...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Willett Week One: 11 year old bourbon, barrel 2364 for Wine and Cheese Place

Since I spent two paragraphs musing on the secondary market prices of the Willett Family Estate single barrel bourbons on Monday, I shan't waste any words on it today. Instead, here are my notes on the second of the three WFE bourbons that my wife and I sampled this past weekend.

BottlerKentucky Bourbon Distillers (also known as Willett Distilling Company)
Brand: Willett
Range: Family Estate Single Barrel (WFE)
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Age: 11 years
MaturationNew American Oak
RegionBardstown, Kentucky (Distilled in/by ???)
Barrel: 2364
Exclusive to: Wine and Cheese Place
Alcohol by Volume58.55%
(Thanks to Florin for the sample!)

The nose is plum gorgeous. It mixes tropical fruit and flower notes, with raspberry jam and wood smoke. After 20+ minutes comes the vanilla and toffee. This sets up an expectation of a rich dessert whiskey on the palate. But that doesn't turn out to be the case. While there are some sweet tropical and salted caramel notes, it has some nuts, wood smoke and sharp limey citrus (Kristen went with lemon). It's also the hottest of the three bourbons. The finish is a little odd, with a fizzy, salty, tart burn to it. There's some smoke and mint too.

It smells fabulous and the palate has more complexity than the 7yo I reviewed on Monday. The only thing that keeps me from raving about this is the strange sensation left behind by the finish. Kristen experienced this same thing and found it to be a bit hot overall. Still, it's the most enjoyable of this week's three bourbons and dishes out less oaky violence than other bourbons its age.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - Big bucks
Rating - 85 (lost a few points on the finish)

Monday, December 11, 2017

Willett Week One: 7 year old bourbon, barrel 255 for The Party Source

There comes a time when we heed a certain call,
When the blogger must review
Two weeks worth of Willetts.

This week, I'll report on three Family Estate Single Barrel bourbons. Next week, it'll be the ryes.

Though I may not like secondary market prices on bourbons, I usually understand where the valuation comes from. The Van Winkle collection is well known even outside of whiskey circles. The Buffalo Trace Antique Collection is perpetually in demand and often delivers high quality. Defunct distillery whiskies are part of history and in limited supply.

But I don't understand why the Willett single barrel bourbons are pulling astronomical asking prices. I'm not talking about the 20+ year old stuff. I'm referring to the 6-12 year old wax top bourbons that sell for Van Winkle prices. The Willett Family Estate Single Barrel brand isn't known outside of whiskey geek circles, and the majority of barrels are sourced from existing distilleries. So the naive sexy/lusty factor is lower than the whiskies named in the above paragraph. And it's not like there were just a few barrels laid out. There have been hundreds. So I'm stumped.

Musing complete. On to the review.

I sampled all three of this week's whiskies together — yes it was one of those nights — in order to get some proper perspective. As an added bonus, Kristen joined the Taste Off! First up is a 7 year old single barrel that was sold exclusively through The Party Source several years ago.

BottlerKentucky Bourbon Distillers (also known as Willett Distilling Company)
Brand: Willett
Range: Family Estate Single Barrel (WFE)
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Age7 years
MaturationNew American Oak
RegionBardstown, Kentucky (Distilled in/by ???)
Barrel: 255
Bottle: 28 or 164
Exclusive to: The Party Source
Alcohol by Volume60.1%
(Thanks to Florin for the sample!)

This one has the most violent nose of the three, bringing heat and chlorine at first. But it opens up after 10-15 minutes, showing off cherry candy / marasca syrup, apricot jam, cocoa powder and flower blossoms. The heavy palate is full of sugar and salt, almond extract, and corn bread. There's a tiny bit of lemon zest and oranges. A complete lack of rye. The finish is sharper than the palate, with more barrel char and bitterness. But it also has a lightly sweet and aromatic layer beneath the noise.

Kristen immediately noticed the chlorine character too. But she also found more positive notes of vanilla and rosemary.

The first thing I noticed was how freaking heavy full-strength bourbon is when one has been drinking primarily "Japanese" whisky for a few weeks. So it took a while for my palate to adjust. Luckily, this one requires some time in the glass.

The nose is the highlight here. The palate is pretty straightforward, though I wish there had been more rye and/or fruit notes present. That goes for the finish as well. Overall, it probably has no major flaws, but it lacks the complexity of similarly aged WFE rye.

The next two bourbons are a little older...

As for this 7yo...

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - A lot. And if this had a wax top then it's a lot a lot allot.
Rating - 83

Friday, December 8, 2017

Royal Brackla 14 year old 1998 Gordon & MacPhail for Binny's

Two years ago, Bacardi released three age-stated (12, 16 and 21yo) official Royal Bracklas, which is good. They bottled them all at the legal minimum 40%abv, which is bad. Seriously, why would they do that, when they released the age-stated Aultmore series entirely at 46%abv during the previous year? That's a weird step backwards.

Previous to the official releases, one had to go to independent bottlers, like G&M, to explore Royal Brackla single malt. Today's G&M Brackla was bottled exclusively for the Binny's chain.

There are two things I really appreciate about reader Florin (a prince). That he'd blindly buy a Royal Brackla in the interest of experience and science and propping up Chicago's economy. And that he'd give to me this sample that was clearly intended for MAO. It's been four years now. I hope MAO can find it in his heart to forgive me for his drinking his whisky.

Distillery: Royal Brackla
Region: Highlands, just on the other side of the western Speyside border
Independent Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Age: 1998 - 2012 (I think)
Maturation: probably American oak
Cask number58
Exclusively for: Binny's
Alcohol by Volume: 56.5%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No

The nose is fun. Glue, lemongrass, ground mustard seed, green grapes and pineapple. Some late caramel and burnt wood. The hot palate starts on banana, vanilla and orange peel. Then it "develops" into unripe stone fruit, green woody bitterness, mild sweetness and a cayenne zing. Meanwhile, the finish spins off into a different orbit. Bitter char, vanilla, chlorophyll. Fake plastic sweetness.

Now, I'll dunk it down to the official bottlings' strength:

DILUTED TO ~40%abv
The nose still exists. Lemon, fried plantain and something phenolic (diesel?). Then grapefruit and grass clippings. Again, the palate seems to be from a very different whisky. Bitter melon rind, bitter oak. Vanilla, sugar, sour berries and a hint of soap. It has a nice texture, though. Its pencil lead finish is bitter, sour and acidic.

If whisky were only for smellin', I'd recommend this odd thing. The palate is challenging, but rarely in a fashion that leads to success. Too much bitter oak and indistinctive vanilla oak for me. But that's better than the finish proves to be a bit of a horror show, with or without water.

This seems like a cask that was nosed, rather than tasted, when it was offered by G&M, then chosen by Binny's. The Chicago retailer may have had more success with an earlier bottling, and I hope their current Brackla is better than this one too.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 71

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Strathmill 23 year old 1989 Blackadder Raw Cask

Where my Strathmill fans at?!

I've tried a grand total of two Strathmills, both of which were part of Signatory's budget "Vintage" range, but neither of which were any good. Yet, this site has a complete absence of Strathmill. So here's a review of the first cask strength Strathmill I've ever tried. It's from Blackadder's Raw Cask range has had more hits than misses for me, so I'm cautiously optimistic. Thank you to aaron197172 of Booze Dancing for gifting me this sample.

Distillery: Strathmill
Owner: Diageo
Independent Bottler: Blackadder (Raw Cask)
Region: Speyside (Moray)
Age: 23 years (October 1989 to June 2013)
Maturation: Refill Sherry Puncheon
Cask number10308
Bottle: 77 of 305
Alcohol by Volume: 53.3%

It has a light yellow gold color and Raw Cask Shmutz®. The mellow nose starts out with light beer, anise, rubber and plastic toys. Saline. Walnuts. Lots of barley throughout. The palate is very grassy and leafy. Fresh savory herbs, cocoa powder, a little bit of white fruit. Slightly drying. With time it picks up fennel seed and rye seed notes. The finish has a lot of roasted character, and an occasional burnt note. Dried herbs and a hint of cigar smoke. A copper/blood note. Barley.

The label recommends "a little added water". Sure, what the hell.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv
The nose has become very herbal; think dried basil and sage. That's met with lemon and pineapple. A little dusty. Big on barley, still. The palate is a little sweeter and spicier. Dried leaves. Light bitterness. Wood spice. Armagnac-ish. The finish gets grassier. Mixes chile peppers and gummi bears. Cigar ash.

This one plays close to the barley and its lack of sexiness makes it feel slightly old school. At full strength, this Strathmill works better on the palate. Once water was added to the whisky, I preferred the nose. Its lean, low-oak style appeals to me, and I would have given it a higher score, but the finish is a little short and flat. Still, this was MUCH better than I'd expected.

Availability - Still at some European retailers four years later
Pricing - $150-$180 (ex-VAT, w/o shipping), and that's why it's still available
Rating - 82

Monday, December 4, 2017

Cocktail Recipe: Ginza in June

I've never liked whisky cocktails. No cocktail improved the drinking experience that the whisky itself offered. Sweet vermouth was one of the main culprits. Just two drops of sweet vermouth in a cocktail ruined everything. Its cloying nauseating flavor spread through the drink like a drop of ink a glass of water. (That's a metaphor I promise to overuse.) Then, one day last winter, I discovered a solution: Don't Use Cheap Sweet Vermouth.

I mean, the real solution was Carpano Antica Formula and Luxardo cherries. Since then, I've been drinking a lot of Manhattans. During some stretches, I'm drinking Manhattans more often than single malts. I finally found a use for American whiskey! 😬

Then, in October, as I was opening my current bottle of Nikka Whisky from the Barrel (NWFTB, not NKOTB), I had an idea. What if I created something along the lines of a Manhattan or Rob Roy with my beloved NWFTB? I'd go easy on the Carpano Antica in order to highlight the quality of the whisky.

And it worked on the first try. The Carpano Antica merged with the whisky, pushing the grain aside and moving the malt to the fore. Plenty of spice, not too much sweetness.

* * * * *

Because this drink is utterly bourgeois with its expensive Italian vermouth and cherries, and it includes the whisky I travelled with during both of my Japan trips, I chose to name it after the bougie-est corner of Tokyo I explored this year.

With its Rodeo Drive-inspired lineup of Valentino, Salvatore Ferragamo, Dior, Fendi and on and on and on, Ginza is the epitome of rāga, one of the three forms of suffering (or poisons or fires) in Mahayana Buddhism, stemming from the desire for wealth and the ownership of physical, sensory things.

The gorgeous weather on June 14th made that corner of Chuo feel even more posh. So, inspired by the sugary romance of "Danke Schoen" ("I recall Central Park in Fall"), I named my cocktail, Ginza in June.

* * * * *

And now, the recipe.

1.5 fluid ounces (or 45mL) of Nikka Whisky from the Barrel
0.5 fluid ounces (or 15mL) of Carpano Antica Formula
2 generous dashes of Angostura bitters
2 drops of marasca syrup (from the Luxardo jar)
1 Luxardo Maraschino cherry

1. Fill a tall mixing glass with ice cubes (not crushed ice).
2. Pour the first four ingredients over the ice in the mixing glass.
3. Stir clockwise 24 times. (Lucky number hachi multiplied by my lucky number san)
4. Plop the cherry into the most faux-proletariat glass you own.
5. Strain the cocktail into your prole drinking glass.

— Feel free to up the whisky content to 60mL, but make sure the whisky-to-vermouth ratio remains 3-to-1. Also remember that NWFTB is 51.4%abv. So be cautious.
— For more zip add more bitters.
— I don't recommend adding more than 2 drops of the syrup because it will take over the drink.
— Feel free to apply less sweet vermouth. I don't recommend adding more if you want the whisky to fly high.
— If you don't have NWFTB on hand (and who does, really) I recommend high quality blended malts that have little or no peat. Compass Box (speaking of bougie) Spice Tree may do the trick.

Kanpai, my lambs.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Killing Whisky History, Episode 7 - Bell's Extra Special and Bell's Extra Special

Considering how emphatically my iPhone, iCloud and iMovie all shit the bed this week, I am surprised to have a Killing Whisky History episode up today. But here it is, a less-than-seven minute (woohoo!) chapter on a pair of Bell'ses: one bottled between 1980 and '82, the other between 1964 and '76. Thanks for watching!