...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Laphroaig 10 year old Cask Strength, batch 011

The plot escaped me somewhere along the way. I was going to review each batch of Laphroaig's cask strength expression each year.

005 was the weakest batch to date.
006 was better but not quite there.
007 was very good.
I had 008 when I visited the distillery.
I bought 009, then gifted it to a friend.

Thank the whisky gods (who are otherwise still on their lunch break) that MAO sent me a sample of this year's batch 011. And yes, MAO and I are doing simul-review of this one too! Yay! Here’s his review!

It’s been a very MAO-y week, has it not? You're welcome.

Distillery: Laphroaig
Owner: Beam Suntory
Region: Islay
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrels
Age: minimum 10 years
Batch: 011, Feb 2019
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? Probably
Alcohol by Volume: 58.6%

There's a low lemon/citron/citronella rumble in the nose and a bonfire at the beach (like an Ardmore but three times the volume). Eucalyptus smoke and pine needles in the salty air. Charred beef and mustard seed. Brown sugar and Beam-like peanuts arise after a lot of time in the glass. Big smoldering smoky kiln notes in the palate. Then some brine, seaweed, menthol and a hint of bitterness. It's moderately sweet with some cinnamon candy notes. It finishes with smoke, cinnamon, smoke, limoncello, smoke, bitterness, smoke.

DILUTED TO ~48%abv, or 1⅓ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The peat reads greener on the nose, less smoky. A brief farmy whiff. Eucalyptus, mint leaf, lemon and hot sand. The palate becomes sweeter but not as sugary as batches 005 and 006. It also gets brinier and tangier, while staying smoky and lightly bitter. The finish stays a good length with mild smoke, salt, bitterness and tanginess.

There's nothing technically wrong with this batch. It's neither oaky nor too sweet. There's plenty of salty seaweed things and heavy smoke. But I can't seem to find anything to rave about. The nose is right on, but the palate is, well, fine. Simple and reserved. No "Oh goddamn this Laphroaig Glory" going on.

Per the picture above, this whisky had two sparring partners: the first batch of Ben Nevis Traditional (which it bested) and Westland's Peated single malt. It did not best the Westland, which says something about either Westland or Laphroaig. Or both.

Have I built up my expectations too high for these Laphroaig CS batches? Or is it Lagavulin 12yo CS's fault for being so damned good year after year? I don't know. Batch 011 is good and so is its (pre-tariff) price. But though there is goodness there is no glory.

Availability - Available in many of these American states
Pricing - $60 to $90 as of this post's date
Rating - 86

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Ledaig 6 year old 2004 Murray McDavid

Gonna keep this intro brief:

I'm not a fan of this decade's rash of single cask baby whiskies, and I doubt you'll find anyone who has complained about Murray McDavid's whiskies as much as I. So, I'm setting my expectations low low low low.

My Annoying Opinions is also reviewing this whisky today. I'm curious to see what he thinks of it. I'll link to his post in the morning. And here it is!

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Ledaig
Owner: Distell International Ltd.
Region: Isle of Mull
Independent Bottler: Murray McDavid
Age: 6 years (2004-2010)
Maturation: sherry casks
Outturn: 1100 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? probably not
Color added? probably not
(Thank you, Florin!)

Whoa, I like the nose. It's very autumnal, with moss and wet leaves. There's also a big figgy note from the sherry cask. Hints of smoked salmon and tennis ball as well. After 30 minutes, these elements all come together creating one solid unit. Similar to the nose, the palate has the autumnal notes and a sherry influence that reads mildly sweet but not jammy. Dark industrial smoke drifts around notes of honey, toffee, citrus and bitter herbs. The smoke registers the loudest on the palate. Minor notes include tart grapes, citrus and a little bit of sweetness.

A bit stunned by how much I enjoy this, I'm digging into the archive to withdraw a sample of a very difficult 6 year old 2005 Ledaig sherry cask by Blackadder for comparison purposes.

Lowering that one's ABV to 46%. Waiting a bit...

Ledaig 6 year old 2004 Murray McDavid, 46%abv
Hey here's some elephant dung in the nose. Cheers! Also burning leaves. Then dried stone fruits, tennis ball fuzz and moss. The dark industrial smoke still leads the palate. That's followed by lemon candy, honey and cayenne pepper. The finish feels longer this time. It's all dark chocolate with a mix of sweet and bitter smokes.

Ledaig 6 year old 2005 Blackadder, reduced to 46%abv
Dark chocolate and gasoline on the nose. Gigantic peatin'. Ocean air and ham. Old rubber ball. A whiff of rotten eggs. Cleaner than the nose, the palate has some good vegetal peat, a nutty note from the sherry cask and herbal bitter liqueur. Its finish is shorter than the 2004's, though it's devoid of sweetness. It's mostly big salty smoke with subtle nutty notes.

Yes, this is good. And I enjoyed it more than the 2005 in the head-to-head. Murray McDavid eschewed its usual awkward cask work which may have been the key to this whisky's success. In fact, kudos to MMcD for pulling this cask before it got all wonky, woody and winey. As it stands (or sits), the whisky is young but it avoids the Mega Mezcal notes baby peaters usually haul out. I wish I'd gotten in on this bottle back in the day (2010!) rather than the 6yo Ledaig I did buy. In any case, thank you, Florin, for sharing your bottle with us!

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 87

Monday, November 4, 2019

Lagavulin 11 year old Offerman Edition

For a few years there was a lot of Parks & Recreation playing in loops on the television  in my living room. Often there was a beautiful pregnant woman sitting across from the television, with interior design magazines and her one cup of tea in hand. Every scene with Ron Swanson was my favorite scene in each episode with my favorite Parks & Rec moment being Ben Wyatt's first sip of Lagavulin (NBC removed the YouTube vid, damn them).

Nick Offerman, the now-bearded gent who played the mustachioed Swanson, loves Lagavulin. The character visited the distillery on the show and the actor stars in YouTube videos for the brand. So successful was this pairing that Diageo gave Offerman the opportunity to create his own Lagavulin expression. Offerman, who seems a more sensitive soul than his character always comes across as humble in interviews, especially during this product's media blitz.

A certain Man With Opinions purchased a bottle of this whisky and sent me a generous sample. (Thank you, MAO!) So today we are doing one of our highly-fêted simul-reviews! Here's MAO's review also posted this morning.

Distillery: Lagavulin
Owner: Diageo
Region: Southern Islay
Age: minimum 11 years
Maturation: ????
Outturn: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? ???
Color added? ???

Since Offerman says he doesn't add water to his whisky, neither shall I.

The nose is fruitier than expected, think orange peel and canned peaches. The peat is much gentler than that of its 12-year-old CS sibling, like a soft band-aid smoke floating atop seaside notes. With time in the glass the nose transitions into a bowl of sugary candy and smoked hard caramels. The palate is similar to the nose, walking right up to the border of Too Sweet before some herbal bitterness pulls it back. The peat reads toasty and tangy here. There's also a mix of zippy pepper notes, apricots and vanilla. Tangy woody smoke leads the finish. As with the palate, there's more sugar than salt. Hints of vanilla and dried apricot stay in the background.

This is the kindest, cuddliest Lagavulin I've ever tried. Whether that's a good thing or not depends on one's palate preferences. I appreciated the nose's fruit notes and sincerely wished they came though louder in the palate. The sweetness was a bit of a surprise and required a few sips before I could adjust to it. One wonders if Nick Offerman's love of carpentry had an influence on the casks he chose, as active American oak influence can be found throughout the whisky. Personally, I'll take the 12yo CS's assault and the 16yo's balance over this whisky's sugar. Still, it's a very pleasant drink and bound to appeal to those who don't normally enjoy Lagavulin.

Availability - Mostly in the US, though a few retailers carry it as well
Pricing - $70-$100 in the US, over $250 in Europe (why?)
Rating - 83

Friday, November 1, 2019

Ledaig 19 year old 1998 Pedro Ximénez Cask Finish

Monday: Ledaig 19 year old Oloroso Cask Finish, 46%abv
Wednesday: Ledaig 19 year old Madeira Cask Finish, 51%abv
Today: Ledaig 19 year old Pedro Ximenez Cask Finish, 55.7%abv

Each of these had different "finish" periods. The Oloroso expression spent 13 years in sherry casks, while Wednesday's bottling spent less than a year in Madeira casks. This whisky's PX cask finish lasted two years, so it was neither a quickie nor an extended second maturation.

I'm usually not a fan of PX finishes, but I'm willing to give this a chance because it's a 19 year old Ledaig. Expectations set to: Moderate.

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Ledaig
Owner: Distell International Ltd.
Region: Isle of Mull
Age: 19+ years (9 July 1998 - 2018)
Maturation: bourbon casks for 17+ years, then either "almost" or "more than" two years in Pedro Ximénez casks
Outturn: 1650 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 55.7%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant Added? No

The nose begins with fudge and red wine. Salty seaweedy peat. Calvados, damp moss and a hint of gunpowder. Some raw peated spirit in there too. The palate is more metallic and sweet than peaty. It gets tangier by the minute, like a lemony vinaigrette. Sooty peat and mixed berry jam notes build with time. The finish is puckeringly sweet and tangy. Bits of bitter smoke and berry jam linger behind.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1¼ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Peated raspberry jam and roses on the nose, with hints of marizpan and the beach. Peaty berry jam again on the palate. It's still tangy and sweet. It's less metallic now and a little bitterer. The finish matches the palate.

Since I did it for the other two:

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or 2⅓ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose becomes peatier and brighter. Subtler berry and rose notes. A hint of cold kiln. The palate feels very thin. Mild sweetness and bitterness. Mild peat and dried herbs. It's back to the tangy and sweet thing in the finish. A puff of bitter smoke.

This was better than I'd expected, in fact the nose was great throughout. I'm not sure how I feel about the metal and vinegar combo in the palate. At least it wasn't winey. Unlike the other two, this one fares best at full strength, even though it has the highest ABV. Overall, it's probably a near tie with the Oloroso expression.

All three of these Ledaigs were of moderate quality. The wood rarely intruded and the grapes mostly stayed out of the palates. While that is more than one can say for the majority of finished whiskies, I'm glad to have split a bottle rather than shilled out $$$ for an entire bottle, especially at the asking price.

Availability - A few dozen retailers in the US and Europe
Pricing - $170-$200 (ex-VAT)
Rating - 84

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Ledaig 19 year old Marsala Cask Finish

Though missing a standard official 18 year old, Ledaig has rolled out twelve small batch releases in four years in the 18-21 year old age range. I took part in a bottle split of three of the 19 year old releases. On Monday I reviewed the Oloroso cask finish, and on Friday I'll review the Pedro Ximenez cask finish. I bring thee the Marsala cask finish today.

That "Marsala" part does not inspire optimism. In my humble opinion, Ardbeg shit the bed with their Marsala cask Galileo release in 2012 and haven't successfully washed the stain out since. While I don't have an issue with wine casks in general, the combination of sweet wine and peat and a brief finish indeed leaves me with a weird taste in my mouth. From what I've read today's whisky spent less than a year in these casks. How will that work with Ledaig's fierce spirit?

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Ledaig
Owner: Distell International Ltd.
Region: Isle of Mull
Age: minimum 19 years
Maturation: bourbon casks for 19 years, Marsala casks for ? months
Outturn: ????
Alcohol by Volume: 51%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant Added? No

The nose has more classic peat than that of the Oloroso cask release. Salty seaweed. A boat dock in the summer heat. Hint of apple. But that's it. This is the flattest of the three neat noses. The palate leads with a baking spice note that ramps up with time. Make that a pumpkin spice note. It's hot and salty, though palatable. Tangy and sweet peat. Hint of metal. It gets much sweeter with time. It finishes warm, tangy and peppery, with some cigarettes and metal.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or ⅔ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
A messy nose. Butter, butterscotch, brine, wood smoke and flat peat. The palate's also out of whack. Metal, cinnamon candy, mixed nuts. Very burnt and bitter. The woody burnt bitterness takes over the finish.

40%abv worked for the Oloroso expression so...

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or 1⅔ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Citrus peel, brown sugar and pickle brine(!) enter the nose, and somehow work together. The palate softens up. It's less bitter, burnt and metallic. There's a neatness to the peatness, sweetness, tanginess and nuttiness. The finish matches the palate.

Huh, 40%abv works best for the nose. The palate is fine at 51%abv and 40%abv, but not fine at 46%abv. It's not winey, but there does seem to be something quirky going on with the casks. It's also not really Ledaig-ish.

Since this seems to be a face-off at 40%abv, I'd take the Oloroso version over this one. But this Marsala cask finish is no FAIL. It's more of a WHY? Why the Marsala finish? Why not an 18 year old bourbon cask Ledaig at cask strength? Why do I bother to ask?

Availability - A couple dozen retailers on the Western Hemisphere
Pricing - $150-$190 (ex-VAT)
Rating - 81 (diluted only, but careful with the water!)

Monday, October 28, 2019

Ledaig 19 year old 1998 Oloroso Cask Finish

Tobermory distillery has rolled out a slew of 18+ year old versions of their peated, Ledaig, single malt over the past four years:
  • 18 year old small batches, 1 through 3
  • 19 year old finished in Oloroso casks
  • 19 year old finished in Marsala casks
  • 19 year old finished in PX casks
  • 21 year old finished in Manzanilla casks
  • 21 year old finished in Ruby Port pipes
  • 1996 Vintage
  • 18 year old finished in "Spanish Sherry" casks, distillery only
  • 19 year old finished in Oloroso casks, distillery only
  • 20 year old finished in Moscatel casks, distillery only
It's curious that they haven't just rolled out a regular official 18 and/or 21 year old. Is the above approach more fun? Or is it a path to charge more for their whisky? Or were/are there cask issues? Or someone was inspired by the Bills Lumsden and Walker?

I recently got in on bottle splits of the 19 year old Oloroso, Marsala and PX finishes because I was very curious about the results.

The Oloroso cask bottling is not a "finish" in the current sense. The whisky spent its first six years in bourbon casks, then the next 13 years in Oloroso casks. So it's a secondary maturation, not a quickie fix, but the producer's honesty is appreciated.

The other two 19s this week have briefer finishes than this. And unlike the other two 19s, this whisky was reduced to the Tobermory/Ledaig standard level of 46.3%abv.

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Ledaig
Owner: Distell International Ltd.
Region: Isle of Mull
Age: 19+ years (Summer 1998 - 2018)
Maturation: bourbon casks (1998-2004), then Oloroso casks (2004-2018)
Outturn: ????
Alcohol by Volume: 46.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant Added? No

The nose is very oceanic; by that I mean actual ocean water. Joining the ocean are notes of smoked salmon & chives, and locker room mustiness. Smaller notes of dark chocolate, lemon zest and charred grill crust linger in the background. The monolithic palate is charry and sooty, loaded with bitter dark chocolate, sea salt and smoked nuts. It gets bitterer and saltier with time. The bitter chocolate transitions to dark chocolate (74% if I'm being an a-hole) in the finish. An apple cider note gets pushed down by salt, soot and bitterness.

This is a near palate-killer at a mere 46.3%abv. I'm going to dilute it...

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or ~1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Though the ocean note takes over the nose, moments of grill smoke, moss and blackberries mingle well. The palate's bitterness improves greatly. Meanwhile there's an added tanginess, a vegetal peat and a slight nuttiness. The finish matches the palate.

As entertaining as the nose is at bottling strength, the palate was ugly. And not good ugly, more like stunted and unpalatable. The whisky becomes a much better balanced and more approachable drink at 40%abv. So, I certainly recommend dilution.

Still, I expected better. The official 10 year old has good balance, clearer unique characteristics and possibly more complexity than this whisky, and at ⅓ the price. I'm hoping this isn't a hint as to why there isn't a standard 18 year old in the range. How will the other two 19 year olds fare?

Availability - A few European/UK retailers
Pricing - $140-$160 (ex-VAT)
Rating - 84 (diluted only; nearly 5-8 points lower when neat)

Friday, October 25, 2019

Ben Nevis 13 year old 1999 Chieftain's, cask 240

Here's some recycled content!

It's been seven months ago since that post, and this bottle has been a joy throughout. Knowing I wasn't totally delusional in 2012 has proven comforting.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Chieftain's
Age: 13 years old (May 1999 - August 2012)
Maturation: hogshead
Cask: 240
Outturn: 354
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Added colorant? No

I remember the first third of this sentimental bottle being very clean and fruity (see above) but a touch hot on the palate. Today's tasting pour is from the bottom third...

In-season nectarines, pears and mango position themselves in the front of the nose. Ooh, but now some dunnage funk, dirty hay and aged hard cheese drift through the background. Belgian saison, limes and a hint of toffee pudding appear after the whisky has had plenty of time in the glass.

Limes, lemons, guava and tart berries start the palate. A super tart crisp mineral white (adjectives!) wine. Mild sweetness and a silky maltiness. It has shed all of the edgy heat from earlier in the bottle.

The lonnnnng finish holds limes, nectarines, barley and the aforementioned adjectivey white wine.

The whisky has found its peak, here at the bottom of the bottle. Over these seven months the nose has taken on additional characteristics and the palate has softened up.

This whisky makes me wonder if yeast is one of the keys to Ben Nevis's quality. They're one of the last, if not the last, Scottish distillery to use brewer's yeast. Perhaps those dazzling little microorganisms toot out the precious fruit and funk notes. Cheers to those little farts. I'm going to have to open another Ben Nevis soon.

Availability - Probably sold out four or five years ago
Pricing - it was $70-$75
Rating - 89

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Edradour 2006 Barolo Casks, batch 2

Both Florin and Vik gave me samples for batch 2 of the Edradour 2006 Barolo Casks. This is only the second time I've received two samples of the same whisky. (The first time was back when Jim McEwan and Bill Lumsden hand-delivered Black Bowmore samples. Ah those were the days.)

I've been wondering if there's a reason I received two samples of this Edradour; not like a cosmological reason, but a quality reason? For better or worse? To note, this is not a wine cask finish but a full maturation. So let's see when happens when Scottish and Piedmontese juices commingle.

Distillery: Edradour
Ownership: Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Co., Ltd.
Region: Highlands (Central)
Age: 8 years old (March/April 2006 - July 2014)
Maturation: Barolo Hogsheads
Outturn: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(thanks to both Florin and Vik!)

The nose begins with yeast, grape bubblegum and apricots. Then things progressively get more candied: anise, toffee, maple syrup and a lychee cocktail. My palate notes begin with "Very curious." The whisky feels fizzy, though not as sweet as expected. It's a little farmy. Some ginger ale and yeast. Tangy and tannic, though it's a "red wine" tannic, not generic oak tannic. The grapes' polyphenols, not the tree's. The flavors shift, almost entirely, toward a dry red wine after a 20-30 minutes. It finishes tangy and yeasty, along with notes of dry red wine, ground black pepper, mesquite smoke and wet paper.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Milk chocolate, toffee and cinnamon on the nose, as well as coconut rum and lime zest. Now the palate has picked up a woody bitterness, and the tannins feel much woodier. It's very sharp and peppery. The finish is similar to the palate, with some extra sugar and pencil shavings.

I appreciate that Edradour went with a dry wine. The whisky is neither sugary, nor overly grape-y. The palate could have really used the nose's vibrancy and some of its fruit. As it is the palate doesn't do much for me when neat and then goes the wrong direction once diluted. While this is no Murray McDavid-sized disaster, it falls short of the regular official Edradour 10 year old and the Signatory sherry casks.

But someone over there like his Barolo casks. There have been five of these batches and thirty-seven different Barolo cask releases by Edradour/Signatory.. I like Edradour a lot, but am I missing something here? Please share your own Edradour Barolo cask experiences if you've had 'em.

Availability - Probably scarce on both the primary markets (all batches)
Pricing - probably $50-$70
Rating - 78

Monday, October 21, 2019

Tamdhu 12 year old (2019)

When it came time to select single malts for a recent charity event, I had to choose a Macallan Killer. For previous events I'd gone with Glenfarclas 15, Glendronach 15 or Bunnahabhain 12, all whiskies I knew well. This time I took a risk with something I'd never tried.

I had liked Tamdhu's 10 year old single malt and was surprised to see a 12 year old showing up beside it so quickly (in 2 years! Math!) this year. Thanks to a happy discovery right before the event I found a bottle of the 12 selling for the same price as the 10.

No one at the event hated the thing, and I don't remember finding anything wrong with it at the time. Now there's some left and I'm thirsty.

Distillery: Tamdhu
Ownership: Ian Macleod Distillers
Region: Speyside (Central)
Age: minimum 12 years old
Maturation: "the finest sherry oak casks"
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? probably not (per whiskybase)
Colorant added? probably not (per whiskybase and distillery site)

It has clean, bright nose, with notes of roses, orange peel, almond extract and ginger powder. Some spice (cardamom and clove) and funky honey as well. The palate has some of the nose's roses(!), but is otherwise tighter and more astringent than expected. Nutty sherry and caramel. More oak and tannins appear with time. Roasted grains and caramel in the finish. Lots of rich American-ish oak. Hint of lime.

DILUTED TO ~37%abv, or 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
More generic sherry cask notes appear in the nose, like raisin and toasted oak. A little bit of honey mustard. Grape candy, raisins and ginger powder on the palate and finish.

Not a Macallan Killer, this one. The very friendly nose clashes with the sharp oaky palate. I think the distillery claims to use mostly (or entirely) European oak casks, but I'm reading lots of American oak action throughout. The 10 year old suits my fancy much more than the 12, so I actually hope the older version does not replace the younger one. I found the 10 to be quirkier, more complex and a better drinker. Though this does not stop me from desiring a try of their new 15 year old.

Availability - Specialty whisky retailers worldwide
Pricing - $50-$75 USA, $40-$65 Europe (minus taxes and tariffs)
Rating - 81

Friday, October 18, 2019

Westland Week ends

As of late 2015, I ranked Westland's core range as follows:

1. Sherry Wood
2. Peated
3. American Single Malt

Sherry Wood and Peated were the two I had considered purchasing.

Four years later, after a corporate buyout, an increased age statement and one name change, the core trio is ranked as follows:

1. Peated
2. American Oak
3. Sherry Wood

Peated and American Oak are the only two I would consider purchasing.

The Sherry Wood went from a balanced somewhat-complex whiskey to a lumpy oaky yet sort of raw Craft Whiskey. The "American" improved a little bit, actually showing less oak than the Sherry Wood. The peated expression held its strengths, and possibly improved, over the years.

But you may notice I used the words "considered" and "consider" when it comes to actually buying a 750mL bottle. Westland's prices have always been steep. For years they were 2 year old whiskies selling for $70-$75. Even though they're 3 years old, $70 still seems bloated. I'm not sure what audience they're aiming for. Bourbon geeks will spend that amount of money on a bottle, but only when it's 10+ years old or extra limited or flippable. Casual bourbon drinkers (which is almost all of the market) can still get quality brown likker for less than $40. Scotch fiends will spend $70 on a 3-year-old bottle, but only if the brand lies to us really well in a Scottish accent while bestowing a Gaelic name upon the whisky. So who's left? I understand single malts are more expensive to produce than other whiskies, and that Westland hasn't cut corners, historically. But how does the company grow their business at these prices?

I may get a bottle of the Peated malt if I can find it for under $70 (with shipping, because Ohio). Otherwise, if I were to recommend anything it would be the 3-pack. It's a great way to test the whole range out, and 200mL is a lot more fun than a mini (says the man with many minis).

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Westland Peated single malt

Though it seems as if every distillery is attempting a peaty or smoky whisky this decade, Westland has shown more competence than most. I've found their single casks of peated stuff to be comparable to Kilchoman's. And that is not something I state casually.

As of 2016, Westland's 55ppm peated malt came from Baird's in Scotland. Not sure if that's still their source. If anyone knows, please share in the comment section. Thanks! [NOTE: See Jordan's update in the comments!]

Distillery: Westland
Region: Seattle, Washington
Type: Single Malt
Age: at least 3 years
Mashbillsix malted barley strains
Maturation: three types of American oak casks
Alcohol by volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(from my bottle)

Islay-style oceanic peat (full of band aids!) hits first in the nose, then comes a metallic-tinged smoke. Tropical fruit punch, canned peaches and eucalyptus add an impressive complexity.

On the palate it's a baby Islay, but without the violence or mezcal. Antiseptic, band aids and dunnage(!). Gathers bright mint and menthol notes with time.

The longest and most balanced of the finishes. It has a gentler smoke than the palate, along with tangy citrus and sweet mint.

The winner! This will be the first bottle of the three I'll finish. I would be happy to buy this in lieu of most soon-to-be-25%-more expensive Islays. It's solid spirit-driven stuff, without any clunky oak. Though this likely took the distillery years to perfect, Westland makes this style seem pretty effortless.

Availability - Most American specialty whiskey retailers, as well as many European retailers
Pricing - $60-$80 (750mL), usually priced the same as the Sherry Wood
Rating - 86

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Westland Sherry Wood single malt

Here's an American take on sherry cask single malt, something scotch fans have been enjoying for decades. It's the busiest of Westland's core trio, with a slew of different cask types. They used to add a little bit of their peated malt to the mix, though their website doesn't show that listed anymore. Though this may not matter a whit, the whiskey isn't that much darker than the American Oak.

Distillery: Westland
Region: Seattle, Washington
Type: Single Malt
Age: at least 3 years
MashbillFive malted barley strains
Maturation: four types of sherry casks, two types of new American oak casks
Alcohol by volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(from my bottle)

Lots and lots of grapey things on the nose, especially a Pedro Ximenez jamminess. In fact, that's almost the entire show. There are some tiny bits of smoked almonds, mint, graphite and dirty stones in the background.

The palate is a spicy, chocolatey sherry bomb. The new oak character shouts louder here than in the American Oak expression, giving off plenty of smoked caramel and vanilla. Some dark cherries in there, as well as citric acid.

The finish is similar to the palate, though with more raw heat and imitation vanilla extract. Tangy and peppery, with plenty of PX.

This one was a surprise too, but in the other direction. It's the most Craft Whiskey of the three. Westland's treasured malt mix has been silenced by all the casks. This will probably appeal to someone who just wants a shite-load of sherry and vanilla, more than it appeals to me. Perhaps this was a wonky batch, because they've done better than this in the past.

Availability - Most American specialty whiskey retailers, as well as many European retailers
Pricing - $60-$80 (750mL), often $5-$10 more expensive than the American Oak expression
Rating - 77

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Westland American Oak single malt

Once upon a time this was just Westland American single malt. Then at some point, possibly after Rémy Cointreau took over, the "American Oak" part was added, which is helpful for those of us who'd mistake it for their Azerbaijani Pine core expression. Now the front label says "American" twice, again to clear up any confusion.

They appear to still be using the five-malt mash bill they'd had before, most of which comes from Washington state. I've noticed something new: the whiskey's age is no longer 26 months, but at least 36 months. Progress!

Distillery: Westland
Region: Seattle, Washington
Type: Single Malt
Age: at least 3 years
Mashbill: Five malted barley strains
Maturation: three types of American oak casks
Alcohol by volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(from my bottle)

Though rich oak notes are present in the nose, they're much less aggressive than any bourbon. No lumber, no sawdust, no outright vanilla. Instead, the nose holds roses, orange Smarties, lime candy, Cow Tales candy and milky coffee.

The moderately sweet palate shows cashew butter, toasted almonds and marshmallows. A little bit of black cherry soda here and there. The nuttiness gets bolder and toastier with time.

A good balance of toastiness, nuttiness, sweetness and subtle smoke highlight the warm finish. No vanilla!

This one surprised me, as I'd set my expectations low. Perhaps three years is the optimum maturation length when dealing with new oak in Washington warehouses. It is a very easy drinker that works as either an anytime-pour or dessert whiskey. It's also its own style, much different than any single malt coming from the rest of the world. Perhaps it could appeal to scotch haters?

Availability - Most American specialty whiskey retailers, as well as many European retailers
Pricing - $60-$75 (750mL), its average price price has dropped 10% in four years, per winesearcher
Rating - 83

Monday, October 14, 2019

Westland Week

Have the tariff turkeys and their enablers gotten you down? Never fear. Blended scotch, Irish pot still, cognac and many other brown spirits won't be affected. Yet.

Or you can, like, not buy stuff. Yeah, I know, I know. I know the struggle.

For my American readers, there is at least one decent single malt made in these United(?) States. As one of the only 21st century American distilleries that was backed with ample private investment, Westland produces a steady stream of single casks and limited edition malts. They also have a regular range that's widely available here and abroad.

I visited Westland Distillery nearly four years ago, enjoying the experience and the whisky. Rémy Cointreau bought the company the company a year later (yes, it's my fault), and wisely kept the lead distiller, Matthew Hoffman. There's been very little obvious corporate tinkering since then. Much like Westland, Rémy's scotch distillery, Bruichladdich, is all about barley varieties. The ownership has let both facilities continue to fly that experimental flag.

Westland sells their trio of regular bottlings in a 3x200mL set, something I wish more scotch companies would consider. When I found one of these sets selling at half price this year, I scooped it up and open the bottles relatively promptly.

Yes, the word 'American' appears six times.
I'm going to review each of these three whiskies this week, then sum it up on Friday, comparing the results to my expectations and previous experiences. Hopefully each post will be bite-sized or dram-sized or at least not TL;DR. But no guarantees!

Friday, October 11, 2019

Bea's Birthday Booze: Bowmore 21 year old 1973

The 9-to-5 (or rather then 7-to-5) work life leaves parents with a minimum of positive time with their children. We get to see our wee ones just after they wake up and just before they go to sleep. Those are not Happy Kid Times.

Recently I was blessed with an opportunity to hang out with Beatrice, just we two, for a number of hours during the day, and it was delightful. Here are some things we did:
  • Read eleven board books without pause. I'd exhausted my various character voices, most of which are offensive stereotypes, by book five. As narrator, I was not allowed to break for tea or potty.
  • Watched baseball, or rather BAY-BALL. (She speaks in bold and caps.) My girls now request to watch baseball highlights, which is a-ma-zing! The playoffs last only three more weeks, but the girls will have likely grown out of it by then. Treasuring it now.
  • My favorite: a makeover. For at least 20 minutes, I was instructed to SIT PAPA SIT, during which time zoo stickers were applied to my forehead (ample space!), and every item from the girls' play kitchen was rubbed all over my face and hair. She had incredible focus, taking seven different calls on her toy(?) phone without pausing her esthetician work. I look younger and prettier as a result.
Life went back to normal the next day. Remind me to schedule a followup appointment.

This sample has been sitting unopened for much too long. It's a good time for something special.

Distillery: Bowmore
Owner at time of distillation: Stanley Morrison
Owner at time of bottling: Suntory Holdings
Region: Islay
Age: 21 years
Distilled in: 1973
Maturation: sherry butts
Alcohol by Volume: 43%abv
(from a purchased sample)

The Nose - Yes there are ripe melons, yuzu, kabosu and summer peaches, but I cannot overstate the fruits' intensity. It fills the the nose from across the room. Just beneath that one can find the ocean, salty air, bonfire, kelp and seaweed. Gentler notes of ground cloves, shisha, antiseptic and honey linger around the edges.

The Palate - A swirl of dense gorgeous oceanic peat and delicate baking spices. Some of the nose's bright Japanese citrus (though beware of taking a bite of kabosu, those can be tart as a MFer), along with California lemons. The citrus takes over after 30 minutes and fills whatever sensory nooks haven't succumbed to the nose.

The Finish - The citrus peels and peat have merged and remain for a long, long time with just the right amount of sweetness.

Words Words Words - I don't really understand how this intensity came to exist in a 43%abv whisky that sat in its bottle 20 years, then in a sample bottle for 4-5 years. And had I been born twenty years earlier, and been used to consuming whisky of this quality, I would have quit scotch whisky in this decade. There's nothing like this now. Yes, Bowmore still hits doubles and triples with some of their independent single casks. But those ain't this. This is a remarkable whisky.

Availability - Auctions, maybe
Pricing - A whole lot of money
Rating - 93

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Bea's Birthday Booze: Charbay single barrel hop-flavored whiskey, bottled for T5C

Nearly every weekend morning begins with "PAPA! UP! PAPA GET UP! GET! UP! GET! UP!" Beatrice will even run over to the bed and grab the blanket and try to pull it off.

(I'm not complaining. She does this at 7:00am and not 5:00am. Not yet.)

Later that morning, "Can Papa give you a hug?" "NO!" Papa is proud of his confident girl. Papa also crawls into a cave in his mind to sob by hi-- "NO! PAPA OUT!"

Some Charbay perhaps?

As I mentioned to the gentleman who shared this sample, I basically lose my brains when I drink Charbay. My bias towards single pot still Irish whiskey proves quaint compared to my feelings about full-power Charbay.

Distillery: Charbay
Type: Charbay-flavored whiskey
Region: Charbay, Charbay
Mashbill: 100% Charbay
Age: 3 Charbays old
Maturation: Charbay cask
Exclusive to: T5C who selected this Charbay
Alcohol by Volume: 73.4% (yes, Charbay)
(Thank you to Secret Agent Man)

The nose: One would have no idea that this is 73.4%abv judging by the nose. There are pine needles, cherries and vanilla beans wrapped in a heavy hops blanket. Lots of fragrant wood: sandalwood, cedar and Palo Santo. It shifts with time, releasing maple, fennel, butterscotch sauce and more cherries. No burn.

The palate:

So yeah, dank. Unlike most Charbays it strikes right up front rather than unfolding later on. There are also mint leaves and fried plantains in honey. Lime candies and dried oregano amongst bitter herbal moments. More drinkable than most whiskies bottled 20 percentage points lower.

The finish: Looooooong. Graceful old oak, IPA, mint leaves and hints of bell peppers. It's gentler on the ganja than other Charbays. BUT IT'S THERE. Man.

Words Words Words: While this pick doesn't ascend to the heights of some of the numbered (I-VII?) series, it's still a tremendous thing. I don't understand how it can be so easily consumed when bottled at such a violent strength. It's scary and wonderful and yo where are the cupcakes and peanut butter and those really crunchy kettle chips. Oh, I'm sorry that's the "hops" talking. Meanwhile, the oak notes are lovely. It's as if the cask was fashioned with a variety of aromatic woods and some old furniture. The mad and marvelous Marko does it again.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 89

Monday, October 7, 2019

Bea's Birthday Booze: Daftmill 2006 Winter Batch Release (2018)

I've been a parent for five years now, and it's fair to say I still don't know what I'm doing. But I do know that Beatrice Joy turned 2 years old yesterday. And she is very Two. She is brilliant and social and hilarious and beautiful and I'm tired y'all. Here's a smiley picture:

I'm consuming and reviewing three hundred special whiskies in honor of her birthday. Firstly...

Of all the new distilleries introducing their first products during this decade, there's only one I've been following, Daftmill. It's a teeny Lowland farm distillery run by the Cuthbert family. They've been distilling (using their own barley) since 2005, but only released their first whisky last year. Yes, you read that correctly. They had the audacity to AGE THEIR WHISKY FOR 12 YEARS before bottling it for public consumption. It's madness I tell you.

Since they do only 100 casks per year, they're going to remain micro for the foreseeable future. And that's great. Just beware, the demand has exceeded the supply.

Thank you to Doctor Springbank for opening a bottle and sharing!

Distillery: Daftmill
Owner: Francis Cuthbert
Region: Bow of Fife, Lowlands
Age: 11-12 years (December 2006 - 2018)
Maturation: 5 bourbon casks (074/2006, 075/2006, 076/2006, 078/2006, 079/2006)
Outturn: 1265 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 46%abv
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant Added? No

There's lots of barley on the nose, along with grass, orange juice, pine sap, Cheerios, Frosted Mini Wheats and a hint of grapefruit. Breakfast on the farm. The palate is very worty. Barley with a quirky tangy edge. Also: jasmine, roasted almonds and an extra grapefruity IPA beneath a curiously sharp alcohol bite. Tangy floral yeasty wort in the finish.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Now there are baskets of grist from the mill in the nose, then smaller notes of maple, cinnamon, ground mustard seed and brown sugar. The gentler pleasant palate leads with the barley again, but now there's a honeyed sweetness to it. Subtle nut and flower notes. It finishes sweeter, less tangy and a little less floral.

To my nose and mouth, this Winter Batch Release seems younger than its age but not in the usual "ugh why was this bottled?" sort of way. Instead, with barley and the yeast in the forefront and the oak in the waaaaaaaay back, this whisky shows off what we snoots mean when we say "Distillery Character". Though the power of suggestion may be in play, I think this feels like a farm whisky. Another few years of maturation wouldn't hurt, or maybe other small batches read more mature, but this is a good launching point. It's actual whisky.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - about 4x what it originally sold for
Rating - 84

Friday, October 4, 2019

Randy Brandy does not drink Black & White whisky

Wow, that was riveting.

How about something that doesn't embarrass us all? Of course that isn't a guarantee over here. Let's see what Kravitz is giving me to review.

A mini. And a partial one at that.

You see this? You see what I have to deal with? Actually, you people deal with this on a regular basis. I'd feel pity for you if I felt pity.

Anyway: Camus VS. As in, Camus vs. my need to drink something else.

Hey look, it's another...


I'm so honored to drink Courvoisier from the 1980s that I WILL NOT POST A VIDEO OF MYSELF. I mean, who does that? All alone with a camera in his basement. Like a terrorist but without the viewers.

Oh wait, another brandy?

God, this picture is obscene. Those are D'Anjou pears, not Bartletts.

And here are my notes.

First I'll drink the Camus VS. They say it's big on esters, yet they also use small barrels. Yes, the latter has worked wonders for the quality of craft whiskies worldwide. And much to your surprise, it is the cheapest thing in the Camus line.

Camus VS, 40%abv
Nose - Pine, eucalyptus, tea tree oil, orange Smarties, Del Monte canned peaches, rye bread and dried apricots.
Palate - Citronella and peach schnapps. Lime juice and vanilla. And it is so goddamn sweet.
FFFFFFinish - Tart and syrupy sweet.

I'm not going to say they boiséd it up, just like I'm not going to say I poured most of this stuff over some vanilla ice cream. I will say it's a pretty smelling thing that tastes like Not Cognac. So at least you're getting two drinks for the price of one. Tastes good on ice cream though.


Video Boy says the Courvoisier is from the late '80s. He drinks pre-WWII scotch, then hands me this gem. Hey, Pearls, what'd you do, steal this from a thrift shop?

Courvoisier VSOP Fine Champagne, 40%abv, from the 1980s
Nose - Orange peel, raspberry jam, canned peaches again. Cardamom, cloves, rosemary. Caramel candy and Peeps.
Palate - Wood spice, tannins. More tannins. Lime juice, rosewater and simple syrup.
Finish - A sweet caramel-laden tannic cocktail. With cardboard.

Another great cognac for people who don't like cognac. It smells very good, though it does tease the coming Cloy.  My dentures hurt.


I'm beginning to feel pity. For myself. This Clear Creek had better not suck or else I'm going to break into Krav's house and steal his ONE bottle of Armagnac. One. How sad is that? I mean, he thinks he has six but his daughters have been swiping the bottles on the sly and flipping them for cases of cherry Tylenol. Nothing wrong with that. Says the man with extra long CVS receipts.

Clear Creek Pear Brandy, 40%abv
Nose - A mix of apple and pear ciders. Blackberry jam, lemon juice, eau de vie and PVC pipes.
Palate - Apples, anise and mint. Very creamy. 100% Bartlett pears by the second glass. And third glass. And fourth.
Finish - Same transition of apples to Bartlett pears. Good tart.

No more sugar or simple syrup or golden syrup or agave nectar or sucrose or galactose or Muscovado or Turbinado or Demerara or Dextrin or Sucanat or saccharin or stevia or treacle or trifles or spotted dick. A brandy can stay close to its fruit without going sweet, like this very Clear Creek brandy. The texture is good and it's easy to drink. It is not complex, but it is pear.


P. S. Achtung, D4P! No more brandy minis, ever. Bring out the real stuff so we can piss somebody off next time.

Monday, September 30, 2019

The Whisky Gaze: Two Black & White TV Commercials from the 1970s

I'd like to say that my Black & White stash motivated this month's thematic content, but the true inspiration was the discovery of two old Black & White TV commercials on YouTube. The commercials are from the same time period and carry the same message.

And that message is: Black & White = Hot Chicks.

To wit, Commercial 1.

A summary of the plot: The real life Artie Ziff is down in the dumps, standing at a cardboard bar in Pretend Morocco. Suddenly a blonde woman sees a chance at getting a free drink out of the sad sap. Because she's three feet larger than him she gets a tall drink. The end.

Weighing in at 59 seconds, this ad feels at least thrice that length due to its wretched editing. The editor either fell asleep on the flatbed (see what I did there?), or the commercial was cut by a drunkard's feet. At half its length the ad would have been twice as effective. But even then, the eye lines never match. The continuity is so poor, the final result seems like footage from two ads were smushed together.

Between the garbage direction, unfortunate editing and kick ass soundtrack, I half expected underexposed hairy hardcore sex to follow. Or maybe I've watched too many Joe D'Amato films.

Now, Commercial 2:

A summary of the plot: Black & White being poured over the rocks. A woman in a white bathing suit gets wet. The end.

Wow! This ad works so well, I think I saw breasts floating in the scotch. Someone out there had been studying his or her Kuleshov and Eisenstein. Unlike the other commercial, this thing blasts through like shit through a goose. Unlike the other commercial, this ad never hesitates on its way to completion. The woman and the whisky are put on equal ogling grounds, and then you the viewer get BOTH at the end of the day. Sounds legit. I'll buy a case.

According the comments on these videos, there was at least one more commercial from this campaign, one with a woman in a black bathing suit climbing out of a jacuzzi. So the theme was consistent. Though these ads worked in one way since people remembered them 35-40 years later, were they effective beyond simple voyeurism?

This objectification of women was not unique to these Black & White's advertisements, or the industry as a whole. An advertising campaign like this (or this) demeans, at minimum, 50% of consumers. As referenced in a previous post, Black & White's sales declined rapidly from the late '60s through the '70s, into the '80s. This campaign did not salvage the brand in any way because three more decades passed before Black & White's sales ascended. The need to objectify women overrode the need to expand the customer base, and the brand gained nothing.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Killing Whisky History, Episode 29: World War II era Black & White with a 1960s chaser

Going monochrome and wistful, I review this 1941 bottling of 8 year old Black & White and its 1960s cousin. Thank you for joining me on this month-long Black & White sojourn!


1960s Black & White
Rating - 86

Black & White 8 year old, bottled in 1941
Rating - 88

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Black & White blended whisky, bottled for United Airlines in 1961

Of all the Black & White bottles this month this one proved to be the most fun to research. Searching for the history of United Airlines quickly leads one right to their logos. Here are three links if you'd like to follow along: one, two and three.

After using a plain blue rectangle with white lettering from 1930 to 1939, United switched to the red, white and blue shield for its logo, trying out four versions of this style over twenty-two years. The final one looked like this:

Here the word "Airlines" has been dropped from the logo for the first time, and this change happened right around the time of their purchase of Capital Airlines. This look was very short-lived, lasting from 1960 to 1961. The shield was then switched to a diagonal spike (or wing?) until 1974 when it was replaced by the Saul Bass-designed U or tulip.

Since the logo on my 1/10 pint-er was used in only 1960 and 1961, I'm going to play things sooooper conservative and say that this bottle is from 1961.

In truth, I tried these last three Black & Whites side-by-side on one swingin' afternoon.

Brand: Black & White
Owner at time of bottling: Distillers Company Limited
Type: Blended Scotch Whisky
Age: minimum 3 years
Bottled: 1961
Exclusive to: United Airlines
Alcohol by Volume: 43.4%
(from my purchased 1/10 pint bottle)

The nose hints at the previous Black & White, but the fruit notes has moved from overripe to fermented and tropical. Then there are rose blossoms, cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks and a bright grassy cucumber skin note. A wee hint of machine shop. After 30+ minutes some fresh peach and nectarine notes show up. A swirl of small notes bouncing off each other fills the palate: orange, cardamom, nutmeg, chili oil, white nectarine and cucumber. The sweetness never gets out of control and citrus expands with time. There's a good length to the finish, which is highlighted by citrus, baking spices, ginger and toasted almonds.

Could United passengers even taste this stuff while locked in a cigarette smoke-choked cylinder in the sky? Because this stuff is very good. The blenders were successful in creating a lighter style than that of the Johnnie Walkers, Dimples and Teachers of the time, but the whisky isn't watery or boring. I could see this style appealing to a very wide market. It's bright and fruity while also showing off some depth, especially in the nose. Now, a quart of this wouldn't be a bad thing, if enjoyed responsibly. Let's see if I can top this on Friday.

Rating - 86

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Black & White blended whisky, bottled 1962-1964

This is the Black & White label style familiar to dusty whisky collectors and well-seasoned scotch drinkers. Used throughout the 1950s, this style's final year may have been 1966(see 1966 ad versus a 1967 ad). As per this month's introductory video, I have a number of these wee bottles.

Figuring out this particular bottle's fill date is partly based on its state tax stamp.

This very cool site says that the 2OZ font was larger than the rest of the stamp print in 1962, though there's no word on if that remained true from 1963 through 1977. I've seen quite a few Wisconsin state stamps with the big 2OZ font, but I'm not sure what year they were from.

I can tell you that there's a faint "64" on the bottom of the bottle — though I cannot seem to take a clear photo of it — so that gives me a potential timeframe to focus on: 1962-1964.

This one went head-to-head with yesterday's 1967-1969 bottling.

Brand: Black & White
Owner at time of bottling: Distillers Company Limited
Type: Blended Scotch Whisky
Age: minimum 3 years
Bottled: sometime between 1962 and 1964
Alcohol by Volume: 43.4%
(from my purchased 1/10 pint bottle)

At first the nose is very similar to the late '60s version, with its baked pears, Mr. Sketch markers and Mentos candies. But it opens up more and more over time. First come the peaches and anise. Then a slight phenolic note, cut grass and a machine shop. Finally, an overripe fruit note arrives (think melons and stone fruits) and completely takes over. Lots of those overripe fruits show up on the palate. There's also a quirky spicy buzz to it. The combination of those two factors give it a funky rum edge. There's minimal sweetness and no tannins. Notes of mulled wine, red pepper flakes, dried oregano and toasted grains show up after 30 minutes. The finish is devoid of the overripe, funky notes. There are oranges, peppercorns, dried herbs and caramel sauce. Again, no tannins, not much sweetness.

There was a significant difference between this whisky and yesterday's Black & White even though they were bottled 3 to 7 years apart. This one was covered in thick crazy funk. That one was tannic and sugary. That one was simple, this one was anything but. This B&W calms down at the finish, but before that it's all perky weirdness. No one produces whisky like this now, and I'm not sure if anyone could. It seems closer to rum at times. I'm not sure I could make through a fifth of this stuff, but 1/10 pint is the perfect amount. It was spirited fun. Now onto something else...

Rating - 84