...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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