the sweetness getting brought under control and the burlier distillery character peeking out.  If you're still holding onto this one and haven't opened it yet, I recommend adding water if it disappoints when neat.  You'll find more of what you came for as the ABV drops.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - pre-sold for $99.99, then went for $115.99
Rating - 83 (3-5 points lower when neat)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Single Malt Report: Laphroaig 15 year old 1996 Signatory (cask 8511)

My wife loves Laphroaig.  One time I opened up a bottle of Laphroaig Quarter Cask and a few seconds later I heard her shout from the other side of the two-bedroom apartment, "I can smell that Laphroaig from here."  So in honor of Mother's Day, I'm doing three Laphroaig reviews this week.  Three Signatory Laphroaig reviews to be precise.  God bless the Laphroaig stank.

But it wasn't always "God bless the Laphroaig stank."  I couldn't stand the stuff when I first tried it.  I found it gross, like sipping piss from an ash tray.  But now I find it delicious, like sipping piss from an ash tray.

Anyway, if you ever meet Kristen, please be sure to offer her some Laphroaig, especially if it's cask strength raw refill ex-bourbon cask Laphroaig.  Brownie points!**

Distillery: Laphroaig
Ownership: Beam Suntory
Independent BottlerSignatory
Age: 15 years (November 26, 1996 - June 7, 2012)
Maturation: Hogshead
Cask: 8511
Alcohol by Volume: 54.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
Many thanks to Aaron of Booze Dancing for this sample!

NEAT
The nose hits first with the classic 'Phroaig pheeling that some of the current OBs are missing: a wallop of band-aids, antiseptic, iodine, and anise.  Then eucalyptus and salted caramels.  A slight metallic note.  And far in the distance, lychee and mango.

The palate is big on the herbal bitterness up front.  It's very mossy, with some cinders lingering behind.  Then a mild sweetness and fresh lime juice.  With time the cinders pick up and smoke billows forward.  A bit of peach and pineapple appear.

The very long finish is dingy, stinky, smoky.  Hints of citrus, salt, pineapple, and black pepper in the background.

Dare I add water?  Yes, I dare.  I'll drop it down to their Unchillfiltered Collection abv.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose calms down, picks up some florals and little bit of oregano.  Moss replaces the medicinal notes.

The palate barely changes.  It gets a little sweeter and picks up a spicy zing.  Some black licorice too.

The finish is shorter and sweeter.  Almost all smoke with a hint of mint.

COMMENTS:
It's not the most complex Laphroaig one'll find, but it delivers the distilled dosage many of us dearly miss from the current 10yo and Cask Strength OBs.  So that counts for A LOT.  If you find the whisky a bit too much, then I recommend adding a little bit of water as that settles it down slightly.  But if you're still dreaming of the official Cask Strength pre-005 batches, this is your hit right here.

Availability - Might be sold out
Pricing - a couple US retailers have this, or a sister cask, going for $170+  !O_O!
Rating - 88

**I'm hoping she'll comment below on how awesome Laphroaig is!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Single Malt Report: Lagavulin 12 year old Cask Strength (2014 release)

On Tuesday, I reviewed 2014's Lagavulin 16 year old.  On Thursday, I reviewed 2014's Lagavulin Distillers Edition.  Today I review 2014's Lagavulin 12 year old cask strength release.

Let's take a brief look at the fact that this 12 year old whisky is more expensive than the same distillery's 16 year old whisky.

Here are two reasons why its price is higher than the 16yo:
1.  It has "limited edition" printed on the label.
2.  It is cask strength rather than a reduced 43%abv.

Here are two reasons why I question those reasons:
1.  This edition was limited to a mere 31,428 bottles.  As they say in the bourbon world, it's Orphan Barrel "limited".
2.  Its ABV is all of 11.4 points higher than the 16's, a difference of 26.5 percent.  As you'll see below, the premium is now much greater than 26.5 percent.

Here are two more reasons why I take issue with the pricing:
3.  The 16 year old uses a mix of casks which include American oak and European oak of different fill counts.  The 12 year old uses only refill American oak, the cheapest of all casks.
4.  Math. The 12 year old is four years younger than the 16 year old.  Four fewer years of Angel's Share loss.  Four fewer years of tariffs on the casks.  Four fewer years taking up warehouse real estate.  Four fewer years of investment and risk.

With those factors in mind, let's see how the US prices compare between the 12 year old and the 16 year old as per winesearcher's price history model:

When I began reviewing whisky on this blog (September 2011)
12 year old: $90
16 year old: $78
(a 15.4% premium)

Today (May 2016)
12 year old: $131
16 year old: $87
(a 50.6% premium)

It's a good thing this 12 year old is usually damn good whisky.

Sample from the OCSC March event
Distillery: Lagavulin
Owner: Diageo
Type: Single Malt
Region: Islay
Maturation: refill American oak casks
Age: minimum 12 years
Release date: 2014
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel coloring? Probably not
Alcohol by Volume: 54.4%
Limited edition: 31,428

For this tasting I did a two glass side-by-side comparison of the whisky at full strength and reduced to 43%abv.

NEAT GLASS (54.4%abv)
The nose begins with peat moss, rock salt, soil, and mezcal.  Underneath those elements lay brighter notes of green apples and anise.  Here and there appear notes of kilned clay, chlorine, peach yogurt, and aged dry cheese.  It seems to get younger and rougher with time, as the sharper notes take control.

Big gorgeous peat that almost feels effervescent, almost glowing in the mouth, dominates the palate.  Keeping it all from just being one-note are fresh cherries, almonds, cocoa powder, crisp seaweed, zesty fresh ginger, minty menthol, and a little bit of sugar.

It finishes with smoldering peat bricks, salted almonds, menthol, and a little bit of sweetness.

REDUCED (43%) ABV GLASS
More hay than moss in the nose.  Raw and sugary.  Floral hand soap and vanilla extract.  Barbecue sauce, charred meat, and rosemary.  It vanishes entirely after 45 minutes.

The palate gets very sweet.  Lots of white fruits, especially pears.  A soft herbal bitterness meets a mild peating.  Vanilla extract, salt, and Talisker-ish pepper.  The bitterness becomes bracing after 20+ minutes nearly taking over the palate.

The finish is peppery, mossy, sweet, and salty.  A minor note of pear.  Not a bad length to it.

COMMENTS:
This is the first edition of the 12yo in which I've noticed how very young it reads.  At times it reminds me of the 5 year old Taliskers that Hunter Laing has bottled for K&L Wine Merchants.  I don't mean this as a bad thing.  I love young crazy peat behemoths (see Octomore, Port Charlotte, Kilchoman, Ledaig, and the aforementioned Taliskers).  Reducing this whisky to 43% showed me why they don't release it at a low strength, as its balance gets thrown off, the parts spill out, and it dissolves away.

Though this may be my least favorite of the editions I've tried (2009-2011, 2013-2014), it remains a high quality single malt.  It still stands up to the more expensive young Octomores and betters many of the single cask (and now more expensive) young Kilchomans.  So perhaps there's a third reason for Lagavulin 12's pricing:  The Market.

If 5 year old high strength peated whiskies are selling for $130-$200, who am I to say that a 12 year old high strength peated whisky is overpriced at $120?  Spend as you like, but be aware that your buying choices do not exist in a bubble.  The monster doesn't feed itself.  Personally, I'll pass.  I liked the 16 year old better this time.

Availability - Many specialty liquor retailers (this edition is still very easy to find)
Pricing - $110-$160, though it can be found in Minnesota for $99.99
Rating - 87

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Single Malt Report: Lagavulin 1998 Distillers Edition (2014)

Ah the Distillers Edition, without an apostrophe.  So it's not the Distiller's Edition or the Distillers' Edition, but the Distillers Edition.  Is that The Queen's Punctuation?  Why should we want to take possession of this whisky if the distillers don't?  Have I made this joke before?  Yes, yes I have.

That's really all there is for the introduction today.  Okay, well, just a little more perhaps.  This is the second of the three regular/annual Lagavulin releases for 2014 that I'm reviewing this week (two years after their release).  The Lagavulin Distillers Edition (LDE) takes the 16 year old's base and gives it an additional short (6 month?) finish in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks.  Peat + sugary sherry.  Though that combo often doesn't work, the some folks think the LDEs always do.

My sample comes from this bottle which was part of
the OCSC July 2015 event

Distillery: Lagavulin
Owner: Diageo
Type: Single Malt
Region: Islay
Maturation & Age: approximately 16 years in ex-bourbon casks, then a short period of time in former Pedro Ximenez sherry casks
Chill-filtration? Yes
Caramel coloring? Likely so
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

NEAT
Its color is DiageoDoublePlusGold™.

The nose is a mix of the pretty and gritty.  The former is represented by loads of baked dried fruits, grape jam, fresh blueberries and plums, and floral honey.  The latter fills in the edges with rocks, sand, seaweed, and rubber bands.

The palate has a Caol-Ila-level of peat action which runs straight through the center of chocolate covered jelly rings.  There are also gumdrops, mint extract, and cinnamon-sugar cookies.  At first it feels very light on alcohol content, but it does develop some heat and a sharper mineral bite after some time in the glass.  It also picks up something I can only describe as peated watermelon Jolly Ranchers.

It finishes with berry fruit leather, mint candy, wood spice, seaweed, peat smoke residue, and a rumbling chili pepper heat.

WITH WATER (~30%abv)
The nose becomes more chocolatey, pruney, and floral.  New metal surface and cap gun caps rest in the back.  A sandy/ocean note sits in the midground.

Again the peat reads louder in the palate, where it's now ashy.  Smaller notes of mint, chili peppers, cinnamon candy, anise, and fertilizer rotate throughout.

The finish still has some weight as if the abv was higher than 30.  Things get pretty sweet here with brown sugar and cinnamon.  Maybe some black pepper.  The peat is nearly absent.

COMMENTS:
Curious stuff going on in this one.  The nose shows very little peat, mostly running on PX sticky fruitiness, but the palate frees the peat and drops the fruit.  Also, this is the rare whisky where I've found the palate to be more complex than the nose.  The whole thing takes to water pretty well, but there it also plays hide and seek with the spirit character.  Overall nothing really wows here, but neither does it demonstrate any weaknesses.

A lot of folks really like the Lagavulin Distillers Editions.  It's not that I don't like them, but I've never found any reason to be too enthusiastic about the quality.  The problems are exacerbated by the fact that I can get the regular 16yo (which I always enjoy more) for $57 at my local Costco, meanwhile the local specialty retailers (with only a couple exceptions) are selling the LDE for $120+.  But even if I were to ignore pricing, I'd take the 16 over the LDE any day.  And if I were to pay $100+, that money would go to the other annual Limited Edition Lagavulin, which I'll review tomorrow.

Availability - Many specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - $75-$100 on the East Coast, $100-$140 on the West Coast
Rating - 84

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Life of a Whisky Bottle: Lagavulin 16 year old (2014)

Yes, I've reviewed Lagavulin 16 before, but I'm doing this again for two reasons.  Firstly, this is from my own bottle.  Secondly, and thematically, this I'm reviewing all three regular range Lagavulins from 2014 this week.

This was a strange bottle.  It was opened in October 2014 and.......I didn't like it very much.  It was oddly bland, bleh, and watery.  So that December, I put the bottle away half full.  I brought it back out five months later, planning to do some blending with it, but when I poured a glass the whisky had improved significantly.  I immediately set aside a sample of this good part of the bottle.  That little bottle joined another little bottle of the sample I'd taken from the unimpressive top half.  I tasted the samples side-by-side this past Sunday night!

Distillery: Lagavulin
Owner: Diageo
Type: Single Malt
Region: Islay
Maturation: probably a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks
Age: minimum 16 years
Chill-filtration? Yes
Caramel coloring? Yes
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Bottle code: L4219CM000
(Bottle was gifted to me after I led a private group tasting event)

This bottle's usage:
25% - Swaps and shares
15% - Whisky experiments
15% - Graded tastings
45% - Casual drinking



FROM THE TOP HALF OF BOTTLE:

NEAT
Its color is, of course, DiageoGold™.

The nose begins with ocean-soaked peat that feels more toasted than smoked.  At first.  Then comes the next-day cigar butt note, which is soon met by anise and peach skin.  Wasabi (which, admittedly, I had the night I did the tasting) and hot oregano notes float throughout.  Brief notes of manure and dried cherries arrive later.

A nice even bitterness runs throughout the palate, joined by rolling smoke clouds, a vanilla cookie sweetness underneath.  After 10-15 minutes a big green mossy note rises up.  Then there's a little bit of ash, salt, and sand.  A note I used to think was fish, is actually seaweed.  After 25 minutes a buttery caramel notes starts to take over.  Despite all these notes, the mouthfeel is quite thin.

There's a good length to the finish considering the thinness of the mouthfeel and abv.  Tart citrus, moss, sand, seaweed, and nice bitter smoke.  A happy lack of sweetness.

WITH WATER (~30%abv)
The nose becomes more floral and less smoky.  There's some confectioner's sugar, orange candy, and a hint of band-aids.

The palate is earthy and rooty, mixed with a slight sweetness.  Sort of like burnt sugar cookies.  Hint of herbal bitterness.

The finish is now more sweet than bitter.  Vanilla and dried seaweed.

COMMENTS:
There is something very comforting about Lagavulin 16's nose.  The ocean and peat and subtle fruitiness are an easy combo to ease into.  The ocean note is particularly fascinating since most of the current production is shipped to the mainland and not aged in seaside warehouses.  Unfortunately the palate feels quite thin and watery.  It's missing body and oompf.  Also it's almost totally bereft of sherry cask character.  Perhaps this is due to the wood reconditioning referenced in this David OG post about Lagavulin.  I'd take Caol Ila 12yo over this.



FROM THE BOTTLE HALF OF THE BOTTLE:

NEAT
The nose is huge, rich with dried fruits (like cherries, cranberries, and apricots) and a cinnamon syrup.  The peat has gone floral, like some teenage Longrows.  Roses and more roses.  Very pretty.  There's also barbecue pork, raw cocoa, and spicy honey.  There's hint of raspberry jam hiding behind a short mossy wall.

The palate is much denser and dirtier now.  Big char and ash (reminiscent of recent Ardbeg Ten), dark chocolate, chili oil, and charred limes.  This balanced out by an orangey sweetness, black grapes, and a hint of that cinnamon syrup.

The sweets vanish from the palate leaving an orange peel essence.  Very dark chocolate, salt, ash, softer peat, and more of that chili oil note follow.

WITH WATER (~30%abv)
More citrus in the nose now.  The floral note backs into the midground.  Horse stable, beach sand, and a hint of peaches.

The palate is more candied, tangy.  The ash has washed away.  More peppercorns than chili oil.  A squirt of clover honey.

The finish is peppery and lightly sweet, with moderate smoke and pencil shavings.

COMMENTS:
Damn.  This is fab.  It might be the best Lagavulin 16yo I've had.  (And, no, I've never had any of the White Horse bottlings.)  The nose and palate are immense and full considering the low ABV.  Some good age shows in the nose, with the lovely peat and dense rich fruit, but there's still plenty of crisp youth existing alongside, especially in the palate.



IN CONCLUSION:
This bottle went from the weakest Lag 16 to the strongest Lag 16 I've ever had.  The thinness became fatness, if you will.  Something excellent happened as oxygen commingled with the whisky in the dark for five months in a half full bottle.  And it taught me not to give up on a bottle.  Of course, not all bottles recover like this, in fact I can't think of too many more that have transformed as such, but I may just experiment with oxidation more often in the future.

Availability - Almost all specialty liquor stores
Pricing - $65 to $115(!), also California Costcos often sell it for $56.99
Rating - 89 (bottom half only, the top half was 10+ points lower)