...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Balblair 2003, First US Release (2015)

Balblair has three 2003 vintage releases, bottled in 2013, 2014 and 2015, all marked on their boxes as the "1st Release". Either they kept the release/batch sitting in a steel tank for two years or someone at the packing company was just replicating copy. The 2015 bottling was, I believe, the first US release of the 2003 vintage. Due to the aforementioned issue, I don't know if the whisky is ~10, ~11 or ~12 years old. If it's ~10, that would make it the same age as the 2005 vintage I reviewed two months ago.

In any case, to get some extra perspective for this review I tried the 2003 and 2005 vintage side by side......and then threw in a third(!) Balblair that I'll be reviewing on Wednesday.

My take on the 2005 remains the same as before, so here are my notes on the 2003 vintage:

Distillery: Balblair
Ownership: Inver House (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Region: Northern Highlands
Maturation: "American oak, ex-bourbon barrels", probably a good quantity of refills
Vintage: 2003
Bottled: 2015
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
DISCLOSURE: Amy from Ten27 Communications sent me this bottle of Balblair. Thank you, Amy!

The nose is aggressively green and full of barley. Cardamom, anise and pecans. Lemon-scented cleaner. It's less immediately expressive than the 2005. A blueberry muffin note shows up after 10 minutes, and expands to brighten the profile with time.

A rare example of a palate being richer and bolder than the nose. Butterscotch, vanilla fudge and simple syrup. Chiles and a slight green bitterness. Orange creamsicles and a hint of apples.

The finish has a newmake edge to it, unseen until now. Ethyl, citrus, floral and sugary things. It mellows with time, picking up the chile pepper note, as well as more citrus and caramel.

Like the 2005 vintage, the 2003 comes across younger than ten years old. The nose and finish read very very youthful, but the palate feels round and thick, and is where the American oak shows the most. The 2003 is not really for nosing, but makes for a good drink, which is probably the point of whisky. The oak isn't too loud and there's plenty of spirit flashing through, so it should appeal more to those who want more whisky in their whisky.

Availability - 
The 2003 was released worldwide, though this batch is in the US

Pricing - $55 to $85
Rating - 82

Friday, November 17, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Four Roses Single Barrel bourbon, MW-52-1V

Since it sometimes feels like an American has to travel to Japan to find a bottle of Blanton's Single Barrel, I've elected to audition Blanton's replacements. Four Roses Single Barrel has been pretty reliable and is cheaper than Blanton's ever was during this decade.

This bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel was amongst the whiskies I'd brought to a recent private event. Curiously, none of the 15 attendees voted for it in their Top Two (out of five). Many of them did like the Henry McKenna, though I did not. So I really don't know what to expect...

Distillery: Four Roses
Ownership: Kirin
Type: Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Region: Lawrenceberg, Kentucky
Age: ???
Recipe: OBSV (high rye, fruity yeast)
Maturation: charred white oak barrels
Warehouse: MW
Barrel #: 52-1V
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
(Sample from my bottle)

The nose is gentle for the ABV. Orange oil, lemon oil, pine, anise and mothballs. Flower blossoms, cherry liqueur and circus peanuts. The palate has none of the nose's character. There's vanilla, caramel and barrel char. Bitter, like over-steeped black tea. Sweet little clementines show up occasionally, but an acidity takes the fore. Also, cardboard. The lengthy finish is very sweet. Corn syrup and lemon juice. Plenty of woody bitterness.

 (3:1 bourbon : sweet vermouth, bitters, luxardo cherry)
It's fine, inoffensive, easy to drink. Oddly thin on the palate, though.

I'm going to vote with the group this time. This bourbon is not great. While the nose is quite expressive, the palate is boring or worse. In fact, this may be the worst Four Roses I'ver had. Just to make sure my palate wasn't shot during this tasting, I tried this bourbon side-by-side with Heaven Hill 6yo BIB. The Heaven Hill lorded over the Four Roses.

This one's so wobbly that I wonder why Four Roses didn't set the barrel aside for blending. No, it's not a disastrous whiskey, but it will cause me to pause now before buying another Four Roses Single Barrel.

Availability - Ohio and Kentucky, I think
Pricing - $35-$50
Rating - 76

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Benromach 8 year old 2008, cask 333 for Van Wees

On Monday, I reviewed a "crisp", "lean" (is someone trying not to say "austere"?) nine year old full strength Benromach. It was quite good but was limited by its youth. In order to produce my official notes, I tried it side-wby-side with a similar Benromach.

Like Monday's whisky, this one is all first-fill bourbon barrel and was bottled right near 60%abv. There were a number (the number being near twelve) of these 2008 single 1st fill ex-bourbon casks distributed around Europe in over the past year. This specific cask (#333) was bottled for the good Dutch folks of Van Wees. The van Weeses (van Wii?) have, historically, done a damn good job picking casks for their independent releases. But they've plopped a startling number of super-young single casks on the market recently. I've found a number of those to be half-baked. Will this eight year old official Benromach have that same issue, or did they find a honey cask?

Distillery: Benromach
Ownership: Gordon & MacPhail
Region: Speyside (Findhorn)

Age: 8 years (2008 to 2016)
Maturation: first-fill bourbon barrel
Cask #: 333
Alcohol by Volume: 60.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(from a purchased sample)

Wow. Mango, honeydew, lemon zest and pine on the nose. A cow barn on a hot day. Hints of band-aids, caramel sauce and some bright American oak. Those fruits show up in the palate, too. Some tart limes roll in. Copper, minerals, ash and roasted barley. Just a pinch of cocoa powder. Very drinkable for the ABV. Its finish is sweet, citric and very long. Like a juice of barley sugar, limes and fresh ginger.

DILUTED TO ~43%abv
The barn note recedes in the nose, being replaced by a coastal-ness somewhere between the styles of Kilchoman and Talisker. Lots of lemon zest and apple cider. Rich oak and honey. The farm returns with a vengeance in the palate. The cows come home, if you will. Then there's mild mossy peat, charred bell pepper skin, minerals, tart limes and chocolate. Moderate sweets and smoke in the finish. Lots of barley. Peppery, with perky bitterness.

Yep, they picked a killer cask. Its fruitiness shocked me, blasting away my assumption of "austerity". The minerals and barley are still there, but they're boosted by the fruits and cow patties. It also takes water very well, turning into another very good whisky experience.

What a pleasure. It makes me want to run around Benromach's warehouses testing out casks. What else are you hiding in there, fellas?

Availability - The Nether Regions
Pricing - around €70 w/ VAT
Rating - 90 (p.s. I tried this whisky again, by itself, the following night. The excellence was confirmed.)

Monday, November 13, 2017

Benromach 9 year old 2001 Cask Strength

Since freezing weather arrived more than a month early, I'll review a pair of winter warmers this week. Both are full strength single-digit-aged Benromachs which means you're the only one reading this review right now.

The big news about today's whisky is that it's from my own bottle. It's an all-bourbon barrel Benromach, that sat on shelves for seven years even though it garnered a very positive review from Whiskyfun. Benromach single malt and I get on well, so I did something very rare by opening the bottle the day I bought it.

To gain additional perspective, I tried this whisky along with another single-digit all-bourbon cask Benromach that had a nearly identical ABV. Stay tuned for a review of that one on Wednesday.

Distillery: Benromach
Ownership: Gordon & MacPhail
Region: Speyside (Findhorn)

Age: 9 years (March 5, 2001 to September 20, 2010)
Maturation: first-fill bourbon barrels
Cask #: 87 - 91, 93 and 94
Alcohol by Volume: 59.9%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(my bottle, upper third)

The nose begins with lots of barley, vanilla bean and Twizzlers. A barn note in the back. A forest floor up front, covered with earth, pine needles and wet leaves. Hints of orange oil and bright American oak. The palate starts off with scorched marshmallows, green herbs and lots of lemon juice. Savory and vanilla hints float around. On a macro level, it's like a super dry white wine, with a crackling minerality. The long, warm finish has tart fruit, green serrano peppers, bourbony vanilla and a whiff of smoke.

DILUTED TO ~43%abv
The nose is quieter. Barley holds the foreground. Some wood ash, apples and new carpet in the mid-ground. Hints of lemon and sulphur here and there. Soft peat in the palate, along with powdery vanilla and chocolate. More sugar and caramel, but it's not too sweet. Plenty of barley, still. The tart, but mild finish is mostly lemons, barley and sugar.

It's a crisp thing, this Benromach. And it's difficult to name many distilleries that deliver this lean un-romantic style so well. I like it better without water because dilution just turns the volume down. Its earnest lanky personality (personification, anyone?) needs the heft.

At the same time, one can feel it butting up against walls caused by a premature bottling. It just can't reach very far because it was withdrawn from the cask before its potential was attained. Very good at nine years old, this could have been a knockout at twelve.

Availability - Winesearcher shows it at two stores on this whole planet
Pricing - $75-$80 US/Europe
Rating - 85 (neat)

Friday, November 10, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Henry McKenna 10 year old BIB Single Barrel 3563

These Henry McKenna 10 year olds are one of the last of Heaven Hill's throwback whiskies. And by "throwback" I don't mean, like, two decades ago. I mean, like, two years ago. There's an age statement (of two digits!), it's bottled in bond and it's a single barrel. And it's still in the $30 range.

Even more importantly, the quality is consistently......of quality. As long as Ohio keeps selling these bottles at $29.99, I'll always have one on hand. Today I'm reviewing the McKenna I brought to my private event in September. The attendees liked it even more than the Four Roses Single Barrel it had followed. This is my first moment to dissect the stuff. (Meanwhile, I'll review the 4R soon.)

Brand: Henry McKenna
Distillery: New Bernheim, Louisville, KY
Owner: Heaven Hill
Type: straight bourbon whiskey
Age: at least 10 years
Mashbill: 75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malted Barley (maybe)
Distillation date: August 16, 2006
Bottling Year: 2016 or 2017
Barrel: 3563
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
(Sample from my bottle)

The nose starts with mint leaves, brown sugar and shoe polish. Then apricots, tree sap and cherry lollipops. Also some tahini, applesauce and mild vanilla bean note. The mild palate begins slightly soapy. Ginger and black peppery. Moderate corn sweetness. Peep of rye. Kinda flat, actually. After a half hour it thankfully ditches the soap. It softens and sweetens up. A salty lemon thing shows up. Soap lingers into the finish, which also has nondescript stone fruit, cherry candy, barrel char, vinegar and Robotussin.

MANHATTAN (3:1 bourbon : sweet vermouth, bitters, luxardo cherry)
Good. Pretty easy and simple aside from some oak spice. Actually aside from that spice, the bourbon totally disappears into the other ingredients.

The nose works, but since bourbon's for drinking, the strange flat palate weighs it down. Also, I don't like soap in my whiskey, so that note gets very distracting. The bourbon needs time in the glass to straighten itself out, but it still doesn't meet the standards of the previous Hank McKs I've had.

If you have a bottle of this and are experiencing these same issues, then I encourage you to utilize the bourbon in familiar cocktails like Manhattans and Old Fashioneds.

Availability - This barrel may still be lingering around Ohio and Kentucky
Pricing - $25-$35
Rating - 78 (includes an extra point or two for its cocktail performance)

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Kilkerran 8 year old Cask Strength

Oh yes, your eyes are not deceiving you. This is a 2017 release that I'm reviewing here. The 8 year old cask strength all ex-bourbon cask Kilkerran, to be exact. While the 12 year old release generated excitement last year, the announcement of this CS tickled the fancy of a certain sub-sub-sub group of whisky fans: the Kilkerran Work In Progress Geeks. Here was a high quality Campbeltown distillery proudly releasing a full strength single-digit whisky that brought back happy memories of their previous baby whiskies.

But here's the thing. I've struggled with this whisky, aside from the fact that the first bottle I bought was crushed in a USPS sorting machine. The first four or five pours from my (replacement) bottle registered insanely hot, more 65%abv than 56%abv. That heat smothered everything. And I was kinda bummed. So I left the bottle alone for two months.

I brought it back out for this week's reviews. The tasting set up included Kilkerran WIP 7 Sherry Wood (reviewed on Monday), this 8yo CS reduced to 46% abv and then the 8yo CS at full strength...

Distillery: Glengyle
Owner: Mitchell's Glengyle Limited
Brand: Kilkerran
Region: Campbeltown
Age: minimum 8 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks
Limited release: 9000
Alcohol by Volume: 56.2%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from my bottle)

Thank goodness the heat has mostly vanished from the nose. Now there be lemons, limes and blue Mr. Sketch markers. Tropical fruit candy, roses and Jolly Ranchers. Hot cereal (Tobermory-style), elephant exhibit and wort. Ah but the hot hot heat remains in the palate, keeping things narrow. Minerals, limes, peat and barley. Peppery and bitter, with a little bit of caramel sauce. The finish also feels closed. Not much besides lime, vanilla, salt and heat.

And diluted:

WITH WATER (46%abv)
The nose is farmy and fruity. Red and pink Jolly Ranchers. A collection of seemingly disparate notes — vanilla bean, band-aids, burnt peat, flowers and limes — come together well. The burn has left the palate. Now it's sweet, bitter, smoky and dirty. Ginger candy, vanilla, overripe peaches and farmy peat. Not much going on in the finish, again. Pepper and peach. Mouth drying tannins.

It's much better diluted, though the nose is pretty good either way. It's a sharp young thing that doesn't care much about delivering an easy drinking experience. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. The one element that remains concerning is the nearly DOA plain finish.

As mentioned on Monday, the Kilkerran WIP 7 Sherry Wood won the tasting. I was left thinking that this 8yo could have used a small percentage of the distillery's good sherry casks to lift it up a bit. That worked for the 12 year old. In any case, I don't think there's a need for Kilkerran geeks to rush to buy this whisky, unless it's for completion purposes.

Availability - Europe and US specialty retailers
Pricing - $60-$80 Europe, $80ish US
Rating - 83 (with water, several points lower without)

Monday, November 6, 2017

Kilkerran Work in Progress 7th Release Sherry Wood

Though the bourbon cask Kilkerran WIPs are the ones that received all the plaudits, I believe sherry cask Kilkerran will be the lovelier stuff in the coming years. You can ignore that prior sentence because I wrote it with no real proof. I base my hypothesis on two anecdotal factors. 1.) The sherry cask WIPs got better with each successive release. 2.) My wife and I loved the wonderful 8yo Open Day 2016 single sherry cask when we were in Campbeltown.

Because the bourbon cask WIPs soaked up all the love, the sherry cask WIPs wound up being easier to find. So even though WIP 7 Bourbon Wood is long gone, the WIP 7 Sherry Wood can still be found at its original price.

Oh yes, and here's the list o' WIPs with review links:
WIP 1: White label
WIP 2: Gray label
WIP 3: Light green label
WIP 4: Beige label
WIP 5: Blue label (Bourbon Wood & Sherry Wood)
WIP 6: Pink label (Bourbon Wood & Sherry Wood)
WIP 7: Dark green label (Bourbon Wood CS & Sherry Wood)

Distillery: Glengyle
Owner: Mitchell's Glengyle Limited
Brand: Kilkerran
Region: Campbeltown
Age: 11 years (2004 - 2015)
Maturation: ex-sherry casks
Label color: Dark green
Limited release: 12000
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(purchased sample)

Its bronze color is easily the darkest shade of all the WIPs. The nose has nice bright fruity notes. Berry candy, orange peel, watermelon candy. A soft peating level. Occasional whiffs of leather. After 30 minutes in the glass, the whisky releases some classic sherry notes like toffee and raisins. There is no ethyl heat in the rich palate. Tart berries and sweet melon. Toasted oak spices and honey. Soil and a mild bitterness. With time in the glass vibrant notes of lime and sourdough appear. It finishes with melon, anise and citronella; yet it's not sugary. Some toasty notes. Hints of sourdough and mothballs.

I tasted this alongside the whisky I'm reviewing on Wednesday, and though that one may be sexier, this one won out easily.

And even though I've finished a full bottle of the 12 year old, I'd happily choose the WIP 7 Sherry Wood over that one too.

Glengyle uses good casks here that also let much of the spirit shine through. So it's not a sherry bomb, nor is tannic or sulphuric. Everything is in balance. I hope the folks at Kilkerran have additional sherried regular releases lined up for the future.

Availability - Here and there
Pricing - $55-$75 US/Europe
Rating - 88

Friday, November 3, 2017

Killing Whisky History, Episode 6 - Dusty Hunting and The Dirty Dusty

From the depths of new-parent sleep deprivation, I have arisen to deliver this new episode of Killing Whisky History. It's just me, a pre-1977 Haig and a chat about the dirtier side of dusty hunting.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Glen Garioch 1990, Part 3: 25 year old for the Usquebagh Society

Monday, a raw peaty 23yo from Daily Drams.
Tuesday, a full, fruity 25yo from Signatory.
Today, I'm finishing with a 25yo single selected by the Usquebagh Society out of David Stirk's warehouses.

What a lucky bunch of Dutch to get their own single cask of 1990 Glen Garioch. The single malt has gotten scores of 87 or 88 from Whiskynotes, Dramming, Mark Dermul and Malt Fascination. Whiskyfun thought it was cooler than a penguin's arse, giving it a 90!

Oh, the pressure. The pressure!

Distillery: Glen Garioch
Distilled by: Morrison Bowmore
Current Ownership: Beam Suntory
Region: Eastern Highlands
Bottler: Usquebagh Society via Creative Whisky Company

Age: 25 years (March 24, 1990 to May 12, 2015)
Cask #: 7937
Alcohol by Volume: 56.7%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(purchased sample from Sjoerd!)

Its color was the darkest of the bunch. The nose is shy at first. Needs time to wake up, then gets very fruity: plums and citrons. More stone fruits jump in, with time. There's a layer of non-fruit stuff that balances things out. Ocean, ashy smoke and horse. Meanwhile, the palate is not shy. It's a whole bunch of peppers. Think green peppercorns, jalapeños and serranos. It's fully of rocky minerals and a pile of limes. There's a soft undercurrent of toffee and marzipan sweetness. The finish is more straightforward. Minerals, salt, limes, pepper and heat, with a hint of sweetness.

WITH WATER (~45%abv)
The nose changes considerably. It gets meaty and salty. Brine and cucumbers. A little bit of farmy peat. A slab of vanilla fudge. It all fades out with time in the glass. The palate still has the peppery stuff, but it opens up more. Lemon candy. Overripe melon. Herbal and floral (blossom) notes. Toffee. The finish is similar to the palate. Tangy citrus, melon, pepper, toffee and smoky residue.

The third spot was perfect for this whisky, not just because it had the highest alcohol content of the trio, but because it held aspects of the other two whiskys. My notes lean much much closer to those of the four folks who gave it the 87-88 ratings, and far from the findings of the chap who gave it a 90.

The peat and sharp spirity notes are at a better level here than in Monday's 23yo. Meanwhile, the salt and pepper mix well with the fruit notes. The oak never gets in the way. As is often the case (for me), adding water doesn't make it all better or all worse. Dilution does help out the palate and finish, but it also cuts the nose short. The nose is curious overall, taking a long time to wake up at full strength, then fading out quickly when diluted.

Though I like the Signatory about a half step more, Kristen liked this one the best. The whisky is indeed a fun one, displaying many angles of Glen Garioch character. It was a good choice by the Usquebagh Society and they priced it pretty well, too, during the short time it was available.

Also, I really need to review more Glen Gariochs.

Availability - sold out, haven't seen it on the secondary market yet
Pricing - it was around €100
Rating - 87