...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

"Probably Speyside's Finest Distillery" (Glenfarclas) 22 year old 1991 Old Malt Cask for Binny's

Somehow I've reviewed only one "Glenfarclas" that was not allowed to be called "Glenfarclas". As is usually the case, independent bottlers aren't given permission to use the Glenfarclas name on their Glenfarclas single casks, especially when they're ex-bourbon casks as that is not part of the Glenfarclas house style. But we can call it Glenfarclas, and I've called it Glenfarclas, so that's seven counts of the Glenfarclas (eight!) name in this paragraph. So there, Glenfarclas.

This Glenfarclas is a Hunter Laing's single cask released under their popular Old Malt Cask brand. The statement in its name, "Probably Speyside's Finest Distillery", is highly debatable, and I'm not sure why Laing felt the need to kiss their arse, unless it wins them more casks.

Distillery: Glenfarclas
Region: Speyside (Central)
Independent Bottler: Hunter Laing
Series: Old Malt Cask
Age: 22 years old (June 1991 - November 2013)
Maturation: refill hogshead
Cask #: 10008
Limited bottling: 258
Alcohol by Volume: 52.4%
Exclusively sold by: Binny's
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
(Sample saved from an OC Scotch Club event)

Its light gold color perhaps bespeaks of minimal oak, perhaps? The nose is big on barley, apples and honey, at first. Whipped cream and vanilla in the background. Later it's all apple cider, nutmeg and orange peel. The palate is quite malty at first, and a little phenolic and funky. Lemons and a hint of vanilla. Slight sweet. A bit prickly from ethyl heat. Gets a little drying after a while. The finish is sweeter and oakier. Salt and pepper. Some funky barrel notes in there.

Nothing changed when I dropped it to ~46%abv. But at ~40%abv, it went awry. Though the nose still had the apple cider and barley, more barrel action crept in. The palate went tart and tannic, with a hint of earth. The palate was tart and bitter and soapy. So DON'T add water.

When I tried this at the event two years ago, I was underwhelmed by this Glenfarclas. Yet my first 15 minutes with it here were very pleasant. I was ready to heap some serious praise on this thing. Then the finish couldn't match the rest. Next, the oak started showing in the palate. And adding water destroyed it. The nose is the best part throughout, by far.

I haven't seen any reviews of this Glenfarclas online, nor is it in Whiskybase. Binny's might still have it in stock, which means it's been on the shelf for three years. Definitely some popular stuff right here.

Availability - Binny's
Pricing - $119.99
Rating - 84 (neat only)


Monday, August 14, 2017

Assessing 5 Current Whiskies from Nikka and Suntory

Aside from some of the work done at Shinshu Mars and Chichibu (and Nikka from the Barrel!) the Japanese whisky industry remains the politest shitshow in the whisky world.

No, I'm not going to back up Serge's recent complaints about the mixing of Scotch and Japanese whiskies. I have no problem with this practice—unless the products are labelled "Japanese whisky"—though it would be appropriate for the producers to disclose when this was happening. The foulness of this method falls far short of actions regularly practiced by the American and Scotch whisky industries.

Instead, my ire continues to be focused on the two major players in the Japanese whisky industry, Nikka and Suntory, emptying their warehouses when the rush came, not managing the outgoing assets and having no thoughtful plans on what to do next. Their strategy has since been revealed as: release inferior young whisky mishmashes at a higher price point than the beloved age-stated stuff, and market the hell out of it. Just like the scotch industry. But with a 0% success rate and without any age-statements in the portfolio.

In 2013 and 2014, I was happy to call Japanese whisky my favorite whisky in the world. At this point, the whiskies by the two majors don't match up to most of the results by the Scotch, American, Canadian, English, Irish, Indian, Swedish, Dutch, French, Belgian, South African and Taiwanese industries.

Hell, my naïve 2-liter barrel cockups are better. And yours are too.

No, I'm not bitter. You're bitter.

Our Columbus Scotch Night crew did a Japanese whisky tasting this past Monday, and it inspired me to compare and contrast a handful of the majors' current whiskies to see what's worth drinking, and if my above grievance still holds true. Here are the suspects:

Nikka Coffey Grain, 45%abv - This corn-based single grain has been on the market, along with a Coffey Malt, for a few years. I tried it once at a tasting and found it to be a so-so bourbon imitation. For those wondering why I keep misspelling coffee, it's because "Coffey" is the type of continuous still used to distill this whisky's spirit.
Available worldwide, priced $55-$70

The Nikka 12 year old blended whisky (2016), 43% - Released to celebrate Nikka's 80th anniversary in 2014, this blend came on the scene relatively quietly considering it has an age statement. I almost bought a bottle of it blindly when I was in Japan since it was 60% cheaper there than in Europe.
Available in Europe and Japan, priced $45-$55 (Japan), $100-$130 (Europe)

Hibiki Japanese Harmony Master's Select blended whisky, 43% - Please note, this is not the widely available Japanese Harmony. The Master's Select edition hit the Travel Retail shelves in 2015, functioning as a premium version of the Harmony, or at least a more expensive version. According to the Internets, this is a mix of 10 different whiskies from five different kinds of casks. Take that as you'd like.
Available in Europe, Asia and Travel Retail, priced $70-$130.

Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve, 43% - This is the NAS that has replaced the 12yo. I've had it twice before and have nothing nice to say about those experiences. Like the above Hibiki, this is another mashup whisky. It has American oak, Mizunara, sherry casks AND French oak ex-Bourdeaux casks. I've seen a wide range of age claims about the whiskies inside, from three years to 20 years. May we all assume there's a pittance of 20 year old and Mizunara whisky in this? Yes, we may.
Available in Europe and Japan, priced $40-$60 (Japan), $60-$100 (Europe)

Hakushu Distiller's Reserve, 43% - During my visit to Yamazaki distillery in 2015, the tour group received pours of Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve and Hakushu Distiller's Reserve. No one, and I mean no one, finished either pour. I found the Yamazaki to be flat and hot, and the Hakushu was somehow worse. Later in the trip, I tried them side by side at a bar and had the same sensory experience. I have my expectations for this Hakushu set the lowest of these five whiskies.
Available in Europe, priced $60-$100

Whisky Notes
Nikka Coffey GrainStarts off like a floral cheap bourbon. Cardboard, vokda, paint, vanilla and caramel. It picks up a hint of barbecue sauce, then a whole lot of vanilla after some time in the glass.
The Nikka 12 year old blended whiskyFruity! Cantaloupe, honeydew and plums. Some caramel sauce too. It shifts gears with some air, picking up barley and earth notes. Horse stall. Vanilla bean.
Hibiki Japanese Harmony
Master's Select blended whisky
Lots of apples. Then cinnamon and pears. Rice pudding. Hints of smoke and barley. Taffy, pound cake and some raisins.
Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve single maltFlat. Yeast, brown rice and carob. Bubblegum and Elmer's glue (a duo indeed). Picks up more grains, flowers and vanilla with time in the glass.
Hakushu Distiller's Reserve single maltFresh pears, cinnamon and hint of wood smoke. Toasted grains, plums, cherries and ocean air.

Whisky Notes
Nikka Coffey GrainFlat hot bourbon. Vanilla, barrel char, black pepper and paint. Then salty pork. More and more vanilla with time. Almost all cask.
The Nikka 12 year old blended whiskyEarthy and herbal, with no sweetness at first. Then it sweetens slightly. Light bitterness and acidity. Hint of hard toffee. With time, the earthy note gets almost Ledaig-ish. A hint of sherry cask.
Hibiki Japanese Harmony
Master's Select blended whisky
Hotter than expected. Very sweet. Vanilla and caramel. And that's it at first. But it softens up with some air. Tart apples, grains, toasted oak, nutmeg and almonds.
Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve single maltOoh. Better than the nose. Confectioner's sugar and marshmallows. Very malty and toasty. Limes, pecans and toasted coconut.
Hakushu Distiller's Reserve single maltLight smoke. Low on oak aside from a vanilla hint. Ashy in the back. Marshmallows, apricots and ginger. Has a mineral edge to it too.

Whisky Notes
Nikka Coffey GrainSalt, bitter oak, vinegar, vanilla, barrel char and tangy acidic lemon candy.
The Nikka 12 year old blended whiskyLight bitterness, low on sweetness. Some salt, barley, hint of smoke. Vanilla and lemon cake.
Hibiki Japanese Harmony
Master's Select blended whisky
Not much. Grains, vanilla, wood smoke, salt and toasted nuts.
Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve single maltLimes, marshmallows, vanilla and toasted coconut. A little sweet and acidic.
Hakushu Distiller's Reserve single maltSmoke and barley. Tingly but not sweet. Mineral and lean.

Whisky Notes Rating
Nikka Coffey GrainThis is one step away from being a total embarrassment for one of the world's best whisky producers. Or formerly one of the best. I'd bet Evan Williams Green Label would knock this over in a blind test, at 1/6th the price.
The Nikka 12 year old blended whiskyPerhaps Nikka is best at blended whiskies. This beats the new NAS Yoichi, Miyagikyo and Taketsuru. It's complex and spirit forward. Only at the finish does it start to falter. Though it's well ahead of the other four whiskies here, it would be a hell of a thing at 46%abv. Is it worth $100? No. But at $45 in Japan, it's a decent deal.
Hibiki Japanese Harmony
Master's Select blended whisky
The nose is very good and is the only aspect that can compete with the late Hibiki 12yo. The palate starts to fizzle and the finish plotzes. Could have used more whisky and less water. Not bad overall, but it doesn't inspire me to try their regular Harmony.
Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve single maltA rare example of a palate that far surpasses the nose. It smells like immature (redundant?) American craft whiskey. It tastes decent, but falls so very short of the great Yamazaki single malts available only yesterday.
Hakushu Distiller's Reserve single maltMUCH better than the version I'd tasted in Japan two years ago, and could serve as a gentle lightly smoky daily drinker. But while Hakushu 12yo is often available for a lower price, I don't see why anyone should chase this.

This wasn't the disaster I was anticipating. The Nikka 12 is legit. And thank goodness Hakushu wasn't gross. Other than the grain whisky (which I may have graded too highly), I would try any of these again. But, aside from The Nikka 12, these are all just so-so. And that's more than just one step backwards for these companies. We may need to wait another decade to find out if Suntory and Nikka are motivated to get back to the high quality of their premium whiskies, or if they're satisfied with cranking out cheap blends for the masses indefinitely. The people making the whisky take pride in the whisky, but will the ownership ever follow suit?

Friday, August 11, 2017

Tamdhu 10 year old (current bottling), and pausing BARD Friday

I'm taking a few weeks off from Bourbon and Rye Day Friday. American whiskey has been my go-to for casual drinking this summer and, as often happens, I've reached a saturation point after two months. All that oak stuff exhausts my palate after a while. One might say I can't handle my wood. Or perhaps I've handled it too much.

Also my Scottish samples outnumber my American samples by a ratio of 7:1, so I need to make a dent in the scotch. And it wouldn't hurt if I occasionally reviewed a contemporary whisky.

Back when it was in The Edrington Group's portfolio, Tamdhu bottled a very limp 10 year old. I always found this odd because Edrington was simultaneously releasing excellent official versions of their other distilleries, Highland Park and Macallan. My theory had been that the 10yo was just an afterthought, with most of the Tamdhu malt going into Famous Grouse, but then The Group sold Tamdhu to independent bottler Ian Macleod. The new ownership pulled the old version off the market, replacing it with a sexier bottle, with more sherry cask action and a 125% price increase.

The bottle is cute and I do want to support a small-ish scotch company, but damn, $65 for a 43%abv 10 year old?! Luckily this whisky made an appearance at Columbus Scotch Night in July, so I was able to slink away with a review sample.

Distillery: Tamdhu
Ownership: Ian Macleod Distillers
Region: Speyside (Central)
Age: 10 year old
Maturation: ex-sherry casks, a mix of American and European oak
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? Probably
Colored? whiskybase says No

Its dark gold color looks only moderately suspicious. The nose begins with an amusing combo of dark chocolate, toffee, new sneakers and a slightly funky moldy note. There's something phenolic in here, but I'm not sure it's from peat. With time it picks up toasted oak notes, and the dark chocolate turns to milk chocolate. The palate starts with a rich Oloroso note reminiscent of (if not better than) GlenDronach 12. As it opens up, it gets a spicy and effervescent feeling, like good ginger beer. Here comes some PX sweetness to go along with a bitter chocolate note. Both floral and earthy at times. The finish has fresh ginger, milk chocolate, black pepper and soil. A good length to it.

WITH WATER (~35%abv)
The nose is maltier, cleaner. More toffee. Some orange peel and roses. The palate is less earthy, more peppery. The sherry is nuttier and there's just a hint of bitterness. The finish stays long. Similar to the palate, yet it picks up the nose's new orange peel and rose notes.

Much better than I'd expected. There's still some youth and funkiness to it that the big sherry doesn't choke out. Despite the low abv, it swims well, delivering a prettier whisky when diluted. Though I still balk at dishing out ≥$60 for it, Tamdhu 10 is better than most of the sherried stuff at this price, especially Mac 12. If I'm in the mood for its type, and I can find it ≤$50, then I'd buy it.

Availability - Worldwide
Pricing - $55-$70 USA, $35-$50 UK (ex-VAT)
Rating - 85

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Glen Elgin 26 year old 1985 Blackadder, cask 1527

If you studied every frame of the first episode of Killing Whisky History—and I'm sure you have—then you'll know White Horse Distillers obtained Glen Elgin distillery in 1930, utilizing its production for the White Horse blend.

Glen Elgin had foundered almost immediately upon opening in 1900, closing after five months of production. It was mothballed and sold off the following year. A wine company bought it in 1906 restarted production, then sold it to Scottish Malt Distillers (SMD), the owners of White Horse, two decades later. SMD became UD which became POS Diageo.

Glen Elgin provided an official 12 year old to the Flora and Fauna series for a couple of years before becoming part of the "Hidden Malt" series in 2002. There was a Manager's Choice bottling eight years ago, but there were no "Special Releases" of it until this year. (I don't know what's going on with the "quotes" here.)

Today's sample is a single cask from Blackadder, distilled before Glen Elgin had its current set of stills installed. This cask was all of 46.3%abv, so I'm anticipating some quirk.

Distillery: Glen Elgin
Owner: Diageo
Independent Bottler: Blackadder (Raw Cask)
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Age: 26 years (May 1985 to November 2011)
Maturation: "Oak cask" or what was left of one
Cask number: 1527
Limited bottling: 218
Alcohol by Volume: 46.3%

(Sample purchased from LASC for an event I couldn't attend in 2015.)

Its color is very light, with Raw Cask Shmutz®! The nose......yes, some quirk. There are two sides to this creature. It has a pretty side, with stone fruits, chocolate malt, vanilla and a hint of lemon peel. Then there's this other side. Soap and turpentine. Never got The Turps from a 20+ year old scotch before. A moldy basement note sits in the middle, but I like that smell. The idiosyncrasy continues into the palate. It starts off sharp, and both soapy and earthy. Like someone didn't scrub hard enough. There's also leather and carpet. Some dried herbs, but a bitterness that feels oaky. It finishes hotter than expected. Ashy, peppery, drying and burnt. New carpet smell. Lightly malty and weirdly bitter. Adverbly adjective.

WITH WATER (~40%abv) because what the hell
The nose is better. Dusty and fruity, with some apples rolling in. Fresh oregano and candy canes. The palate remains a bit hot, but there's some decent tart citrus in there. More vanilla. That moldy basement note. Lots of the citrus sticks around for the finish, which is grassy and tingly with some mothballs. It's also longer than the neat finish.

When they rolled this cask in for filling and pulled its bung plug, it said "LOL." It then cracked in three places and died.

The whisky is a curio, but not more than that. It improves with water. Hell, Blackadder should have broken with tradition and bottled it at 40%, because it ain't working where it is. Or perhaps they should have sent it to the Big Blend House in the Sky.

Availability - No
Pricing - Liver cells
Rating - 71 (with water only, 62ish when neat)

Monday, August 7, 2017

Drinking in Ikebukuro, Part 2

The evening from Part 1 continued...

After I left Abbot's Choice and before Will and I went to Quercus, logic would dictate that I had met up with Will. And I did! At his bar, Buffalo Tap.

Walking into Buffalo Tap, I couldn't help but grin. Will was living the dream. Or, at least my dream. And probably his dream. Here was a small neighborhood bar with maybe a half dozen seats, and a well-curated whisky and beer selection. No, there aren't 500 whiskies, but the stuff that's there is great. It's exactly what I wanted to do when I moved to Ohio, but the ancient liquor laws got in my way.

Take THAT, Bar Argyll!
I hung out with a few local folks while I had a good crisp IPA by Crux Fermentation Project. Tried that Hazelburn 9yo Barolo Cask on the left side of the above pic. It was much better than I'd expected. Then Will gave me a try of the sherry and American oak edition of Mars Komagatake which was very good.

He also poured me a bit of this bizarre thing:

Known as Suntory Za, this peculiar thing was the first blended whiskey designed by Suntory's current blender Seiichi Koshimizu, back in 2000. The good news is Koshimizu-san's whiskies got better after this one. Once Will told me this whisky spent time in cedarwood, that's all I could taste or smell in it. For more info on it, see Will's post.

Once I was done drinking Will's whisky, we headed out for some more whisky. Our first stop was Quercus (reviewed here). By the time we were done there, it was quite late. The second planned stop, Oasis, had closed. But the owner suggested we go to his new bar, Nonesuch.

It was about 2am at that point. It was time for a fourth (or fifth?) meal to keep us young folks going. We spotted an all night Indian food joint. Over mildly spice dishes and arm-sized slabs of naan, we discussed Twitter and the philosophy of David Hume, as you do.

Then it was to Nonesuch! From what I recall (blurry), it's a British music themed bar. Posters and record covers on the wall. BUT, MOST VITALLY, Starcrash was playing on a big TV in the corner. A fabulously crap Italian-produced Star Wars ripoff, Starcrash stars the lovely Caroline Munro (playing it totally straight) and Marjoe Gortner (who's unsure if the whole thing is campy or not). Hasselhoff shows up at some point, as does Joe Spinell. Christopher Plummer makes several appearances because I'm only assuming the producers were holding his family hostage. Regrettably, everyone keeps his and her clothes on, except for a giant metal robotress. Otherwise it's terribly delightful, or delightfully terrible. I own the DVD, but seeing it playing on a TV in a British-themed Tokyo bar at 3 o'clock in the morning is one of the great things.

"Imperial Battleship, halt the flow of time!"

Also, I drank this...
...which I dare say was damned good. All the single cask Chichibus I've had thus far have been impressive (and expensive). Another pic:
It was around this time I realized the trains were not in service. Will told me some lines started up at 4:30. Google confirmed this.

At 4:45am Will and I parted ways. My train ride was filled with Walk of Shamers and the early shift. When I stepped out of Shinjuku station, the sun was up. It had be 15 years since I pulled an all-nighter. Let's just say it's not as easy as it used to be.

That's one thing I learned that night. I also discovered there's still good whisky being produced in Japan. It's just not being done by the majors, for the most part. It's young whisky, but it's good whisky, and it's expensive whisky. But I'd take 'em over Kavalan any day.

I was less than 40% through my trip, but it was the last time I drank Japanese whisky while in Japan.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Killing Whisky History, A Very Special Episode

To commemorate Diving for Pearls's's's TENTH anniversary, I am releasing to the world this Killing Whisky History episode about a Taste Off of two bottles of Kessler American Blended Whiskey. For science. For love. For truth. Press Play.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Highland Park 24 year old 1981 Riegger's Selection

I'm sad to say I've discovered the real joys of indie Highland Park waaaaaaaaay too late. Independent HP releases are getting fewer and fewer each year, and the double-digit aged ones are getting exorbitant price tags. So I'm going to just keep raiding my sample stash for fabulous items like this.

Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Isle of Orkney
Independent Bottler: Riegger's Selection
Age: 24 years (1981-2005)
Maturation: possibly a refill bourbon cask
Alcohol by Volume: 50.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(Thank you to Cobo for the sample!)

It has a straw color, which is great to see in a 24yo. The nose is of fields and farms. Hay, heather, lavender flowers, clay and barley. Chiles, ripe pears and mint candy. It shifts gears with time in the glass, releasing notes of lime juice, toffee pudding and apricot jam. The palate is intensely earthy and herbal. An organic mossy note, tar, rocks, salt water and mineral water. Coal smoke and a hint of weed. With time, a gorgeous bitterness emerges alongside a mild brown sugar note. The beachy, salty finish also has hints of lemons and brown sugar. Mint leaves and dried herbs. That herbal bitter note rumbles right on through.

Fan-fuggin-tastic. I didn't dare add water to this HP because it hit all the happy spots as is. A bit more rugged than the average well-aged HP, this whisky is A-OK if the field, farm, mineral and beach notes thrill your nervous system as they do mine.

The more whisky I taste, the further I drift from the most famous Malt Maniac's notes and ratings. So I was surprised to see that my review nearly mirrors Serge's. Back when he reviewed it in 2012, the whisky was long sold out. Now that 2017 is in its second half, my review is even less applicable to our lives. Glad I could be of service!

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 91

Monday, July 31, 2017

Drinking in Ikebukuro, Part 1

Tokyo guidebooks don't give Ikebukuro much love. They'll lavish praise on the hip Shimokita, or swanky Roppongi, or even the Ueno Zoo more than they'll talk up Ikebukuro.

One part of town the books always expend much ink on is Akihabara. And that's understandable. Some tourists will think, "Man, I gotta go to that super anime spot!" even if they don't know the first thing about anime. It's been about 16 years since I was really into anime, video games and other otaku stuff, so I found Akihabara to be operating on a different plane that my current state of consciousness. There's also a dearth of decent bars there. Yeah, one can find plenty of maid cafés, but they're not cheap and submissive girls ain't my thing. Maybe next time.

If you're reading this post, you're likely more into drinks than otaku, so you may want to visit Ikebukuro if you're on the west side of the city. There's a different flavor of quirk, more bars and less of a commercial assault than in Akihabara (which is on the center-east side). And if you're staying in Shinjuku or Shibuya, Ikebukuro is a quick zip up the Yamanote Line.

I enjoyed a rather extensive night in Ikebukuro, so I'm going to chop the recap into two posts, for your benefit and mine.

After spending the morning and afternoon getting vaporized in the Kamakura heat, I came back to my apartment in Shinjuku to take a disco nap. I was planning on meeting up with Will, owner of Buffalo Tap and a good guy (and more about him as we go), at his bar in Ikebukuro around 11pm. It was going to be a long night, and I'm older than I should be, thus this system needed a rest. The sweaty nap went on an hour longer than planned, which meant I was going to miss out on some of my scheduled stops. But man, I was exhausted and this rest was restorative.

By the time I got to Ikebukuro, the cat café was closed. The owl café was closed. Gyoza Stadium was closed. And I had to resign myself to the fact that I wasn't going to make it to Penguin Bar, something I do regret a bit.

Food was a must. My plan was to go to Ichiran, but that location, like every other Ichiran I saw during my trip, had a line out the door. So I wandered around dizzily until stumbling into a ramen place without a phoneticized English name. And no English menu.
What most ramen restaurant kitchens look like.
But there were pictures of dishes! So I went with a bowl of noodles with a remarkable fish broth, and some crisp gyoza on the side.
Blood sugar regulated. Life was good.

Abbot's Choice, Ikebukuro

I had about a half hour to kill, so I stopped into Abbot's Choice to start my whisky night. I'd spied a few of these bars on Google Maps when researching destinations. There's one in Golden Gai, Roppongi and Shibuya, but I never saw this branch on the map.

Abbot's Choice is designed to appeal to Westerners or those with a Western hankering. The Ikebukuro Abbot's was very roomy (for a Japanese bar) with a number of bar tables that wouldn't look out of place at Buffalo Wild Wings. HD sports lit up the many TV screens and American pop music floated down from ceiling speakers.

I took a seat at the bar, opened up a whisky menu and quickly spotted something of interest. Yoichi 2000's. I'd seen the 1980's and 1990's selling for small fortunes, and I adore Yoichi, so this seemed like the perfect start.

Yet, though there was only one other customer at the bar, it was impossible to get the attention of the two bartenders. You see, my fellow patron was an American woman in her 40s or 50s slugging shot after shot of Fireball, slurring and shouting her way through terrible approximations of Japanese. Both bartenders found it hilarious. Even putting ¥2000 in cash on the bar and calling out sumimasen didn't make me worthy of their business until she stumbled out of the bar, trying to drag one of them with her.

At first I thought, "Damn, that's a terrible way to begin her night." But then I realized it was 10:15pm. The first shift of drinkers was clocking out. The second shift was clocking in.

Yoichi 2000's, OB, 57%abv

Its color is a medium gold. The nose is fruitier than expected, with lots of bourbon and new American oak influence. Caramel and butterscotch hard candies. Pears and grains. No peat. The palate leads with root beer and anise. More pepper than peat. Quite sweet with a silky mouthfeel. Very buttery too. After 10+ minutes a bitter bite slips in, providing a little bit of balance. More herbs with more time. It finishes with sweet vanilla and caramel. Malt. Minimal peat. Adding water makes it all much too sweet.

Wow, what a let down. American oak secures the front of the stage and never steps back. The herbal bitterness helped the palate out a little bit, but the whole thing needed less sweetness and more of something earthy or smoky to give it dimension. It's not the worst Yoichi I've had—their new NAS is embarrassing—but such a stellar distillery should be able to put out a special release better than this.
Rating: 76

I departed Abbot's Choice ten minutes behind schedule.

I'm going to skip ahead about 1.5 to 2 hours. I'll return to the missing section in Part 2.

The Crane Bar -- Ha! Just kidding.

One of the bars I was most looking forward to was The Crane. Located a few blocks from the train station, the bar was known to have a tremendous whisky selection, while being a bit on the fancy side. But early in the Ikebukuro experience, I learned that The Crane HAD CLOSED. Wat? Yep. In the middle of the Era of Crazy Whisky Prices, Tsurumi-san left the business. Of course my first question was, "What happened to all the whisky?!" We may never know.

After helping Will close up his bar, and by "helping" I mean sip some of his whiskies and not helping him at all, I requested we go to...

Quercus Bar

Quercus Bar was highly recommended in Chris Bunting's Drinking Japan book, but that was published six years ago. The two ratings on whiskybase are more recent and much less enthusiastic.

The good news about Quercus is its design is the exact opposite of Abbot's Choice. It's small and personal. The wood design is simple. The mood is quiet.

The entire right shelf behind the bar is full of dusty stuff. Most of the other bottles on the other main shelves can be found at other great bars around the city. Unfortunately the most exciting bottles on premises were off-limits, as they were private bottles belonging to members.

The bartender was nice enough, though Will is a much better bartender. And on a final note, Quercus's prices were the highest of all the bars I've visited in Japan. So Will and I each ordered only one drink while we discussed Fukushima and death and other baubles.

Teacher's Glendronach 8 year old single malt, late '70s or early '80s, Italian import, 43%abv

Its color is light amber. The nose is very much dusty old Teacher's-ish. (Apologies for the terrible description.) Bushels of oranges and lemons and apricots meet layers of dunnage and musty cask funk. More earth than peat. Curiously, the palate is more alive. Similar fruits to the nose, with McIntosh apples added in. Soil + metal meets cotton candy + lightly smoky peat. The peat moves far into the finish's background. Otherwise, it's mostly moderate levels of apples and earth.

The opposite of the Yoichi 2000's: very little oak, lots of spirit character; pleasant peat levels, a good balance and an impressive amount of dimension for its age. It's a type that's sorely missing from modern whisky, though I think Benromach comes pretty close to it at times. I do recommend this if you have a chance to try it, though I don't think it's worth the ¥3000 I paid for an ounce.
Rating: 87

It wasn't yet 2am when we left Quercus. There was more to explore. I'll return to the better components of that evening in Part 2, next Monday.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Corbin Cash Merced Rye Whiskey

I knew nothing about Corbin Cash rye when my buddy Brett handed me a 2oz sample of it, more than a year ago. It sounded like yet another craft rye, probably two months old, something that will face the Market Correction Reaper in a few years.


Turns out, Corbin Cash has a pleasant story, and it's not one with Al Capone or George Washington or Ron Jeremy or John Wayne or Brooklyn water. Instead, the Souza family grows sweet potatoes up in Northern California and makes vodka out of the excess tubers. And, per K&L and D&M:
"It turns out that Corbin hasn't only been distilling sweet potato vodka over the past few years; they've also been growing, harvesting, fermenting and distilling their own rye ... The sandy soil of Atwater leeches a lot of the nitrogen deep into the earth and a cover crop is needed to help remove some of the nitrogen before another round of sweet potatoes can be planted. It just so happens that rye is the perfect cover."
That's legitimately interesting to me. But, is the whiskey good? That's the important part, especially when a bottle costs $50+. As for its age, I've seen "up to 4 years" and "3.75 years". Yet, I don't believe they list an age on the bottle itself. So I went into my tasting with low expectations.



Distillery: Corbin Cash
Type: Rye Whiskey (no straight designation)
RegionAtwater, CA
Age: see notes above
Mash Bill: 100% rye
Maturation: new American white oak 53-gallon barrels
Alcohol by volume: 45%


At first the nose has a nice combination of apples, honey and cinnamon. Then a candy cane and some malt (yes, I know there's no malt in it). There's a wave of something green, like green onions and pickle brine. But it's subtle. Later on it mellows out into vanilla bean, toffee and cream soda. Lots of spice in the palate, both of the rye and oak variety. Every other note is in the background: stone fruit, bubble gum, fizzy minerals. A little bit of alcohol heat creeps up late, making it a bit sharper. The finish is a rye bomb, like Collingwood 21 but American style. By that I mean yooge. Plenty of pepper, rye bread, a little bit of tartness and fresh ginger.


Much much better than expected. It's got a bite to it, but it drinks well neat. And the nose is very good. I can't help but think this is due to the rye spending some real time in a full-sized barrel. I'd even be willing to accept the 3.75 year story. While I'd love to see what happens with 4+ years (maybe 6?!), as it is this feels like a product ready for the market, unlike the vast majority of craft whiskey.

The price does give me pause. Three years ago, I'd be saying "You can get Willett at this price." Two years ago, I'd be saying "You can get Smooth Ambler at this price." Today, I can't say that. In fact, cheaper good rye options are dwindling. Rittenhouse BIB's quality isn't what it used to be. High West Double Rye's quality swings widely from batch to batch. Wild Turkey 101 rye is decent, if you can find it. Other MGP ryes are available here and there, but most cheap ones are very young ones. Pikesville 110 Proof and Russell's Reserve Small Batch might be the second and third best options at the under-$60 range, with Lot No. 40 (yes, the Canadian) leading the way.

So—I can't believe I'm typing this—but Corbin Cash might crack the top five sub-$60 rye list. That's partly due to the product's quality, but also inspired by the market itself.

Availability - California only (I think)
Pricing - $48-$58
Rating - 83

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Highland Park 22 year old 1991 SMWS 4.190

I'm not going to vent about the Scotch Malt Whisky Society again, don't worry. But if you're looking for my take on it, click here. I've had a two SMWS Highland Parks other than this one and they were both great. And while sherry cask Highland Park may be the sexy thing, I've really dug almost every bourbon cask HP that I've had the pleasure to sip. So my expectations are high for this one.

Distillery: Highland Park (SMWS 4)
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Isle of Orkney
Independent Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
"Funny" name: Big boys smoking in the sauna
Age: 22 years
Distilled: May 31, 1991
Maturation: refill hogshead
Cask#: 4.190
Bottles: 246
Alcohol by Volume: 53.9%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(Thank you to Monsieur Brett for the sample!)

Its color is straw. The nose has two perfectly balanced sides to it. First there's the lean beige (if you will) side: barley, burlap, hay and clay. Then there's the pretty side: orange zest, cilantro, canned peaches, cherry liqueur and a hint of rose. Its palate loads up on the herbal, mineral and earthy notes. There's also some limes and lemons. Yellow peaches, salted caramels and malt. All of this with an oily mouthfeel. Lots of limes in the long finish. Then brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and barley. A slight medicinal note in the background.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose gets more floral. Then apricots and key lime pie. Also some hay and soil. Meanwhile, the palate has all sorts of things going on, but again in balance. Dried herbs and bitter herbs. Lemons and limes and sweet malt. Baking spices, along with a savory note. Still very mineral(ly). The finish is spicier and sweeter than the neat finish. It's also sweeter than the palate. Baking spices, cayenne pepper and salt.

Those of you seeking out Highland Park in its sherried form, can go ahead and keep doing so. Gimme these refill ex-bourbon hogsheads. This cask has done its job over the two decades without ever overtaking the crisp Orkney spirit within. Or to put it another way, this is well-matured whisky that is not oaky. Hell, it's excellent.

It's also not smoky. The phenolics register more like earth and minerals. There are a lot of other things going on with it, but no single element tramples the next. I'm sure this thing sold out upon its outturn three years ago. Sorry folks. :(

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 90

Monday, July 24, 2017

Bar Argyll - Shinjuku, Tokyo

I went to Bar Argyll having reading positive reviews by more seasoned Japanese bar-goers like Chris Bunting, the Nonjatta folks and David Broom. But I wound up being underwhelmed by my experience there. Perhaps my existing great bar experiences in Japan set up unrealistic expectations. Yet, I can name at least six better Tokyo spots just off the top of my head right now (and my memory sucks). Also despite what its whiskybase entry says, I sincerely doubt they have 100+ whiskies. It's possible the bar had its glory days, but they have passed. As it is in 2017, the place is not without its charms, but it's also not a must see for whisky fans.

Its wood design is lovely, but I have no photos of it because it was the darkest bar I've ever been in (and I've been to MANY underlit joints in LA). I have no idea what the bartender's name was because his card doesn't list it and he never offered a word in either English or Japanese. He spent the entirety of two hours hacking away at ice cubes. The results were beautiful, but for two hours? It took me those two hours to consume all of three pours while there because the icetender wouldn't make eye contact with me.

Bar Argyll also had a grand total of three whiskies from Argyll. Springbank 10yo, 12yo CS and one Hazelburn. Perhaps it would have been better named Bar Spey.

There were four other customers during my visit, a pair of whom appeared to be on a date. Either things were going very well or very poorly for those two. The young woman went through at least seven cigarettes in the first hour. Because of that smoke, I'm going to give grade ranges to these whiskies rather than assigning a specific score.

Not much on the shelf was really calling out to me, plus it was difficult to see what was available. But I did see some Flora & Faunas, so I decided to start the session with an F&F I'd never tried.

Blair Athol 12 year old Flora & Fauna - 2012 bottling - 43%abv

Color - Very dark gold, though again the bar was hella dark
Nose - Almonds and cashews. Whole wheat bread and a simple constant malty note.
Palate - A very pleasant creamy, buttery flavor. A little bit of raisins, a little bit of heat. Blendy, though more Johnnie Walker than Bell's (which utilizes Blair Athol). It picks up the nose's good nutty note with time.
Finish - Lightly sweet. Cracked pepper, butter and cashews.

Commentary:  A simple drink with no technical issues. Though there are sherry casks in the mix they stay mellow, lending mostly nutty notes. It's a good transitional whisky, for those who are moving from blends to single malts — if people are still doing that — and it certainly beats the heck out of the Singleton series in that part of the market. In fact, if I could find a bottle of it for less than $50, I'd consider getting it. (There were probably many such bottles in Japan.)
Rating: B-/B (81-84)

Ardmore 15 year old 2001 Cooper's Choice - bourbon hogshead - 51.5%abv

Color - 5 beer piss. Yay!
Nose - It's almost entirely cereal grains, with hints of stone fruits and charred meat. Nude stuff.
Palate - It leads with a substantial almost-Islay-level of peat. Moderate sweets and salt. Sweet basil. A mint leaf note couples nicely with the peat. After 20+ minutes in the glass it goes full mezcal.
Finish - Some bright bitterness. A little heat, salt and peat.

Commentary: I'd almost bought a bottle of this whisky blindly on a few occasions (because Ardmore), but I'm glad I didn't. It's not bad whisky, but damn if it ain't worth $90-$110. That hogshead must have been a fourth fill because it barely did its job. The result is a whisky reminiscent of all those baby (4-8 year old) indie Ardmores that are barely selling right now. Its big peat and oak-free nature is good, to a point. And that point may be at the finish where it flops.
Rating: B- (80-82)

So here's Bar Argyll's only Argyll-produced single malt that one can't buy all over the whisky drinking world. The Maltman can't legally use the name Hazelburn, so they go with the enigmatic "Hazelgrove".

Hazelgrove 16 year old 2000 The Maltman - cask 11078 - PX finish - 47.1%abv

Color - Dark gold
Nose - Luckily the PX hasn't totally taken over the nose. There's a good mint and nut combo. Toffee and cherries. Despite what the back label says, we're a long way from Campbeltown.
Palate - Here's the PX. Raisins in agave nectar. Grape jam. Lemon candy and ginger candy. It gets sweeter with time, though a bitterness lingers in the back.
Finish - The PX continues. There are prunes and currants. Maple syrup, salt and apple butter.

Commentary: This is both curious and forgettable. It has a super low ABV for a 16yo whisky, which makes me think the original cask or the PX cask had something odd going on. Probably the original cask, because the PX totally dominates whatever existed before the finishing. Why else would you give the Glenmorangie treatment to a Springbank product? Ultimately, it's not crap, but it's interchangeable with any other generic PX-finished single malt. And that's sinning against Argyll.
Rating: C/C+ (76-79)

The fact that I was able to try three single malts that are unavailable in the United States kept this experience from being completely disappointing. But between the unwelcoming atmosphere and service, and the surprisingly lackluster selection, I left wishing I'd tried out one of the several other bars recommended to me by you good readers. As I mentioned at the start, whisky geeks can skip this spot, especially when pressed for time.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch 2014

Time for some more burban. This time it's the annual Four Roses LE small batch bourbon which magically hits the secondary market before anyone has opened a bottle. Though back when this edition was released, people actually drank it. One of those people was Ryan from NJ who tossed in this sample when we did a swap. Thank you, Ryan.

Designed by the beloved former distiller Jim Rutledge, the 2014 limited edition small batch is made up of 13 year old OBSV recipe bourbon, 12 year old OESV, 11 year old OBSF and 9 year old OBSK. So it's a 9 year old, for those keeping score. It does include my two favorite Four Roses recipes, OBSV and OBSK, both high-rye.

Distillery: Four Roses
Ownership: Kirin
Type: Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Region: Lawrenceberg, Kentucky
Maturation: new white oak barrels with char #3 and #4
Age: 9 years and older
Recipe: see notes above
Bottle Count: 12,516
Release Year: 2014
Alcohol by Volume: 55.9%

The nose is much gentler than I'd expected, with no alcohol heat. Cherry bubblegum, clementines, Grand Marnier and cardamom. Some roses and Nutella too. The palate is hotter, woodier. Very spicy and tannic. Cayenne pepper and ginger powder. Sticky simple syrup in the center. A savoury note in the background. The hot finish holds bitter chocolate, wood smoke, wood tannins and wood spice. Notes of Frangelico and bananas arrive late.

Feels a bit tight. Adding a little water...

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose picks up a big charred marshmallow note. Vanilla fudge. Clementines and lumber. The palate has become bitterer and sweeter, both being wood driven. It's both slightly floral and nutty. With sweet corn and tangy citrus. The finish has new notes of caramel and vanilla. It keeps the palate's bitterness and tang. The bananas remain.

Though the nose is a pleasure, I'm a bit underwhelmed by the mouth. The harsh oak shuts everything down. It's more approachable with water, but the oak still reads like there's more 13yo than 9yo in the mix. To some that's great! To me, not so much. It's a palate thing. Past a certain point, pending age and warehouse conditions, the wood overwhelms all else.

It also seems like every time I have a limited or well-hyped barrel/batch Four Roses, it falls short of my expectations. In fact, I always prefer their regular $40 single barrel release (like this one). I'm not saying this limited edition is bad whiskey. It's good. But I'm okay with never drinking it again.

Back in the day, reviewers (such as here, here and here) said this was "good, but..." or it wasn't as great as the 2013 edition. I've never had the 2013 edition, but I did compare this one to Heaven Hill 6yo BIB. The $11 bourbon was much more fun.

Availability - Secondary Market
Pricing - $185-$225
Rating - 82

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Highland Park 19 years old 1991 Signatory UCF, cask 15115

I'm going to sprinkle some regular whisk(e)y reviews amongst the Japan bar writeups. There are plenty more of the latter coming. Of the former, I'm going to stick to Bourbon and Rye Day Friday. Otherwise I will be reviewing Highland Park single malts. Because Highland Park is yummy. Usually. Also, this blog has an odd lack of Highland Park reviews.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away (early 2012 and Los Angeles), I was stuck trying to choose between Highland Park 18yo and a 19 year old HP by Signatory. HP18 was $89.99 (really) and the Signatory was $84.99 on the K&L Wine Merchants website. So I called the K&L help line and was connected to some guy named David Driscoll. I asked the man, later known as DD to some, known as a genius to others, known as various expletives to others still, what the difference was between the two HPs. He said they had their similarities, but the sherry cask influence would read much higher on the Signatory. I was a big sherried whisky fan at the time, so I chose the Signatory version.

This bottle then sat in my whisky cabinet for four years, continually getting pushed to the back. With a cross-country move approaching, I decided to open a bunch of my bottles for whisky events in 2016. Upon finally trying this Highland Park, I wondered why the hell I'd waited so long. Thankfully I saved a good sized sample of it before the bottle was emptied at the events. And here's the long awaited review.

I got yer data right here:
click to embiggen
nudge, nudge, wink, wink

The color is a dark gold, so no this was probably not a refill cask. The nose has a dark side (leather, manure, burnt plastic and mushrooms) and light side (apricot jam and raspberry fruit leather) tied neatly together with well-integrated sulphur and ground mustard seed. If that sounds like rubbish to you, then this whisky is probably not for you. A surprising hit of peat (both mossy and ashy) on the palate. Orange marmalade, honey and barbecued prunes? Then there's the darker side, again. Sulphur and a spry peppery nip. It takes on a smokier edge with time, also picking up a mineral note. Orange marmalade and lemon candy meet minerals and grass in the finish. A combo of tannins and sulphur make it puckery at times.

WITH WATER (~35%abv)
Ah, that early burst of manure in the nose. Then comes the sherry cask's dried fruits. The sulphur has been toned down. Some salty air and moss. A new bag of gummi bears. The palate is peated orange marmalade with limes, honey and brown sugar. Some smoky residue lingers on into the finish, where there are also tart limes and a whiff of burnt tobacco.

This is the sort of dirty whisky that divides folks. If you can't take farmy or peppery sulphur notes then avert your nose. But for others, and you know who you are, this is good.

Mr. Driscoll was correct about the sherry cask's prominence, but this is also one of the peatiest Highland Parks I've had. It almost leans a little closer to Mull than Orkney at times. Or maybe some particularly filthy Benromach. It's the violence in the finish that keeps me from declaring the whisky a near perfect representative of the type.

But I'll stop the dirty talk, because it's the whisky's fruit notes that lend it balance and dimension. Water brings out the fruit out further, and mellows the darker side, bringing it closer to a more familiar Highland Park style.

Availability - 
Happy hunting!

Pricing - It was $84.99 in 2012. It won't be $84.99 now.
Rating - 89 (for specific palates only)

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Return to Bar Cordon Noir

Two years ago I walked into Bar Cordon Noir in Kyoto and lost my damn mind. (I encourage you to read my posts on Cordon Noir if you haven't yet!) My stay in Kyoto this year was much briefer than that of 2015: 2 nights versus 5 nights. But nothing was going to keep me from returning to "the bar of my dreams". So, on my first night back in Kyoto, I filled up on some relatively healthy food from Ootoya and then set off for the bar.

I'd gotten to the point that I can navigate that part of town without a map. Or at least I thought I had. But the Gion-Shijo / Sanjo area can get a bit disorienting at night. Ootoya is pretty close to Bar Cordon Noir, but it still took me 45 minutes to find the bar. Luckily there were a pair of liquor stores to peek into while I got my bearings.

But I found the glowing sign, then took the tiny elevator to the third floor. And there it was. Behind the bar, Ono-san (or Ono-sensei to me) was 'tending like the pro he is. This time there were a half dozen other customers. And, as I learned, quite a dent was put into his bottles since I was last there. Yet all was well. The selection remained overwhelming, and it took me forever to pick my poison.

Two years ago I didn't even look at the old dusty blends. This year, I inquired about them first. Sure enough, there were many. He had three different old Old Parrs. I went with the dustiest.

Grand Old Parr, 1950s, probably 40%abv
The nose really is from another era. It's all old dusty shoes, old baseballs and motor grease. A simple time machine. The palate is quite dusty indeed. It has a hint of the nose's leather, as well as a wee herbal bitter bite. There are medium-size notes of tar and soil, which meet up well with the raisins and smoke. The warming finish is all bitterness and earth. Very dry nutty sherry. Coal smoke?

This is a great starter, though like many dusty blends it does fade after thirty minutes in the glass. So I don't recommend dallying over a pour of this stuff. The texture feels it a bit fragile, but it has held fast to its leathery, tarry, earthy style over all the decades. It's a very different creature than the current version, and much better for it.
Rating: 87

One of things that blew my mind about Cordon Noir last time was the collection of old Cadenhead green dumpies. Sadly, the really old stuff had been polished off in the two years since. But the next generation of dumpies (bottled in the '80s) remained. In fact, I think there were at least eight bottles to choose from.

Though there were sexier names amongst these bottles, Tullibardine was my choice. Ono-san mentioned that was the only one of the bunch which was definitely from a sherry cask. And since I'm always game for some old school sherry cask action (as you will see with the other selections), the Tulli was my choice.

Tullibardine 18 year old 1965 - sherry cask - Cadenhead - 46%abv
The nose is full of stone fruits. Apricots and plums, plus Rainier cherry juice. Rich toffee pudding and lots of roasted almonds. The palate is......oh, dear. Here goes:  Milk chocolate. Toffee pudding. Hard toffee candy. Mint candies. A rumble of bitter chocolate. And wad of Big League Chew bubblegum. The finish is all chocolate and cigars, with a minty sparkle. Rich cask-strength armagnac.

It's fair to say this is the best Tullibardine I've ever had, but then again it has no competition. Even the 48yo 1962 official bottling, which I had the pleasure of trying a few years ago thanks to a LAWS member, was just so-so. But this Cadenhead was excellent, and never faded unlike the Grand Old Parr. The 46%abv was a perfect bottling strength for it. The cask registered louder in the palate, while the fruity Highland spirit shone brightly in the nose. I doubt that Cadenhead dumpies appear much in auctions, and there's even less of a chance that Tullibardine dumpies show up, but if this one does (and knowing the limited Tulli fanbase) the perhaps this could be a relatively good deal.
Rating: 90

A wise man once told me that if I had an opportunity to try a pre-1980 sherry cask Glen Grant, "then seize that shit".

Glen Grant 30 year old 1976 - sherry hoggie - Old Malt Cask - cask 3745 - 50%abv
Whew, the nose is densely populated. Stewed and dried cherries and berries. Eucalyptus. Toffee pudding. Jelly donuts. Hot chocolate. Cinnamon pastry and citrus zest. This is too good. I'm afraid to drink it. The palate has everything, man. Pipe tobacco and LOADS of fudge, yet also wonderfully bitter. Dried cherries and berries. A hint of citrus and salt. It picks up a serious umami note after 30 minutes in the glass. The finish leads with bitter chocolate, blackberries, and raisins. Some black peppercorns too. And there's that long savory note.

Seized it. And it was an utter pleasure. (Serge didn't mind this stuff either, FWIW.) It's a thick whisky, gooey in its mouthfeel, rich in the palate and wonderfully loaded in the nose. Even at the abv, this whisky is never hot. The power is in the delivery instead.
Rating: 92

Two years ago at this very bar, I turned down an opportunity to try a well-aged version of my dear Ardmore. I was not going to skip it this time.

Ardmore 30 year old 1977 - refill butt - Old Malt Cask - cask 3514 - 50%abv
The nose has a shocking amount of herbal violence up front. A minute later bushels of apples, pears and plums give it great dimension. Then comes the honey. Then dark chocolate and raisins. Then toasted oak spices, lemon zest. Oats and quinoa! The palate surprisingly dirty and raw for its age. Herbal and vegetal. Then some nutty pastries. After 30 minutes, the cask wakes up with dark chocolate and tobacco. But it's never sweet, and remains a brawler after all these years. Soil and cigarettes in the finish. Salt and pepper. Milk chocolate, honey and bitter grapefruit.

Commentary: I'm glad I made this one the capper for the night. I've never experienced a direct-fired-era Ardmore that punched like this. While it's not as honed as the Glen Grant, it's a hell of a thing in its own style. Its sharpness may turn away some at first, but give it some time. Treasures await within.
Rating: 89

As I was editing the reviews above, I suddenly realized I may never get an opportunity to return to Bar Cordon Noir. This trip was special and it may likely be my last to that part of the world, at least for a couple of decades. At first the realization of never returning to this great place felt sad and bittersweet. Then, while looking at my photos, I remembered how I'd felt when I entered Cordon Noir the first and second time. Euphoria in 2015 and gratitude in 2017. When I was there I was always present in the moment. If I'm not mindful and thankful as great things are happening, then I'm missing out on life. I'm glad I was present for these experiences.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Evan Williams 12 year old 101 proof, for Japan

Despite the occasional weird bottle, I like the Evan Williams bourbon range. They're priced very reasonably. Hell, I'll say it. They're cheap. Yet, they're often a good measure better than bourbons 4x-5x their price.

At the Heaven Hill distillery shop, a customer can find Evan Williams 12 year old 101 Proof. That's the only (legal) place in the US one can buy a bottle of it. And it costs at least $130.

Or one can buy it at most liquor stores in Japan for $25-$30.

Guess where I bought mine!

I considered getting a second bottle, but my luggage was already full of other fine things. Like dirty laundry and travel toothpaste.

My uninformed guess is Heaven Hill doesn't make EW12 a regular American release because the demand would far outstrip the supply, and we'd kill it off in under a year.

Anyway—to keep jumping back and forth between thoughts—I opened my bottle the very night I came home from my trip.

Distiller: Heaven Hill
Brand: Evan Williams
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Region: Bardstown, Kentucky
Age: at least 12 years
Mashbill: 75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malted Barley (I think)
Bottle Code: B126 614 37
Purchased in: Tokyo, Japan
Alcohol by Volume: 50.5%
(from the top third of my bottle)


Though the nose shows plenty of oak, it reads very pretty and fragrant, rather than massive char or sawdust. There are also big notes of peach skin and brown sugar. Some sherry cask-like dried fruit. Hazelnut liqueur. A mellow vanilla and Cow Tales candy undertow. In a tumbler glass, the oak notes move to the background. The palate leads with fresh cherries, orange soda and a warming heat. The sweetness stays around the edges, wood spice in background. A burst of ginger beer. NO vanilla. It develops an intense saltiness with time. The tannins remain surprisingly mild in the finish. The sweetness stays mellow too. Limes, clementines and fresh ginger. A hint of the palate's salt.

The bourbon stands strong in a Manhattan, giving it a real punchy boozy edge. There's also a cherry bubblegum note. Bit of a peach+cinnamon thing. I'm sipping one of these cocktails between sentences and enjoying it immensely.


This one is growing on me. It is NOT worth anyone's $130 (plus tax). But I'd be happy to keep this regularly stocked if it sold for $30 or less here. Which will never happen.

While it doesn't have the finesse of Elijah Craig 12yo (R.I.P.), it manages to keep the oak in check. I really enjoy the fruit notes. And it sticks the landing well. Plus these Manhattans are mighty hardy. Yum. If you're drinking it neatly I recommend you consume it from a tumbler as opposed to a Glencairn.

So if you're in Japan, and still have room in your luggage because you haven't already found a dozen other wonderful things, Evan Williams 12 year old 101 proof is a pretty fun thing to bring home.

Availability - this particular bottling was from Japan, this bourbon is also sold at the distillery shop
Pricing - $25-$30 in Japan, $130+ in Kentucky
Rating - 84

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Highlander Inn Tokyo: Part 2, More Pours? More Pours.

Part 1 was on Monday.
Part 2 is today!

The stash, each shelf three or four bottles deep...

After I completed the Ben Nevis Quartet, Suzuki-san produced this single PX Puncheon of '04 GlenDronach and asked if I had tried it yet. Before I could complete the word no (or iie, if I attempted Japanese at that moment), he'd already poured me a good drop.

*!free pour!*
GlenDronach 12 year old 2004 - for BarShow 2016 - cask 5527, PX Puncheon, 58.6%abv

To my surprise there was a substantial combination of green herbs (in the palate) and baking spices (in the nose) balancing out the usual PX grape jam attack. I'm normally not a PX cask fan but this was a good drink with its sweetness at a moderate level.
Rating: B-/B (82-85)

Next, Suzuki-san produced this whisky that was selected by the Japanese owner of Highlander Inn Craigellachie (and, I think, Tokyo). It's a full strength batch of 36yo blended scotch whisky (though whiskybase says it's a blended malt).

BLOGGERSPLAIN:  Oishii means "delicious" in Japanese.

*!free pour!*
Oishii Wisukii 36 year old small batch blended whisky - 51.1%abv

Its nose is gorgeous. Gentle sherry notes merge with mild peat, along with moments of stone fruits and citrus fruits. The palate is lightly sweet with an earthy peatiness. Then a blast of grapefruit. Dried fruit, tobacco and grapefruit in the finish.

This is great, very complex and easily consumed, and only available at the two Highlander Inns. Oishii indeed.
Rating: B+/A- (89-91)

I was unable to purchase the most recent Springbank Local Barley, or should I say I was unamused at its $160+ American price. But... having spied Highlander Inn's bottle on the shelf, I knew it would be one of the final drinks of this visit. I'm thankful to say I received the bottle's inaugural pour.

Springbank 11 year old 2006 Local Barley (Bere) - 53.1%abv

Color - Amber
Nose - Medium peating and a mild float of oak. Notes of maple syrup and pecan rolls.
Palate - White fruits and white peaches on top. Mild peat in the middle. Richer here than on the nose, almost candied. Water brings out a fresh herbal bitterness.
Finish - Medicinal and sweet.

Commentary - There's no denying this is good, but it's missing the complexity, balance and (important!) sheer deliciousness of the 16yo Local Barley. I'd also take either of the Springbank Greens over it. So, if you were kicking yourself over not getting this bottle, stop kicking yourself. If you're now kicking yourself for getting this bottle, stop kicking yourself. It's still good!
Rating - B (85-86)

This bottle sat in front of me the whole time, so it was inevitably going to make its way into my glass. I've found Port Askaig 19 year old to be a real pleasure, so I was interested to see how this (SPOILER ALERT) Caol Ila spirit works within a sherry cask. (UPDATE: Or maybe not Caol Ila. See the comment section for more info.) Here's my final drink of the night:

Port Askaig 15 year old Sherry Cask - 45.8%abv

Color - Gold
Nose - The sherry is very mild here. Instead CI's beach, salty ocean and seaweed notes lead the way.
Palate - Caol Ila + melon + chocolate. Then mint and a subtle note of vanilla bean. Then a mild bitterness keeps things honest.
Finish - Mint, chocolate and a slight white fruit note, but mostly Caol Ila 12yo with more stamina.

Commentary - Another success from Port Askaig, mostly because the sherry steps out of the way to let the good stuff through. Though I prefer the 19yo, that one's price has gone up nearly 50% in the 3 years since I bought it. This 15yo's price hasn't changed much since its debut 2 years ago and retails about $30 cheaper than the 19.
Rating: B/B+ (86-88)

If you're looking for the sort of place that won't make you feel disrespectful for wearing short sleeves, if you're looking for a spot to listen to some Scottish music (and no I don't mean Frightened Rabbit, who aren't half bad though) while sipping on beer and whisky, if you're looking for a cozy place to explore some single casks, then I recommend spending a couple hours at Highlander Inn Tokyo. It's one small block north of the Nakanosakaue station, about 5 minute metro ride from Shinjuku. Toshiyuki Suzuki will likely be the man slinging the drinks, and he's very honest and knowledgable about the bottles on the shelf. Kei Kimura also provided great service to everyone at the bar, and he's the more internet savvy of the two, so hopefully he's reading this. Thank you, gentlemen.

No, this was neither the first nor last of my bar visits in Japan, but I knew it would be a joy to recall. Many more bar posts will follow in the coming weeks...