...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Black & White blended whisky, bottled mid-1970s (1/10 pint)

Next stop on the Black & White Time Train: The 1970s!

I have a mini and a not-so-mini from a similar time frame. Today it's the 1/10th pint.

Liquor bottle liquid volume measurements went metric in 1980, so this 'un is from 1979 or earlier:

The IRS is given a shoutout on the federal tax stamp. That practice ended in early 1977.

Because the bottle's front label style began at some point after 1974, as per print advertisements, I can say with moderate comfort that this whisky was bottled in 1975 or 1976.

The metal cap was fastened very very tightly, which was a positive sign...

Brand: Black & White
Owner at time of bottling: Distillers Company Limited
Type: Blended Scotch Whisky
Age: minimum 3 years
Bottled: sometime between 1975 and early 1977
Alcohol by Volume: 43.4%
(from my purchased 1/10 pint bottle)

Another lively, pretty nose! Overripe stone fruits, apple peels, vanilla bean, guava juice and celery juice. With time it shifts towards orange and lemon peels, watermelon juice and a pear pastry. Meanwhile, the palate is bitterer and sharper than expected. Very tart citrus and tart berries. Tartness. Not much sweetness. Needs air. Then there's bread pudding with salty caramel sauce. Just a hint of wet cardboard. The finish keeps that bread pudding & caramel sauce note, while adding in almond brittle. Yet it's somehow not too sweet.

A couple of ice cubes neutralizes it, and it tastes like nothing. Boo.

Firstly, this whisky's sparring partner was the 2018 bottling. I'm not sure how much more often I'll haul out that current version. It's a very different whisky than all the older bottlings. And it's losing what little charm it started with.

Now back to the '70s bottling. The palate is more blend-y than I'd expected, raw at the edges, mix of vivid and flat casks in the center. But the nose is a pure delight. If this fruity, floral style is what blenders meant by "light" in decades past, then I'm sold, at least as far as the sniffer goes. I wish the flavor met it half way. Also the damn thing died on ice, instantly.

On Friday, it's the big bottle...

Rating - 79

Monday, September 16, 2019

Black & White Scotch Whisky print ads, a brief commentary

Every bio about James Buchanan says he was an animal lover. But the following sentence, in every bio, states that he raised racehorses from which he gained considerable financial return. Does that not sound like a man who rather loved money and exploited animals for profit? I don't know, but he did put horses in some of his advertisements. I mean, not wild or free horses, but draught animals:

circa 1903

He did like dogs — as far as I know he did not raise them to race or fight — and per the brand's myth, he got the idea of using wee terriers as part of Buchanan's advertising after attending a dog show in 1920. Though this ad, my favorite, is from 1914:

Though it would be a few additional decades before they graced bottle labels, the black and white terriers, Blackie and Whitey, were the focus of Black & White's print campaigns by World War II. Here are two ads, ca. 1942, that help promote the war effort. Note the terriers' shaded ad space features larger than the bottle itself.

The company went with the "The Scotch with Character" slogan for at least two decades as well. And by the 1950s, the advertising campaigns committed to fully establishing the terriers' adorable, playful characters. I mean, look at these little faces:

And now they're playing American football!

And baseball!

And celebrating Christmas, of course!

Here, in a 1957 ad, they are at the beach:

Now, note that the dogs are portrayed as lifeguards. They're positively dependable, like the whisky. Keep that in mind when you look at this beach-themed ad from 1974:

So, comedy(?), I guess?

Either the dog is turned on by human women, specifically human women who have undergone the sexual humiliation of a suit top slipping in public. Or that humiliation is seen as funny? Or women are being lowered to the level of dogs. Or all the above? And why? And how does that sell whisky?

Not all of their '70s ads were this baffling, but with the whisky industry's historical and current abysmal treatment of women, I thought I'd just dump this one onto the fire.

Let us now cleanse our palate with an image of happy doggos.

We can ignore the awkward cutting and pasting within the image. And the weird background. And that either the dogs or the bottles are in the wrong order. Let us instead focus on the simplicity of the idea. Two dogs, two whisky expressions.

The Extra Light version didn't last long, even in dog years. But Blackie & Whitey live on.

A cheesy hashtag as well as awards won by everything in a bottle, yes. But at least Whitey isn't chasing someone else's tail.

Image sources:
--MacLean, Charles. Scotch Whisky, A Liquid History. London, UK: Cassell Illustrated, 2005.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Killing Whisky History, Episode 27: Black & White blended whisky, bottled 1980-1983

Here it is! The first of three Black & White video reviews. It's a few minutes shorter than other K.W.H. episodes since I already covered Black & White history here. Enjoy the reverb!

This is a 750mL bottle filled sometime between 1980 and 1983. The liquid within weighs in at 43.4%abv. Per the reviewer, "This is a crisp, clean, well-made blend." And if you need a rating to go with that, here it is:

Rating - 82

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Black & White blended whisky, bottled late 1980s

Neither of these mini bottles show even a hint of a tax stamp, yet their alcohol volume is still measured in proof. That would put their bottling after 1985, but before 1990.

One important observation. Whitey looks a lot happier on these '80s bottles:

Than he does on the 2018 bottle:

Is that loyal pup trying to tell us something?

Brand: Black & White
Owner at time of bottling: United Distillers
Type: Blended Scotch Whisky
Age: minimum 3 years
Bottled: sometime between 1985 and 1989
Alcohol by Volume: 43.4%
(from my purchased 50mL bottles)

Oh, the nose is fruity! Peaches, apricots, roses, grapefruit and sour apple candies. There are also moments of toasted grains and yeast. The fruit trends more towards a flower blossom note with time. The palate is much simpler than the nose. It's mostly tart citrus, jalapeño oil and toasted nuts with hints of wheat and barley. Straightforward, spirit-forward. Not much going on in the finish. Soft pepperiness and herbal bitterness. A slight BBQ smoke note.

The nose's fruits and flowers are gone, replaced by caramel, maple syrup and young malt whisky. The inoffensive palate is mildly sweet and very reminiscent of Glenfiddich 12yo.

As with all the other Black & Whites I'm reviewing this month, I tried this whisky alongside the 2018 version. This one is certainly a step up from the current B&W, but not much more than that. Yet, once again, I find no connecting threads between the two eras. They feel like very different whiskies produced from different recipes. Perhaps the ingredients are similar, but older, and with greater emphasis on malt whisky. While the nose is quite pretty, the palate is......agreeable. Nothing off. Nothing on. It wouldn't surprise me if this late '80s mix is similar to the version of Black & White I first tried nearly two decades ago.

Rating - 76

Monday, September 9, 2019

Black & White 12 year old Premium blended whisky, bottled 1990s

With just a few exceptions, Black & White has been just Black & White, a single expression brand. There was an Extra Light version for a brief time around the '50s-'60s. That was preceded by a 12 year old De Luxe version in the '30s-'40s. But it was just Black & White NAS for decades after that until another 12 year old appeared at the end of the twentieth century.

The exact start and end dates of the more recent 12 year old have been difficult to sort out. I've seen Italian import bottles with post-1991 tax stamps, and (from what I've been able to gather) it hasn't been produced during this decade or possibly the previous. So I'm going with the broad "bottled 1990s" designation.

Sometimes this 12yo came in a creepy decanter which required the drinker to pull Whitey's head off to access the booze within. But most of the time it was sold in a bottle-shaped bottle.

Black & White
Owner at time of bottling: United Distillers
Type: Blended Scotch Whisky
Age: minimum 12 years
Bottled in: 1990s (probably)
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
(from my purchased 50mL bottle)

It has a rich, fudgy, toffee-filled nose. Dried cherries, leather, moss, ocean water. Hints of dunnage and dried apricot. Lots of black raisins and carob in the palate. Molasses, salt and a hint of tannin rest beneath. After 20 minutes, notes of golden raisins and honey emerge, sweetening things up. Raisins, salt, lemons and honey in the finish.

This whisky bears no resemblance to the current NAS Black & White. If whisky could be humiliated, then contemporary Black & White would pour itself into the soil and disappear in shame. The '90s 12yo Black & White is loaded with sherry cask-influenced malt whisky. In fact, it seems like a cousin to 10-12 year old Glenfarclas, except it reads even older.

Of my reviews this month, this is the last Black & White to be bottled at 40%abv. Everything else is going to be 43.4%abv (or 76 UK proof) going forward. And it's that low abv that holds the 12yo back from soaring. That extra dilution thins out the palate and shortens the finish. At 43.4%abv it may be a 87-90 point whisky.

As it is it's still a heck of a lot better than any current 12-year-old blend from a major producer. If or when a future whisky glut hits, I hope this whisky, or at least this style, returns.

Rating - 83

Friday, September 6, 2019

Black & White blended whisky, bottled 2018

I always keep one open bottle of a current blended whisky in my cabinet to...

Okay, I can't keep that lie going even one sentence. The quality of mid-shelf blends right now is so awful, and life is so short, that I don't waste money or anything else on blended scotch. There were quite a number of blends to recommend as recently as six years ago, but even those are approaching undrinkable.

But it's Black & White Month here, and I'd like to establish a point of reference before we drift back to the past, so it's best to start with the current iteration of this big bright shining star. Black & White and I go back 17 years, so I hold no illusions that it is heaven's nectar in a green bottle. But it used to be very reliable on the rocks or as a highball.

Let's get these reviews started off with today's Black & White.

Brand: Black & White
Owner: Diageo
Type: Blended Scotch Whisky
Age: minimum 3 years (and probably not much older)
Bottling code: L8275CP007
Bottling year: 2018
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? Yes
Colorant added? Yes
(top third of my bottle)

On the rocks:
The unmistakable bitter sharp woof of bottom-shelf plastic-bottle whisky, which should be (literally and figuratively) beneath this brand. Once the ice melts the resulting water tames the bite, making the whisky much more drinkable.

As a highball:
Painless, though also tasteless. A blank canvas for whatever bitters one chooses to add.

The nose is the best part. There's a sugar, mint and copper combination that reminds me of Midleton's Irish blends for some reason. There's also raspberry candy, vanilla and a slight floral note. Most of the palate is vanilla-ed grain whisky with black pepper. It's sour and ethyl-loaded like cheap Canadian and American blended whiskies. The finish is Black pepper & White dog.

You may look at the rating below and say, "Damn, that's cold." But really, it's a higher score than I'd give Johnnie Walker Red, Dewar's White and Cutty Sark; and just about where I'd put Chivas Regal 12yo, Ballantine's and J&B. But that says more about the state of blended whisky right now than it does about Black & White.

This is the roughest, grittiest, yet blandest Black & White bottling I've yet tasted. The palate reads like it's about as young as a Scotch whisky can legally be, with something close to 20% malt / 80% grain in the mix. The nose also seems barely legal, but it's helped by some of the pretty aspects of new make.

Here's to hoping I'm starting at the bottom.

Availability - All over Europe (minus the UK), but getting scarce in the USA. More recently it's been widely available in Brazil, Mexico, India, South Africa and Colombia
Pricing - $8-$12 in "emerging markets", $15-$25 elsewhere
Rating - 68

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Black & White blended whisky, a history

Born in Ontario and raised in Scotland, James Buchanan began working with Charles Mackinlay & Co in London in 1879, at the age of 30. In 1884, he started his own company, James Buchanan & Co Ltd. Sourcing whiskies from W.P. Lowrie, Buchanan began selling The Buchanan Blend the following year. (Buchanan and W.P. Lowrie later had Glentauchers Distillery built in 1896, and together bought Bankier and Convalmore in the following decade.)

Buchanan's goal with his Blend was a whisky, light in character, that would appeal to the English palate. It was such a success that Buchanan & Co received an exclusive contract with Parliament, the following year, to supply them with Buchanan’s House of Commons Finest Old Highland (also known as, House of Commons).

James Buchanan, Lord Woolvington
The House of Commons whisky, also sold by English grocers, came in a black bottle with a white label, and that's how customers began ordering it: "that Black and White whisky." As he began exporting the whisky around the world, Buchanan renamed it "Black & White" (with the quotation marks) in 1902.

As one of the most influential Scotch whisky producers, Buchanan chose to expand his business further by merging James Buchanan & Co Ltd. with the company of Scotch titan, John Dewar, forming Buchanan-Dewar in 1915. Their company was then consumed by the giant Distillers Company Limited (DCL) in 1925.

Black & White — the quotes were dropped around 1970 — included Dalwhinne, Clynelish and Glendullan malts for many decades, with Dalwhinnie often being the main ingredient. It's likely that the blend had Glentauchers, Bankier and Convalmore in it at various times as well. Though it usually had no age statement, Black & White was at various times an 8 year old. A 12-year-old version was briefly offered post-Prohibition, then again a half century later. And, as if the light-style whisky wasn't enough, there was an Extra Light version in the mid-20th century.

Said to have been an animal lover, Buchanan often used images of horses in his early adverts. But, as the legend goes, after attending a dog show in 1920, he got the idea of using two terriers, one black, one white for all his advertising campaigns. Early on, they were known as Scottie and Westie, but became better known as Blackie and Whitey.

Black & White has appeared in novels as diverse as Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night, Fleming's Moonraker and Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions. It has also shown up in films such as La Dolce Vita, Dr. No and Father Goose.

In 1964, the year of Father Goose's release, Black & White was one of DCL's best selling brands, trailing only Haig and Johnnie Walker. But as the market changed, and DCL experienced management struggles, Black & White's sales fell 50% over the next five years. Volume declined throughout the 1970s, until the brand was eventually pulled out of England and became an export-only product.

By focusing on emerging markets, Diageo was able to revive Black & White's sales in the latter half of the 2010s, expanding its volume 100% between 2013 and 2017, raising it from the 18th best-selling Scotch brand to the 10th. Two decades into its third century, Black & White has left its original demographic, finding more welcoming new homes in South America, Asia and Africa.

--MacLean, Charles. Scotch Whisky, A Liquid History. London, UK: Cassell Illustrated, 2005. (also, the photo source)

Monday, September 2, 2019

A Black & White September

Welcome to a full month of Black & White blended whisky. There will be reviews, videos, big bottles, little bottles, some history and classic ads. Stay tuned!

Friday, August 30, 2019

Birthday Booze: Yoichi 15 year old

I've just reviewed five long-aged single malts and there wasn't a killer in the bunch. In fact, the best of the five were the two with the lowest ABVs. The key to their mild successes were good palates. I didn't have a problem with the five noses, but lots of time sometimes equals lots of cask which in turn endangers the palate. Unless the drinker loves tannins. I am not that drinker.

Anyway, hear ye! Hear ye! Birthday whisky! No, I didn't open a 1978 bottle, nor did I open something that is of my age. Yes, I did declare the same bottle that I opened on Mathilda's first day of kindergarten as my birthday bottle. I'd been traveling for business for some time when I came home for my birthday and then did not have the mental energy to open up something else.

But now I'd like to briefly open up the past. (Segue!) Rewind seven years ......

...... when I was very excited about the rumor that Nikka was bringing their single malts to America. Then they arrived and I saw Yoichi 15 year old's price. $120! What? I tried it and loved it, but still that seemed a little silly. But I bought one bottle. Then age-stated Japanese single malts vanished, and Yoichi 15's price went to $300, then $400. Now there are US retailers selling it for $700-$1000.

What's it like opening a thousand-dollar whisky? I don't know, I paid $120 for it. What I do recognize is that I'll never own another bottle of Yoichi 15. We're likely 8-10 years away from seeing an updated release, and if people are paying $400-$600 (let along $1000) for a bottle now, why should anyone expect Nikka to price the next batch under $400?

There are a lot of dollar signs in the previous two paragraphs. But what did you expect? This is Diving for Pearls and I'm moping about Japanese whisky. Here are some actual tasting notes.

Distillery: Yoichi
Ownership: Nikka
Region: Hokkaidō, Japan
Age: minimum 15 years
Maturation: I've seen references to bourbon casks, sherry casks and a mix of casks. The label helpfully clarifies everything by saying, "oak casks"
Alcohol by Volume: 45%
Bottle Purchased: April 2014

Diaphanous(!) peat and wisps of charcoal smoke float along the surface of the nose. There's melon, plum wine, butterscotch pudding with smoked almonds and a hint of ginger candy. After 30 minutes, notes of clay and anise arise. A salty, seaweedy peat reads louder in the palate. Weaving through the peat is a good balance of calvados, subtle orange marmalade sweetness, black peppercorns and savory dried herbs. The finish is similar to to the palate with the salt, marmalade and calvados. The smoke grows more savory with time.

A few drops of water...

DILUTED TO ~43%abv, or ¼ tsp per 30mL whisky
The water brings more sugary notes to the nose. Also citronella, limes and an almost chocolatey peat smoke. No big change to the palate. Maybe more of a mineral note. A moment of sugar cookies. The finish also remains similar. Perhaps slightly sweeter with more of a cigarette smoke.

The graceful peat reads like nothing coming from Scotland right now (or ever?), and all the whisky's facets play well together in both the palate and nose. Nothing ever looms too large. The finish is moderate but very satisfying. At times it feels a bit tighter than I remember it to be, but airing it out seems to fix that.

While Yoichi 15 elicits neither sobs or swoons, as Yamazaki 18 has been known to do, it is still a great whisky. The whisky world would be better off with it readily available on shelves around the world, but its absence is more of disappointment than a tragedy. I'll enjoy this bottle while it lasts, and that will be enough.

Availability - Primary market, secondary market, tertiary market, etc.
Pricing - High
Rating - 89

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Birthday Booze: Speyside Region 41 year old 1975 Antique Lions of Spirits

There seems to be a number of 1975 "Speyside Region" single malts that were aged in Fino sherry casks and bottled at advanced ages. I do wonder if they all spent their entire lives in Fino casks because who really was buying up a bunch of Fino casks in the mid-seventies just to fill with Glenfarclas(?) spirit?

The cynicism is just a way to hide the fact that I'm pretty excited about this whisky. Here's my 41 year old pour for my 14th birthday.

Distillery: Glen First Class?
Region: Speyside (obvs)
Independent Bottler: Antique Lions of Spirits
Series: The Birds
Age: 41 years old (1975 - 2016)
Maturation: Fino Sherry Cask
Outturn: 230
Alcohol by Volume: 46.9%
(from a purchased sample)

The autumnal nose is wonderfully excessive. Old rye, fresh fruit cake and roasted almonds. Apple cider, fruity cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon peel. It's as if someone is simmering some awesome mulled wine right in the glass. Vigorous tannins stop just short of nuking the palate. Mulled wine flows somewhere behind that creaky door. Then Old Red gum, salt, metal, apple skins and a whiff of dunnage. After an hour, nuts and dried fruit escape their woody captor, but then they're chased by bitter oak. The metallic, tannic finish has apple skins and cinnamon sticks. Hints of nutmeg, wood smoke and bitterness.

The same old oak that sculpted such a lovely sniffer also produced the lumbering (ha!) palate. I find this same issue with a certain famous (hint: It's the Pappy Van Winkle of Bourbon) bourbon brand's 20 and 23 year old bottlings. Smells great, tastes like furniture. Whatever the cask situation was for this "Speyside Region", the nose is a riot. I'm not sure how a palate could match it, but tannins tannins tannins tannins tannins tannins falls short of even mild expectations. Or it was wrong for me to hope a whisky wouldn't start to fall apart at age forty-one, unlike some of us.

Availability - ???
Pricing - anywhere from £400 to £1200
Rating - 85

Monday, August 26, 2019

Birthday Booze: Ardbeg 1978, bottled 1998

I had thought that this whisky, with its bottling code of L81244ML, was bottled in 2008 making it a ~30yo single malt. But after some research I discovered the 1978 vintage was only bottled between 1997 and 1999. So this sample that's been snoozing for goodness knows how long is of a ~20yo Ardbeg. On the bright side, my experiences with pre-LVMH Ardbeg are very positive. And though this old Ardbeg was diluted to 43%abv, I'm not too worried because I liked the ol' 30yo which was bottled at 40%abv.

Let's get to it. My next-to-last sample of 1978 whisky:

Distillery: Ardbeg
Owners at time of distilling: Hiram Walker and DCL
Region: Southern Islay
Maturation: refill casks of some sort
Vintage: 1978
Bottle code: L81244ML
Bottling year: 1998
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
(from a purchased sample)

The delicate nose seems devoid of oak. There's delicate peat, grapefruit and moss. Saline, Amaretto, pineapple, guava and a hint of hay. Old tractors rusting in the fields. The palate is much smokier. Peppercorns and citrus peels. Sea salt and very dark chocolate. Sweet tobacco in the background. It's simple, but very direct. It finishes with smoke and pepper. Hints of sugar, soot and engine exhaust. No tannins to be found.

It's like Port Ellen meets indie Bowmore, but young and with the volume turned way down. Unlike the aforementioned 30 year old, the low ABV does keep this whisky from lifting off. I will say this about the current ownership, they probably wouldn't have bottled this lower than 46%. On the other hand, they would cask-ed the hell of the spirit.

If you're eyeing this bottling on the secondary market and price is of no concern (which would have to be the case because Jeebus), then know that this whisky is of decent educational and historical interest, while also serving as a good moderately-peated whisky, but don't expect much more than that.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - anywhere from £400 to £1200
Rating - 87

Friday, August 23, 2019

Strathisla 40 year old 1967 Duncan Taylor, cask 1891

Today is the last day I can count myself among the 40 year old population. So I'm going to celebrate (or mourn) it with a 40 year old Strathisla.

About a month ago, my friend Matt shared a sample of one of G&M's ancient Strathislas, approximately 42 years old, and it was fabulous, remarkably rich and industrial and dense at a mere 43%abv.

Today's Strathisla is two years younger than that one, but from a single cask and bottled at full power, with full power being 46.4%abv. This was also part of the Calabasas Classic, and is finally the last whisky left from that event. So, I guess this is partially about ending old adventures and embarking on new ones. Right? Sounds good to me.

Distillery: Strathisla
Bottler: Duncan Taylor
Series: Rare Auld
Region: Speyside (Keith)
Age: 40 years (March 1967 - April 2007)
Maturation: "Oak Cask" (helpful, again)
Cask number: 1891
Outturn: 120 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 46.4%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Coloring? No

Dusty books and old furniture in the far corner of an antique store. That's the one BIG note the nose gives off at first. Then there's something iodine-medicinal and a butterscotch pudding with smoked salt. Then figs, mango juice and incense. The palate is sweet and delicate, but oddly hot. There's Juicy Fruit gum, vanilla pudding, Lucky Charms "marshmallows". Tangy lemons, hints of wood smoke and Band-Aids. It's also very salty. It finishes with bananas and tart lemons. Minor notes of tannins and wood smoke. A lot of salt (bible joke?).

DILUTED TO ~43%abv, or ½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
More overripe tropical and stone fruits on the nose now. Honey, butterscotch, figs and yellow bananas. A little bit of dunnage in the palate and a rummy vanilla sweetness. It's still salty and slightly woody. The finish is woodier and vanilla-er. Salt and lemons. It gets sweeter with time.

That nose. It's sublime, and best without dilution. In fact, water also starts neutering the palate and filling the finish with wood. The palate is fine when neat, and not that much better than "fine", though there's a significant phenolic element to the palate that tells me we're a long way from current-day Strathisla. It saves the palate from slipping into a more generic territory, and the same element adds yet another facet to the excellent nose.

Next week: The birthday whiskies. And as I write this, I'm not sure what that's going to consist of. Stay tuned.

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 86 (neat only)

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Glen Grant 35 year old 1970 Lonach

Remember that time I hosted that private epic whisky event in The Valley? Of course you do. From that event I escaped with a one ounce vial of 35 year old Glen Grant. I have a lot of Glen Grant samples, but only five actual reviews of that single malt. So there will be a Glen Grant week or month in 2020, probably.

Compared to Monday's Inchgower, this specific Speyside is on the other side of the ABV world, specifically 41.8%abv. Lonach seems to have been the label for Duncan Taylor casks that were about to fall underproof and/or a chance to blend underproof old whisky with enough legal whisky to bring the abv up to 40%. In hindsight, Lonach prices were CRAYZAY, often providing an opportunity to buy 40 year old whisky for $100. Glendarroch, anyone? I have no idea if these whiskies were any good, but they did have wonderfully swole age statements. Today's Glen Grant is one of the earlier Lonach releases (the ones with a sepia photo mid-label) from back in 2005.

Distillery: Glen Grant
Bottler: Duncan Taylor
Brand: Lonach
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Age: 35 years (1970 - 2005)
Maturation: "Oak Cask" (helpful!)
Alcohol by Volume: 41.8%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Coloring? No

The nose is musty, dusty and fusty, like me! Damp basements, machine shops and crumbling wet logs. There's also a stone fruit note (yellow and red plums) beneath that layer, and it expands with time. Rye bread, eucalyptus and a hint of Good 'n Plenty candy. It's still humming along after 45 minutes. The palate is similar to the nose, with half the mustiness, and with louder fruits (now with oranges!). Mild sweetness and an impressively minimal vanilla note. A pleasantly spicy zip and a hint of bitterness. It's all citrus, baking spices and mint leaves after 45 minutes. The finish is the cleanest part. Sweet and tart fruits and menthol, with hints of salt and bitterness. Just a hint of tannins along its moderate length.

Of this week's three whiskies, this Glen Grant with its very low ABV was assigned my lowest expectations. And yet it delivered a good surprise, countering Monday's mess. This 35yo was all in balance, carrying just the right amount of sweets, spice and bitterness. It doesn't wow, but it does deliver. It's certainly a bottle to open and enjoy in the spring or summer, if you were wise enough to pick it up back in the day. Perhaps I shouldn't underestimate well-aged Glen Grant.

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 87

Monday, August 19, 2019

Inchgower 30 year old 1982 AD Rattray, cask 6964

I've decided to start mining the sample stash for the oldies more frequently. And by "oldies" I mean long-aged whiskies and/or samples I've had for a long time. Since I turn 91 years old on Saturday, I'm going try some nice roundly numbered single malts this week, all from Speyside.

Today's sample is an Inchgower — I like Inchgower — bottled by A. Dewar Rattray — I like A. Dewar Rattray — and was distilled in 1982. I love 1982. Two of my favorite humans were produced in 1982. This Inchgower is 30 years old, yet is still humming in at 56.3%abv. Perhaps this was a stubborn cask, or it sat in a warm corner of the warehouse. Or both. Or neither. I don't know, I'm just here for the whisky.

Distillery: Inchgower
Independent Bottler: A. Dewar Rattray
Region: Speyside (Banffshire)
Age: 30 years (30 June 1982 - 29 October 2012)
Maturation: bourbon hogshead
Cask number: 6964
Outturn: 208 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 56.3%
(from a purchased sample)

The nose begins with fudge and raspberry candy. Small notes of mothballs, chlorine and moldy dunnage. Some peaches and apricots in the background. It gets more chocolatey with time. No alcohol prickle or burn. The palate is......unusual. Bitter fruit rinds, red pepper flakes, yellow mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Very tart, very tannic, very sweet. The finish is bitter, tannic and moldy with cocoa and burnt plastic. The heat lasts the longest.

I can't say that was pleasant. A little bit of water...

DILUTED TO ~48%abv, or 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Lots of sugary candy shop notes in the nose. Some honeydew. There are also hints of plastic, metal and dunnage mold. While the palate has gotten more savory and gained a tangy lime, there's also plenty of burnt hair, burnt plastic and burnt peppers. There's a worrisome poisonous edge to it. The finish has gotten sweeter, but the bitter, tannic and peppery notes remain. Burnt plastic, burnt cocoa.

That did not help matters. More water.

DILUTED TO ~43%abc, or 1¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Gone are the nose's funky elements. Now there are roasted nuts, orange oil, caramel sauce and anise. The palate is less harsh, but it's still very tannic, moldy and plasticky. Peppercorns and sugar. The finish is bitter and tannic.

I like Inchgower a lot, and I'm aware that its single malt gets a bit divisive and weird with extended maturations. That's part of why I like it. And this whisky's low online scores actually inspired me to buy this sample.

But there are problems with this particular whisky, and it's a cask issue, not an Inchgower issue. The tannic assault is likely due to the whisky being left in the hoggie for too long, but the other palate problems may have been present years or decades earlier. I'm not sure if this could have been salvageable.

These are the bottler's official tasting notes, to wit:

Palate - Burnt Cajun spices and ginger.
Finish - An exceptionally different aged malt - curious.

Firstly, it's never a great sign when the official notes say "different", and even less great when they say "exceptionally different", and even more exceptionally less great when they say "curious". Secondly, the palate notes. "Burnt"? Certainly, but that's not always something to brag about. And, have they actually eaten Cajun food? Or, to be more American about it, do you even Cajun, bro?

The whisky's nose is very good, which makes grading this thing even goofier than usual. The real concern here is that five out of the last six Rattray products I've tried have been disappointing or worse. And I have another Rattray sample in the queue that is also not great. It's time for me to give up on this bottler.

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 74 (a generous grade which drops 3-5 when the whisky is diluted)

Friday, August 16, 2019

Ardmore 20 year old 1992 Archives, cask 4764

When a whisky unearths emotions it's due to two things: 1.) It reminds the drinker of another time and another place. 2.) Alcohol is a depressant.

Sorry to spoil the romance.

I caught a wee case of the feels when I poured this sample into my glass. This was a bottle I should have gotten, but didn't. It was seven years ago, to the month. I'd just fallen in deep smit over early '90s Ardmores when I put in a Whiskybase Shop order for a bottle of a beloved Whisky Doris '92. CJ (aka Ras Mazunga of The Shop) recommended their Archives Ardmore bottling of the same vintage. I turned it down, as I wasn't in the habit of buying multiple hundred-dollar whiskies at the same time. (I was so much older then.) Three months later I thought, yeah I'll get one of those. But they were gone, forever.

Life was very different seven years ago. With most of my non-cerebellum and non-skeletal cells having been replaced during that time, I'm pretty sure I'm a different person. Nothing seems to be the same. I don't know if I believe Heraclitus's shtick about being unable to step into the same river twice, or, per Mahayana Buddhism, if there even is a river.

Mathilda started kindergarten today. We'll see who sheds tears about this first, the five year old or the father. I'm opening up a bottle I reserved for the occasion. No, not an Ardmore '92. And, no, I won't finish it on the spot. One drink will do. Maybe two. Then I'll review it in a couple months. In the meantime, here's a sample of the Archives bottling of Ardmore 1992:

Distillery: Ardmore
Region: Highlands (Eastern)
Independent bottler: Archives
Age: 20 years (June 1992 to June 2012)
Maturation: "barrel"
Cask number4765
Outturn: 90(!) bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 48.6%
(Thank you, MAO.)

The nose is lovely and delicate. Lychee, dried apricots, Kasugai peach gummies, lime zest, dried roses, strawberries in cream. Notes of sake aged in cedar. A soft smoke that moves from wood to coal with time. The palate begins with lemon bars and a minerally white wine. Light smoke, a drop of herbal liqueur and a ribbon of salted butterscotch pudding. Then it slips into a different gear, full of extra virgin olive oil and tart guava juice. Though gentle in delivery, the finish lasts remarkably long. Limes, lemons and lychee on one level; stones, dunnage and a hint of bitter herbs on another.

I've used words like "delicate", "gentle" and "soft" here, and indeed this is the gentlest cask strength Ardmore (early '90s or not) I have come across. But none of it is fleeting. The nose and finish, specifically, seem everlasting. I could say they don't make whisky like this anymore, but I don't know who "they" are or what "this" is or if that statement is 100% true. But the whisky from this cask is gorgeous and alarmingly easy to drink. Hail, Ardmore.

Availability - gone
Pricing - ???
Rating - 90

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Kilchoman 5 year old 2007 cask 3010/2007 for Fountainhead

On Monday it was a 5 year old Kilchoman distilled in 2007 and matured in a bourbon cask. Today it's a 5 year old Kilchoman distilled in 2007 and matured in a sherry butt.  These two whiskies were bottled 6+ years ago and I have nothing Kilchoman-related scheduled for the rest of 2019. BUT, I intend to do two sets of comparative/retrospective reviews of Kilchoman single malts in 2020. And I'm kinda excited about those.

But for now, let's focus on Back Then. Single sherry casks of Kilchoman were a hot commodity several years back, mostly because sopping wet casks were being used by the young distillery, delivering righteous sherry+peat bombs at 4-6 years of age. I confirm that some of these were pretty super, but the prices — though short of Kavalan's nonsense — were prohibitive. I would like to thank Vik for the sample of this feisty thing!

Region: Islay
Age: 5 years (14 November 2007 - 24 May 2013)
Maturation: sherry butt
Cask: 3010/2007
Exclusive to: Fountainhead (Chicago, IL)
Alcohol by Volume: 57.4%
Colored? No
Chillfiltered? No

Pears, molasses, plums and mint leaves on the nose. Blue-scented Mr. Sketch marker smoke. A massive chalk note slowly transforms into a farmy note after some time in the glass. The palate begins with earth, almonds and blueberry jam. Cracked black pepper and red pepper flakes. Hefty smoke, mint candy and a brisk herbal bitterness. Some of this complexity disappears within 30 minutes. Again, heavy smoke in the finish. Black pepper, bitter herbs and moderate jammy sweetness.

DILUTION TO ~46%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
PEAT, coal and burning twigs on the nose. Then cherry popsicles and a new dollar bill. Less cask action in the palate, more straight up peated malt. There's a good balance of smoke, bitterness, sweetness and minerals. A gentle creamy nuttiness is probably from the cask, though. Dry peat smoke, smoked nuts and sweet lemons in the finish.

Plenty of violence again, but it's less of a rawness, less of an alcohol punch, more of a flavor blast. It's richer and more complex when neat, but it achieves a better balance with water. The low level of sticky sherry is a big plus in my book, so the cask promoted more positives than negatives, making this a better drink than the 5yo bourbon cask. If you still have a bottle of this on your shelf, it should probably be opened the next time the winter vortex hits Chicago.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 86

Monday, August 12, 2019

Kilchoman 5 year old 2007 cask 360/2007

I'm reviewing a pair of 5 year old single cask Kilchomans this week because my older daughter is 5 years (and 3 months) old and there isn't another 5 year old whisk(e)y I have any interest in drinking for fun right now. The first Kilchoman is from a bourbon cask, the second from a sherry cask. They both were released exclusively in the USA.

Today's sample was given to me by Saint Brett of Riverside (thank you, Brett!) right around the time I hit Kilchoman fatigue at the end of 2015. Yes, that means I haven't reviewed a Kilchoman in more than 3½ years. Which means I don't really know what's going on with them. I can confirm they keep Machir Bay, Loch Gorm and the 100% Islays on the shelves each year, but beyond that I dunno. And to continue my usual relevancy, today's and tomorrow's reviews are for casks released 6+ years ago. More about this on Wednesday. I want to get to the review part.

Region: Islay
Age: 5 years (18 October 2007 - 7 November 2012)
Maturation: bourbon cask
Cask: 360/2007
Alcohol by Volume: 59.9%
Colored? No
Chillfiltered? No

Violence on the nose, but, you know, classy violence. It's very green and very herbal and has a good dose of chili oil running through it. Then burnt sugars, burnt cocoa, cinnamon sticks, mint extract and fresh apple cider. After 30+ minutes, it releases sugar cookie and wet earth notes. Billowing black smoke and chili oil in the palate, followed by mint and anise candies. A sharp bitter herb note. A bit tangy. There's also a salty/brothy note in the background. The finish is similar to the palate. Lots of smoke and pepper. Bitterness, tanginess and a spoonful of soil.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose calms down. Smoked cinnamon sticks, eucalyptus, chlorine, anise and a moderate farmy note are what remains. Big clean smoke in the palate, along with a simple sweetness and a hint of bitterness. There's also a creamy citrus pudding effect that lifts it up. The smoky sweet finish has a nice tangerine note that lingers for a while.

Before this tasting, I was curious to see if my opinion of young (read: less than 6 year old) Kilchoman had changed. Though I'd toned down my fandom by late 2015, I still respected their bourbon cask stuff. And, based one ounce of this single cask alone, my take remains the same. As of 2012/2013 the distillery was at least one step ahead of everyone else when it came to < 6yo single malt, yet it would be foolish to say that the whisky is as good as it can get.

This cask is limited in its violence and simplicity at full strength. Dilution helps by bringing out the farm and citrus notes. It could take on modern Ardbeg twice its age, but if this stuff had more fruit, less sugar and less brutality then it would a hell of thing. It would probably be fun to try a single cask with more age, but with the 8-10 year olds running $150 and up, I doubt I ever will.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 84

Friday, August 9, 2019

A man walks into a whisky store...

...and leaves empty-handed.

My declaration that 2018 was the year of sickness was shortsighted as 2019 quickly became the sequel. It's my strange physical system's turn to malfunction. While I have not been impressed by the results coming from either Western medicine nor some of its alternatives, I'll keep plugging away at both until something works. Meanwhile, because we Kravitzes cannot suffer in silence — Dear God Why A Papercut!, etc. — I'm writing this post.

Despite the FACT that this body will run for another 314.159 years, thoughts unleashed themselves the night after I saw the sixth doctor in four months. I thought about the three ladies who share their home and lives with me. Then I thought about the choices I've made, on both ends of the quality spectrum. Approximately 700 melodramatic moments later, I thought about whisky. Three things, specifically.

First, there's a possibility that alcohol consumption is (*gasp*) not the best thing for my wellbeing and at some point a medical professional will tell me that. Secondly, my alcohol tolerance has vanished. Just call me Mad Two-Drink Max. Thirdly, I'm never going to drink all my whisky if I continue buying whisky.

Thoughts → action. Observing that I possess a quantity of samples that I will never ever consume, I decided it was time to give the sink a drink. Rather, drinks. A shivery thrill ran up my back as I dumped 21 samples down the drain. I have another dozen in mind for this weekend.

Then there was my inability to buy my annual August happy-birthday-to-me whisky present. I had intended to make that my last whisky purchase of the year. But now I feel little motivation to put a single bottle in my cart. I mean, I will do it, likely motivated by a bad work day, a synchronized double-daughter tantrum, and a second drink. But when sober and quiet, I don't see the need to buy anything.

BUT there will be more actual bottle reviews on D4P in the near future because I will be liberating some of my stash. There's a fundraiser this month, then Mathilda goes to kindergarten, then there will be something interesting (to me, at least) scheduled for the site in September, and then autumn follows summer. Then winter. Then spring. Then summer and another TL;DR personal post on Diving for Pearls.

Please enjoy what you have. It's better than anything you think you're missing.

On that note, reviews resume on Monday!

Thank you to Malt Klaus and Malt Fascination for their inspiring posts.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Springbank 17 year old 1995 Refill Sherry Butt

Today's Springbank is beloved by the whiskybase community. But there are no actual reviews written for it, nor do any of the scorers' names look familiar. Some of these folks could be using the Whisky Advocate approach of 90 points = good. I mean most, if not all, paid reviewers dish out hundreds of 90 point grades each year, one even gave Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye a 97.5 (let us never forget). Conversely, many individuals online believe that the entirety of the 100 point range must used in balance, thus an average whisky should receive a score of 50.

Though I'm not part of either school, I relate more to the latter than the former. If I score something below a 50, that means I'd rather sip Cuervo Gold or plastic bottle vodka. Thankfully, I have come across few whiskies that sink to those depths. It takes a hell of a lot for me to cough up a 90-point score and there are months when nothing gets that grade.

But no matter the drinker, circumstances affect one's perception, and ultimately one's grade, of a whisky. This includes one's drinking environment. Company, or lack thereof. First drink of the night or the seventh? Enthusiasm for a bottle purchase, or tougher expectations for a bottle purchase. The softness of the chair. Shoes. Astrological moon sign. Or, you know, one's individual palate.

My sample of this whisky comes from a bottle that was brought, half-full, to Columbus Scotch Night for 3 or 4 months before it was emptied. And that is a Springbank lovin' crowd too, mind you. It fascinated me that there was a 17 year old single sherry cask bottling of Springbank just sitting there and no one talked about it.

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Region: Campbeltown
Age: 17 years (June 1995 - December 2012)
Maturation: refill sherry butt
Outturn: 438 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 57%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No

Lots of dried fruit in this nose, think cherries, prunes and golden raisins. There's also coal smoke, marzipan, amaretto and cinnamon raisin bread. The palate has almost none of the nose's fruit. Instead there's some aged dry cheese and black walnuts. Salt, metal and burnt plastic with a slight savory note. Salt, dry cheese and sooty smoke in the finish. Drying tannins on the tongue.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or < 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
More fresh stone fruits than dried ones in the nose. It's bright and sugar with a squeeze of lemon and an oceany hint. The palate is sweeter now and slightly more complex. There's less salt and savory, but still some of the metal and plastic. The tangy, salty, metallic finish is much shorter now.

Well, the nose is great, with or without water. If Springbank was made only for sniffin' then this would be a big winner. The palate is sort of savory, sort of simple, but also loaded with metal and plastic, and not in a classic industrial Campbeltown sort of way. There's something off about it. The finish doesn't work for me, neat or diluted (the whisky, not me), dropping into bland territory (again, the whisky, not me). Either oxygen got to this bottle's contents, or this wasn't one of Springbank's honey casks. But the nose is very fine and worth spending time with, perhaps while sipping a different whisky. So much for theories about grades. I don't know what to do with this one.

Availability - Sold out years ago
Pricing - ???
Rating - 81 ? (saved by the nose)

Monday, August 5, 2019

Longrow 14 year old 2001 for Springbank Society

Last week was NOT one of my favorite review weeks. This week I'm going to try a pair of single sherry casks from Springbank distillery that should be less unusual.

The first one is a Longrow that was bottled for members of the Springbank Society. I'm not a member of that glamorous club but Sjoerd is. Wish me luck here...

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Longrow
Region: Campbeltown
Age: 14 years (October 2001 - October 2016)
Maturation: fresh sherry butt
Outturn: 600 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 53.2%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(from a purchased sample)

Clean, dry sherry on the nose, especially clean compared to last week's quirky Qampbeltowns. There's a salty ocean air note, soot, coal and a little bit of fig. Small notes of apricots, brown sugar and pinot noir. The palate is fruitier than the nose. Dried stone fruits meet tart citrus. Moderate sweets and moderate peats. A slight salty broth note in the background. Tangy citrus, dried cranberries and fresh ginger in the finish. Hints of salt, earth and grape jam.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
More dried fruits on the nose now. The smoke reads softer. Beach and blossom notes. Something very Springbank 10 about it (yes, I know that's not helpful). At first there's lots of tart fruit in the palate. Mild peppery smoke. Some bitterness. Gradually it shifts to a fruity sherry and the smoke fades out. Sugary sherry, black pepper and smoky residue in the tangy finish.

This was a very good cask that was bottled at just right time. It's never woody, yet there's plenty of rich sherry that never chokes out the distillery's spirit. It was the very thing I needed.

This is another one of many bottlings that blur the line between the Springbank and Longrow styles. I've had Springbanks that feel like they come from south Islay. And there have been Longrows lots of fruit and subtle peat. This happens with single casks and small batches with some age on them. Otherwise, there's a significant distance between Springbank 10 and Longrow Peated. Perhaps time and fortified wine casks are the equalizers? Whatever this is I don't remember experiencing it 5+ years ago. It's not a criticism, just an observation.

Also this is a good whisky.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 88

Friday, August 2, 2019

Springbank Gone Wild: Springbank 25 year old bottled for IAAS

Earlier this year the Facebook group (yes), It's All About Springbank, got themselves their own single cask of Campbeltown Candy. The spirit spent 16 years in a bourbon cask, then another NINE years in a Chateau Petrus cask. Whiskybroker.uk did the in-between stuff. And I don't remember the exact bottle price but it was reasonable, probably less than half of what it's going for on the secondary market.

As you can see from this pic lifted from whiskybase, the whisky's color is precisely the level of maroon that terrifies many a whisky blogger.

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Owner: Springbank Distillers Ltd.
Region: Campbeltown, on Well Close, just off of Longrow
Bottler: Whiskybroker.uk
Age: minimum 25 years
Maturation: 16yrs in a bourbon cask, 9yrs in a Chateau Petrus cask
Alcohol by Volume: 47.5%abv
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant Added? No
(thank you Doctor Springbank for the sample!)

It smells of Carpano Antica, tawny port and grape jam. There are also notes of French's yellow mustard, ginger, metal, lemon, soil and a hint of sulfur. It actually tastes like a mix of sweet white wine and Madeira. There's also a plasticky side to it, and some black walnuts. It finishes very sweet and tangy. Dry cheese and that sulfuric bit.

DILUTED TO ~43%abv, or ⅔ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Fewer sticky sugars in the nose, and lower doses of Carpano Antica and cherry lollipops. More mustard, minerals and metal. The ghost of sulfur haunts it throughout. The palate is outrageously sweet and bitter and tannic, with a big dose of black walnuts. The finish is tannic and cloying.

3 for 3 this week: Where's the Springbank? I mean, this is a 25 year old Springer, something we don't get to experience much anymore. It would be great to glimpse the spirit at that age. One can appreciate the fact that this wasn't a quickie finish, but the resulting volumes of wine and oak have buried (berried!) the whisky part.

The black walnut notes are my favorite part, and the nose is a whole lotta fun, but it's too sweet for my palate and the finish gets hairy. The good news is it's far from a whisky fail like Wednesday's thingy. On the other hand it could be nearly any spirit beneath the cask's influence.

Availability - secondary market, if at all
Pricing - ???
Rating - 78

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Springbank Gone Wild: Springbank 15 year old 2002 Cadenhead

You want some sulfur-ass whisky? Here's some sulfur-ass whisky.

Columbus Scotch Night's hopes were sky high when Nathan returned from Scotland with this bottle of sherry cask Springbank. Then we opened it. Then we drank it. Then we regretted everything. We've joked about it becoming a hazing whisky for noobs, as in "If it's your first night, you have to fight". Now I shall expose it to the world.

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Owner: Springbank Distillers Ltd.
Region: Campbeltown, on Well Close, just off of Longrow
Bottler: Cadenhead
Age: 15 years (December 6, 2002 - 2018)
Maturation: first fill sherry butt
Alcohol by Volume: 57.9%abv
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant Added? No
(Thank you for the sample, Columbus Scotch Night?)

Nose - Rubber balls, rubber bands and a big sulfuric fart. Also lemons, brine and raspberry candy.
Palate - Bitter as hell. Rotten eggs and rubber. Some Pedro Ximenez-type sweetness.
Finish - Tannins, bitter woodiness, rotten eggs, Brussels sprouts and a cloying sugariness.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Nose - Ammonia, eggs, cheap perfume and strawberry popsicles.
Palate - Very sweet. Cheesy, peppery and bitter. Pharty sulphur.
Finish - Bitter oak and sulfur.

The whisky didn't deserve paragraphs.

Drinking this foul, embarrassing, deeply broken whisky, I pondered the fate of the rest of the cask. One can only hope they dumped it and called it a loss. But does any company do that now? It would be difficult to blend out this level of horror.

It also makes one wonder how any distillery (let alone one with consistently high-quality products) allows a whisky to get this awful? This isn't just the-worst-kind-of-sulfur issue. The tannins and bitterness from the oak are also vile. Putting any portion of this cask out for sale has to have been an act of a disgruntled employee? Otherwise, why?

Availability - hopefully nil
Pricing - too much
Rating - 44

Monday, July 29, 2019

Springbank Gone Wild: Longrow 14 year old 2003 and some sulfur talk

It's a week of Saucy Springbanks. So if you worship every whisky the fabled Campbeltown distiller drops then avert your eyes. Or tune in, actually. Never fear, this will be the only long post of the week.

I first tried this sherry cask batch of Longrow when my friend, Matt, brought it to my birthday fête last year. I enjoyed it immensely. It took a few months, but I was able to hunt down a bottle. Then I made the mistake of reading internet comments about the whisky.

People complained about its unbearable sulfur levels. Then I saw lots of complaints about bounteous other sulfurous Springbanks. Much of the vitriolic vehemence became unintentionally funny. So once again, bye bye Internet.

I'm quite sulfur-sensitive, but I don't mind a little bit of sulfur in a whisky as long as it provides another facet of complexity, rather than standing out stupidly. Also, I recognize there are different shades of sulfur characteristics — a specific pepperiness, beefiness, struck matches, cap guns, rotten eggs — with some notes less pleasant than others, some notes coming from the spirit and some notes from casks. To me, this Longrow had just a teeny bit of cap gun which brought extra depth to the nose.

Matt and I began to wonder if "sulfur" was becoming the "rancio" of Scotch, with people shouting "Sulfur!" without actually knowing what sulfur smells or tastes like (thank you, Jim Murray). It made them sound Smart and Properly Snooty, while all they were really smelling were the results of sherry meeting peat.

So I was feeling all Smart and Properly Snooty myself until MAO reviewed this whisky and said, essentially, "Ew. Too much sulfur." That threw me for a loop. I respect MAO's actual experience with sulfurous smells and flavors. And our palates agree in 4 out of 5 instances, which is why you read his blog instead of mine to save time.

But the man forced my hand! And now I have to review the whisky, with the guarantee that I'm going to piss someone off. Good luck to me.

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Longrow
Region: Campbeltown
Age: 14 years (September 2003 - July 2018)
Maturation: refill oloroso sherry
Outturn: 9,000 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 57.8%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(Thanks to Matt W for the sample!)

There's dark chocolate, cherry syrup and raspberry jam in the nose. There's also a bit of leather, mesquite BBQ beef and young Ledaig-ish tennis ball peat. The palate is almost all sherry cask. Volley after volley of dried stone fruits and dried berries. Jelly rings. Fresh ginger and lemon juice. A moderate layer of sulfur sits in the background. Not much peat. Ah but there's a little more sulfur in the finish, but it's also very sweet and tangy. Lots of those jelly rings. I'm having a difficult time finding the Longrow in here.

With a tiny bit of water...

DILUTED TO ~50%abv, or < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Oh wow, the nose almost all cap gun. Small notes of dark chocolate, orange oil, cherry syrup and tennis ball peat. The palate has been toned down, but it's still very sweet with lots of sugary sherry. More pepper too. Some furry sulfur. The finish is getting ugly. Sulfur, pepper, sugar, berries, dry cheese and woody bitterness.

More water?

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Dark chocolate, prunes, dried cherries and mild peat in the nose. But almost no sulfur. The palate is much more approachable. Less sulfur, less sugar. More limes, minerals and peat. "Cleaner" sherry. Tangy limes, salt, dry sherry and a hint of peat in the finish.

I see how this can be a problematic whisky and I'll try to summarize it here.

Sulfur - Yes, sulfur is present. To my senses, it's a low to moderate level when the whisky is neat. But those levels became alarming when the whisky is reduced to 50%abv. Diluting the whisky further seems to clear up the issue almost completely.

Longrow? - The "refill" sherry casks are so aggressive that (to repeat the tasting note above) it's difficult to find the actual Longrow part of the whisky when the drink is neat. It could be one of dozens of other single malts, which isn't a tragedy unless one buys a bottle hoping to drink some Longrow. Diluting it down to 46%abv greatly improves matters again as the spirit character peeks out from behind the crimson curtain.

So are the cries of "Sulfur!" nuts? No. Are they naive? Probably not. Though one cannot discount confirmation bias and the unconscious influence of other people's notes. Heck, I might have found more sulfur this time because I was looking for sulfur.

Is this the worst Longrow I've had? Nope. Was the retired regular 14yo Longrow better? Yep. Was the 14yo Burgundy cask Longrow better? Yes (please don't throw things). Do I regret buying a bottle? No(t yet). Am I going to stop these questions? Yes.

The transformation this whisky undergoes during dilution fascinates me. Once I open my bottle, I will explore it further. If anything interesting arises, I will report back.

Availability - A few dozen retailers in Europe and US
Pricing - Europe: $85-$115 (ex-VAT); US: $120-$160
Rating - 83 (with plenty of water, only)