...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Springbank 14 year old 2002 Bourbon Wood

A new-ish Springbank! Serge Valentin, whose soul patch maintains the whiskyfun Twitter account, reviewed it. MAO, whose handlebar mustache grades students' essays, reviewed it. Now it's time for me, whose Rabbi Haddock beard helpfully saves the contents of every meal, to review it.

Unlike so many of Springbank's brands' cask strength releases. this whisky is entirely from former bourbon casks. This sort of release is likely more difficult to produce than it sounds. Too much oak influence will cause a large portion of fans to complain about the smothered spirit. Too many limp casks could result in hot, sharp, immature whisky. And with Springbank's deservedly great reputation, expectations will be high for each thing they do.

I was very lucky to get a sample of this whisky twice(!), thanks to MAO and Matt W.

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Region: Campbeltown
Age: 14 years (November 2002 - August 2017)
Maturation: "Fresh and Refill Bourbon Barrels"
Alcohol by Volume: 55.8%
Limited Bottling: 9000

Because I had such a nice quantity of this Springbank, I tasted a full strength and diluted (46%abv) version side by side.

46%abv - Gummi bears and peach candy. The moderate simple unobtrusive oak lets some wort and bright lemony notes shine through. There's also plastic toys, brine and some distant vanilla. Very little peat.
Full strength - Less fruit, weightier oak. Salty and a hint of something savory. Lime peel, caramel candy. A little bit papery. More heat, obviously, but also more peat.

46%abv - A little of the nose's fruit, mostly tart stuff. A creamy, vanilla side with some brown sugar. Ginger and cinnamon candy. Some heat. Woody bitterness and a surprising amount of heat.
Full strength - The alcohol burn seems to be holding back some good stone fruit. Lots of salt. Metal. Limes and lemons. A bit peppery. Acid and bitterness levels build with time.

46%abv - Tart citrus and pepper. Bitter. Some sweetness rolls in to balance things out. Medium length.
Full strength - Heat, salt, citrus and metal. A sweeter fruit element comes in late for an assist.

My tasting notes sit somewhere between Serge's and MAO's, though I hold the whisky in slightly lower esteem. Dilution is key with this one, because (for me) the goal is to push back the heat and bitterness to find that fruit. It's that bitterness and acidity that give my palate trouble. I don't mind the vanilla or caramel here because they work well with the rest. Perhaps I hold Springbank to a high standard because recent batches of their standard 10yo have been spot on, or perhaps the spirit has gotten to the point that it performs best with a little bit of sherry cask influence, or perhaps I'm full of shit.

Availability - Some specialty whisky retailers
Pricing - $100-$125 (why) 
Rating - 84 (diluted only)

Friday, May 18, 2018

Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie Scottish Barley

For those keeping score, Bruichladdich's The Classic — their NAS offering — has undergone a few design changes. First it was just Classic, in the old livery. Then there was Laddie Classic Edition_01, complete with the underscore and charade that this was the first edition. A brief hot flirtation resulted in Sherry Classic. Next, a brand-wide movement towards showcasing barley terroir motivated the Scottish Barley The Classic Laddie, with Scottish Barley getting the BIG FONT. Finally (for now) came the switch to The Classic Laddie Scottish Barley, with the classic-ness receiving the visual emphasis. The whisky's Scottishness was deemed less important than branding and/or subjectivity getting the upper hand on objectivity.

Because I've had mixed feelings about Bruichladdich's recent unpeated output, I'd expected this triple-tasting to be utterly unfair and humiliating (if one can humiliate an inert liquid) to the most current of the "Classic Laddies". But *SPOILER ALERT* the results were not that imbalanced.

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Ownership: Remy Cointreau
Region: Western Islay
Age: ???
First Maturation: probably just American oak casks
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

Well, they're not kidding about the barley (on the nose at least), perhaps it should have gotten first billing?!.?!1.? A little bit of yeast and wort and flowers and cocoa powder. Anise and apple skins. Some barn and metal. Sugar and cinnamon. Maybe a peep of white tequila. The palate is full of clean crisp spirit. Very little heat, despite its age and alcohol content. Roasted nuts and mild sweetness. Hints of subtle smoke, like a polite mezcal. Tangy, tart fruit and brown sugar. The finish leads with roasted grains, cayenne pepper and brown sugar. Mint leaves and a hint of yeast. Very tingly and green.


I expected very little from this whisky, especially since I had so many issues with the 8 year old. And I paired it up with two near titans. And yet, it held its own.

As I referenced in the tasting notes, the crisp clean spirit shines without burning. It's not too sweet nor does it scrape the tongue like so many other very young whiskies. The barley is the whole show, not whatever "The Classic" is. It's an ultra-young malt that succeeds without heavy peating. These things do exist. I like it. Kristen liked it. I might even buy it if I can find it for less than $50.

Availability - Most specialty whisky retailers
Pricing - $45-$65 worldwide
Rating - 85

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Mathilda Malt: Bruichladdich MCMLXXXV 27 year old 1985, aka DNA4

The fourth and final release in the much too brief DNA series, this whisky was distilled in MCMLXXXV like the DNA3 I reviewed yesterday. While its cask types are undisclosed, I'm going to guess they're all ex-bourbons, which made it a great contrast with its predecessor. Unlike DNA3, this edition has an actual distillation date listed on the back label (along with a random Orson Welles reference) which means these weren't just a bunch of random casks. You have octuplets! It rolls right off your tongue, and into your heart. Oc-tup-lets. Oops, we're not supposed to be talking about Apu right now. Also, they could be nontuplets or dodecuplets for all we don't know.

As mentioned yesterday, I tasted this whisky alongside DNA3 and the current Scottish Barley from Bruichladdich. Here's the review of DNA4, the 27 year old.

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Ownership at time of distillation: Invergordon Distillers
Region: Western Islay
Series/Gimmick: DNA
Age: 27 years (March 7, 1985 - August 22, 2011)
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks?
Outturn: 1698 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 49.3%
(from a purchased sample)

It has a nice amber color to it. It noses of chalk and dirty rocks. Almond extract, yellow plums, white nectarines and pears. More time in the glass brings out more fruits, such as pineapple. A hint of barn. Mint and honey. It smells like sunshine. It also has that great oily mouthfeel. Lots of barley, tart apples and blackberries on the palate right up front. Then green peppercorns and a bitter bite. Hints of wood smoke, cocoa and grassy leafiness. Lemon juice. It finishes as earthy as the nose. Tart fruits, leaves, lemons and peppercorns. Chili oil and honey.


Another lovely thing. I'm impressed by the casks' restraint. (Or maybe I've gotten to used to contemporary whisky woodwork.) The palate is good, but the nose is sublime. I can gripe a little bit about the finish, but I'm going to focus on the positive. And I could wonder how many more of these well rested barrels were dumped and candied by those indie owners, but I'm going to focus on the positive. And I could also marvel about the tremendous and complex palate the 25yo had but this had not, but I'm going to focus on the positive. This is great ex-bourbon cask whisky.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - somewhere between £200 and £300
Rating - 89

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Mathilda Malt: Bruichladdich MCMLXXXV 25 year old 1985, aka DNA #3

Since my Littlemill stash is indeed little, I decided to do something slightly different to celebrate Mathilda's birthday this year.

Consider the Bruichladdich DNA series. While the McEwan/Reynier regime devoted half their business to drowning thousands of Invergordon Distillers-era 'Laddich single malt in Mogen David, ex-Listerine octaves or wine spit cups (or all the above in the Black Fart series), they chose to release the four "DNA" single malts nearly unscathed. Were these casks (likely less than 40 for the four releases combined) left alone because they were deemed good enough? Or were they put out to provide a wider range of color amongst the pink and burgundy hue of Bruichladdich's other releases?

I'd like to find out. So I tried two of the DNAs along with the current Remy Cointreau-era Scottish Barley Bruichladdich, which probably isn't that much older than Mathilda.


DNA #3 was bottled the year I started writing about whisky, back when everything was amazing! Everything except Murray McDavid. Back in 2011, there were a lot of Bruichladdichs on the shelf, which was "fun" and strange and confusing and I ignored them.

Like many of the 'Laddie oddities, DNA #3 has some good age to it. Unlike many of the 'Laddie oddities it comes from a mix of classic casks: ex-bourbons and sherry butts (or just sherry butts depending on one's sources).

Now, how they got Jim McEwan's DNA into the whisky isn't safe to speak of on a family blog such as this. Let's just say no one will second guess the man's affinity for sherried butts ever again.

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Ownership at time of distillation: Invergordon Distillers
Region: Western Islay
Series/Gimmick: DNA
Age: 25 years (1985-2011)
Maturation: Whiskybase says bourbon casks and sherry butts, TWE says sherry butts
Outturn: 1665 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 50.1%
(from a purchased sample)

It has the darkest color of the three. Its nose leads with milk chocolate, Worcestershire sauce, soda bread and ocean air. Then there are the mangoes. Tobacco, dunnage and a subtle earthiness. York peppermint patties, a slight beefiness. That salty air note blends with the chocolate flawlessly. Oh wow, such a thick mouthfeel. On the palate it's chocolate with smoked almonds. A slightly savoriness. Dried apricots and cranberries. Clementines and melon. Limes and ginger. Despite the expanding fruit notes, it's never very sweet. An underpinning of bitterness and pepper lends balance and complexity. It has a very earthy, almost smoky, long finish. Think fresh cigars (Habanos). Very warming. A ginger+peppery zing meets the palate's dried fruit.

Never had the urge.

Fabulous. Rich and balanced. Fruit, earth and killer casks. This is the sort of whisky that can spoil a person rotten and make him sneer at most modern sherried malts.

The early '90s Invergordon/W&M era of Bruichladdichs can be a mixed bag, but this is my first try of a mid-80s malt from this distillery and it's a candidate for my favorite technically-unpeated Bruichladdich ever. Only one other can compete...

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - somewhere between £200 and £300
Rating - 91

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Mathilda Rose turns 4!

Here she is, posing with the two snow demons I'd summoned to appease Kuraokami.

You don't see your child grow up in real time. There are the moments when she'll do something that has always been just beyond her, and you gasp involuntarily. Or the sudden realizations of, "When did she get so big?", as you feel a great loss and a great gain at the same time.

Mathilda wants to be a big girl and a baby at the same time. (Which is kinda the human condition in general.) But her grasp of math, art and architecture (really) is the most amazing thing I've witnessed aside from the girls' births, and that time this little girl just stood up and started walking. I'd like to think she gets her math skills from her nerdy father. But the artistic side ain't from my people. In fact it's totally foreign to me, and it makes her her own person — which she's always been, anyway, since birth.

Happy Birthday, Mathilda Rose. The possibilities hiding in every moment have become infinite ever since you've been around.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Mathilda Malt: Littlemill 22 year old 1990 Berry Brothers & Rudd (round 2)

I opened my one bottle of Littlemill, one year ago, to celebrate Mathilda's birthday. And......I was kinda whelmed. From my commentary:
There were substantial youthful notes throughout, yet there was also some heavy oak. And they didn't (or haven't yet) come together. I wonder if this whisky spent most of its life in a third- or fourth-fill cask before being re-racked into a hyperactive first-fill or new oak barrel.
I like the youth, the leafy grassiness, the bite, the fight in this Littlemill......But the naked unintegrated (segregated?) oak stuff holds it back. I will indeed let this sit in the bottle for a year before I open it again, then I'll review it again to report on what's happened.
So I did just that. I mummified it with parafilm, then had it sit in the corner of a dark closet for one year so it could think about its behavior, much as I've done with Mathi.......okay, okay. Take it easy. Just a little joke for the parents out there.

(Actually, that was just to see if Kristen still reads my blog. I don't think she does because my readership has dropped 100% this year. From 1 to 0.)

How about that whisky?

Distillery: Littlemill
Former Owner: Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouse Ltd (proto-Loch Lomond Distillery Co.)
Independent Bottler: Berry Bros. & Rudd
Region: Lowlands (close to the Highlands border)
Age: 22 years (1990-2013)
Maturation: American oak?
Cask number17
Alcohol by Volume: 54.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

On the nose it's lemon bars and key lime pie and orange lollipops. Roasted almonds and peach ice cream. A merging of mellow malt and vanilla, along with a green leafiness. Subtle for its ABV. That balance of malt and vanilla shows up in the palate as well. Then almond cookies, tart limes and salt. A crisp graininess. Something between a minerally white wine and tonic water. Limes and limestone? I don't know why I wrote that. There's a sweet undertow throughout. There's citrus in the finish, lots of citrus, but not acidic, thankfully. Brisk minerals, tonic water and almond cookies. A great length to it.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1tsp water per 30mL whisky
Water pulls the nose's characteristics closer together. Citrus/leaves/oak/nuts merge into one. There's a new tropical fruity note now, and a new vanilla cake one too. Meanwhile, the palate gets sharper, bitterer. Spritely. Mineral, quinine/tonic and limes with a sweet Bushmills-esque malt. The finish keeps its stamina. Tart fruits, mild bitterness and vanilla cake.

Yay! All the dissimilar parts, which had been crashing into each other like cops in a Buster Keaton short, have transformed. The weird new oak notes have vanished, and the remaining vanilla plays nicely. Lots of spirit remains. Very fruity and minerally stuff. I liked the nose better when it was diluted, but the palate was more enjoyable when neat. I dig it either way.

But wow, what a change. This is great. Happy days! I'm going to enjoy another glass or two, then parafilm it up and open it again next year for Mathilda's birthday.

Availability - Sold out :(
Pricing - $140 back in January 2015
Rating - 88

Friday, May 11, 2018

Colonel E.H. Taylor Rye Bottled-in-Bond (2017)

Though I've tried most of the major ryes on the market, I didn't taste this — shall we say...Four Year Old Taylor? — rye until December of last year. And I liked it a lot. But when I priced-shopped, I was disappointed to find that $70 is apparently now considered a bargain, and many retailers won't blink at charging $90-$100 for it. It was better than the $25 Rittenhouse BIB but not by that much. And this BIB is neither scarce nor old. So I gave up on it.

Then one day, while driving through a state that neither begins nor ends with an 'O', I found a bunch of bottles of Taylor Rye BIB selling for $52.

And that is how I wound up with my one bottle, a bottle that has not impressed me at all, I regret to say. It hasn't work well in Manhattan's, at full strength or watered down. It's approachable but unremarkable when sipped neatly.

Because of this disappointment, I've left it alone for the past two months. The fill level is now below the halfway point. I hope a little bit of oxygen helped it out.

Brand: Colonel E.H. Taylor
Company: Buffalo Trace (Sazerac)
Distillery: Buffalo Trace?
Region: Kentucky
Type: Straight rye
Age: at least four years old
Mashbill: just rye and malted barley, the %s are as of yet unknown
Bottling Code: L172850115087
Alcohol by Volume: 50%

It has a nice, crisp nose full of fruit and spice. Anise and mint combine with hints of stone fruit. Orange peel and cinnamon. Rye seeds, vanilla syrup and potpourri. The palate has mild sweet and heat levels. Cinnamon and freshly split lumber. Jalapeño oil and oranges. Ume and tart limes. Loads of wood. A touch of vinegar and bitterness. It finishes on lumber and limes, ginger, alcohol heat and chili oil.

An improvement! The nose really opened up. And the palate is a little better. The whiskey is likely from a very high rye mashbill, but Sazerac pushed the oak big-time, perhaps to hide any scary parts. Thus this will be one of the rare times where I'll say this whiskey would not be better with a few more years of maturation.

Though it's a different style than Pikesville 6yo or High West's Double, Taylor Rye BIB is of comparable quality. But that's all a matter of temperament, as is how one feels about spending $90-$100 on a $40 whiskey.

Availability - In the US, most specialty retailers. A little harder to find overseas.
Pricing - $70 to (really) $200 (US), $100-$150 (Europe, w/o VAT or shipping)
Rating - 83

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Balblair 1999, 2nd Release (bottled 2016)

As with the 2003 first edition, Balblair's 1999 second edition has had three releases: in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Then consider that the 1999 1st edition was also released during those same years, as well as in 2017. So that means one round of the first edition was released after the second edition but at the same time as the first release of the third edition. Transparent shell, chewy opaque center?

The good news is that all those second editions seem to have been produced from a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. Could it have been one big batch blended in 2014, with a one-third then being bottled and the rest put in steel? Or is the 2016 release two years older than the 2014?

DISCLOSURE: Amy from Ten27 Communications sent me this bottle, along with the 2003 and 2005 that I've already reviewed. (Thank you, Amy!) The 2003 somehow read younger and rawer than the 2005. They were both very decent whiskies, but since the 2005 felt more complete or fully formed, I preferred it over the elder bottling. Those two were entirely from American oak. The 1999 has some Spanish action going on...

Distillery: Balblair
Ownership: Inver House (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Region: Northern Highlands
Maturation: "American oak, ex-bourbon barrels"+ "Spanish oak, sherry butts"
Vintage: 1999
Bottled: 2016
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No

A bit of sharpness to the nose, some brute youth still in there. Nothing grapey or winey about this whisky. It's all mineral, lime, ocean air, barley and Cara cara orange peels. Those limes and oranges show up in the palate, and are met with tart berries. Then malt, molasses, honey and almonds. A little bit of heat too, which carries into the simple but long finish. Just honey, citrus and malt.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv or <1tsp water per 30mL whisky
Lots of barley in the nose. An unoaked mineral white wine with hints of lemons and peaches. A milk chocolate moment. The palate is sweeter, creamier. Darker. Tarter citrus, berry syrup, roasted barley and a sprinkling of soil. The finish has (good, homemade) limoncello with fresh ginger and a little bit of barley.

"Straightforward" is the keyword about this whisky. It's neither subtle or loud, plain or complex. No gimmicks, no oak syrup. Just whisky, man. Consequently it's also difficult to rave over such a thing. But it's impossible to hate. It's a swimmer. And it *gasp* works on the rocks, especially on a muggy night such as this.

Plenty of refill casks are in the mix. Also, I wouldn't be surprised if the batch was in fact made in 2014 because the whisky reads like it's in the early part of its second decade. That's not really a knock, since hints of old Balblair fruity charm are just starting to peek through. 20+ years with this maturation though...

Availability - some specialty retailers in Europe and the US
Pricing - $80-$100 (US), $65-$85 (Europe, w/o VAT or shipping)
Rating - 85

Monday, May 7, 2018

Hazelburn and Longrow twins! Same age, same year, same cask type.

Like me, my friend Matt W. is a Springbank fan. Unlike me, he actually reels in Springbank bottlings from around the planet and then opens 'em up. I think I've received samples of all of them and for that I am very thankful.

He brought a pair of cask strength bottlings to a recent whisky event. Both distilled in 2007. Both nine years of age. Both matured in Sauternes hogsheads. One Hazelburn and one Longrow. This past weekend I decided to set the siblings against each other...

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Hazelburn
Region: Campbeltown
Age: 9 years (December 2007 - September 2017)
Maturation: "First Fill Sauternes" and, judging by the outturn, a hogshead
Alcohol by Volume: 56.9%
Limited Bottling: 252

Of the four single malts produced by Springbank's owners, Hazelburn lands in fourth place, for me. That's not an insult since Hazelburn is still better than two-thirds of all Scotch malt brands. I haven't had a terrible Hazelburn, but I also haven't had a great one. So I'm wishy-washy on them overall, even though the triple-distillation approach should appeal to my palate.

Surprisingly available in the US, today's Hazelburn was three months short of its 10th birthday when bottled, and has a not-unreasonable ABV in its youth.

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Longrow
Region: Campbeltown
Age: 9 years (November 2007 - October 2017)
Maturation: "Fresh Sauternes Hogsheads", probably four or five
Alcohol by Volume: 56.3%
Limited Bottling: 1134

Whereas Hazelburn is Springbank's Lowland-type malt, unpeated and distilled three times, Longrow is the Islay stand-in, heavily peated and distilled twice. Though I am unsold on the entire Longrow Red winey series, I did enjoy the now-old 14yo Burgundy Wood release as well as a Shiraz cask from Open Day 2010. Still, straight up all-bourbon-cask Longrow is one of the best things (ignoring the 10yo 100proof).

Today's Longrow was bottled exclusively for the Springbank Society. It falls only one month short of 10 years and its ABV is very similar to that of the Hazelburn.

There's the setup. Here's the tasting.


Hazelburn - Flower blossoms, oranges, lemons and cardamom. Toasted nuts in caramel. A slight dunnage note. Definitely a mossiness to it. With time, there are larger notes of yeast and cereal grains, as well as vanilla.
Longrow - It's....almost identical at first. Flowers and citrus. Hints of vanilla and caramel. Slightly peatier. More wort and salt. But it gets more expressive with time, picking up more moss and iodine.

Hazelburn - Heat and sweet. Salt. Golden raisins, gobs of honey, lemon juice and apricots. Cardamom and cinnamon. Paper smoke and moss.
Longrow - Sweeter arrival, but with less heat. Similar honey/lemon/apricot note, but milder. It has its own oranges + cayenne pepper + peat moss + earth note. The peat reads much much quieter than its 50ppm malting level.

Hazelburn - Here's the cayenne pepper, along with honey and apricots. It's plenty winey, but the sweetness gets gentler with time. Hints of smoke and tangy limes.
Longrow - Less wine here than in the Hazelburn. Less heat too. It's tangier, peatier, with plenty of honey and pepper.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1.5tsp water per 30mL whisky

Hazelburn - Less wine, more grain, at first. Simple citrus. Toasted oak spice. Then vanilla, sawdust and mint leaves as it trends towards American whiskey.
Longrow - Orange oil and toasty peat. Lemon peel, orange pixy stix and citronella candles.

Hazelburn -
A very easy drink. Better mouthfeel with this dilution, milder sweetness. Hint of bitterness. Limes, lemons and moss.
Longrow - Better mouthfeel on this one too. Calmer sweetness, but perkier pepper. More bitterness and smoke.

Hazelburn -
Smoke, limes and sugar.
Longrow - Sweet citrus, black pepper and peat moss.

This is yet another Hazelburn that reads peated, even though its barley was not. Perhaps it's tough to scrub the phenolic residues out of the stills, thus the Hazelburn runs pick up some elements in that part of the process. The good news is, it helped out here, giving the whisky an extra dimension. The first fill cask and its wine are active throughout. I enjoy the imparted fruit, since it goes well with the 3x-distilled malt. It's a bit too sticky sweet here and here, but time and water fix that. I like the palate better when diluted, but prefer the nose when neat.

The Longrow is less peaty than expected, but I often find Longrow's peat mysterious. This lower peat register brings the two whiskies closer together in style on the nose. Again, time separates them. The earth, pepper and iodine show up, countering the wine casks. The two sides (Longrow vs Wine) cooperate more than clash, most of the time. I might like it better neat, but it dilutes well.

I prefer the Longrow due to the willpower of its grungier spirit. Perhaps it was served well by having multiple casks in the mix. I am not a big fan of Sauternes casks, but since they both had full maturations rather than finishes, the end results were usually light on weird messy sweetness. But drinkers who hate even the mention of wine-cask-matured whiskies should stay away from the Hazelburn.

HAZELBURN 9yo 2007 single Sauternes cask
Availability - America, somewhere
Pricing - $115ish
Rating - 82

LONGROW 9yo 2007 Sauternes casks
Availability - Springbank Society only
Pricing - ???
Rating - 86

Friday, May 4, 2018

Killing Whisky History, Episode 12 - Old Charter 13 year old Proprietor's Reserve

Before Diageo was Diageo, it was United Distillers. And Guinness. And Grand Metropolitan. And The Distillers Company Ltd. And John Bald & Co. More to the point, at one time that big company acted like it cared about those who were enthusiastic about their products. For instance, in 1994 they released the Bourbon Heritage Collection, to which Old Charter 13 year old Proprietor's Reserve belongs. This is my episode about this very bourbon.

And if Dylan can keep Ballad of a Thin Man under six minutes, then I can keep one episode of Killing Whisky History under six minutes. Enjoy!

Now take that time you've saved and spend it with your loved ones. And by "loved ones" we all know I mean "more episodes of Killing Whisky History".

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Fail...er...Adventures in Blending: Improving Kilkerran Cask Strength?

It pains me to write this, but I was disappointed by the first batch of Kilkerran 8yo Cask Strength. I'd waited and waited for them to release something like it. Then they did, and I bought it. And I found it to be just fine, which is (for me) a letdown because I'm very big fan of their whiskies. Also, the key to making it "just fine" was by diluting the whisky down to 46%abv, which is the strength of their regular releases. Yet, even then it wasn't as good as their regular releases.

At the end of my review of that whisky, I said it "could have used a small percentage of the distillery's good sherry casks to lift it up a bit". After additional sips, I realized it was so raw that perhaps it needed some sherried whisky with more age and less alcohol. This called for my new blending friend: Famous Grouse 18 year old blended malt.

While visiting another one of these United States this year, I found the oldest of the vatted Grouse on clearance for $49.99. So I scooped one up and opened it immediately (but not in the parking lot).

I'll review it on its own another time, but I'll say here that it's deeply sherried and very approachable. As it was bottled in 2011, it contains quality ingredients from the early nineties, possibly Macallan and Highland Park, though more likely it's mostly Glenturret.

Its individual parts were chosen for blending purposes so that the end result would be a good blend. And that good blend, in turn, seems to blend well when applied to other whiskies. Would it work with the fiery Campbeltown youngster?

I made two vattings and let them marry for three months. A Vegas marriage, if you will. Here's the resulting Taste Off:

K8CS - Kilkerran 8yo Cask Strength batch 1, full power (56.2%abv)
K46 - Kilkerran 8yo Cask Strength batch 1, diluted to 46%abv
KILL GROUSE, THE YOUNGER - (4:1) 4 parts K8CS to 1 part Famous Grouse 18yo (53.6%abv)
KILL GROUSE, THE ELDER - (2:1) 2 parts K8CS to 1 part Famous Grouse 18yo (51.8%abv)

Nose - Yeasty, bready. Citronella candles and fresh apricots. Simple peat. A hint of raspberries.
Palate - Very hot. Sweet and malty. Unsmoked tobacco, chocolate milk, black peppercorns, yeast and paper.
Finish - Heat, peppercorns, sugar, yeast and paper.
Commentary: I'm sad to report that this bottle has gotten less interesting in the eight months it's been opened. While it's of interest to try something that seems like a barely legal Glengyle, it's not worth more than one try at full strength.

Nose - Cocoa, flowers, a few more fruits. Dough and wet cardboard. It fades fast, becoming just yeast and peat.
Palate - Still hot, though creamier and peatier. Peppery and grainy. Hints of tobacco and flowers. Fades quickly here too.
Finish - Hot sauce and apples. Sense memory: unflavored prescription cough medicine from the '80s.
Commentary: My notes here are different than they were in the November review. The dilution also doesn't work as well as it did before. It's still a minor improvement over the neat version.

Nose - Very fudgy. Some dunnage notes and funkier peat. Mixed berry jam. How about brownies with a raspberry ribbon?
Palate - Starts with honey, oranges and lots of fresh ginger. But then the K8's heat comes blasting in. It turns tangy and peppery. With port-like berries and pretzels?
Finish - A gingery sizzle on the tongue. Tangy and sour citrus. Pepper. Less heat.
Commentary: It's an improvement. It's also sort of a mess on the palate. The nose works though. Fascinating how just a little bit of the 43%abv 18yo malt totally turned the nose around.

Nose - More grapes. Cocoa and baked blueberries. The peat fades into a soil-like note. Chocolate malt, nougat, graphite and a hint of lime.
Palate - Softer heat and more graceful peat. Limes, berries, light florals, milk chocolate. Mothballs. Less ginger. A bit winey at times.
Finish - Big. Ginger, pepper, citrus candy and peat.
Comments: Best mouthfeel and longest finish of the foursome. It's the closest to a complete product, though again the theoretically thinned out older malt still knocks the younger stuff right over in the mix. More of the 18yo would have hidden the Kilkerran entirely. Though that's not the worst thing, it also wouldn't result in a balanced blend.

KILL GROUSE, THE ELDER wins the battle, and that was entirely due to the surprisingly muscular Famous Grouse 18yo malt. But. Kilkerran Work in Progress editions 5 through 7 (all woods) would beat all four of these contestants by some margin. So I'm going to steer clear of the Kilkerran CSes until they pick up some age or a few sherry casks.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Bowmore 15 year old 2001 Cadenhead Authentic Collection

Yes, a review from one of my own bottles! This thingy was purchased during our July 2016 Scotland trip. One recommendation: If you perchance visit Campbeltown, get thee to the Cadenhead shop. What you actually do there is up to you. Just, you know, keep your pants on.

Of all the Authentic Collection whiskies in the store, why did I choose this one? Firstly, I tend to adore indie Bowmores from this era. Secondly, Serge gave it a rave review. Now — I've probably stated this before — the more whisky experience I gain, the less I concur with Whiskyfun's reviews and tasting notes. But I thought I'd risk this one, since I really enjoyed the only other Authentic Collection Bowmore I'd tried up to that point. (To balance things out, the other Authentic Collection bottle I bought was one that WF didn't like. I'll keep that whisky a mystery for now.)

Did I set myself up for disappointment with this Bowmore? There's only one way to find out.

Here's all the usual whisky info!


Its color is very very pale. The nose begins with smoked fish and dirty hay. Fresh lemons and a just a hint of asphalt. Meaty and savory, like a stew with bay leaves and potatoes. Pennies! There's still a sizable barley note beneath the peat. The palate leads with herbal liqueur, asphalt and mossy peat. Charred fish. Or rather, blackened fish loaded with cajun spices. Fresh lemons, again. Apple cider vinegar, but in a good way. It's warm but never hot. It finishes with a mild sweetness. Citrons and Meyer lemons. Tangy smoke and smoked fish.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or >1tsp water per 30mL whisky
The nose gets farmier. Savory and salty. Dried thyme. Rock candy. Adding water keeps the sweet and peat in perfect balance in the palate, making it very drinkable, while NOT dumbing it down. It gains a perky bitterness. Lots of lemons and dried herbs. A little bit of the asphalt, again. The finish is lightly sweet with bitter herbal smoke, tart lemons and peppery aftertaste.

Oh yeah, this is the stuff.

It's exactly what I'm looking for in an indie Bowmore. There's just enough age to it to calm the rawness. Cask influence is low, but it's not dead wood. Great balance of seemingly dissimilar elements. The combination of smoked fish and fruit is a knockout when done right, as it was here. And, despite the strength of its peat and ABV, it is a very relaxing drink that vanishes from the glass much too soon.

Kristen just asked, "Do you have buyer's remorse?" I replied, "I do not."

Availability - Cadenhead shops, but I don't know if it's still in stock
Pricing - £78 (w/VAT)
Rating - 89

Friday, April 27, 2018

Laphroaig 18 year old 1997 Berry Bros & Rudd, cask 56

I don't know about y'all, but I am really out of the loop when it comes to independently bottled Laphroaig. Aside from 3 Signatories and 1 SMWS, this site is absent indie 'Phroaig reviews. Though single casks from this southern Islay distillery were never cheap, demand has pushed their prices higher and higher to the point where I don't even look at their latest releases.

That's why bottle splits are cool. And that is why famed fashion blogger, My Annoying Opinions, is cool. He got me in on a split of this 18yo BBR Laphroaig. No it's not full strength, but Laphroaig still kicks asses up and down the block at 46%abv, especially when the cask tinkering currently beloved by Beam Suntory is kept to a minimum. MAO and I are both posting our reviews on this whisky this morning. Here’s his review!

Distillery: Laphroaig
Region: Islay
Independent Bottler: Berry Bros. & Rudd
Age: 18 years old (1997 - ????)
Maturation: probably ex-bourbon cask
Cask number56
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: No
(from a bottle split)

It's color is light amber. A good sign. The nose leads with cigarette ash, menthol, lemon zest and citronella. Moments of honeydew, ocean air, cinnamon and anise are sprinkled throughout. The palate has a nice combination of peat, heat, sweet and frueet (fruit). Lemon and orange slice candies. Baked apples, as well as green apple hard candies. It's actually not as sweet as those descriptors may sound. A little bit of mint in there. Eighteen years in a cask has steered the famous Laphroaig peat towards a roasted salty style. More fruit in the finish. It's a little tangier too. Baked apples, chili oil, a little bit of salt and ash. A good length on it.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or less than 1tsp per 30mL whisky
More candy and citrus on the nose. Hints of peaches and cinnamon. Quiet peat. The palate gets sweeter and ashier and mintier and bitterer all at the same time. It's less complex, but louder. The finish mirrors the palate. Its shorter than before, but not short.

This whisky won't raise high your roof beams (sorry) like the official 10yo CS, but the Laphroaig spirit still simmers throughout. Stupid metaphors. I'll start again.

This is a nice thing, a proper calm late night drink during winter's fifth month. The fruit and peat stay in balance then it finishes very well. I wish I had a sample of the great long gone official 18yo to compare this to. (I remember that one being graceful, but I also remember me being graceful in centerfield when I was twelve. Thank you, Memory.) If the bottle was less than half its current price, I'd be interested in obtaining one. IF!

Availability - Total Wine & More
Pricing - $220 💋
Rating - 87

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Bowmore 11 year old 2001 Exclusive Malts, cask 1128

'Twas in another lifetime — no really, 2013 was another lifetime, right? — when David Stirk came to the US of A to peddle his Exclusive wares for the first(?) time. He hosted the late much-missed Secret Soiree one Sunday evening with maybe a half dozen single cask bottlings in tow. Though it was the youngest of the group, the Bowmore was the belle of the ball.

I'm not 100% certain this Bowmore was from that grouping. There were at least two Exclusive Bowmore casks that year. And they both sold out (in Southern California) almost instantly.

I had also heard through the grapevine (or the barley field) that this particular cask was an ex-sherry. Of that I am now not 50% certain. Its color is very dark for an 11yo, but it doesn't show a whole lotta sherry influence, as you'll see in the notes below. And that's how I'll end my series of four sherried(?) Bowmores.

Distillery: Bowmore
Region: Islay
Independent Bottler: The Creative Whisky Company
Series: Exclusive Malts
Age: 11 years old (September 2001 - January 2013)
Maturation: ???
Cask number1128
Bottles: 299
Alcohol by Volume: 53.6%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: No
(Sincere thanks to Tetris who gifted me this sample)

The nose starts off with bright grassy peat, BBQ sauce, golden syrup, toffee, grapefruits and nectarines. After 20+ minutes in the glass it shifts gears, becoming toastier and nuttier. Stinkier peat. White peaches and roses. Big rich dingy dirty peat in the palate. Nectarine juice and mint. Cracked peppercorns and dried herbs start appearing after 20+ minutes, followed by dried berries and dark chocolate. The finish is slightly brighter than the palate. Tangy stone fruit with mint leaves. Milk chocolate and dry peat smoke.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1tsp water per 30mL whisky
Nice dirty, almost farmy, peat in the nose. Hot dried herbs. Rotting kelp, seashells, wet sand. Beach stuff. The palate gets heavier on the peppercorns, earth and charred peat. Dark chocolate and blackberry jam. Tangy limes. The finish is identical to the palate.

No matter what sort of cask this whisky lived in, the end result was very good. It flexes its power without going hot or raw. And it's probably my favorite of the eight Bowmores I've reviewed this month, showing off the sort of depth and darkness I anticipate when spying an indie Bowmore. As I've been reminded this month, not all indie Bowmores actually showcase this level of quality. It fact it's probably a 50/50 proposition.

Now, as promised, I opened up my own bottle of single cask indie Bowmore in honor of this April of Indie Bowmore. On which side of the 50/50 will it fall? Let's find out on Monday...

Availability - Loooooooong gone
Pricing - ???
Rating - 88

Monday, April 23, 2018

Bowmore 11 year old 2000 Sovereign (K&L exclusive)

Sweet Cthulhu's mercy, this is my THIRTIETH review of a K&L exclusive whisky. Those reviews have been slowing down. There were zero in 2017, in fact. I was about to type "and I have don't have any left in the sample stash", but holy crap I was wrong.

This is the earliest K&L sample I will ever review. It hit the shelves a month or two before I first set foot in that store. It was even a few months before I started blogging about whisky. The sample comes from MAO, so that means he was on the K&L scene before I was. That man has always been a devoted member of the Double David Fan Club. *wink emoji*

Continuing with the theme, this is a single cask Bowmore aged in a sherry hogshead. It's very dark in color, especially considering the age. So I anticipate some cask influence.

Distillery: Bowmore
Region: Islay
Independent Bottler: Hunter Hamilton
Series: The Sovereign
Exclusive to: K&L Wine Merchants
Age: 11 years old (2000 - Aug 2011)
Maturation: sherry hoggie, possibly American oak
Cask numberHH7613
Bottles: 180
Alcohol by Volume: 57.5%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: No
(Sample from a swap with MAO, like a thousand years ago)

The nose begins with dark chocolate, gritty peat and roses. Pears and vanilla. Grapefruit and Heath Bar. With time the flowers go Full Violets, budging ahead of almost all other scents. The palate is tangy, sweet and sour. The peat reads sort of grassy. Vanilla. It gets both sweeter and bitterer with time in the glass. A few of the roses appear here. The long finish is very sweet. Lots of oranges and sugar. Plenty of dirty peat too.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1½ tsp water per 30mL whisky
The nose gets more desserty, less floral. Lots of gooey caramel, vanilla and toffee things. Cinnamon and citronella. The peat gets quieter, earthier. The palate has bitter smoke and limes. A hint of milk chocolate. It finishes sweet and tangy. Lightly peaty.

I'm going to ignore the flowers for the next paragraph.

This whisky never really worked for me, even though it was generally short on flaws. The sweets and vanilla didn't really work for my palate, and often shouted down the other characteristics. Adding water did improve the situation, though. The nose worked better than the palate (again). Meanwhile...

...the nose's flower strike was a surprise. That's the biggest violet appearance outside the Dreaded Eighties that I've yet found in a Bowmore. Luckily they didn't sneak into the mouth. A hint of rose is okay, sometimes great. But violets, nah.

While MAO found some similar notes in this whisky, he enjoyed it more than I. Florin liked it more too. So that makes me the sour puss. Man, I hope my review doesn't stop this cask from selling out.

Availability - With or without a time machine?
Pricing - $80
Rating - 80 (with water)

Friday, April 20, 2018

Caol Ila 20 year old 1996 Montgomerie's, cask 3076

Hey, it's Not-Bowmore Day. And, also Simulreview-with-MAO Day. And, also Friday. Huzzah.

If I've said it once, I've said it (at most) eleven times: There aren't enough Caol Ila reviews on this site. You can count me amongst those who say "Cry not over Port Ellen, for there is still Caol Ila." Long-aged CI is very comparable to PE. (It used to be much cheaper too, but word got out.) I've tried a pair of young PEs and found them uninspiring, but young CI is often quite good. Here's a comparison of a pair. Caol Ila single casks have also been widely available from indies, as Diageo seems to let more of these barrels escape than with any of their other distilleries.

I've grown to enjoy Caol Ila's single malts because the good bourbon cask CIs seem like cousins to good bourbon cask Ardmores. It's the beach or BBQ or bonfire or beach BBQ bonfire peat smoke drifting above a foundation of fresh citrus. That's my jam.

Today's CI is from Angus Dundee's Montgomerie's line, just like last Friday's Glen Ord. Like that Ord, this was part of a bottle split with famed lawn bowling blogger, My Annoying Opinions. I'll link to his review as soon as I can today. (Here it is!) For now, you may follow my notes below.

Distillery: Caol Ila
Region: Islay
Independent Bottler: Montgomerie's (via Angus Dundee)
Age: 20 years old (1996-2016)
Maturation: probably an ex-bourbon cask
Cask: 3076
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chill-filtered? No
Caramel colored? No
(from a bottle split)

The nose mixes soft oceanic peat with Good & Plenty candies. Then a note somewhere between orange blossoms and orange oil. Moments of mint chip ice cream, menthol, dried herbs and caramel sauce. With time, the peat gets rootier. The palate comes across more rugged. Wood smoke, Robitussin, charred bell pepper skins. Charred beef, tangy lemons, tobacco smoke and bitter herbs. It gets bitterer with time in glass. Bitter smoke on the finish. Tobacco smoke. A tiny bit of sweetness.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or less than 1tsp water per 30mL whisky
Much less peat on the nose, but more fruit. Think oranges, limeade and dried apricots. Beachy. Mild sweet peat on the palate. Hot oregano, bitter chocolate and vanilla simple syrup. The finish mirrors the palate.

Recently, I've had a string of peated single cask whiskies with rich complex noses and narrower, less exciting palates. This one joins that parade. In fact, this one's palate took me by surprise. It was a slap in the mouth compared to the nose's cuddle. It tastes rawer than what I'd expect from a 20 year old Caol Ila. The finish neither offends nor excites, it just finishes. These aren't huge complaints, but when the nose sets one up so well...

Availability - Total Wine & More (and maybe a few other retailers in Minnesota)
Pricing - $125
Rating - 83

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Bowmore 14 year old 1999 Old Malt Cask, HL10146

Monday's indie Bowmore was a lumbering (heh) sherried thing that swam worse than I do. Today's Bowmore is from also from a sherry butt, but it's a refill this time. It was also bottled sooner and at a lower ABV. I tried the two side-by-side...

Distillery: Bowmore
Region: Islay
Independent Bottler: Hunter Laing
Range: Old Malt Cask
Age: 14 years old (September 1999 to October 2013)
Maturation: refill sherry butt
Cask: HL10146
Bottles: 563
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(from a purchased sample)

The nose is full of smoked fish with figs, sugary apples, orange marmalade, arugula and soda bread. A picnic on Islay? Yes, please. Though the peat reads at turns green or like coal smoke on the nose, it lands much heavier on the palate, like ham and burnt plastic. Lots of brown mustard, apple juice and cherry lollipops. It all gets smokier and sweeter with time. It finishes with a peppery arugula and herb salad, topped with figs. Dark rumbly peat. It grows more honeyed with time.

DILUTED TO 43%abv, or 1 tsp water per 30mL whisky
The nose has become a dank, muddy boat floor. Then simple peat smoke, apples and lemons. The palate shows peat, mint and oranges. It's lightly sweet, lightly bitter, lightly herbal and lightly drying. Lightly. The finish is full of sugary peat, pears, mint and bitter herbs.

Like the 16yo SMWS from yesterday, this 14yo OMC's peat and cask feel bigger on the palate. But here they're calmer, less suffocating. The palate feels better balanced — with or without water — and can almost compete with the stellar nose. This would be a great rainy day whisky. Too bad it was released four years ago, when sherry cask Bowmores were half the price they are now.

Availability - Winesearcher last found it in October 2017
Pricing - its average price stayed below $100 for more than three years
Rating - 87

Monday, April 16, 2018

Bowmore 16 year old 1997 SMWS 3.217

After reviewing four bourbon cask Bowmores, I am hopping over to four sherry cask Bowmores for the remainder of the Mondays and Wednesdays this month. Today's indie Bowmore was bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS), a club that would have someone like me for a member, so I'd rather not belong.

Like all SMWS whiskies, this one was given its own "funny" name: A delicatessen shopping basket. That sounds promising...

Distillery: Bowmore
Region: Islay
Independent Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
"Funny" name: A delicatessen shopping basket
Age: 16 years (September 25, 1997 - 2014)
Maturation: refill sherry butt
Cask#: 3.217
Bottles: 609
Alcohol by Volume: 55.6%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(Thanks to Brett for the sample!)

The nose shows off mangoes, ginger, dried cherries, molasses cookies, concrete and chimney smoke. With time it picks up notes of toffee pudding, prunes, roasted corn and a hint of classic peat smoke. The palate is less complex than the nose, almost monolithic. Big peppery char. Sugared grapey notes, as if someone peat infused a sweet sherry. Agave nectar and eucalyptus leaves. Lots of heat. The long finish holds lots of sweetness and peatness. Black pepper, arugula and ethyl heat.

The nose works, but the palate seems closed. Time for serious dilution.

DILUTED TO 44.5%abv, or 1½ tsp water per 30mL whisky
And the eggy sulphur comes rolling into the nose. Some milk chocolate and ginger too. The palate is intensely peppery and hot and sulphuric. With a side of sour candy. It finishes sweet and peppery.

Uch. Maybe some more water?

DILUTED TO 40%abv, or 2⅓ tsp water per 30mL whisky
The nose is cleaner, more herbal. Whiffs of apricots, pool chlorine and tar. The palate is cleaner and weaker, but some sulphur remains. Bitter, herbal and sweet, but out of balance, like a messed up cocktail. The finish is similar to the palate but much sweeter.

At first you think this "delicatessen shopping basket" is actually a sherry-coated locked treasure chest that can only be opened by adding water. So you add water. And the box opens. And ZOMG IT'S SATAN! So you add more water to kill the beast and in the process the whisky drowns as well. And then you wonder what the hell kind of deli does the SMWS-naming guy shop at, because damn.

So the whisky is best when neat, where it smells fantastic and tastes......satisfactory. Perhaps it will appeal more to you sherry faces out there. To me, the nose sets up expectations of complexity and beauty that go entirely unfulfilled. And it swims so poorly that I have to knock the rating down additional points.

Availability - Nope
Pricing - not sure, though I believe it was north of $150
Rating - 80

Friday, April 13, 2018

Glen Ord 18 year old 1997 Montgomerie's

When the proprietor of famed food blog, My Annoying Opinions, offered up a bottle split of indie Glen Ord, I couldn't resist. Montgomerie's, one of Angus Dundee's labels, has entered the US market via Total Wine & More almost exclusively. I enjoyed their 1995 Ben Nevis last year, as it balanced BN's weird + fruit quite well.

It's also nice to see a Glen Ord come through our market. Ords with this high of an age statement are also scarce in the rest of the world. I like the Ord, as does MAO. So we're doing a simultaneous review of this whisky today. Here’s his opinion. Here's my opinion:

Distillery: Glen Ord
Region: Highlands (Northern)
Independent Bottler: Montgomerie's (via Angus Dundee)
Age: 18 years old (1997-2015)
Maturation: probably a refill ex-bourbon cask
Cask: 800002
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chill-filtered? No
Caramel colored? No
(from a bottle split)

Its color is nearly, well, colorless. Very pale. The nose has barley, sour apple candy and lime zest. Stones and ocean air. Amaretto and fresh apricots. The palate has a zesty lemons+chiles+honey combo. Also, whipped cream, oranges and roasted malt. The finish is very long and zippy, with limes, peppery heat and fresh apples.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or a little less than 1 tsp water per 30mL whisky
The whisky gets cloudy quickly. A good sign! The nose is very similar to the neat version. The apples are more fruity than candied now. More of an earthy note too. Maybe a hint of soap. The palate has gotten a little sweeter. Also, some tart limes and lemon juice. More apples, limes and lemons in the finish.

I can't say this is the most complex thing, but it's crisp as a casual drinker. The lack of intrusive oak is much appreciated, as the mature perky fruity malty spirit gets the spotlight. It's fine while diluted, though 46%abv seems to be a great spot.

I'd love to see more 18 year old (non-Singleton) Glen Ords. Will I have to wait another decade when the distillery's massive production gets the better of it?

Availability - Total Wine & More (and maybe a few other retailers in Minnesota)
Pricing - $100
Rating - 86

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Bowmore 15 year old 1997 Anam na h-Alba

The fourth of eight indie Bowmore reviews this month, this Anam na h-Alba release is the last of the bourbon cask releases from this group. The four Bowmores that follow are all from sherry casks, I think.

Don't have much else to say about this whisky other that it was well loved by all the voters on whiskybase, except for Cobo from whose bottle this sample came, this sample that has been sitting in the stash for more than three years. It's time to free it!

Distillery: Bowmore
Independent Bottler: Anam na h-Alba
Series: The Soul of Scotland
Region: Islay, Scotland
Age: 15 years old (June 2, 1997 - July 18, 2012)
Maturation: ex-bourbon hogshead
Bottles: 77
Alcohol by Volume: 52.8%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(Thanks to Cobo for the sample!)

The nose begins with wet leaves and fresh in-season peaches. Vibrant sugary green peat, as well as sooty smoke. Burlap, cinnamon, honey and clementines. The palate has mild citrus and lots of soot. Bitter chocolate, horseradish, soil and a mild sweetness. It gets sootier and sweeter with time. The warm and lightly bitter finish has an ethyl sting to it. Lime juice and simple peat.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or a little less than 1 tsp water per 30mL whisky
Water does the nose no favors. It washes away nearly everything, leaving behind only hints of earth, moss, lychees and apples. The palate gets more acidic, with generic citrus. Quiet notes of soot, pears and sugar. It finishes salty and sweet, with oranges and pears.

It's a shame the palate fell so short of the excellent nose, because this would have been one hell of a whisky. In fact, it all starts so well with the first sniff and then propels downhill from there, finishing quickly and quietly. Overall, it's a decent drink but it leaves me thinking only of what it could have been. Because this was a micro-release from almost five years ago, I'm not sure if this review is relevant to anyone. BUT if this whisky sits on your shelf, don't waste any water on it once the bottle is opened!

Availability - Not
Pricing - 'twas €65
Rating - 84 (neat only)

Monday, April 9, 2018

Bowmore 17 year old 1996 First Editions

Like last Wednesday's Bowmore, here's another 17yo distilled in 1996 and bottled by an independent company. And it's another bottle that I recently split with Jordan of Chemistry of the Cocktail. For this review, I tasted the two Bowmores side by side to get a better perspective of each.

Unlike my experiences with AD Rattray, First Editions whiskies have always underwhelmed me. Of course, I've tried a grand total of four before this year, but I wanted to give them one last good try before adding them to my Meh List. So, basically, it's all riding on this.

Distillery: Bowmore
Independent Bottler: Hunter Laing
Series: First Editions
Region: Islay, Scotland
Age: 17 year old (1996-2013)
Maturation: ex-bourbon cask
Bottle: 155 of 266
Alcohol by Volume: 52.8%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(from a bottle split)

This is gentler on the nose than the Rattray cask, right up front. There's brown sugar, green veg, lots of toasted barley and ocean-y peat. It shifts a little bit with time, turning up notes of barn, cherry candy and vanilla. The palate starts off "super mineral". Early notes are salt, lemons, grass, mint leaves. After some time it opens up, revealing hints of fresh stone fruit, peach candy and blackberry syrup. The long finish is simple but pleasant and tingly. It's lightly sweet with some of the late palate's fruit and mineral notes. The peat reads more salty than smoky.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or a little less than 1 tsp water per 30mL whisky
The nose is now full of mint, honeydew and grass. Some vanilla bean, brown sugar and mild peat smoke. The palate is similar to the neat version. More on sweets, ginger and lime candy. Less on minerals. The finish is also sweeter with much less peat. The lime candy note shows up here too.

I can't believe I'm typing this, but I liked the First Editions Bowmore more than the AD Rattray cask. There's more fruit in this one and just the right amount of oak. Both had a good dosage of mineral notes, but this one feels more balanced. The peat is more consistent here as well. The Rattray cask offers more raw spirit and violence, which is why that one needs water. The First Editions Bowmore feels more mature, and works with or without dilution. Plus, it's $30 cheaper. So, it's a win for First Editions.

Availability - Just a few US retailers
Pricing - $130-$150
Rating - 87

Friday, April 6, 2018

Killing Whisky History, Episode 11 - Famous Grouse (x3!) bottled in 1970s and 1990s

Killing Whisky History returns to Scotch whisky for the first time in four months with...

...a little history, a little bottle analysis and a little drinky of three Highland Distillers-era Famous Grouse. Watch at work! Watch at home! Either way, you can watch while sitting on the toilet. And drinking along. You won't be drinking alone.

Also, if you know additional info about Highland Distillers's early laser bottle codes, please feel free to share in the comments here or on YooToob. The codes here are: L829M and L12840L. Thanks!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Bowmore 17 year old 1996 AD Rattray, cask 960057

I started this April of Indie Bowmore on Monday. You may have missed the 1989 Liquid Sun review since it was hiding beneath my FWP bit.

As I've previously written, I always keep a lookout for AD Rattray's Bowmores. AD Rattray (aka Dewar Rattray) is owned by the Morrison family. Yes, those are the same Morrisons of the former Morrison Bowmore company. Just FYI.

I loved Rattray's cask 960034 (a 18yo from 1996) even though it was pricey. For today's Bowmore —cask 960057 — I was lucky to do a bottle split with Jordan of Chemistry of the Cocktail. That helped keep the cost down for us since we also split another 17yo 1996 Bowmore, which will be reviewed next week. Many thank yous go out to Jordan who made it happen.

Distillery: Bowmore
Independent Bottler: A.D. Rattray
Region: Islay, Scotland
Age: 17 years (March 27, 1996 - August 15, 2013)
Maturation: hogshead
Cask number960057
Bottle count: 292
Alcohol by Volume: 54.7%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
(From a bottle split)

Farmy! says the nose. But it also comes crashing in with almost sulphuric peat smoke. And butter. The good news is that after 20+ minutes the latter two notes fade into the far background. Now there's very little alcohol heat. But there is black licorice, grassy Orkney-esque(!) peat and polenta.

Ah, here's the fruit, in the palate, more white than stone, and mostly subtle. Mint leaves and cinnamon. Lightly sweet, but very mineral peat.

It finishes minty and tingly. A hint of the palate's fruit. The peat reads the mildest here, though it gets ashier with time.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or a little more than 1 tsp water for 30mL whisky
The nose remains farmy, but now it also has an herbal side. Lemon zest and sugar syrup perk it up.

The palate has a good balance of herbal bitterness and candy sweetness. Plenty of peat throughout, along with some cooling mint.

The mint remains in the finish, which is sweeter than the neat version. The peat lightens up, but the overall length remains the same.

Though water reduces the whisky's complexity, it also pulls everything together, cleaning up a bit of a mess. The peat acts as chameleon through, taking on different colors and forms. In my opinion, this could use more fruit. But the nose's farminess is just right. Overall, this Bowmore performed better during the tasting than I'd expected, as I was underwhelmed during the first few casual glasses this winter. It's not in the top tier of Rattray's Bowmores, but it's still a lot better than what most other companies have to offer from their Bowmore stash. Still, I might dilute the remainder of my split to 46%abv...

Availability - Probably 99% sold out
Pricing - Somewhere between $160-$180
Rating - 85 (with water)