...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Amrut Spectrum 004, US Release

Of all the Amrut gimmicks, this one seems like the most fun: Purposely build a cask out of multiple cask types, then fill it up with whisky and watch what happens. I'm surprised Amrut beat the Scotch industry to it.

There should be an asterisk on this bottling, though. It's made of staves from four different types of casks: new French oak, ex-oloroso, ex-PX and new American oak. It is not made up of four "different oak woods", or at least there's no additional detail given other than what had seasoned the staves. In fact there are only two types of oak listed on the bottle's labels: French and American. American oak makes up the vast majority of whisky casks, including ex-sherry, for cost and structural purposes, so it's likely that American oak makes up three-quarters of each Spectrum cask.

An interesting, and educational, experiment would be to age whisky in each of these four separate cask types in the same corner of the warehouse as the Spectrum casks, then blend or marry the four cask types' contents together, then compare the results of Spectrum and this other "Four Wood" creation. Perhaps someone would learn something.

And in case you were wondering, yes, Spectrum is only finished in the custom casks. I'm not sure if I should be grumbling about that. Time to find out.

Distillery: Amrut
Region: Bangalore, India
Age: minimum 3 years
Batch: 004 (It's a James Bond joke. Get it?)
Maturation: first aged in ex-bourbon casks, then finished in casks made with the aforementioned four stave types
Outturn: 1,800 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? ???
(from a bottle split)

The whisky's color is very very dark. The nose leads with roasted nuts, specifically walnuts and cashews. Then coffee beans and a hint of dried currants. Later it's carob bark, mint leaves and maple candy. What's extraordinary about the palate is that it's nothing but espresso upon the first two sips. That's it. Then gradually comes salt, dried cherries and limes. Honey, wood smoke and toffee pudding. The PX starts to take over, as do plenty of tannins. There's also a significant musty oak note, just to keep the drinker on his or her toes. The espresso shows up in the finish as well. Then limes, brown sugar, grape jam, honey and pencil shavings. It grows sweeter with time.

Going into this, I knew the spirit was only present to deliver the product in a liquid medium. The result, the piles of tannins and sherries, is......Fun. There's something exceptional about its thumping shifts and volume. One moment it feels like a 40 year old sherry cask, the next moment it's a gloppy PX-finish, then it's honeycomb, then it's coffee. Does it ever come together as one piece? Maybe in the nose, which is subtle compared to the rhinoceros-playing-piano palate. The price, though. Jeez. That's wackier than the rest.

Availability - a few specialty European and American liquor retailers
Pricing - Europe: $300-$350 (ex-VAT); USA: $400-$500. Yes, you're reading that correctly.
Rating - 89 (that's some good wood)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Amrut Two Continents, batch 03 (2017 bottling)

In contrast to the mix mastery of Kadhambam, Amrut Two Continents is aged solely in refill ex-bourbon barrels. The hook for this release is its maturation in two climates. It first percolates in India, then waltzes(?) in Europe. They don't say where in Europe, just "Europe". Northern Finland's climate is slightly different than the South of France, so it kinda matters.

Distillery: Amrut
Region: Bangalore, India
Age: minimum 3 years
Batch: #03 (2017)
Maturation: refill bourbon casks
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? ???
(from a Columbus Scotch Club event)

Timber! It's actually not that oaky on the nose, but there is an early note of freshly split logs. After that, the nose stays simple. There's hay, anise, apple and butter. It's kinda blendy. The perkier palate leads with simple syrup, pear juice, ginger and hazelnuts. Black peppercorns help things from getting too sweet. It gets smokier with time, though also picks up a notebook paper note. The moderate length finish is big on ginger and chiles, with smaller notes of acidic citrus and bitter smoke.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or <1 teaspoon of water per 30mL whisky
Less oak on the nose. Smokey ham, grass, apples and cardamom. Yet the palate gets woodier and more tannic. Papery and peppery. Smoked nuts and lemons. The finish is much quieter. It's tangy and tannic with acidic citrus and black pepper.

Batch 3 came out in 2017 with, curiously, a lower abv (46% versus 50%) than batch 2, and has more muted reviews online. I did not know this when I tried it head-to-head with yesterday's Kadhambam. But the Kadhambam really is in a different league.

This batch of Two Continents has that rawness and oakiness found in many/most American "craft" whiskies, though it pulls it off better than the Yanks. I do think the oak holds it back or at least removes something vital and lively found in most of Amrut's releases. It's still a reasonable whisky, but the regular CS, the peated CS and Fusion are all more enjoyable at much lower prices.

Availability - Many specialty European and American liquor retailers
Pricing - Europe: $80-$110 (ex-VAT); USA: $110-$140 (har har)
Rating - 81 (neat only)

Monday, October 29, 2018

Amrut Kadhambam, batch 05 (2017 bottling)

It's Amrut Time! Again. I knocked out nearly a dozen Amrut reviews in 2016 and 2017, but none in 2018. I'm remedying that with three consecutive Amrut posts this week, with each whisky enjoying a 2017 release. So exciting!

First up is Kadhambam, batch 5. As odd as Kadhambam's cask combo sounds, it seems like an inevitable experiment. Amrut makes brandy and rum, so they have those leftover casks. They've done sherried releases, so those casks are on hand as well. Just their luck, the mix works.

I thought Batch 3 was grand and strange. In my review, I was worried that Kadhambam had been retired. Batch 4 came out in 2013, and as of 2016 there was no sign of the next round. Alas, there was another.

Distillery: Amrut
Region: Bangalore, India
Age: minimum 3 years
Batch: #05 (2017)
Maturation: ex-Oloroso sherry butts, then Indian brandy casks, then Indian rum casks
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? ???
(from a Columbus Scotch Club event)

It has a big bright nose with lots of dried fruits, especially apricots. There are green apples, lemons and barley. Hard toffee and earthy cocoa. It picks up a pineapple juice note after 10 minutes. The palate is warm but not hot. Tobacco, dried cherries, brown sugar and just a hint of plum wine. A tiny bit of tannin, along with cinnamon and nutmeg. It finishes with citrus, brown sugar and toffee. Mild tannins and mild pepper.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or ½ teaspoon of water per 30mL whisky
The nose narrows, but also focuses intensely on toffee, cinnamon shisha and lime juice. Meanwhile, the palate shifts while keeping its breadth. It's creamy, fruity and spicy. Tropical fruit punch with cinnamon and chili oil. Brown sugar, oranges and cumin. The finish has oranges, honeydew and a little bit of salt, while holding onto its decent length.

Another great batch. While this one doesn't hit batch 3's heights, it is more stable and approachable, with the casks behaving more harmoniously. It also feels a little more mature than most of the other Amrut's I've tried, perhaps due to its calmness and lower heat level. It works with or without water, your choice.

On a side note, batch 5 seems to have had at least three bottlings: two in 2016 and one in 2017. This is the 2017 bottling, FWIW. The series does seem to have caught a second wind, and is now up to batch 8. I hope the batches maintain this quality because I look forward to owning a bottle, one of these years.

Availability - Many specialty European and American liquor retailers
Pricing - Europe: $70-$100 (ex-VAT); USA: $120-$160 (har har)
Rating - 87

Friday, October 26, 2018

Paul John single cask P1-163 Indian Single Malt Whisky

It was only a matter of time. With Bob Dylan brandishing his It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding Money Apparently whiskey, the artist formerly known as P. Diddy rushed his own whisky brand to the market: Sean Paul John. He sourced it from India and I can't take this joke any further because Bob Dylan made me sad, and not in a Boots of Spanish Leather way.

John Distilleries, founded in fact by a Paul John, is a pretty sizable company that produces brandy, wine and whisky across a number of distilleries and wineries throughout India. Their malt whisky is produced in the main distillery in Goa. As with Amrut, Paul John single malt experiences very active maturation within a cask due to the climate. Per Wikipedia, Goa's average daily highs range between 84ºF and 91ºF all year. It's very dry from December through April, then comes the humidity, then come the monsoons. Not quite Speyside.

I corralled this sample, my first Paul John, from a Columbus Scotch Club event a few months ago. All Paul John provides is the cask number. No age, no vintage, no cask information, no whisky in fact. I mean, look at the sample bottle:

Company: John Distilleries
Brand: Paul John
Region: Goa, India
Type: Single Malt
Age: ???
Maturation: ???
Cask number: P1-163
Outturn: ???
Release year: 2013
Alcohol by volume: 57%

The nose starts out with apples, citronella, ocean and an aggressive ethyl burn. After 10-15 minutes small notes of pears, cantaloupe, honey and toasted oak float up. BIG heat on the palate. It takes some work to sift through the burning, but beneath it one will find tart fruit, vanilla bean and toffee. The sweetness stays mild and malty-ish. A bitter oak note creeps up after the whisky sits for 15 minutes in the glass. It finishes with acidic citrus and toffee and heat. It's tingly, sweet and bitter, but also leaves an unpleasantly sour aftertaste.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or <1.5tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Okay, I'll split the nose notes into good news and bad news. Good news: citronella and cloves. Bad news: Sharp, almost vodka-esque new make. Hints of cardboard and lead. Ugly news: Reminiscent of Glenlivet 12. At least the palate is calmer and more pleasant as the creamy vanilla pudding sweetness takes over and the bitterness recedes. Quite a bit of acidity though, and plenty of heat. The finish is similar to palate, with the acid and heat. The sweetness does help things out, though.

Though I am looking forward to trying more Paul John whisky in the future, this single cask does not bode well. I'm in the minority with this opinion, if one goes by the whiskybase community. And if you're questioning the sample's source, the bottle came from the gentleman who supplied the excellent Westland fino cask reviewed on Tuesday.

This comes across as young (and darkly hued) "craft" whisky. There's a lot of burn and oak no matter what you do. I'd recommend taking the heat because dilution lays waste to the zesty bright neat nose. The less I say about the finish, the better. Its competitor(?), Amrut, also produces hot brash whiskies, but they almost always show a complexity and depth absent from this Paul John single cask.

Availability - Probably sold out
Pricing - €70?
Rating - 76

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Spirit of Hven Tycho's Star, Swedish Single Malt

Located on a teeny island between Sweden and Denmark, near the former digs of 16th century astronomer Tycho Brahe, Hven Distillery began distilling spirits in 2008. Whisky isn't their main focus. In fact it's just another one of their ultra-locally sourced products.

It's time for everyone everywhere to start ignoring every drop of digital ink spilled about the experimentation going on at Bill Lumdsen's distilleries in Scotland. You want to see some real tinkering? Here's how Henric Molin, Hven's distiller, makes Tycho's Star:
--Three malts: pale ale, chocolate and heavily peated.
--Two to three different yeasts applied over a 90-120 hour fermentation period.
--Three oaks: 58.2% heavily charred Quercus muehlenbergi from Missouri, 33.44% heavily toasted Quercus petrea from central France, 8.36% medium toasted Quercus robur from Bourgogne.
(These stats come from Thomas of whiskysaga.com)

Of course, if doesn't taste good then what's the point? Lemme see...

Distillery/Company: Spirit of Hven Backafallsbyn
Region: Hven, Switzerland
Type: Single Malt
Age: ???
Mashbill and maturation: see above
Alcohol by volume: 41.8%abv
(from a purchased sample)

The nose leads with barley, honey butter and white chocolate. I keep finding lots of sugary breakfast cereal, like Corn Pops and Frosted Flakes. It has a spirity edge that reads a little phenolic. A little bit of mango slips in after a while. There's dark chocolate, roasted nuts and nutty whole grain bread in the palate, which is followed by a tart spritely nip and a slight herbal bitterness. It finishes with honey and toasted grains up front, smoke and bitter greens in the back.

I can imagine at 46+% abv it probably gets rougher and tougher, but as it's currently bottled the whisky is a nice drinker with a good sharp edge. It's also barley-forward, which is always a plus in this oaky era. Tycho's Star would probably appeal to most single malt lovers, which makes its experimental recipe a success. Unfortunately that same approach has made it expensive.

Availability - A few dozen retailers in the US and Europe
Pricing - $55-$80 (ex-VAT) in Europe for 500mL; $100-$130 for 750mL in US
Rating - 82

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Westland 2 year old 2012, cask 300 for K&L Wines

Washington state, the birthplace of Starbucks, Amazon, Kurt Cobain, Bing Crosby, David Lynch, Ryne Sandberg and Keyboard Cat, is rain-soaked on its west coast and arid on the east coast. Most of its humans live in the wet part, with 30% of the population living in King County.

Thank you, Wikipedia.

I visited Washington's Westland Distillery three years ago, and wrote an extensive post about the experience which is recommend if you're looking for more info. Westland makes my favorite American single malts, and their single casks can be very very good. Yesterday I reviewed a peated ex-oloroso cask Westland. Today it's an unpeated single malt, matured within a fino cask.

Distillery: Westland
Region: Seattle, Washington
Type: Single Malt
Age: 33 months
Bottled: June 2015
Cask #: 300
Mashbill: Washington Select Pale Malt
Maturation: first fill ex-Fino cask
Outturn: 261 bottles (maybe a hoggie?)
Alcohol by volume: 60.8%
(From a Columbus Scotch Club event)

The nose is subtler than cask 284's. Toasted barley, almonds, hazelnuts, glazed pastries. Peaches, pears, anise, sweet cream, cocoa and silly putty. The palate has the same delicacy and nuance. Almonds, dried apricots, green grapes. A salty/savoury note. Moments of lemons and wood smoke. It finishes nutty and warm. Lemon, honey and barley. A gentle sweetness. Lots of walnuts!

Very reluctant to add water, but...

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, <2tsp of water per 30ml whisky
The nose is a fresh almond croissant with a dusting of confectioner's sugar. Then hints of brine, black licorice, and cookie dough. In the palate, it's malt, nuts, salt, lime, a gentle sweetness and a hint of smoke. The finish remains nearly the same as it was when neat. Perhaps a little saltier.

I tried this along with yesterday's peated Oloroso cask 2yo. That one was very good. This one is better.

It made me shut off the music I was playing and then I forgot to take notes for a while. A delight and mystery, this Westland possesses the elegance of my favorite (mostly deceased) Japanese malts. How a whisky can be this delicate and this precise at this age and strength, I haven't a clue. I mean, like, what?

Dear Rémy Cointreau, don't fuck this up.

Availability - sold out
Pricing - $100
Rating - 91

Monday, October 22, 2018

Westland 2 year old 2012 Single Cask Nation, cask 284

Here's my "for more information on Westland Distillery" plug, with the only update being that the business was sold to Remy Cointreau exactly one year after my visit. I swear I had nothing to do with it!

Tomorrow I will review an unpeated 2.75 year old single fino cask from Westland. Today it's a 2 year old oloroso cask peated single malt from indie bottlers, Single Cask Nation.

Though their unpeated malt is all from the US, they do source their peated malt from Baird's in Speyside. Their standard peated release is good, while the two peated single casks I've tried rival Kilchoman's quality. This is the first time I've tried their sherry + peat combo.

Distillery: Westland
Region: Seattle, Washington
Type: Single Malt
Age: 24 months
Bottled: October 2014
Cask #: 284
Mashbill: peated malt from Baird's in Scotland
Maturation: first fill ex-Oloroso
Outturn: 204 bottles (so possibly a barrel?)
Alcohol by volume: 60%
(Thanks to Brett!)

The nose is fruity and meaty at first, with a little bit of floral action underneath. The peat takes time to kick in. It starts as spent charcoal and wood smoke, then it grows and grows with time. There are also notes of mint, eucalyptus, dried cherries and molasses. After a while a peanut butter note pops up, as do smoked almonds. The palate actually starts with the peanut butter and smoke almond notes all wrapped up in sherry. Chili oil, soot and salty smoked fish. The Oloroso takes the fore, after some time, reading more nutty than fruity. The finish is sweet and spicy. Savoury, salty and smoky. You know, the Ss. Sugar Daddy candy. Extensive length.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or >1¾tsp of water per 30mL whisky
A straightforward stinky peat, like young Coal Ila, shows up in the nose, but there's some decent dried fruit to keep things in control. Chocolate-covered raisins, almond brittle and baking spices round things out. It has a salty, seaweedy palate. Dried berry sweetness and tangy citrus. Cracked pepper. The finish is mostly smoke, with caramel candy, black pepper and a hint of blueberry jam.

This is very good, coming across like a 8-10 year old Islay. The spirit and sherry play well, there's much less heat than the age & ABV would lead one to expect, and there's no capital 'O' Over Oakiness. Though it takes water well, I prefer it neat due to the stellar nose. I've said it before, I'll say it again: This can compete with many of Scotch's sexier brands. Of course, the price also competes with those brands too. In any case, other than McCarthy's, you won't find another American single malt putting up this sort of quality.

Availability - sold out
Pricing - $75, which is cheap for a Westland single cask
Rating - 86

Friday, October 19, 2018

Navazos Palazzi Spanish Malt Whisky, July 2014 release

As I write this intro, I'm drinking this single malt alongside its kin, the single grain I reviewed on Wednesday. DYC distillery hasn't been pushed on us as the New Kavalan (yet), which is great. That lack of hype is mostly because DYC exists to crank out blends for España, because that's where the money is.

The Navazos Palazzi dynamic duo spirited away (if you'll allow) with a few casks of DYC malt and grain whisky aged fully in Palo Cortado casks. This is the cask strength malt whisky batch bottled in July 2014.

Dat label tho

Destilerías Y Crianza
Region: Segovia, Spain
Type: Single Malt
Importer: Equipo Navazos and Nicholas Palazzi (PM Spirits)
Age: ~5 years
Maturation: Palo Cortado sherry cask
Batch: July 2014
Alcohol by volume: 52.5%
(Thanks, Sku!)

Lots of roasted nuts in the nose. Some tar, dark chocolate, brine and just a whiff of black raisins. With some time in the glass, the whisky releases notes of apple cider vinegar, leather shoes and caramel. The palate feels hotter than the grain whisky. Its tannicity(!) dries the tongue. Fresh ginger with raw cranberries and raw nuts (almonds and Brazils). Ah there are some golden raisin sweetness. This has a longer finish than the single grain. Tannic, tart and earthy. Peppery and bitter in the back of the throat. Caramel and Oloroso.

Lowering it to DYC's favorite ABV...

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or >1¾ teaspoons of water per 30mL whisky
Molasses, black raisins and honey mustard in the nose. It's still earthy, with an almost smoky edge. The palate is spicy and peppery. Slightly sweet. Over-steeped bitter black tea. The finish is sweeter than the neat version. Some sherry and the bitter tea.

Like the grain whisky, this malt whisky has been matured to the max, and then some, in the Spanish heat. As a result, the nose is a treat throughout. There's a fullness and complexity to it that was missing from the single grain, making it a delight to sniff. At the same time, the dryness makes it a bit of a challenge to drink. Once (or if) one's palate adapts one can enjoy the whisky as a study in tannins and super-duper dry fortified wine. It's unlike any other single malt I've tried. Too bad they didn't sell it in 200mL bottles, like the Säntis Malt, because it's more of an attention sapper than a casual thing.

Availability - USA; this batch has sold out but there are other batches
Pricing - 2016 batch is $110-$120
Rating - 79

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Navazos Palazzi Spanish Grain Whisky, July 2014 release

The only things I know about this whisky and its mate — which will be reviewed next — are courtesy of Sku's post from 2015. Thus not only do these whiskies come to the blog via Steve, so does any fact I write about them.

This grain whisky had a 100% corn mashbill, was distilled by DYC distillery in Spain and spent its 5 year old lifespan in a Palo Cortado cask. It came to America courtesy of the one-two punch known as Equipo Navazos and Nicholas Palazzi (Mr. @CaptnCognac).

I find very little pleasure drinking single grain whisky, but this thing is unique enough for me to withhold judgement until I actually drink it. Imagine that.

Only one man could be responsible
for a label like this.
Distillery: Destilerías Y Crianza
Region: Segovia, Spain
Type: Single Grain
Importer: Equipo Navazos and Nicholas Palazzi (PM Spirits)
Age: ~5 years
Mashbill: 100% corn
Maturation: Palo Cortado sherry cask
Batch: July 2014
Alcohol by volume: 53.5%
(Thanks, Sku!)

Applesauce and golden raisins in the nose. Then burlap and walnuts. JM Rhum (or grass, earth, bananas and a flower or two). The palate has loooooooads of nutty, almost earthy, sherry. Then black peppercorns, pumpkin pie spices and over-steeped bitter black tea. Very dry. More sweetness to the medium-length finish. Caramel sauce, honey and pepper. Oloroso-ish (helpful!).

Lowering it to DYC's favorite ABV...

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or 2 teaspoons of water per 30mL whisky
It's all dried fruit in the nose. Raisins, citrus peels and dried pineapple. The palate remains pretty similar, though less earthy. More tangy candy and plenty of bitter tea. Some fennel rolls in late. It finishes tingly, sweet and peppery.

The grain whisky seems to have performed a full extraction from the cask since this often reads as fortified fortified fortified fortified wine. Segovia's heat did thorough work, since this thing couldn't take another year in the cask.

It's not bad, which is probably the nicest thing I've ever said about a single grain whisky. There's a thinness to the mouthfeel, similar to Scottish single grains. And there's a near absence of spirit character, also similar to Scottish single grains. But the cask's previous contents were clearly very nice, and the grain whisky serves as a capable delivery mechanism.

Availability - USA; this batch has sold out but there are other batches
Pricing - 2016 batch is $110-$120
Rating - 78 (but I wouldn't mind some of that sherry)

Monday, October 15, 2018

Säntis Malt Edition Dreifaltigkeit Swiss Alpine Whisky

Yes, it's Swiss! Though the Locher family has been brewing beer on site since at least 1886, they started down the whisky path in 1999 when Switzerland ended its ban on the distillation of grain-based spirits. Because beer is what they've got, then beer barrels is what they use for maturation.

I enjoyed the beer barrel-aged Mackmyra Vinterrök and Glenfiddich IPA Experiment enough to buy a bottle of each, so I was looking forward to trying Dreifaltigkeit. (Extra credit goes to 'Creepo' who, in the Vinterrök comments, recommended Dreifaltigkeit!) Säntis Malt are nice and wise enough to have released 200mL bottles of their whiskies, so I bought one of those cute things.

Though it's more like Vinterrök in design (peat!), I paired it with the Glenfiddich. That was dumb. Silly Kravitz, Dreifaltigkeit isn't for kids.

Distillery: Brauerei Locher
Brand: Säntis Malt
Region: Switzerland
Type: Single Malt
Age: ???
Barley source: "barley grown at high ­altitude in Switzerland", from the official site
Peat source:  a Swiss "highland moor", says the bottle
Maturation: "Old Oak Beer Casks", says the bottle
Alcohol by volume: 52%

It's the color of maple syrup. The nose starts off with hot melting candles, antiseptic and smoldering plastic. Then damp moss, Ceylon cinnamon and a dose of Laphroaig 10. The palate is tremendously smoky. A leaf fire. Burning pine needles. Blackened brisket and charred pineapple. Smaller notes of cherry syrup and milk chocolate linger underneath. The forest fire continues into the finish, met with burnt brisket and bacon, and the nose's melting candles. White fruit sweetness and cayenne pepper in the background.

DILUTED TO ~43%abv, or 1¼ teaspoons of water per 30mL whisky
The nose has become a suburban night in mid-winter. Chimneys, coal smoke, melting candles. Cardamom. The palate becomes much sweeter. Simple, but BIG, smoke. Then salty meat, tangy fruit and tingly spices. A little bit of brown ale. SMOKE in the finish, but also tart fruit, sugar and brown ale.

Who would've expected this level of violence from the Swiss? But this ain't no Leviathan nor Brimstone. A startling level of nuance graces the nose. Even the palate has definable layers that work in tandem. It's still an almost punishing drink, best applied while shoveling a foot of snow off one's driveway. And you can bet your tushie that's when I'm going to drink it next.

Availability - many European specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - (ex-VAT) 40ml: $5-$8, 200mL: $20-$25, 500mL $40-$60, 700mL: $65-$75
Rating - 85 (some people are going to HATE this whisky, though)

Friday, October 12, 2018

Balcones Texas Single Malt, batch SM16-9

It's time to ease back into the planned World Whisky voyage with a jaunt in Texas. Texas is a large landmass entrenched in the lower belly of North America. It is bigger than Spain and Switzerland combined. It is home to a great many cattle and people and people who eat cattle.

Balcones is a brand and distillery started by Chip Tate. Chip Tate left Balcones, not entirely voluntarily. I had planned to not buy any post-Chip Balcones products to make a statement no one would hear, but then I realized I didn't like any Balcones whisky enough to buy it in the first place. In fact, I think their Rumble liquor is the best thing they make. My favorite Balcones whisky product has always been their Texas Single Malt. It is bigly flavored as any proud Texan consumable should be.

Deep in the giant brown palm of Texas!

Region: Waco, Tejas
Type: Single Malt
Batch: SM16-9
Age: ???
Bottled: Halloween 2016
Mashbill: malted Golden Promise barley
Maturation: "barrels of different sizes and oak profiles"
Alcohol by volume: 53%
(From a Columbus Scotch Club event)

There's a lot of maroon about the brown in this whisky's color. The nose is much prettier than the other, earlier, batches I've tried. Vanilla extract, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and cream puffs. Then honey mixed into vanilla yogurt. Confectioner's sugar. A lingering whiff of chili powder. The first sip shows off the palate the best, delivering shredded wheat, roasted hazelnuts and aromatic cigars. Subsequent sips reveal a floral vanilla, ginger and sweet peppery heat. A wallop of tannins and a hint of bonfire smoke. The finish has a decent length with mild heat. Toasted nuts and toasted oak, tobacco, ginger and a marshmallow sweetness.

Though not a subtle thing, this Texas single malt certainly is the least violent batch I've tried. (I've really only tried three Chip-era batches before this post-Chip batch, so take that as you'd like.) The nose is very good and the palate leads on like it's going to be complex, but then fades out after five minutes in the glass.

Like Westland's and McCarthy's single malts, this is not a bourbon alternative. It's really a separate genre. Still, it's the biggest tree hugger outside of Austin, so its full embrace of oak will appeal to most American whiskey fans.

There's no reason for it to cling to the "Craft" realm any longer, because this is professionally made stuff. If it were priced in the $40s, I'd consider getting a bottle. But it shares Westland's pricing problem, often selling for more than $70.

Availability - many US liquor retail specialists, though possibly not this batch
Pricing - $60-$90
Rating - 83

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Beatrice Booze Report: Ardmore 1991-2013 Malts of Scotland, Rum Barrel

One recent evening, I spent an extended period of time staring at the front label of this bottle of Ardmore. Because I was hepped down on NyQuil, it was more of a gazing-beyond-the-fabric-of-the-spacetime-continuum than seeing the label in this particular reality. My eyes eventually focused and I saw something weird.

234 bottles that came from this rum barrel. That's a lot of whisky from a barrel utilized for 22 years. The abv is 53.8%, which means the angels did take their share. (Note: the angels really like 1991 through 1993 Ardmore. This is the only 1991-1993 Ardmore I have that is north of 50%abv.)

I did some math on a legal pad, then double-checked my scribbles the next day. Taking into account that Ardmore goes into the barrel at 63.5%abv, the volume — not just the percentage but the actual quantity — of water INCREASED over 22 years. I may think Ardmore is pretty spiffy, but I'm certain it follows the principal of mass conservation.

So either it was:
1.) Barreled at an unusually low ABV
2.) Topped up over the years (illegal per SWA)
3.) Re-racked from more than one cask

The third option is the most likely. Re-racking is neither a crime nor a disaster, but it would have been swell if Malts of Scotland shared this information. Or perhaps the cask's previous owner was responsible for this maneuver. It does make one wonder, what is a "single cask"?, again. It also explains why Serge and Ruben found so little rum influence in a 22yo rum barrel whisky.

Distillery: Ardmore
Region: Highlands (Eastern)
Independent Bottler: Malts of Scotland
Age: ~22 years old (March 1991 - March 2013)
Maturation: Rum barrel (though I have my theories)
Casks: 13018
Alcohol by Volume: 53.8%
(Sample from the top of my bottle)

I wrote that whole conspiracy theory on Monday. And now it's Wednesday. My nose is working. I've had three glasses of this whisky...

The color is light gold. The nose begins with soil and peat smoke. Lemon juice spilled on grandma's plastic couch cover. Hints of fresh peach and molasses. With 30+ minutes in the glass: Green bananas (the closest thing to rum here), dirty hay and canned peaches. Tar, salt, soil, rocks and burlap in the palate. Some actual Jamaican-style rum funk in the background. The rum's earthiness matches the whisky's. After a while there's dense dark smoke, not Ardmore's usual moderate woody smoke. It finishes with dusty smoke, tangy Jamaican rum funk, smoked paprika and lime.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1⅔ tsp water per 30mL whisky
The nose is politer, more sugary. Pineapple, apple and flowers to go with the green bananas. Ocean water to go with the hay. The palate is similar to the neat one. A little sweeter and pepperier. Some tangy lime around the edges. The same mix of heavy smoke and funky rum. The finish is moderately long but simple. Black pepper, limes and smoke.

I am not crazy about this whisky. Maybe I should add ", yet."? If not for the rum note, one could say that the palate is austere to a fault, or maybe it's just modest. The dearth of oak is much appreciated. The smoke is very aggressive and, dare I say, a bit generic.

Great whisky doesn't have to be all Carmen Miranda — singing, dancing, fruit hats — but it needs to establish itself as something one can't find elsewhere in the sensory realm. This whisky doesn't do that. It also has yet to open up in the glass. I let one of my pours sit for 45 minutes. The whisky in that glencairn told oxygen to piss right off.

The whisky is good, so maybe I need to provide perspective here. Early '90s Ardmore is my favorite distillery era (within financial reason, people). This bottle ain't even close. In fact, its style is foreign to that group. It fits in better with 21st century steam coil Ardmore: more smoke, less fruit. That style works, sometimes quite well. This 1991 fits right there. Perhaps that has to do with its cask(s)?

Availability - sold out
Pricing - €99 in 2013
Rating - 84 (perhaps I'll review it again next year?)

Monday, October 8, 2018

Blogger Blocked By Tipple Terminating Toddler

My lovely little Beatrice shared her cold with me last week, and now she and I are competing to see who can keep it the longest. We both seem to have improved considerably today, but I'm delaying any whisky reviews until my nose is trustworthy. That could be tomorrow or next week.

Not drinking has been fabulous, especially since I wake up with what feels like a hangover every morning. What does suck is that laryngitis kept me from singing "Happy Birthday" to the wee one on her first birthday. I'll get her back by singing twice as loud and obnoxiously next year.

Reviews to restart soon. Probably?

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Two Jazz Tunes for Birthday Beatrice Joy

When she came out, she was silent. I can't do justice in writing to capture the liquefying dread I felt in that moment. All of our pregnancies had been full of tragedy or terror, and this one was no exception. But then I saw Beatrice's clear brilliant eyes open wide between their butterfly wing lashes. Her stare traversed the room for a moment, then she released a short coughing cry to clear her lungs.

Kristen had been (and still is) an excellent sport, letting me put together a Birthing Gametime playlist. She wanted the most peaceful ethereal soothing stuff I could assemble. Amongst all the Sigur Ros and Brian Eno compositions, it was "It Never Entered My Mind" by The Miles Davis Quintet that she liked the best. And it was to that song Beatrice Joy was born.

When I'd first heard the song, when we were pregnant with Mathilda, I was nearly in tears. I would have never guessed it was one of Miles's works, due its direct emotive piano part. A fantasy then began, in the back of my mind, of a future retrospective slideshow of our quiet, calm, Mathilda-to-be. Of course, Mathilda turned out to be, well...

From the start, Beatrice was like a cherub or the jolly Budai. A center of calm and, yes, joy. She laughed so early. She loved to be snuggled. Like a fool, I sorta kinda totally utilized her to lift me out of frequent frustrations and anxiety attacks. Then she became her own person.

She has her sister's emotion, strength and intelligence, but gives it her own spin. With those big eyes and awesome rocker girl hair, she flirts and charms, then issues her decrees. Constantly in motion, she is faster than any child I've seen.

One recent morning, Cannonball Adderley's "Money in the Pocket" filled our kitchen while Bea propelled herself across the floor one way, and then back the other direction in a giddy blur. It was obvious she'd added a new song to her soundtrack.

Despite months and months of colds, coughs, fevers and continuing health trials, all of which have been the greatest struggles of her life, Bea has remained a gleeful sprite. Meanwhile, her father still cusses out the world and existence when he catches two red traffic lights in a row. It's no joke, my daughters have things to teach me that no one else can.

Happy First Birthday, Beatrice Joy!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Three Ships Bourbon Cask Finish blended whisky

I'm in the mood to empty out my world whisky samples this month. So the only bourbon or scotch posts will be within the next several days. After that it's all India, Spain, Sweden (not Mackmyra!), and American malt. But I'mma start out with South Africa.

Kristen's previous job as [REDACTED] used to require international travel, which of course required me to request that she visit Duty Free shops. But by 2014, there wasn't much of interest being sold via Travel Retail. This resulted in easier, cheaper requests. In December of 2014 it was simple: something from Three Ships and Glenfiddich 15yo Distillery Edition. And because she tolerates this shit, she is awesome.

I'd tried Three Ships 10 year old single malt in 2013, and had enjoyed it. By 2014 it had sold out. So the Three Ships options were very limited that year. There was a 5 year old blend and a Bourbon Cask Finish blend. I went with the latter, probably because it was cheaper. I opened the bottle promptly, then kept it at my in-laws' home, where I enjoyed it slowly over 3 years. Today's sample was taken from the bottom third of the bottle.

Though the distillery has mixed scotch whisky into its products, this is the "first 100% South African whisky" according to the official website.
Distillery: James Sedgwick Distillery
Brand: Three Ships
Ownership: Distell Group Limited
Region: Wellington, South Africa
Age: 3.5 years
Maturation: 3 years in (probably refill) American oak casks, then six months in first-fill ex-bourbon casks from Louisville, KY
Bottling date: 2014
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

I'm out of bubbly water, so in lieu of a highball I'm drinking the whisky neat in a tumbler. There's less heat and a lower turpentine quotient than Dewar's White, JW Red or Cutty. Plenty of grain whisky bumping around in the glass, but it's all softened by those bourbon casks. Lots of vanilla and sugar.

As expected, the whisky gains structure once in a glencairn. The nose has butterscotch, Nilla wafers and almond extract. Smaller notes of lime juice, flowers and salty broth float about. It's the crossroads between blended scotch and blended Canadian whisky. Lots of vanilla in the palate, as well as peach candy and Milk Duds, but it's not too sweet. It has actual mouthfeel, and an alcohol bite throughout. The lightly candied finish shows more caramel than vanilla. But it also has a sour/bitter blendy note that doesn't mix well with the heat.

Three Ships Bourbon Cask Finish (3SBCF, because I'm lazy) is a simple thing. It has more heft than a Canadian blend, while fully flexing that BCF. The nose is the highlight. The palate is fine, probably comparable to Chivas 12, but the finish is where it starts to unravel.

It's doubtful that 3SBCF was designed for the glencairn experience, but it does fare decently in a tumbler and/or on the rocks which is important for its product type. James Sedgwick Distillery can design a $20 blend as well as the scotch behemoths. That may sound like faint praise, but consider the size of the $20 blend marketplace, and know this is no small accomplishment.

Availability - South Africa and the Pacific (maybe?)
Pricing - ~20USD
Rating - 75

Monday, October 1, 2018

Randy Brandy drinks Eight Brandies. Thank you, Florin?

Krav has made some terrible decisions in his life, as any of his loved ones will attest to, but this, THIS, is his greatest idea, ever. I, one Randy Brandy, am going to drink eight brandy samples — right now — that were sent to Diving for Perks by some person named "Florin" who must pity Krav because he keeps sending him stuff.

I am so inspired that I will write too many words, in the spirit of this very blog. And I will take the pictures myself.

I will march these brandies in sets of two, like the animals on Noah's ark. Yes, that is a biblical reference. Going to church on Sundays is like brushing my teeth: automatic.

Germain-Robin XO and St. George Distillery Reserve, two apple brandies from the Socialist State of Northern California. So, they're half American, if I'm being generous.

Germain-Robin XO Apple Brandy, 40.2%abv
Nose - Bourbon. Vanilla and anise, some apple, clean laundry, a faint waft of eau-de-vie. But mostly bourbon.
Palate - Thin, but pleasant. Barrel char and McDonald's apple pie. Caramel, pepper, mint. Gets more bitter with time. Know anyone like that?
Finish - Caramel chews, barrel char, candy canes and bourbon. Bitter, tart and sweet.

St. George Distillery Reserve Apple Brandy, 43%abv
Nose - There's some vanilla and tree sap, but there's also lots of classic Calvados. Caramel apples and baked apples. It's grassy and cheesy and yeasty, so there's some fun in there.
Palate - Eau-de-vie right in the face. Think kirsch and sliv. Hints of malt, smoke and mint. Tingly, but never too sweet.
Finish - Tart apples, eau-de-vie. A little bit of pepper and smoke.

The Germain-Robin is apple brandy for bourbon drinkers. Do bourbon drinkers even come to this site? Well, if you do, and spending $70 is nothing for you, then you'll like this more than I like this. The St. George is more my style. It has some Weird in the nose and plenty of big eau in the palate.

Germain-Robin XO - C+
St. George Reserve - B/B+

Burgas 63 Special Selection Bulgarian Rakia and Etter Zuger Swiss Kirsch are some actual European brandies. Kirsch is made from Kirsch fruit (or "cherries" to the freaks), while rakia is made from whatever is lying around in Eastern Europe, like apricots or communists.

Burgas 63 Rakia, 40%abv
Nose - Clean as a whistle. Flowers, yeast, citrons and limes.
Palate - Just like the nose, but with more flowers. Then quinine and lemon zest.
Finish - Tart and floral. Refreshing. I could drink a bottle.

Etter Zuger Kirsch, 40%abv
Nose - Earth, clay, cinnamon and nutmeg. Yeast, lemons and very tart cherries. A little bit of moonshine.
Palate - Mint and cinnamon. Juicy Fruit gum. Oilier and heavier than Clear Creek's kirsch.
Finish - More floral than the palate. Warm and spicy.

You'll have to pardon my short notes on the rakia, but KRAV DRANK THE FIRST OUNCE before handing it over in a tiny bottle. Then he tells me to lighten up on the Jewish jokes. C'mon, you take my brandy and then you take my bread and butter?

Both of these brandies are good. But I'm going to buy four cases of the rakia and then bathe in it. It's like someone distilled Spring.

Burgas 63 Rakia - B+
Etter Zuger Kirsch - B-

Distilleria Nannoni Grappa di Brunello Bianca and Marolo Grappa di Brunello di Montalcino are two grappas made from the brunello grape as you can clearly read from their names. I could tell you that Brunello is Sangiovese, but then some Tuscan would yell at me.

Distilleria Nannoni Grappa di Brunello, 40%abv
Nose - Crisp, simple grappa. No paint thinner, but maybe some glue fumes. Yeast, grass, balloon rubber, prunes, stems and seeds (of grapes, you damned hippies).
Palate - Prunes, grapefruit, grass, ocean water and that glue note.
Finish - More or less the same as the palate, but tangier and grassier. Long length.

Marolo Grappa di Brunello, 42%abv
Nose - Green apples, serrano peppers, horseradish, metal, arugula. This smells like good trouble.
Palate - Delicious poison. Unripe pears and apples with dried cilantro. Rhubarb, pine, smoke and a creamy sweetness.
Finish - Pine, rhubarb, dried herbs and a great sweetness. Long and mouth-filling. Who snickered?

Due bestie belle. That's Italiano. Neither of these grappas is for the coy. The Nannoni will fight you a bit, and win with its finishing strike. The Marolo is the busiest grappa I've had. I am fond of it.

Nannoni Grappa di Brunello - B-
Marolo Grappa di Brunello - B+

Back to America, sort of (again), with the Osocalis Distillery in near Santa Cruz, CA. Florin sent Osocalis Rare Alembic Brandy and batch 2 of Osocalis XO Alembic Brandy. Their Charentais still really is from France, and the grapes are from California. Birds of a feather, etc.

Osocalis Rare, 40%abv
Nose - Apples, cloves, caramel and orange peel. Something like dessert wine, sometimes.
Palate - Comfortable. Lightly sweet. Tangy apples and limes. Some peppery youth still at large.
Finish - Fruity, peppery, never too sweet, never too taxing.

Osocalis XO, bottling #2, 40%abv
Nose - Old Speyside malt with baked apples. Toffee, plums, lemons and a hint of leather.
Palate - Take the nose, then add pumpkin pie spice, tart fruit and good heat.
Finish - A combination of baking spice and mulling spice, which are probably the same thing sold to us twice. Apples, mint, long.

While the Rare is fine, the XO is Fine. A brandy for single malt drinkers. A brandy for brandy drinkers. The fruit spice combination, which is just waking up in the Rare, strides through the XO and leaves you smelling like a rich drunk.

Osocalis Rare - B-
Osocalis XO, bottling #2 - B+

Me. As always.