...where distraction is the main attraction.

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