...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Glen Garioch 1990, Part 2: 25 year old Signatory, cask 2752

During this fatherhood phase I have only one or two opportunities to do tastings each week, which is one reason why I did this three-part Taste Off. A second reason is that one can also gain a better perspective of one whisky by juxtaposing it with other whiskies during the same tasting session. I keep staring at that sentence, trying to figure out if it will make sense to anyone but me, but I'm so damned tired that I'm just going to leave it be.

On Monday, I reviewed a 23 year old 1990 Glen Garioch bottled by The Nectar of the Daily Drams. It was a sharp, peaty, spirity, youthful thing.

Today I'm reviewing a 25 year old from Signatory, probably my favorite indie bottler. This whisky is beloved by Serge and the whiskybase community. Let's see if I'm in the same whisky boat...

Distillery: Glen Garioch
Distilled by: Morrison Bowmore
Current Ownership: Beam Suntory
Region: Eastern Highlands
Bottler: Signatory

Age: 25 years (April 9, 1990 to April 16, 2015)
Maturation: hogshead
Cask #: 2752
Alcohol by Volume: 50.6%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(purchased sample)

This has the lightest color of the three. A lovely nose. Lemons, pineapples, roses, canned peaches, toffee pudding and peat. The palate is full of malt and white fruits. Then fermenting melon, cayenne pepper and citrus. Marzipan. Slightly fizzy. It does get a sharper bite with time in the glass. The complex finish mirrors the palate, but with a little more peat and herbs.

WITH WATER (~43-44%abv)
Oooh yeah. The nose has butterscotch, (lots of) fresh peaches, dried apricots, ocean air and a hint of Belgian witbier. The palate has changed a bit. Plums, limes, fudge, tart cherries, cranberry juice and bitter peat. Again, the finish matches the palate.

Okay yeah, this is pretty great. It works with or without dilution, though I think I preferred it with. It's much rounder and more mature than yesterday's 23yo, swapping out the harsher edges and loud peat for fruit and complexity.

I'm pretty sure this sold out promptly following Serge's blessing in 2015, but if it's still floating around out there at its €100-120ish original price, it wouldn't be a bad Glen Garioch to seek out.

Availability - probably sold out, so maybe via the secondary market?
Pricing - ???
Rating - 89

Monday, October 30, 2017

Glen Garioch 1990, Part 1: 23 year old Nectar of the Daily Drams

Here's a random series for you. In honor of reader James, to whom it's taking me months to respond, I did a Taste Off between three Glen Garioch single malts distilled in 1990. (James is a fan of older Glen Gariochs, to clarify that previous garbage sentence.)

Before Suntory took over (1994) and mothballed (1995) Glen Garioch, the distillery used lightly peated malt. And as much as I like the current version of Glen Garioch's single malts, the pre-Suntory style always brought something interesting to a bottle. Of course, the rumored dark side of that situation is the dreaded lavender soap note that also infected Morrison's Bowmore output in the '80s.

Here are three samples of '90 Garioch from three different bottlers.

First up, a 23 year old from Nectar of the Daily Drams.

Distillery: Glen Garioch
Distilled by: Morrison Bowmore
Current Ownership: Beam Suntory
Region: Eastern Highlands
Bottler: Daily Drams

Age: 23 years (1990-2014)
Maturation: maybe a refill ex-bourbon cask
Alcohol by Volume: 49.7%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(purchased sample)

Its color is the second darkest of the three, but it seems as if the cask contributed little more than visual tone, because the nose is very spirity for the whisky's age and alcohol content. Burnt paper, barley, apples and plaster. A good oceanside note. Small notes of marshmallow, lemon cake, vanilla and peat. The palate is ashy and earthy, full of minerals and concrete (oh that tasty concrete). It's lightly sweet with moderate notes of malt, horseradish, plastic and vanilla. Its finish is very ashy, like damp cigarettes. Light bitterness and peppercorns.

Dilution time...

WITH WATER (~43-44%abv)
Its calmer nose has more vanilla, caramel and marshmallows. Additional beach, smoke and farm notes. With time it almost turns into a single-digit Ledaig with sulphur and sneaker peat. The palate is aggressively green and herbal with plenty of bitter smoke. Tart citrus, stale raisins and jalapeño peppers. Little bit of sweets, lots of minerals. The finish is shorter, quieter. It's still green and earthy like the palate. Light vanilla sweetness mixes oddly with the jalapeño peppers and smoky residue.

That this whisky flexed its spirit was not a surprise. That it read like a 60%abv whisky at one-third its actual age was unexpected. Water did bring out some oak notes in the nose, but also turned up its rugged phenolics. The palate's a fighter with or without water. This was confirmed by Kristen's reaction when she tried the whisky.

One's personal preferences are certainly in play here. This isn't a graceful or casual sipper. It's a bit more of a winter warmer. While I enjoyed the nose better once the whisky was diluted, the added water messes up the finish. So I'd recommend it either neat or at an ABV much lower than 43. And while I dig the zesty greenery in this one, I expect a bit more depth, roundness and maturity from a whisky that spent twenty-three years in a cask.

Availability - A few European retailers perhaps?
Pricing - probably €100-€130
Rating - 82

Friday, October 27, 2017

Beatrice Booze Report: Springbank 25 year old Millennium Collection

In 1998, J. & A. Mitchell & Co. Ltd., the owners of Springbank Distillery, released the Millennium Collection, probably the most erotic thing in the history of whisky (with apologies to Jim Murray).

The set was made up of a 25 year old, 30 year old, 35 year old, 40 year old, 45 year old and 50 year old Springbank single malt. Each of these whiskies took the form of one 700mL bottle and one 50mL bottle. The set included a certificate of authenticity and six wooden coffins. There were a total of 580 sets.


While this set appears in auctions every year (and I'll let you google its value), a number of original owners actually chose to break up the set and DRINK the whisky. Through the generosity of one of these crazies, the LA Scotch Club obtained a bottle of the 25yo, five years ago. We split it up, 30mL a piece. And now I am going to drink my sample of whisky history.

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Owner: Springbank Distillers Ltd.
Region: Campbeltown
Maturation: good casks ✔
Age: at least 25 years
Bottled: 1998
Limited bottling: 580 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 46%


The nose begins with a surprising amount of fruit: orange peel and dried cherries, as well as a cinnamon and apple baked treat. A swirl of toffee pudding, vanilla bean and nutmeg. Burlap and a hint of mossy peat. After 30 minutes, it's all anise, rosemary and oregano oils.

A surprise greets the palate as well: a heavy strike of peat and salt. Chimney and earth. Lemon and pepper and Underberg. Its creamy texture fills the mouth and reads as if it's cask strength.

Oh my. The finish is colossal. Earth, coal, pepper, lemon peel, mint leaves and herbal bitterness.


This was a revelation. No, not its tremendous quality, but its character. I was expecting a graceful heavily sherried thing. But the peat and herbs and fruit and filth carry the day. And it's gigantic.

The 2005 21 year old may be more detailed and drinky, but this one's remarkable finish sticks the landing better than almost any whisky I've tried. I'm thrilled to have had this opportunity to try these two whiskies, and am glad I was able to liberate them before the samples had spoiled.

(For a few more takes on this very bottle, please see the LAWS reviews here. The salted plum notes are pretty cool, I wish I'd thought of that!)

Availability - Auctions & a few European retailers
Pricing - Auctions: $1000-$2000, Retailers: $2000-$3000
Rating - 93

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Beatrice Booze Report: Springbank 21 year old, bottled in 2005

After examining my entire sample stash for storage problems, I decided to change up the celebratory whiskies this week. I'm going with two super samples I've been saving for years for some unknown circumstance. I believe the opportunity has presented itself.

First up is the official Springbank 21 year old that was bottled in 2005. Here's a photo of a bottle:
Old Springbank. It sounds awesome, right? But wait, there's more.

Doing the math... 2005 minus 21 equals 1984. But the distillery was closed in 1984. And 1983. And 1982. And 1981. And 1980. So the youngest possible whisky in the bottle would have been from 1979. Thus it's a 26 year old in 21 year old clothing.


Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Owner: Springbank Distillers Ltd.
Region: Campbeltown
Maturation: probably some pretty nifty sherry casks
Age: 21 years per statement, but actual age is at least 26 years
Bottled: 2005
Limited bottling: 2400 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
(Purchased at an LA Scotch Club event many years back)


The nose takes one on a little journey. Industrial dockside. Coal smoke. Tobacco. But then... nuts roasting in the oven, alongside an apple tart. Hints of jerk spice and cabernet sauvignon. Then raspberry syrup, pineapple and molasses. Damn.

The palate's tale is narrower but intense, and occasionally similar to the nose. It's dingy and oily. Tar. Smokestack. Earth and stones. Those Campbeltown dunnages. Very dry sherry meets a slight malty sweetness. Hints of bitter chocolate and anise. A subtle rooty bitterness. I could get used to this.

Focus continues to tighten in the finish. It still has the greasy industrial notes and dunnage. Hints of the ocean and bitterness. There's also chili pepper, lemon and salt. The smoke returns later.


Because the nose and palate notes speak for themselves, I'll waste no further words on them. *sobs*

The finish is briefer than expected and never reaches the heights of the nose and palate, yet it ends up leaving the palate feeling refreshed, like some mysterious aperitif.

This whisky......it's a completely different liquid than any single malt being produced today. I do have faith that the current Springbank folks could nail a similar style someday somehow. And maybe Benromach ten years from now, if they've got stuff sitting in sterling sherry casks. And if anyone really gave a crap about single malts at Ardmore, but they don't. Anyway, let us not dwell in the present anymore than we already do.

Let's see if I can top this whisky on Friday.

Availability - Auctions
Pricing - Under $500?! Where's my coin purse...
Rating - 92 (the finish knocks it down from 94-95, these scores are stupid)

Monday, October 23, 2017

Whisky PSA: Check yo samples before you wreck yo samples!

Achtung! And embrace the terrible title! This is a public service announcement for those who have a liquor sample collection.

I started my whisky sample stash about six years ago.  Less than two years into the bottle accumulation, I upgraded bottle caps.

The standard caps have a plastic ribbing and a foam or paper liner. When one first starts saving whisky samples, these seem perfectly okay. One may even choose to use electrical tape around the bottle neck to make sure the cap doesn't open.

When I upgraded caps, I switched to those with phenolic ribbing and the little polycone seal. These provide something much closer to an airtight fit. These are more expensive than the standard caps.

The thing is, though, I chose to use the better caps only on samples going forward. A year later, I decided to order a slew of extra caps to switch out the old ones. Then life happened, and I never did the big switchout.

I'm here to tell you that by not switching out the caps, I enabled a number of samples to spoil. The standard cap's cheap liner falls off within a couple of years, often adhering to the glass neck or crumbling into the whisky itself if the liquid is right up to the edge.

Even more troubling, the cap itself gradually buckles upwards. (You can actually see and feel this, as the top of the cap starts to get curved instead of flat.) Thanks to the buckling plastic and flimsy liner, the seal breaks and air comes in. Over five years, some of my samples experienced 1/3 to 2/3s evaporation. They're left with what I recently called a "swirling murk" throughout the liquid. The whisky loses most of its smell, while the palate goes flat, watery and nearly tasteless except for a really weird bitterness.

Luckily I lost only a half dozen samples to this issue. But all of them had caps that buckled on the top. This weekend, I replaced another fourteen caps on samples that showed no evaporation nor murk. Meanwhile, the little historical archive I started six years ago is probably mostly ruined. Can't bear to look at it right now.

If you have a whisky/brandy/rum/etc sample bottle collection going back more than three years, then I encourage you to check your bottle caps. If you've been using the standard tops, I recommend any option with a better seal. Swap out the old caps with better ones. Dump any sample that has experienced evaporation of 1/3 the bottle, or greater. I mean, you can sip it first to check its quality but then you've lowered its fill level and also contributed some bacteria to the mix.

In conclusion — never a great way to begin a conclusion — keep your samples sealed the best way you can. The extra ten or twenty cents per cap is worth it. (One method to buy extras is to add a bunch of additional caps to your next bottle order. I don't think Amazon sells the caps by themselves.)

ALSO, drink your whisky.

Thank you. This has been a Diving for Pearls public service announcement.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Smooth Ambler Old Scout Rye 8 year old single barrel 971

The plan seemed airtight. I'd save my sample of Thomas H. Handy (2011 edition) rye for a special occasion. And after my second daughter arrived, I knew this was the moment. Then I pulled the sample bottle — poured for me by Florin (a prince) five years ago — from storage, only to discover that 2/3s of the whiskey had evaporated and the remainder was full of swirling murk. I'm an idiot for waiting so long. And yes I'm an idiot for having given it not one, not two, but three sips just to make sure it was really spoiled. It was really spoiled. Moral of the story: DON'T WAIT FIVE YEARS TO CONSUME A SAMPLE.

Now the night was zipping by and I wanted to taste something while my nose and palate were still working, so I grabbed my last Smooth Ambler / MGP single barrel rye sample. It was also from Florin (a prince) but from only 2.5 years ago. That was back in the day when these bottles were selling for 1/5th of their current "value" on the secondary market. But I love full strength MGP rye more than most single malts, so here we go.

Brand: Old Scout
CompanySmooth Ambler
Type: Straight Rye Whiskey
RegionMaxwelton, West Virginia (Distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana)
Age8 years
Mashbill: 95% rye, 5% malted barley
Retailer: Davidson's
Barrel: 971
Bottled: 11/12/14
Alcohol by Volume60.9%

The nose starts off bourbon-like, thick with vanilla, caramel and cherry syrup. Then apricot and dark chocolate notes arise. Underneath is a floral rye note, and a minor pickle brine thing. And cinnamony churros! A good lack of heat. The palate is more rye-ish. Dark dusty spices, a jar of multicolored peppercorns. Salted caramels and fennel seed. Sweet and tannic with a velvet texture and very little burn. It finishes with honey and black pepper. Sweet lemons, fennel seed and barrel char. Medium length.

Gonna drop it to the standard Old Scout Rye abv:

WITH WATER (~49.5%abv)
The nose becomes more focused. Caramel candies, mandarin oranges, cloves and a hint of flower blossoms. The rye element intensifies in the palate. All vanilla and caramel stuff has been stripped away. It's very spicy and peppery. Hints of citrus and tannins. The finish is all zing. Tangy citrus. Feisty pepper. Curmudgeonly char.

This is an impressively easy drinker considering the considerable (sorry) alcohol content. The rich oak notes in its nose will likely appeal to bourbon fans. Rye enthusiasts will prefer the palate over the nose. That's where the rye lies. It dilutes well too, which is another plus.

Due to all that oak, I think it's a half step back of Willett's similarly aged MGP rye, but it's close enough to provide some similar joys. This was a good buy back when this stuff was $50-$65. And, girl, I'm missing those days.

Availability - Secondary market only
Pricing - allot of munny
Rating - 87

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Randy Brandy drinks......Clear Creek Cherry Brandy (Kirschwasser)

It seems like Our Dear Leader is useless today because of something called "children", so he handed the website password to this wiser gentleman. That's right, snowflakes, Randy Brandy's going to write whatever he wants.

So, I had a colonoscopy last week, as is required of men of my enlightened age. Here is my entire conversation with the gastroenterologist. I speak in all caps.

"For the 24 hours before the procedure you can only consume clear liquids."
"Actually, that's not--"
"You'll want to refrain from that after taking the laxative--"

That meant I had to drink broth for a day, which is depressing because it doesn't mix with vermouth. I was intrigued when my wife, Brandy, told me about some pop-up shops selling hipster bone broth. But I lost interest when I found out it's actually made from chicken.

The day after the medical professionals looked at my magnificent ass, Diving for Girls invited me over to celebrate the birth of his second daughter. Usually Jews bring Slivovitz (kosher plum turpentine) to celebrate the birth of Jewish children, but Kirschwasser is a German spirit so I thought that would be funnier.

Speaking of hipsters. Portland's Clear Creek Distillery makes brandy out of everything from poire williams to banjos. Steven McCarthy fired up the stills for the first time in 1985, then sold out to Hood River Distillers in 2014, thus losing his Portland citizenship forever.

Clear Creek kirschwasser is made from sweet cherries grown in the Pacific Northwest, which is quite locavore and sustainable, especially considering they then ship the product to retailers thousands of miles away. Clear Creek, guys, you know Latvian or Chinese cherries would be much cheaper.

Here are my notes.

Color: Appropriate
Nose: Fruity bubblegum, maraschino liqueur, dried blueberries, orange brandy. Only a mild spiritous note.
Palate: Moderate acidity. Warm cinnamon spiciness and honey. More on sweet apples than dark cherries. Creamy texture, minimum burn.
Finish: This is where the cherries show up and take over. Some late sweetness and bitterness.

There were my notes.

It drinks fast and easy, so the 375mL bottle is a damned flask. The fruity nose is good, the palate is fine. Imported kirsch isn't cheap, so Clear Creek's version is one of the lowest priced options around. Though German and Swiss kirsch often have a better palate than this one, be prepared for $40-$50 for half bottle prices. So, I guess at $25ish, this one counts as a good deal. I guess. It's better than vodka. It's better than cheap Sliv. It's better than Hiram Walker's "brandy". But so is a colonoscopy.

NOT WHISKY RATING: B-, though by the fourth glass it's a B. Deal with that, Kravitz.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Beatrice Booze Report: Springbank 19 year old 1997 from Cadenhead Warehouse Tasting

After two weeks of a bad cold and one week in the newborn baby zone, I'm back in the game.


Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Owner: Springbank Distillers Ltd.
Region: Campbeltown
Age: 19 years (May 9, 1997 to July 13, 2016)
Maturation: Sherry Butt
Alcohol by Volume: 59%
Purchased after the Cadenhead Warehouse tasting on, um, July 13, 2016

The nose holds tons of honey and thick toffee. Then roasted nuts, berry candy, blackberry liqueur and clementines. Beneath those notes sit a steady stream of antiseptic, band-aids and good unsmoked cigars. The palate is not as sweet as the nose would have one believe. While there are some sugary berries, it's full of dry sherry, lemons and ginger powder. It's intensely spicy, likely from the cask. It's also very earthy (as opposed to peaty). Loads of fresh ginger and chili peppers in the loooooong finish. Dried berries, crisp tannins and peat embers.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
It's a different whisky. Pineapple and honeydew join the nose's honey. Grape jam and blue Mr. Sketch marker. Toasty peat and a bigger antiseptic note. Hints of milk chocolate and barn. The palate is milder, sweeter and more approachable. Ginger and nutty sherry, with the berry candy around the edges. More smoke, more tangy citrus. Moderated wood spice. The finish is less tannic. More fruit and more tobacco. Dry sherry and a hint of cinnamon raisin bread. A wisp of smoke.

The best way to experience this whisky (and nearly any whisky) is by doing so straight from the cask in Cadenhead's warehouse #9. But that's dickish of me to mention because this cask is no more, it has shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleeding choir invisible.

The second best way to experience this whisky is by adding water. It's a hell of thing on the nose, when neat. But the full strength palate, while good, needs some elbow room. Diluting it a little bit helps the finish out as well. No matter how you choose to drink it, the whisky never tilts too sweet. But it can't be accused of subtlety either. It's all power. Thunderous cask notes exist side by side with vivacious Springbank spirit, neither giving way.

When we received the good news about our baby-to-be nine months ago, I knew instantly this was the bottle I'd open when she arrived. There are too many open bottles in my cabinet right now, and that's because they're all okay-to-good. None of them are great. This one is great. And I anticipate it getting better around the bottle's midpoint. At the moment, it isn't the 93+-point whisky I'd thought it would be, but who knows...

Availability - Sold out at Cadenhead
Pricing - it was £100 when I bought it, UK auctions have it for a lot more now
Rating - 90 (with water)

Friday, October 6, 2017

Killing Whisky History, Episode 5 - Three Decades of Chivas Regal 12

It's the 1950s versus 1970s versus 2010s in this month's Killing Whisky History episode. This trio of Chivases, or Chivae, presented me with a pair of surprises, one positive, one not. If you think the 8:30 runtime is long, you should have seen the 14:30 Heaven's-Gate-director's-edition Ralfy-sized second cut. No, you shouldn't have seen it. It has been destroyed. This edit was approved by blind studio executives and me.

The brand and bottle history lessons end at 3:42, after which the tastings and faces begin.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Malt Bar South Park, the second night, part two

Malt Bar South Park posts
1. Bar introduction
2. Night One
3. Night Two, part one
4. Night Two, part two

(Continued from Part One)

Malt Bar South Park's special guest, a thin bespectacled man wearing a checked pattern shirt that was somehow both conservative and riotously colorful, was greeted by the owner as soon as he walked through the door. He gave the owner a bottle of whisky as a gift as they chatted in the right corner of the bar. After several minutes he came over and sat in his reserved seat next to me. We nodded to each other and I went back to nosing my glass of Tomatin.

Once I'd emptied my glass, the bartender, Fujita-san, came over with the bottle of Ardmore I'd tried earlier. He pointed to the bottle and said, "Whiskyfind", referring to the independent bottler of the whisky. Then he gestured to the man next to me and said, "This is Whiskyfind". The guest nodded and laughed.

And I replied, "So I guess you find whiskies."

Yep, I said that.
I felt like a robot toilet.
Let's quantify this idiocy.
1. The man laughed politely. But then things got quiet. Even the bartender walked away.
2. It truly was my "Well, we're not in Kansas anymore" (of Swingers fame) line.
3. I said it LOUD and SLOW, as if he were deaf and mentally handicapped rather than being from another country.
4. Because the gentleman was of Asian background, I had assumed he was Japanese.

His name was Odin Chou and, it turns out, he was not Japanese, but Taiwanese. And he spoke perfect English.

To recover from my social fart, I turned to the one subject that whisky nerds can talk about. Whisky. We talked about Ardmore. Odin walked me through how his company works. I detailed the bizarro world of spirit sales in the USA.

He asked, "Have you tried the Craigellachie?"

I then tried the Craigellachie.

Craigellachie 26 year old 1990 The Whiskyfind for Mash Tun Tokyo, cask 5401, 50.1%abv

Color - light gold
Nose - Very nutty (hazelnuts, cashews, walnuts, almonds), peach, candle wax, lots of cereal notes and a whisper of caramel sauce.
Palate - Malty malt. Lemons and limes. Salt and dunnage. Soft, silky texture.
Finish - Candle wax and tangy citrus meet up with salty and savory notes.

Words - This is the oldest non-sherried Craigellachie I've had, and it's the best. Excellent mouthfeel, complex nose. Again, no oak obstruction. Instead, the whisky imparts the gentle passing of time.
Grade: 89

I suddenly remembered that Fujita-san had recommended a Port Charlotte to me on the first night, but I knew that I was d-o-n-e done after the pair of Ledaigs. I had promised to come back and try it. So there I was on my second night. It was time to give it a go.

Port Charlotte 11 year old 2004 bourbon cask for Malt Bar South Park, 58.9%abv

Color - light gold
Nose -  Very pretty for a Port Charlotte. Cocoa, roasted smoked almonds, anise, brown sugar, lime and confectioneries. Also grilled vegetables and bacon.
Palate - Brown sugar, barbecue, sweet cherries and peat. A great bitter bite. Much less heat than expected.
Finish - Peat, anise, cherries, brine and a wallop (or dollop) of horseradish.

Words - Clean crisp PC with a more moderate level of peating than usual, so it's not a palate-killer like some PCs can be. Friendly good stuff.
Grade: 86

Odin then shared pours of a trio of 1989 Burnsides, as well as an Allied-era Ardbeg. (Thank you, Odin.) We discussed the high quality of the former and the delicate grace of the latter. Modern Ardbeg and Laphroaig are bereft of the fruits and subtleties of their old versions, and have replaced them with aggressive peat and/or oak levels.

He was very generous with his time and we spoke for hours. He shared his extensive experiences with the whisky scene in mainland China, as well as his thoughts on the future of Suntory's single malts. I cautiously inquired about his opinion on Kavalan, and then burst out laughing when his opinion of that distillery matched mine precisely.

Amidst this conversation, Malt Bar South Park's owner, Futakata-san (I think!), brought over pours from his YAMAZAKI OWNER'S CASK. How many times can one man say arigato gozaimasu, before things get embarrassing? Whatever it is, I passed that quantity instantly.

(Yes, Serge has had this cask. It is cask #5J3072, 63%abv. Here's the link.)

It was one of the richest whiskies I've ever had. Layer upon dense layer of malt and fruit and rich oak and nuts...

...and that is when my pen died. My phone had already plotzed so nothing was recorded, anywhere. All I could do was be mindful and fully experience the moment.

I did. And it was wonderful.

I treasure these encounters. Writing about them refreshes me. The kindness and graciousness extended to me by strangers throughout my trip overwhelms me still and keeps me aglow in times of struggle and doubt.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Malt Bar South Park, the second night, part one

Malt Bar South Park posts
1. Bar introduction
2. Night One
3. Night Two, part one
4. Night Two, part two

My second trip to Malt Bar South Park marked my final Japanese bar stop. I found my way to the Nakano bar using a printed-out map and my memory. Parts of my cellphone didn't work that night, nor the next. (Frankly, fuck my Samsung Galaxy S6 for being useless when I was lost and in trouble during this trip. I'm happily ridding myself of it this week.) For instance, neither my wireless or data worked that night. Neither did the keyboard. Neither did the power, at times. But the camera randomly functioned (as you'll see below), until it didn't.

As a result the notes for this night were handwritten on the back of the map...until my brand new pen ran dry.

Despite these issues, this experience was awesome. I'll add the narrative for your enjoyment.

After I'd bypassed Malt Bar South Park, again, I found it, then rushed down the stairs to find shelter. Fujita-san was still behind the bar. Everything was still spotless.

The seat at the center of the bar had a "RESERVED" card, which I dumbly and Americanly didn't see as I sat down on it. The owner's wife hurried over to politely ask me to move to another seat, explaining that a special guest was expected to arrive soon. So I thought it would be a great idea to plant my ass next to this mystery person's seat.

After getting another great plate of fruits and nuts and dark chocolate, I began with an Ardmore from an independent bottler that does its business only on that side of the Pacific Ocean.

Ardmore 16 year old 2000 The Whiskyfind for Mash Tun Tokyo, cask 800214, 55.5%abv

Color - light amber
Nose - Very fruity. Lychee, Meyer lemon, apricot and barbecued peach(?). Mild peat, subtle vanilla. Wet sheep!
Palate - More smoke here. Tangy and lemony, with a nice sprinkle of cayenne pepper. From my notes: "Sweet, though almost out of its baby fat phase." Yes, this was my first drink.
Finish - Smoke, lemon and sugar. There was something Hakushu-ish about it.

Words: This is a good intro for drinkers new to Ardmore thanks to its lemons and beachy peat. Despite its 16 years, there was no oak interrupting the flow. I liked it.
Grade: 85

Sherried Inchgower!
Inchgower 32 year old 1980 The Whisky Agency, refill sherry butt, 52%abv

Color - gold, Jerry
Nose - Chocolate fudge, chocolate frosting, chocolate pudding. Nutty pudding. Leather. #FromMyNotes "Nummy sulfur".
Palate - Chocolatey, similar to the nose, but there's also pineapple and peaches. Smoked paprika. Fresh ginger and lychee. Its fruitiness grows with time. Just a whisper of gunpowder, like a seasoning.
Finish - The fruit remains in the finish, shedding the chocolate. Some new notes of oranges and nuts. A hint of smoke.

Words: A treat. The chocolate is a bit heavy on the nose. Though that sounds silly as a complaint, the chocolate's weight prevents additional depth. The whisky is at its best once the fruit comes through in the mouth. (And no, I have no idea what the heck Serge was drinking when he reviewed this, an issue I've been finding with increasing frequency.) But this whisky would be great for dessert.
Grade: 87

I had to do it. One 1978, please.
Tomatin 35 year old 1978 Cadenhead small batch, bourbon hogsheads, 44.4%abv

Color - light gold
Nose - Dunnage. Musty melons. Chalk. Mangoes. Canned peaches and pears. A biscuity malty note. It picks up some oomph with time.
Palate - It's as thick as a liqueur. Loaded with fresh peaches and mangoes. The fruits' essences rather than sugars. Dunnage! A hint of herbal bitterness.
Finish - All tropical and stone fruits, playing separately, then together.

Words: Yes, this was a small batch and, yes, that ABV is accurate. Cadenhead has a few of these '78s with low abv. The result is whisky concentrate. And it is fab. Romantic, even.
Grade: 92

So there I was, sipping on this whisky, looking like a total baller, when the special guest walked in.

To be continued...

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Malt Bar South Park, the first night

Yes, there was a second night at Malt Bar South Park. But, as logic would dictate, if there was a second night, then there was also a first.

(Also, click here for yesterday's intro to this drinking establishment.)

Because the atmosphere (and music) made for a perfect drinking experience, I'm going to be silly and give these whiskies number grades.

More Ben Nevis?
Of course more Ben Nevis.
Ben Nevis 22 year old 1992 Cadenhead Small Batch, bourbon hogsheads, 53.5%abv

Color - Light gold
Nose - Lemons, grapefruit, berries and anise. A hint of alcohol showing through.
Palate - My kind of BN. The aromatic herbal and lightly peated note bursts through instantly. Fudgy chocolate, earth and cantaloupe.
Finish - Honey and cantaloupe, with a lovely round herbal bitterness.

Words: It's bang on, as I think some people say. The nose and palate are quite different, both are good, though the palate gets the edge here. Very solid overall, though complexity isn't its strong point.
Grade: 86

Longrow 14 year old 2002 Cadenhead Authentic Collection, bourbon hogshead, 49.3%abv

Color - crumbling crispy corn husks
Nose - Islay, GTFO. Springbank has beaten you at your game. Raucously medicinal, full of disinfectant and bandages. Clay, plaster and seashells. An old hospital. Gone mad. By the sea.
Palate - Dirty. Dirt. Direct. Dynamite. But never hot. Horseradish, barley, and soil. Hints of white fruits and sugars. Mmmmedicinal.
Finish - Similar to palate, but friendlier. Medicine drops back, barley and white fruit move forward. Again, no heat.

Words: Longrow had been letting me down recently, but this restored my confidence. Dear Springbank, more of this please. Cheers.
Grade: 90

Arran 21 year old 1995 for Malt House Islay, sherry hogshead, 49.6%abv

Color - Gold
Nose - A French patisserie: cocoa, vanilla extract, marmelade, figs and pineapple.
Palate - A happy absence of generic sherry raisins. Instead it's full of mint and chocolate and vanilla ice cream. The tannins roll in but don't overwhelm. Plenty of oak spice. Grows sweeter with time.
Finish - Roasted notes, toffee, some decent tannins. Neither mouth-drying nor hot.

Words: The 21st year may have been the longest this whisky could take the oak. It walks right up to the line. Usually 10-15 years is my preferred Arran window, but this makes for a good dessert whisky. Gorgeous nose on it.
Grade: 87

And then I saw two Ledaigs...

Ledaig 19 year old 1997 Cadenhead single cask, bourbon hogshead, 53.9%abv

Color - Gold
Nose - Barbecue, seaweed, fishy. Tsukiji Market after hours. (Sorry.) Smoke.
Palate - Oh, rugged after all these years. Dirty and bitter, but in that great way. Big salt and smoke. There's a hint of sweetness that wiggles up, then gets stomped back down.
Finish - Smoke, salt, pepper and cigarettes. From my notes: "this whisky hasn't showered in three days." Right?

Words: This was so very spirit-forward, that I'm not surprised they still got 252 bottles out of this 19yo hoggie. ❤ The oak went out for a smoke.
Grade: 89

Ledaig 21 year old 1992 Cadenhead small batch, bourbon hogsheads, 53.6%abv

Color - Lighter than the 19. Oh boy...
Nose - Huh. It's much neater. Less of the seaweed and fishiness. Instead there's a sambuca-like anise, hints of vanilla, cream puffs, apricot jam and maple syrup.
Palate - Less peat to this one than its younger sibling. But very very barley. Big on baked treats. A little bit of salty butter. And, "toffee without the sweetness. Figure it out."
Finish - A little bit of its sibling's smokey salty stuff. But also barley, citrus, sweeter herbs and spices.

Words: Less of a fighter than the 19yo. It's great in a different way. More balance, more fruits and sweets. Perhaps a Ledaig for more sensitive sippers?
Grade: 89

Good news all around. I regained faith in Longrow. Got some confidence in Cadenhead's Ledaigs. Ben Nevis and Arran also showed well. And I received a great little snack plate for my seating charge.

So, about that second night...

Monday, October 2, 2017

An intro to the great Malt Bar South Park

I missed out on a LOT of bars during my second trip to Japan. Basically all the ones that were recommended to me. (Sorry!) There were other reasons, very personal ones, behind the trip and those took priority over whisky on most days.

But there was this one bar...

I went there twice. It's not in a traffic heavy section of Tokyo. And unlike America's Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants arenas that can be spotted from a quarter-mile away, this Nakano bar was hidden. But not hipster-speakeasy-hidden. Instead it's modest. Nothing flashy in its entry way to steal your attention.

You have to look for the whisky bottles lined up not far from the sidewalk. Follow them to a steep concrete stairway — which is something to consider before one starts drinking, seriously — and then you'll see this:

When I saw this part of the sign...
...I thought, "Boy, I could get comfortable here."

And then I opened the door, looked within, and thought, "Boy, I could get comfortable here."

Malt Bar South Park was spotless. Like, not a mote of dust on a single bottle. There were about 10 or 12 seats, a pair of which were occupied in each corner. The tall, stately chief bartender Fujita Satoshi sported a vest and a crisp unwrinkled (like unearthly so) shirt.

It has taken me five years to craft the Pandora station that I use only for whisky tasting. Somehow, Malt Bar South Park has lifted it. I mean, every single song...

And then, you know, the whisky. Whiskybase says the bar has 1000+ bottles. That's probably a safe guess. I have no idea. It's a lot. It is, as someone else described, a library.

I was not expecting this. A strategy was needed.

Fujita-san helpfully handed me a small menu which awoke me to the fact that the entire bar counter was neatly lined two-deep with Cadenhead's bottles. There were, in fact, 139 of these current Cadenhead bottles to choose from. And the prices were, again, very reasonable.

While I was lost in Cadenheaven, Fujita-san placed a plate of excellent fruits, nuts and dark chocolate in front of me. Having recently completed an excellent Ben Nevis tasting at Highlander Inn Tokyo, I spied a way to begin...