...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Single Malt Report: Glen Scotia 15 year old (2015)

Goodbye purple cows, Hello vanilla oak

Like Loch Lomond, its stable mate, Glen Scotia's bottle designs keep changing every couple of years. Three years ago they gave us the disco cows (thx Jordan!), a range with festively fugly packaging design, but a range WITH age statements. Last year, the LSD coos were replaced with mild mannered modern labels. And a majority absence of age statements.

The new range consists of Double Cask, Victoriana, and the 15 year old. I tried the Double Cask this May and found it to be fine, though generic. With all the cask influence it could have been any malt. On the other hand, my experience with Victoriana last year was not good.
For some reason Glen Scotia's twitter team liked that post.

The common theme with the two NASes was the submersion (subversion?) of the Glen Scotia character underneath the cask influence. Since Glen Scotia was never a popular whisky, I have a feeling this throttling of its style is no accident as the producers attempt to make their whisky friendlier. To top it all off, the official website keeps listing "vanilla oak" in the notes for each whisky, and claims "vanilla oak" is part of Glen Scotia's signature style. That's wrongheaded on so many levels.

In any case, the 15 year old was aged only in "the finest American oak barrels". I'm really hoping these "finest" barrels include some refills because I actually like Glen Scotia's spirit.

The Review

Distillery: Glen Scotia
Ownership: Loch Lomond Group (via Exponent)
Region: Campbeltown
Type: Single Malt
Age: minimum 15 years
Maturation: "American oak barrels"
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? Yup
(Mini purchased somewhere around Ben Nevis.)

One can see the e150a in the color, sadly, because the stuff looks sherry cask dark. The nose is piney and fruity. Peaches and mangoes. Quite nice, actually. More spirit-forward than the previous 16yo. There's some brine, rosemary and ginger candy, almost like some kooky international rye. A dark, sort of tarry note lingers in the far back. With time the fruit trends towards roses, meanwhile some fun industrial funkiness shows up.  The palate is fruity as well, mostly sweet stone fruit. There's a moderate malt note in there. Some peppery sharpness. Vanilla is lightly present. It all picks up some hot cinnamon spiciness with time. The vanilla note grows but meets with the stone fruit pretty well. The finish is uncomplicated but long. Malt, salt, sweet, a little bit of vanilla and a peppery tingle.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose gets buttery and floral. Caramel, oranges and a distinct burnt note. The palate becomes syrupy sweet with a slight bitter edge to it. Loads of caramel and vanilla. Sugar cookies. A touch of malt. More sugar, vanilla, and caramel in the finish. Hints of pepper, toasted oak, and bitterness.

This is a full step ahead of their NAS bottlings, at least for those of us Glen Scotia fans. It's not awe-inspiring but the oak is kept in check, when neat. It also carries more oomph than the disco cow 16 year old. The fruit notes are great, reminiscent of well-matured Highland malt. Yet at the same time, the palate is nearly style-less and could really be from any decent quality balanced single malt. But it's the zany nose that was my favorite part, always entertaining, never boring. Oh, and do yourself a favor by leaving water out of this!

A 15yo 46%abv for $50-$60?! That's getting pretty rare. But that's the Glen Scotia 15's price range in Europe. Here in the US it's $75-$90 and I would frankly never recommend it at that price. But for $50, yes. Who knows how long its age statement will last?

Availability - Prevalent in Europe, though much less so in the US
Pricing - $50-$60 (w/o VAT or shipping) in Europe, $75-$90 (w/o VAT or shipping) in USA
Rating - 85 (neat only)

Friday, October 28, 2016

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel Bourbon

Buffalo Trace Mash Bill #2

Buffalo Trace has three bourbon mash bills at the moment. Their wheated (using wheat rather than rye as the flavoring grain) mash bill is the one which has gained some infamy over the past few years as it's used for the Weller and Van Winkle whiskies.  The low rye (~8%) mash bill (aka Mash Bill #1) is used for the regular Buffalo Trace products including Buffalo Trace, Old Charter, the Taylors, the Staggs, the Eagle Rares, and the Benchmarks.  Mash bill #2, or the higher rye (~15%) mash bill, is used for the Age International whiskies: Blanton's, Elmer T. Lee, Ancient Age, Hancock's President's Reserve, and Rock Hill Farms.

Ignoring the wheated mash bill (forever, if possible), Mash Bill #1 bourbons seem to be easier to find throughout the US, especially Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare Single Barrel, Benchmark, and at least one of the EH Taylors. But, aside from Blanton's Single Barrel and Ancient Age Sputum, Mash Bill #2's bourbons are difficult to find in most states. I've been told Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel and Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel used to be easy to find (and much cheaper) once upon a time. And I hadn't even heard of Hancock's until this year. Much of what Age International makes is distributed widely abroad since its brands are owned by a Japanese corporation. That's why it's easy to find four different versions of Blanton's in Japan and increasingly difficult to find one in the US.

I like Mash Bill #2's results quite a bit. Blanton's Single Barrel can be excellent, or at the very least reliably good. Two bottles of Elmer T. Lee vanished quickly in my home last year.  And Ancient Age with some actual age on it can be pretty decent. That's why I was looking forward to trying my sample of Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel. I've never bought a bottle of it myself because I can't remember the last time I saw it on a retailer's shelf for less than $60. Hell, I can't remember the last time I saw it on a retailer's shelf, period.

Single Barrels?

Rock Hill Single Barrel suffers from the same problem as two other popular Buffalo Trace brands. Eagle Rare Single Barrel and Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel are labeled as single barrels but their bottles provide no information about that single barrel. Not even a barrel number. On the cynical side of things, this leaves one wondering if these really are single barrels or a BS marketing ploy. On the logical side of things, this prevents a customer from tracking down another bottle of the barrel he or she might have enjoyed. To me, neither of these things are good for a brand. But people keep buying this stuff, so there's no motivation for Buffalo Trace to change anything. (Oddly, Blanton's labels print all sorts of information about its single barrels, except the age of the whiskey.) Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel does not provide information about what barrels its bottles come from, thus there isn't a single review you can read about Rock Hill Farms (RHF) that will be relevant to the bottle you have open. Including this review.


This is a rock. I don't have a photo of my sample bottle.
Distillery: Buffalo Trace
Brand: Rock Hill Farms
Brand Owner: Age International
Region: Kentucky, USA
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Mashbill: Buffalo Trace #2 (higher-rye; about 15%)
Age: unknown
Alcohol by volume: 50%
(Many thanks to Ms. Linda for the sample!)

The nose starts off very lightly, mostly of blossoms and almond extract. Once it opens up, it's one BIG vanilla bean. Moderate notes of vanilla fudge, sandalwood and toasted oak spice linger around the edges. The flowers turn into grandma's perfume. Vanilla bean proves to be the main component in the palate as well. There's also brown sugar, grenadine, tart limes, ginger ale, cream soda and a hint of woody bitterness. But where's the rye? The finish itself is sweet sweet sweet. Kool Aid, corn syrup and cream soda. A bite of jalapeño oil. And plenty of vanilla bean.

This bears no resemblance to Blanton's nor Elmer T. Lee. Instead it's a like a better version of Ancient Age. Yet there's little to no rye character to balance out this sweet vanilla bomb. This left me nonplussed for the first half of the tasting. But by the end I recognized that this bourbon was a nice simple drink, maybe a bit on the desserty side of things, but offered up no fight nor harm, inoffensive unless vanilla offends.

This could be a reliable sipper at $30. But it's not $30. You may be able to find it for $50ish if you're willing to do some hustling, but $60-$70 seems to be its home, or twice that when sold by parasites. If I find a bottle for less than $50 during a dusty hunt, I'll get it. Oh, and the bottle is cute with its horsies, if that's your thing.

Availability - At random retailers
Pricing - $55-$75
Rating - 81 (for this mystery barrel only)

For more posts on other single barrels of Rock Hill Farms see Chemistry of the CocktailRecent Eats (wherein Sku devotes a whole paragraph to the review!), and LAWS (wherein Tim hates it). Also, Bourbon Scout did a good Mash Bill #2 blind taste test last year.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Single Malt Report: Glen Moray 10 year old Chardonnay Cask (43%abv)


If you want to be hip, you should pronounce the 'Moray' in Glen Moray like murry, as in Eddie Murray, Brian Doyle Murray, or the last name of that creepy guy in the white fedora who drops annual press releases that screw with the whisky market.

A what cask?

Yeah, I had the same feeling as many of you when I saw the 10 year old Chardonnay Cask on the shelf. Though I don't hate wine cask finished whiskies, I also do not seek them out. And I don't always drink Chardonnay, but when I do I drink the unoaked sort.

But three things led me to buy a bottle of this whisky blindly. First, I discovered the whisky wasn't finished in wine casks, but instead spent its entire maturation there. That sounded odd enough to be worth trying. Secondly, the price was right. I had no problem finding it for $35-ish. And finally, it received positive reviews from two gents whom I wouldn't have expected to like it, Ralfy and MAO.  And you know what? I liked it. My wife liked it. And I almost forgot to salvage a sample to...


Distillery: Glen Moray
Owner: La Martiniquaise
Type: Single Malt
Region: Speyside (Elgin)
Maturation: Chardonnay casks
Age: at least ten years old
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? Probably
Colorant added? Possibly
(review sample comes from the lower third of my bottle)

There's some orange in the color's gold. Hopefully that's not farbstoff.  A lot of peach and apricot in the nose, followed by fruity chewing gum. No, wait...Strawberry Bubble Yum. Dried grass clippings, roses, and lime sorbet. Whipped cream, marshmallows, and a creamy maltiness.  A surprisingly vibrant palate led off by coffee + toffee. Pineapple juice and marshmallows, yet not super sweet. Malt and a gingery zip. Some extra ripe melon in the midground. Very moreish (as I used to write). The coffee + toffee remains in the finish. Then a roasted note, a subtle herbal thing and a hint of oranges.

Utterly charming. I have no idea where the chardonnay is hiding in all this, but the cask steered the whisky in a completely different direction than the regular 12 year old. If I'm going to gripe then it would be regarding the short-ish finish, but that's it. Though there's minimal complexity to it, the whisky is, dare I say, very tasty. And it can still be found for $30. Unfortunately I'm seeing the new NAS "Chardonnay Finish" showing up more often, so perhaps we're all looking at our last opportunity to buy this little old gem.

Availability - A few dozen specialty US retailers
Pricing - $30-$40
Rating - 85 (It gets an extra point because the wife likes it. Important.)

Monday, October 24, 2016

Single Malt Report: Glen Moray 12 year old


Glen Moray-Glenlivet Distillery Co. Ltd. built Glen Moray on the site of the former West Brewery, in the midst of the Pattison-era whisky craze, in 1897. The whisky market crashed the following year, but Glen Moray kept chugging along until 1910, when it closed. Macdonald & Muir, then owners of Glenmorangie, bought the distillery in 1920, reopening it 1923. Due to the malt's success in M&M's Highland Queen blend, the owners doubled the still count in 1958, also replacing the floor maltings with a Saladin box. (Note: I've seen a conflict between reliable sources saying the stills were actually doubled in 1979. It's Chuck Maclean vs. Johannes.) Macdonald & Muir released the first official Glen Moray single malt in 1976. It was right around the late '70s when they ditched the internal maltings altogether for a third party's unpeated malt; so if you have one of the old 20yo or 30yo, those were distilled from the distillery's own maltings.  In 2004, Macdonald & Muir (now Glenmorangie plc) sold their distilleries to Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy. Then four years later LVMH sold Glen Moray to the current La Martiniquaise ownership.

For more than a decade Glen Moray has produced a number of well priced aged-stated single malts, including a 10 year old Chardonnay Cask, 12 year old, and 16 year old. They had the NAS Classic for years, but that was clearly priced to be their starter whisky. As of 2016, they entered the NAS parade with a Classic Peated, Classic Chardonnay Finish, Classic Port Finish, and Classic Sherry Finish. Thankfully, those price tags have been kept under £30.

Brief Commentary

With most of their malt going to the Label 5 brand, the 10th most popular blended scotch in the world, I get the feeling there was a bit of strain being put on their malt reserves. Either that or they bought into the artificial boom too late, because they just doubled the distillery's capacity to 6.5 million liters per annum last year. Whisky Yearbook says there are plans to increase it further to 9 million liters/year. Yes, you just heard me sigh. I hope their ownership looks back to the beginning of the distillery's history to determine the wisdom of that additional expansion.


Distillery: Glen Moray
Owner: La Martiniquaise
Type: Single Malt
Region: Speyside (Elgin)
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks, with unknown quantity of first fills
Age: at least twelve years old
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? Probably
Colorant added? Not much, if any
(Sample comes to D4P courtesy of a sample swap with My Annoying Opinions)

Its color is as light as straw, often a positive in my book. The nose is very grainy; think cream of wheat, oats, or rice. Actually, a bit of sake in there. Then hay, carpet, apple cider and a young weird buttery note that may be more from the spirit than the oak. The palate starts off well with a gentle toffee note and a raisin-like thing.....which vanishes after the third sip. What starts off as light acidity grows with time. Add that acidity to a fizziness, and one's left with a 7-UP note. Some anise. Hint of potato vodka. A thinness in the mouthfeel makes this come across like a mid-shelf blend. The finish has barley, anise and vanilla. That 7-UP note. The acidity remains, giving off a feeling of grappa, almost.

Well, that was curious. Having had other Glen Morays before (though oddly this is the first I've reviewed) I knew I wasn't going to get some average boring malt. There's always a kick of something quirky in their whisky. I liked the graininess and the whole young aspect of the nose. The palate began with promise then was overtaken by the acidity, and that's where it buried itself.

It works a little better as a tumbler whisky, as opposed to a Glencairn whisky. And that's how I'd recommend one drink it. The acidity mellows and more of the youthful barley notes stick out. You could do much worse in the vanishing $30 single malt tier, especially if you're not an oak enthusiast.

Availability - Specialty retailers
Pricing - $30-$40
Rating - 78

Friday, October 21, 2016

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Blanton's Straight from the Barrel, barrel 446

I'm a fan of Blanton's Single Barrel (46.5%abv) more so than I am of Blanton's Straight from the Barrel (60+%abv). Preferring a lower ABV version of a whisk(e)y is tantamount to heresy in many circles. Thankfully my circle is more forgiving. Jordan from Chemistry of the Cocktail critiqued the valorization of cask strength whiskies very well, almost three years ago. I'll add my thoughtful crappy take on this matter once I can figure out how to string together two paragraphs about it. But Blanton's more or less captures my viewpoint. The higher alcohol percentage provides nothing but ethyl heat, closing off much of the whiskey's richness and character. This isn't true of all bourbons. But it's been consistently true of Blanton's, so much so that I'm not that disappointed Straight from the Barrel isn't sold in The States. Goodness knows what retailers would be selling it for.

Yes, I'm already giving you a hint about the results of this tasting, if you hadn't already scrolled down to see the rating. My first review of Straight from the Barrel (#68) was back in 2014, click here for that one. I also had pours from two different barrels while in Japan, with similar results: lots of cherry, much better with water.  So here goes my fourth shot (if you will) from a sample purchased from whiskysite.nl last year.

Distillery: Buffalo Trace
Brand: Blanton's
Brand Owner: Age International
Region: Kentucky, USA
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Mashbill: Buffalo Trace #2 (higher-rye; about 15%)
Age: unknown
Bottled: January 8, 2015
Barrel: 446
Warehouse: H
Rick: 42
Alcohol by volume: 64.9%

It has plenty of color to it, as opposed to the photo above. The nose is plenty hot, in fact it took almost 45 minutes of airing out before I could find these notes. At first it's corn syrup and flowers. From underneath that arrives a cinnamon and cherry syrup. Cherry & lime lollipops. Melting cherry popsicles. You the get the point: cherry candy. A little bit of caramel, vanilla, and grapefruit. Ethyl sits up front in the palate and refuses to move. Way behind that is cherry candy, cayenne pepper, molasses, salt, oak pulp, and a burnt note (though that might just be my tastebuds getting cooked). There's a palatable bitterness in there somewhere. The vague hot finish leaves a long burn and not much else. Sweet cherry-flavored meds and chili oil.

I then reduced the second half of my sample to the Single Barrel's 46.5%abv and let it sit for 24 hours for better integration...

WITH WATER (~46.5%abv)
The nose becomes clearer. Cinnamon, vanilla, dried apricots, and fresh plums. Some Sazerac Rye, sawdust, and caramel.  The palate is quite candied, but that gets balanced out a bit by the good bitterness. Caramel, bubblegum, mint, ginger, and rye. Feels a bit thin in the mouth, though. Corn and cherry sweetness make up most of the finish, though it's less cloying than when neat. Maybe some hints of bubblegum, fresh ginger, and chili oil.

As referenced in the notes, the whisky took 45 minutes of air before it opened up a little. Previous to that it held but two dimensions: cherry candy and face burning. The neat nose isn't terrible, once one can find it. The palate is fine, once one's tongue regains feeling, but the finish proves to be bland. Dilution provides added dimension to all the pieces, turning it into kind of a sugary version of the regular Single Barrel. But it also feels watered down in the mouth and doesn't finish strong. There's nothing here (at 64.9% or 46.5%) that can't be regularly beat by the Single Barrel. Straight from the Barrel is a decent bourbon (one diluted) but I'm in no mood to try it a fifth time.

Availability - Europe and Asia
Pricing - anywhere from $55 to $95 (w/o VAT and shipping)
Rating - 80 (with water only, low to mid 70s when neat)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Single Malt Report: Craiglodge 8 year old 1998 Distillery Select, cask 139

On an oddly warm evening in mid November of last year, Andy Smith (of LASC, OCSC, and SDSC fame) and I were having an earnest discourse about fatherhood as we picked through the leftovers from the recent Peatin' Meetin'. Not being emptied during the Meetin' was usually not a good sign for a whisky bottle. Among these unfinished whiskies was a Craiglodge. Upon this discovery I asked Andy if I could take a sample home for deep study.  He said, "Take the bottle, please."  And that's how I wound up with this:
As I mentioned in yesterday's post, Loch Lomond's lack of candor over their different brands can result in confusion. For instance, though Craiglodge is a peated Loch Lomond, it's not the same as Croftengea which is also a peated Loch Lomond.  And neither of these should be confused with Loch Lomond Peated, which is a different peated Loch Lomond. A little bit of openness from the distillery would be nice, because it isn't as if one of us could recreate this stuff in our garage. Nor would most of us want to.

There don't appear to be very many Craiglodge bottlings out there. Whiskybase shows a grand total of four, which doesn't include this one. The cask that has received the most digital ink is #223, which the Malt Maniacs HATED. Johannes gave it a 32, Luc Timmermans graded it a 15, and Serge was the most generous out of the six reviewers, calling it a 68. This level of public shade makes me feel all tingly inside. Bring on cask 139!

Distillery: Loch Lomond
Owner: Loch Lomond Distillery Company
Brand: Craiglodge
Range: Distillery Select
Type: Single Malt
Region: Western Highlands
Maturation: Spanish oak hogshead
Age: 8 years old (March 26, 1998 - June 12, 2006)
Cask #: 139
Bottle: 101 of 330
Alcohol by Volume: 45%
Chillfiltered? I think so
Colorant added? I don't think so

The color is bourbon brown. At first whiff the Loch Lomond Garbage™ note rings true in the nose. Luckily(!) it vanishes after a couple minutes. Once that dissipates, large quantities of vanilla and oloroso sherry sit up front. Then fresh mint and chocolate peat. Cinnamon and chlorine. Then, out of nowhere, gunpowder bursts forth, followed by cheap perfume. With more time the vanilla and chocolate take over again. The palate starts with ashy peat, bitter chocolate, and bags of gunpowder. Lots of black pepper. Big sweet grapey action. And an occasional manure note. Bitter ash and moscatel in the finish. Gunpowder on vegetables. Quite sweet.

Dare I add water to this?

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Melting cheap plastic toys and milk chocolate on the nose. Then mesquite and black cherries. The palate is bitterer and more peppery. More veg, more savoriness. A hint of perfume. The sherry and ash retreat to the far back. The finish is very bitter, to the point it's a stamina test. Somewhere underneath that is lead, dirt, and grape sweetness.

Hot damn, it's no wonder they didn't bottle it at full strength, as it would have resulted in fatalities. It's not just ugly, it's the absolute zero of balance and comfort.

But, here's the thing. I like it. The cask imparted a considerable richness. The palate is zesty in its earthiness and bitterness. And its total dissonance makes the whisky so bad it's...it's...It's like one of those impressively frightful dogs that win awards. It resembles nothing lovable, but in that absence one discovers surprisingly warm feelings. And one starts to think, "Man, I want one of those." Gotta respect this little brown snowflake, the antithesis of Balvenie Batch 1401, the ugly dog.

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 79 (Mind you, some drinkers may give this whisky a fat F, and they wouldn't be wrong either.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Single Malt Report: Inchmurrin 12 year old Unpeated (2014) and what is Inchmurrin single malt anyway?

On Monday, I reviewed the new Loch Lomond NAS Original.  In that post I referenced that the Loch Lomond distillery makes a number of different whisky styles and brands in house, thanks to their unique (pot, Lomond, and Coffey) stills configuration.  Today I'm reviewing a 2014 bottling of another one of their brands, Inchmurrin, named after an island in the loch itself.


Now what Inchmurrin is (style, brand, production process) exactly, I don't know. The internet hasn't been very helpful in my searches. Whiskybase does call it "Unpeated". And Charlie Maclean references a couple of things in his Whiskypedia book: Inchmurrin was originally made from the Lomond stills, and the spirit was designed to age quickly.  The former may no longer be true, while the latter is of course the Great Big Hairy Candy-Coated Grail all of whiskydom continues to chase.

To add to the confusion is the ever-changing Inchmurrin packaging design.  See below for the 5 versions that have existed over the past 10 years.
To be fair, or more confusing, that first bottle type -- the "Distillery Select" -- was actually for all of Loch Lomond's single malts since it was designed for the single casks (not at cask strength) they'd release. All the Distillery Select bottles appear exactly the same from a distance, with the info on the little white label marking the only difference between each release.

Five different bottles, one decade.  From a marketing or (more importantly) the customer's standpoint, what does an Inchmurrin look like? A little visual consistency goes a long way to help a brand. For instance, we all know what a Glenfiddich or Ardbeg bottle looks like from across the shop. Johnnie Walker's bottle & label helped create and sustain the largest whisky brand in history. Thus it wouldn't hurt if Loch Lomond Distillery Company picked a visual style and stuck with it.

Now for the actual review...

The Inchmurrin I'm reviewing today is the fourth bottle from the left (above), probably the artiest of the bunch, though difficult to photograph, and a little difficult to read. While I like that bottle design the best, it lasted all of TWO years before they changed it again.

Distillery: Loch Lomond
Owner: Loch Lomond Distillery Company
Brand: Inchmurrin
Type: Single Malt
Region: Western Highlands
Maturation: refill ex-bourbon?
Age: at least 12 years old
Bottling year: 2014
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(Thank you to Florin for the sample!)

Its color is a very light straw.  A remarkably clean nose for a Loch Lomond product. Roasted barley, lemon juice, fruit cocktail juice, rock candy, and apple juice. A little bit of polyester and new car. Small notes of vanilla, honey, and moss.  The palate holds bitter melon rind, lemon peel, and barley. An intense earthy note meets up with fresh arugula. A hint of peaches. This all gets delivered with a nice oily mouthfeel.  The finish registers as soil, grass clippings, and hay upon first sips. Later on it's burnt barley and fresh ginger.

Ta-da! A good Loch Lomond single malt. Hell, it's the best I've had. Even if it is unpeated, it's very earthy and organic. It's also nearly devoid of oak influence, with lots of barley dancing around in lieu of the cask. It also does a good job balancing fruit notes with the industrial stuff.  I won't say this is a world beater, but it sure can compete with (and beat) most official 12 year olds from better-loved distilleries.  Hopefully the producers kept the whisky the same when they changed the label last year.

Availability - Specialty retailers
Pricing - $55-$60 in USA, $30-$45 (w/o VAT or shipping) in Europe
Rating - 84 (Keep in mind, one's enjoyment of it depends on one's palate. So please read the notes.)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Single Malt Report: Loch Lomond Original

Some of us think we're hardcore hipsters for liking Glen Scotia and Ledaig before it was cool to do so. But how many of us dig on Loch Lomond for kicks? I cannot be counted amongst that crowd. While I do respect that distillery for continuing to make whisky without adapting to the times, their company's management (destruction of Littlemill and near abandonment of Glen Scotia) and the frequent packaging revisions (enjoy Google image searches of Inchmurrin Single Malt and Glen Scotia), on the other hand, seem to be some form of satire funny only to the ownership.

Thanks to Loch Lomond distillery's unique set of stills -- four pot stills with rectifying heads, two pot stills without, and a Coffey still for grain and malt -- they can make a plethora of whiskies right in-house.  This week I'll be reviewing three of these whiskies, all single malts.  Today it's the newest iteration of NAS Loch Lomond, the Original.

Distillery: Loch Lomond
Owner: Loch Lomond Distillery Company
Brand: Loch Lomond
Type: Single Malt
Region: Western Highlands
Maturation: paint cans
Age: at least three years old
Bottling year: 2015
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? ???
Colorant added? Probably
(mini purchased by the reviewer)

The orange gold color doesn't look even remotely natural for this baby whisky.  The nose treads right between new make and cheap blend.  Apples, rotting veg, margarine, and a chemical note that's something between methanol and turpentine.  YET it's not entirely terrible.  It gets earthier and picks up more barley notes with time. The palate starts with brown butter, caramel, dirt, and a vague bitterness.  There are hints of dark chocolate, dry cheese, dried sage and Loch Lomond's ever present chemical note. It does have a remarkably oil texture which makes me think it wasn't chillfiltered. The finish has a cheap cigar aftertaste to it, then some margarine and burnt toast bitterness.

Loch Lomond National Park is beautiful. Loch Lomond single malt is not. Its producers don't seem to strive for drinkability, subtlety, or brilliance. And, you know, there's something admirable in that. You get what you get without much woodwork or futzing.  And if their whiskies weren't usually lousy with turpentine or garbage notes, I'd say they were on to something.

The good news is that this Loch Lomond Original is probably the best "Loch Lomond" brand single malt I've tried.  The bad news is that's not saying much. What works in its favor is the thick mouthfeel, earthy palate and near absence of oak. What doesn't work is the constant chemical note running throughout keeping me in constant fear that I'm drinking something unsafe. And I can do without all the margarine notes too. Overall, the whisky is more or less of the quality of an NAS blend and, thankfully, priced almost the same.

Availability - Specialty retailers
Pricing - $20-$35 (w/o VAT or shipping) in Europe, $30-$35 in USA
Rating - 72

Friday, October 14, 2016

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: High West Rendezvous Rye, Vine & Table Barrel Select (barrel 957)

Something else was on my calendar for today's review, but circumstances call for this whiskey. If you hadn't heard, High West was purchased by Constellation Brands for $160 million of money.  The Perkinseseses are staying onboard, which is good.  The funny(?) thing is that High West made hay due to their barrel picking and blending. Meanwhile, distilling is a very different business and science. No one really knows how their High West's aged spirit will fare. Like Willett, they'll have to segue from high-quality products sourced from long-running distilleries to their own distillate. And that's at least one strike against them. I am rooting for them though. It takes guts to open a whiskey business in Utah.....and then succeed. And I do love me some Rendezvous Rye.

Today's bottle isn't the usual Rendezvous. High West has (or had, depending on Constellation) a Barrel Select program, wherein retailers could get an exclusive barrel of Rendezvous or Double Rye with extra maturation. In this instance, High West poured the blended contents of regular Rendezvous -- 6yo MGP rye + 16yo Barton rye -- into an ex-bourbon (American Prairie?) barrel and let it age for another two-and-a-half years before bottling at barrel strength. Thus it's a different whiskey than Rendezvous and, as to be expected, more expensive. Ignoring the older component, consider that this Barrel Select is mostly 8 year old MGP stuff, so $70 is a reasonable price in this market.

Since High West is in the news and I attended Vine & Table's Expo this past weekend, I figured it's time to taste this stuff officially.

Product: Rendezvous Rye
Producer: High West
Distilleries: Barton and MGP
Type: Blend of Straight Rye Whisky
Region: Utah (High West), Indiana (MGP), Barton (Kentucky)
Mashbills: Barton - 80% rye 10% corn 10% malted barley
MGP - 95% rye 5% malted barley
Maturation, part 1: Barton 16yo and MGP 6yo, separately, in new white oak barrels
Maturation, part 2: 2.5 year marriage together in an ex-bourbon barrel
Barrel #: 957
Bottle #: 40
Alcohol by Volume: 53%
(notes taken from my bottle's midpoint)

The nose starts off with a surprising dried fruit note; think apricots, pineapple and golden raisins. Plenty of creamy vanilla notes. No pickle juice (for those who fear it). Some fun notes of root beer and hazelnut liqueur poke out here and there. Eventually it develops a big Rolos candy note that nearly takes over. A lot of ethyl heat blocks the palate for the first couple of sips. But then the aggressive high-rye spices rush in, followed by an old bourbon character (lots of corn and vanilla). Its sweetness is of the brown sugar and maraschino cherry sort. Some black cherry soda. With time the spices shift towards jalapeño pepper. It also picks up some plain oak notes as well. At first the finish is all maraschino cherries on vanilla ice cream. Then there's plain sweet & heat, along with dried fruit. After later sips, it trends towards bitter oak and pencil shavings.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose is all dried fruit at first. Then vanilla takes over, followed by smaller notes of root beer, peanut dust, and orange oil. Something darker and grungier lurks in the background. The palate gets saltier. Plenty of zing remains, though it's more pepper than ethyl. Fruit punch. Kind of a peppier version of Canadian rye. The finish is sweet and tannic, with notes of vanilla and bananas.

I was actually prepared to pan this rye. Upon opening the bottle, Kristen and I found it too hot to drink. Even when reduced to 43%abv, the ethyl stayed put. Thus I had planned to reduce it to 40%abv to see if I could break through the heat.  But now that the bottle is at its halfway point, the whiskey has calmed down considerably, and thankfully, so I could take proper notes. Now I prefer it neat!

With the joyous nose as its strong point and the finish its weakest, this Barrel Select proves to be unique and different than the regular Rendezvous. If it were priced above $100 like most 8yo MGP ryes, I'd say skip it. But if you're already out $60+ for the regular Rendezvous, this is worthwhile at $70, especially if you favor dried fruit over MGP's pickle juice.

Availability - Vine & Table only
Pricing - $69.99
Rating - 85 (when neat)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Single Malt Report: Ardmore 21 year old 1992 "See me, Drink me" The Whiskyman

I'll keep this brief. Early 1990s Ardmore is one of my favorite things. So if someone wants to buy me presents, make them all early '90s Ardmore.  Okey doke?

The sad thing is there have been a grand total of three 1990-1993 Ardmores released anywhere on the planet over the past three years. Though I have plenty from this Ardmore era in my collection, I'd be interested to see how these casks fare with more age.  Hopefully there are some still resting in a dunnage somewhere, and hopefully their prices will be *gulp* reasonable upon release.

I bought two of these samples from the former whiskysamples.eu because the bottle itself was hard to come by. Also, naming it after a song by The Who was an easy cheap way straight to my deaf, dumb, and blind heart.

Distillery: Ardmore
Independent Bottler: The Whiskyman
Region: Highlands (Eastern)
Type: Single Malt
Age: 21 years old (1992-2013)
Maturation: probably refill ex-bourbon barrel
Bottle Count: 175
Alcohol by Volume: 49.7%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

Its color is a very light straw.  The nose leads with a Laphroaig-like peat, but at half strength. There's also a yellow coconut curry thing going on. Then Ceylon cinnamon bark, fresh peaches, along with hints of milk chocolate and anise.  With a half hour of air, it picks up notes of farm and panettone. As for the palate, I was all nom nom nom cat on my first sip. Succeeding sips......It has a juicy sweetness, more fructose than sucrose (if that makes any sense). Its tingly spiciness is full of cinnamon and ginger, reminding me a little of a red curry. With time in the glass, the whisky discovers its beloved second gear: wood smoke, peaches and pound cake. More of the gentle smoke in the finish, along with oranges, Tapatillo, cinnamon, metal, and dark chocolate.

I can say I'm a Happy Jack because I'm Free to make Much Too Much of this Empty Glass since I'm a Whiskey Man Drowned in the Sparks of a Sensation. But I'll make my conclusion A Quick One lest you Run Run Run until I Can't Reach You and Melancholia sinks in.

With its balance and development, this is a very good whisky, perfect for autumn. The refill cask lets the spirit stay spry without any oak interruption. The peat townshend frames the spice and fruit throughout, never letting any one aspect read too loudly. But I'm not going to give it a 90 because I'm arsehole and also because I'm aware of my Ardmore bias and also because the finish was a slight letdown.

Availability - Happy Hunting!
Pricing - originally was about €100 (I think), probably much more than that now
Rating - 89

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Top Ten Deepest Thoughts After Attending Indy's Whisky & Fine Spirits Expo

1. Redbreast 21yo > Glenmorangie 25yo > Talisker 30yo > Port Charlotte Islay Barley > Westland's regular range > Port Charlotte Scottish Barley > Port Dundas 42yo 1973 Duncan Taylor > Taketsuru 21yo > Wolfburn Aurora > Getting Kicked in the Junk > Dalmore King Alexander III

From the bottom up:  Dalmore's current regular range competes with Glenrothes's as the most mediocre in the biz.  King Alex III was the one I've always wanted to try.  I was optimistic.  I was foolish.  It was awful.  Wolfburn Aurora is just as young and unformed as their regular release.  Having greatly enjoyed Nikka's age-stated single malts, I must say I don't get the Taketsuru blended malt series.  Both the 12 and the 21 are very disappointing, thin, and watery.  When it comes to Glenmo 25 being better than Talisker 30, my opinion is probably in the minority.  Glenmorangie 25 really beat my expectations, with a rich palate and a long finish.  Probably reasonable at $150-200, but it's $600, so ha!  And finally, Redbreast 21 kicks ass.  I expected it to be soft and subtle, instead it brought brawn and loads of tropical fruits.  ❤️

2. But one rum ruled them all.

Caroni 16yo 1997 Duncan Taylor, cask 87, provided a dynamic drinking experience unmatched by any of the single malts at the show.  Tar, barbecue, leather, black licorice, and mustard seed. Holy moley. If I were to have bought one bottle of something I tried at the event, that would have been it. Oh wait, I did buy a bottle.

I also tried a half dozen rhum agricoles from JM and Clement, all of which were more interesting than many of the whiskies I've tried this year.

3. And the Cognac outclassed all of the scotches.

Cognac Park's selection was so much fun that I happily sampled six of their products.  Their XO Cigar Blend, Extra Grande Champagne, Chai #8 21yo Single Barrel Petite Champagne, and Fins Bois 1976 were better than everything except for the Redbreast and Caroni.  None of these cognacs were barrel strength, in fact they're all 40%abv, but they were delightful.  Of course they all cost over $100, but if one were so motivated one could buy all 4 for about the same price as one Glenmorangie 25 or one Talisker 30.

4. Ledaig 18yo is weird, as it should be.

Intensely dirty and rougher than the 10yo, Ledaig 18 also dries out the mouth as if it were loaded with tannins.  But it doesn't taste or smell oaky at all.  Very confusing.  As I drank it, I couldn't figure out if it was terrible or awesome.  Just the way I like Ledaig.  Too bad it costs $150-$200 in The States.

5. Knob Creek 2001 Batch 3 bests Four Roses Elliott's Select, and it's not even close.

I went back for a second pour of Elliott's Select in order to compare it to Knob Creek 2001 batch 3, just to make sure my palate wasn't shot.  Sure enough the Knob Creek was richer and landed a much better finish.  I'm becoming a fan of these 2001s (see my review of batch 1).  Meanwhile it seemed as if someone poured Four Roses's Small Batch into the Elliott's bottle.

6. Both of Vine & Table's Signatory single casks are good.

Denis Lynch & Co. selected a 19yo 1995 Imperial and a 24yo 1991 Glen Keith from the Pitlochry people.  With the Imperial coming across bigger and oakier, and the Glen Keith subtler and fruity, I preferred the latter.  Both are very solid and will each have its fans.

7. Attend the classes or presentations offered at major whisky events.

The opportunity to get utterly shitfaced at these big whisky-a-thons is difficult to dodge, especially when there are 500+ pours available.  If classes are offered during drinking time, go!  It'll give you a chance to sit in one place and sample a couple things over 45-60 minutes.  Imagine how many pours you could quaff in that time frame if you were just going from table to table and then imagine your vomit.  So, in addition to education and special spirits, the classes allow you to pace yourself.

The Indy Expo had two classes.  The first was led by Peter Currie, formerly of Springbank, now of Duncan Taylor, who brought along three of DT's products, none of which were single malts.  It was at that session I discovered the Caroni rum (winner!).  Knowing I'd probably overdo it if I went back out to the pouring floor, I got right back in line for the second class which was lead by Cognac Park's Anaïs Brisson.  See item #3 above regarding how that turned.  Again, education + fun drinks + pacing = smaller hangover = success.

8. I've discovered a good way to pare down my Glencairn collection.

I've attended four $100+ whisky events over the past four years.  In those four events, I've had five Glencairns stolen.  This has nothing to do with the events themselves, rather the drunken kleptos who attend them.  When I put my mini-glencairns (obtained from the Laphroaig and Lagavulin distilleries) down with my bag as I grabbed food for less than a minute, some a-hole walked off with both.

9.  I am now much more motivated to explore other brown spirits.

I've bought exactly one bottle of scotch in the three months since I returned from Scotland and am not motivated to buy another one any time soon......though I have picked up a few bottles of bourbon and rye during that time period.  Meanwhile, I've been drinking more cognac than I used to, plus I've been impressed with all of the rhum agricoles I've tried.  This event has led me further down that path.

10. I met great humans!

Aside from going to a whisky event for the whisky, I also went to meet people.  I chatted with a dozen reps, sharing our misery over the mess that is Ohio's state run liquor business.  Shared a drink with a few more.  But what I enjoyed most was the chance to hang out with two of my readers!  Thank you Fletcher and Vik for agreeing to meet up with me and for politely suffering through my vast assortment of opinions.  It was a pleasure!  Thanks, gents!  Hopefully we can do this again some time.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Single Malt Report: Ardmore 16yo 1981 Gordon & MacPhail

Autumn weather settled in yesterday, finally, so it's time to break out some weather appropriate whisky.  For me, Autumn single malts include Talisker, Kilkerran, Benromach, Springbank, and Ardmore -- the mildly peated but richly flavored earthy spirits.  I'm a particularly big fan of Ardmore and dearly wish there were more well-matured bottlings available.  But if there were then Whiskyfun would review them and ruin the great secret that is Ardmore.

One of the most frequent bottlers of Ardmore is Gordon & Macphail.  Not only do they have a number of single casks from the '90s (see this review of one of my bottles), but they also have an annual vintage series.  It started with the 1977 vintage (released in 1991) and is currently up to 1998.  While these have always been watered down, at least the recent versions have inched up to 43%abv.  Sadly the older vintages were reduced to 40%abv.  I wouldn't say this amounts to murder, but the resulting whiskies feel drained of soul.

With that in mind, here's the version of the 1981 vintage, bottled in 1997.  I was able to buy a pour from the Ardshiel Hotel in Campbeltown, which I then funneled into a sample bottle.  Always prepared for instances like this, I'm earning my boy scout badge for Whisky Miser.

Distillery: Ardmore
Independent Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Region: Highlands (Eastern)
Type: Single Malt
Age: 16 years old (1981-1997)
Maturation: unknown, probably mostly ex-bourbon casks, though maybe some refill sherry casks in the mix?
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? Possibly
Caramel Colorant? Yes

The soft nose starts out with apricots, canned peaches, and gummi bears.  There's a light dusty ashy peat note that sometimes ventures into tennis ball fuzz.  There are smaller notes of cream soda, cherry lollipops, and something that sniffs like oloroso.  It has a cardboard note up front, but with time it changes (for the better) into old book pages.  The palate balances darker and sweeter notes.  Barbecue ribs, wasabi, a hint of dusty OBE, and a gentle bitter smoke note, along with black licorice, vanilla, and brown sugar.  The brown sugar element grows with time.  Unfortunately the whole thing is very thin and watery, leaving one to ponder what could have been.  The finish is sweeter than the palate, but also has black peppercorns, an herbal bitterness, and a mild cigar note that lingers longest.

What I'm going to say here has been said before about this very whisky range.  It's not that this whisky is a failure, but it could have been a hell of a thing at 46%abv and at least a little more satisfying at 43%.  Alas, all of this teenage Ardmore was diluted to its legal limit.  And colored, according to whiskybase.  What we're left with is a decent aperitif and a tease.  The nose is the best part, soft but mostly lovable.  The palate has the aforementioned balance but one almost needs a microscope to find its parts.  Ultimately it's an easy drinker but Ardmore (and G&M) can do better.  I've seen some of these older G&M vintages up for auction, but I'd say save your pennies for their single casks.

Availability - Auctions
Pricing - probably £60 and up
Rating - 83

Friday, October 7, 2016

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Lost Prophet 22 year old 1991 Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Having been distilled in 1991 at George T. Stagg Distillery (now Buffalo Trace Distillery), matured for its final seven years in the Stitzel-Weller warehouses, and bottled at George Dickel Distillery in Tennessee, Lost Prophet 22yo is the only Orphan Barrel release I've been interested in thus far.  Part Mr. Bumble, part Miss Havisham, and with more than a suggestion of Fagin, Diageo bussed this orphan from home to home to home, maneuvers that likely resulted in greater than usual overhead costs, which are in turn baked into the suggested retail price.  This pricing is in turn propped up by a marketing story (more overhead costs) that highlights their oops-look-what-we-lost-track-of fish tale and Stitzel-Weller Stitzel-Weller Stitzel-Weller.

What intrigues me about Lost Prophet is its old Age International-style mashbill, since I always enjoy the recent Blanton's and Elmer T. Lee bourbons.  Though this whiskey has the second highest age statement of any bourbon I've sipped, I'd have preferred to have tried The Prophet when it was at least ten years younger.  I'm no fan of oak juice, so the advanced age is a negative to me; for instance, see my review of Prophet's fellow orphan, the ugly Forced Forged Oak 15yo.  Despite my inclinations against Diageo, I sincerely hope Lost Prophet is better than Forged Oak.

Owner: Diageo
Brand: Orphan Barrel
Orphan: Lost Prophet
Distillery: George T. Stagg Distillery (now Buffalo Trace Distillery)
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Mashbill: 75-78% corn, 7-10% barley, and 15% rye
Age: 22 years (1991-2014)
Alcohol by Volume: 45.05%
(Sample comes to me from the top third of Ms. Sing's bottle. Thanks, Linda!)

The pleasant nose's two main characteristics are vanilla and more vanilla.  There's also some caramel sauce and orange oil.  Praline, nutmeg, and tablet.  Unlike most old whiskies, the nose doesn't open up with time.  Instead it flattens out, trending towards barrel char and Elmer's glue.  The palate is very mellow.  In fact, it feels watery.  It has a good pepper bite that balances out some mild woody bitterness.  Tart berries, a mild sweetness, sea salt, and generic barrel char make up the midground.  It does pick up some caramel, nuts, and vanilla with time.  The finish grows sweeter with time.  There's plenty of citric acid to go with a spicy zing.  Subtle vanilla and generic barrel char.

First, the good news.  Lost Prophet is much better than Forged Oak.  There's less woody bitterness to it and the nose is quite nice at the start, resulting a simple easy experience.  The main problem is its thinness in the mouth.  It feels like one of Diageo's blended scotches, aggressively filtered and watered down.  Is this what they did to it?  And why?  To make more bottles in order to make up for that supposed lost profit?  Overall, it's not a terrible whiskey but I can't help but think it could have been better without doctoring or if it were bottled earlier.  And shouldn't we expect more from an American whiskey that sells for three figures, no matter its age?

Availability - Some specialty liquor retailers, the secondary market
Pricing - suggested retail price was $120, if you find it for 2x that price you're lucky(?)
Rating - 79

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Single Malt Report: Longmorn 26 year old 1987 Cadenhead Small Batch

As I mentioned in Monday's review, we stopped off at Cadenhead Whisky Shop in Edinburgh towards the beginning of our Scotland trip.  Their Edinburgh store is surprisingly snug and doesn't appear to be well stocked, but I think most of the bottles are sitting in a closed off room in the rear.  Out front there's a chalkboard menu of what they have in stock, as they do in a few of their other stores.  Though the list was extensive, I could find anything that interested me.  But what did arouse my curiosity was the Cask Ends Cage.

The "Cask Ends" are 200mL bottles of various Cadenhead releases.  Despite the name, these are probably not the final cask drippings that fall short of a 700mL bottle.  I'm pretty sure there were more than 3 bottles of a few expressions (math: 4 bottles would equal 800mL, more than enough for another 700mL bottle) in the cage.  Plus what are the odds that three "Cask Ends" bottles of a 1987 Longmorn were just sitting gathering dust in the cage for the three years since its release?  I have no real complaints about the Cask Ends, in fact they are an excellent idea.  These 200mLs provide an rare opportunity to try out single casks (and small batches) without splashing out for full bottles.  I wish more indies would offer something like this.

Distillery: Longmorn
Ownership: Pernod Ricard
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Independent Bottler: Cadenhead
Range: Small Batch
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Age: 26 year old (1987-2013)
Maturation: two(?) ex-bourbon hogsheads
Bottles: 402
Alcohol by Volume: 49.5%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

As with Monday's Tomatin, I tried two pours of this Longmorn side by side, one neat, the other reduced (~43%abv).

The nose is simple but solid.  Lemon peel, bran flakes, plain digestive biscuits, and dried heather.  After a while, some subtle notes of orange blossom honey (it's what we have in the pantry right now) and vanilla linger.  The palate starts off super malty, almost chocolatey, with notes of vanilla bean and clementines.  Then in a surprise attack it shifts into an expanding pastel sphere of limes, cara cara oranges, and sweet grapefruits.  The limes and grapefruit remain for the very long finish.  Some orange candy, cactus (a first!), malted barley, and cooling tingle.

WITH WATER (~43%abv)
The nose gets brighter.  More citrus, less grain.  Maybe some white cherries and macintosh apples.  A hint of tar in the background keeps that brightness in check.  The palate keeps most of the malt from the neat version, but it also has a fruit salad of mandarin oranges, pineapple, and white grapes.  Hints of vanilla, caramel, and eucalyptus in there too.  Sweeter than the full strength version.  The tingle in the sweet finish is more citrusy here.  Vanilla simple syrup, malt, and eucalyptus make appearances as well.

What this single malt has that's missing from Monday's Tomatin, Hunter Laing's recent 29yo 1985 Longmorn, and nine out of ten modern whiskies is Capital 'D' Development.  When this Longmorn's palate shifted gears and opened up, not only was I stunned, but I was stunned that I was stunned.  Perhaps I need to be making a habit of drinking better whisky.

Back to this whisky, specifically.  The nose is nice, perhaps better with water, but the palate is where the show's playing.  I recommend it neat, though some of you sweet tooths would prefer it with water.   Great stuff.  I don't think it's available at its original price, which is too bad because I'd recommend it right there.

Availability - A few bottles remain in continental Europe
Pricing - £36 for this 200mL; was originally £130-140 for 700mL, now around £170-£200
Rating - 89

Monday, October 3, 2016

Single Malt Report: Tomatin 25 year old 1989 Cadenhead

Before we went to Springbank and The Cadenhead Whisky Shop in Campbeltown this year (wherein I lost my brains), I stopped off at Cadenhead's in Edinburgh.  A much smaller branch than the one in Campbeltown, the Edinburgh shop does have the benefit of having the Cask Ends Cage, in which one may pick amongst countless of 200mL bottles of dozens of recent Cadenhead releases.  It's a great way to enjoy more than just a single pour of a whisky, but not have to splash out for a full bottle.  I had to keep myself disciplined.  At that point the trip had only just begun and I had (correctly) predicted that Campbeltown would prove to be my credit card's ruin.  So I chose two 200mL bottles; both were distilled in the '80s, both of which were from distilleries whose single malt really hits the mark once it reaches its mid-20s.

First off is Tomatin 25yo from 1989.  It's from a single (probably refill) hogshead.  The now sold-out 700mL bottle went for £120-130.  The Cask Ends bottle I nabbed was supposedly their last one and it cost all of £35.  My hopes were high since I really enjoy the fruitiness of older Tomatin.

Distillery: Tomatin
Ownership: Tomatin Distillery Co
Region: Highlands (near Inverness)
Independent Bottler: Cadenhead
Range: Authentic Collection
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Age: 25 year old (1989-2015)
Maturation: ex-bourbon hogshead
Bottles: 204
Alcohol by Volume: 51.9%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

In this instance, I compared the whisky at full strength and a lightly watered-down 46%abv side by side for perspective.

The nose proves difficult.  The ethyl and solvent notes rumble through on top.  It's also a bit yeasty and has a white vinegar underside, and honestly gets a little farty sometimes.  A bit papery later on.  There's a big barley note throughout.  Plenty of lemon.  Hints of orange creamsicle, melon, and vanilla.  The palate is very hot for the ABV, as if it were 10 points higher.  At first there's an aggressive hoppy herbal note that later turns very grassy.  Successive sips get sweeter, with Country Time lemonade powder and off-season dull peaches.  The ethyl heat dominates the finish.  Plenty grassy, with the lemons and off-season peaches, as well as dried oregano.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Much more fruit in the nose; white peaches, papaya, lemons, and a little bit of honeydew.  Turkish delight?  The harsh notes are gone.  A good clean barley note remains.  The palate arrives significantly clearer as well.  Though it's still plenty grainy, there are apricots, whipped cream, and a note that starts off like lemon juice and then morphs into fizzy bitter lemon.  It's lightly sweet with a hint of hay and a mild vanilla undercurrent.  The finish keeps the palate's mild sweetness (a bit of brown sugar, maybe); carries along the barley, lemons, and hay; and somehow lasts longer than when neat.

I really didn't enjoy my little bottle much -- likely because I had only consumed its contents neatly -- and was thankful not to have picked up a 700mL bottle.  Having set aside 60mL worth for this tasting, I am now surprised to discover I should have been adding water to it all along.  Even if it never hits any great heights when diluted, it's considerably better.  The nose improves dramatically, while the palate opens up well.  If I were to finger the culprit here, it would be the wonky hogshead.  Many of Cadenhead's current releases are small batches, but this Tomatin is from the Authentic Collection is which are single casks.  I wonder if this could have been pulled up with the addition of a rich cask or two.

The members of whiskybase are, on average, mildly enthused, at least more so than I.  On the other hand, Serge loves this whisky......but finds that water does nothing for its palate......which, sitting here sipping both the neat and diluted versions, I find difficult to comprehend.  That's fine.  I'm sure he'll enjoy his bottle.  I'm glad I only bought a little one.

Availability - Was told it had sold out
Pricing - £35 for 200mL, £120-130 for 700mL
Rating - 82 with water only, at least 5 points lower when neat.