...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Ardmore Triple Wood

In their attempt to fashion Ardmore like its southern sibling Laphroaig, Beam Suntory gave it a matching expression with the same name: Triple Wood. Laphroaig Triple Wood is the least Laphroaigy Laphroaig (though I've yet to try the loathed Select), thus my concern about them dressing up another young spirit in three layers of oak.

Distillery: Ardmore
Ownership: Beam Suntory
Region: Highlands (Eastern)
Age: NAS, thus it's a minimum of 3 years old
Maturation: "American Oak barrels, quarter casks and puncheons"
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? probably
(from a purchased sample)

The color is light gold with a greenish tint. The nose begins with band-aids and tropical fruit punch, then there's oregano, disinfectant and calamine lotion. LOTS of peat. Vanilla bean and apricot jam = hamantaschen? The peat strikes hard in the palate as well, showing up as dark, gritty, bitter smoke. And moss. Not all is darkness though. There are bananas and fresh ginger, as well as hints of prunes and fruit juice. The finish is the least sweet part of the package. It's all smoke, soil and ginger.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Peat, eucalyptus and pine sap on the nose. The quarter casks start barging in as the smell of new oak wafts up. Bitter smoke, smoked meat, peppercorns and simple syrup on the palate. It finishes warmer, more acidic and very smoky.

Three notes I wrote at the bottom of the page:
--It kinda works
--Peatier than Laphroaig Triple Wood?
--No water please

When I tried Ardmore Triple Wood side-by-side with the carpentry-free Aultmore 12yo I liked them equally, even though they're so very different. This Ardmore surprised me, especially with its big crazy nose.

It's not an easy whisky, and I normally don't complain about that. But it comes in 1 liter bottles only, and I can't see getting through even half that quantity without getting tired of it. It also left me wondering what a puncheon (alone) of modern Ardmore would taste like. How about it, Ardmore? I'm just going to keep chucking ideas at you, Distillery, until I run out of bad ones.

Availability - Travel retail and a few dozen European shops
Pricing - $50-$60 for 1000mL
Rating - 83 (no water please)

Monday, January 28, 2019

Aultmore 12 year old

In late 2014, Bacardi Limited plopped three (Craigellachie, Royal Brackla and Aultmore) brand new and two rebooted (Macduff "Glen Deveron" and Aberfeldy) single malt ranges onto the scotch market all at once. It was nice to see five un-sexy distilleries' names suddenly appearing on shelves and retailer websites. The launch was called, "The Last Great Malts", a term that carries the weight of sadness and loss, rather than joy. Luckily marketing blather trends towards falsehoods and there have been numerous (three?) great whiskies released since.

I've read a few positive reviews of the Aultmore range, and have meant to try at least one of these whiskies for some time. I've tasted a grand total of two Aultmores before today, so I have no preconceptions about this sample.

Distillery: Aultmore
Ownership: Bacardi Limited (via John Dewar & Sons)
Region: Speyside (Moray)
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: refill hogsheads
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(from a purchased sample)

The color is gorgeously pale, like me! The nose is almost entirely barley, yeast, soil and wet sand. Some hints of farm and mezcal float about. The palate has a good balance of mild sweetness and mild herbal bitterness. It's very malty, with small notes of bananas, tart citrus, vanilla, roasted seeds and nuts. More barley in the finish, along with grass, pineapple juice, bananas and chili oil.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Now the nose has barley, chalk dust, homemade applesauce and cat piss (for you wine fans). The palate hasn't changed much. There's a madeira-like sweetness to it, as well as plenty of grass and herbs, and something sort of phenolic. The finish is shorter and grassier, with less sweetness.

Clean as whistle, this one. It is, to steal MAO's term, unadorned. Congrats to the blenders for fashioning a single malt that tastes like malt. The 46%abv/NC/NCF presentation need also be highlighted.

There's an absence of excitement to it, and I guess there's something sort of thrilling about that. If you're looking to take a vacation from all the oaky oak that has slithered its way into most modern releases, this whisky is a decent destination. It would be a quality starter malt, in lieu of Glens Fiddich and Livet, but it carries a 50% premium over those whiskies in the US. Is $60 now the going rate of a starter malt?

Availability - Many specialty whisky retailers in Europe and USA
Pricing - $50-$75 (USA), $35-$55 (Europe, ex-VAT)
Rating - 83

Friday, January 25, 2019

Ben Nevis 26 year old 1986 The Nectar of the Daily Drams

This might be the earliest and oldest Ben Nevis I've tried, so I'd love to know more about. But, for a independent bottler frequented by whisky geeks, The Nectar of the Daily Drams provides less information about its whiskies than does Diageo. This bottler lists the bare minimum of age information, no cask type, no cask number, no cask outturn and I'm not even sure if the words "single cask" appear on the bottle.

I had this same issue when trying to get more details about their 1996 Ben Nevis I reviewed last January. We're long past the days wherein the absence of this information could be an oversight. If anyone knows more about this whisky, or why the bottler is mum on so much, please feel free to share in the comments section below. Thanks!

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: The Nectar
Series: Daily Drams
Age: 26 years old (1986-2012)
Maturation: ex-bourbon cask(s?)
Alcohol by Volume: 51.8%
(from a purchased sample)

Vanilla almond cookies with mango juice, on the nose. Vanilla bean, cream soda, nutmeg, limes and brine follow. A surprising amount of heat on the palate, considering the age and moderate strength. In fact it reads like a whisky one-third of its age. Tart, peppery and mineral, with limes, lemons and a little bit of malt. It's very simple and very sweet. The salty malty finish has the palate's citrus fruits and more sugar. And that's about it.

DILUTED TO ~43%, or 1¼ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose flattens out. There's vanilla, orange peel, guava and cardboard. More cardboard in the palate, along with cracked pepper and woody bitterness. Short moments of vanilla, almond and orange appear from time to time. The finish is all vanilla, woody bitterness and lime zest.

Despite this whisky's age and bottling strength, it got trounced by Wednesday's Ben Nevis. This 26yo comes across like an ultra-modern whisky with a lot of vanilla in the nose, but very little maturation in the palate. Perhaps it was re-racked from a dead cask to an active one? Because it falls apart upon diluted, I recommend just drinking it neatly. It'll be familiar but unimpressive.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - €100+
Rating - 81 (neat only)

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Ben Nevis 21 year old 1992 van Wees The Ultimate, cask 2312

The Signatory warehouses are lousy with 1991-1992 sherry butts full of Ben Nevis. They've released 43 of those casks, so far. But they don't seem to be much into sharing them with van Wees, the Dutch importer who bottles their The Ultimate series from Signatory casks (allegedly). van Wees has released 0 1991 Ben Nevii, and 2 1992 Ben Nevii. Having a sample of the older of the two makes me a happy man. Time to drink it.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: van Wees
Age: 21 years old (3 July 1992 - 16 August 2013)
Maturation: sherry butt
Cask #: 2312
Outturn: 695 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
(from a purchased sample)

Oh yeah, that's the stuff. Old funky musty cask basement warehouse on the nose. Macintosh apples floating in smoked lemon juice. Dates stuffed with dried herbs and cinnamon candy. The palate begins with tart fruits, honey and almond butter. Dark chocolate, figs and weed. Tangy citrus, herb (take that as you may) and a pinch of sugar in the figgy finish.

DILUTED TO ~43%ABV or ⅓ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose becomes more herbal. And now there's asphalt, brine, dingy smoke, limes and cinnamon. The palate is more herbal too, somehow. Bitterer and mustier basementer. Nuts and tart citrus. It finishes tangy and tart. Almonds, vanilla and herbal bitterness.

Thicc thick. 💚 it. I don't know how a 1990s single malt can be made to taste like a 1960s blend infused with figs, lemons and marijuana smoke, but it happened here. Nooooo complaints, other than I had but only a sample of this. The whiskybase crowd is much less excited about this than I. Oh well. It can't be said that Ben Nevis is always (or ever) like this particular creation, but I do fancy this distillery.

Availability - Possibly a few retailers in Europe?
Pricing - €100+
Rating - 90

Monday, January 21, 2019

Ben Nevis 18 year old 1996 Chapter 7

Last January, Diving for Pearls was All Ben Nevis All The Time. And it was soooooooooooo (un)popular, that I feel drawn to do another week of Ben Nevis in January 2019 in honor of January 2018. Each one of the three Ben Nevii this week is very different than the other two, which resulted in a very curious Taste Off. Starting with the youngest...

Chapter 7 is a Swiss independent bottler about whom I know nearly nothing. They began bottling whisky in 2014. There's a purdy official website. And Whiskybase shows no releases more recent than 2016. But they did bottle a Ben Nevis which has to account for something good. Let's see how their bourbon hogshead fared.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Chapter 7
Age: 18 years old (1996-2015)
Maturation: ex-bourbon cask
Cask #: 2 / (19/14)
Outturn: 272 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 51.8%
(from a purchased sample)

The nose is a party, leading with pineapple, bacon, roses, cantaloupe and human muskiness. There are smaller notes of fresh cilantro and active American oak in the background. More roses pop up over time. Party palate, too! Papaya and guava, then tropical fruit Skittles? Citronella, peppery heat, hints of roses and bitter cocoa. It finishes with the same note of fruit + fruit candy. Some bitter cocoa and a peppery zing last the longest.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Simpler fruit notes in the nose, plantains and orange candy. Honey and fabric. A gentler, balanced palate now. Caramel, herbal bitterness, guava and a little bit of sugar. The long finish mirrors the palate.

I have never nosed anything like this before, whisky or otherwise. Dilution brings order, but I prefer it at full (albeit moderate) strength. Variety, spice of life, etc. The palate lacks the nose's complexity, but the tropical fruit and tropical fruit candy mixture is much appreciated. I'm uncertain if I'd want an entire bottle of this drunken food fight, but I am entertained. ❣Ben Nevis❣

Availability - Possibly a few retailers in Europe
Pricing - €100-€120, I think
Rating - 87

Friday, January 18, 2019

Single Malt Scotch in America: Prices Begin to Stabilize

Welcome to Part 2 of 2019's Scotch Stats! We're in America now, so things are going to get huge.

First off, there's The Spreadsheet or The Price List or The Sleep Deprivation. There are now 225 whiskies on the sheet. And there are at least 225 stories to be found within it. Today I will spare you, and tell only a few tales, including the one in the post's title.

Here's where The Spreadsheet's numbers come from:
I use Wine Searcher's Average Wine Price system, selecting only US retailers. Their site has an explanation behind how they arrive at their averages. To summarize, their averages don't include auctions; all prices are adjusted to 750mL bottles; the highest and lowest 20% prices are removed in order to correct for pricing errors and grievous retailer choices. Aside from the ability to view pricing history, Wine Searcher's big draw (for data and consumer purposes) is their large data set. For instance, if you search for Johnnie Walker Black Label or Talisker 10 they'll actually stop their listings at 500 because they have so many retailers in their system. Please note, this is not an advertisement for Wine Searcher. Their Average Wine Price history requires a paid subscription and I've been known to mooch off of other people's accounts from time to time.

My spreadsheet has gotten so extensive that I encourage you to check out my shared Google Doc at this link. It should be easer to follow and scroll through than it is here.

About the spreadsheet:
I'm using a methodology similar to the last time around. There are 225 whiskies (99% of which are official bottlings) listed in total and, thanks to spreadsheets, I have data back to 2007 for 115 of them. Each time I assemble one of these annual posts I include more whiskies. This year I added only those that had at least three years of US pricing history. Whiskies with ten or fewer retailer listings were retired in 2019, but were kept on the list for historic pricing purposes. They received a blank gray field for their efforts. Whiskies with fewer than 20 listings are marked "scarce" in the notes column. Don't be too surprised if all the "scarce" whiskies are retired next year, like the entire old Benriach range was this year.

Because directly comparing a 12-year price change percentage with a 3-year price change percentage with an 8-year price change percentage is crap math, I'm using the same metric as I did during previous years to measure the increases: Multiple of Inflation (or MOI).  MOI takes the total price change and divides it by the US's inflation (CPI) rate over the related period of time (12, 8, 6 or 3 years).

The color-coding is based on the MOI, as follows:
Dark blue = price actually decreased, thus a negative MOI
Light blue = price increased between 0 and the actual rate of inflation
Green = price increased between 1 and 2 times the rate of inflation
Light pink = price increased between 2 and 5 times the rate of inflation
Fire Truck Red = price increased between 5 and 10 times the rate of inflation
Black = price increased more than 10 times the rate of inflation

Unlike last year, I'm ditching the MOI in my charts because I'm approaching the information from a different angle this year. Weighted calculations were laboriously factored into my formulas to correct for the different time spans involved in the averages.

If this is your first time seeing The Spreadsheet, I encourage you to pour yourself something delicious and then click over to the spreadsheet and dig in.

Now, for some pictures to go with the words.


The Rise and Pause of the NAS

Here's the headcount of the whiskies from the spreadsheet:

Yes, those tall black bars are NAS single malts. It is now the largest age category. The infection has set in. Nearly every official range has at least one single malt without an age statement. Some brands have multiple NASes. Some are made entirely of NAS whisky. And the prices?

There's a lot going on in this chart, especially the right side of it. But look over at the left side. The average price of the 52 NASes is higher than than the average 8-10 year old whisky, higher than the average 11-13 year old whisky. Let that soak in a bit...


...Okay, that's enough time, because something interesting has happened to the NAS category:

On the surface, it appears as if the average price has barely moved over the past three years. But within these numbers is another story.

Out 52 NAS whiskies, 21 dropped in price between 2016 and 2019, while another 15 rose in price less than 5% during that time. Leaving out the two Dalmore NASes, this category actually averaged a drop of more than half a percent over the past three years.

You'll see more low or negative numbers for NASes further down this post. I think we will need at least one more year of data before it can be determined if the category is truly trending down in price. But it's fair to say that it has at least plateaued, and that plateau is only being held up by a few pricier outliers.

Luxury is expensive

Yes, this chart again:

Those tall bars on the right get taller and the bars on the left get smaller every year. The prices for 25-40 year old whisky are rising at such a fast rate that they screw with my line graphs.

Like so:

Or this:

40 year old whisky has become irrelevant. A $5,000 whisky is superfluous for 99.9% of the whisky drinking public. 99.9% of us are ignored in its production, release and marketing. It wasn't always like this, but it's come to this because 40 year old whisky's price increases have been operating on a different plane than all other single malts.

Speaking of which.


I guess the Internet Way to write about this is to toss up a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and say "Macallan gonna macallan".

And that is valid. But I'ma write a little more about Edrington.

As I noted in reviews last year, Macallan's and Highland Park's branding has recently devolved into unfocused, confusing gibberish. But that hasn't stopped them from hoisting up their prices every time a marketing exec creates a different range, names it after something he just saw outside the window, then hoovers a line.
The "Average" in this table is the per year per whisky per owner. Yes, The Egregious Group is on a whole 'nother level.

The Main Story

But you didn't come here to read all that. Or did you???

Different charts tell different stories, and all can be true. There's a chart like this...
...which shows little steadying or plateaus other than with the NAS category (as mentioned earlier) and some straightening out with the younger categories.

All the percentages in this chart are compounding. A whisky whose price goes up 3% each year for 12 years won't be $136 at the end, but rather $142.58. It's not lies, nor damned lies. It's statistics. And it's why money market accounts used to be hella lazy awesome during different economic times.

But if I take the overall increase for each of the 225 whiskies, then split out the average annual increase for each available year compared to its first year on the spreadsheet (2007, 2011, 2013 or 2016), and then create a weighted average of all of it, I hopefully get a chart like this:

See things starting to even off now?

Prices are still going up, so why does this chart do the flattening thing? It's because price increases have been easing off, bringing the averages down. Thus the lines aren't heading towards the stratosphere (sorry Edrington). Some may even be slanting slightly down. Most are just pointing rightwards.

Here's a chart that shows the average ACTUAL year-to-year increases.
click to embiggen
The magic year is 2016, peak craziness. It is at that point, for the vast majority of whiskies in the spreadsheet, that a calming of price increases began. By 2019 most whiskies, and half the categories, were increasing by a rate lower than inflation.

This doesn't mean the prices are going down, except with the NAS category. It means the line is starting to flatten out, as shown in the previous chart. The 8-10, 11-13 and NAS categories' prices essentially did flatten out between Jan 2018 and Jan 2019. One wonders if 14-16 will follow suit by next year.

Of all companies, Diageo (yes, Diageo) has shown the most promise. They're the largest owner, and have the most whiskies on the spreadsheet. Their entire portfolio's average price has gone down 1% since 2016.

So......what's the cause? I don't know. As mentioned in Monday's post, single malt exports to the US are certainly not hurting (which also leads me to believe that prices are not going to drop soon). Are corporate executives — at companies other than Edrington — beginning to sober up and drift towards reason, easing off the acceleration? Could this be a reaction to the pricing of American whisky? Is the overproduction from the past decade about to come home to roost? Or is there something else on the horizon?

It's possible we're at the beginning of a new era of the Scotch business. It's also possible there are many years of more-of-the-same ahead. Either way, I'd be happy to see the end of the price hikes. Now can someone tell the independent bottlers about this?

Monday, January 14, 2019

Scotch Whisky Exports in 2017, or The rowboat still pulls the steamship

Welcome back to my annual analysis of the Scotch Whisky export market! Yes, one year was skipped. And there will be only two posts, instead of three, this year. This is because the Scotch Whisky Association no longer shares their annual Statistical Report. That report was my data source. So now I am piecing together data from various publications, including smaller items from the SWA and summaries from IWSR.

That means there are no new data for whisky consumption in the UK, nor annual production levels by SWA members, nor the age of whisky sitting in warehouses. Is this information being withheld on purpose? I don't know. But those data points certainly clashed with nearly every press release squawking about the burgeoning Scotch market.

Those narratives aside, the most noticeable change in the SWA publications was the categories. No longer was it Malt and Blends, but Single Malt and Blended Whiskies. I almost gave up writing this post entirely because I thought my big data sheet was rendered useless. But it wasn't. I just had to rethink the comparisons. Blended malts and bulk malt had been removed, and what was left was a more familiar, relatable subject: The Single Malt. And therein breathed the solution to today's post.

Since the great peak of the Scotch Whisky export market in 2011, volume sales have had a bumpy ride year to year:

2012: -5.2%
2013: +2.6%
2014: -3.0%
2015: -2.8%
2016: +4.0%
2017: +1.6%

Even with those last two gains, export volume in 2017 was still 0.4% under 2013 levels, and 3.1% beneath 2011's totals.

Meanwhile, the value of Scotch Whisky exports was 3.3% above 2011's amount. As mentioned in previous years' posts, value can increase while volume decreases when the value per unit rises. In this case, it's GBP (Great British Pounds) per liter. Thus the price of exported whisky went up enough to offset drops in actual whisky being sold.

But it's not that simple. Three other factors have had a considerable effect on the Scotch Whisky export market's monetary gains: inflation, exports to the United States and single malt sales. Bring out the charts!

click to embiggen
I always start off with the above chart to show that Scotch volume sales are indeed up and look healthy since the 1980s and early 1990s. But then I always follow it with this chart:

This chart does a number of things. First, it puts all that volume growth into some perspective. It also shows what looks like stratospheric increases in value and GBP/liter. Scotch whisky appears to be a booming business. But those gains aren't quite what they appear to be.

This graph shows the monetary gains from the previous chart adjusted for inflation, starting with 1980 (the beginning of my data set). What one sees is an industry that has struggled to out perform the UK's inflation. In fact, the GBP/liter price in 2017 is still lower than the adjusted 1980 amount. It wasn't until 2011 that export value jumped ahead of inflation, but that was largely due to the peak volume sales mentioned above. Annual value sales were trending back to the 0% mark until the solid gains made in 2017.

I'm going to zoom to look at the past decade:

As referenced in previous years, volume sales have been anything but flourishing. And for a few years the reported annual value was also slumping. Yet there's been a 55% gain in value sales over this 10 year period. Again, this seems like business has been awesome.

But this shows again that the industry was in danger of underperforming the UK's inflation rate. Adjusting for inflation tempers all value gains, but as one can see from these charts, there have been actual increases in sales. One of the drivers behind the boosts is Scotch Whisky's highest valued export market, the Occasionally-United States of America.

Even as the whole market's sales (in value) dropped after 2011, whisky exports to the United States continued to rise.

Between 2008 and 2017, the value of Scotch exports to the US increased by nearly 150%, while the non-US export market saw gains of 28%. When adjusted for inflation, the US gains were still 116%. The non-US gains vanished, turning into a loss of 3%.

The United States is the largest export market in terms of value not volume, which means there's a higher than normal GBP/liter rate for its Scotch. That substantial rate is due to the fact that US is the biggest recipient of single malt whisky in the world, with totals larger than the second and third largest single malt markets combined.

And if one is still searching for some sort of Scotch Whisky Boom, one may find it in single malt sales.

While sales of blended whisky have plateaued (at best), single malt exports have zoomed in terms of volume and value over the past decade. And, unlike almost all other indicators in the Scotch Whisky export market, it shows no signs of letting up:

With these massive gains in single malt exports, why haven't Scotch exports blasted off as a whole? Well, single malt whisky still makes up a tiny portion of the market when it comes to volume.

But, as can be noted from the charge above, it is no longer an insignificant part of Scotch's value. Though it makes up only 10% of the volume, it will likely cross the 30% marker in terms of value by 2019.

On the flip side, blended whisky has been bleeding value market share:

And it's not just value. Blended whiskies' annual volume sales total in 2017 was still beneath that of 2008. But blends are such a behemoth that their declines always weigh down the entire market. Single malt sales are the rowboat pulling the steamship in Buster Keaton's The Navigator.

(pic source)
What's causing blended whisky's stall out? Blended whisky brands are much more recognizable. Names like Johnnie Walker, Dewar's, Chivas and Ballantine's are synonymous with Scotch, worldwide. And blends are priced much more affordably.

Of course this chart doesn't show the actual prices of single malts and blends, but it does show the difference in how the exports are valued.

Single malts are more luxurious (price-wise) and have the reputation of being well-aged premium spirits, but their names are less familiar, appearing as various Glens and/or cryptic Gaelic phrases. Are consumers leaving blends for single malts (and other whiskies)? Or are new drinkers going directly to single malts, skipping over blended whisky entirely? Are they seduced by the high prices or the connotation and mystique of the term "single malt"? Or are blends dropping in quality due to the demand for their most valued ingredient, malt whisky?

Whatever the cause, people (especially Americans) are spending a lot of money on single malt whisky. As blended whisky sales struggle and the Scotch export market barely keeps above the inflation rate, this continuing ascent of single malt sales has the been the key to Scotch's financial success in the past, present, and, possibly, the future.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Port Charlotte 10 year old, the new batch!

There will be a Port Charlotte Month or Half Month in 2019 or 2020, and by the time it's over you'll see I'm nothing but a Port Charlotte honk. In the meantime, I'll focus on my official winter bottle, Port Charlotte 10 year old 2007.

Rémy Cointreau has chosen bottle designs that separate Bruichladdich's peated and unpeated brands. Octomore has the tall textured vase, Bruichladdich still has its squat curvy bottle and Port Charlotte now resides in grenade casing.

This is the third batch of the 10 year old. Somehow I missed the first two. It still weighs in at 100 US proof, and has had its barley peated at a 40ppm. The official site says this now an official "permanent" release, replacing the Scottish Barley bottling. An age-stated whisky replacing an NAS? What the hell is going on around here?

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Brand: Port Charlotte
Ownership: Rémy Cointreau
Region: Islay
Age: minimum 10 years (2007-2018)
Maturation: 65% first fill Jack Daniel's casks, 10% second fill Jack Daniel's whisky casks, 25% second fill French wine casks
Barley source: Invernesshire, Scotland
Malted barley peat level: 40ppm
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(top half of my bottle)

It noses like a peat kiln in a candy shop. Cinnamon, confectioner's sugar, raspberry fruit leather, Juicy Fruit gum, fuji apples and a hint of vanilla. But there's also dense peat smoke and grilled shrimp. There ain't no sweets in the palate. It's all stones in a haze of dark peat smoke. Lots of salt, horseradish, bacon. The smoke picks up a slight bitterness with time and there's an undercurrent of lemon juice throughout. The finish is long, salty, peppery and peaty. Lemon, concrete and mild bitterness.

Just a few drops of water...

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or ½ tsp of water per 30mL
The nose picks up notes of cherries and mint leaves. Smoked meat. Cinnamon and brine. Mild cigar smoke. The peat gets more graceful on the palate, and is joined by white fruits and white peppercorns. It gets tangier and tarter with time. It finishes with peat smoke, salt, herbal bitterness and a little bit of sugar and cinnamon.

Where the casks used here may have altered another single malt's character significantly, Port Charlotte's spirit stomps the hell out of its confines. This beats everything Ardbeg has out, including its standard range. I feel like using nothing but violent verbs because this is a fierce thing. But it's not hot, monolithic nor palate-killing. It's dimensional (sorry), especially in the nose, and it swims very well.

It doesn't reach the heights of the full strength limited edition PCs, but it's sturdy and chiseled and feels like the antidote to a cold, wet night. If 'Laddie can maintain consistent quality with this 10yo year-to-year, it'll easily stand among the top 3 standard peated releases on the island.

Availability - Most speciality liquor retailers
Pricing - USA: $60-$75; Europe: $50-$65 w/o VAT, w/o shipping
Rating - 88

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Ardmore 12 year old Port Wood Finish

On one hand I'm happy that one of my favorite distilleries now has a full official whisky range. On the other hand, the entire range is essentially multi-casked. Tradition, formerly Traditional Cask, has a quarter cask finish. This 12 year old has a port cask finish. Triple Wood uses, er, three different casks. Even the limited edition 20 year old uses has an Islay cask finish. Legacy doesn't seem to have a finish, but it's NAS and 40%abv.

Ardmore makes an old school peated Highland spirit, so I'm not sure why they feel the need to futz with it. They do seem to be trying imitate their portfolio-mate, Laphroaig. How about an all ex-bourbon cask 10 year old Cask Strength edition then?

But back to the positives. Ardmore! A 12 year age statement! Also, Ardmore! And I do like a well done port cask whisky. I could barely wait to buy this whisky once we moved to Ohio, in fact I bought a bottle (not from Ohio) before we even had permanent housing. It took me only two years to open the bottle.

Distillery: Ardmore
Ownership: Beam Suntory
Region: Highlands (Eastern)
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: bourbon casks, then port casks
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? possibly
(bottom half of my bottle)

The nose certainly has its fruits – green apples, green grapes and blackberry jam – but it also brings out plenty of brine and mossy wet stones. Smaller notes of roasted corn, honey and brandy linger at the edges. The palate has light-to-moderate levels of sweetness, pepper, smoke and minerals. There's some blackberry jam, limes, almonds and caramel. The finish goes darker than the palate, with Band Aids and beach smoke. Tart limes and a few berries roll around as well.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or < 1tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Shisha, lemon zest and cinnamon lead the nose. Then fennel, orange oil and gentle peat smoke. The palate is sharper and less sweet than when neat. Bigger on the salt and chile oil than the peat smoke and berries. The finish still has a good length to it. Very mineral and peppery. No glamour.

Though Ardmore 12 year old Port Wood Finish won't wind up on any reliable Whisky of the Year lists, it did make my (totes reliable) Favorite Single Malts Under $80 list. Its port, peat and oak levels are never out of whack. It's never too hot or too sweet. And it's impressively austere (the A word!) for an official bottling, especially on the diluted palate.

Or to be less thoughtful and more gutful(?), this bottle was consumed quicker than my average whisky bottle. In three head-to-head comparisons it tasted better than my 1991 Ardmore, which still sits in the cabinet more than half full. Kudos to the blenders at Ardmore for fashioning a good malt. Now how about a 15- or 18-year-old bourbon cask release???

Availability - Europe
Pricing - $50-$60 w/o VAT, w/o shipping
Rating - 85

Monday, January 7, 2019

My 25 favorite single malts under $80

So it has come to this. Clickbait.

Actually if it were clickbait, the title would be "25 Best Whiskies Under $80!" and I would have posted it near Black Friday. Yet......you clicked over here so let's get to it.

I use the word "Favorite" (American spelling!) rather than "Best" because whisky is subjective and expensive. $80 is set as a ceiling because:

  • It's a personal limit I'm trying to abide by for as long as possible. Good luck to me!
  • The next level of each distillery's/brand's range appears just north of $80.
  • Dude, I'm trying to keep this to only 25 whiskies.
Seven years ago this would have been a list of my favorite single malts under $50. So it goes.


  • Official bottlings only - I'm trying to include whiskies that are at least somewhat available. And there's a grim lack of interesting indie bottlings at this price range.
  • Scotch only - Yep.
  • Three years - No, not 3yo whisky. I'm only listing single malts that I've consumed within the past three years. I'm of the camp that believes batches, small or large, change in character over time no matter how talented the blenders may be.
  • Amerocentric Pricing - Current as of January 2019, and based on Wine-searcher Pro. European prices are calculated without VAT, but do include an average shipping rate for one bottle within a moderate-sized US order.
  • Subjectivity - Again, these whiskies will not appeal to everyone. Each of us has our own palate preferences.
  • Ethical-ish - I have purchased, or am currently price-shopping, all of these whiskies. My stomach does a weird wiggle-grumble each time I heap praise on a whisky I haven't purchased. Thus this rule is being applied so I can digest food properly this week.


  1. Ardmore 12 year old Port Wood Finish - USA: not for sale; Europe: $65-$75
    Just finished my bottle. Watch this space!
  2. Arran 10 year old - USA: $45-$55; Europe: $45-60
    The 10-to-15 year range is my favorite spot for Arran whiskies. They haven't messed with their 10yo since it arrived.
  3. Arran 14 year old - USA: $60-$80; Europe: $55-70
    Old label, new label. Whichever. Great stuff.
  4. Ben Nevis 10 year old - USA: >crazy; Europe: $65-$75
    Ben Nevis has arrived, and now this thing has become scarce. It's very good.
  5. Benromach 10 year old - USA: $45-$60; Europe: $45-60
    This distillery is run by, like, one grandma, one sentient rubber band and two schnauzers (per the marketing material), yet the whisky is excellent. Not enough love for this particular 10yo.
  6. Benromach 10 year old 100 Proof / Imperial Proof - USA: $70 and up; Europe $65-$75
    It's as good as the two-year-old hype. Possibly better.
  7. Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie Scottish Barley - USA: $45-$60; Europe: $55-$75
    This was such a surprise to me because I'm not a fan of Bruichladdich's unpeated whisky. WARNING: Serious batch variation.
  8. Bunnahabhain 12 year old - USA: $45-$65; Europe: $55-$65
    This has become an excellent whisky. I had it at two blind tastings in 2018 and LOVED it both times. Review of the current edition to post this year.
  9. Caol Ila 12 year old - USA: $55-$75; Europe: $55-$65
    One of those whiskies I hate to like because it's factory-made. But then again, so are all the great Midleton pot still whiskies and MGP ryes.
  10. Clynelish 14 year old - USA: $50-$70; Europe: $50-$65
    It still works, and is "better" than most of the indie Clynelishes I've had.
  11. Craigellachie 13 year old - USA: $40-$65; Europe: $50-$70
    Probably not a popular choice. It's a difficult whisky, but I've grown to enjoy it,
  12. Glenfiddich 15 year old Distillery Edition - USA: not for sale; Europe: $55-$70
    The most muscular thing Glenfiddich makes. And the best.
  13. Glen Garioch 12 year old - USA: $55-$70; Europe: $50-$65
    As I mentioned in my recent review, this is as good as I'd remembered. I just bought another bottle. 
  14. Glen Scotia 15 year old - USA: $60-$70; Europe: $65-$80
    The best thing the new regime has bottled. And I think it can get better.
  15. Hazelburn 10 year old - USA: $60-$70; Europe: $55-$65
    Another shocker. I wasn't a fan of the previous regular Hazelburns, but the Springbank folks found the right recipe this time.
  16. Highland Park 12 year old - USA: $40-$60; Europe: $45-$65
    Old reliable. WARNING: I haven't tried the new Leif Erikson's Boat's Starboard Dog's Wet Arsehole edition.
  17. Lagavulin 16 year old - USA: $65 and up; Europe: $60 and up
    Old Faithful still rumbles.
  18. Laphroaig 10 year old - USA: $35-$55; Europe: $45-$65
    Speaking of which.
  19. Laphroaig 10 year old Cask Strength - USA: $60-$80; Europe: scarce
    After a couple of lame batches the behemoth has returned.
  20. Longrow Peated - USA: $55-$70; Europe: $55-$70
    Springbank is a good distillery.
  21. Kilkerran 12 year old - USA: $60-$80; Europe: $50-$65
    Not as superlative as some of the WIPs, but still very good. It's much more fun/complex/drinkable than the first batch of 8yo cask strength stuff.
  22. Port Charlotte 10 year old, new edition - USA: $60-$70; Europe: $65-$80
    Watch this space!
  23. Port Charlotte Islay Barley, previous edition - USA: $60-$80; Europe: $75 and up
    I haven't tried the new one in the mortar-shaped bottle, but I adore the older one in the classic Bruchladdich bottle. Hope to post a review of it this year.
  24. Springbank 10 year old - USA: $55-$75; Europe: $55-$70
    Probably the Best whisky on this list, whatever "Best" means.
  25. Tobermory 10 year old - USA: $50-$65; Europe: $50-$70
    Another one that's probably not the most popular choice. Oh well. It's on the list.


  • Several of these whiskies deserve an updated review. I will labor to do so.
  • Some whiskies like Ledaig 10, Kilchoman Machir Bay, Oban 14, Talisker 10 and Balvenie 12, which would have been on this list in previous years, are currently under review.
  • Some whiskies, like Springbank 12yo Cask Strength, missed the list because the reality of finding them for less than $80 is vanishing.
  • Less than a third of these whiskies can be found for under $50. Yet the average age of the 26 whiskies is around 10.5 years old. Yes, Glenlivet 12 is cheaper, but have you had Glenlivet 12 recently?

Friday, January 4, 2019

Killing Whisky History, Episode 20: Peter Dawson Old Curio 12 year old, bottled in 1939, and Usher's Green Stripe, bottled in 1961

I'm feeling a little old and dusty in the new year, so it's time for some older and dustier scotch whiskies.

It's a mini head-to-head of Usher's Green Stripe, bottled in 1961, and Peter Dawson Old Curio 12 year old, bottled in 1939, both of which were sold in the sunny state of Wisconsin, both of which were produced by Diageo's predecessor, DCL, both of which were bottled at 43.4%abv, both of which were named after dudes and both of which had reeeeeeally delicate corks. Most importantly, both were drinkable.

Happy 2019!