...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: W.L. Weller 12 year old Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Such is this cockamamie whisky world that I had to source my sample for this bourbon from The Netherlands.  You see, once upon a time (approximately two years ago) retailers suddenly realized that they were selling WL Weller 12yo for only $30 while they were selling a bourbon (known as Van Winkle 12yo) with the same age and same mashbill by the same company for $300.  Then this happened:
from winesearcher's market data
To put a finer point on it:
Avg price in September 2014 - $26
Avg price in September 2016 - $215
Price increase in two years: 727%

While I have heard unofficial tales about decreased allocations of Weller 12, I have also seen stories in Esquire and Wall Street Journal encouraging their readers to seek out the Wellers if they can't find the Van Winkles.  So with a little less supply, more demand, and even more "let's see what these dopes will pay for this stuff" WL Weller finds itself with a 700% price increase.

As this is a wheated bourbon -- thus uses wheat in the mashbill as its flavoring grain rather than rye -- and I'm not the biggest fan of modern wheaters (though I do ♥ dusty Old Fitzes), I did try the Weller 12 alongside a pour of Heaven Hill's wheated Larceny.  I'll review Larceny at another time.  This post is about Master Weller.

Owner: Buffalo Trace (via Sazerac)
Brand: WL Weller
Distillery: Buffalo Trance Distillery
Location: Franklin, Kentucky
Mash Bill: unknown, but it does use wheat rather than rye as its flavoring grain
Age: at least 12 years
ABV: 45% ABV
(I am reviewing from a purchased sample)

The nose starts off with vanilla, caramel, and oak (duh).  Oak char, sap, and bark.  With time it gets creamier and desserty, but I'm still sniffin' tree here.  Okay, there's some fresh apricots or apricot jam, and black cherry ice cream.  After a half hour it picks up a barbecue sauce note.  The palate is dirtier and earthier than I expected.  It's austere (oh that word) for a bourbon, at first.  Gradually the sweets (definitely honey) come around as does a peppery zip.  Burnt corn on the cob.  A hint of maraschino cherries.  Something reminiscent of dusty bourbons, like a whiff of metal+vanilla.  Overall it's Tannin City, or maybe Tannin Island since there's water all around.  The muted finish is mostly barrel char with granulated sugar, burnt corn, and orange peel.  Some hints of vanilla and black pepper in the background.

To me, this was an acceptable bourbon, likely worth $30 in this market, though probably had some competitors at $10-$15 in the previous decade.  The nose works, even with the felled forest within, and the palate's earthy and dusty notes keep it entertaining.  But the thinness to the mouthfeel and generic finish keep it from being anything more than okay.  If I magically find a bottle at its old price, I will buy it for cocktails, casual sipping, and maybe even a re-review if it exceeds (or falls short of) this experience.  Otherwise, I liked Larceny more and I even found Weller 107 better than this.

For those who have purchased a bottle of this for $200, have you opened your bottle and consumed its contents?  Did it provide $200 worth of pleasure?  Please help me here with some details because I don't understand it.

Availability - It's still out there, don't be afeared of the scare tactics
Pricing - Be afraid, be very afraid
Rating - 81

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Luxury Product Report: Convalmore 36 year old 1977 Special Release (2013)

Speaking of Diageo's 2013 Special Release ultra-luxury products......here's a 36 year old Convalmore.  This was the other 2013 Special Release that interested me.  I knew it would be out of my price range since Convalmore was silenced three decades earlier.  What shocked me was that its suggested retail price was only £100+ less than that year's Brora and £100+ more than the 28yo Talisker.  I was (and still am) unaware that Convalmore was in such demand.  But then again, the following year Diageo priced a Glendullan at $1000.

Just to be fair and not to crap all over Diageo as I usually do, consider the fact that Convalmore is a dead distillery with very few indie or official releases.  Consider the fact that the product is 36 years old and burning in at 58%abv.  With that in mind, also consider Balvenie, which is not a dead distillery, which has a more widely available 30yo bottled at 47.3%abv selling for the same exact price as this Convalmore.  Then there's the Dalmore 25yo, bottled at 42%abv which sells for more than these two.  And yes, there's the 43%abv Macallan 25yo which sells for 50% more than any of these.  So, yes, Diageo is far from being the only culprit, and in this instance their whisky is the rarest, oldest, and strongest of the four products mentioned in this paragraph.  And of these four Convalmore is the only one that interests me.

How about a pause in the opinions for some history?  Built near Dufftown in 1894, Convalmore was sold to the big blender James Buchanan ten years later.  In 1925 it was bought by DCL (proto-Diageo) who then mothballed it in 1985.  At that point they sold the distillery and dark grains plant at Convalmore to William Grant & Sons.  Grant later demolished the plant and cleared out the distillery equipment but left much of the building standing.  They currently use Convalmore's old warehouses to store Balvenie and Glenfiddich casks.  Meanwhile, even they sold off the physical assets, Diageo still owns the Convalmore brand name and are thus able to release the single malt under its distillery's name.

Thanks to St. Brett of Riverside, I have a sample of a real Convalmore to try out!

Distillery: Convalmore
Ownership: Diageo (owner of the brand only)
Range: Special Releases
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Age: at least 36 years old (1977-2013)
Maturation: refill European oak
Alcohol by Volume: 58.0%
Limited Bottling: 2680
Bottling year: 2013
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? Yes

Like yesterday's Oban, this product's color is worryingly close to DiageoGold™. Ah, yes "mit farbstoff".  Why the hell would they do that to a 36 year old "Special Release"?  At first sniff, the nose shows a funny combination of gummy bears and a moldy dunnage.  But give some time, a lot of time, and those notes are replaced by cucumber skin, yellow peaches, lemon cake, autumn baking spices, and a hint of manure.  The palate begins quirky as well: watermelon candy and burlap.  That is soon overwhelmed by loads of lemons.  Maybe some grapefruits too, and a hint of honey.  A little bit of toffee keeps getting stomped down by all the lemons.  The lemons don't last so long in the finish.  Smoked almonds, watermelon candy, carpet, some drying tannins, and a peppery tingle take the lead.  There's also something dirty and earthy to it which gives it another nice dimension.  Great length.

Going easy on the water here since this is an oldie:

WITH WATER (~50%abv)
The nose is all honeycomb, lemon zest, and autumn baking spices.  The palate is made up of the angriest lemons, like first-presidential-debate-Trump angry.  Likely some bitterness and tiny hands too.  It finishes sweeter, with earth, pepper, and lemons.

What a curio this is.  I wonder what the rich folks would think of this product if Whiskyfun and Whisky Advocate weren't telling them it's magical.  It's certainly quirky and old school, for which it certainly deserves points.  And it's a good thing I like lemons, because this has lemons.  But all its parts are flying around, bouncing off each other, never really merging or balancing out, when neat.  Adding water pulls everything together and intensifies some of the better elements.  It's good to very good, but (to me) doesn't merit hyperbole.  Nor, obvs, the price.

Availability - A few dozen stores worldwide
Pricing - In the US $900-$1000, In Europe $650-$850 w/o VAT
Rating - 86

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Luxury Product Report: Oban 21 year old Special Release (2013)

Oban 14 year old was my favorite single malt back in the days when I owned only two or three whiskies at once.  It was more angular than Glens Fiddich, Livet, and Morangie and delivered what I considered at the time a fuller drinking experience.  Years later, when this blog was a toddler, I tried Oban 18 year old and found it to be good but lighter and shier than the 14.  Still, I probably should have bitten back when K&L had it on sale for $79.99 now that the average US price for it is $140.

When Diageo announced their 2013 Special Release lineup, I was very excited to see Oban amongst Port Ellen and Brora and other sexier names, and was even willing to push my bottle price ceiling to get this once-a-decade bottle.  But then I saw the price, more than twice my ceiling.  That was right about the time the rest of the Special Releases were nearly doubling in price from the year before.  That marked the moment the Special Releases no longer had anything to do with whisky.  They became ultra luxury products.  And over the past three years, whisky geek outrage about these prices has turned into bored dismissal as we've recognized the Special Releases are irrelevant to 99.99% of whisky drinkers.  In some marketing circles outrage equals publicity, and silence equals death.  So good luck with that, Dr. Nick.

Three years and three Special Release rounds later, Oban 21 can still be found for its original price on a number of store shelves in the US.  The good news (for me) is that I was very lucky to receive a sample bottle of this product from St. Brett of Riverside (a man who elected to purchase this luxury bottle) this year.  And to be honest, I was more interested in the Oban than much more expensive bottles that were offered.  So I drink this as toast to St. Brett and to my fellow former Oban fans.

Distillery: Oban
Ownership: Diageo
Range: Special Releases
Region: Western Highlands
Age: at least 21 years
Maturation: rejuvenated American Oak and second fill ex-Bodega Casks
Alcohol by Volume: 58.5%
Limited Bottling: 2860
Bottling year: 2013
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? Maybe

The color is orange gold.  Umm, I'm just going to hope that's not DiageoGold™ or else this isn't a very special release from you putzim.  The nose starts out with a gorgeous combination of toffee, milk chocolate, canned peaches, and burning leaves.  Yeah, there is a solvent hint occasionally and two pencil shavings, but there are also rich notes of orange oil and dates.  The insanely rich palate is loaded with yellow peaches, yellow plums, vanilla pudding, malt, bitter dark chocolate, toffee, and earth.  The little bit of heat works like a spice behind the main ingredients.  There's a massive citrus note in the finish: limes, oranges, and sweet lemons.  Vanilla bean and a brisk bitter buzz.  Great length.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Just a touch of caramel sauce in the nose.  Oranges, yellow plums, and jasmine along with an aromatic old musty scotch note.  The palate gets a little sweeter, tangier.  Limes and chocolate ice cream.  The finish now has a combo of metal, tangy citrus, and herbal bitterness that actually works.  Also milk chocolate.

Yeah, there's some "rejuvenated" oak in the mix here, but the fruit and the earth lift it up meeting the new stuff head on, resulting in deliciousness.  When neat, the palate is a true highlight, but the nose rules once water is added.  It's much better than the 18yo and I'm thankful to have tried Oban at full power.  Had I spent $200 on this, I would have been happy with the quality of the product.  But $450?  Heehee.  Ugh.  Next.

Availability - A dozen or more stores in the US
Pricing - $400-$500
Rating - 89

Monday, September 26, 2016

1000 Posts and 5 Years of Whisky Reviews

Going to the well for this pic one last time.
I knew I was approaching post #1000, but I'd forgotten that the fifth anniversary of my first whisky review had zipped by almost three weeks ago.  My palate has changed considerably during that time period, which is inevitable when one's sampled well over a thousand different whiskies.  The results of that experience aren't always good, in fact I miss the simple joy of just digging into and savoring ONE bottle of whisky for about a month.  I miss the prices from 5 years ago and the innocence of not fully understanding the depths of the crapulence of the major whisky producers.

At a couple of points over the years, I've written that the ratings I gave to my early reviews weren't bloated and that instead I was just finding more middling-quality whiskies then I used to.  Well, I'm here to tell you of my suspicion of that statement being partially crap.  As experience is gained things change, a palate recalibrates, and better whiskies are tried, sometimes completely resetting how one sees other whiskies.  For the whiskies I believe were scored too high, I'm attempting to obtain samples so that I may do a re-review, as I did with Tomintoul 16yo.

I've updated the About Me page, lightly, so that it is 7% less crappy.  But more importantly, I've done a complete overhaul of my Declaration of Principles.  That was way overdue as the old one had become irrelevant.

There were a few blog projects in the works that were severely delayed due to my cross-country move.  Once my office (and hopefully a wet bar!) are finished, then I will pick up where I left off with them.  This week I'll do a couple of fun single malt reports to celebrate and then get back on schedule with my regular semi-or-not-at-all-relevant reviews.  There is a good chance I may start writing about non-whisky spirits, as many other whisky bloggers have done recently, but that may not start until next year.  Gotta build up my experience a little more first.

I'll depart with just one list here.  In the process of pulling together my Top Twenty-One Most Visited Posts, I noticed most of them had been around for three or more years, gradually piling up the clicks.  So to make the list a little more relevant, I instead listed them by their average viewing per day.  Many of the same posts show up, but some more recent gems(?) make the list.  It makes me happy to see a few of my longer form posts being read!

Top Twenty-One Most Visited Posts (weighted by view per day)
1. What Was the Scotch Whisky Boom? Part 1: Value vs. Volume
2. Taste Off!!! Chivas Regal 12yr versus Johnnie Walker Black Label
3. Single Malt Report: Glenlivet 12 versus Glenfiddich 12
4. Taste-Off: Dewar's White Label vs. Johnnie Walker Red Label
5. What Was the Scotch Whisky Boom? Part 2: Single Malt Prices in the US between 2007 and 2015
6. Single Malt Report: Grangestone Double Cask
7. NOT Single Malt Report: Black & White Blended Scotch Whisky
8. A Friendly Reminder to Kill Your Whisky Gods (figuratively)
9. Scotch Ain't Dead Yet, Part 1: Export Volume and Value
10. Single Malt Report: The Macallan 18 year old Sherry Oak (w/guest reporter!)
11. WTF Is This? Shieldaig Highland Peaty Single Malt
12. NOT Single Malt Report: Famous Grouse Blended Whisky
13. Something Weird: Suntory Royal SR Japanese blended whisky (early '80s)
14. NOT Single Malt Report: Jameson Select Reserve & Jameson Select Reserve
15. NOT Single Malt Report: Lauder's Blended Scotch Whisky
16. What Was the Scotch Whisky Boom? Part 3: Plateau and Decline
17. Single Malt Report: Ardbeg Uigeadail versus Ardbeg Uigeadail
18. High West Rye Taste Off! Rendezvous Rye versus Double Rye
19. NOT Single Malt Report: Taste Off! Maker's Mark vs. Four Roses Single Barrel
20. Single Malt Report Taste Off! - GlenDronach 18 year "Allardice"
21. Whisky Observations from Japan (or Where the Hell is the Japanese Whisky?)

Thank you to all my great readers!  I'll check back with you after the next thousand posts.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Knob Creek 2001 Limited Edition, Batch 1

This past Spring, Suntory Beam elected to drop a few ultra-luxury whiskies into the active marketplace.  The one that drew the most (not entirely positive) attention, was the $300-$400 Booker's Rye.  Allegedly a once-in-a-lifetime release, the rye was very good and something I'd recommend for 1/4th of its price.  Along with the rye, Beam also released three batches of 14+ year old 2001 Knob Creek bourbon.  Note, that these were batches and not single casks, nor were they released at full strength.  The batches were labelled "Limited Edition" but Beam did not offer information about the batch sizes, though I have seen bottles online with numbers over #9000.  The pricing of these "Limited Editions" started at $130, or 4x the price of the regular 9 year old small batch**, and 3x the price of the 9 year old 120 proof single barrels.

With all this taken into consideration, I ignored the press releases and reviews of these Knobs.  But then thanks to a fortuitous sample swap with Mr. The Whiskey Jug, I received a sample of Batch 1.  Of course from the moment I received the sample, I've been looking forward to drinking it.  If it's half as good as Booker's Rye, I'll be impressed.

Owner: Beam Suntory
Brand: Knob Creek
Distillery: Jim Beam Distillery
Location: Clermont, Kentucky
Mash Bill: 77% Corn, 13% Rye, 10% Malted Barley
Age: 14 years (2001-2016)
Barrels or Bottles in Batch: ???
ABV: 50% ABV
(Thanks to Josh P. for the sample!)

Lots of oak on the nose, which is to be expected from a 14yo American whiskey.  Enjoyable combination of fruit, candy, and earthy things.  Hazelnuts, grilled pears, black cherry syrup, vanilla frosting, gumballs, dried apricots, clay, and a hint of pine.  The palate has a bit more heat to it than expected.  It has the dark cherry thing going on, a bit of rye spice, and a big peppery bite.  It's slightly leathery with a sea salt note.  This all sits on a nice spread of Nutella.  Its finish of a good length, full of rye spice, fragrant oak, and salt. A pleasing lack of sweetness.

WITH WATER (~45%abv)
Now the nose has loads of milk chocolate.  I'm thinking Twix Bar and all its parts.  Then raisins and vanilla bean.  Candy shop.  The chocolate grows darker with time.  Some subtle changes in the palate.  More (tart) cherries, less heat.  A little earthy and tannic, but not mouth-drying.  Never gets too sweet.  The finish keeps its length, growing slightly sweeter though also picking up a touch of bitterness to balance it out.

Because of the product's price and hype, I wanted to hate this bourbon.  But I liked it, a lot.  There's a very good complexity to it at 100 proof.  At 90 proof it's a rounder better drinker.  The quality is comparable to the better barrels of Blanton's, has a similar rye content, and should appeal to Blanton's fans.  I like it much more than the regular 9 year old small batch (of which I have more experience than the single barrel) Knob Creek, and it doesn't have the oak and heat problems I often find in Booker's Small Batches.  I would absolutely buy a bottle of Knob Creek 2001 Limited Edition Small Batch #1 if it were half its MSRP.  $65-$70, yep.  $130+, nope.  If any bottles of this batch remain anywhere, I recommend doing a bottle split with your bourbon buddies, that way no one's pitching in more than $40 for a few drinks.  Or... *he squints to find a silver lining* ...it's probably a bargain compared to Booker's Rye.

Availability - ???
Pricing - $120-$200
Rating - 87

**And just like that...it's gone.  Knob Creek Small Batch has now dropped its age statement.  So the KCSB goes the scotch route: NAS for the masses, age statements for the wealthy.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

I'm going to Indy's Whisky & Fine Spirits Expo, are you?

I'm serious.  Are you going?

I just moved to Westerville, Ohio, the birthplace of the Anti-Saloon League and currently under a draconian state control liquor system, thus I will be doing my whisk(e)y buying in other states (or countries) for the foreseeable future.  One neighboring state I have purchased in is Indiana.  (Yes, I drove from Kasich's state to Pence's state, such is the Midwest right now.)  And in The Hoosier State my preferred retailer is Vine & Table.  I've had the opportunity to chat with V&T's Manager & Spirits Buyer, Denis Lynch (an Irishman selling Scotch!), in person and via email.  Unlike certain retailers, his blog and public emails come across modest, straightforward, and low on the carnival barker meter.  One thing Denis does well each year is to rally the troops for his pet project, the annual Indy's Whisky & Fine Spirits Expo.  So far there are over 120 brands attending, a couple master classes, and a lot of catering.

This is my ride.
Yes, an event like this means a lot of ambassadors and reps, also with a few craft whiskey non-distilling distillers.  This sort of company makes some geeks' skin crawl due to very bad experiences with these pitchmen (and pitchwomen).  While I fully understand those feelings -- because I've had plenty of those run-ins myself -- I met a number of brand reps on the West Coast who did know what they were actually hawking and were happy to dish the dirt on or off the record, and I recognize they are often just trying to close a sale.  Having worked in the entertainment industry for half my life, I'm used to being surrounded by salespeople, specifically a breed filled with much sweatier desperation, fueled by too many uppers and not enough downers.  So to me, every rep at a whisky event is innocent until proven guilty (unless the brand itself has proven to be historically consistently guilty).

And here's the thing.  While drinking alone and bloviating about the results online provides me with great joy, writing 100 whisky reviews is nowhere near as fulfilling as meeting one Matt Wunderle or one Eric Burke or any one of you.  I had my crew and I knew the reps in Southern California.  But I'm new to this part of the country.  Meeting humans and sorting out how whisk(e)y works around here is my priority, and an event like this is perfect for that sort of thing.  Plus I might just end up with a new whiskey or two about which I can report back to you.

So if you're local-ish, let me know.  And if you're going to the Expo, please drop me a line.  No, I won't be working a table.  I'll be drinking and geeking.  I'll be the bespectacled dude with the homeless guy beard, dropping countless F-bombs when he's sober and declaring he's THE booth babe when he isn't.  I may share the occasional opinion as well and I'll try not spit when pronouncing it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Whisky Fail! Dailuaine 10 year old 1999 Prime Malt

Uh, oh......

Distillery: Dailuaine
Ownership: Diageo
Independent Bottler: Gordon Bonding
Range: Prime Malt
Region: Speyside (Central)
Age: minimum 10 years
Distillation year: 1999
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? ???
Caramel Colored? Probably not

It appears to be nearly opaque.  It smells and tastes like bitter asparagus piss.  It neither smelled nor tasted like bitter asparagus piss when I enjoyed it three years ago.  But this Dailuaine fell to the same fate, alas more violently, as the Teaninich sample that was (partially) filled on the same day.  Three years in a less than half full sample bottle can completely oxygenate, oxidize, exterminize, eradicize, and annihilize a whisky.  So treat your samples well, people!  Stop making me mutilize my whisky in order to save yours!

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

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Single Malt Report: Dailuaine 28 year old 1983 Archives, cask 865

Dailuaine distillery has undergone a number of changes during its 164-year life.  Twice there were extensive refurbishments due to fires, in 1917 and 1959.  It was given a facelift in 1884 to modernize its equipment and processes.  They ditched direct firing in 1970.  In 1959, the distillery's floor maltings were abandoned for a Saladin box.  In 1983 they gave up on on-site malting altogether, now utilizing malted barley from Burghead Maltings (also owned by Diageo) in Elgin.

Today's whisky is one that was distilled in February of 1983, so either it was the last of the on-site maltings or amongst the earliest of the off-site maltings.  The fact I have a sample that coincides with that moment of change for the distillery is happenstance.  I only bought the same because I like the Archives bottlings, and it was cheap for its age.

Distillery: Dailuaine
Ownership: Diageo
Independent Bottler: Archives
Range: First Release
Region: Speyside (Central)
Age: 28 years old (February 23, 1983 - January 4, 2012)
Maturation: Hogshead
Cask#: 865
Alcohol by Volume: 47.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
Sample purchased from Whiskybase Shop

Its color is light yellow gold, quite pale for its age.  The nose is floral (specifically roses) with saltines crackers and yeast.  All the notes that follow are far in the background: almond cookies, tablet, blackberry jam, tangerine, and bread pudding.  After 30 minutes, there are strong whiffs of feral cat must and sourdough bread.  Lots of vanilla, cassia cinnamon, and tangy limes in the palate.  A mild chili oil note.  Barley and clay.  It gets tangy with time, but also picks up a note of chalky indigestion chewables.  The chili oil note switches over to lots of cracked black pepper in the finish.  Dried apricots.  Tangy citrus.  Bitter chalk.

This felt very VERY young throughout, which is kinda weird for a 28 year old whisky.  Luckily, I'm not the only one who found it 'raw' and 'spirity'.  Another reviewer found it "slightly strange stuff".  Usually I'm infatuated with strange whisky, but not this time.  The palate and finish are curious, but not what I'd call pleasant.  The quirky nose is quite a trip though and keeps this out of the 70s score range.  It's also anything but boring, so that works in its favor.  If you take MAO seriously, and you probably should, he liked it more than I.  But I'd recommend the 16yo Flora & Fauna over this whisky by some measure.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - €70 w/o VAT (Oh, those days.)
Rating - 80

Monday, September 19, 2016

Single Malt Report: Dailuaine 16 year old Flora and Fauna

Dailuaine is one of the older working distilleries in Scotland, having been built in 1852 by William Mackenzie.  It remained in the family for 63 years, by then picked up Talisker along the way, the company calling its Dailuaine-Talisker Company Ltd.  In 1916, it was bought by a trio of blenders: James Buchanan & Co., John Dewar & Sons, and Johnnie Walker & Sons (of whom you may have heard).  The next year a fire forced the distillery to close.  It reopened in 1920, and then was bought by DCL (proto-Diageo) in 1925.

Today, Dailuaine is one of Diageo's giant malt-for-blends (especially Johnnie Walker), with its only official releases coming via the Expensive Releases and the Flora and Fauna series.  It's a shame (as with most of Diageo's distilleries) that there isn't a regular release showcasing this distillery's good spirit.  Indie teenage Dailuaines haven't failed me yet, and there were some high quality ones released by Berry Bros. & Rudd in The States over the past few years.

Distillery: Dailuaine
Ownership: Diageo
Range: Flora and Fauna
Region: Speyside (Central)
Age: at least 16 years
Maturation: unknown, though there seems to be a sizable ex-sherry cask content
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? Probably
Caramel Colorant? Probably
Thanks to Tetris for donating his MoM sample to Diving for Pearls!

Its color is a very dark gold, like a bourbon.  Very fruity sherry leads off the nose with black grapes, raisins, and grape jam.  Some orange oil, pound cake, and a bit of malt roll in next. After 20+ minutes in the glass, it develops an American cheese note and a whiff of sulphur.  The palate starts of VERY herbal, like almost hot oregano / marijuana.  Bold notes of dark chocolate, anise, and petit sirah push through and take the lead a few minutes later.  After 20 minutes, its peppercorns, burlap, and tart fruit candy.  It has a decent texture to it, considering the DiageoTreatment™ it has received.  The finish picks up some more sweetness.  It remains herbal and grassy (as in lawn-y, not weed-y) with a good bitterness.  Hints of grapefruits, roses, and peppercorns here and there.

Well, that was a nice surprise.  Usually the F&F series serves as only a bittersweet reminder of what could be, though doing so with whiskies that are only just above mediocre in quality.  But this Dailuaine is actually bitter and sweet and very good, which sort of makes its existence even more more bittersweet than usual.  Its sherry character brightens it up while still letting a slightly crazy spirit show through, ultimately landing a solid finish.  I believe that if they put this out as is (watered down, colored, and filtered of course), without a sexy perfume bottle, as another member of the Classic Malts, then this would be a big hit at $70 (the F&F's price w/o VAT).  But I'm assuming we'd get an NAS rejuvenated oak cask Dailuaine long before that.  Until then, sherried whisky fans have the Flora & Fauna 16yo.

Availability - Europe only
Pricing - $65-$80 (w/o VAT)
Rating - 86

Friday, September 16, 2016

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday! - Tom's Foolery Bonded Ohio Straight Bourbon

Every Friday will now be Bourbon and Rye Day Friday at Diving for Pearls.  U-S-A!  U-S-A!  We may be embarrassed by our current election, but we mustn't be ashamed about (some) of our liquor.  Since I've just moved to Ohio, I'm going to start with a bourbon distilled (really!) by an Ohioan.

Tom Herbruck and his distillery are located in Chagrin Falls, about a two hour drive north of here.  Tom and his foolery started out with apple brandy -- he still has a bonded applejack out here that I'd really like to try next -- but once he purchased (the original) Michter's pot still, he started distilling bourbon.  Recently the current iteration of Michter's paid him big bucks for that pot still, so he's now distilling from an alembic still.  My assumption is that means the resulting bourbon spirit will change.  In any case, today's bourbon was from that old pot still.

What sets Tom apart from many craft distillers, aside from the pot still and bonded warehouse, is that he uses full-sized 53 gallon (200 liter) barrels for his bourbon.  So no tiny barrel f**kery with this one.  Because his unheated warehouse is in northern Ohio, its climate is different than that of Kentucky, thus it will mature differently than most Kentucky bourbons.  I have no idea what sort of results that creates.  Time to find out.

Distillery: Tom's Foolery
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Region: Chagrin Falls, OH
Age: 4 years (2012-2016)
Batch: 2
Mash Bill: Seeing some conflicting info on this, but it is 12-13% rye.  I'll update when I know more.
Limited release: 5 barrels, 1200+ bottles
Alcohol by volume: 50%
Thank you to The Whiskey Jug for the sample!

The nose doesn't have much oak, but is instead loaded with spirit.  Cassia cinnamon and mint at first.  It calms down after 10-15 minutes.  Curiously, it smells more of wheat and barley than corn.  Frosted flakes (current version), then fennel seed.  A slight funky mushroom-meets-honey note.  The palate comes across more adventurous than the average crafty.  Lots of cinnamon and mint, of course, but also horseradish and soil.  It's a little drying and salty, but has a nice bright bitter note.  Hints of cherries and fenugreek.  The finish has that fun herbal bite, along with the cinnamon buzz.  It's not sweet, but is minty fresh and a little salty.  Hints of caramel and horseradish.

This one was a puzzler.  Aside from the cinnamon and mint, it didn't come across as what one would expect from a bourbon.  It's a little herbal, earthy, and bitter.  And it kinda grew on me.  My first sniff announced, "Uh. Uh oh."  By the last sip, I was all, "Yeah, that actually works."  It's not going to please everyone, but if "a little herbal, earthy, and bitter" sounds like your thing, then it just might do it for you.  At the very least, it sets itself apart from much of the rest of the craft bourbon market.  At its best, I find it better than McKenzie, Smooth Ambler Contradiction, Garrison Cowboy, and everything coming from Hudson.

As Sku noticed, the bourbon needs a little air before it really wakes up.  Whisky Jug liked it better than I, but Scotch Noob less so.  It's still available at some shops in the Midwest, though K&L has sold through in California.  The price is a bit steep, but the whiskey does have some age to it and is of an actual limited quantity.  Also every purchase supports an Ohio small business that creates quality products.  Now I'm just going to cash this check from the Chagrin Chamber of Commerce...

Availability - The United States of the Midwest
Pricing - $50-$55
Rating - 80

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Single Malt Report: Glen Keith 21 year old 1992 Archives, cask 120599

Ah what the heck, here's another Glen Keith, one that's still available at the moment I am typing these words.  It was bottled by the Whiskybase crew under their Archives label, as part of their The Fishes of Samoa series, and has a big orange fish on the label.

I think these two samples were included for free in two different orders I did with Whiskybase a couple years ago.  These bonuses were much appreciated since my experience with Archives' single casks has been very positive.  They were so appreciated that I never drank them, until now.

: Glen Keith
Ownership: Pernod Ricard
Independent Bottler: Archives
Region: Speyside (Moray)
Age: 21 years old (October 1992 - March 2014)
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrel
Cask#: 120599
Alcohol by Volume: 51.5%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

The nose is very malty with delicate fruit and flower notes, like roses and apples.  There's moderate rubber cement note (a good thing for my fellow huffers).  With time it picks up some big bourbon barrel notes; a combo of vanilla, caramel, toffee pudding, and furniture polish.  The crowdpleaser of a palate is mostly malt and peaches.  Maybe some Juicy Fruit gum and vanilla.  Mildly sweet, slightly floral.  It finishes with canned peaches in syrup and vanilla.  A little bit of heat.  Though simple in structure, it has good length.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose is nuttier and more floral now.  The rubber cement note has been tamed to a more moderate gluey one.  Oooh, tangerines.  Sometimes feels like a dusty ND-era bourbon with vanilla + butterscotch + furniture polish.  The palate is oddly hotter, sharper, narrower.  It closed rather than opened.  It's tart and a little bitter.  Some vague fruit notes and vanilla.  The finish is sweeter, candied.  Vanilla and flowers.

Definitely similar at heart to yesterday's Glen Keith, sweet and fruity.  This one's palate is a little more straightforward, while its nose is more active.  I recommend it neat because though the nose improves, the palate worsens.  When neat, this is an easy pleaser, probably what many folks think of as classically Speyside.

This the first Archives bottling I've sampled that did not inspire me to want to run out (to Rotterdam) and buy a bottle.  It's still a good whisky, but I wonder if there's a ceiling for mid-aged Glen Keith.  I've had four in total and they're all in the B-/B grade range.  That's not an insult, the consistency is admirable.

Availability - Whiskybase shop
Pricing - €76 w/o VAT
Rating - 85

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Single Malt Report: Glen Keith 15 year old 1995 Signatory cask #171183

Glen Keith was 14 years dead until 2013.  Seagrams had shut down its production in 1999, then sold it to Pernod Ricard (via Chivas Regal) two years later.  During Seagrams ownership (1957-1999), the company tested out both triple distillation and peated whisky in attempts to create ingredients for its blends.  Upon its reopening under Pernod, the distillery is now loaded with new equipment which more than doubles its old capacity.  While I assume the vast majority will be headed to blends like Chivas and Ballantine's (thus with less experimentation in the works) I do hope they consider bringing an official aged single malt to the market in the next decade.  In the meantime, we must explore the independently bottled releases.

And this just happens to be another one of the Glens I haven't reviewed previously.  And another sample from Mr. Florin!

Distillery: Glen Keith
Ownership: Pernod Ricard
Independent Bottler: Signatory
Region: Speyside (Moray)
Age: 15 years
Distillation year: 1995
Maturation: Hogshead
Cask#: 171183
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

The color is a reassuring light amber.  The fruit basked of a nose holds bananas, apricots, pears, peaches, and apple juice.  A lot of apple juice, actually.  There's also some vanilla pudding and a hint of yeast.  The palate is a sweetie with big notes of sweet tea, honey, rock candy, and cream soda.  There are also medium notes of malt and fresh ginger.  The finish is sweet, long, and pleasant.  It has a spicy zing, that may actually be the fresh ginger.  A little bit of fruit punch in there too.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose is subtler.  The apple juice remains, but there's also orange candy, anise, and hints of sage and thyme.  The palate remains sugary, malty.  Lots of honey, a few flowers.  Cream soda and molasses.  The sweet and spicy finish has noticeable notes of honey and apples.

A very sweet single malt that treads the thin line of enough and too much, this Glen Keith is a knockout compared to yesterday's Glenturret, but is really just a solid low-oak sweet fruiter when compared to the rest of the single malt world.  There used to be a number of these Glen Keith Signatory single casks lingering on US retailers' shelves, but they've been mostly snapped up.  If you've opened your bottle, let me know in the comment section below what you think of it.

Availability - 
Maybe a handful of US retailers have one of these GK Signatory UCFs

Pricing - $70-$80
Rating - 84

Monday, September 12, 2016

Single Malt Report: Glenturret 10 year old (2014)

The Edrington Group has designated Glenturret distillery as the home of Famous Grouse blended whisky.  Thus one can go to Glenturret get The Famous Grouse Experience.  I reckon the cheaper path to The Famouse Grouse Experience is via a $20 liter bottle at Trader Joe's, but what do I know?  Glenturret distillery only produces 340K litres a year which is about 1/32nd that of Macallan, another ingredient in Famous Grouse.  I'm assuming they wanted to put The Macallan Experience at Macallan, thus had to stick the Famous Grouse Experience somewhere else and not disturb the exploited Nordic gods at Highland Park, so Glenturret it was.

Their marketeers claim Glenturret is the oldest distillery (est. 1775) in Scotland.  If so then why haven't they yet figured out how to make a functional 10 year old single malt.  Oops, I've already started spoiling my review.  Let me back up.  Florin (a prince) gave me two separate samples of his bottle of Glenturret 10.  I opened one of the samples for casual drinking and found the contents so mediocre that it left me craving Famous Grouse.  The second sampled served for this review.

Distillery: Glenturret
Owner: The Edrington Group
Region: Southern Highlands
Maturation: ???
Age: 10 years
Release Year: 2014
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? Probably
Caramel Colorant? Yup

The color is orange gold, not exactly the most natural of hues.  The nose is bland young-blend-like spirity.  There are small notes of butter, flower blossoms, and tropical fruit flavored candy.  But the biggest notes are sulphur, burnt barley, and vanilla.  After 20+ minutes the sulphur recedes and paper pulp enters.  On the palate, there's a lot of ethyl heat covering up honey, white fruits, and vanilla.  Hints of cinnamon candy and notebook paper.  With time the honey note grows, crowding out the rest of the flavors.  The finish is also oddly hot, with hints of peach candy and vanilla.  It's quite sour and grows bitterer with time.

Maybe a little water?

WITH WATER (~35%abv)
Paper, yeast, and cinnamon on the nose.  Then honey, sulphur, and floral soap.  The palate has an awful entry, all bitter sour wort.  Then it suddenly gets aggressively sweet.  Plenty of vanilla.  The finish is bitter, short, and hot with a saccharine sweetness.

Maybe more?

WITH WATER (~30%abv)
The nose brightens up a little with roses, cherry lollipops, and simple syrup.  The palate is bitter and bland, mostly absent aside from some vanilla.  It finishes unpleasantly.

This has me not only preferring Famous Grouse, but also Glenrothes(!).  That's how glum it is.  It's not a failed whisky, but there's nothing to recommend in it while neat.  Adding water is bad idea as well.  From the looks of most European online retail sites, this 10 year old has been phased out for a bunch of tarted up NAS releases.  Dare I say, that was a good idea.

Availability - Some European retailers. Probably not in the US (yay!)
Pricing - $30-$55
Rating - 68

Friday, September 9, 2016

Single Malt Report: Kilkerran 12 year old (2016)

I'll close out Campbeltown Week with this:

Aside from my gaggle of birthday whisky samples, the new Kilkerran 12 is the only single malt I've touched over the past three weeks.  I can't remember the last time I focused on one bottle for so long.  Moving to a new house and weathering months of humidity sort of brought this about, but also I can't think of another current whisky I'd rather dig into.

While I'm always rooting for Kilkerran's success, I found the flood of geek tweets raving in excitement for this whisky's impending arrival kinda silly.  Kilkerran had already released 10 different single malts over the past seven years, and the majority of them -- whether it was the six, nine, or eleven year old -- were excellent.  No magical change occurs in an aged spirit at the twelve year mark.  It's just a good comfortable number to many whisky fans, and the particular age the distillery had decided to utilize as some sort of humble coming out party.  Maybe I should have just called this post Kilkerran Work In Progress, 8th Release.

So, yes, whisky people, the 12 year old is here (or actually not here, but in Europe), go purchase a bottle if you're bursting with mania.  I was actually more excited about last year's cask strength release and would really love to see them do something similar with their 12 year old sherry casks.  But yeah, it was fun to open this bottle.  It's nice to feel positively about a new single malt release.  Heck, I even posted a pic on Twitter, which I will not link to because it's silly.  Man, I hope this post is less silly.

Distillery: Glengyle
Owner: Mitchell's Glengyle Limited
Brand: Kilkerran
Region: Campbeltown
Age: 12 years (2004 - 2016)
Maturation: 70% ex-bourbon casks, 30% ex-sherry casks
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Label color: White

For reasons you'll see below, I compared the neat version with a reduced 40%abv version, so my notes will look different here.

When neat, the whisky's color is a light gold.  When reduced to 40%abv, it immediately gets very cloudy.

When neat, the peat arrives first, reading more medicinal than other Kilkerrans.  Also an unmistakable smoked fish note.  But it's very malty throughout.  The sherry cask element feels louder than 30%, coming across more nutty and chocolatey than dried fruity.  Otherwise, layers of lime, honey, and pear form the foreground once the peat recedes.  A bright thick bourbon barrel note appears around the 30 minute mark.  It also develops a nice citron note if you accidentally warm the glass up too much.

When reduced to 40%abv, the peat clears out, leaving behind a synthetic oily component.  Some beach sand.  Peaches and cardboard.  A hint of leather peat meets hay and bleach.

More heat than expected when served neatly.  A significant marzipan / almond cookie note comes from the sherry casks.  Fresh apricots and a rye-like spiciness.  Feels a little like Springbank 10yo with a little more grunge.  A nice silky texture throughout.

When reduced to 40%abv, acidic fruit leads the way, along with fruitier sherry cask notes.  Sort of Bunnahabhain 12-ish.  There's some toffee and tongue drying tannins.  It's better than the nose, though it still has a flat weird oak note.

Hints of peat and earth, when neat.  There are those almond cookies.  Lots of baking spice, as well as hints of smoked fish and smoked almonds.

When reduced to 40%abv, it's acidic, peppery, and malty with a mild sweetntess.

Though I get none of the forest floor characteristics I so love in Kilkerran, the 12 year old has a lot of really nice rich sherry cask notes.  Though the palate could stand lose some of that raw spirity heat (of which I find much less in the cask strength WIP #7), the mouthfeel is outstanding.  The nose is also very good as all of its seemingly dissimilar elements come together nicely.

I really really do not recommend adding more than a couple drops of water.  I've never had a Kilkerran fall apart so violently like this one did when reduced to 40%abv.

This is still a very good whisky thanks to some great sherry casks and the texture that comes from the lack of chillfiltration.  But unless the second half of this bottle drastically improves, I won't be buying a second one.  It's still better than most of the major single malts on the market, but I'd take a handful of the WIPs over this.

Availability - Europe, so far
Pricing - $35-$50 (minus VAT, w/o shipping), I hope the US price will be similar!
Rating - 86 (neat only)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Cadenhead Warehouse Tasting

A man awaiting his drink.
My past four international trips have all concluded with a magnificent final act.  In 2010, our Italian honeymoon finished with a dazzling three days in Positano.  Our 2011 Ireland trip wrapped up with a real Irish wedding.  I walked into the bar of my dreams on the ultimate night of my Kyoto voyage last year.  And on our final full day in Scotland, Kristen and I went to Campbeltown.  We toured the Springbank and Glengyle distilleries, did a tasting in one of Cadenhead's warehouses, knocked over Cadenhead Whisky Shop, then walked to the Ardshiel Hotel bar to relieve them of their best Springbank-related single casks.

I didn't travel to Scotland to buy whisky bottles.  But because the whisky selection in that small nation embarrasses that of this large nation, and the Pound was its weakest since the early reign of The Baroness Thatcher, I was going to buy a lot of whisky.  My restraint was admirable -- I declare -- at the beginning of the trip as I departed shop after shop after shop empty handed.  I knew Cadenhead was coming.

Some of you seasoned whisky vets can tut-tut, but I actually didn't know that the whole purpose of the warehouse tasting was to buy bottles.  I just wanted to try casks alongside my beautiful wife.  I thought the whole point of this whisky thing was to appreciate the experience, rather than possessing glass bottles.  But just before I left for my trip I started hearing stories of people walking out of the warehouse with a case or more of single cask bottlings under their arms.  These claims may have just been masculine bluster, which seems to be in generous supply these days, but having seen the whisky buying addiction consume many intelligent healthy individuals firsthand, I knew there was some truth behind the tales.  I don't have that desire to own every last thing.  In the Cadenhead casino, I am not the whale.  I'm a hedonist guppy.

Our warehouse chaperon was Ronan, Mr. Business, rocking the suit.

A sterling guide, Ronan was relatively new to Cadenhead at the time, doing a lot of work as a sales rep to Western Europe.  And though Scotland is his home, he spent a few years in Georgia (USA), not too long ago, playing footie for a local university (Emory, I think?).  Here are the casks we generously tapped:

1.  Glenlivet (bottled at Glendronach!) 19 year old 1996, ex-bourbon cask, 51%abv
A super duper fruity summer malt with a serious bubblegum note. Perfectly drinkable at this strength, no water needed.

2.  Arran 19 year old 1996, ex-bourbon cask, 44.7%abv
Light as a feather (note the ABV), this could be consumed very quickly.  Fresh pears, vanilla, and cherries.  Kristen liked this one.

3.  Caperdonich 20 year old 1996, 17 years in ex-bourbon + 3 years in ex-sherry hogshead, 48.9%abv
Excellent.  My second favorite of the bunch.  Loaded with rich malt, with the sherry cask perfectly integrated, it felt as if it spent its whole life in a 2nd-fill sherry cask.

4.  Auchentoshan 17 year old 1999, 10 years in ex-bourbon + 7 years in ex-Chateau Lafite cask, 53.8%abv
Long time readers know I have issues with this sort of wine cask.  Yet I wanted to give it a go since, perhaps, my palate had changed.  But, nope nope nope.  Kristen liked it even less than I.  It's not the worst use of a Lafite cask (thanks Murray McDavid!), but due to the length of the secondary maturation the wine was very aggressive, stomping down the light spirit.

5.  Springbank 19 year old 1996, ex-sherry cask, 59%abv
WINNER!  Full power Springbank spirit meets full power sherry cask, it rips through senses and nerve endings.  Everyone wins.  Probably the best whisky I had during the entire trip.  Kristen liked it too.  I bought a bottle.  There's a video of me filling the bottle by hand, but I decided not to include it here since it's mostly two minutes of my rear end.  Also, the dunnage is too shadowy to get a real good look.  At the whisky, you dog you.

6.  Bowmore 15 year old 2000, ex-bourbon, 60%abv
Herbal, mineral, and with a lighter peat than most indie Bowmores, it couldn't compete for my attention after that Springbank.

7.  Guatemalan Rum 8 year old, 60+%abv
Salted caramel ice cream and a cigar.  Impressive and not grossly sweet.  But, again, Springbank.

8.  Mark Watt's secret aged gin in a kilderkin, approx. 80%abv
Gorgeous.  Maybe the most aromatic booze I've ever experienced.  Sadly not for sale.

So, yes, I bought a bottle of the Springbank for less than half the US price of the current 19 year old cask strength sherried OB Springbank releases, maybe even 1/3 the price if I get my full VAT refund back.  I do slightly regret not buying one of the Caperdonich, but I regret more the fact that I didn't buy 74 more bottles of the Springbank.  The Glenlivet and Arran are very nice too, though because they're only available through this warehouse tasting it's kind of silly for me to recommend them.  If they're still there when (not if) you go then you'll get the opportunity to judge them as per your own palate.

After the tasting we did indeed go to Cadenhead Whisky Shop where I bought a number of other bottles.  It's impossible to be fiscally responsible after consuming eight cask strength spirits, but don't worry, I left a few bottles on the shelves.

If you make it to Campbeltown, try to give yourself one full whisky day with no driving on either end.  Schedule the Springbank/Glengyle/Cadenhead tour combo a few months in advance.  Hydrate well on the day of, eat a full Scottish breakfast beforehand, and hide your good credit card.  You will have a quality experience.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Glengyle Distillery Tour

Having read a number of descriptions of the recent state of Campbeltown, I was expecting to see upon our arrival a rundown beaten up gray fishing village.  But we instead found a thriving town with a bustling Main Street.  Though there were a few dinged up empty storefronts on the main row, almost all of the shops were bright, clean, and busy, owned by local folks.  But it was block after block of beautiful pristine old buildings, tall beacons of the prosperity the town had enjoyed more than a century ago, that impressed Kristen and I the most.  Between the local stores, good customer service, and dramatic architecture Campbeltown seemed like a place where we could buy a summer home if we had a few million quid just lying around.  But we don't.  And, despite our experience on this trip, the sun doesn't burn bright every day in Scotland, bleaching out the shadows and filling the heart with the possibility that every day is Spring(bank).

Immediately after the Springbank tour, Mitch the Guide took us on a five minute walking tour to Glengyle distillery, through a graveyard of a half dozen fallen warehouses.  We were on the grounds where at least two dozen distilleries stored spirit during a previous scotch whisky boom.  Two dozen dead distilleries.  At Campbeltown's peak, that long row (*cough*) of dunnages was among the most valuable square miles in the UK outside of London.  But stone and green overgrowth (albeit quite lovely) is all that remains.  That and Springbank.

And Glengyle.

Just after the turn of the millennium the Scotch Whisky Association announced that any whisky region with fewer than three distilleries would lose its designation.  Clearly the SWA has nothing better to do.  At the time Campbeltown had two distilleries, Springbank and Glen Scotia, so its designation was endangered.  To remedy this, Springbank's owners (J&A Mitchell) bought the defunct-since-1925 Glengyle distillery and announced they would spruce it up and start production.

Former Master Distiller Frank McHardy was tasked with Glengyle's restoration.

Beginning production in 2004, they began releasing "Work In Progress" bottlings in 2009, ultimately leading to a 12 year old this year.  The quality of the WIP single malts range anywhere from very good to fabulous.  Some of the best single malt in Scotland is being made there, but it's not sold as "Glengyle".  The rights to that name are owned by Loch Lomond DCL, as they used to produce a Glen Gyle blend.  During the tour, I was told that Mitchell & Co offered to buy the rights to the name but were quoted a laughable price.  (I'm inclined to believe that story since Loch Lomond is possibly the oddest whisky company in Scotland.)  The owners instead went with Kilkerran since it was the name of the original religious settlement in the area, the Church of Saint Kerran.

Glengyle's revival was partially successful due to luck.  The long extinct Ben Wyvis distillery's stills were available and were functional after some service.  At the same time, Craigellachie was in the process of disposing of its old small mill so Glengyle swooped in and picked it up.

As per Mitch, this mill is a newer model than the old unsinkable Porteus behemoths, and it can do a 60kg run when needed.

Unlike the spread out nature of Springbank's distillery, Glengyle's production happens all in one place.  So the mill, mash tun, washbacks, and stills are all in one relatively small room, making it feel like a little more artisan (yes, I know that word is now meaningless) than most scotch whisky factories.

Above, Mitch demonstrates a piece of somewhat computerized machinery.  Yes, this is space age stuff for the Springbank folks.  And it certainly appears Space Age, as in from the 1960s.

Unlike Springbank, Glengyle does use a closed mash tun, another somewhat modern choice.  Also unlike Springbank's mash, which takes four water runs, Glengyle uses three waters.

The distillery is in production for only six weeks a year, which has actually caused warping issues with the washbacks during the long rest periods.  There are four 30-litre washbacks in total.  While we were there, one washback was off-limits and empty because the wood needed to be replaced.  That leaves three washbacks...

Midway through our tour we were standing near the top of one of the functioning washbacks when from beneath us we heard a crack crack WHAM! SPLASH!  drip drip drip drip drip.

By the look on Mitch's face, I'm just going to guess that leaves them with two washbacks.  Sounds like the plot to a Scottish children's book, The Four Little Washbacks.

Four little washbacks were fermenting one day
Over in Kintyre, far away
Below, the reanimated Ben Wyvis stills catching some rays.

The angle of the lyne arm incline is greater than that of Springbank's, creating a lighter spirit.

Since I forgot to include photos of a Springbank dunnage, here are a couple photos of Kilkerran stuff.

You see those four huge port pipes above?  Yes, those are the wombs of Kilkerrans to be.  Don't you just want to pop the bung out and take a taste?  Well, I didn't.  But.  But.  But, I can't tell you anymore until the next post about the next tour.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Springbank Distillery Tour

My plan to get us from Islay to Campbeltown in time for the Springbank tour was risky to the point of being stupid, a fact I downplayed when sharing the trip schedule with my wife.  We had to get from Port Ellen to Springbank Distillery by 1pm; and we had all of a 30-45 minute buffer.  Dozens of elements could have gone awry and made us miss our Springbank tour (and the other two connected tours for that day).  The Islay ferry -- the vessel which delivers us to our hopes and dreams as per its whims -- could have arrived late, departed late, or taken too long. There could have been a problem loading or unloading the boat with its dozens of dopey tourists and their cars. One of a multitude of tractor trailers, which pin in the cars, could have stalled out.  There could have been Scottish weather.  The A83 could have had construction, car traffic, bike traffic, sheep traffic, or boulder traffic.  And as I planned this trip three months in advance, I was unaware of a bonus factor: the impressively crap GPS that came with our rental car; worse than useless, it had gotten us lost plenty of times each day.  So I was leaving a lot to chance.

You know who else leaves a lot to chance?


As you can tell by the photo above, we made it to Springbank.  We arrived in Campbeltown in time, though the GPS led us in loops around town until we had to spot the Grammar Lodge B&B by eye.  The lodge was in fact a grammar school many decades ago, and is now a very nice modern bed & breakfast.  The friendly helpful owners were there to meet us and chatted us up a bit to the point that the little boy in my brain was hopping around like he had to pee saying "Springbank, Springbank, Springbank, Springbank, Springbank, Springbank".

The tour started at Cadenhead Whisky Shop, a quick three blocks away from the B&B.  I made brief eye contact with the single cask bottlings that lined the walls, but elected to play hard to get because I had a date.  His name was Mitch, and he was our tour guide.  I say "our" because this was the day that Kristen was also attending all the tours.  Which was awesome.


Springbank has two malting floors.  One has a 12 ton capacity, the other 10 tons.  The floors are slanted, not for any technical advantages, rather because the building is old.  All the barley turning is done by hand, not by machine, so it's only as precise as an overworked man hauling a heavy-ass shovel can make it.  The malting takes place for six or seven days (judged by eye, not by math) at temperatures ranging from 16ºC-20ºC (61ºF-68ºF).  The light is not controlled by lamps or timers, but by some dude (or dudette) opening the windows.

All of their barley comes from Scotland, usually the Highlands, usually the Concerto strain.  When they do unpeated drying, they use hot oil.  When doing peated drying, they first use dry peat from the Tomintoul region for heat and wet peat from Inverness for smoke.

Dry peat from Tomintoul
Wet peat from Inverness
Useful data

NO computers, just lists and notepads

Another one of these super sturdy mills from post-WWII

While most distilleries use closed mash tuns to prevent stuff from floating down into their wort, Springbank uses an open mash tun which does allow for native yeast and other airborne microflora to enter the mix.

They do 3.5 ton batches in the tun using four different rounds of water, ranging from 63.5ºC-82ºC (146ºF-180ºF).

Their washbacks are over 50 years old, but not without some recent servicing.

Mitch told us they actually will do up to 110 hours of fermentation if necessary.  This sort of length results in a very low ABV wash, lower than at most other distilleries.  Apparently once Springbank's fermentation goes over 48 hours, the alcohol content begins decreasing rather than increasing.


I believe I was told that in actuality the distillery is doing more like 100K-120K litres per year right now.
Firstly, I apologize for the crap photo of their stills.  Secondly, I don't remember if Mitch mentioned if Springbank still does partial direct firing.  If they do, that's yet another element of potential inconsistency.  Thirdly, here are the photos diagramming the distillation of the Springbank, Hazelburn, and Longrow spirits.  I'll be danged if I can explain Springbank's 2.5x in a concise fashion:
Longrow 2x (click to embiggen)
Springbank 2.5x (click to embiggen)
Hazelburn 3x (click to embiggen)


Your eyes aren't deceiving you. This is not wood. It's the spirit receiver
from which the spirit is poured into the casks.
Mitch was excellent.  I harassed him with questions throughout and he answered everything.  There is no fear at the distillery that one of us is going to take this information and start fashioning Springbank in a bathtub.  He told me the majority of their bourbon barrels come from Jim Beam and Jack Daniels.  And they do not use virgin oak casks.  They also rarely re-char their barrels, thus a refill is a refill.


Their regular range bottlings are married in a big vat for 6 months at a starting strength of 50%abv.  Meanwhile, their bottling facility, manned (and womynned) by locals, was located right on site near the vats:
We were encouraged to not enter the bottling area out of concern for someone getting a finger or other appendage lodged in the foil mechanism.


This distillery tour ended right here because another distillery tour was to immediately follow.  The one theme I'd noticed throughout the tour is the one I keep coming back to in this post.  Springbank, like an anti-Diageo or anti-Macallan, leaves a lot up to chance and thus embraces inconsistency (from the malting, to the wort, to the fermentation, to letting refill casks be refill casks).  This results in a whisky that is never exactly the same from bottle to bottle, but is of a quality without compare in the industry.  Now about that next tour...