...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey (2015)

Bulleit is owned by Diageo, though sources its rye from MDP and bourbon from Four Roses. Diageo admits outright that its rye is from the Midwest Grain Products WonderFactory™. The bourbon source though remains a bit cloudy. It's either a mix of Four Roses recipes or there's another distillery's stuff in there. At some point in a few years, someone else's juice will indeed be in the mix now that the Four Roses contract has finished. For better informed speculation about all of this stuff, I recommend this post by Chuck Cowdery and its comment section.  Bulleit's original source, in the '90s, was Ancient Age. Their future source (they hope) will be their own distillery in Shelby, KY—which actually had its ribbon cut two weeks ago.

Yes, this is a Diageo product. And, yes, the whole "Frontier Whiskey" branding thing is dubious. But I've always found it to be a reliable whiskey. It was always $19.99 at Trader Joe's and its generous rye content made it a good ingredient for cocktails. Plus, I think every casual bourbon drinker I know has told me he or she loves the stuff. Thus my opinion on this bourbon matters even less than usual, but that never stopped me before.


Brand: Bulleit
Distillered at: Four Roses Distillery (probably)
Owner: Diageo
Type: straight bourbon whiskey
Age: allegedly 6 years, though take that with a byte of salt
Mashbill: 68% corn, 28% rye, 4% malted barley
Bottling Year: 2015
Alcohol by Volume: 45%
(Sample from my father-in-law's bottle)

The nose starts off with some serious rye notes, almost like Alberta Distillers' 100% stuff. But then comes some charred corn, musty oak and a small farmy note. Some earthy molasses, clay and hazelnuts. After 20+ minutes, there's some honey butter and a hint of vanilla. There's a very even delivery to the palate. It's not too sweet, with the corn syrup note staying in the background and the berry notes registering more like essence than sugar. The good rye buzz shows up here. A hint of wood smoke. Some good heat. It finishes with (honey) sweetness and (rye & wood) spice. A hint of fried plantains. A moderate warmth. Simple but problem-free.

Totally reliable stuff. Can't say I love it, but it carries the ball without fumbling. That's a terrible metaphor. Because its price is still very reasonable, I recommend this bourbon most for cocktails. It makes a decent Old Fashioned, Manhattan and Highball. I am curious to see what happens to its quality once there's no Four Roses bourbon in the bottle. I'll review it again then...

Availability - Everywhere
Pricing - $20-$35
Rating - 83 (though a couple points better when in cocktails)

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Ben Nevis 17 year old 1996 The Maltman, Fino sherry cask

I was going to review only two Ben Nevises this week, but I was bummed out by yesterday's whisky. It was as if a reliable buddy had let me down. I'm so spiritually shattered.

I'm going to try another indie Fino sherry cask Ben Nevis of a similar age from a similar time period. Will this help me rebound from my despair, or will it endanger further emotional deterioration?

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Meadowside Blending
Range: The Maltman
Age: 17 years old
Distilled: 1996
Maturation: Fino sherry butt
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chill-filtered? No
Caramel colored? No
(Thanks to Saint Brett for the sample!)

NEAT
The color is light gold, darker than the Càrn Mòr, but definitely refill. On the nose, ah there it is, some dunnage mold. Buttery and nutty. Almond liqueur. Lots of toasted almonds, actually. Grenadine and a floral-citrus thing. A definite pinot noir note too. The palate's delivery registers aggressively peppery and acidic, sharp and austere (that fulfills my once-a-week quota). Once that fades, and it does take a while, there's some candy sweetness, fabric, earth, salt and grain. The finish is sweeter than the palate. Has some salt, slight sulphur and smoke. Marzipan.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose has lots of nutty sherry and a little bit of malt. A good orange peel note and a hint of aromatic wood smoke. The palate has gotten more mossy, but remains very peppery and closed. Moments of sweet stewed fruits in the background. Dried berries and toasted oak in the finish but still lots of straightforward pepper.

Gonna try a little more water.

WITH WATER (~33%abv)
The dunnage note returns in the nose. Some sugary barbecue sauce and a sulphur-like smoke. The palate is dry, with hints of moss, berries and granulated sugar. The finish is identical to the palate.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Well, it's a full step up from the Càrn Mòr. The nose is quite dandy at times as it bumps around the nuts and fruits and mold. But the palate fully opens up, and almost feels like a high-malt blend (with Ben Nevis, of course) when diluted further.  It lurks around category 3 with some of category 1's fruits, and the cask wasn't totally devoid of life. But I don't really recommend it, especially considering its nonsensical price. At half its cost, it would become a "maybe". The Montgomerie's bottling beats the two Fino casks by a solid measure.

Availability - about a dozen or so US specialty retailers
Pricing - $135-$155 (yeesh)
Rating - 84

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Ben Nevis 16 year old 1998 Càrn Mòr, Fino sherry cask

To say I've been underwhelmed by the other three Càrn Mòr's single malts I've tried would be an understatement. While I greatly enjoy refill cask whisky, some casks are too "refill". Dead wood often results in flat, spirity, sour poorly developed whisky. And all three previous Càrn Mòr's I've tried were from some dead-ass casks.

So I swore off even trying any future Càrn Mòr single malts, until I saw that they released a Ben Nevis......in a fino sherry cask! Can't go wrong with Ben Nevis in a sherry cask right? And in a Fino, no less. That's why I picked up this bottle for my OC Scotch Club going-away event, last July. When would be the next time any of us would see a teenage Nevis in Fino?
Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Càrn Mòr
Range: Strictly Limited
Age: 16 years old – 1998 to 2015
Maturation: Fino sherry cask
Bottles: 733
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chill-filtered? No
Caramel colored? No
Sample from an bottle I chose for an OC Scotch Club event.

NEAT
As you may be able to glean from the photo above, the color is a very light amber. The nose starts floral (blossoms, not smoke) then adds in a tiny bit of prunes and black raisins. Dark chocolate, citronella and tangerines. Though this all sounds nice, it's barely there, all very faint. About 20 minutes in, its fades into an indistinct malt. The palate has quiet notes of prunes and dried cherries. Has a light orange candy sweetness. Some smoky chocolate. A strong pepperiness that might be sulphur-related. Gets maltier with time. The finish has black raisins, milk chocolate and a low malty rumble. Warm and tingly. Slightly acidic.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose gets younger. Barley and yeast. Chalky. Hints of black raisins and sulphur. The palate perks up a little with dried cherries and blackberry fruit leather. Its ethyl sting actually increases. There's almost no finish. A whiff of raisins. Bitterness, heat and acid.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
There goes Monday's theory about the three types of Ben Nevii, as this doesn't really fit into any of those categories. It's the least Ben Nevis Ben Nevis I've ever had. Though there are some quiet sherry-like dried fruits, there is very little of Fino's dryness. I'm sure Fino casks must be expensive, so I wonder if Càrn Mòr found a third-fill one for a good deal and/or re-racked a couple flat ex-bourbon hoggies worth of Nevis into it. Too bad none of the spirit's gonzo flair or dynamic richness found its way through.

It's not a bad whisky, in fact it's very drinkable. The nose is better neat. The palate improves a little with water, but then the finish blanks out. Since it's not chillfiltered there's a decent oiliness to the whisky. Also, it's not as if the spirit was overwhelmed by the wine. And now I'm running out of nice things to say.

Availability - a few European specialty retailers
Pricing - $70-$90 (w/o shipping)
Rating - 81

Monday, March 27, 2017

Ben Nevis 18 year old 1995 Montgomerie's Choice

I've come across three types of Ben Nevis single malts thus far:
1.) Bright and fruity;
2.) Well matched to rich sherry casks; and
3.) Grungy, schizophrenic, phenolic oddities.
I adore them all, but there's a special place in my liver for the third type. Those are not always the easiest drinks, but they're fascinating and their disparate elements somehow really work when they really shouldn't.

A better opening to this post was planned, but I just spent an hour-and-a-half in my basement while tornado sirens wailed and a funnel cloud danced through my town. So there's the intro.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Independent Bottler: Montgomerie's (via Angus Dundee)
Age: 18 years old – November 15, 1995 to February 2014
Maturation: I don't know, maybe a refill American oak sherry cask?
Cask: 776
Bottle #: 362
Region: Highlands (Western)
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chill-filtered? No
Caramel colored? No
Sample from an bottle I chose for an OC Scotch Club event exactly one year ago.

NEAT
The color is a very dark gold. The nose starts with oranges, grapefruit and toffee. But mostly it's fresh cilantro. Some smaller notes of fresh ginger, butter and lychee. Picks up some fresh cherry notes with time. The palate is super musty, with a basket full of limes and tart oranges. Then burnt plastic, ginger candy, celery, walnuts and cocoa powder. Ah, and some of those quirky possibly-not-peat phenolics. Then the finish switches to butterscotch and oregano. Oranges, metal and chocolate cake. In later sips there's a lot of bitter chocolate and jalapeño oil. A good length to it.

Then I did the unthinkable and added water to a Ben Nevis!

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Now the nose has dunnage and mossy notes. Milk chocolate, oranges and limes. The palate is sweeter and more peppery, with a creamier texture. Some citrus candy, as well as toasty oak and grains. It finishes with sweet oranges, cracked pepper and a wisp of smoke.

This fits into category 3, with a little bit of the fruit from category 1. As you'll see from the neat version's notes, there's a whole lotta things going on that don't exactly sound like they would taste good together. But they do. And this isn't the first time I've had a Ben Nevis that made me question whether or not it came from a sherry cask and whether or not the spirit was peated. Whether the answers are in the affirmative or negative has no bearing on my opinion of the whisky. I like it. And if you groove to Ben Nevis's weird tune, then this your song.

Availability - somewhat available, and mostly through Total Wine & More
Pricing - $80 or $100 depending on your state
Rating - 87

Friday, March 24, 2017

A Tale of Taint, Jews and two I.W. Harper Bourbons

BEHOLD THE TAINT!


One of the pitfalls a new dusty hunter will discover the hard way is the purchase of a tainted bourbon. Picture it. Our precious noob hurries home, excited about this old (1980s!) thing he just bought for $17.99. In his kitchen he proclaims to his partner, or to no one in particular, that he's going to keep it real and drink what he just bought instead of flipping it on the secondary market. He opens the screw top, breaks the tax strip and pours himself a glass. And the color is beautiful, like caramel. In fact......it's looking kinda like caramel inside the glass, all thick and cloudy. That means it's unfiltered goodness, the way it's meant to be! Right? He toasts to long dead loved ones and takes a slug and FUCK IT'S GROSS.

Yeah, that clouding isn't like unfiltered olive oil. This isn't raw apple cider vinegar, there ain't no "The Mother" here. Now, as many of you geeks already know, unfiltered whiskey of all types may in fact cloud up in cooler temperatures or when water is added. But when a bottle has been stored in direct sunlight and/or next to a heating vent for the better part of three decades, chemical processes initiate within the liquid. And sometimes it results in a formerly-translucent fluid that now remains opaque at room temperature.

You may wonder, did the above scenario befall this particular blogger? The answer is no. But I did hear a story that happened to a friend. Let's call this friend, say, Driving for Girls. He was invited to an exclusive bourbon party hosted by some whiskey guy; let's call that guy, Uks. The party's other attendees brought bottles of Very Very Old Fitzgerald, 20+ year old Willetts and Prohibition-era rye. Driving for Girls brought a bottle of I.W. Harper's Taint.

*sigh*

Sorry, Uks, that I pulled out the taint at your fancy party. :(


BACK FROM JAPAN!


Not me. I returned from Japan two years ago. And I'm doing what I can to get back there some time this decade. Instead, I'm referring to the I.W. Harper brand.

Yitzach Wolfe Bernheim was one of many members of the mispucha who did well for the bourbon industry in the 19th and 20th century. After making a good buck as bookkeeper for the Loeb, Bloom and Co. liquor wholesaler—and there's my pitch for the sequel to The Producers; trust me, it writes itself—Yitzach (er, Isaac) Wolfe Bernheim brought his brother to the US from Germany in 1870. Together the Bernheim brothers started making bourbon. They took one look at trying to sell the name Bernheim in 1870s Kentucky and realized they might as well just call their bourbon Rebbe Yidl's Gehakte Leber. Instead, they chose the name of a local well-respected horse trainer, Harper.

I.W. Harper bourbon was a hit. It won a gold medal at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair—though one wonders if every brand won a medal there as they do in most of today's spirits competitions. In any case, they did well enough to be one of the ten American distilleries to have paid off the right congressmen to be allowed to produce so-called medicinal spirits during Prohibition. In 1937 the Bernheims sold their company to Schenley (owned by one Lewis Rosenstiel). After World War II, Schenley created 'The Traveler' image for the I.W. Harper brand, a silhouette of a dapper WASP gentleman tipping his top hat. This polite fictional gentleman, perhaps referencing the fictional Harper himself, has remained the I.W. Harper icon ever since.

When the bourbon industry took a beating in the 1980s, Schenley sold to United Distillers (proto-Diageo). Within a few years of the sale, UD pulled I.W. Harper from the United States and sold it elsewhere in the world, focusing on a newly bourbon-loving Japanese demographic. Harper remained a big hit in Japan for the next two decades. Once bourbon sales began their ascent during the 2010s, Diageo brought Harper back to The States in two formats, a cheaper NAS bottling and a luxury 15 year old.

(Many thanks to Reid Mitenbuler and Mike Veach for all their great work! Buy their books. Seriously.)

TASTING TWO VERY DIFFERENT I.W. HARPER BOURBONS


Now I've screwed myself because I'm expected to deliver a fascinating comparison between old I.W. and new I.W.  Sorry. :(  I'm going to compare what I actually have. And that is a sample of the tainted 1981 bottling (that belonged to my friend, Driving for Girls) mentioned above. I also have a sample of the newer 15 year old Harper.

I'm not normally one to comment on a whiskey's actual bottle, but...
(source)
Even as one of the more cynical whisk(e)y consumers, I have found my willpower defeated by this excellent decanter, having almost purchased it twice. Why? Some of us must purchase beauty because we do not possess it within.


I.W. Harper "Gold Medal" 4 year old Straight Bourbon, bottled in 1981


Brand: I.W. Harper
Distillery: Old Bernheim
Owner: Schenley
Type: straight bourbon whiskey
Age: at least 4 years
Mashbill: ???
Bottling Year: 1981
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

The nose starts off with a lot of turpentine and lemon bathroom cleaner. The smells of a wood shop: sawdust, metal and varnish. A bit on the gluey side. Maybe some seaweed. There are some very nice notes of peaches and Smarties candies running through the middle. The palate is flat, but not as bad as I'd remembered it. At first. Vague vanilla and caramel. Wood, salt. A massive note of envelope glue. But after 20 minutes, an unnerving level of bitterness slips in, making things feel a bit too poisonous. Its finish is gluey and bitter, with a metallic aftertaste.

I was surprised by how uncrappy it was at the start. It came across like a bottom-shelf plastic bottle bourbon. Though it had the The Turps something terrible and there was much too much glue. And then it turned poisonous.

It's still better than Cutty Sark.

Availability - Happy Hunting?
Pricing - ???
Rating - 57

The 1981 bottling on the left, the new 15yo on the right.
The dusty wasn't totally opaque, but one can sort of see its lack of translucence
I.W. Harper 15 year old Straight Bourbon, bottled in 2015

Brand: I.W. Harper
Distillery: New Bernheim
Matured at: Stitzel-Weller warehousing
Bottled in: Tullahoma, Tennessee
Owner: Diageo
Type: straight bourbon whiskey
Age: at least 15 years
Mashbill: 86% corn, 6% rye, 8% malted barley
Bottling Year: 2015
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
(Note 1: Thank you to the great Ms. Sing for this sample from her bottle!)
(Note 2: this curious Bernheim to S-W warehouse to Tullahoma method was the same used for several of Diageo's Orphan Barrel releases.)


Wow, just a wall of barrel char on the nose at first. Needs some time. Then comes walnuts, peanuts and hazelnuts. Honey and an orange sugar glaze. White nectarines and orange peels. Also has a nice bakery note to it. Big baking spice and pepper notes in the palate. Pretty simple overall but not as blankly woody as I'd expected. Its bitterness stays mild, while it grows sweeter with time. Has some sharp heat. Maybe tart limes? The finish has lots of chili oil-like heat. Sweet and tart lemons. Caramel candy. Plenty of oak in the aftertaste.

This is a much different bourbon than the 1981 Harper, for many reasons. It's older, from a different distillery, different mashbill, different warehouse. And its bottle wasn't stored poorly for decades. Aside from the very first sniff and the end of the aftertaste, the 15yo's oak was much milder than that of all the Orphan Barrel releases I've tried. The nose is actually very good. The palate neither offends nor impresses.

I find my brain continually comparing this to the Orphan Barrel releases since this is another long-aged low abv bourbon from Diageo. I'd take this Harper over any of them, with the possible except of Rhetoric 22. It doesn't hurt that one can still find this bourbon selling for a fraction of many of those Orphans. Its price range is crazy, but if you can find it for less than $60, I'd mildly recommend it, partially thanks to the decanter.

Availability - US only, I think
Pricing - $50-$100
Rating - 82

Thursday, March 23, 2017

anCnoc 12 year old (2016, US) versus anCnoc 12 year old (2012, Europe)

anCnoc (aka Knockdhu) has released a number of NAS whiskies in recent years, but they've kept the 12 year old well-stocked and well-priced. Its average US price tag falls in line with Glenfiddich 12, Glenlivet 12 and Old Pulteney 12, and about $8-$10 more than Tomatin 12.

One thing that sets it apart from those other malts is it's neither artificially colored nor chillfiltered. I'm not sure how many low-priced official single malts can claim the same presentation.

I had never tried the anCnoc 12 until (*DISCLOSURE*) Amy from Ten27 Communications sent me a free bottle last year (thank you, Amy). But I did have on hand a European bottling sample I'd purchased from Master of Malt at the very beginning of 2013. Here are the differences between the two:

2016 US Edition - 43%abv, not artificially colored, not chillfiltered
~2012 EUR Edition - 40%abv, colored and chillfiltered

I compared three pours: the 43%, the 43% reduced to 40%, and the 40%...

Grayscale was utilized because my color photo was crap
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 12 years
Maturation: mostly American oak ex-bourbon barrels, and a little bit of Spanish oak ex-sherry casks
Bottling year: 2016 for the US and (circa) 2012 for the EUR
Alcohol by Volume: 43% for US, 40% for EUR
Chill-filtration? No for the US, Yes for the EUR
Caramel colored? No for the US, Yes for the EUR
Review pour of US edition was taken from top third of the bottle.



anCnoc 12 year old, 2016 US Edition, 43%abv
Nose - Citronella, honey and Sugar Daddy candy make up the foreground. A considerable nutty Parmesan-Reggiano note lingers throughout. Fresh pears and apples in the background.

Palate - Fruitier than the nose, lots of plums and nectarines. Has a bolder bite and delivery than Glens Fiddich and Livet. With time, it picks up a slight floral thing, then lots of lime and fizziness.

Finish - A little floral, a little toffee, a little ash. Lots of lemon, grapefruit and ginger ale.

* * * * *

anCnoc 12 year old, 2016 US Edition, reduced to 40%abv
Nose - Still with the parmesan. Fruit is pushed further back, but caramel candy comes forward. A little chalky. The citronella slowly comes back together, T1000-style.

Palate - A zesty herbal bitterness arrives quickly. Pretty malty overall. A nice creamy citrus note, too.

Finish - Malty and sweeter, but shorter.

* * * * *

anCnoc 12 year old, 2012 Europe Edition, 40%abv
Nose - Lots of caramel candy upfront. Milk chocolate. Kinda like Milk Duds, I think. With plaster. It gets peachier with time, then some malt and salt show up.

Palate - Thinner texture than the US version, but it has the same fizziness. And, curiously, more heat. Quicker, tarter fruit. Caramel candy. And LOTS of bitter hoppy IPA.

Finish - An IPA with more heat. So much grapefruit and hops. Hints of dried grass and milk chocolate.



WORDS WORDS WORDS

Compared to the aforementioned decently-priced 12 year old single malts, I'd put this slightly ahead of Glenfiddich 12 and Tomatin 12, and waaaaaaaay ahead of Glenlivet 12. While it's a casual drinker, anCnoc 12 does have some nice crisp fruit and a good challenging edge to it. Old Pulteney 12, while being a much different whisky, has bold lines and noticeable unique (distillery?) traits as the anCnoc 12 does. So they'd rank somewhere around the same level, in my opinion. Neither whisky will move you, emotionally, but each deliver a little something above average.

Now that references the US edition only. The 2012 European edition is okay, a totally acceptable whisky, but more than that. I don't know its difference is due to dilution or filtering or coloring. The edgy IPA character keeps it from falling into the 70s grade-wise.

The US edition still wins out when it's diluted to 40%abv, and feels like it could take a little more water too. I might experiment with that further. If anything new is discovered, I'll provide updates in the comment section.

Overall, anCnoc's 18yo is a superior whisky, but if you're in the US and can find this 12yo for less than $40, it's a reasonable drink for the dollar.

2016 US edition
Availability - US only
Pricing - $35-$60, average in the mid- to high-40s
Rating - 84

~2012 Europe edition
Availability - Europe only
Pricing - $30-$50, average in the mid-30s
Rating - 80

Monday, March 20, 2017

Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy Irish Pot Still Whiskey

I heard a rumor that St. Patrick's Day was celebrated last Friday. Between working on the Scotch Market in Flux series, and then having my two-year-old daughter all to myself for three days, I'm forced to just take the calendar's word that Saint Pat's actually happened.

Long time readers may have noticed that I've stopped reviewing Irish whiskies over the past couple years. To be honest, I haven't really been drinking much Irish whiskey either. I'm not terribly inspired by the new crop of Jameson spinoffs since I found Black Barrel to be awful. We don't get too many of the Teeling bottlings here in The States, and I can't afford the suddenly ultra-luxury 20+ year old indie Irishes. But I do remain on Team Irish Pot Still.

The first time I saw the price tag on Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy, I exclaimed "What the heck?" or something of that nature. For years I'd been drinking $15 blends, then moved up to $40 pot stills. But I'd never heard of a $200 Irish whiskey. Especially an Irish whiskey without an age statement.

My my, have things changed in five years. The $15 blend is now $30. The $40 pot still is now $60. And there are a lot of Irish whiskies selling for three figures. Last year I tried one Irish whiskey that justified its three-figure price tag. And now I have tried another.


Brand: Midleton
Distillery: Midleton
Country: Ireland
Type: Single Pot Still
Age: I've read many things: "15 to 25 year old whiskies", "up to 25 year old whiskies", "22 years old"; so I'd say "probably a little of each and some of none".
Maturation: American oak, "seasoned and unseasoned". So ex-bourbons and virgin oak, I suppose.
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? Probably
(Thank you to Eric Sanford for another excellently designed sample bottle. It took me all of three years to actually open this one.)

The nose is filled with beautiful peach and mango notes that remind me of '60s bourbon cask Longmorn. And the cara cara oranges we used to get at the Long Beach farmers' market. Aromatic chili pepper, tangerines and smoked paprika. But there's a metallic heft to it that just sings "Powers". After an hour, a musty dunnage note floats in, alongside rich vanilla bean. After 90 minutes, it's a basket of oranges.

The palate starts with salted caramels and mango, watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew. A great herbal bite. Toffee pudding. Fresh banana (and for the first time ever, for me, that's a good thing). Talisker 18-esque cayenne pepper. Tart lemons. After an hour it starts getting a salty edge which frames the fruity sweetness. After 90 minutes it's quite malty and warm with hints of apricots and honeydew.

So much fruit in the finish, I can't even sort it out. And there's toffee pudding and chili oil. Sweet but not too. Some chest-warming heat. And the fruits keep rolling through, all melons and tropical things.

These two ounces of Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy made for a thrilling two hours. The Legacy was reminiscent of old bourbon cask Balbair and Longmorn, and some old cognac, but with a Powers undertow. There is definitely a lot of older barrels in the mix, and while there are moments of new oak action, they're scarce and well-integrated. Despite the ridiculous grade I gave the old Redbreast 12, five years ago, this is the best Irish whisky I've reviewed on this site. Some day I'll have to try it next to Redbreast 21yo to see which one is the supreme champion. In the meantime, WOW.

Availability - Many specialty liquor retailers in US and Europe
Pricing - anywhere between $150 and $300 in the US and Europe
Rating - 93 (Irish whiskey bias in effect, possibly, maybe, whatever, this is excellent whiskey)

Friday, March 17, 2017

Scotch Market in Flux, Part 3: Single Malt Prices in the USA

If you've made it this far, I hope you don't think I'm going to tell you that whisky prices are decling. But thank you for clicking over to Part 3 of my Annual Scotch Whisky Report anyway! (Part 1 is here and Part 2 is there.)

The price list has grown longer and wider this year. So though there are words above and below the spreadsheet, I know you're here for the spreadsheet.

As I write every year, here's some background on the data below:
I am using Wine Searcher's Average Wine Price system, selecting only US retailers.  Their site has an explanation behind how they arrive at averages.  To summarize, they do not include auctions; all prices are adjusted to 750mL bottles; they remove the highest and lowest 20% prices in order to correct for pricing errors or egregious retailer choices.  Aside from the ability to scroll through pricing history, Wine Searcher's big draw for data purposes is their retailer count.  For instance, if you search for Johnnie Walker Black Label they'll actually stop their listings at 500 retailers.  Their system has over 350 450 500 retailers selling Talisker 10 (extra love to the folks still selling it at $49.99).  So Wine Searcher is pulling from a very large data set.  And, anecdotally, their site has proven very reliable and accurate in my searches for beers, wines, whiskies, brandies, etc.  But please note, this is not an advertisement for Wine Searcher.  Their Average Wine Price history requires a paid subscription and I've been known to mooch off of other people's accounts from time to time.

I encourage you to check out my shared Google Doc at this link. It may be easer to follow, scroll through and filter(?) than it is here.



Three paragraphs about my methodology:
I'm using a similar methodology as last year. There are 179 whiskies listed in total. Thanks to my spreadsheet, I have data back to 2007 (the first year of the so-called whisky boom) for 116 of them. Last year I added a bunch of additional single malts. At that point Winesearcher only had data as far back as 2011, which just happened to be the most successful of the "boom" years. There are 39 of those malts in the list. This year, I've updated the list with 24 more malts. Winesearcher only has January data as far back as 2013. So I've added an additional column with all the 2013 prices. (Also, RIP Benromach 21, Benromach 25, Clynelish DE, Glengoyne 17, Strathisla 12 and Scapa 16. There are too few retailers selling those malts, so the average prices are no longer reliable. Expect the RIP list add another 12 more malts next year.)

Because directly comparing a 10-year price change percentage with a 6-year price change percentage with a 4-year price change percentage is crap math, I'm using the same metric as I did last year to measure the increases: Multiple of Inflation (or MOI).  MOI takes the total price change and divides it by the US's inflation (CPI) rate over the related period of time (10, 6 or 4 years).  For the whiskies that start with the Jan2007 data, the inflation was 17.1% (or $1 in Jan2007 was worth $1.171 in Jan2017).  For the whiskies whose data starts with 2011, the inflation was 8% (or $1 in Jan2011 would be worth $1.08 in Jan2017). For the whiskies whose data starts with 2013, the inflation was 4.2% (or $1 in Jan2013 was worth $1.042 in Jan2017).

The color-coding is based on the MOI, as follows:
Dark blue = price actually decreased, thus a negative MOI
Light blue = price increased between 0 and the actual rate of inflation
Green = price increased between 1 and 2 times the rate of inflation
Light pink = price increased between 2 and 5 times the rate of inflation
Fire Truck Red = price increased between 5 and 10 times the rate of inflation
Black = price increased more than 10 times the rate of inflation



ANALYSIS

There are going to be fewer charts than last year, as I try to do my best to avoid comparing apples to Ledaigs. Let's take a quick look at the price increase between January 2016 and January 2017.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflated 1.5% in 2016. When finding the average of the 179 whiskies from the above spreadsheet, one finds the average single malt had a price increase of 4.35% in 2016. In 2015, whisky prices increased 8 times the rate of the CPI. In 2016, these single malts increased slightly less than 3 times the CPI. While prices increased slower, they still increased considerably faster than the country's consumer goods and services. On the other hand, that percentage increase is considerably less than the 14% increase in price/liter of Scotch whisky exports to the United States.

But as I've found in years past, whisky age categories don't see their prices change at the same rates, so there is no "average" whisky. So here's how each age statement group's prices went up in 2016.

Note: this is the only chart to use percentages
In the big picture, this chart shows us what we've seen in previous years. The older the whisky, the faster its price goes up. The 25-29yo category was particularly excitable thanks to huge jumps by Highland Park 25 (again) and Macallan 25 (again). Also, one can no longer just write off the NAS category because it is now the second largest "age statement" category on the spreadsheet, with 31 separate whiskies. The NAS whiskies' prices are now going up at the same rate, or faster than most starter single malts with age statements.

Actually, just for kicks. Here's another chart of the age statement categories by whisky count:


Yeah, let that NAS count sink in for a moment. Then consider the fact that number does not include all of the NAS bottlings that have come out over the past three years. NAS will probably be the largest category in the spreadsheet within the next two years.

Anyway, back to rising whisky prices.

Let's take that Average Price Increase idea and see what has happened over the past 10 years, using the MOI metric.


What shocks me is how incredibly tidy these numbers turned out. As each category increases in age, its prices escalate at a greater rate.

Again this does not mean 8 to 10 year old whiskies barely went up in price over the past ten years. It means they went up in price at almost the same rate as the US consumer price index during the same time period. General price inflation was up more than 17% during the past 10 years, so the price of the average 8-10yo common single malt in the US has gone up somewhere between 18% and 20% during that time period.

As a whisky consumer (though barely a consumer at this point), I think it's reasonable for a popular single malt's price to go up slightly faster than inflation. There was a great increase in demand for single malts in the United States during over the past ten years. That's why I don't sweat the price increases in the green range in the spreadsheet. It's when single malts start doubling, tripling or quadrupling the rate of inflation that a certain nerd starts writing a post called "What Was the Scotch Whisky Boom?"

When it comes to 25+ year old single malts, the industry seems to have moved as a whole to create and expand an ultra-ultra-luxury whisky market. They're still searching for the ceiling.


Younger, cheaper single malts are going up in price, but at a gradual rate. The rise in teenage whisky prices seemed to have calmed down in 2016. But long-aged whisky has moved into another solar system, a place where a single malt twice as old can cost 20 to 30 times as much.

Remember, the influence of importers, distributors and retailers on these prices cannot be overstated. The price per liter (in GBP) of exported Scotch went up 2% in 2015, about 4 times US inflation, while these single malts' prices rose 4%, or 8 times inflation. In 2016, that price per liter (in GBP) went up nearly 9 times US inflation (before the pound dropped) in the first half 2016 alone, but our single malts' prices rose under 3 times inflation for the year. As I've referenced, inflation will cause price changes, as will swings in exchange rates.

The price still goes up in Scotch whisky's most lucrative market because American humans keep buying expensive booze. The best some of us can hope for in the near future is a plateau to form on the line graph. In the meantime, you don't have to buy that one whisky bottle over there, but the fact is, someone else will. Are you okay with that?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Scotch Market in Flux, Part 2: 2016, Saved by Brexit?

In Part 1 of "A Scotch Market in Flux", I utilized my usual gaggle of charts to illustrate how the Scotch whisky market continued its streak of declining sales in 2015. As always, I used the SWA's Statistical Report for the related data.

In Part 2, I'm going to take a look at the unusual 2016. Since it'll be 10-11 months before the 2016 Statistical Report posts, I will be using a number of other sources to provide analysis on the export markets. These sources will be cited as I go along. Oh yes, I promise there are visuals below, eventually!



FIRST HALF OF 2016 - A MIXED MESSAGE


The SWA posted the "Top 20 Scotch Export Market Tables - first half 2016" PDF in September of last year. And it showed a mingling of ups downs. Though the Top 20 tables don't show the entire scope of the market, they are very representative of the larger picture. For instance:

  • In 2013, the Top 20 export markets made up 75.6% of the value of the entire export market.
  • In 2014, the Top 20 made up 76.8% of the export market.
  • In 2015, the Top 20 represented 77.8% of the whole export market.

But there's a trend that the Top 20's results are much rosier than the rest of the market:

  • In 2013, the top twenty markets' value was up 3.9%. The rest of the market was down -11.5%
  • In 2014, the top twenty lost -6.1%, while the rest of the market lost -10.9%.
  • In 2015, Top 20 value loss was -0.6%. Remainder of the market lost -8.26%.

I reference all this to say that, the Top 20 export markets make up a substantial enough portion of the entire Scotch market, but their results are reliably much rosier than the market as a whole. Yet, as a result the top 20's gains are making it a larger and larger portion of the marketplace.

When compared to the first of 2015, the Top 20's first half of 2016 saw:

  • A gain in volume of 3.9% for the top twenty markets.
  • Meanwhile, those markets saw an increase of only 1.0% in value.
  • This difference was due to a -2.8% change in price per unit. Thus the price of exported scotch went down as a whole.

But this is not the whole picture. The price of exports to the United States rose almost 13% in that same time period. If one was to remove the US from the list, the other 19 top markets saw a volume gain of 5%, a value change of -1.9% and price/unit change of -6.4%.

Yes, the US has that much influence over the export market. And it had a weird first half. Its volume continued to decline, this time by 3% (unit-wise, the third largest drop of any market), but its value went up by 9%. It went from representing 24.5% of the Top 20's value, to 26.6%. And this was entirely due to the sharp increase in its export pricing per unit.

(NOTE: Just before I finished this very post I discovered that one of my sources did list the full market's percentage results for the first half of 2016, so I rewriting these last few paragraphs at the last minute. Yay!) As listed above, the Top 20 markets do make up a very large part of the market, but they were again, much rosier than the full market during the first half of 2016:

  • The full market saw a volume gain of 3.2% compared to the same period in 2015.
  • But it saw a 1% loss in value compared to that same period in 2015.

Once again, the big markets led the way. The Top 10 saw a volume gain of 4.7%, a value rise of 3.8% and a price per liter change of -0.9%. But the 11-20 markets saw a volume gain of less than 1 percent, a value change of -8%, and a price change of almost -9%.

It's India that's almost entirely responsible for the first half's success. India saw huge gains in both volume and value (41% and 28%). If one were to remove India's gains from the list, the Top 20's volume increase would be all of 1 percent, and the rest of the market would be almost even when compared to the first half of 2015. That's good news for India, Scotch's largest emerging market. But not great news for everyone else.

So, looking at the first half of the year, I can imagine that many in the industry were anticipating another year of value losses and perhaps worrying about another decrease in volume sales.



SECOND HALF OF 2016 - BUT THEN...

On June 23rd, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. In 4 days, the Pound lost 11.4% to the Dollar and 8.4% to the Euro. Two months later it was down 19% to the Dollar and 15.3% to the Euro. And it still hasn't recovered. The GBP was cheaper, thus so were UK exports.

Coinciding with the drop of the Pound, Scotch whisky sales saw an impressive rebound in the second half of the year. The Scotch market's exports rose 6.8% in value, while volume shipments were up 4.8% during the latter half.


This resulted in an total 2016 gain of 3.3% in value and 4.1% in volume, inching above 2014's totals. Meanwhile blends saw a tiny uptick of 0.3% in value and 2.2% in volume, though those amounts stayed south of 2014's numbers.

But as usual, the big numbers are not the whole picture. For instance, blended whisky exports continue to have problems. The Behemoth Known as Johnnie Walker (representing more than 1 out of every 5 whisky bottles sold) had a very good second half. But JW carries so much weight that it appears very likely the rest of the blend market saw a drop of more than 1 percent and a volume gain of less than 1 percent in 2016.

Meanwhile the year end gains were also heavily loaded. Here's my quickie table of year end of Export Values:
The top line is incredible. The United States had a £106m gain. That's larger than the export value of all but 7 countries. The rest of the market combined had a £17.6m gain over 2015. I don't have enough italics for all this. And since the US had only a tiny volume increase of 2%, this burst was almost entirely due to a 12% increase in GBP/liter to the US.

Of course, you're ready to reference my above paragraph about the big drop of the GBP against the USD. But it was during the first half of 2016, before the Brexit, that the US saw a 13% increase compared to 2015's first half. So the second half of 2016, during the big Pound plunge, saw no GBP/liter movement, and may have even seen a slight drop.


The rest of the value market numbers are unbalanced as well. The Top 10 countries (which make up 61% of the value market) saw gains of £142.5m, while the entire rest of the market saw an £18.5m decline. That decline itself isn't evenly spread around either. European Union countries, aside from France, had a very good year, while Asian and African countries (other than UAE and India) had a poor year. It's those latter regions that make up Scotch's emerging marketplace.

In the end, the US remains the big spender that controls the market. And the first half boost in US GBP/liter was responsible for a lot of the movement. Much of the rest of the value gains were connected to legitimate increases in export volume:
France, India and Spain were the main drivers of volume increases. But it was the Top 10 countries again who pulled almost all the weight. They made up 60.5% of the volume sold, but 92.2% of the volume gains compared to 2015. Discounting the Top 10 (which was up 6.2%), the rest of the market gained less than 0.8%. And the small markets that didn't make the Top 20 were up only 0.4%.

Curiously, despite the GBP's weakening after the Brexit, the total market's GBP/liter went down 0.8%. And when one subtracts the US from the picture, the rest of the market's GBP/liter dropped 3.7%.

When one takes the GBP's pounding (sorry) back into consideration, one can see why importers were buying up more Scotch. It was much cheaper than it was in 2015. At some points in 2016, it was almost 20% cheaper (via the Euro) to import into the European Union compared to the same period the year before. Thus every single major European market imported more Scotch in 2016 than 2015.

SO WHAT HAPPENS NOW?


I don't know.

Political circumstances in the West are, shall I say, different. Somehow the Dollar remains strong, despite the US's structural integrity being in one of its most shaky states in the past 150 years. Meanwhile nationalist parties are making headway in most EU countries. And then there's the United Kingdom. There's going to be some sort of effect on all UK exports whenever the country does leave the union. Something sizable will happen to the Pound and Euro on that date as well. Meanwhile, a successful Scottish independence vote in 2018 could just possibly affect all Scottish goods. None of that is "whisky", but all of that heavily influences capital 'W' Whisky.

Whisky's losing streak was undoubtably stopped in 2016, but the gains do not lay a steady foundation for a winning streak. I'm a bit stunned by the US export pricing numbers. Did Scotch companies see the bloating being done by importers and distributors, and thus reacted so as to not leave money on the table? Scotch price tags here certainly did not go down after the Brexit vote, so another year (say, 2017) of 12% increases on export prices would be pushed to the consumers. How much more are they willing to test this irreplaceable market?

Rebounds in ailing markets like South Africa, South Korea, Thailand and Taiwan should help keep 2017 from sinking too badly. And India really is rising. I wouldn't be surprised if they unseat the US as the second biggest volume marketplace by 2018. But, as usual, so much depends on the purchasing habits of Americans.

How about I take a look at 2016 American single malt prices? I'm going to pour myself a dram of Old Grand Dad 114 for this next one. I recommend you do the same.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Scotch Market in Flux, Part 1: 2015 and Misplaced Optimism

Welcome to this year's Annual Scotch Report! And by "this year" I mean two years ago and also a little bit of last year. Yes, this blog lives in the past. Speaking of living in the past, this report arrives two months late because the source of my data arrived two months late. The good news is that some additional 2016 information became available in the meantime.

This annual series will be structured a little differently than previous years' reports:
Part 1—which you are currently reading—focuses on the 2015 export value and volume data reported by the Scotch Whisky Association. It's the post with the charts! I will also add my concluding thoughts at the bottom, rather than pushing them out to Part 3.
Part 2—posting on Wednesday—will be about the available 2016 data, as a new narrative began to form that year.
Part 3—Friday—features a MUCH expanded table of US single malt prices. The table itself is the star of the show, so there will be fewer distracting words and charts than last year's post.

All the data from today's charts can be found in the SWA's Publication section. Their 2009 through 2015 reports are available, so feel free to follow along!



So what's this "misplaced optimism" stuff? It's twofold.

Last year I estimated the final 2015 value and volume numbers and......the market did worse than I had expected. So now you can accuse me of being an optimist.

Also, the industry continued to distill vast, vast, vast quantities of whisky while the actual exported volume continued to drop. And none of the targeted emerging markets were showing any growth. This production flood reached its tenth year while distilleries continued to expand and new facilities came online. As I've referenced in all these reports, and as you'll see in the charts below, the so-called "boom" was never about substantial volume sales increases. Since I write from the prospective of the drinker/customer, I look forward to all the well-aged single malt that will result from this overproduction. If I was writing from the POV of the industry, I'd be asking, "What the f***?"

Now that I'm done with the intro to the intro, it's time for the intro.



As you may have gleaned, 2015 was another bad year for the scotch whisky industry. Export volume declined almost 3% compared to 2014, and export value dropped more than 2.4%. Both sets of export totals were at their lowest points since 2010. After malt exports climbed 9.4% in 2014, they dropped about 0.5% in 2015. Blend exports continued their decline, and were at their second lowest levels in the past nine years. Exports to the United States, the industry's most valuable market, showed a 2% decline in volume, but a slight gain in value, demonstrating another rise in price per liter. Production did decrease by 2.7%, but other than that, good news is hard to come by for 2015.

EXPORTS


As always, I'll start with the big chart. Feel free to click any of these charts to enlarge.


This graph is always more historical than helpful, but this time one can see a small correction happening. After every boost comes a drop, and 2015 continued the decline from 2011's peak. This graph is also a bit misleading, because it makes the volume gains look significant. To give a more accurate perspective, here's a graph that adds in export value and shows actual percentage growth and decline.


This is always a fun chart to whip out whenever someone gushes about The Boom. As I've said many times before, the great "boom" gains were in £££, not in quantity of whisky sold (blue line). Again, one can see the correction continuing on the red value line, even though the GBP/liter (green line) amount inched up in 2015.

Let's take a more relevant look at the movement with this chart:


Volume sales in 2015 were almost at the 2007 marker, but value remained higher due to the increase in GBP/liter. I'm of the opinion that export value will not drop to 2007's total thanks to the increases in price per liter. Unless there's an absolute disaster in the market. Meanwhile, I wouldn't be surprised if the volume movement remains in the -10% → +10% range for a very long time. Unless there's an absolute disaster in the market. What we're seeing thus far isn't a disaster or a bust, but a steady leak.

If anyone is still looking for a positive note to 2015, I can show this:

I wouldn't say this is exactly comforting, but at least UK scotch consumption did not decline in 2015. It actually increased 2% over 2014's total. It's still the second lowest amount I've yet found, but I wouldn't be surprised if there was even more drinking going on after Brexit passed in 2016. Meanwhile, this 400,000+ liter rise in UK's scotch drinking doesn't even nudge the 9,500,000 liter drop in exports.


So, yes, 2015 was a bummer. Let's take a look at a few elements from the decline.

MALT AND BLENDED WHISKY SALES




In 2014, malt whisky exports experienced a big jump in value and volume (10.9% and 9.4%). 2015 stopped that growth in its tracks. Both volume and value dropped a half percent. Yet, the chart above shows a slight increase in the weight malt whisky carries in exports. And this is because...


...blend exports continued the decline that began in 2014, losing another 3.5% in volume. Because blends make up such a huge part of the market, any decline on its part brings exports down as a whole. As you see here, the volume has dropped below 2008 and 2009's levels. And, like last year, the decline in blend sales is not being offset by enough of an increase in malt sales. In fact, as mentioned above, malt volumes also dropped in 2015. This shows, once again, that this decline in blend sales was not due to blend drinkers switching to single malts. People were just buying less scotch.

Here are a pair of charts showing totals rather than percentages:

One can see the malt sales plateau and the gradual blend descent. I don't think there's enough information here to extrapolate how dire the blend issue is, but if blend sales continue to decline for another couple years, some companies may need to start rethinking their bread-and-butter blend business.

AGED MALT WHISKY STOCKS


Within the next two years, aged malt whisky stock data will start to get very interesting. The seeds of this change are already here, hidden in the next two charts.


This is the sort of chart that gets some reactive people nervous. This one too:


But there's a story going on here that the charts don't tell. So let me do this in a lower tech fashion:

Decrease in remaining >10yo malt stock
2012 - 22,361,646 liters, -7.74%
2013 - 20,405,088 liters, -7.65%
2014 - 17,342,980 liters, -7.04%
2015 - 12,064,853 liters, -5.27%

Two things are going on in this list. Firstly is the gradual softening in the decrease of >10yo stock. But more importantly, 2015 showed the most reserved abatement yet. So, what happened? Was much less >10yo stock emptied in 2015 than 2014? Nope.

>10yo Malt stock emptied
2012 -2.71% compared to 2011
2013 -0.54% compared to 2012
2014 -4.34% compared to 2013
2015 +7.28% compared to 2014

Thus, more 11+ year old whisky was emptied in 2015, yet the decrease in remaining 11+ year old stock lessened.


Because the big production boost didn't kick in full force until 2007, this might mean that the 2003 and 2004 malts were well managed and remained less depleted than previous years. Now, imagine what will happen to the "Remaining Malt Stocks older than 10 years" chart once the production boost kicks in. I'd venture a guess the 2016 graph will start to show a flattening valley, and by 2018 we'll see the line start to rise. If volume sales don't increase more significantly than they did in the faux-boom, then we're going to start seeing A TON of well-aged malt whisky within 5 years. If this continues further there is going to be an embarrassment of oversupply in 10 years. Even if industry-wide production is cut in half in 2017, it would be too late to stop The Loch.

To put it another way: In 1983—at the low point of exports and production—there was 2.7 billion liters of whisky stock in warehouses. In 2015 there was 3.9 billion liters. The difference in stock: 1.2 billion. The difference in annual exports + domestic consumption for the years 1983 and 2015 was only 76 million (or 0.076 billion). That means the stock increase was almost 16 times greater than the consumption+export increase. Who do they think is going to buy all that whisky?

Probably not the United States.

EXPORTS TO THE UNITED STATES




The decline in export volumes to the United States continued apace in 2015, having now dropped 10.5% from its peak in 2011, falling quicker than the non-US export markets' drop of 8.1%. The value of US exports remains afloat thanks to the highest price per liter yet, with that price increasing at more than twice the pace of the UK's inflation rate. This in turn softened the entire export market's value drop. While the US (the largest value market) had a value increase of 0.14%, the rest of the market's value fell by 3.14%, resulting in an overall 2.4% decrease.



FINAL THOUGHTS ON 2015


2015 was another "crap year for the scotch whisky industry". India, the largest emerging market actually saw a loss in both value and volume. China remained a mostly negligible market, ranking 21st in volume and 20th in value. So when you hear/read people citing China as a major reason for the slump, just know that it was never a successful export market to begin with. It may be holding back major growth, but it's not causing the overall drop.

The actual largest existing export countries are the problem. In 2015, 8 of the top 9 export volume markets fell, and only 1 of the top 12 value markets showed significant growth. France, the only volume market larger than the US, had an even worse whisky year than America. So everyone needs to stop blaming China for this particular problem.

Blend sales are also responsible for pulling down the final numbers. When a 75% portion of the marketplace bleeds steadily, that should eventually become a cause for concern. Malt whisky sales remain excellent overall, and are the only positive thing remaining from "The Boom".

So where are the customers going? Bourbon, perhaps. In 2015, the value of American whiskey sales in the US rose 7.8%, while its export volume grew 5.4%. Between 2005 and 2015, American whiskey export value rose 110%. To put a finer point on it, between 2011 and 2015 scotch export volumes to the US dropped 10.5%, while American whiskey sales volumes with in the US rose 24%. Around here we call that an asskicking.

Former scotch drinkers may also be switching to Irish whiskey. Though Irish whiskey is a smaller industry than Scotch whisky, it's not as small as it used to be. The Irish Food Board announced that Irish whiskey export values have increased by 60% since 2009. And according to the Irish Times (and IWSR), Irish whiskey export volume to the United States increased by 19% in 2015, and was up 409% since 2005.

So the competition was clear and the competition was winning. Fewer bottles of scotch were being sold. Cheap blends were slowly failing while malt sales weren't plugging the leak. Tremendous quantities of spirit were being produced without an audience to drink it. 2015 continued 2014's losses and there was nothing on the horizon to prevent the following year from continuing the fall. Something unprecedented, something outside the whisky industry, would be needed to stem the tide in 2016.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Wild Turkey 17 year old 1996 Master's Keep

STORY


I've read some conflicting information about Master's Keep, so I'm just going to reference an interview with Eddie Russell that Fred Minnick had recommended in his own review.

The Keep's spirit was distilled in 1996 by Eddie's pop, Jimmy. At the time, Wild Turkey was short on storage space in their own warehouses, so they rented space in the defunct Old Taylor / Stone Castle distillery's valley warehouses. Wild Turkey's warehouses are "metal-clad" but Old Taylor's were made of brick, which kept the climate cooler during the summer. In 2003, they moved the barrels out of Old Taylor and into another brick warehouse that was located at a higher election. The barrels were then moved to Wild Turkey's wood and metal warehousing in 2010.

This brick warehouse maturation resulted in a lower ABV than if the barrels had spent their lives in a WT warehouse. Due to the cooler climate, the alcohol evaporated quicker than the water, like it would have in Scotland. In a hotter environment like a WT warehouse, the water would likely have evaporated first, resulting a 17 year old whisky with an ABV higher than its barreling strength. Instead, The Master's Keep's full strength was 43.4%abv when it was bottled.

Unlike most long-aged American whiskies, The Master's Keep did not immediately sell out, even though it was cheaper than many bourbons in its age range. Perhaps that's due to its lower alcohol volume, as many whisk(e)y drinkers are seduced by a high proof. Or perhaps, it's still on quite a few retailer shelves two years later because the limited outturn was 36,000 bottles.

STATS


Brand: Wild Turkey
Owner: Gruppo Campari
Distillery: Wild Turkey Distillery
Location: Lawrenceburg, Kentucky
Warehouse: see notes above
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Mash Bill: 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% barley
Age: at least 17 years
Distillation Year: 1996
Release Year: 2015
"Limited" bottling: 36,000
Alcohol by volume: 43.4%
(Thank you to Ms. Sing for the sample!)

REVIEW

The nose is soft, very soft, almost not there, at first. It takes some time (20+ minutes) to wake up. Then it's lightly woody, with caramel and vanilla. Lots of vanilla, actually. A little bit of pine, cream soda and fudge. Pleasant. The light, polite palate is almost floral with very little woody bitterness and no tannic drying. It has a nice spicy zing and feels fizzy on the tongue. There are some Werther's Originals and tangy oranges in there somewhere. It finishes with that zing and tang. The nose's vanilla returns. A slight green leaf chlorophyll note. Then a cigar tobacco note. It lingers long.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

This is a long-matured bourbon for people who dislike liquid furniture (also known as long-matured bourbon). The oak is remarkably gentle. And there's nothing really wrong with the whole package. There's also nothing really great about the whole package either. The finish's length is certainly the highlight. Otherwise, it's a nice mellow bourbon, a casual sipper, something I'd be happy to pay $30 for. But that's the catch. Though one can find it for 1/10th the price of Pappy 20, it's also 5x the price of a superior Elijah Craig.

Availability - Many specialty liquor retailers in the US
Pricing - $120-$180 in the US, similar in Japan, a hundred dollars more in Europe
Rating - 83

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Mackmyra Vinterrök Swedish Single Malt Whisky

Mackmyra continued with their experimentation with this, the Vinterrök, my last single malt review this week. They took significantly peated spirit and aged it in a mix of Swedish and American oak casks that were "saturated" with Scotch Strong Ale. I didn't know any of that information when I wrote the following tasting notes:

Distillery: Mackmyra Svensk Whisky
Series: Seasons (Säsongswhisky)
Region: Sweden
Type: Single Malt
Age: ???
Maturation: see notes above
Alcohol by Volume: 46.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from a purchased sample)

NEAT
Its color is light gold. The nose is dried grass clippings meet peat meet ham? Juniper, spinach and plastic toys? Sulphur? Neat, indeed. The palate: the first sip is cinnamon sticks, brush fire and white sugar. Second sip is very earthy and vegetal with a ginger ale tail. Third and subsequent sips bring those two sides together with an effervescent fizziness. Wormwood + horseradish + ginger + molasses? I don't know. Fascinating. It has a long ashy finish, with an unusual spicy sweetness. Maybe fresh ginger, cayenne, dark chocolate and toffee? There's also a savory thing going on in the back.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
A little more bacon now on the nose. Dock side, barley, sand and wool sweaters. Cinnamon sticks and peat smoke on the palate. Lemon candy and a zetz of chili oil. It finishes sweeter and lemony. Ashes and cinnamon.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
I've never had anything quite like this craziness. And think I'm in love. It's like someone infused Kilchoman with ginger, horseradish and a new sweater.

This particular eccentricity didn't exactly get raves when it came out and I can understand why. It won't seduce the drinker with harmony and grace, nor immediate drinkability. Ain't no smooth here. It appeals to a very specific palate, probably someone with Swedish-Mongolian-Wiccan-Panda heritage. And I am just that man.

Availability - 
Continental Europe only

Pricing - between $40 and $60 before shipping
Rating - 87

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Mackmyra First Edition Swedish Single Malt Whisky (US Release)

Mackmyra First Edition was indeed the first edition of Mackmyra to be released in the United States. And I don't believe it had a successor. It arrived with considerably less fanfare than every single malt dropped by every Pacific nation. It was bottled at 46.5%abv, unfiltered, uncolored and in a 1 liter bottle......and sold for less than $60 at many East Coast retailers. It's also tasty. Yet it didn't sell very quickly. Again, it wasn't marketed within an inch of its life; and since the distillery wasn't an employer of the late Jim Swan, it wasn't lavished with attention by whisky writers. So the US never got a Mackmyra sequel and all of that distillery's many bottlings stayed in Europe.

As mentioned earlier this week, the folks at Mackmyra like to experiment. They have warehouses in all sorts of environments. Big barrels, little barrels. They do some maturation in Swedish oak and use Swedish wine casks, in addition to utilizing classic whisky oaks and cask types. They use Swedish barley and Swedish peat. And they're owned by a cooperative. How this never became the official hipster whisky, I'll never know.

Distillery: Mackmyra Svensk Whisky
Region: Sweden
Type: Single Malt
Age: ???
Maturation: 94.6% Bourbon casks and 5.4% Swedish Oak, with 45% stored in 100-liter casks
Release Year: 2008-2009
Alcohol by Volume: 46.5%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(Sample from one my event bottles)


NEAT
Its color is straw. The nose's early notes include saline, wheat bread, grape candy and cinnamon. Then cardamom, yeast, walnuts, jasmine and bubblegum. It sounds messy but actually comes together well. The palate is thick and creamy, with toasted oak spice on top and dried herbs below. Malty and warm, with a touch of mocha. Gradually develops a Worcestershire sauce-type savory note. It finishes mmmmmalty. Slightly ashy. Toasted oak spices and a bit of vanilla ice cream.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose opens up nicely with plums, orange candy, and lime juice. Then vanilla and eucalyptus. More toasted oak and savory notes in the palate. Some salt and malt, with a slight phenolic note. It finishes with dried herbs, sea salt and semi-sweet chocolate.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
I've had this whisky on five occasions and have enjoyed every time, though this round was the best, especially because this was the first time I'd diluted it. As well as it performs neatly, it improves with a little water. It really is a pleasant drink, perky on the the nose and simply solid in the mouth. If you can still find a bottle on the shelves here in The States for less than $60, I do recommend it.

Availability - Very scarce in the US
Pricing - somewhere between $45 and $70
Rating - 85 (two points up from my review 5 years ago)