...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Springbank and Kilkerran Distillery Visitors' 2016 Bottlings

My mind is still whirling after my two weeks in Japan, so it may be days, weeks, months or years before I post about that travel. But to keep with the tourist theme, I have unearthed the two distillery-only minis I picked up at the end of my previous international trip. One is a Springbank, the other a Kilkerran. There are no ages, no ABVs nor bottling codes on either. Due to their "Single Malt Scotch Whisky" labelling, all one can assume is they're each at least 3 years old and at least 40%abv. I'll be trying them side-by-side.

And that's all the deep thoughts my brain will allow right now. It's saying, Campbeltown drink now.




"Kilkerran Distillery Visitors 2016"

NEAT
Its color is clear, or at least 90% clear. The nose starts off with whole wheat bread and lots of salty butter. Fried coating, veggie peat, hot asphalt and a small note of pineapple. It picks up some more white fruit notes with time. The palate is loaded with chili oil, bitter and acidic notes. Some tapioca pudding, lots of barley, maybe some salted peanuts. Not very sweet. The finish has some moderate smoke, pepper and ethanol. A little more sweet and acidic, and some of the nose's butter notes.

WITH WATER
The nose has dried apricot, lime, butter and mossy peat. Somehow, there's more heat in the palate now. Still has the chili oil note. It's a little bitter with hints of flowers and toffee. But also burnt cardboard. It finishes bitter, mossy, and peppery. Metallic, like blood. Pencil lead and burnt cardboard.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
This is the first Kilkerran that elicited an "uch" from me. It's very young, reading even rawer than the first Work In Progress. The nose isn't bad, but the palate is DOA. Water brings out some genuinely crap notes in the finish. It's very clear why they did not release whatever this is to the wider public. On the other hand, maybe they should have blended it into a wider release 5+ years from now?



"Springbank Distillery Visitors 2016"

NEAT
It has an amber color. The nose has peach yogurt and more pineapple than the Kilkerran. A curious lack of peat. Hints of yeast and brown sugar. Metallic, like pennies. A solid lemongrass note throughout. The palate has mossy peat, marzipan and a hint of sweetness. Some ethyl. Salt and menthol. Prunes and roasted barley. The finish is a little medicinal. Plenty of dried fruits with prunes lingering the longest.

WITH WATER
The nose has peaches and limes, and suddenly a farmy note. Grapefruit. Roasted barley. The palate gets dirtier, peatier, saltier and bitterer. Some hard toffee, limes and prunes. The finish has a good bitter glow, wood smoke, salt and a hint of sweetness.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
In a different league than the Kilkerran, this Springbank seems to be from a refill sherry cask and is older than the legal minimum. It drinks well, has a reliable finish and probably weighs in at 46%abv or higher. I actually recommend drinking this one rather than leaving it on the shelf or whatever you wanna do with the Kilkerran. It's not super, but it's a nice whisky for essentially £0.



Kilkerran Distillery Visitors 2016
Availability - Only at the distillery
Pricing - came with a distillery tour in 2016
Rating - 71 (the nose is the only thing keeping it out of the 60s)

Springbank Distillery Visitors 2016
Availability - Only at the distillery
Pricing - came with a distillery tour in 2016
Rating - 83

Monday, June 26, 2017

Sayoonara, Japan. Papa's Going Home.


Please enjoy the requisite selfie-in-a-bathroom today. Posts will resume on Wednesday(?). L'chaim, as the Shingon monks often say.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Charbay Amador Hop Flavored Whiskey

I ­čĺÜ Charbay. Their infamous "Whiskey Release" series is, like, intergalactic, man. Their distillers, Marko and Miles, are madmen, so I'm happy to try anything they design. Unfortunately the whiskey world discovered that those Releases are superlative, so I can't afford any of them. But recently Karakasevics did some batches of cheaper whiskey experiments. There's Whiskey S, a distillation of Bear Republic Big Bear Stout. There's Whiskey R5, a distillation of Racer 5 IPA. Then there's today's piece of craziness.

Amador Hop Flavored Whiskey is, as per the official site:
A blend of 60% straight malt whiskey and 40% hop-flavored whiskey distilled from a craft IPA beer, the components were aged separately for over 2 years in French oak wine barrels and then “married” in our family Chardonnay barrels for another 2 years before being bottled.
So, no, this is neither bourbon nor rye. But it's American, so there.


Companies: Charbay and Amador Whiskey Co.
Distillery: Charbay
Location: St. Helena, California
What the hell is this made out of? See description above
Age: at least 4 years old
Batch: 1
Barrel: 2
ABV: 48% ABV
(Thank you to Sku for this sample!)

The nose has an intensely fruity side: lemonade, mango and grapefruit. It also has a rich sugary side: vanilla fudge, circus peanuts and a hint of maple syrup. Lots of hops that haven't gone Full Weed yet. The palate is wonderfully, violently tart. More lemon than lemon. Pine sap and grapefruit. Roasted grains, lots of hops. A bit of a sweaty, musty note. Its loooooooong finish is full of hops, pine, grapefruit and lime juice. A little bit of sweetness reins the tartness in.

Odd but joyous. There's no other way I can find to describe it. The IPA element is unmistakable and has run right over the malt. Everything is big and crazy and it's probably a good idea the thing wasn't bottled at full strength because it may have caused a tear in the space-time continuum. As intense as it is, I can see it as being a great spring or summer sipper because of its IPAness (don't say that word out loud). Great work, Miles and Marko!

Availability - At a few dozen American whiskey specialists
Pricing - anywhere between $75-$115
Rating - 87

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Speyburn Arranta Casks, bottled 2015

On Monday I reviewed Speyburn 10 year old, complementing its uncompromising low-oak grungy style. Today, I'm reviewing an NAS big-oak Speyburn called "Arranta Casks". Arranta is "inspired by the Gaelic word meaning 'intrepid and daring'". The whisky is also entirely composed of first-fill bourbon casks and exclusively targets the American market. Kinda seems like it was designed to (try to) capture bourbon fans. In order to get a better perspective of the liquid, I tried this whisky along with the Speyburn 10.


Distillery: Speyburn
Ownership: Inver House (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Age: at least 3 years old
Maturation: first-fill bourbon casks
Bottling year: 2015
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? probably not
Colored? possibly
[DISCLOSURE: Today's bottle was sent to me by Amy from Ten27 Communications, a PR firm for InterBev, AnCnoc's parent company. Thank you, Amy.]

Its color is slightly darker than the 10's yellow gold. The nose starts out with lots of oatmeal. Then there's metal, butterscotch, polyester shirt and brown rice. With time it develops notes of cinnamon sugar, nutmeg, florals and hand soap. The palate is sweet and creamy, full of vanilla pudding and caramel. Hints of flowers, heat and soap. There's an undefined bitterness to it. But there are also some raspberry and apricot notes. LOTS of tannins in the very sweet finish. That sweetness steamrolls most other notes, though there are some vanilla and milky things going on.

This was better than I'd expected, but still falls short of the 10. The quirky spirit and rich oak make for an awkward partnership. The vanilla and wood spices are present, but either override the Speyburn part or exist separately. Still, it's far from boring and not as much of a mess as Diageo's current woody NAS insults. It's worth a try at a bar, if you can find one that stocks Arranta.

Availability - USA only
Pricing - $30-$40
Rating - 78

Monday, June 19, 2017

Speyburn 10 year old, bottled 2014

Florin (a prince) tricked me into learning the ways of Speyburn 10yo a number of years ago. Back then the whisky came in a bottle with an exquisitely unattractive green label, and it could still be found for $15. They've since updated its look with another unsexy label and a bottle with a slightly different shape. In some parts of California it can still be found for about $20, but around the rest of the country it's priced at $25-$35. I've been wondering if the whisky itself has changed. My previous bottle of the 10 was filled in 2011, this sample from Florin was from a 2014 bottle.

It's actually the 10yo. There is no official
12yo at this moment in time.

Distillery: 
Speyburn
Ownership: Inver House (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Age: minimum 10 years
Maturation: "a combination of American Oak ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks"
Bottling year: 2014
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? Yes
Colored? Yes

The nose begins with grapefruit, malt and butter. There are also notes of barley wash and metal. There's a almost-phenolic grungy note that sits somewhere between Loch Lomond-style and Glen Scotia-style. It's simple but quite striking. The barley shows up in the palate as well. There are dried herbs (oregano/savoury), pipe tobacco, tart berries and a hint of milk chocolate. With time in the glass, it develops an earthy note, as well as some good bitterness. The finish has a wallop of tart fruits and Campari bitterness. It also has a little bit of toffee and confectioner's sugar to give it some depth.

This might be even better than before. Its style has gotten dirtier—especially in the nose—while it seems as if the rest of the industry's official bottlings are attempting to get oakier or cleaner. This uncompromising approach is admirable in this marketplace. While Glenfiddich 12 and Tomatin 12 are friendlier, easier drinkers, Speyburn 10 will deliver some fight and fun, at a similar price. Whether this whisky is for you depends on what you want from your beverage.

Availability - Worldwide
Pricing - $25-$35
Rating - 84

Friday, June 16, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Old Grand-Dad 114 (bottled 2008?)

Never particularly fond of the lower proof Old Grand Dads, I don't mind the 114 proof version as it usually delivers a lot of punch at its good price. I reviewed the then current version in 2014. While doing some dusty hunting in a neighboring state, I found a bottle with a L8 code alongside a bunch with L14 codes. So I think it's from 2008. It lists its code twice, adjacently:


This review comes from the second half of the bottle. The first half was often unpleasant, and made for the ugliest Manhattans on record.

Owner: Beam Suntory
Brand: Old Grand-Dad
Distillery: Booker Noe Plant
Location: Boston, Kentucky
Mash Bill: Beam's high-rye
Age: ???
ABV: 57% ABV

NEAT
The nose leads with cut lumber, followed by cherry candy, brine and loads of raw rye spirit. A bit of hazelnut liqueur in there too. The bold palate has more of a rye kick than most 51%-rye rye whiskies. There's also tart citrus, wood spice and something salty & meaty. Plenty of heat and sweet. It finishes sticky sweet. Definitely cherry lollipops. Tannic, hot and peppery.

WITH WATER (~50%abv)
The nose has burnt peanuts, lead and brine. Cardboard and corn syrup. No more rye. The palate has less heat, but is sweeter. Peanuts and cherry candy. The finish is similar to the palate, but is face-makingly cloying.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Burnt toast, mint leaves, creamed corn and cherry candy on the nose. The palate is mild, bitter, sweet and nutty. Its finish fades quickly. Sweet, tannic and a little bitter.

MANHATTAN w/ bourbon at full strength
Terrible. Bitter, tart and lead laden. Maybe a hint of cherries.

MANHATTAN w/ bourbon reduced to 40%abv
Much better. More citrus and baking spices. Actually feels more bourbony.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
TL;DR - DO NOT add water if you're sipping it. DO add water if you're making a Manhattan with it.

What a strange experience this bottle has been. Its palate is always better than its nose, which I can't say I've found too often. The rye edge is much appreciated, and its much missed once the whiskey is diluted. All of this is the exact opposite of my encounter with the 2014 bottling, which had little rye and took water well.

Perhaps I'm experiencing bourbon exhaustion. Bourbon has been my only go-to for casual sipping for the past several weeks, and I think I gotta take a break from it. I'll review something a little different next Friday.

Availability - Not as wide as it used to be, not carried in all states
Pricing - $25-$35
Rating - 79

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Kornog T'aourac Trived peated French malt

And by "French" I mean Bretagne. And by "Kornog" I mean peated Glann Ar Mor. And by "T'aourac Trived", I have no idea.

Let me clarify further. Kornog is the peated single malt produced at Glann Ar Mor distillery in Brittany, a corner of France with considerable Celtic history. Glann Ar Mor approached its production from an old school angle, with direct-fired alembic stills and bottling right on site. Kornog's malt was peated up to 35ppm, and though this specific bottling was matured in bourbon barrels there are some releases that spent time in oloroso or PX casks.

You may notice the past tense verbs in the previous sentence. Apparently the distillery closed in 2015 due to Protected Geographical Indications (PGI) instituted by France. I don't 100% understand the reasoning behind this, so if anyone cares to weigh in on this please do so in the comment section below. In any case, it's a shame, because this is good whisky.


Distillery: Glann Ar Mor
Brand: Kornog
Region: Brittany, France
Age: ???
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrels
Peat level: 35ppm
Bottling year: probably 2010 (BC 2010 batch)
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? No
(sample purchased from The Whisky Exchange)

Its color is white burgundy (that description is there to piss off the French). The nose is lovely. Peated peaches and melons. Subtle medicinal and almond extract notes. Simple syrup. Floral peat. Bright and candied. The palate is full of stone fruits + honey + sweet peat. Fried plantains. Grapefruit. A Campari bitterness. A light refreshing peated whisky? It finishes with more honey and mellow peat. Pear nectar and fried plantains. A little bit of coffee. Lots of Campari. Very aromatic.

What a sweet gentle surprise. I didn't add water because it was so cuddly right at 46%. Yes, a cuddly 35ppm peated whisky. The combination of fruit, florals and honey is unlike any Scotch single malts I've had, peated or unpeated. From what I've gathered, this stuff is pretty young too, which makes it even more impressive. If the distillery really has closed permanently, it's a real loss for the whisky community, and France.

Availability - Happy hunting
Pricing - ???
Rating - 88

Monday, June 12, 2017

anCnoc Cutter 20.5ppm peated single malt

Inspired by last week's curious-but-good peated Caperdonich, I've decided to roll out a pair of peaty non-Islay malts for this week.

Today, it's anCnoc Cutter, a peaty whisky from Knockdhu distillery in Speyside. Like the anCnoc 12 and 18 year olds, this sample comes from (*DISCLOSURE*) a bottle sent to me from Amy of Ten27 Communications. Thank you, Amy.

Cutter is one of the nine NAS peated whiskies anCnoc released in 2014. Yes, nine. Though they lack age statements, eight of the nine whiskies were bottled at 46%abv and listed the peating level on the labels. Peatlands was 9ppm, Rascan 11.1ppm, Rutter 11.5ppm, Barrow 12.5ppm, Flaughter 14.8ppm, Tushkar 15ppm, Stack 20ppm and Cutter 20.5ppm. (I do believe these phenolic measurements are from pre-distillation rather than post.) Barrow was exclusive to the travel retail market, Tuskar was for Sweden, Peatlands and Stack were for continental Europe. The ninth peaty release, R├║dhan didn't have a ppm listing and was also just for travel retail. A few of these, including Rutter, Flaughter and Cutter, are/were available in The States.

Sorry, no bottle pic. The bottle was emptied quickly
at my last event.

Distillery:
 Knockdhu
Owner: Inver House Distillers (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Type: Single Malt
Region: border of Speyside and Western Highlands
Age: minimum 3 years
Maturation: probably refill American oak casks
Peat level: 20.5ppm
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? No

NEAT
The color is very light, possibly sub-pinot grigio amber. A good sign. The nose is very medicinal upon impact. There are also racquetballs, burnt plastic and a hint of tar. Some earthy molasses and lemon and lime zest. Really gives the feeling of decomposing veg. The warm palate has a lightly bitter and roasted side to it that reads like black coffee. A mild saltiness and sweetness softens it up. A Thai chile and black peppercorn strike hits late. With its chili pepper sting, tartness and salt, the finish is all hot sauce.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose gets a little quirky. Butter and hard cheese meets farmy peat. Lemons and a hint of florals. A little bit of vanilla-ish candy. The palate keeps its roasted note, though the whole thing is calmer. There's mild salty peat and salted Irish cream butter. Hints of bitterness and whole wheat bread in the finish, though salty peat leads the way.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
One can see why anCnoc stopped at 20.5ppm for their peaty releases because Cutter feels twice as phenolic. It's a nearly nude peated whisky that doesn't feel too spirity or hot. Nor does it smell like mezcal as many other baby peated whiskies do. I like it quite a bit. This bottle also made its way to two whisky events where it was easily emptied by impressed drinkers. I got all of four pours from my (free) bottle and enjoyed them all.

I don't recommend adding water to it because dilution seems to throw it out of whack. So, again, this whisky is only suggested for peatheads, specifically peatheads looking for an Islay alternative. It would be interesting to try some of the 9-to-11ppm anCnocs to find out how they measure up to peated Highlanders like Ardmore and Benromach. Hopefully I can source a few!

Availability - Europe, United States and Japan
Pricing - $55-$80 worldwide
Rating - 86

Friday, June 9, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Old Charter 8 year old

When I picked up a 200mL bottle of the discontinued Old Charter 8 year old bourbon while on my drive across the country last summer, I was excited about what I thought was a high-quality sorta-dusty bourbon.

My guess as to it being from the 1990s was quashed quickly once I realized the label stated the whiskey was distilled in "Frankfort, KY". Actual dusty Old Charters list Louisville instead. Louisville was the location of the old Bernheim distillery. Frankfort is the location of the Buffalo Trace distillery. BT's owner, Sazerac, bought Old Charter in 1999 so, if I understand math correctly, the earliest my bottle would have been filled was 2007. Taking a look at this bottling code, I wonder if it was bottled in 2012 instead. Wiser bourbon people, please chime in if you think it's from a different date.


My "high-quality" expectation was even more roughly rebuffed. The bourbon was sour, bitterly oaked and formless in its 40%abv. In fact, I dumped almost half the bottle down the sink. Two ounces were stashed away for this review though. Let's see if I like it more now than I did a year ago...


Distillery: Buffalo Trace
Ownership: The Sazerac Company
Brand: Eagle Rare
Region: Frankfort, Kentucky
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Age: minimum 8 years
Mashbill: Buffalo Trace low-rye
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

NEAT
The nose starts off with paint fumes, banana candy, generic barrel char and turpentine. After 20 minutes in the glass, it starts releasing friendlier fumes: lavender, sage, dried berries and orange oil. The palate begins all bitter oak. Then some vanilla and sugar. Generic barrel char, dried cherries and something metallic (lead?). Like the nose, it gets more approachable with time. The finish has some length to it, though it's mostly lead/metal, oaky bitterness and generic barrel char. A little bit of sweetness in there. Vanilla and overripe bananas.

MANHATTAN
Light and inoffensive. The bourbon adds nothing to it,

WORDS WORDS WORDS
This reads as bottom shelf stuff when it first hits the glass, but give it some time and it's better than terrible. Almost satisfactory. Sorry, I'm running out of positive things to say about it, other than I'm glad I paid all of $5.99 for the 200mL bottle. While it'll do in case of an emergency or to apply to a quick cocktail, I have little doubt that earlier iterations were better than this bottling of the old 8yo.

Availability - Can still be found here and there
Pricing - I paid $5.99 for my 200mL
Rating - 73 (but it needs air; scores ten points lower before aired out)

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Caperdonich 12 year old 1998 Heavily Peated, Single Malts of Scotland

On Monday I reviewed an ethyly (not a thing), bland Caperdonich. I tried that Cap right before today's Cap. The decision was made to forgo a side-by-side Taste Off after taking a whiff of this indeed heavily peated Caperdonich.

There was a fun discussion over at My Annoying Opinions about whether Caperdonich utilized peat to dry their malted barley. (I'm shocked to discover that conversation happened only 3.5 years ago. Feels more like 35 years.) Charlie MacLean's Whiskypedia book mentions that the distillery "once made" a peaty variety.

This Caperdonich is not an instance of an unpeated whisky maturing in a former Islay cask. Its big-assed peating is right in the spirit. Did they do some experimental batches that day in 1998? Or were they producing some peated malt for blenders? Those questions are half rhetorical and half not.


Distillery: Caperdonich
Bottler: Specialty Drinks Ltd
Series: Single Malts of Scotland
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Age: 12 years (May 4, 1998 to May 27, 2010)
Maturation: bourbon barrel
Cask: 8712
Bottles: 242
Alcohol by Volume: 57%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(Sample obtained via sample swap with MAO. Thanks, MAO!)

NEAT
It's another amber colored Caperdonich. Wooo, lots of horse stall on the nose, as in horses and hay. There's also plenty of seaweed and dried apricots. Vanilla cookies and rock candy. The peppery sweet palate is more straightforward with some fruity cinnamon, soil, peat and weed. A good bitterness rumbles up in the finish. Heath bar, jalape├▒o oil and farmy peat.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
A graceful note of snuffed candles leads the nose. Then anise, molasses chews, rotting fruit, charred bee and an herbal and seaweed Islay-like peat. Earthy grungy peat dominates the palate. Some anise and tart citrus. Maybe a hint of sulphur. The finish is bitter, earthy and herbal, with a hint of lime.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
The peat on this thing is massive and filthy. ¡Me gusta! I hope there are more casks of this experimental(?) Caperdonich out there somewhere.  If it were still available, I'd recommend this whisky far ahead of Monday's Cap. Though this is younger than the 20yo and has a higher ABV, it's less hot, more drinkable and a little more complex. It will definitely appeal to fans of Islay's three Kildalton distilleries. But if you don't like peat, stay far away.

To conclude, I still don't know where I stand on Caperdonich. In my experience, its success rate remains 50%.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 87

Monday, June 5, 2017

Caperdonich 20 year old 1992 First Editions

Don't base your entire opinion of a distillery from a single whisky. A person has to try a number of single malts from a distillery before declaring privately or publicly his or her opinion about that distillery. One shitty malt or a single dynamite whisky tells no broader story than that of the one whisky itself. I'm telling you this, because I made this mistake.

Four years ago, I bought my first Caperdonich and it was awesome. So I decided that Caperdonich was awesome. Then I heard tales from more experienced drinkers that 1970s Caperdonich was even dreamier. So I started window shopping every Caperdonich on the planet. Since then I've tried five more Caperdonichs, bringing my grand total to six. 3 were good or better, 3 were either bland or so-so. That's not a terrible ratio, but I'm much less motivated to buy a Caperdonich blindly.

It's time to try my seventh (today) and eighth (on Wednesday) from the distillery once known as Glen Grant 2. And we'll see what happens to that ratio.

Today's pour was from an 2015 OC Scotch Club event I'd led. It's a single cask by First Editions, a Scottish indie bottler who entered the US market a couple years ago.


Distillery: Caperdonich
Bottler: Edition Spirits
Series: First Editions
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Age: 20 years (1992-2013)
Maturation: bourbon cask
Alcohol by Volume: 55.8%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

NEAT
Its amber color is nice and light considering the age. The nose begins with salty beach and overripe or bruised stone fruits. It's quite hot, though. I'm getting a little bit of barley and red Pixy Stix note. With time it develops a bit note of blooming roses. The palate is very very hot, feeling more like 65.8%abv (or 75.8%abv) than 55.8%abv. There's acidic citrus and plenty of malt. Strawberry bubblegum, cinnamon sticks and a moderate earthy note. That's it. It finishes tangy and hot, with a mild strawberry bubblegum note.

Maybe some dilution will help?

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose is still beachy and has picked up the bubblegum thing. And there's an odd combination of gummi bears and fennel seed. The palate still has a sizable alcohol burn. There's a little bit of peach, malt and black peppercorns. Nothing else. The finish is hot, bitter and rooty.

Maybe some more dilution will help?

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose has gotten more candied. Orange Pixy Stix and salted caramels. There's a little more character to the palate. More peach, maybe some lemons, a little bit of malt. But it also gets very mouth-drying. Its finish is malty and bitter. Again, very drying, like some sort of weird tannins have slipped in.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
In theory, some of this whisky's characteristics should have appealed to me. It has an earthy rooty side. It's low on oak, when neat. A little bit of fruit shows up here and there. Yet, I never once enjoyed the palate or finish. The violence of the heat is strange, as is the tannic crash when the whisky is diluted. Underneath that aggression, there's nearly nothing to speak of. The nose isn't bad, but its satisfactory qualities draw attention to the vacant palate. I'm glad I didn't commit to a whole bottle for myself.

Availability - USA only, but might be sold out
Pricing - $130?
Rating - 76

Friday, June 2, 2017

Killing Whisky History: Ep. 1 - White Horse (bottled 1963-1970)


Welcome to the very first episode of Killing Whisky History!

It's divided into three parts: 1. History of the brand; 2. Explanation of bottle date; 3. Drink (with brief notes tasting)!

I look forward to releasing a new episode on the first Friday of every month...

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Speyside 13 year old 2001 Blended Malt, Archives

Aiming for my week with the few pageviews as I report on another blended malt. This time, this one has been sold out for two years! On Monday I reviewed a Islay-only vatting, today I'm reviewing a Speyside-only vatting.

According to Whiskybase Shop's description, this whisky was blended, or left to marry, in a sherry butt in 2001. From what I gather from the description, two of the single malts were distilled well before 2001, while the third malt had been distilled in 2001. Thus the 2001 vintage. That makes sense so far. What's curious is the butt's final bottle outturn (of 180) is about 1/3rd of what one would expect after 13 years. And the abv is all of 44.7%. One answer to the second quandary is that the older malts, or rather "leftovers", were sub-40%abv malt spirit at the time of the marriage, and the new make lifted the % up into the legal category. As for the outturn, I dunno, unless it's a shared cask. If you have any ideas, please share in the comment section below.

We selected this whisky for an OCSC event once upon a time. This sample was pulled from this bottle.


Company: Whiskybase
Brand: Archives
Type: Blended (or Vatted) Malt
Distilleries: Three Speyside-only distilleries (perhaps Glenfarclas, Glenrothes and Tamdhu?)
Age: at least 13 years old (October 2001 - March 2015)
Maturation: sherry butt
Cask: 117
Bottles: 180
Alcohol by Volume: 44.7%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No

NEAT
Its color is copper. The nose starts with a simple nutty oloroso, then apples and pears. Hints of leather and plastic toys. Buttery. Watermelon rind. The palate has some broad American oak-style vanilla and more heat than I'd expected. Walnuts, tart berries and a hint of funky old cask. Slightly grassy. Slightly flat. It does have a curious finish though. It's slightly meaty, perfumy, inky and tannic.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Heavier sherry in the nose, with dried plums and figs. Walnuts, polyester and a hint of eucalyptus. The palate is perfectly fine to consume and ignore. Lightly bitter, lightly creamy. Some tannins, some florals. A wee bit of sherry. The mild finish finishes quickly, tannic and briefly stone fruity.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
I'm a little puzzled by Archives' choice here. Those fellows usually pick very good casks. This was their first, and (as of this post) only, blended malt selection. And it's not "very good" nor very good. The nose is decent, quirky, though not entirely of one piece. The neat finish is weird in a good way. The palate underwhelms when neat, then goes sub-Glenfiddich-12yo (and sub-Glenfarclas-12yo) when reduced to 40%abv.

My opinion sits at the low end of the scale for this whisky. Serge liked this better than I, though his notes don't seem to be leading to his score. Whiskynotes liked it a lot—though that doesn't surprise me since our palates are dissimilar—but his tasting notes make it look like he consumed something quite different than Serge and I.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - £70
Rating - 79

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Big Smoke 60 Blended Malt, Duncan Taylor

Duncan Taylor has released a pair of The Big Smoke blended malts, one is bottled at 46%abv, the other is 60%abv. I have been told by a reputable source that the two vattings have different recipes, and the 60%abv one has a lot of Ardbeg in it. But both are made up of nothing but Islay malts.

I eyed the 60 many times in the past, especially when it was priced at $50. Couldn't think of too many super high strength peated whiskies at that price range. Alas, I never bought it. BUT, I was gifted a sample of the 60 by Brett of Riverside last year. Let's see how it do.


Company: Duncan Taylor
Brand: The Big Smoke
Type: Blended (or Vatted) Malt
Distilleries: Islay-only
Age: NAS
Maturation: probably American oak
Alcohol by Volume: 60%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? Probably not

NEAT
The nose actually isn't that smoky. It's definitely peaty though. A stacking of seaweedy, salty, ocean smells. Butter and boat fumes. With time it picks up hints of vanilla, ginger powder and pears. The simple palate is hot, but young-60%abv hot. Peat, salt, barley, and ground pepper. Hints of fresh mint and dried oregano. A little bit of brown sugar. The finish has heat, peat and sweet(ness). Vanilla and peppercorns.

Gonna douse this one.

WITH WATER (~43%abv)
What an improvement! The nose is boldly fruity with more pungent peat. Also molasses, cocoa and figs. The palate has a silkier texture. Tart lemons and limes. Gritty peat and a horseradish bitterness. Some maltiness too. The finish holds tart candy, smokey reside and an effervescent bitterness.

How about a touch more dihydrogen monoxide?

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose gets a little more candied and minty. Still plenty peaty. And the palate stays vibrant. Seaweed, salt, peat and a good herbal bitterness. The finish is leaner, with less sweetness. More focus on the peat and bitter.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
I've experienced very few whiskies that improved with dilution to the extent The Big Smoke 60 did. It becomes an entirely different whisky at 43%, and it still feels richer at 40% than it did at 60%. In fact, if I bought a bottle I'd dilute the whole damn thing to 43%abv, thus getting 1050mL of Big Smoke in the process!

So if you have a bottle of this open and you've grown bored of it, add water to see what it does. Gonna guess there's young Caol Ila, Bowmore and Ardbeg in the blend. I read somewhere that there's Bruichladdich in it; maybe baby PC then? I don't exactly know why the average US price has gone up 60% (Big 60!) in the past three years. But at $65, it's probably not the worst deal in the current market.

Availability - A few dozen specialty retailers around the world
Pricing - $65-$90 in the US, cheaper in Europe
Rating - 87 (with water only!)

Friday, May 26, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year old (2016)

Baller. That's right. That's me. I'm here to strengthen my reputation for reviewing whiskies that neither you or I can find or afford. This time I'm reviewing Old Rip Van Winkle ("Don't Call Me Pappy 10") 10 year old.

So about that "afford" issue. There's no actual defunct-distillery Stitzel-Weller juice berben in ORVW anymore. It's just wheated stuff from Buffalo Trace. And it's released every year. And Buffalo Trace never announces the actual bottle count. Thus the secondary market's price is based almost solely on demand.

But why is it in demand? There are other wheated bourbons, other 10 year old bourbons, other 107 proof bourbons, some of which are made very similarly to ORVW. But ORVW is part of the annual Pappiez release. In fact, it's sorta like cheap Pappy. One can proudly add the bottle to the Conspicuous Consumption Display dick pics one airs out on social media, I suppose.

There are still some people who actually open the bottle and drink Ol' Rip, good people like Ryan from New Jersey, from whom I recently received this sample in a swap. Thank you, Ryan.


Owner: Buffalo Trace (via Sazerac)
Brand: Old Rip Van Winkle
Distillery: Buffalo Trance Distillery
Location: Franklin, Kentucky
Mash Bill: BT's mystery wheated mash bill
Age: at least 10 years
Release year: 2016
ABV: 53.5% ABV

NEAT
The nose begins with a rich round mature corn whisky note. Aromatic oak (as opposed to generic char), marshmallows and toffee pudding. Hints of cherry candy, pine sap, salty meat and Old Spice. The palate has caramel sauce, dark cherries and black cherry soda. Very minerally. Jalape├▒o oil and a whisper of ginger beer. The finish has the essence of candy without too much of the sweetness. Fresh cherries and cherry popsicles. Mineral. Lots of heat.

Dare I add water to Van Winkle? Sure. I'll drop it to Buffalo Trace levels.

WITH WATER (~45%abv)
The nose shows cloves, caramel, cherry candy and almond extract. The palate is mintier, sweeter. Similar cherries, less caramel. The finish is shorter, simpler. Cherries and candy.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Without fail, the Van Winkle bourbons smell fabulous. Also without fail, the palates never reach the noses' heights. This edition of ORVW has an excellent nose. While I appreciate the palate's reserved nature, it's missing the sort of depth that rye may bring. Yes, I'm a rye and high-rye bourbon fan, so I'm partial. Whatever the culprit may be, the palate hits a wall it cannot ascend. Thankfully though, it's not an oakfest. And I liked it a little better than Weller 12. Old Rip Van Winkle's suggested retail price is probably representative of its quality. The secondary market prices are not.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - $60 suggested retail price, $350-$375 actual price
Rating - 84

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Bruichladdich The Laddie Eight

After going 2-3 years without an official age-stated whisky, Bruichladdich released this 8 year old single malt to the Travel Retail market in early 2016. Less than six months later they dropped a 10 year old into the world market at about the same price as the 8. That should give you a hint as to how the whisky industry feels about Travel Retail customers.

Both the eight and the new ten are made up of similar casks and are bottled at the same ABV, and have similar packaging. And now they can be found on the same shelves at dozens of European retailers.

After the new 10yo was announced, I bought a 60mL sample of the 8, partly for gits and shiggles, partly because I was hoping to find a successful single-digit age-stated whisky.


Distillery: Bruichladdich
Ownership: Remy Cointreau
Region: Western Islay
Age: minimum of 8 years
Bottling year: 2016
First Maturation: American and European oak casks
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

NEAT
Its color is of yellowed straw. The nose starts off farmy and slightly pukey. Lots of grains: cream of wheat, oatmeal and new carpet (not a grain product, yet). Burnt leaves. Cereal milk and mild cheddar. The palate is similar to the nose, grainy and milky. Necco wafers, Ceylon cinnamon and pencil lead. Moderate sweetness and something kinda peaty. With time in the glass, it gets hotter. It finishes tangy, milky, pukey. Burnt grains, lead and soil.

Maybe some water?

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Hints of apples, pears and cinnamon in the nose. Less barf, same cheese and grains. A whiff of wood pulp. Apple juice shows up in the palate. Sweet-ish and lightly bitter. Milky and malty. Very very acidic. The sweet and tangy finish still has the milk and lead notes, as well as a hint of buttery pound cake.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
I've picked up on modern Bruichladdich's milky note before, but never like this. That note doesn't usually bother me much, but while that character sets this whisky apart as eccentric, it also verges on foul. Things get slightly better when the whisky is diluted, but then the violent acidity crashes in.

I like when the fruit shows up, and the forwardness of the grains is refreshing. But with or without water, Laddie Eight feels American Craft Whiskey-esque. And that's not a compliment. In fact, now I'm going to avoid the new 10yo. Perhaps if they let the spirit go 12-15 years in oak, then I'll give it another try.

Availability - Travel retail and many European specialist retailers
Pricing - $50-$70 (w/o shipping)
Rating - 71 (with water only, at least 5 points lower when neat)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Laphroaig 10 year old, bottled late 1980s

Long time friend and whiskyman, Bernardo, came into possession of this Duty Free Liter of Laphroaig 10yo:
Turns out, it was bottled at the end of the '80s. The top thin label appears to have fallen off due to old dried glue. We opened it up not too long ago—crumbly cork, of course—and gave it a substantial drink or two. When I visited Bernardo two weeks ago, he allowed me another substantial pour for review. Thank you, sir.
Distillery: Laphroaig
Owner at the time: Whitbread & Co.
Region: Islay
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrels
Age: minimum 10 years
Bottled: late 1980s
Chill-filtration? ???
Caramel colored? Maybe
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

Its color is a brassy gold. The nose begins with chocolate and malty drinks like Ovaltine and Yoo-hoo. There's vegetal peat (not smoky) and a gentle salty seaweed note. Apricots and limes show up early. With some air there's an acidic stone fruit note, like yellow plums. And a hint of fig too. Smoky, salty, savo(u)ry peat in the palate. A little bit of fudge and a nice leafy (young Kilkerran) note. There's a fat, almost rich, bitterness to it. Very little sweetness. A gentle tingly heat. It has a long warm finish of mild cigars, leaves, sea salt and toasted barley.

What a gorgeous nuanced thing Laphroaig once was. (See Serge waxing poetic about the 10s from that era.) It's rich without being oaky (attention: Beam Suntory), and challenging without being brutal. Though it's so very different than the Laphroaigs from this decade, and the previous, there are still matching DNA markers between those and this. Apologies for the ExhaustedWriterMetaphor™.

Perhaps there's older malt in the mix since the scotch market was still limping about at that time. Or maybe the folks at the distillery knew how to produce a stunning whisky at 10 years of age back then. I can only dream that someone—likely not under corporate ownership—cracks that code at a distillery somewhere in the world in my lifetime.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 91

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Japanese Reboot


To my great readers in Tokyo and the Kansai region who are available to waste some good hours with this crazy person in the near future, please email me at divingforpearlsblog at gmail.com. Or if you have some suggestions for off-the-path ramen spots or awamori (and, er, whisky) bars, my furry ears are open. Thank you for your time and help!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Four Roses Single Barrel bourbon, HW-15-5U

If you've been following my B.A.R.D.F. series this year, you may have noticed that I haven't been particularly impressed by the bourbons and ryes I've tried. The three I've recommended—Heaven Hill 6yo BIB, Lot No. 40 and Bulleit Bourbon—are (or were) pretty easy to come by in many states, and many of you are already familiar with at least two of them. Though I have some American oddities, dusties and crafties awaiting review, I'm going to try to make sure there's a few regular comfies in the mix.

With that in mind, I've decided to review old reliable Four Roses Single Barrel for Mathilda Rose's birthday week. It's one of the few whiskies (of any sort) to be priced lower in this part of the country than in California. It's below $40 in Ohio and I saw it at $32(!) in Kentucky last weekend. I know it's hipper to talk up the cask strength private barrels, but I'm comfortably cool with the 50%abv version that can still be found without much struggle.

Am I ashamed to not have had a classier photo?
Actually, yeah, a little.
But it's late here.

Distillery
: Four Roses
Ownership: Kirin
Type: Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Region: Lawrenceberg, Kentucky
Age: ???
Recipe: OBSV (high rye, fruity yeast)
Maturation: charred white oak barrels
Warehouse: HW
Barrel #: 15-5U
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
(review sample taken from midpoint of the bottle)

NEAT
Its color is rosy brown. The nose has a mix of fresh apples and cherries with brown sugar and cinnamon. And some cantaloupe. Some earthy molasses and brine to give it a slight edge. The vanilla stays subtle throughout. The palate has a comforting warm. A spicy rye rumble balances with the moderate sweetness. Cherry Squishees. Salt and unsweetened cocoa. Some orange roll up late. The sweetness grows with time, though so does the spice. It finishes with cherries and rye. Toasted grains and brief citrus. The spice picks up in later sips.

MANHATTAN
The nose is very fruity. Cherries and oranges. Still some peppery spice in the palate, with raspberries and caramel. The finish is full of pepper and berries.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Man, this is just right. The nose has great balance, while the palate never gets too oaky, and the finish lingers well. It won't knock you out of your chair—unless you have five pours—but it works like I wish more bourbons worked, neat and in cocktails.

I enjoyed it more than I'd expected, but then again, this release is a bunch of single barrels. Still there's a decent consistency between each batch/barrel. I think this particular one was in East Coast shops last year. If you find it, I doubt you'll be disappointed. If you find a different barrel, odds are it ain't bad either.

Availability - East Coast USA, I think, way back in 2016
Pricing - This series: $35-$50
Rating - 86

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Mathilda Malt Report: Littlemill 22 year old 1990 Berry Brothers & Rudd

After Mathilda's birth, 3 years ago, I celebrated on this blog by reviewing three Littlemills. A few months later, I hurried out to a Total Wine & More to buy a bottle of what may be the final sub-$200 full strength single cask Littlemill. It's the only Littlemill in my collection.

Since we all survived these three years, I have chosen to open the bottle now. Chances are, I may only open the bottle when her birthday rolls around each year, thus giving me an opportunity to track how it develops/oxidizes over time, much like I did with my Balblair '78.


Distillery: Littlemill
Former Owner: Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouse Ltd (proto-Loch Lomond Distillery Co.)
Independent Bottler: Berry Bros. & Rudd
Region: Lowlands (close to the Highlands border)
Age: 22 years (1990-2013)
Maturation: American oak of some sort
Cask number17
Alcohol by Volume: 54.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

NEAT
Its color is a brassy gold. The nose starts off with bundles of fruit, think melons and lemons. Hints of bourbon up top and a malty undertow. Butterscotch, vanilla and a little bit of wood pulp. The palate is hot, tight and sharp. But it's also creamy, full of butterscotch and apples. It's also grassy and green (specifically, leaves). A little bit bitterness. Feels much younger than its age. Apples, grass and leaves in the finish. Some bitterness and heat. Vanilla. A good length to it, though.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose is mostly unchanged. Less bourbon, more grassiness. Cucumber, melons and cream soda. The palate has lemons, grass, tart apples and a hint of vanilla. More bitterness. Still some heat to it. It finishes lightly sweet with a bitter bite. Ashy oak, vanilla and grass.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose gets slightly maltier. Almond extract, caramel and vanilla. Lemons and brown rice. The palate is sweet, creamy and grassy. Heavy on the caramel. Limes and bitter lemon soda. Vanilla and grass in the finish. A little bitter, a little sweet. Not much change, I guess.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
This one has me stumped. When I first opened the bottle on Monday night, I was struck by the difference between the nose and palate. It smelled pleasant and fruity, but was very sharp and austere (there it is!) on the tongue. I usually find that a bottle's initial pour can be too tight. So I made sure my review pour on Wednesday had plenty of air. That resulted in the notes listed above.

There were substantial youthful notes throughout, yet there was also some heavy oak. And they didn't (or haven't yet) come together. I wonder if this whisky spent most of its life in a third- or fourth-fill cask before being re-racked into a hyperactive first-fill or new oak barrel. There are a number of official bottlers of whom I'd expect that, but not a steadfast indie like BB&R. They don't help matters by listing only that their whiskies have been matured "in oak".

I like the youth, the leafy grassiness, the bite, the fight in this Littlemill. And for that it gets extra points. But the naked unintegrated (segregated?) oak stuff holds it back. I will indeed let this sit in the bottle for a year before I open it again, then I'll review it again to report on what's happened.

Availability - Total Wine & More, though now sold out
Pricing - I think it was $140 back in January 2015
Rating - 83 (probably being generous)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Mathilda Malt Report: Caol Ila 27 year old 1979 Whisky Tales

For the next Mathilda malt, I'll scooch from Hokkaido to Port Askaig for a 1979 Caol Ila single cask. It was released by the German independent bottler, Whisky Tales, in days of yore (2006).

I miss two things about California, the year-round local produce and my whisky friends. One of these friends, whom I didn't meet until only a year before I left, is Mr. Zaro. Mr. Zaro, an always generous soul, celebrated his birthday yesterday, so I decided to go with this rare whisky he shared with me. I count myself spoiled. Thank you, Mr. Zaro!

Distillery: Caol Ila
Ownership: The Big D
Region: Port Askaig, Islay
Independent Bottler: Whisky Tales
'Quirky' name: The Unicorn
Age: 27 years (1979-2006)
Maturation: fresh bourbon cask
Bottles: 215
Alcohol by Volume: 57.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

NEAT
Despite spending twenty-six years in what was likely a first-fill American oak barrel, the whisky has a nice light gold color, which gives me hope that it's not over-oaked. Indeed, the nose leads with anise, basil and mint leaves. Apple skins and ash. A medicinal moment here and there. Vanilla pudding. Smoky toffee (if there was ever such a thing, bring it on). With a long time in the glass, the whisky starts to pick up a fresh peach note. The palate is intensely herbal. Big on oregano, and a certain still-illicit-in-many-states herb. It's lightly sweet and not too hot. Lots of apples and a couple of limes. Hints of strawberries, marshmallows and salt. More pepper than peat. It finishes with limes and dried herbs. Salt and pepper. Lightly sweet and lightly tannic. Good length.

WITH WATER (<46%abv)
The nose is still minty, but now it's also malty. Limes and a hint of forest-y peat. A quiet pretty note of nectarine skin. The palate is still herbal and leafy. Sweeter, though with a hint of good bitterness. Like the nose, it's maltier. A few tannins. The peat seems to have dissolved. It finishes very sweetly. Again, no peat. Black peppercorns and a hint of bitterness.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Yes! The oak stayed in the background throughout, though water did bring it forward a little. Like the stunning 31 year old Special Edition Caol Ila that Cadenhead released two years ago (also a first-fill ex-bourbon cask), this whisky is very light on peat. Both read more Highland than Islay. While the Cadenhead was fruit forward, this one dishes out pepper and dried herbs. This Caol Ila is a little louder, I think. If you've opened your bottle and find it to be a bit too edgy, plop a teaspoon of water into your glass and you should find the whisky getting sweeter.

Availability - I dunno, it's a unicorn
Pricing - Rainbows?
Rating - 89 (though might be 90+ on another day)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Mathilda Malt Report: Yoichi 26 year old 1987 SMWS 116.20

In honor of my daughter's third birthday, I'm hauling out a bunch of fun oldies this week. Leading off, is the sort of whisky I will likely never try again. And frankly we may never see something of its sort during our lifetimes. A 26 year old Yoichi.

Yoichi is my favorite Japanese distillery (though Yamazaki is welcome to fight for the number 1 spot once they start releasing properly aged single malts again). Less than four years ago, finding a 15 or 20 year old officially bottled Yoichi wasn't that difficult nor horribly expensive. Though, at the time I thought $120 for the 15yo was a bit too steep. Now it's $400+. Today's whisky is not bottled by the distillery's owners, Nikka, rather it was bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. According to whiskybase, SMWS is the only independent bottle to have released any Yoichis. This was their 20th, and possibly last, bottling of the Hokkaid┼Ź malt.

I received this sample from the very generous Teemu of Whisky Science during a sample swap. More on his take below.


Distillery: Yoichi (SMWS 116)
Ownership: Nikka
Region: Hokkaid┼Ź, Japan
Independent Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
'Quirky' name: Fascinating complexity and finesse
Age: 26 years (November 7, 1987 - 2014)
Maturation: virgin oak puncheon
Cask#: 116.20
Bottles: 452
Alcohol by Volume: 61.6%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

NEAT
Its color is maple syrup with maroon highlights. Longest legs I've ever seen on a whisky. It adheres to the glass. The nose is oh, oh dear. Fresh tobacco, dark chocolate and elegant Yoichi peat. Some spicy oak notes that sniff a little like mizunara rather than American oak. With time it develops vanilla bean, fresh peaches and National Distillers-style butterscotch. The palate makes the nose's elegance seem like pretense. Intense sooty peat meets barbecue ribs. Apricots and plums. Ginger, cinnamon, green grapes and a hint of cream soda. It starts to get a little old-bourbony after 30+ minutes. It's pretty hot throughout. More of the gigantic peating in the finish. Then chili peppers, citrus and a little bit of chocolate malt.

Going a little easy on the water here due to the whisky's age.

WITH WATER (~50%abv)
Somehow the nose gets malty. It becomes sootier too. Then smoked tea, cocoa powder, honey and caramel sauce. Less peat, more hot peppers in the palate. Less alcohol heat. Lots of aromatic baking spice. Fresh ginger and a pinch of Laphroaigy iodine. It finishes with smoked tea, butterscotch and more of that pepper.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
This whisky was a fascinating experiment by Nikka and a bold choice by SMWS. Twenty-six years in new oak could have resulted in something foul. But it didn't. The nose is fantastic, probably a top ten favorite for me, detailed and graceful. Meanwhile the palate flexes that big ABV, unloaded baskets of character. I wondered about that virgin oak cask while nosing the whisky. There were notes to it that are familiar from European, American and Japanese oak. Turns out, Teemu had a similar question:


The American oak possibility seems more likely the longer one lets the whisky air out. More vanilla, caramel and butterscotch eases out. I'm guessing many of those other mystery notes come from a well-matured complex spirit.

Overall, the nose wins the day. The palate may improve a bit with water, but then the nose starts to lose its charm. But it's a hell of a whisky. It'll also set you back $2000-$2500 if you can find it. If you think that price is egregious, just consider that most versions of Pappy Van Winkle 23 sell for more than that in the secondary market. A bargain!

Availability - Happy Hunting!?
Pricing - $2000-$2500
Rating - 91

Monday, May 15, 2017

Happy Birthday, Mathilda Rose!


The Earth has completed three full revolutions around the sun since her birth. They've been three years unlike any other three years. It's fair to say we've all earned tonight's pizza and cupcakes. Her gender-flexible bear has earned it the most.

I am humbled every day by the expanse of Mathilda's imagination and emotions. The world can be overwhelming for someone who loves and cries as deeply as she does, but I know that our fiery and glorious mighty battle maiden will be just fine.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon

For good number of years, brewers have been aging their beers in ex-whiskey casks to often very good results. Recently, whiskey producers have flipped that around by maturing (or finishing) their whiskies in barrels that formerly held beer. Of course, those barrels usually held whiskey before the beer, so there's a whiskey-beer-whisky seasoning sandwich going on.

I've only tried one beer barrel finished whiskey so far, Jameson Caskmates, the classic Irish blend with a stout finish. It's regular Jameson with a little extra creaminess to it and a couple seconds of roasted notes. It didn't seem different enough from the regular release to be worthy of its own expression, nor deserving of a $10 premium.

New Holland Brewing is a Michigan brewer/distiller. According to their site and the bourbon's label, they distill their own bourbon. They also make the Dragon's Milk beer whose barrels (which were utilized for bourbon before the beer) are used for today's whiskey's three-month finish. Though New Holland's straight malts are bottled at 45%abv and their Dragon's Milk stout has a high alcohol content (for beer), they choose dilute the bourbon down to the 40%abv minimum.

All that being said, I don't know what to expect here.



Company: New Holland Brewing
Region: Michigan
Type: bourbon whiskey
Age: ???
Maturation: new American white oak, then a 3-month finish in former Dragon's Milk beer barrels
Mashbill: 70/5/25 corn/rye/barley
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
(Thank you to Vik for the sample!)

The nose has some coffee character from a smoky but flat stout. Lots of malt and marzipan. Honey and cherry candy. It also has an unmistakable grainy small-barrel craft whiskey note. The palate leads with cinnamony white dog. Black pepper and vanilla. More malt than corn. Burnt toast and a sharp bitterness. A surprising lack of sweetness, too. There's more of a beer note in the finish, sort of fizzy too. Banana bubblegum, and that strange bitterness.

I'll start with the positives. The nose has unique layers to it. I've certainly never smelled another bourbon like it. I appreciate the big malt note and lack of sweets in the mouth. It does provide an original experience.

But, I find it difficult to believe this whiskey spent "several years" in oak. The strong pepper, cinnamon and bitter notes—along with an odd quantity of heat—in the mouth, make it feel very young. As in, months-young. I don't mind the fizziness of the finish but the banana bubblegum bitterness thing is unpleasant and I'm having a hard time getting the sensation out of my mouth.

I couldn't finish the sample and I'm perfectly okay with never drinking this whisky again, but, curiously, it did make me want to try the stout.

Availability - A number of Midwest and East Coast states
Pricing - $30-$40
Rating - 69

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Ballechin 13 year old 2003, cask 221, distillery-only

Edradour was my first distillery stop during our Scotland trip last July. When you're at Edradour, I highly recommend the Signatory Tasting Bar. It was at that wee drinking room I had a chance to try a 13-year-old distillery-only single cask of their heavily-peated brand, Ballechin. It won me over. It also was my sixth drink in two hours. I bought a bottle of the whisky, which is still one of the oldest Ballechins they've yet released.


By (my) definition the perfect winter whisky, it was opened as soon as late November rolled around. Five months later, the bottle was still more than 1/3 full. That's even after I'd shared it with a half dozen people. So I had maybe eight pours in twenty-two weeks. It's not that the whisky was bad. It's just that Ballechin can be enormous, even when diluted to 46%abv. This whisky is a lumbering beast, full strength, dense peat and oceans of cask influence. It's not a casual sipper.

Distillery: Edradour
Malt: Ballechin
Ownership: Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Co., Ltd.
Region: Highlands (Central)
Age: 13 years (May 16, 2003 - May 18, 2016)
Maturation: port cask (hogshead?)
Peat level at time of malting: ~50ppm
Cask #: 221
Bottles: 259
Alcohol by Volume: 58.6%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(bottom third of bottle)

NEAT
Its color is a dark dark gold. Its nose starts off with new sneakers and new tennis balls. Dense dirty peat and brown sugar-crusted bacon. Raspberry jam. The palate has dark sooty Ardbeg-like peat, then, beneath that, is a layer of mossy peat. Then bitter baking chocolate. It's plenty sweet and winey but the peat is so massive that it usually holds the grapes in check. It's intense, overwhelming. It finishes sweet, salty and hot. Lots of port. Lots of peat.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose still has a sneaker rubber note, but the bacon, and now charred beef, are louder. There are also notes of roasted nuts, grape jam, salty air and orange peel. The palate feels more focused, simpler. The sooty peat and sweet are closer to merging now. The bitterness recedes. The only new note is that of toasted almonds. The finish is earthy, nutty and jammy sweet.

More water...

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose has a salty beachy note; I'll go with seaweed on this one. It's still mossy, though there's a new note of fresh plums. The palate continues to get simpler. Peat, orange peel, raspberry jam and a subtle nutty note. The finish stays sweet, and keeps notes of walnuts and almonds. The peat has lightened significantly.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Five years ago (or five drinks in) I would have sung this whisky's praises for thirteen paragraphs and given it a 92+ point score. Because bigness.

This whisky is undoubtably big in character, but is its quality as great? No. Its depth, intricacies and balance were shamed by BenRiach Solstice 17yo when I tried them side by side. What salvages this Ballechin is its ability to take water well, which sorta pulls its shit together.

I don't know if I'm going to drink another drop of this stuff neat going forward, because I'm not as masochistic as I used to be about my whiskies. And if you're looking for a porty Ballechin, I recommend Discovery Series batch 3 for both bigness and greatness.

Availability - Edradour Distillery only (if it hasn't sold out)
Pricing - £90-something
Rating - 83 (with water!)