...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Birthday Booze: Bladnoch 16 year old Signatory, cask 89/591/20

Ah, the oldest of the Signatory mini set's six whiskies: Bladnoch.  Almost 17 years old!  I've had split luck with my Bladnoch experiences.  Either they're pretty good or pretty mediocre.  Its United Distillers era seems to have produced the good ones.  But this particular cask was pre-UD, back when Inver House owned the place.  So I have no idea what to expect from it.

Distillery: Bladnoch
Ownership at time of distillation: Inver House
Independent Bottler: Signatory
Age: 16 years (June 30, 1980 - June 1997)
Maturation: probably a refill ex-bourbon cask
Cask#: 89/591/20
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

NEAT
The darkest of this set's six whiskies, this Bladnoch's color is almost gold!  At first the nose sniffs like a bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon and dried apricots.  But then there's carob bark and carpet.  Then dried pineapples and cherry sauce.  Meanwhile it also has a meaty/savoury thing going on: soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and mushrooms.  Once it's aired out for more than 20 minutes it sheds everything but fruit and spice.  Think cardamom and mango.  The palate starts off decently.  Whipped cream, strawberries, cream of wheat, milk chocolate, and caramel.  Then whoooosh, those notes vanish by the third sip.  A bright bitter note remains, followed by carpet fibers, and an edgy off note similar to yesterday's Glenallachie.  It's admirably un-sweet, but it's also un-good.  The finish has that decent start for the first two sips.  Milk chocolate, caramel, and lots of salt.  But subsequent sips leave behind only cardboard and over-steeped black tea.

Um, okay.  Some water perhaps?

WITH WATER (~35%abv)
The nose has become quite faint.  There's some of the cardamom and mango.  Maybe some lychee, honey, and cilantro.  Roses?  The palate is cardboard dipped in sweet cream and over-steeped tea.  Kinda barley-ish at times.  There's nothing but mleh in the finish.  Endless mleh.

CLOSING WORDS:
The nose is strange, but grows enjoyable when it settles down.  Though as the nose gains focus, the palate goes to seed.  Completely.  It's fair to call the resulting finish terrible.  Even though the whisky has its positives, I'm going to be extra tough on it because it's never balanced and I'm still having sense memories of the finish's crapulence.  And if I can't drink the damned whisky, then what good is it?

Availability - ?
Pricing - ?
Rating - 69 (the nose keeps the score from heading to sub-Cutty levels)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Birthday Booze: Glenallachie 11 year old 1985 Signatory, cask 4063

My first Glenallachie review, Woo-hoo!  I guess I should say something about the distillery to celebrate the occasion.

The distillery's name means "Glen of the Rocky Place", which if you've been to Scotland you may know there are almost as many Glen-of-the-Rocky-Places as there are sheep. With such an imaginative name, it was unsurprisingly built in the latter half of the 20th century.  In fact, next year will be its 50th anniversary.  But don't be surprised if the owners won't release anything to mark the occasion since The Chivas Bros would rather no one know about Glenallachie, judging by the effort they put into its non-existent official range.  But Chivas/Pernod didn't build the distillery, rather it was Scottish & Newcastle Breweries.  Yep, the makers of the ubiquitous brown ale.  And, in one more piece of random trivia, Glenallachie distillery received two of Caperdonich's washbacks after that Speyside distillery closed.

On to the whisky.  This is the fourth little number from that fun mini set I busted open for this double birthday booze week. Two out of three have been very good.  How about this one?
Spot the mold spores!!!
Distillery: Glenallachie
Ownership: Chivas Bros / Pernod Ricard
Independent Bottler: Signatory
Age: 11 years (October 11, 1985 - June 1997)
Maturation: probably a 352nd-refill ex-bourbon cask
Cask#: 4063
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

NEAT
Its color is the lightest of the bunch, almost clear.  The nose is all new make, ultra sugary, almost white rum.  Then some orange oil sneaks out, honey, whole wheat bread, and corn flakes.  Finally honey mustard and Belgian witbier.  The palate is hot, bready, yeasty.  A sizable melting plastic note floats above sugar, salt, and chewed grass.  It's a little minerally, metallic, and bitter.  A combo of notebook paper and sour beer.  It finishes slightly buttery and metallic.  Hay and sour beer.

Maybe this needs water or something.

WITH WATER (~35%abv)
The nose holds onto the honey mustard note.  It's more herbal now, more barley focused too.  Lemon juice.  Breakfast cereal box.  The palate remains mineral, metallic, and bitter.  There's a moderate sweetness to it, and it stays grassy.  Maybe a hint of earth and synthetic oil.  Still, it's an improvement.  Unfortunately (or fortunately?), the finish is neutered.  Just lightly bitter and earthy at first, growing spicier with time.

WORDS AND STUFF:
There was a marked improvement once water was added, as in a markup from a D- to a C-.  But if you don't like a mineral and grass filled whisky then this would probably be a big F in your book.  While at times seeming near clearac, this whisky isn't totally free of oak influence.  I think a really crappy barrel was responsible for the palate problems.  A barrel can only be used so many times before the felled tree gets its revenge by pinching an afterlife loaf right into the whisky.  That's a scientific fact right there.

Availability - ?
Pricing - ?
Rating - 73 (with water only, when neat it's around 10 points lower)

Monday, August 29, 2016

Birthday Booze: Clynelish 12 year old 1984 Signatory, cask 3089


Continuing with the birthday booze set:

While in Scotland I had a bland ethyl bomb of a 1982 Clynelish, so I moderated my expectations for this 1984 Clynelish.  Still I was hopeful.  My days of trying '80s Clynelish are probably over now, so it would be great if this whisky didn't suck.

Distillery: Clynelish
Ownership: Diageo
Independent Bottler: Signatory
Age: 12 years (June 13, 1984 - June 1997)
Maturation: probably a refill ex-bourbon cask
Cask#: 3089
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

Its color is a light yellow amber.  The nose is loaded with barley and butterscotch, then musty dunnage and mellow stone fruit (I'm thinking apricot) note.  With some air, it develops notes of motor oil, concrete, and agave syrup.  Sorta reminiscent of refill bourbon barrel Springbank.  There's a fascinating duality in the palate that doesn't sound like it should work, but does, wonderfully. Think petrol and brown sugar.  A combination of gooey thick malty pudding, ginger beer, and a little bit of acidic citrus (maybe limes) meets a dry super mineral white white, rocks, and soil.  It has a spicy, tingly finish with forest floor (wet roots and leaves) notes.  It has a hint of honeyed sweetness, but is otherwise dry.  A little bit of fresh ginger in the mix too.  Its length lengthens with subsequent sips.

This has everything I've been trying to find in a contemporary whisky, without much luck (aside from Springbank and perhaps Benromach).  It's earthy and mineral as hell, yet lightly sweet, fruity, and spicy where it needs to be.  The fact that this much character rings out at 43%abv makes it all the more impressive.  It's nearly oakless which may give some the impression that it's nearly new make, but I find it to be subtly matured and toned without tannin and vanillin creeping in.  To my palate, it's terrific whisky.

Availability - ?
Pricing - ?
Rating - 90

Friday, August 26, 2016

Port Ellen 14 year old 1983 vs Caol Ila 7 year old 1989, a Signatory Taste Off

(Please note: the fill levels for all six of the following Signatory minis were in the neck.
Because I do tastings at night and prefer to photograph during the AM for daylight purposes,
what you often see in my photos is what remains of the samples/minis/etc. from the night before.)

Four years ago, blogger Oliver Klimek said "Who needs Brora and Port Ellen when we have Clynelish and Caol Ila!"  In less than a year after this post well-aged single cask Caol Ila prices doubled or tripled.  That of course had nothing to do with the fact that all long-matured whisky prices were exploding at that point time (and continue to).  Instead, I think we can all agree that it's Oliver's fault.  Gee whiz, thanks, Oliver.

In 1983, DCL (proto-Diageo) closed the old Port Ellen distillery, but kept the larger, more modern Caol Ila distillery open.  Thirty years later Port Ellen has become the Karuizawa or Stitzel-Weller of the Scotch whisky industry.  Or have Karuizawa and Stitzel-Weller become the Port Ellens of the Japanese and American whisky industries?  More to the point, Port Ellen bottlings were highly sought after and are super duper duper duper expensive.  Notice the change in verb tense there: were/are.  No one except for those with the bankroll to buy a three thousand dollar whisky bottle actually chase any of the Port Ellen bottlings at this point in time.  Meanwhile, Caol Ila keeps on beep-boop-beeping its software-run production along, often cranking out some very good stuff.  And though the independent bottlings of older Caol Ila are no longer affordable to the majority of whisky fans, those whiskies can be had for less than the price of one's mortgage.  What a bargain!

So I found myself with one Caol Ila, distilled back in the '80s and younger than its official Diageo bottlings, and one Port Ellen, also from the '80s and at half the age of anything Diageo or the indies can now bottle.  With their straw color they both appeared to have been aged in refill casks, thus possibly very spirit-forward.  Clearly the responsible thing to do was to drink them side by side.



CAOL ILA 7yo 1989 Signatory
Cask #4516
Nov. 29, 1989 - May 1997
43%abv

NEAT
The nose starts out with tar, roses, celery, and sheep(!), followed by a solid menthol medicinal note.  Then band-aids and a hint of mothballs.  And the PVC-loaded baseball card sheets of my youth.  The menthol shows up in the sharp and mineral palate as well.  A good note of bonfire-scorched marshmallows lightens things up.  A few Milk Duds too.  The peat grows darker with time, its smoke getting heavier as it goes.  Suddenly a BIG umami note appears and stays the course.  The hum of peat runs through the finish.  Sea salt, green bell peppers, and a tangy edge.  Some graham crackers -- we have the whole s'mores here!  A good length to it considering the age and abv.

It's in good shape at this strength, but I'll add a little bit of water.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
All it took was a few drops to transform the nose.  Grapefruits, cherries, roses, peat smoked molasses candy (Is that thing? Please be a thing.), and candy canes.  Umami takes front seat in the palate, reminding me of toasted sesame seeds and the great toasted seaweed I had in Japan.  Smaller notes of cane sugar and bitter cocoa add complexity.  The finish is loaded with umami as well, along with a hint of sweetness, and a nice spicy sparkle.

COMMENTS:
While this may not work for every palate, it REALLY worked for mine.  It was young without being harsh, had some fascinating complexity, and seemed nearly oak free.  More importantly, it smelled and tasted great.  I wish I could say that the current super young Caol Ilas I've tried recently were at least half as good as this.  But they weren't.  I would also like to point out that all of the quality here is delivered via a 43%abv.  Though I thought I could yell "First!" for a review on this cask, Serge reviewed it twice (here and here), liking it considerably less than I, and finding different notes to it.  Though his buddy Davin (Mr. Canada?) gave it an 87, so listen to Davin on this one.

Availability - ?
Pricing - ?
Rating - 88



PORT ELLEN 14yo 1983 Signatory
Cask #266
Feb. 9, 1983 - July 1997
43%abv

NEAT
The nose has a little of the menthol note as well.  Some fresh plums and peaches.  Plaster and something more than vaguely ureic.  The palate has a sweet malty start that quickly fades behind raw, hot, salty spirit.  It's a little woolly and maybe there's a hint of bacon.  It has a very bland peat character, but even that collapses behind a violent bitter note.  Ah, the roasted marshmallows make a cameo in the finish.  Otherwise it's peppery ocean water, ashy peat, and a lot of bitterness.

Perhaps it needs water?

WITH WATER (~35%abv)
Well, the nose is a little fruitier.  Maybe a bit of caramel and some peat.  But, nope.  Same quantity of pee.  Luckily it all fades out relatively quickly.   The palate is short on peat, which is a shame because the rest is mostly generic sweetness, bitterness, rough graininess, and a bit of cardboard.  The finish is similar to the neat finish, though plainer.

COMMENTS:
No, it didn't need water.  It needed to be sent to blenders.  Again, I thought I'd be the first to review this one, but nooooope, SV reviewed it too.  He thought it was an utter turd (my words, not his).  My sentiments are close to his, but I don't think it's a complete fail.  It's just kinda bleh.  Only once one gets over the shock of having a significantly subpar Port Ellen, can one see it's not a tragedy.  It's just a mediocre whisky.  Hey, I might be the blender it needed.

Availability - ?
Pricing - ?
Rating - 71



FINAL THOUGHTS:
This was not a disappointment thanks to the happy surprise that was the Caol Ila.  My faith in that distillery's techno-spirit strengthens every year.  In this instance, though its whisky was half the age of the more famous Islay's, the Caol Ila was rounder and richer, and even swam better.

One can't assume that because the words Port Ellen appear on a bottle's label the whisky inside will be of considerable quality.  That's a little message to those of you scouring auctions for lesser known PE bottlings.  Perhaps some dusty Caol Ilas might bring the joy you're looking for, instead.  At least they'll be cheaper.

On Monday, the old Signatories continue...

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Birthday Booze: Benromach 1978-1997 Scott's Selection (and the bottle's story)

Wandering the streets of Manhattan's ***er **st Side on a muggy, sporadically rainy August 2013 afternoon, I came upon a modest wee liquor store.  I had not considered dusty hunting while in the big city because I'd figured all the NY obsessives had cleaned out the shops years before.  I went into this little store to check on how gory their prices were and to sniff disapprovingly on my way out.  There were rows of wine bottles on one wall and stacks of the usual big seller liquors on another.  And then, in the corner...... I picture myself doing a cartoony triple take....... there were a half dozen different 1970s Scott's Selection bottles.  Just sitting there in plain site.  And at what may have been their original prices.  Amongst these was a Benrinnes 1979 ($99.99), Balmenach 1979 ($79.99), Benromach 1978 ($89.99), and Glenlivet 1971 ($149.99).  Had this been 2016, I would have bought the Glenlivet and floated right out of there knowing it's a $400-$600 bottle and my lone opportunity to ever buy an early '70s Glenlivet.  But it was 2013 and I was thriftier (and saner) then.  I'd rarely bought a bottle over $100 at that point and was unsure how much I could afford at that moment.  I liked Benromach enough and was curious to know what its DCL-era whisky tasted like.  Plus it was an opportunity to buy a 1978 whisky!  So I bought it, guilt-free.

(Side note: I went back to that shop sixteen months later and found, to my dismay, the Glenlivet 1971 gone. The owner even checked in the back to see if he had more. But I did wind up splitting a bottle of the Benrinnes 1979 with Josh Feldman.)

When I finished my previous 1978 spirit (a good Calvados) last year, I pondered which '78 I'd open next.  There really aren't many of them left in the cabinet thanks to the bloating prices of aged spirits.  I went with the Benromach because what the hell.  And as a change of pace, I opened it long before my birthday at an event marking my Southern California departure.  Did the cork shatter upon opening?  Not quite.  The plastic top simply separated from the cork with the least amount of pressure applied to it.  Luckily I performed successful surgery on the spot, extracting the cork without any crumbs falling into the whisky.


I wound up drinking less than a quarter of this whisky after sharing it around for a few months, thus there won't be any follow up posts on it or comparisons between bottle fill levels.  For the completists out there, I set aside my 2oz sample one week after opening it, after the event, when the level was just below the middle.  Thank you for sticking around for this fascinating story.  Here's the review.

Distillery: Benromach
Ownership then: DCL (proto-Diageo)
Ownership now: Gordon & MacPhail
Bottler: Scott's Selection (R.I.P.)





Age: 19-ish years (1984-2004)
Maturation: "in Oakwood casks" (gee, thanks)
Region: Speyside, on the western edge
Alcohol by Volume: 49.8%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No


NEAT
Its color is light yellow gold.  Its nose starts with lemons and limes, a hint of peach, and a soft maltiness.  Caramel, nougat, and milk chocolate appear after 20 minutes or so.  Then orange peel and Ceylon cinnamon.  There's more heat in the palate than in the nose, but it doesn't overwhelm. There's a nice mild sweetness up front, along with a very oily mouthfeel. Melon, honey, vanilla bean, and a hint of charcoal show up first. Then marzipan, cookie dough, and marshmallow. The finish returns to the fruitiness of the nose: lemons, apples, plums, tart citrus. Then cherry cough syrup and bitter chocolate. Maybe some bourbony vanilla.

Since the ABV is already sub-50, I'll add just a little bit of water:

WITH WATER (~43%abv)
The nose becomes very light.  Eucalyptus, watermelon rind, and black licorice.  Lemon, peach, and pear. Milky chocolate like Nestle or pre-Hershey Cadbury.  Meanwhile it's a dark chocolate in the palate, its lovely bitterness balancing with the dark cherries and almond candies underneath.  It feels darker with the water added, actually.  Some tobacco and dark salted caramel syrup in there too.  The finish gets sweeter and fruitier again.  Hints of melon, lemon, and metal (copper). Definitely some orange candy.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
Though this whisky needs some time to air out before it comes to life, I would happily take this over Monday's 37yo Ladyburn.  There is a delicacy to the Benromach, much like a longer-aged whisky, which may or may not have to do with its modest ABV.  But its softness does not detract from the quality of the whole, nor does the wood overwhelm at any point.  It's good with or without water, though I imagine one should be cautious when testing its buoyancy.

One thing I noticed immediately in this Benromach was its total lack of peat.  While I don't know if that's representative of all '70s DCL Benromach, it does separate it from the current moderately peated G&M-produced version.  Rather than it feeling like a rumbling sturdy Highland malt, this '78 whisky registers more like a cuddly Speyside.  Overall it never wows or stuns.  Instead it's a very good reliable style bound to appeal to many single malt fans, if a bottle can still be found.

Availability - ???
Pricing - $??-$???
Rating - 88

Monday, August 22, 2016

Birthday Booze: Rare Ayrshire (Ladyburn) 37 year old 1975 Signatory, cask 3422

Get ready for TWO WEEKS of birthday booze reports here on Diving for Pearls.  95% of my bottle and sample collections are not currently in my possession, though they will be in ten days.  In the meantime, what I do have on hand is a bunch of fun old stuff.  So I'm going to open these samples and see what happens.



For my final whisky review at age 37, I'm reviewing a 37 year old single malt today.  It's my first (and probably last) whisky from Ladyburn, a distillery that sounds like an unfortunate shower shaving accident.  Ladyburn had a short life.  It was sort of a nine-year experiment (1966-1975) to produce single malt at the site connected to the large grain whisky distillery, Girvan, in Ayrshire.  William Grant & Sons set up two pairs of pot stills, tried some continuous mashing, then said f**k it after less than a decade.  The idea was to set up a one-stop whisky production shop for their successful Grant's blended whisky brand.  Three decades after Ladyburn's demolition, the company finally did build the facility of their dreams, Alisa Bay, right next to Girvan.  And they paid their respects to Ladyburn's single malt by releasing it in watered-down form, blended with grain whisky and Inverleven via their Ghosted Reserve products.

Luckily, Signatory has (or had) 20+ casks of Ladyburn in their warehouses and has been releasing them at cask strength over the past few years.  I previously had this particular cask at two different events (the LASC Dead Distilleries Night 2014 and the grandiose Calabasas event this past May) and enjoyed the whisky very much both times.  (This sample comes from the LASC event, thus I paid for it.)  Since both events took place outdoors, I was sure I'd have a better take on this single malt once I could focus on it under controlled conditions.  I had anticipated this would be a 90+ point whisky.


Distillery: Ladyburn
Ownership: William Grant & Sons
Independent Bottler: Signatory
Age: 37 years (October 24, 1975 - September 6, 2013)
Maturation: former bourbon barrel
Cask#: 3422
Bottle count: 111 of 162
Alcohol by Volume: 48.5%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
Selected by: Stoller Wine & Spirits

REVIEW:
Its color is light gold, which is nice to see on an oldie.  The pretty but sometimes faint nose leads with clementines and clover honey.  Lychee candy and apricot preserves.  A light farmy note shows up here and there.  After 20 minutes, a bubblegum note develops and takes over.  At 30 minutes, notes of orange oil, cinnamon rolls, and barrel char ease in.  The palate begins vaguely tangy and sweet, with tropical and citrus fruit notes.  Then vanilla bean and cinnamon.  Hessian, carpet, and cayenne pepper.  The sweetness grows and feels distinctly sugary and malty.  Around the 30 minute mark, a big woody bitterness rolls into the forefront.  It finishes with the hessian and cinnamon.  Vanilla and sweet maltiness.  A slight (malt) vinegar thing going on.  The woody bitterness soaks the left side of the tongue and black pepper hits the back of the throat.

COMMENTS:
With the very pleasant (but sometimes very quiet) nose, the whisky set me up to think I was going to be writing paragraphs about the wonderfulness of subtlety.  But while the palate was okay at first, it was also indistinct and generically Speyside-with-a-little-Lowlands.  The late arriving woody bitterness suggests a little too much time in the barrel.  And the finish leaned a little too heavily on the bung cloth and vinegar notes.

In the environment of an outdoors tasting wherein small pours of whisky hit the glass every ten to fifteen minutes, this whisky works.  It smells very nice and it tastes sweet and fruity for a little while.  But if one bought a bottle for oneself, I don't think the whisky holds up, especially if one wants to take one's time with an extinct $350 single malt.  Binny's may have a few of these bottles left, but there's a reason they still have them after more than two years on the shelf.

Availability - Binny's, maybe
Pricing - $350
Rating - 83

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Whisky Fail! Teaninich 10 year old 1998 Prime Malt

Yep, a Saturday post!

Teaninich (which I keep misspelling) is now one of Diageo's monstrous malt-for-blends-only distilleries.  When Diageo announced its 2012 dreams of completing a £1billion distillery expansion, one of the main projects was a new £50 million distillery at the Teaninich site.  Two years later Diageo shelved majority of their big plans, but (according to Malt Whisky Yearbook 2016) they did wind up adding six new stills to Teaninich, thus doubling its production capacity.  So now it distills nearly 10 million liters of alcohol per year.  Which is a lot.  Yet, other than the old 10yo Flora & Fauna bottling, there still isn't an official single malt.  There aren't even any Special Releases of the stuff.

So, once again, it's up to the indies to reveal a distillery's secrets.  Today's subject, a Prime Malt release from Gordon Bonding (which had a connection with Duncan Taylor once upon a time) is one such indie bottling, and one of the rare Teaninichs to be sold in the US.  I enjoyed the whisky when Florin shared his bottle with me three years ago.  I also poured a sample to take home and review.  Again, that was three years ago.  I had planned on making this the first review of this week's "The Other Ts", but something went wrong.


Distillery: Teaninich
Ownership: Diageo
Region: North Highlands
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Age: minimum 10 years
Distillation year: 1998
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? ???
Caramel Colored? Probably not

The color is light amber.  Though it's also slightly opaque thanks to some cloudiness.  It has a nice pilsner nose, free of oak.  In fact, it's very beer-y (minus any hops).  A little bit of lemon zest.  Dandelion flowers.  Some slight metal and dusty notes.  At first sip, the palate is full of hay, vanilla, and roasted coffee beans.  Second sip, whisky wash.  Third sip, chlorophyll (leaves and lettuces).  Fourth sip, capital 'A' Acrid.  Broccoli.  No fifth sip because I don't like where this is heading.  It finishes very vegetal.  Peas, green beans, kale, and broccoli.  And metal.

For three years this whisky sat half empty in a sample bottle, where it died.  Totally bummed about this.  The nose is probably pretty close to the original thing.  But I can tell you with confidence my sample's palate and finish were ruined.

Sometimes samples go wrong, and rather than just tossing aside this experience I thought I'd share it with you.  So if you have a sample collection, look through your bottles and make sure they're more than half full lest oxygen wreak havoc on your little lovelies.  This has been a public service announcement.

Availability - A few bottles remain on random shelves throughout the US
Pricing - Less than $40, usually
Rating - Sample fail!

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Other Ts: Tamnavulin-Glenlivet 1967 square bottle (Italian import, mid '80s bottling?)

Tamnavulin distillery has risen from the dead like a zombie, or Jesus, or Lazarus, or Cthulhu.  A regular Zombie Cthulhu L. Christ it is.  It was built 50 years ago by the folks who also owned Invergordon distillery, right in a glen on the River Livet (much like its neighbor Glenlivet).  For a while, before companies raised a fuss, its single malts were labeled Tamnavulin-Glenlivet.  In 1993 it was purchased by Whyte & Mackay, who then closed it in 1995.  Thankfully, they did not go the Full Diageo by plowing the structure, salting the earth, and selling it all to a condo development concern.  Instead, W&M were nice enough to keep the parts in the building for some point in the future.  Optimists!  2007 was that future point.  That January they began refurbishing the place (including eventually replacing the wash stills), in May the company was bought by United Spirits, and in August they started distilling again.  They were at full production capacity by 2011.  A few years later the Whtye & Mackay branch of United Spirits was sold to Emperador Incorporated.

I haven't heard any word about them releasing an official Tamnavulin single malt.  (If you have read differently and have a good link to the news, let us know in the comment section below.)  In the meantime, most of the malt goes into the Whyte & Mackay blends.  The old owners did release a number of official bottlings during previous decades.  The one I'm reviewing today was distilled during Tamnavulin's second year.  There isn't much info online about this bottling aside from TWE's page of a sold out dusty bottle.  My sample comes from a LA Scotch Club event last year.  I actually missed the event and bought the samples instead.  Cool story bro.


Distillery: Tamnavulin
Ownership then: Invergordon Distillers Ltd.
Ownership now: Emperador Inc.
Region: Speyside (Livet)
Type: Single Malt
Distilled: 1967
Age: probably between 17 and 22 years old
Maturation: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

Its color is a medium gold.  Lovely bold old damp oak notes lead the way in the nose.  Then lemons.  No, lemon sorbetto!  My notes list "butterscotch" twice, so I guess there's butterscotch too.  Then honeydew and a tiny bit of tropical punch.  Lavender flowers, peat(?), and some OBE-like metallics.  The palate starts off earthy and chalky with a little bit of peat.  As it develops, it intensifies.  A sweet creaminess meets the smoky note, feeling like smoked almonds and cream puffs.  There's malt and also a little bit of IPA-like bitterness.  Musty barrel notes linger throughout.  A nice balance of soft sweet, tart, and bitter notes in the finish meets whispers of smoke and malt.  It's simple but of a decent length.

Ever since I started to find musty notes in old whiskies, I've wondered about the source of those smells and flavors.  Producers wouldn't actually use moldy casks, right?  Or was this part of old bottle effect?  Then, last month, while standing in one of Springbank's gorgeous old dunnage warehouses, with their cold earth floors and stone walls covered in splashes of white mold, I realized I may have been standing amidst the source of one of my favorite whisky characteristics.  Since dunnage storage was utilized by everyone before efficiency and technology took over, perhaps maturing whisky changed in a small way, losing one more element.  Or maybe it's all just in my imagination.

Also, this whisky was great.  Much more vibrant than I'd expected, it had fruit and flowers without being overly fruity or floral.  Nor did the smoke and earth overwhelm.  It was malty and balanced.  Man, I wish I had more.  Many thanks to whomever stored this bottle well for three decades.  I hope other bottles, somewhere out there, will be opened and enjoyed.

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

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Other Ts: Tamdhu 8 year old 2005 Signatory cask #346

Tamdhu isn't exactly one of the unknown T distilleries, in fact it has a pretty large production capacity of 4 million liters of alcohol, but the vast majority of its output has been dumped into White Horse, VAT 69, Famous Grouse, and Cutty Sark.  While it was under Highland Distillers Company / The Edrington Group it lived in the shadows of its stable mates Macallan and Highland Park.  That ownership even mothballed the distillery thrice.  It was during its third closure that Tamdhu was sold to Ian Macleod Distillers in 2011.  Since then, Macleod has been actively pushing the Tamdhu single malt, first in a 10 year old form with a fancy bottle (which looks like the offspring of a St. Germain bottle and a Coca Cola bottle), then as an NAS Batch Strength bottling.

This particular Tamdhu was released by independent bottler Signatory in the United States a couple years ago.  They, along with a few other indies, have been putting young sherry cask Tamdhus on the market recently.  I've been wondering why these companies are in such a hurry to bottle these babies.  Let's see what the story is with this one.


Distillery: Tamdhu
Ownership: Ian MacLeod Distillers
Region: Central Speyside
Independent Bottler: Signatory
Age: 8 years (Jan 27, 2005 - August 22, 2013)
Maturation: first fill ex-sherry butt
Cask#: 346
Bottle count: 615
Alcohol by Volume: 60.6%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
This sample arrives courtesy of a sample swap with Chemistry of the Cocktail.  Thanks, Jordan!

NEAT
Its color is dark gold.  The nose has one of the boldest fresh-brewed coffee notes I've ever sniffed in a whisky.  Then there's beef brisket, prunes, and dried currants.  It ends with bread pudding and cinnamon raisin bread.  Now that's a meal to fill the tummy.  The big ABV does sing out a bit in the palate numbing the tongue a little, but not too bad considering it's mostly poison. 💀  But tasty poison! 😸  Sorry, where was I? It starts with sea water, hazelnuts, and burlap.  Then salted caramel ice cream and baking spices.  It finishes sweetly and salty, with hazelnut liqueur and roasted almonds.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
In the nose, the coffee becomes toffee.  Newly split vanilla bean.  Salty beach air and a hint of fresh donuts.  The bread pudding note moves to the palate, topped with raisins.  There's also that sea water note, along with cayenne pepper.  A late note of gingerbread moves forward.  It finishes all gingery gingerbread and spicy cashews (whatever recipe my wife makes).

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose gets more syrupy and oloroso-y.  There's a hint of the coffee, then vanilla bean and cherry pie.  Lots of ginger in the palate now.  Then vanilla, caramel, marzipan, cayenne pepper, and salt.  It finishes with fresh ginger, salt, and cookie dough.

COMMENTARY:
This is anything but a shy whisky.  The nose, as you may gather from my notes, is a delight.  The palate is good too, but needs some water to push back the ethyl and youth.  While the flavors in the finish are nice, I wish they'd stuck around longer.  But for an 8 year old sherry butt, this is quite a whisky.  I can see why they'd bottle it now, firstly to please an audience looking for young yooge whiskies, but also because this sort of active cask can become too oaky/winey quickly.  I still liked it a lot, and would be happy to recommend it if you've had enough of subtlety already and can find the bottle for whatever price you deem reasonable.

(For a pair of differing opinions on this whisky see these two Reddit reviews here and here.)

Availability - it was US release in early 2014, but it may be difficult to find now
Pricing - $???
Rating - 87

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Other Ts: Tullibardine 500 Sherry Finish

I have to keep looking up who the heck owns Tullibardine distillery.  Currently it's the Picard family, ascendants of the great Jean Luc.  Before them it was the generic sounding "Tullibardine Distillery Ltd", a company who released a number of well-aged whiskies (like a '88, '92, and '93) for bargain bin prices.  A few years after the new ownership took over they decided the range needed sexying up.  Now there are four whiskies without age statement or vintage -- Sovereign, 225 Sauternes finish, 228 Burgundy finish, and 500 Sherry finish -- as well as pricey 20 and 25 year olds.  The odd looking numbers on those finished whiskies represent the general volume size (in liters) of each type of wine cask they use for the finish.

We selected the Tullibardine 500 for an OC Scotch Club event last year.  Even though it was the second cheapest whisky of the bunch, a number of attendees liked it the best.  Their enthusiasm for it motivated me to give it a try too.  While I can't say that I loved it, I remembered it being a decent step up from Glenmorangie Lasanta.

Distillery: Tullibardine
Ownership: Picard Vins & Spiritueux
Region: Mid-Highlands
Type: Single Malt
Age: ???
Maturation: first ex-bourbon casks, then ex-sherry butts
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chill filtered? ???
Caramel Coloring? probably not much

Unlike what the official notes say, its color is not a "dark, rich brown".  It's light gold, which is a good sign to me.  The lightly rosy nose is full of golden raisins and roasted nuts.  Some fresh stone fruits, rather than the dried ones found in many sherried whiskies.  Then vanilla bean, brine, cherries, and potpourri.  The palate is mild and malty.  Again, no dried fruits.  Roasted and slightly tart notes mingle with a light bitterness.  Hints of pepper, salt, and lemons.  Subtle dry sherry.  Totally inoffensive.  It finishes roasty and toasty.  Pepper and malt.  Light on the sherry.  Pleasantly dry.

And yeah, I didn't try this with water because I casually drank up most of my sample without realizing it.  Which is a positive, actually.  Again, to disagree with the official notes, I must say nothing about this whisky is "intense".  May I also repeat my own "Totally inoffensive" note from above.  It's clearly a thing one can drink and forget.  What I don't see is the quality that would make it worth $60+ in the US.  It's actually less than $40 in much of Europe, a price at which I would recommend it.  But if you're looking for something to drink and forget, and you want something better than Lasanta, and you have an extra three score dollars just lying around, Tullibardine 500 is not a bad option.

Availability - Some specialty retailers
Pricing - $50-$70 (US), $35-$55 (Europe, minus VAT, w/o shipping)
Rating - 81

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Other Ts: Tomintoul 14 year old (2014)

In yesterday's review of Tomintoul 16yo I wrote, "Tomintoul waters almost all of their whiskies down to 40%abv".  This includes their 10yo, 16yo, 21yo, 27yo, and even their 36y distilled in 1976.  That means they can accurately label themselves "the gentle dram" because there's a lot of water in their whisky.  A company will do whatever it wants with its products, but it's seems a shame to soak a product that took so long to produce and mature, like the 36yo.

A few years ago, Tomintoul suddenly plopped two single malts with 46%abvs into the middle of their range, a 12yo Port Wood finish and a regular 14 year old.  The company continued their good habit of keeping their prices down, so rather than charging a premium for the quality presentation, both bottles were priced less than the 16yo in Europe.  It does look like the 14 is more expensive in the US though, if you can actually find it.

I picked up a mini of the 14yo while making a gift shop stop in the Western Highlands last month.  Last week, I tasted this whisky alongside the 40%abv 16yo Tomintoul (which was also bottled in 2014).  Let's see how this uncolored, unfiltered Tomintoul tastes.


Distillery: Tomintoul
Ownership: Angus Dundee Distillers
Region: Speyside (Livet)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Age: minimum 14 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks, I think
Bottling year: 2014
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colored? No

NEAT
They're not BSing about the lack of added colorant.  The whisky's color is lighter than pinot grigio.  The nose is more nude than the 16's.  Lots of barley and fresh herbs.  Basil candy.  Slightly floral.  A toffee-like note floats in and out.  With time in the glass, the nose picks up a vanilla bean note and the flower blossoms get stronger.  Some fun notes of grape candy and lemon cleaner appear.  Lots of not-so-gentle heat in the palate.  There's a big roasted barley note that reads almost like coffee beans.  There are some white peppercorns, along with hints of caramel and butter.  The caramel note grows with time, as does a notebook paper note.  More heat in the dry finish.  Peppercorns and vanilla.  Not much else.  Reminiscent of a Canadian blend.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Moments of lime candy and peaches in the nose now.  Barley and a sugary glaze.  The palate has a sharper bite; bitterer with more pepper.  More caramel, less malt.  Nillas.  A pre-distillate wash note appears after a few moments.  It finishes lightly sweet.  Corn syrup, wash, peppercorns, and Nillas.  A better, more herbal bitter note than the palate's.  Still sort of Canadian-ish.

COMMENTARY:
This feels younger than its stated age, but not in a bad way.  The barley and blossoms and herbs and wash are a nice experience, for those of us who dig that sort of thing.  Like the 16, there's something quirky going on late in that palate, but it's less of a deal breaker here.  The nose is the best part, and if the palate had matched it, I'd happily recommend this whisky and then go find a bottle for me.  It finishes unremarkably as well, like (as I mentioned above) a Canadian blended whisky.  Because I like this flair-free presentation, I would recommend this over the 16, especially if you find it priced less than its thinner older sibling.  But overall, I think I'm done with Tomintoul for the time being.  Onto another one of the Ts...

Availability - Short supply in the US, easier to find in Europe
Pricing - $60-$80 (US), $40-$60 (Europe, minus VAT, w/o shipping)
Rating - 82

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Other Ts: Tomintoul 16 year old (The Re-Review!)

I'll be taking a short break from the Scotland 2016 series as I structure the remaining posts.  In its place this week, I'll be taking a look at The Other 'T' Distilleries.  Who are the other T's?  Not Talisker, who gets all the love, and plenty of action on this site.  Hell, there's going to be another Taliskravaganza in 2017.  Not big ol' Tomatin, since I just did a week of Tomatin stuff recently.  And not Tobermory, who has been getting some serious love recently due to the success of their heavily-peated single malt, Ledaig.  I'm talking about the other guys.



First up is Tomintoul, a medium-sized Speyside distillery that's been around for all of fifty-one years.  They had six different owners, including a former Hitler Youth, in their first thirty five years.  It's been sixteen spins around the sun since Angus Dundee PLC took over and they haven't given up the reins yet.  The Malt Whisky Yearbook states (on page 173) that Tomintoul's 10, 14, 16, and 21 year old single malts are all kosher-certified.  If true, then these whiskies were all aged in ex-bourbon casks, unless they dug up some kosher sherry barrels somewhere.  For devout Jews who keep strictly kosher, the moment whisky touches a barrel that held non-kosher wine, it violates the Kashrut (kosher laws).  Now why wine made by goyim is considered not kosher, while whisky made by goyim can be is something you'll have to ask someone else.  I do not keep kosher, so bring on the Pancetta cask Caol Ila (redundant!)!

There are two Tomintouls I'm reviewing this week and I tried them side-by-side.  Today, it's the 16 year old.  It's true reviewed this whisky almost five years ago, for my third-ever whisky blog post.  I gave the whisky 90 points.  Please don't read that review.  Read this one instead.

My own bottle!
Sample taken from about this spot.
Distillery: Tomintoul
Ownership: Angus Dundee Distillers
Region: Speyside (Livet)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Age: minimum 16 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks only (confirmed)
Bottling year: 2014
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? Yes
Caramel Colored? Yes

NEAT
Its color is of filtered apple juice.  The nose is grassy and very malty.  Big notes of anise and butterscotch sing throughout.  Smaller notes of spearmint leaves, cotton, cherry Jolly Ranchers, confectioner's sugar, and cucumber skin mingle and peek out here and there.  The palate holds apples, pears, and cracked black peppercorns.  Mild notes of vanilla and tart berries sit in the midground.  It becomes bit drying and picks up a quirky bitter note after 20 minutes in the glass.  It finishes tangy and lightly sweet with vanilla and malt.  A little bit of that bitterness too.

Though that already felt a little light, let's do what the blenders do (supposedly) and water it down further to see if it swims.

WITH WATER (~30%abv)
The nose's anise note expands further, making this feel Sambuca-ish at first.  Then comes some whole wheat crackers, mint, barley, and maybe even a little yeast.  The palate is very blendy with vanilla, sugar, and pepper, but no fruit.  Some bitter oak rolls in and stays through the finish, joined by citrus and vanilla.

COMMENTS:
Like Diageo's Singleton series, Tomintoul 16 really is a single malt for blend drinkers, because it tastes like a blend.  It can be compared favorably with the always smooth Chivas 18.  What Chivas 18 has that this malt lacks are the fruit notes (courtesy of Longmorn and Strathisla?).  Meanwhile the Tomintoul has a not-always-enjoyable bitter note which feels too oaky, while the Chivas does not.  Take away that bitter thing, and this makes for an unremarkable but wholly drinkable single malt.

It's a shame Tomintoul waters almost all of their whiskies down to 40%abv.  It would be interesting to try this one at 46%-48%abv, but I believe it'll still have a lot of youth to it, feeling younger than its 16 years, even at that strength.  What this whisky does have going for it is its price (as of today), selling for less than $50 in a few of the The States, and less than $60 in most places.  A 16yo for less than $60?  Yep, but you're going to get what you pay for.

Availability - Many specialty retailers
Pricing - $45-$70
Rating - 81 (neat only)

Friday, August 12, 2016

Single Malt Report: Glenlivet 33 year old 1981 Signatory for K&L Wine Merchants, cask 9459

Let's finish off this three-fer with one last big hit.  Much older than the previous two whiskies, 33 vs 19 vs 19, this Glenlivet comes from a refill sherry cask rather than a first fill.  And it's from a hogshead, rather than a butt.  A hogshead holds approximately half the volume of a butt, so there's more oak-to-spirit contact but since this is a refill it'll be interesting to see if that balances out the cask influence.

Ah ha! An actual bottle pic.
Like Wednesday's whisky, this Signatory was sold exclusively through K&L Wine Merchants.  The hoggie's bottle count is down to 115, so either this cask was split with another retailer or the angel's did some fair work over 33 years.

Like Wednesday's whisky there aren't many reviews online (aside from LAWS this time). Again, there's no listing for it in Whiskybase.  On a curious note, casks 9454 (34yo) and 9463 (33yo) are from the same distillation year (one with the same distillation date) have the same exact ABV.  What's the chance of that happening?  Is it a conspiracy or totally meaningless?  I'll go with the latter.....for now.  ;-)

As with the 29yo Longmorn I reviewed in June, this sample came into my possession via my installation as the substitute LA Scotch Club host for the K&L Strikes Back event at Lost Property in Hollywood on April 10th.  It was the most desired whisky that evening.  I'm first trying it now.

And, of course, a sample pic.
Distillery: Glenlivet
Ownership: Pernod Ricard
Independent Bottler: Signatory
Age: 33 years (November 5, 1981 - July 8, 2015)
Maturation: refill sherry hogshead
Cask#: 9459
Bottle count: 41 of 115
Alcohol by Volume: 51.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
Exclusive to: K&L Wine Merchants

Its color is a dark orange gold, the lightest tone of the three whiskies.  The nose starts off with molasses chews, York Peppermint Patties, orange peel, and toffee pudding.  A slight seaweed note wafts in sometimes.  There are baked pears (a la old Calvados Domfrontais), sugar cookies, and perky fresh ginger.  After 30+ minutes in the glass, it picks up cherry liqueur and a subtle mizunara-like sandalwood note.  The palate is very pleasant at this strength, so I won't be adding water.  There are cherry candies and mango candies balanced by bitter baking chocolate.  Fresh raspberries, coffee beans, and a mild oak note.  After 30 minutes, the palate gains a lovely orange note and some of the nose's cookies.  It finishes with lollipops, strawberry jello, maraschino cherries, and bitter chocolate.  A moment of the good orange note too.  It more spicy than sweet, really, overall.  After a lot of time in the glass, the bitterness grows and some American oak shows up.

Winner Winner Whisky Dinner!  As good as the nose's notes may sound, I think the palate's even better.  It's merely very good until the oranges and cookies jump in, and then...yeah.  It never reads as a sherry bomb, so the refill choice served the whisky very well.  There's a grace in its age that one can't fake by trying to squeeze in more oak over a shorter period of time.  I'm guessing that American oak was used for the hogshead, which is not a problem.  I do think the wood eventually gets a bit invasive in the finish after awhile, keeping this thing from soaring even higher.  But it's a still an excellent cask and a great selection by K&L.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - $400
Rating - 91

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Single Malt Report: Glenlivet 19 year old 1995 Signatory for Binny's, cask 166947

The Glenlivet three-fer started out oddly yesterday.  In order to get some perspective, I tried that whisky alongside this one, which highlighted the differences between the two.  Though this is also a 19 year old first fill sherry butt of Glenlivet from Signatory's warehouses, it's its own creature.

This single cask was sold exclusively through Binny's, of Chicago fame.  Rather, it IS being sold at Binny's and remains in stock as of today.  This sample comes from the bottle purchased by My Annoying Opinions, as seen in his own review.  Thanks, MAO!

Distillery: Glenlivet
Ownership: Pernod Ricard
Independent Bottler: Signatory
Age: 19 years (1995-2015)
Maturation: first fill ex-sherry butt
Cask#: 166947
Alcohol by Volume: 58.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
Exclusive to: Binny's

NEAT
It's the color of Willett rye, a good color.  The nose is dense, tough to sort out at first.  Sort of reminds me of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof bourbon for a few moments, also a positive thing.  Plenty of dark chocolate, cigar tobacco, soy sauce, burnt cherries, mint leaves, and honey.  Whereas yesterday's whisky was hotter than expected, today's nose shows less ethyl than anticipated.  Toffee, honey, and molasses.  Cherry cordials, almonds in dark chocolate.  Not sweet, but calmly dry.  Its long finish has chocolate, walnuts, dry sherry, and a little bit of tangy acidic citrus.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose clears up a bit, starting with sherry that's short on fruit, but big on nuts.  Um, good writing?  Then cocoa, tobacco, wood smoke, and a hint of prunes.  The palate is spicier, and more peppery, followed by black cherry gelato and an herbal digestif.  It finishes fruiter than before, with some fresh stones fruits (from the spirit?).  Toffee, bitter smoke, tart rhubarb?

It keeps on tickin' at that strength.  How about a little more water?

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose still pretty big.  More stone fruit and flowers.  Tobacco and leather.  The palate reminds me of a younger Glenfarclas.  Dry sherry, dried cherries.  Milk chocolate, black pepper, tart berries.  The sweetness remains in check.  The finish still has a good length.  Very dry, woody, and peppery now.

SOME MORE WORDS:
While yesterday's Glenlivet was full of tongue stripping tannic dryness, today's Glenlivet's dryness comes from the sherry, rendering it more palatable.  It's a solid sherry cask whisky that will appeal to those of us with dry preferences.  Nothing about it really wowed me, but it was much better than its dancing partner.  What did impress was how well it took to water, and that probably wins it a couple more points.  Ultimately my opinion of the sits somewhere between MAO's and WhiskyMusings's.

Availability - Exclusively at Binny's
Pricing - $120
Rating - 86

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Single Malt Report: Glenlivet 19 year old 1996 Signatory for K&L Wine Merchants, cask #83265

Though I just did two posts about Edradour distillery, I won't be doing any Edradour whisky reviews this week.  I have no Edradour or Ballechin samples with me because 95% of my sample collection lives in another state (for just a few more weeks!).  But I do have three sherried Glenlivet samples bottled by Signatory!  (For those not in the know, Signatory Vintage owns Edradour Distillery.)

Each of these three sherried Glenlivets were sold exclusively through an American retailer. This first one was sold via K&L Wine Merchants.  I think K&L has had at least five ex-sherry Glenlivet casks from Signatory over the past few years with this cask (I think) being the most recent one.

My sample comes from an OC Scotch Club event I hosted last year.  I didn't try it at the event, so this is my first poke at it.

Distillery: Glenlivet
Ownership: Pernod Ricard
Independent Bottler: Signatory
Age: 19 years (May 20, 1996 - September 30, 2015)
Maturation: first fill ex-sherry butt
Cask#: 83265
Bottle count: 127 of 521
Alcohol by Volume: 50.9%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
Exclusive to: K&L Wine Merchants
(Also to note, I tried this side by side with the whisky from tomorrow's review.)

NEAT
Its color is the darkest of the three whiskies this week.  The nose leads with toffee and caramel.  Then a mix of plum wine, dried currants, and creme de cassis.  Furniture polish, Cow Tales candy, and raisins.  Meanwhile the palate is hotter than I expected from the ABV.  It's floral, mouth drying, and tannic.  Some cherry candy, though more burnt butter and halvah.  It finishes with a little bitter coffee.  No, wait.  Bitter green oak.  A curious amount of vanilla meets a slight sourness.  Lots of heat and tannins.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The water blends all the parts together in the nose.  The sherry notes eventually come forward, while the oak is in the midground, and the spirit sleeps in the back.  Dried berries, caramel, orange peel, and burlap/hessian.  The palate is floral and bitter.  Strange combo.  Very bitter oak, sour lemons, with some mild oloroso notes in the background.  The finish is bitter, sour, floral, and long.

SOME MORE WORDS:
Though I find Signatory to the most reliable indie bottler when it comes to quality, they're not perfect, nor should anyone expect them to be.  (Though I have to say they're still batting about .900 for me.)  There was a '92 Strathmill that's one of the blandest whiskies I've tried.  One of K&L's single cask Imperials was much too soapy for me.  And then there's this Glenlivet.

Thanks to the fruits, the nose was enjoyable and vibrant.  It had me anticipating the palate would be similar.  The palate was not even remotely similar.  And the finish was unpleasant.  With water, the palate and finish actually got worse, leading me to spill the final sip down the sink.  My senses tell me the sherry butt was made from American oak, as the caramel, butter, and vanilla are plenty loud.  That's not a bad thing, it's actually pretty common.  But something feels cockeyed about this cask, with the aggressive tannins and bitterness in the mouth to the somewhat low ABV for the whisky's age.  What saves the whisky overall is that I found no oak problems in the good nose, and the whole thing works better when neat.

Once again, there's a dearth of reviews for this cask, something I often find with K&L exclusives.  It seems like Sku, MAO, Jordan, and I are the only bloggers who post reviews of their stuff.  Anyone else?  There isn't even an entry for this whisky in Whiskybase.  I bring this up because I wonder if anybody found this tannic/bitter issue.  So I ask you, my lovely readers, to weigh in via the comment section below.  Am I crazy (about this particular thing)?

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - $90
Rating - 75 (neat only, 5-10 points lower with water)

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Signatory Tasting Bar at Edradour Distillery

Yesterday, I left you off here:


I enjoyed visiting Edradour and appreciated the very good tour given by Helen (whom I recommend if you have a choice of guides).  And since Edradour was actually my first distillery stop on this trip, it was nice starting small.  But really, really, I was there for Signatory.

To make a long story one paragraph short, my first two experiences with independently bottled cask strength scotch came from Signatory bottles.  And it was a couple years later, when I set foot in Royal Mile Whiskies and saw a zillion (back in the day!) Signatory bottlings on the shelves, and then purchased two for myself, that I was forever warped.  It's thanks to Signatory that I'm here typing this post.  To this day, I find the quality of Signatory's single casks to be the most reliable in the independent bottling scene.  And often the most reasonably priced.  So, yes, while it was exciting to see one of Signatory's warehouses, it was more thrilling to attend their tasting bar.

Located just up the walkway from the visitor center, the bar is located in one of the many small white houses on site.  I don't know if one has to buy a tour ticket to go to the bar or if there's a fee if one doesn't attend a tour, but since I paid £7.50 for a tour I was led to the bar upon my arrival.

Because I'm a fool, or rather because I was somewhat distracted, I don't have a photos of the bar.  There are three, maybe four dozen, Signatory single casks available to try, along with another couple dozen Edradour/Ballechins as well.  Yes, one must pay for the 25mL(-ish) pours, and pay in cash, but the prices are the lowest you'll pay for a pour of this stuff.  Nothing I tried cost as much as the tour ticket.  And there were some deceased distillery bottles to taste for a bargain.  But I wasn't there to experiment.  I arrived with a plan. There were whiskies I wanted to buy, but I wanted to try them first.

Ben Nevis 22yo 1991 sherry butt #2382, 58.3%abv -- Signatory has gotten the reputation for having cornered the market on excellent Ben Nevis sherry casks from 1991 and 1992.  And, yep, this one was stellar, somehow balancing the massive oddly musty fruity almost smoky Ben Nevis spirit with a wallop of sherry drenched European oak.  Someday I'll have more notes on this one, because I bought a bottle.

Blair Athol 25yo 1988 refill sherry butt #6914, 56.8%abv -- Signatory also seems to have a whole flock of 1988 Blair Athol sherry casks sitting in their warehouses.  These releases, along with those from The Ultimate which come from the same warehouses, have helped make Blair Athol kind of a thing for some whisky geeks.  This cask was fascinating, especially after the Ben Nevis.  Though the oak gave the whisky plenty of dark color, it was surprisingly reserved in its influence.  Lots of good, comparatively young, spirit glowed through.  Water thickened and improved the whisky.  I resisted buying this very good whisky because the Ben Nevis blasted my socks off and I predicted there would be a number of other bottles accumulated once I went to *whisper it* Campbeltown.

Deep thoughts
Ledaig 10 year old 2005 first fill sherry butt #900145, 54.6%abv -- Reputation, reputation, again.  Young Ledaig has picked up a considerable following over the past two years, partially because it's proven to be pretty good and partially because a certain influential whisky reviewer keeps calling it The New Ardbeg.  This has resulted in very young Ledaig selling for almost Kilchoman-esque prices.  I'm a Ledaig Hipster, myself, having liked it before it was cool and still like the stuff from the less-sexy weirder period of the '80s and '90s.  Anyway, I was looking forward to this Ledaig and found myself disappointed.  It was indeed a big and peaty whisky.  But it showed nearly no character beyond "big and peaty".  It was sub-Uigeadail and very-sub-Benromach 100 Proof.  Water didn't open it up, nor did air.  It's not a bad whisky, it's just that it has a lot of competition at its price point (and below), and I'd rather just buy two bottles of the official 10 year old instead.

Ballechin 13 year old 2003 single port cask #221, distillery exclusive, 58.6%abv -- When I asked our guide Helen -- more of a fan of Ballechin than Edradour -- if they had any bottles of the excellent Ballechin Discovery Series Port Cask on hand, she said no.  Before my shoulders could droop in disappointment, she directed me to a distillery-only bottle.  I said something like "Holy Fudge" and then repeated it when I was informed that the tasting bar had it as well.  Back at the tasting bar, I tried it next to the above Ledaig 10yo sherry cask and there was no competition.  Like the Ledaig, the Ballechin was "big and peaty", but it was also rich and multi-faceted, it swam well, and was frankly "bigger and peatier".  And £20 cheaper.  Sold.

The Visitor Center
I ended the drinking experience here because, with the two tour drams, I'd consumed 5-6 servings of alcohol over a two hour period.  My judgement would be dulled beyond this point.  And I would make for an obnoxious passenger for the next three hours of car travel if I pursed additional whisky.

Happy pricing news: These four pours plus two bottles of water came out to less than £25, less than one glass of Highland Park 18yo at a Los Angeles bar.  So I highly recommend the tasting bar to geeks and casual drinkers, to those with a plan and those without.

Sad pricing news: It's a little difficult to recommend purchasing bottles at the distillery because Edradour's visitor center does not participate in the VAT refund scheme.  So technically, if one was able to find the above bottles in a UK shop while traveling, they would be cheaper.  For high priced bottles, it would likely be a better deal to buy them at a UK shop and have them shipped back to the US (or most other countries).  But in this case, that Ballechin is sold only at the distillery, and that specific cask of Ben Nevis is sold out everywhere else, and thus I bought them.  We tell ourselves stories in order to live.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Edradour Distillery Tour

Pitlochry is home to Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Company Limited.  And wouldn't you know, our drive from Edinburgh to Drumnadrochit was going to take us through Pitlochry -- or at least I was going to make sure it did.  Heh heh heh hehhhhhh.

Er, since my lovely wife Kristen is one of three people who will see this post, may I clarify that the quickest and most direct route between Edinburgh and Drumnadrochit does in fact run through Pitlochry.  :o)

Signatory Vintage isn't just my favorite independent bottler, it's also the owner of Edradour distillery, producers of Edradour (unpeated) and Ballechin (peated) single malt.  Getting to the distillery is a little more exciting than Google Maps or a car's crappy GPS will lead one to believe.  Rather than just scooting into Pitlochry from the A924, one must take a tiny one lane (WATCH OUT!) winding country road north.  I've been told it's a beautiful drive, but I didn't notice since I was behind the wheel, watching every turn for four-legged or four-wheeled creatures.

Just as Edradour brags, their distillery is in fact tiny and cute, with a number of small white house-like structures containing most of its facilities, like this:


But due to the popularity of the peated Ballechin, the distillery has to expand.  So they're building an identical (or as identical as possible) second stillhouse in order to double their production.


That morning, our tour group of about a dozen folks had the awesome Helen as our guide.  Helen grew up on a farm next to the distillery, so this was her territory, she knew all the things.  Like some of us, she rightly prefers the Ballechin to their unpeated stuff.

Our first stop was at a little tour/party room where we were given two 25mL drams while we watched an official Edradour video.  Honestly, if Helen's your tour guide then then video is redundant.  She'll tell you everything in the video and more.  What's more important are the two whiskies: one unpeated and one peated:

Edradour 10 year old, 40%abv (unpeated) -- It's like a yeasty eau de vie, full of porridge notes, and maybe a little bit of toffee.  Its thin mouthfeel doesn't help it one bit as it comes across as a watered-down minor-league barely-legal Tobermory.  While I'm not the biggest fan of all the wine cask versions of Edradour, perhaps those casks do give the whisky a boost.

Ballechin Bourbon Cask, 46%abv (peated) -- Dark, mossy, herbal peat meets coffee, mint leaves, and berry candy.  It's hard to believe this comes from the same distillery as the other whisky.  At first I thought this was the Ballechin 10yo; if so then it was much better than I'd remembered.  Turns out, it was their Discovery Series #6 release: Ballechin Bourbon Cask.  And, yeah, it's better than the 10, and it's likely three or four years younger.  Because it was released 5 years ago, good luck finding it for less than $99.99 today.

It was nice to have drinks before a tour started, for a change.  It sort of oils the gears for the distillery experience.

Allegedly, Edradour ("Land between two waters" in Gaelic) distillery doesn't use computers.  Everything is done by hand, and (paper!) notebooks are filled with data.  They stopped using their malting floors in 1973 and now source both their peated and unpeated malt from Inverness.  That peated (50-55ppm after drying) malted barley is destined to become Ballechin, properly pronounced "bah-LAY-hin".

One of the distillery's interesting quirks is this:


It is a Morton's Refrigerator.  When the wort (malted barley grist that has been steeped in water in order to get the starches turned into sugars) comes out of the mash tun, it must be cooled so that yeast can then be added for the fermentation process.  If the wort is too hot, the yeast will die.  Today most distilleries (and many breweries) use a counter-flow chiller which utilizes cold water -- the cold water is warmed while the wort is cooled.  In 1934 the Morton's was installed at Edradour to cool their wort.  After Andrew Symington (Mr. Signatory) bought the distillery, he elected to have a replica Morton's built and installed, rather than going with a counter-flow chiller.  So they're technically using old school technology with a recent build to cool their wort.

That cooled wort goes into one of their two Oregon pine washbacks, where it ferments for 48 hours.


Here's some wash a-percolatin':


That beer then goes to the one 4200L wash still and one 2000+L spirit still for distillation.


Both of these stills are connected to a 100+ year old worm tub system, yet another bit of old school tech, which condenses alcohol vapor back into liquid.

I know the photo sucks, but it's difficult to get a proper photo of copper tubes
since they're submerged in dark brown water.  It looks like earl grey tea with
a disappearing metal snake inside.
Once the spirit is barreled-up, it enters the warehouse.


And this was 'round about the time I started to geek out on this tour, because this warehouse not only serves Edradour distillery, but also Signatory.  And now, some cask photos.


I'm fascinated by the popularity of Edradour distillery, since many sources claim it has 100,000+ visitors per year.  Unpeated Edradour can be a difficult, unfriendly drink even for those of us with many whisky years hanging over our belts.  Aside from the older technology, the tour itself doesn't provide much more education that one cannot get at many other scotch distillery tours (though having a good guide, like Helen, is essential anywhere).  It is a quaint place when compared to the many massive mechanized whisky production facilities around Scotland.  But my guess is folks tend to stop off there because it's on the way from the cities to Speyside and the Northern Highlands.

Yet, why would the same guy who just wrote that heavily qualified praise ever be seen doing this at Edradour distillery?


Tomorrow, The Signatory Tasting Bar.