...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Old Perth 21 year old 1996 Blended Malt (55.1%abv)

I first saw Old Perth whisky at Shinanoya in Tokyo last summer. There were a half dozen bottlings, all blended malts, most hitting 46%abv, others cask strength. None had an age statement. I'd never heard of Old Perth before, and thought they might be a brand produced specifically for the Asian market.

Then I came back to the states to find European retailers selling Old Perth, many of which had age statements and vintages. And according to Morrison and Mackay, the brand owners, that brand has been kicking since 2013. So I'm behind on this, like most current whisky news.

I'd read heresay that one of the 21 year old sherry cask Perths was mostly Glen Grant with a little bit of peaty Islay malt. But it was unclear which release that pertained to. There were 55.1%abv, 55.2%abv and 55.4%abv 21yo releases, as well as a 55.4%abv 20yo release.

As some of you may know, I do NOT like buying whisky blindly. But I wanted something that was twenty years old, deeply sherried, cask strength and under $100. Hah! Good luck, right? But the 55.1%abv 21yo Old Perth fit the bill.

Company: Morrison and Mackay
Brand: Old Perth
Type: Blended (or Vatted) Malt
Distilleries: Scottish, and that's all I know
Age: 21 years (1996-2017)
Maturation: a single sherry something
Outturn: 335
Alcohol by Volume: 55.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No

This thing has the one of the darkest colors of any whisky I've owned. What will that mean for the rest of it? Unexpectedly, the nose leads with honey, green apples, cantaloupe and orange oil. Then comes toffee, Hershey's milk chocolate and a moderate bit of toasted oak. Salty almonds in caramel. It gets a tiny bit woodier with time, while picking up hints of both vanilla and ground mustard seed. The INTENSE palate starts off with ginger, lemon candy and wood smoke. But its spiciness takes the fore throughout. There's black pepper, lemon pepper, cloves and something savory. In the mid- to background, there are limes, tropical fruit juice and Cherry Coke. No generic raisins or prunes. Plenty of spiciness (cloves and dried ginger) carries through the long, warm finish; as does the non-specific tropical fruit stuff. A few wisps of the wood smoke too.

Hoo, that's a big drink. Time to water it down.

DILUTED TO 46%ABV, or 1.25tsp water per 30mL whisky
The nose keeps much of its intensity, but shifts focus. There are dried apricots, lemons, vanilla and the same measure of toasted oak. Now there's cocoa powder, musty basement and a salty seaweedy note. The palate calms and simplifies. Less smoke. A mild fruity sweetness. More tangy citrus. Bitter chocolate, ginger, limes and a whack of chili oil. It finishes smoky, tangy and a little sweet. Ginger and pepper. Lots of limes.

No, you're not imagining things. All three of my reviews this week were of my own bottles. I don't think I've ever done, and probably never will again due to how many months it takes me to drink through a single bottle. But wow! Okay, moving on.

Can't tell if this was the batch that was Glen Grant + Islay. The smoke/peat comes across more Highland or Island, but that could just be the mix. Other than the arrival of a seaweed note in the diluted version, the phenolics read more like wisps of wood smoke more than anything else.

I like the lack of raisins and prunes. Not that those particular dried fruits are a problem, but they can be over-prevalent in the bottlings of many popular official sherried whiskies. The cask shows its activity in other ways, specifically with all those spices. But there's no sawdust, no woody bitterness and vanilla levels stay low.

No complaints about the nose, at all. The is palate is quite good, but had it had a bigger fruit nose to lift it out of the darkness, then it'd be looking at a 90+ (or A or 4-star) grade. As it stands it's a dark, intense thing, more suitable for colder weather than the summer. The 20+ year old cask strength sherry options are nearly nil at this price point, so I'm pretty happy with my purchase.

Availability - Europe
Pricing - Still kinda possible to put it in a good-sized order and keep its per-bottle price near or below $100
Rating - 87

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Knappogue Castle 12 year old Irish Single Malt, Single Barrel for The Party Source

I used to say that Knappogue Castle (KC) was the only Cooley single malt that I consistently enjoyed. And then I discovered that Knappogue Castle is often sourced from Bushmills. Like today's whisky.

Knappogue Castle has been producing exclusive single barrels for US retailers over the past couple of years. They're 12 years old, 46%abv, non-chillfiltered, and about $35-$40/bottle. That's a combo one doesn't see much anymore. I bought this bottle at The Party Source last year, then I went back a picked up another this year, which tells you what I think of the stuff. TPS had them on sale for $33.99 both times. They're sold out now, but I hope this inspires another single barrel to roll through TPS's door sometime soon.

It performed just as well on the rocks as it did as a hot whiskey. In both forms, its fruity elements came to the fore. Time to type up some actual tasting notes of the whiskey at room temperature.

Brand: Knappogue County
Distillery: Old Bushmills Distillery
Location: County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Type: Single Malt
Distillations: Three
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: first-fill bourbon barrel
Bottle: 77 of 216
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? Maybe

The nose leads with anise and grass. Then the clementines come rolling in. Lime juice, vanilla extract, lemongrass and a touch o' malt. In the palate I find peach ice cream, lemons and tart limes. Toasted sunflower seeds and zippy jalapeños. The long finish balances peaches, lemons and limes with tomatillo-like pepper sauce.

DILUTED TO 40%abv, or <1 tsp water per 30mL whiskey
More grain and vanilla in the nose. Lemons and nectarines. A late note of paprika! The palate picks up some fudge and ginger notes. The pepper note is subtler. Tart lemons and yellow nectarines. The finish is noticeably shorter, but it holds onto the ginger and nectarines, which makes for a pleasant combo.

Whew, after two disappointing Lowland single malt scotches in a row, it's nice to review a good drinker from right across the North Channel. This is an example of a first-fill bourbon barrel single malt that isn't all vanilla, caramel and lumber. See, it can be done!

The fruit element makes this a pleasure in warmer months. And colder months. As I mentioned above, it's a drinker not a thinker. Midleton's single pot still whiskies are more complex. But this single barrel is a very friendly thing, and carries a high quality-to-price ratio.

Availability - was exclusive to The Party Source, sold out now
Pricing - ranged from $34-$40 at TPS, other retailers' editions have similar pricing
Rating - 86

Monday, July 16, 2018

Life of a Whisky Bottle: Auchentoshan 20 year old 1991 AD Rattray

No one will remember this post. But I will never forget this whisky.

I first tried it at an OC Scotch Club event almost six(!) years ago. Its palate was unlike anything I'd tried up to that point in my life. The shock of its vegetal, sandy ugliness startled me into giving it a high rating afterwards. It was a punk whisky. The guitarist didn't even know three chords and the drummer had been snorting NoDoz so the rhythm was shit.

At the end of that post, I wrote: "It's so strange. Kind of haunting actually. I need some closure. I need a whole bottle of this stuff to sort things out."

So I promptly bought a bottle, and it sat in the dark until I opened it 18 months ago. I set aside a sample from the very first pour, mid-bottle and the bottom of the bottle. And now I'll tasted them side-by-side. Will this help me sort things out? Like, things in general. Life, the universe and everything?

Distillery: Auchentoshan
Ownership: Beam Suntory
Region: Lowlands
Bottler: AD Rattray
Age: 20 years (February 20, 1991 - September 15, 2011)
Maturation: Sherry Butt What
Cask#: 484
Outturn: 545 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 57.5%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? Absolutely not

This bottle's usage:
I forgot to keep track of the percentages this time, but 0% was for casual drinking.

FIRST POUR, February 2017

Nose - Barley and roses. Burnt (hazel)nuts, rice vinegar, fried plantains, bark and cabbage.
Palate - Hot and burnt. Sand, bark and cabbage. Dirt and rubber. A weird artificial nut note.
Finish - Vinegar, salt, sand, ash and terrifyingly bitter.

DILUTED TO 46%abv:
Nose - Pool and beach. Chlorine and bleach. Ashy and floral (Kristen says: tar and banana). Cucumber skins. New make.
Palate - Very sweet, very bitter, very ashy. Vinegar and weird nut note.
Finish - Ash, salt and palate-ruining sweetness.

MID BOTTLE, November 2017

Nose - Bright young barley note, as if this were 8 years or younger. Vanilla, soil, raw cocoa and mint gum. Roses, ash and rice vinegar.
Palate - Hot and ashy. Intensely grassy. Urine. Soap.
Finish - Dried grass, ash, salt, urine, heat and Nutrasweet.

DILUTED TO 46%abv:
Nose - Bananas, dogs, orange blossoms soaked in white vinegar. Burnt things. Vanilla, cotton candy, sand and urine.
Palate - Burnt and ashy to the point that it feels unsafe. Weird bitterness. Simple syrup and soap.
Finish - Heat, ash, bitterness, soap and Diet Sprite.


Nose - Cabbage or garbage? Loch Lomond, is that you? Rotting stone fruits buried under burnt hair. Peanuts and fruity handsoap. And honeydew, because WTF.
Palate - Hot. Grass, mint, sand and vinegar. Brussels sprouts and Nutrasweet. Hint of ginger powder.
Finish - Burnt bark, burnt Brussels sprouts. Salty and grassy. Burning. Terrifyingly rancid aftertaste.

DILUTED TO 46%abv:
Nose - Loch Lomond's fermenting garbage note. Old cauliflower (aka sewage). But also fruity handsoap. Mint, lemons and vinegar.
Palate - Bitter, hot, salty and tangy. Very veggie. But also very very very sweet.
Finish - Burnt kale, ash, vinegar and Nutrasweet.

Life is too short, and I just shortened it.

I thought this would be a philosophical tasting. It wasn't. The use of this cask was a crime.

There are difficult whiskies that serve as studies of the vast range of matured spirits. Then there are whiskies that are inexcusable cockups. Six years ago, I thought this was the former. It's the latter.

The only thing that kept me from punching in a lower rating was the at times approachable nose. The palate would be tragic were it not so foul. The finish will ruin your face and your evening. I'm embarrassed I ever graded this whisky positively, and I'm pissed off that I suffered through a bottle.

At least I found closure.

Availability - Mercifully, it is now unavailable
Pricing - This should not have cost money
Rating - 56

Friday, July 13, 2018

Inverleven 1991-2010 Gordon & MacPhail

Inverleven? Yeah, Inverleven. What the hell, why not. My first, and probably last, Inverleven review.

Dumbarton distillery, or the Brick Behemoth by the Beach (can I copyright this?), was assembled by Hiram Walker & Co. during wartime (1938) because soldiers need their whisky or acetate, or both simultaneously. There was a column still for Dumbarton grain whisky, a pot still for Inverleven single malt and a Lomond still for fun.

The Inverleven section of the distillery was closed in 1991, while the rest of the facility was retired in 2003. The Lomond still (pot still + rectifier plates) is now parked in Bruichladdich distillery, where it farts out gin.

Not much Inverleven whisky out there. Most of it was released by Duncan Taylor, SMWS and Gordon & MacPhail. In fact, G&M cranked out five batches of the 1991 vintage. This was the only one that was bottled above 40%. In fact this is one was a single cask, bottled for The Party Source, back when that place was truly the whisky source.

See those last two sentences there? That's what I thought I was going to be tasting. Then I did the tasting and something didn't seem right. Then I actually looked my sample label and looked at the actual bottles online, realizing that I'd tasted this 40%abv Inverleven and not this 46%abv Inverleven.

Yes, I originally spelled it "Interleven"
on the label.
Distillery: Dumbarton
Brand: Inverleven
Ownership: Chivas Regal, at time of distillation
Region: At the top of the Lowlands
Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Age: 18ish years (1991-2010)
Maturation: likely American oak
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? Yes
Colorant added? Probably
(Sample comes from a whisky event)

The nose starts with black licorice, cardboard and chlorine. And that's it, for a while. Gradually, notes of nectarines and vanilla show up. Then roasted cashews and pecans. White bread. The palate begins very metallic and industrial. Then burlap, Werther's Originals and spoiled milk. The mouthfeel is very watery. Maybe the thinnest 46%abv whisky I've ever tried. [Ed. Because it's not 46%abv, you idiot.] It finishes with metal and spoiled milk. Vanilla and Werther's Originals.

DILUTED TO 40%abv, or <1tsp water per 30mL whisky
Or so I thought.
This was the actual dilution:
DILUTED TO <35%abv, or <1tsp water per 30mL whisky
Old milk, lemonade, vanilla and cardboard in the nose. Somehow the palate is thinner. [Ed. Imagine that.] Caramel and Loch Lomond-esque funk. Black pepper. Late sweetness. Very watery. The finish is sour and peppery. Notebook paper. It's slightly bitter, with an odd sweetness.

This whisky lands right where C-grades and D-grades meet. The palate's industrial side and the nose's occasional charm pull it up a few points. But its thinness and papery notes and spoiled milk drag it down. In any case, don't add water. There's too much of Loch Lomond or Chapelton Spring in it already. At least the secondary market hasn't gotten the hots for this bottle. Yet.

Availability - Auctions
Pricing - €100ish
Rating - 71

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Glenfiddich Project XX

I'm going to start with Monday's intro because I'm lazy:
...Glenfiddich has an Experimental Series. These whiskies seem to sit somewhere in the hazy territory between gimmickry and brand expansion....Unlike most gimmickry, these two whiskies have piqued my interest a tad. I believe Glenfiddich creates a solid malt whisky that could do with a little less water and a little more excitement. And by excitement, I do not mean marketing. I mean something more like their Distillery Edition and less like the Bourbon Barrel Reserve. Now, which side the Experimental Series lands on...well, we shall see....
On Monday I reviewed Glenfiddich IPA Experiment, and it was a success!

While I understand the experimental side of that whisky, I don't really see it with today's Project XX. Glenfiddich's whiskymaker Brian Kinsman describes the whisky's thesis thusly:
I wanted to create an unexpected whisky. Traditionally every malt whisky is chosen and vatted by one Malt Master to their taste, but what if there were 20 Malt Masters?
But that's not how this whisky works. Yes, he selected twenty "whisky experts" to choose his or her own preferred cask from a warehouse. But then Kinsman blends them "in the perfect ratio" of his choosing. He gets to choose the whisky's texture, nose, palate and entire character. Thus there remains only one Malt Master for this whisky.

So I'm not sold on the idea behind it. Also, it's NAS. But it has been bottled at 47%abv, and there are two sherry butts + 1 port pipe in the mix, so what the hell, I'll try it.

Brand: Glenfiddich
Ownership: William Grant & Sons
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Maturation: 17 ex-bourbon casks, 2 sherry butts and 1 port pipe
Age: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 47%  ← Glenfiddich goin' crazy!
Colored? Maybe
Chillfiltered? Maybe not

The nose is a little louder and wilder than your usual Glenfiddich. There's berries, milky coffee, yeast, white peaches, gumballs and a whiff of dunnage. The palate is almost smoky. Some nice bold herbal bitterness. Raw cocoa. Cassis and dried cranberries. A hint of petite sirah? Nectarines. It finishes long and loud. Bitter cocoa, cayenne pepper, tart stone fruits, yeast and currants.

DILUTED TO 40%abv, or >1 tsp water per 30mL whisky
The nose still has the gumballs, coffee, yeast and dunnage (quite a combo). But now there's lemon, apple juice and room temperature pilsner. The palate has tart berries and citrus up front. Roasted nuts and coffee beans beneath. Orange peel and nutty brittle. The roasted note stands out most in the finish, where it's met with bitter chocolate, orange peel and lemon candy.

While I find the logic behind the experiment suspect, I like the whisky. The fortified wine casks are present throughout. Even though they make up 15% of the casks, they probably accounted for 30-35% of the potential ingredients due to their volume. And, of course the one Malt Master blended everything as he wished, so the sherry and port elements could have played an even larger role than 35%.

The higher abv gives the whisky a burst of life when neat, and then allows for more tinkering with dilution by the drinker/customer. Do those elements go well together? In the nose, sometimes. In the palate, usually. But it's nice to have a perky Glenfiddich.

I was going to score it higher than the IPA Experiment, but then I drank them each casually, and found the IPA Experiment to be more pleasurable. The tartness and bitterness of Project XX didn't stand up as well over the hour. Still, I'd choose this over Snow Phoenix.

Availability - Most whisky specialty retailers in US and Europe
Pricing - $65-$90 (US), $50-$70 (Europe, ex-VAT)
Rating - 85

Monday, July 9, 2018

Glenfiddich IPA Experiment

As I mentioned in last Wednesday's review, Glenfiddich has an Experimental Series. These whiskies seem to sit somewhere in the hazy territory between gimmickry and brand expansion. I'm going to review two of these whiskies. One today and one on Wednesday.

Unlike most gimmickry, these two whiskies have piqued my interest a tad. I believe Glenfiddich creates a solid malt whisky that could do with a little less water and a little more excitement. And by excitement, I do not mean marketing. I mean something more like their Distillery Edition and less like the Bourbon Barrel Reserve. Now, which side the Experimental Series lands on...well, we shall see.

For the IPA Experiement, 'Fiddich's malt man Brian Kinsman worked with a Seb Jones, a Speyside craft brewer, to create an India Pale Ale which would then be used to season a slew of American oak barrels. The idea was to soak those casks so that the hoppiness would get deep into the staves. Kinsman used a freight container, which likely locked in the heat and humidity, for four weeks. These casks were then used to finish American oak barrel-matured Glenfiddich for 12 weeks.

Yes, this is a NAS release. But I'm intrigued by the interplay of whisky and beer — more so than that of whisky and wine — due to the similarity of their (metaphorical) DNA. And because I don't mind enjoying a whisky and beer side by side, from time to time.

Brand: Glenfiddich
Ownership: William Grant & Sons
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Maturation: Round 1: ex-bourbon barrels. Round 2: twelve weeks in IPA-season US oak
Age: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Colored? Probably
Chillfiltered? Probably

It really does have a fizzy beer nose. A good dose of maltiness. Oatmeal and vanilla pudding. Curiously its grapefruit note reads more like Sauvignon Blanc than IPA. 1/1000th the hops of your average Charbay whiskey. With some time in the glass, the whisky releases lemon peel and roses. For the palate, take the 12yo, make it brighter and creamier. Add a gingery fizziness. Some coffee beans and oranges. And a brief whiff of hops. It's neither too sweet nor too vanilla-ed. It has a long fizzy finish as well. Black coffee bitterness. Wort. A hint of orange-y citrus.

DILUTED to 40%abv, or 1/2 tsp per 30mL whisky
The nose remains potent. Lots of grains. Almond extract, vanilla fudge and grapefruit. The palate feels thickened and malty. Fresh ginger and limes. Hints of sugar and vanilla. On the finish, it's ginger, coffee and roasted nuts.

I like it. Maybe, I'm a sucker for beer-barrel single malt. Mackmyra Vinterrök clicked, though New Holland's beered bourbon did not. I have a bottle of Sänits's beer cask stuff awaiting an opening this year.

Anyway, back to this stuff. It has Glenfiddich's usual restraint (something missing from the Bourbon Barrel Reserve), which works well here. All those beer-ish characteristics I list in the notes are quite soft and amicable. And I think that whatever IPA elements made it into the whisky actually heighten or frame the spirit's barley notes.

I'm not going to say this changed my life, but I'll buy into this experiment, like literally, someday soon. To make a confusing comparison, it's more of a session beer than a whompin' ten-percenter. And I'm more of a session guy nowadays.

Availability - Most whisky specialty retailers in US and Europe
Pricing - $60-$80 (US), $45-$65 (Europe, ex-VAT)
Rating - 86

Friday, July 6, 2018

Killing Whisky History, Episode 14 - Three Decades of Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon

Submitted for your approval or at least your analysis: The legacy of Austin, Nichols & Company, three ways.
--Wild Turkey 8 year old 101 bourbon, bottled in 1983
--Wild Turkey Old No. 8 Brand 101 bourbon, bottled in 1996
--Wild Turkey 101 bourbon, bottled in 2010

I wish that beard well. It went bye-bye after filming. *sniff* Oh sweet beard, I will never be able to grow you again. At least not until tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Glenfiddich 14 year old Bourbon Barrel Reserve

If there's one philosophy that most Scotch distilleries currently follow, it's Add More American Oak. Whether it's through recharred/"rejuvenated" barrels or new/"virgin" oak casks, there appear to be three ideas for monetizing this ideology:

1.) Let's bottle younger, or NAS, whisky.
2.) Let's call a whisky "experimental" and charge more for it.
3.) Let's get bourbon drinkers to buy scotch.

Glenfiddich 14 year old Bourbon Barrel Reserve fulfills the third approach.

Exhibit A: It has an age statement of double digits, so that excludes reason #1.
Exhibit B: They already have their own "Experimental Series".
Exhibit C: The first paragraph on the official site: "Think a bourbon heart can't hold a single malt soul? Our 14 Year Old Bourbon Barrel Reserve uniquely delivers the smooth sophistication of Scotland with the sweet kick of Kentucky."

Glenfiddich already had a 14 year old oaky thing in Europe called, Rich Oak. But to be utterly clear about their American intentions with this one, they slap "Bourbon Barrel" right above the age statement.

Brand: Glenfiddich
Ownership: William Grant & Sons
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Maturation: Round 1: ex-bourbon barrels. Round 2: deep-charred new American oak barrels.
Age: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Colored? Probably
Chillfiltered? Probably

Its color is much darker than of the older and partially sherry cask matured Snow Phoenix. Two things are going on in the nose, and they don't really play well together. First, there's the spirit side: hay, lime and cream of wheat. And then there's the oak side: Caramel, wood pulp, wood spice, almond extract and more caramel. It comes across as flat and blendy much of the time. The palate is very sweet. Vanilla, confectioner's sugar, taffy, caramel, simple syrup, corn syrup, more vanilla. Some smaller notes of limes and bitter oak show up here and there. It finishes sweet and warm, with lime, vanilla and corn syrup.

DILUTED TO 40%abv, or 0.5tsp water per 30mL whisky
The nose seems to improve at first, with new notes of apples and manure. But then oak happens. Lots of sawdust, lots of cardboard and vanilla. The palate would be an improvement if there wasn't so much bitter oak. Otherwise it's sweet and tangy, and lightly floral. Plenty of taffy and vanilla. The finish is all pepper, vanilla and bitter oak.

I am probably not the target demographic for this whisky, even though I do enjoy bourbon. Will this appeal to bourbon lovers? I don't know because this isn't bourbon. Bourbon and single malt scotch whisky are two very different things. And this is just single malt scotch whisky with a lot of oak. This whisky makes one wonder if Glenfiddich Vanilla and/or Glenfiddich Caramel flavored whisky would have been a better idea. That way they'd leave less up to chance AND they could use younger whisky.

I don't recommend this to single malt enthusiasts. Heck, I don't even recommend this to Glenfiddich fans. It'll just leave one wishing for the 12 year old.

Availability - All over the USA
Pricing - $40-$70
Rating - 72

Monday, July 2, 2018

Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix

There was considerable excitement surrounding Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix's release in 2010 because gimmickry had yet to infest the world whisky market. Glenfiddich's branding, at the time, was all about delivering a reliable and unfussy (some may say boring) malt whisky. The zaniest thing on their range was the 51%abv Distillery Edition, which though it wasn't cask strength, did haul out much more oompf than the regular range.

Into this vanilla (pardon the word choice) range flew the Snow Phoenix. Allegedly, it was created from casks that were exposed to the elements when heavy snow collapsed a warehouse roof. Those casks were both ex-oloroso and ex-bourbon. The whisky was NAS, though bottled 47.6%abv.

There's also some pablum about the shape of a rising phoenix shining through the broken roof, but I won't expand upon that out of embarrassment for Glenfiddich's employees. The phoenix metaphor is clear enough for adults.

Drinkhacker says the whisky was "produced from casks aged 13 to 30 years old, representing 50% first-fill bourbon barrels, 30% second-fill bourbon barrels, and 20% sherry barrels." But they got the cask-strength part wrong, gave the whisky an A grade and said it was "every bit as delightful and intriguing as the story behind it." So I doubt the sobriety behind that entire post.

I remember first trying Snow Phoenix in 2012 and thinking it tasted remarkably like......Glenfiddich. And though I've always appreciated Glenfiddich's reliable style, it seemed to me like the Phoenix had no plumage (see: emperor, the).

Brand: Glenfiddich
Ownership: William Grant & Sons
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Maturation: see above
Age: see above
Alcohol by Volume: 47.6%
Colored? Very little if any
Chillfiltered? Probably not
(sample from a swap with Ryan, thanks Ryan!)

It has a nice light non-orange color to it. The nose has its fruits: peaches, pears and green grapes. There's some wood stuff: toasted oak with hints of vanilla and wet cardboard. There's also some dark chocolate, rosemary and roses. There's more of a pepper and ethyl wallop to it than in the usual Glenfiddich palate. There are also tangy lemons and oranges. Dried fruit and nuts. Floral hints. Lots of salt, and a vanilla note that grows with time. The finish is mostly heat, pepper and salt. Smaller notes of apples, bananas and vanilla.

DILUTED TO 40%abv, or >1tsp water per 30mL whisky
That cardboard note grows in the nose. Otherwise, it's all pears and banana candy. The palate is fruitier, with melons, apples and pineapples. Less vanilla. More mint. Pepper and salt. It finishes with vanilla, mint, sugar, limes and barley.

Though the alcohol punches in heavier than one would expect from the abv, the whisky does not feel immature. I preferred the palate over the nose, probably because it felt less woody. This is especially true when the whisky is diluted. The finish keeps this whisky from really singing, as it limps in and fades out.

While it does taste like Glenfiddich (as I noted in the extended intro), Snow Phoenix is different enough to separate it from the regular range. Yet, I don't think it's that much better than the standard 15yo. Just consider that before chasing a bottle on the secondary market. I'll those prices speak for themselves.

Availability - European auctions and the occasional viper retailer
Pricing - $300-$400 at auction, $800+ at retailers
Rating - 84

Friday, June 29, 2018

Randy Brandy drinks......Two Cognacs by Jean Fillioux

Well, Happy Christmas, it's time for me, one Randy Brandy, to ruin your Friday with TWO brandies. And one even comes from a full bottle.

At least it was full when Diving for Perks gave it to me this morning.

The other cognac is from a sample, which is a joke, like the French.

The French are great. They gave us Cognac, Armagnac and Calvados. They also helped American colonists kill the British, which in turn devastated the French economy which in turn led to the beheading of the French king. Wins all around.

Here, to prove I don't hate the French, I'm going to list Five Great Things About The French:

1. French Women - My wife, Brandy, is 5/7s French Huguenot. Which means her father is 7/5s asshole. That's Mendelian law. Look it up.
2. "How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?"
3. They're not British.
4. Um.
5. Nope, can't think of anything else.

I make fun of the French because no one ever has before. It's new. You should try it!

Appellation my ass. Cognac is made from grapes, you idiots.
Jean Fillioux cognac is imported into this fine country by my friends at Heavenly Spirits. Part of that sentence was a joke, like the French. (Again, see my authoritative list above, I love the French, blah blah blah.) The Fillioux family — with five generations of men with the Frenchest names: Honoré, Jean, Michel, Pascal and Christophe — caress the tears of grapes into cognac. Et cetera. I'm already pouring the cognac.

Here are my notes.

Jean Fillioux's COQ, 40%abv

Color: Radioactive Metamucil, which is the natural color of cognac.
Nose: It has a raw eau de vie edge, which is great if you're me. Paint, rope, hazelnuts and dandelions. Calvados? Calvados. Your father's cologne. Actually this probably is my father-in-law's cologne, the drunk.
Palate: Apricots, amaretto, honey, cloves. More of the raw stuff.
Finish: Lemons and dried apricots. Sweet and tart.

Jean Fillioux 1992 Millésimé Grande Champagne, 42%abv

Color: Dark stuff
Nose: Black licorice, pipe tobacco, cherry syrup, orange peels, butterscotch. A tart full of baked apples, cinnamon and figs, with a glass of madeira.
Palate: Berries, oranges, bubblegum. Salty toffee pudding. Oak spice and German apple wine.
Finish: Ginger, tart blackberries and bubblegum. Tangy and sweet.

There were my notes.

COQ has the balls to let the raw spirit flop out here and there. The palate has less thrust than the nose and then finishes prematurely. You love this paragraph. It's really quite pleasant overall though. The paragraph and the cognac.

All 42%abv single malt whiskies wished they smelled like the 1992 Fillioux. Turns me into Randy Romantic. The palate is less of a parade than the nose, but it would be great with dessert, for dessert. Breakfast. I'm so glad Kravitz held onto this sample until the 1992 was almost impossible to find.

Jean Fillioux COQ Grande Champagne

Jean Fillioux 1992 Millésimé Grande Champagne

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Ben Nevis 19 year old 1997 Montgomerie's, cask 186

Another 1997 Ben Nevis today. This time it's from Angus Dundee's Montgomerie's range. I was saving this sample for another month-long Ben Nevis run, but I gave in to peer pressure. Or rather, I will never again have enough Ben Nevis samples for a full month's worth of reviews.

This sample was part of a bottle split I did with Mr. MAO, who reviewed his portion promptly. To get some additional perspective on this whisky, I did a side-by-side tasting with Monday's 1997 Ben Nevis.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Montgomerie's (via Angus Dundee)
Age: 19 years old (1997-2016)
Maturation: probably an ex-bourbon cask
Cask: 186
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chill-filtered? No
Caramel colored? No
(from a bottle split)

The simple nose starts with lemon zest, barley and a hint of roses. With time, notes of salty ocean air and underripe peaches arise. The palate starts with peppercorns, minerals and oregano. Some fruity sweetness meets a tart buzz. It's a little grassy. Minimalist, again. More stone fruit than citrus in the finish. A dry mineral white wine. More grass.

DILUTED to ~40%abv, or <1tsp of water to 30mL whisky
The nose brightens up. Some good apples, musky melon and honey. Toasted grains. Something dusty. More herbs and zippier pepper in the palate. A tiny bit of tropical fruit sweetness, maybe coconuts and papaya? Hints of flowers and vanilla. It has the same fruit in the finish with a mild bitter pulse. Moderately sweet. Is it subtle or just vacant?

Another lean Ben Nevis. The oak shows a tiny bit more than Maltbarn's '97, but it's also three years older. There's nothing wrong with it, quality-wise, but it's tough to really cheer it on. It does perk up with water, as the fruits seem to awaken. But then the finish nearly vanishes, which may have to do with the reduced strength. Though I think I like it slightly better than the Maltbarn, it's not enough to give them different ratings. They're both moderate (and lean) Ben Nevii that really could be from a number of other Highland/Speyside distilleries.

Availability - Total Wine y Mas
Pricing - $99.99
Rating - 84 (preferable with water)

Monday, June 25, 2018

Ben Nevis 16 year old 1997 Maltbarn, cask 22

20% of 2018's whisky reviews have been Ben Nevis. AND THAT'S NOT ENOUGH.

So there shall be two Ben Nevis reviews this week.

First off, is a 1997 Nevis sent to me by Sir Florin-A-Lot. I'm pretty sure I still have more unopened spirits samples from Florin than our POTUS has orange hairs on his orange scalp. (I'm allowed to make fun of Trump's hair because my hair is just as sad.) In any case, today's Ben Nevis is a from an ex-bourbon barrel 👍. And it was bottled by Maltbarn, so if it's not farmy I will be very disappointed.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Maltbarn
Age: 16 years old (1997-2013)
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrel
Cask #: 22
Outturn: 91  ← a shared barrel perhaps?
Alcohol by Volume: 53.2%

The nose needs a few moments before it reveals itself. At first it's mineral and slightly floral. Then come fresh apricots and urine (also fresh). Then chalk, barley, raw cocoa and confectioner's sugar. As far as barn goes, maybe there's some clean hay. The palate is more expressive than the nose. It's sweet and malty, with lots of pepper and lemony citrus. Not much heat. It get sugarier with time, while holding onto the pepperiness. Peach candy and flower kiss candy in the background. Darker rumblings beneath, like something metallic. Lemons and rock candy in the finish. Minerals and pepper.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or <1tsp water per 30mL whisky
Soft, ripe stone fruits in the nose. Then orange peel and roses. Hints of the hay and chalk. The palate is peachy and sugary with the industrial/metallic thing still in play. Milder pepper. Orange candy. It finishes with peaches, orange candy and a peppery zip.

Serge was rough on this one, going as far as referencing Cornelius Jansen for chrissakes. I have a difficult time believing he doesn't sip a more severe & uncompromising whisky than this one, every other day. Sure, it's not the most cuddly thing, but it's not brutal or raw or even austere (crap, I used that word and it's only Monday).

The barrel was certainly taking a nap during those 16 years, but the bursts of fruit show off some decent slow maturation. There's neither peat, nor Nevis funk, which would have lent it some complexity. It takes water pretty well, in fact I might like it better at 46%abv. There are better bourbon cask Ben Nevises out there, but this ain't no slouch. Anyway, with an outturn of 91 bottles this is loooooong gone.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - was €95ish
Rating - 84

Friday, June 22, 2018

Highland Park 15 year old 1999 Signatory, cask 800198 (Chicago Cask)

We always have a good evening at our monthly Columbus Scotch Club gatherings. It's very casual, folks bring in fun bottles and only one person acts like snobby asshole about whisky (and he looks something like me).

At the end of May's event, Andrew S. told me he'd found a Signatory Highland Park while recently visiting Chicago. Though I no longer follow the vast majority of current releases, I do keep an ear out for non-"Viking" Highland Parks and Signatory things. But I'd never heard of this one. Apparently it's been sitting on Binny's's's's shelves for two and a half years. It was chosen by "Vintage Wines" and B's's site calls it a "Chicago Cask" (while listing the wrong age). What that means exactly, I don't know. But it's a full strength HP ex-bourbon barrel, so count me in for a taste. Thanks, Andrew, for the pour!

Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Isle of Orkney
Independent Bottler: Signatory Vintage
Age: 15 years (October 15, 1999 - September 1, 2015)
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrel
Cask #: 800198
Bottle: 13 of 201
Alcohol by Volume: 57.6%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

The nose needs a moment before it opens up. Then it's apricots, yellow peaches and orange peel. It's lightly floral and sugary. Hints of grass, citronella candles and chalk. A little bit of corn syrup and vanilla from the barrel sneak out after 30 minutes. Peach candy and lychee candy on the palate. Lemon, honey and roses. Toasty oak, sweet tobacco and malt. The tingly finish has lemons, honey and cayenne pepper.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1.5tsp of water to 30mL whisky
The nose becomes slightly nuttier. The flowers and fruit are quieter. Some more oak slips in. Grassier and sharper. Smarties candies. The palate gets bitterer. More pepper. Granulated sugar rather than honey. Pine and grain. It finishes bitterer, as well. Tangy. Vanilla and malt.

A very pretty HP. Easy to sip. No peat, no smoke. Just fruit, flowers and fun. Keep it neat, you won't regret it. Adding water simultaneously silences and clutters this one up. I don't have much else to say other than, here's another great bourbon-cask Highland Park. Now how do we get a "Columbus Cask"?

Availability - Several left amongst the Binnies
Pricing - $129.99, such much?
Rating - 88

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Laphroaig Càirdeas 2017 Quarter Casks

My opinion of Laphroaig's Quarter Cask whisky has shifted over the years, and not in a positive direction. I was happy to champion the NAS Laphroaig Quarter Cask bottlings 6-7 years ago. The whisky was 8-12 years old and the oak was less intrusive than expected, and the whole thing was very good. The current version is......different. I wouldn't doubt the whisky is half the aforementioned age, and the oak is now in fact intrusive. It has become Laphroaig's "craft" whisky, with all the bad connotations that come with the C word. If I were to review the current version it would be only in comparison to an older edition. But I'd have to source both.

In the meantime...

Laphroaig's 2017 edition of their annual Càirdeas release turned out to be a cask strength version of Quarter Cask. Pretty cool, right? Cask strength 'phroaig is a plus. The chance to experience one of their regular range undiluted is also a positive thing. And, to their credit, Laphroaig was open to revealing the actual age of the whisky...

...which is 5.5 years. Which only went to bolster my assumption about the current age of the regular Quarter Cask and its shift in quality. But, I'm always willing to give it a go since the Càirdeases (Càirdi?) tend to be well made.

Distillery: Laphroaig
Owner: Beam Suntory
Product: Càirdeas
Release Year: 2014
Region: Islay
Age / Maturation: 5 years in first-fill Maker's Mark casks, then 6 months in American oak quarter (125-liter) casks
Limited Release: yes?
Alcohol by Volume: 57.2%
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? Maybe

Good news everyone, the color is very pale. No extra glow from loaded oak or e150a. The nose is nutty and sugary (like white frosting). The peat reads more toasty than medicinal. Hints of lemon peel, rubber and dried herbs. A vanilla bean note appears, then grows with time. It's young, peppery and herbal stuff on the palate, though the mouthfeel is thicker than Monday's Ardbeg. A brisk herbal bitter bite. Not much heat. Limes, almond butter and charred meat. Gets saltier and sweeter with time. Pepper, sugar, lemon juice and beachy peat in the finish.

DILUTED TO ~48%abv, or >1 tsp water per 30mL whisky
Salted caramels, wood smoke, metallic dust and mint gum on the nose. A wee puff of farminess. On the palate it's vanilla, sugar and dried herbs. Luckily the herbs are the loudest. Also lots of mint and chili powder.....which then becomes smoked paprika in the finish. Then tart citrus and peppery smoke. Slightly less sweet than the palate.

The whisky is fine. I prefer it neat, slightly. It's rare for me to enjoy a whisky's palate much more than its nose, as with this one, though I felt the same about Laphroaig Lore. The vanilla-ness was to be expected, but I wish there were less of it. The finish kinda whimpers out. But, thankfully, it's slightly less sweet than Ardbeg Hooves.

It never feels like 57.2%abv, which is good. But it never really feels like Laphroaig either. Perhaps I've been spoiled by the 2015 Càirdeas, and impressed by the rebound of recent 10yo Cask Strength batches.

Normally I praise Laphroaig for the accessible pricing of the Càirdeas releases, but I'm in no rush to spend $80 on a five year old whisky. I no longer do that for Kilchoman, a small family-run distillery, so I'm less inspired to do so for a large corporate distillery.

My Annoying Opinions, who generously provided this sample (thank you generous MAO!), holds this whisky in slightly higher esteem than I, while the Whiskybase community, as usual, regards it with greater enthusiasm than either of us do.

Availability - Available-ish in the US
Pricing - $80+
Rating - 82

Monday, June 18, 2018

Ardbeg Grooves Committee Release

I've received suggestions to stop reviewing LVMH's special releases because even the most negative review only keeps Lummy's latest bauble bouncing around the atmosphere. And yes, you've read the same line from me every time: Ardbeg ______ Special Release is not as good as any of the core releases. But some people are very nice to me and share pours from their bottles. And, like it or not, these unimaginative annual releases really are something that a good portion of the monied English-speaking single malt world knows of, and may like to read an independent review about before buying a bottle. If I push off this responsibility to someone else, I could be fairly accused of a feckless punt.

how do i know when the Ardblotter kicks in?
Let's dust off and update the old list:
Ardbeg Alligator - Rowrr!
Ardbeg Day - Almost as good as Oogy!
Ardbeg Galileo - Someone screwed up, right?
Ardbeg Ardbog - Not bad, but $110?
Ardbeg Auriverdes - Unmemorable
Ardbeg Perpetuum - No.
Ardbeg Dark Cove - Smells good, but it still loses to Oogy
Ardbeg Kelpie - Sour, bitter and hot. Oppressively poor.
Ardbeg Artein Alligator Grooves - ...

Distillery: Ardbeg
Ownership: Glenmorangie Plc (owned by LVMH)
Region: Islay
Product: Grooves
Age: NAS
Maturation: a mix of heavily-charred ex-wine casks and ex-bourbon casks
Limited bottling: yes?
Bottling year: 2018
Alcohol by Volume: 51.6%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(thank you to Jonathan M for the sample!)

Its groovy color is dark gold. The nose starts off with rubber, chlorine, fresh basil, orange oil and grape candy. Lots of rubber. Tennis ball can. Minor notes of smoked meats. With time, there's some cranberry juice and berry compote. The palate is much sootier and smokier. Small red berry notes scattered about. Dark chocolate, almond cookies, black peppercorns and a hint of tangy citrus candy. It gets sweeter and sweeter with time in the glass. Smoke, lime and sugar in the finish, sort of a smoky mojito? Slight cayenne pepper zip. Moderate length.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 3/4 tsp water per 30mL whisky
A peach, apricot and pear juice cocktail on the nose. Also cinnamon and cardamom. Less rubber and smoke. Salty air, dirty hay. Cat piss (for you oenophiles out there). Aside from some tart berry notes, the palate is reminiscent of the current Ardbeg Ten. A little bitter and oaky, with lots of soot. Grassy and sweet. Much different than the nose. It finishes with the grass and sugar. Bitter smoke and tart fruit. Much shorter.

One thing I noticed in the official descriptions of the product is that only some of whisky is from heavily charred red wine casks. The rest is from ex-bourbon casks. Tempering the big oak+wine with standard Ardbeg was a very good idea. This leads it away from getting too fugly, like the Galileo, and brings it closer to the regular Ardbeg style. Still, one can just get multiple bottles of the (better) Ten for the price of Grooves. And thus the annual release problem continues.

But, it isn't a bad product. The nose and palate seem to be from two different whiskies and they're both decent, though it's a bit too sugary for my palate. I prefer it diluted because water pushes the rubbery stuff away and awakens some better fruit notes. BUT I have no idea if the regular 46%abv Grooves will have the same characteristics.

On Wednesday, I'll review Grooves's sparring partner, a thing that's almost current...

Availability - Still around on the primary market? I don't know. Plenty to be found on the secondary market already.
Pricing - $120-$320 (I'm not kidding)
Rating - 84

Friday, June 15, 2018

Arran 8 year old 1998 G&M Connoisseur's Choice

I bought this bottle three years ago. And I'm at a loss to find any more to that story.

Even though I split this bottle's contents with some whisky friends, it's still taking me FOREVER to finish the stuff. I don't remember why. How about let's find out?

Oh, one more thing...  For those who think G&M didn't start bottling some of the Connoisseur's Choice series at 46%abv until a few years ago, may I point to this Arran 8yo and this 36yo Caperdonich from 1968 (yes, the two are easily confused) as examples of G&M going bonkers and leaving an extra three points of alcohol in the whisky.

Distillery: Isle of Arran Distillery
Ownership: Isle of Arran Distillers Ltd.
Region: Isle of Arran, Scotland
Independent Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Range: Connoisseurs Choice
Age: 8 years old (1998-2007)
Maturation: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
(review sample taken from the bottom third of my bottle)

The nose is very spirity with a funky edge. Like moldy cardboard box. Wort, yeast. Sugary bits. Fresh lemons and green apples. Pecans. Slightly farmy. The palate is very malty with a light hum of oak underneath. An odd bitterness down there too. Lemony soap. Peppery, but also very sweet. It finishes bitter, warm, peppery and sweet. Decent length to it.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or < 1tsp water per 30mL whisky
Quite a shift in the nose. Apples, flowers, orange candy and eucalyptus. It's become a better drinker too. The palate ditches the bitterness, and mellows the sweetness. Grain-forward. Pilsner? Hints of coffee and aromatic fruits. The finish is pleasant but plain. Shorter, lightly tart.

I've gone through three separate tastings of this whisky for this review, and the notes have been pretty consistent. The first tasting was done without dilution, and I was left wondering why G&M bottled it. Then I remembered the limp Ledaig I reviewed two weeks ago, and wondered why they bottled that one too. Then I wondered, what does G&M do with their lesser casks? Do they swap them with blenders? Or is the Connoisseur's Choice label their final destination?

But then I tinkered with dilution in the next two tastings. Water really made a difference. It's a better drink at 40%abv. It's not awesome, it still feels very young, and it's not on the same planet as the official 10 year old, but it's a decent casual sipper. In fact I'm finishing the bottle's final pour right now, sub-40abv, and it works.

Availability - ???
Pricing - I bought it for $39.99, which is probably why I bought it
Rating - 80 (diluted only)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Arran 10 year old 2004 Orkney Bere Barley

When it first started up, The Isle of Arran distillery experimented with wine cask whisky releases. As the spirit (and the distillery) matured, the people in charge mostly discontinued the quirky cask approach. In 2004, Arran experimented with running an unknown number of batches of malted Bere barley spirit through their stills. That run has produced two releases so far, a 46%abv 8 year old and today's cask strength 10 year old.

Yes, Bruichladdich and Springbank have both put out Bere barley releases recently, but don't start thinking Arran's a copycat. 'Laddie's first Bere release was distilled in 2006, as was Springbank's Local Barley 11yo, both two years after Arran's run. While Arran may not exactly be a pioneer with this stuff, kudos to them for giving Bere a go. It is difficult to grow and delivers a low alcohol yield. So one might say, that when compared to the mass-produced strains used by contemporary distillers, this old Viking barley can be a bit of a Bere.

Hey, where are you going?

Distillery: Isle of Arran Distillery
Type: Single Malt
Ownership: Isle of Arran Distillers Ltd.
Region: Isle of Arran, Scotland
Age: minimum 10 years (2004-2014)
Barley Strain: Bere
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrels
Outturn: 4,800
Alcohol by Volume: 56.2%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No

The nose leads with almond butter, soda bread and cracked peppercorns. It has both a gentle floral side and a wasabi edge. Hints of Italian sausage(!) and peach. The nutty note expands with time. Less alcohol heat than expected. But that flips in the hot palate. It's very grassy and earthy. Rocky. Peppercorns and a rugged bitterness. Some generic sweetness. Earth and herbs in the finish. The bitterness gets difficult, as if it's a long over-steeped cheap green tea.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 4tsp water per 30mL whisky
The nose is less edgy. But also just less. Nuts, grains and fruits are quieter. Some dried apricots in there. Very little change in the tough palate. It remains hot, herbal and earthy. Pencil graphite and peppercorns. Tangy and tart, like out of season berries. In the finish, there's earth, peppercorns, graphite and tingles.

On the plus side, this is not an easy whisky, which offers a change of pace from Arran's often drinker-friendly products. Was that a plus? I don't know. It's very earthy and rocky and herbal. Those are plusses. When neat, the nose is very entertaining, zigging and zagging and burping up all sorts of quirky things.

But there's is no complexity in the palate. And the finish is borderline unpleasant at times. Note, this is coming from a guy who likes austere (oh that word) whisky. I liked Bruchladdich's and Springbank's gambles with Bere better than this. And the 8yo Arran Bere Barley sounds MUCH better than this thingy too. So I'd be happy to try that one, but I don't need to drink this one again.

Availability - Europe here and there
Pricing - $80-$100 ex-VAT
Rating - 76

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Arran 10 year old 2007 James MacTaggart

In 2017, the Arran distillery celebrated 10 years since James MacTaggart became their master distiller. The very day he took the job, in 2007, the owners boinked him on the head, fermented and distilled him, finally pouring his spirit into about 60 first-fill bourbon barrels (he was a large man). After ten years, the barrels started to smell funny so James was poured into 12,000 bottles and distributed to retailers. I chose not to buy a bottle of James because that's disgusting. Spending money, I mean.

Okay, so I did splurge on a 2oz sample
Distillery: Isle of Arran Distillery
Type: Single Malt
Ownership: Isle of Arran Distillers Ltd.
Region: Isle of Arran, Scotland
Age: minimum 10 years (2007-2017)
Maturation: first-fill ex-bourbon barrels
Outturn: 12,000 (limited!)
Alcohol by Volume: 54.2%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No

The nose leads with a load of fruits, specifically cantaloupe, lemon and white nectarines. A sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar. A dusting of cocoa. Give it 15 minutes... Menthol, cucumber water, canned Mandarin oranges and circus peanuts. The palate holds the citrus, while picking up vanilla bean. Both a mild burn and a chile pepper zing. Malty, while a bit of salt. A lemon note drifts to grapefruit, and back. Maybe a little bit of toasted coconut. The medium warm finish has malt, vanilla, Rolos and circus peanuts.

DILUTED TO ~46%ABV, or 1tbl water per 30mL whisky
The nose is dumbed down. Less fruit, a more generic vanilla. Lemon, cinnamon, caramel. Hints of mint and malt. The palate has a good texture. It's malty and lemony, sweeter. Very tangy. Moments of vanilla and bitterness. Still some heat in the finish. It's tangy and sweet. A little bit of grain and tannins.

Don't dilute James. He's best at full strength. The complexity in his nose is impressive after only 10 years. And I'm a fool for all that fruit. The palate is decent, while the finish is unremarkable. So he does the Nose > Palate > Finish slide. While the first-fill barrels are present, they don't budge their way forward until water is added.

James did well. He turned out to be a €700,000+ release for Arran. Well done, sir. Who's next?

Availability - UK and Continental Europe, and a tiny bit in the US
Pricing - $65-$85 (ex-VAT) in Europe, more expensive in the UK. About $100 in The States.
Rating - 85

Monday, June 11, 2018


(Photo via Facebook/@PartsUnknownCNN)

I have never felt so devastated by the death of a public figure. Though I didn't know him personally, I experienced heavier bouts of emotion over Friday morning's news of Anthony Bourdain's suicide than I have over the loss of a number of people in my life. It takes me a long time to emotionally respond to a loss, sometimes years. But this time it was different. Some reasons behind my feelings are linked to my own issues, while others are bigger than me.

Though my choices of evening viewing differ vastly from Kristen's preferences, she and I loved Bourdain's productions. It got the point where we just called all his shows "Tony", as in "Wanna watch Tony tonight?" His book, Kitchen Confidential, is still striking, not necessarily for the salacious details, but for the hyperkinetic stream-of-consciousness blast of its final chapter. It's even better when you can hear his gorgeous voice in your head as the words speed by.

Throughout his work, Food was always a front for People. At first it was barely apparent, starting with the sarcastic generalizations in Confidential. But by the time Parts Unknown came out, culinary concerns were an afterthought. Yes, "street food" or "peasant food" is great, but who were these people behind it? Episode after episode, he sat down at kitchen tables with families, ate grandmas' dishes, drank papas' booze, easing everyone into questions about their lives. He made this enormous difficult world feel closer and more human.

It was this progression that was so moving. Though he long preferred to keep his personal life out of the public eye, his development was burningly public.

Before our eyes, a man grew up. The punk became an elder. He showed us something we never really see from public figures, that a man can be stridently, classically masculine and thoughtful and loving and drawn to those who struggle and hurt (see the Massachusetts episode of Parts Unknown and his balls-out support of the #MeToo movement). It was an awakening sadly unique to our time.

I am so thankful Anthony Bourdain invited us to join him on his journey. He was the greatest of guides, and one of my last heroes. May you be in peace, Tony.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Hazelburn 8 year old Cask Strength (bottled 2010)

There was some Hazelburn 10yo left over from earlier in the week, so I was able to compare it to today's whisky in order to get some perspective on these whiskies. They're both spent their time solely in ex-bourbon casks, an approach that worked better for me than the sherry cask flop of the old 12yo.

This 8yo cask strength release seems to have been from a single cask, and may have been bottled exclusively for the American market. It was released back in 2010, but winesearcher says there was at least one retailer still selling it as of last month. Hazelburn is not the sexy sibling of the Springbank family.

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Hazelburn
Region: Campbeltown
Age: minimum 8 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon cask
Bottle code: 10/426
Outturn: 228 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 56.5%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant Added? No
(from a sample swap with Jordan of Chemistry of the Cocktail. Thank you, Jordan!)

Its color is light straw. So far so good. The nose starts off with anise, orange peel, strawberry jam and cocoa powder. Some roses and cinnamon. The orange peel note shifts to orange blossoms. Not too much burn overall. More marzipan than vanilla on the palate. Very mineral, along with tart citrus and a hint of florals. The sweetness grows with time, while a sriracha zap also develops. The citrus gets sweeter in the warm, salty and peppery finish.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 4tsp water per 30mL whisky
The nose's fruit gets more tropical. Musky melons. Lemons bars, roses and butterscotch. The palate is TART, but good. It has an almost syrupy thickness to its mouthfeel. Still has the minerals and hot pepper sauce. The herbal note grows. A slight burnt note around the edges. Lemons, minerals, herbal bitterness and salt it the finish, which also has that subtle burnt thing.

Well, it's my second favorite Hazelburn this week. My take on this bottling sits somewhere between Jordan's and MAO's. It's far from perfect whisky, but the nose is very good with its fruit and botanicals. The palate is a bit narrow. Either water doesn't open it up, or I needed to add more water. I'd definitely drink this whisky again, but another eight years in what was clearly not an overactive cask might have resulted in something very fun. If you missed out on this release, like I did, don't worry. Just go for the regular 10yo.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 82

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Hazelburn 12 year old (bottled 2009, 09/335 code)

On Monday I reviewed the very good OB bourbon cask 10 year old Hazelburn. Today it's the sherry cask-driven 12 year old Hazelburn, which actually preceded the 10 year old on the market, time-wise. This particular batch was from the first year that Hazelburn 12 hit the shelves. I tasted it alongside the current 10 year old. They are two very different whiskies.

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Hazelburn
Region: Campbeltown
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: all, or mostly, ex-sherry casks
Bottle code: 09/335
Outturn: 3900 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant Added? No
(from a sample swap with Jordan of Chemistry of the Cocktail. Thank you, Jordan!)

Its color is almost maroon-brown. The nose is cloaked in big rubbery sherry. Some musty dunnage and definite dosage of peat. Dark cherries and milk chocolate meet a heavy green leafy note (parsley?). The palate is woody rather than winey. In fact, it's very woody. Beneath the tree bark and bitter pulp, there are hints of anise, soil and dried herbs. Hot and sweet. On the finish it's wood-run spice, char and bitterness. Lime candy. Sweet. Long but flat.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or <1tbsp water per 30mL whisky
The nose improves a little. There's dried herbs, honey, golden raisins, dried berries. The sherry is quieter and nuttier. Bits of earth and peat. At first the palate feels better, but then the violent tannins kick in, stomping down the herbs and lemon candy sweetness. It finishes tannic, sour, bitter and peppery.

I was going to say this feels like a denser, greener, uglier version of GlenDronach 12, but the spirit is so hidden that this could be any single malt abused by questionable sherry casks. The smothered distillate was from the first Hazelburn runs, but who knows what that would've, could've, should've tasted like. What does show is a significant quantity of peat. But the peat doesn't even feel like it fits in this odd soup.

Dropping this expression and tuning up the bourbon cask 10 year old were wise decisions by the Springbank folks. Of course, that's not the popular opinion. Serge liked this whisky, and 98.6% of whiskybase voters gave it higher scores than I did. But Jordan's take is similar to mine. And we're right.

Availability - a few dozen specialty whisky retailers
Pricing - $90-$105 US, $55-$85 (ex-VAT)
Rating - 73