...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Rum Dummy drinks 2 Foursquare rums

Randy Brandy isn't the only funny writer on this site. The Rum Dummy has jokes!

Hey look, I am drinking two Foursquares, or should I say......Sixteen?

No wait, there's two. I'll start again.

Hey look, I am drinking two Foursquares, or should I say......Thirty-two?

But what if it's two times four to the second power. I'll start again.

Hey look, I am drinking two Foursquares, or should I say......Sixty-four?

Wait wait that doesn't work because it's Foursquares not Foursquared. I'll start again.

Hey look, I am drinking two Foursquares, or should I say......Eightsquares?


Pretty good, huh?

Yeah, just wait until I review some Uitvlugt. Uitvlugt. Hilarious, right?

The first rum today is:

Foursquare 10 year old Criterion (bourbon & Madeira casks) blended rum 56%abv

Richard Seale of Foursquare distillery uses big words like "Criterion" and "Exceptional" on the bottle label, which are weird words to see on a rum label. But I also see "Blended" and "Rum", and I know what those words mean. People who sold these bottles said the rum was aged in bourbon casks for 3 years, then Madeira casks for seven years. They could be right, I don't know.

Nose - Bourbon, dusty old shoes, cocoa, caramel, cloves, pinot noir, honey mustard and vanilla. Putting water in the rum makes the rum smell spicier.
Palate - It's hot on my palate and also tannic. Also lemons, sweet oranges, cinnamon and little bit of almost-Jamaican funk. Putting water in the rum makes the rum taste mostly the same, maybe sweeter.
Finish - Long, hot, tangy, sweet, bitter oak and baking spices. Putting water in the rum cools down the finish, leaving it very tannic.

It smells very very good. Tastes mostly good. Lots and lots of woodiness though. I don't know how much this matters because no one's selling this rum anymore.


Hey, I also know some funny limericks!

Oh, yeah, there's another rum here. Stick around for my funny limericks after the second rum.

The second rum is:

Foursquare 12 year old 2005 (bourbon casks) blended rum, 59%abv

This is kinda like a sequel to the 11 year old I reviewed last year. Just bourbon casks. The 12 year old rum's label says "full proof" just like 11 year old's and is the same exact ABV as the 11 year old. Is that magic? I'm so confused.

Nose - It smells medicinal. And there's caramel, vanilla, milk chocolate, plastic toys, citrus and root beer. Putting water in the rum doesn't change it much.
Palate - Softer than the nose. Smaller medicinal note. Toasted almonds, caramel sauce, bourbon and bourbony cherry note. Putting water in the rum makes it tannic and sweet.
Finish - Sugar, hotness, vanilla, caramel, a little bit of funk. Very long. Putting water in the rum makes it tannic and sweet.

This is like a bourbon from an ex-Islay cask. Sort of. Better wood notes than the Criterion. Better finish too. I like it better.


Okay, so here's my first funny limerick.

There once was a girl from Enmore
Who dressed like--


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Loch Lomond Loch Lomond Loch Lomond (or Loch Lomond Inchmoan Croftengea)

Loch Lomond has released A LOT of grim whisky over the years. But then suddenly, their official bottlings are no longer mocked. And they're putting out single casks. Has the punk rocker gone full Green Day?

Count me intrigued. I've always enjoyed their rejection of the Scotch Whisky Association (or was it the other way around?) and their unorthodox distillation processes (which led to SWA issue), even though I haven't always enjoyed their whiskies.

Here are three official Loch Lomond whiskies bottled within the past year or so.

Loch Lomond 12 year old single malt, official bottling, 46%abv

I'm sure there were many in Scotland who were worried when a private equity group bought the Loch Lomond Distilling Company, but occasionally, occasionally, a PE firm can sort out a company's issues and gradually redirect the ship. I have more confidence in Loch Lomond's future than Bladnoch's at this point, FWIW. Anyway, I listed "single malt" up there because there's a Loch Lomond single grain on the market, and I will not be reviewing that today or ever. Thanks to MAO for this sample!


The nose is......shockingly clean and fruity. I'm thinkin' pears, apple, apricots and oranges. Then there's ginger powder, barley and black pepper. Gradually, vanilla and sticky candy notes develop with time. Barley, pears and marshmallows lead in the palate. Then black pepper, eau de vie, limes, guava and canned fruit cocktail juice. It grows more floral with time. The finish has the palate's fruits, but with a spicy zing. Hints of vanilla and flowers float in the background.

DILUTED TO ~43%abv, or ⅓ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose becomes much simpler, basically barley, coconut cream and vanilla. Similarly the palate narrows. Peaches in tomatillo sauce, vanilla bean and a little bit of sugar. It finishes tart, peppery and mildly sweet.

So this is what Loch Lomond has been blending out or selling to blenders all these years?! Leave Loch Lomond neat and it will kick Glenfiddich 12's and Glenlivet 12's asses all around the block. Bottled at a good strength, Loch Lomond 12 has a successful balance of oak and spirt, not to mention all those fruits. I'm more stunned by this one than the 12yo G&M Ledaig. And the price.

Availability - Many whisky retailers in Europe and North America (including Ohio)
Pricing - USA $28-$38; Europe: €40-€55 (w/VAT)
Rating - 86 (neat only)

Inchmoan 12 year old single malt, official bottling, 46%abv

The most, um, intimately named of Loch Lomond's whiskies, Inchmoan is a mix of distillate from the distillery's pot still and trouble-making hybrid still. It's also heavily (40-50ppm) peated. The only other Inchmoan I've consumed was one of the five most gruesome whiskies ever. I still have sense memories of that one, so I'm approaching this one with caution.


The nose does have its weird side: wet dogs and plastics factory exhaust. Then there's the candy corner: cotton candy, marshmallows, rock candy and cherry lollipops. Also cinnamon and flowers. It doesn't come together at any point. The palate is less odd. It's ashy, earthy and tart. Vanilla, fresh ginger and a mild herbal bitterness. Toasted oak and toasted barley with honey. Vanilla, honey and tart fruit in the finish. Pepper and smoke in the aftertaste.

DILUTED TO ~43%abv, or ⅓ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose is still kooky. Burnt hair, burnt plastic, rocks and cracked pepper. The palate has a heavily ashy, almost woody, peat smoke. Salt, pepper and sourness. The finish matches the palate.

Though the neat palate was drinkable, I couldn't finish the sample. While it certainly isn't boring, nor flat out disgusting like the other Inchmoan I had, Inchmoan 12 is a strange mess. It's as if someone closed his eyes and mixed a bunch of random fluids together. Perhaps this stems from the fact that they took a difficult spirit from two different stills and stuck it in recharred barrels. I do recognize there's a significant portion of the scotch community who think peaty = good, always. Perhaps this is for them. It's not for me.

Availability - Some whisky retailers in Europe
Pricing - Europe: €45-€75 (w/VAT)
Rating - 71

Croftengea 9 year old 2008, cask 272 for The Whisky Exchange, 54.8%abv

Croftengea's malt is also peated at 40-50ppm, but I believe it's all hybrid straight-neck still spirit. Yet I like Croftengea, a lot. It's Fun Weird, which is my favorite whisky genre. And yes, I did actually buy a bottle of the Croftengea I raved about last autumn. I was also looking forward to today's sample because its supplier, MAO (thank you!), already gave it a 💖.


The nose begins with a luminous creamy dessert note, like toffee pudding with toasted coconut and orange zest. Orange-cranberry scones. Peaches and flowers. A gentle but rich peat of a much older whisky. That same peat note shows up in the palate, along with pear and peach nectars, lime juice and cayenne pepper. Also some tart berries and a slight Campari-like bitterness.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or >1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Mangoes, oranges and toasted coconut in the nose. Hints of herbal peat and ocean in the background. Same peat and pepper in the palate, but now there are tart lemons, limes and grapefruit. The finish has the same tart fruit notes, as well as a light sweetness and bitterness.

Well, damn. Another great Croftengea. I'm not sure if I'm more surprised by its fruitiness or the peat style. It feels older than its 9 years. I was waffling about giving it the Big 90, but because it was one of the most delightful drinks I've had this year boosted the number to that magical spot. Sorry that it's out of stock, you should have read MAO's review last summer and bought four bottles then. I did the former but not the latter. I learn nothing, folks.

Availability - Loch Lomond sells out!
Pricing - ???
Rating - 90

Monday, April 15, 2019

Ledaig Ledaig Ledaig

Though Ledaig is one of my favorite single malts, I haven't reviewed many bottlings since the brand became hip. Its popularity blossomed right about the time, around five years ago, when a certain influential whisky blogger declared that Ledaig was the new old Ardbeg (which really makes about as much sense as when I declared Mike Trout to be the new young Willie Mays, seven years ago; it's enthusiasm-powered goofy shorthand by both of us).

If you're looking for reviews of Ledaig's lovely sherry casks, sorry, you may abandon ship here. I'm digging into three relatively current Ledaigs, all of which come from former bourbon casks. I tasted these three together in order of ABV, which was also in order of oldest to youngest.

Ledaig 12 year old Gordon & MacPhail, Discovery range, 43%abv

I had minimal expectations for this whisky, a first for Ledaig and I. Other than the Highland Park 8yo, low abv G&Ms are thin and bland on my palate. A boring Ledaig would be a waste of Tobermory's peated distillate and a darned shame. So here goes the oldest and lightest of the trio:

Cardamom, cinnamon and chives season a bright vegetal peat in the nose. The peat gets feistier with time, bringing in a whiff of elephant manure and lemon peels. It reads much bigger than 43%abv. The palate is gently peppery and sweet, but has a peatier smoke (or smokier peat) than the nose. Lime juice, apricots, sweet bell peppers, fresh herbs and arugula. A smoky hot pepper sauce stays the longest in the finish, followed by notes of arugula and sweet oranges. Good length to it all.

Surprise! Thanks to low oak levels and no bludgeoning peat, this makes for a good whisky. The nose is great, and though the finish is simple I enjoyed it. If one could design a casual sippin' Ledaig, this would be it. Would it have been better bottled at the OB's 46.3% strength? Probably, though it would also likely be a different experience at that strength. If only G&M would bring this to The States and price it at $49.99 then perhaps I'd buy this for the autumn.

Availability - A few dozen European whisky retailers
Pricing - Europe: €50-€65 (w/VAT)
Rating - 84

Ledaig 10 year old, Official Bottling, 46.3%abv

This baby was the real motivation behind today's tasting. I reviewed it 6½ years ago (holy crap!) and was less enthused by it than most folks whose palates I respect. Since life and whisky batches (no matter the size) change despite all resistance, it is time to take in a larger sample of the official Ledaig 10.

The nose is somehow even greener than the G&M 12yo, with bundles of fresh herbs. Yes, there's peat, but also a steady waft of ocean air, met with cheerful(!?) lemon peels and citronella, then hints of eucalyptus and toasted marshmallows. A peat richer and more complex than the 12's radiates across the palate, with salty ocean notes, charred meat and veg. Lemons and limes that start tart then turn sweet. Hints of herbal bitterness and vanilla pudding actually work together. Honey, limes, smoke, chili oil and dried herbs load up the enormous finish.

Yeah, I like this a lot. In fact, this would knock something off "My 25 favorite single malts under $80" list. It's great, complex, delicious whisky at just 10 years old. In fact, with Ledaig, Springbank, Benromach, Ardmore and peated Benriach on the market, official Islays aren't faring so well in the OB peated whisky world anymore. Back to this whisky. Ledaig 10 year old is so much better than I'd remembered, and cheaper than the 12yo G&M.

Availability - Most whisky retailers
Pricing - Europe: €35-€55 (w/VAT), USA $50-$70
Rating - 88

Ledaig 7 year old 2010 van Wees The Ultimate, cask 700411, 59.7%abv

I had to have one full-powered humdinger in the group. And though I frequently criticize the indie bottlers who pile <8yo single casks upon European whisky retailers, I did like a 6yo Caol Ila last December, so I was willing to risk annihilating my senses for the possibility of a good baby Ledaig.


The nose begins with salty grilled shellfish, hot tar and scallions.  toasted barley note arises miraculously from the peat fog. It's also not nearly as hot as the ABV would lead one to expect. Hints of vanilla and melon rind mix with all the kiln notes. Manure and lemon peel show up after 20+ minutes of air. The peat is more green than smoky on the palate. Ocean water, limes, fresh herbs and cinnamon candy. It gets sweeter with time, almost minty actually. The warm, but not hot, finish is herbal and peppery, with just a little bit of sweetness and a lot of ocean water.

DILUTED TO ~46.3%abv, or 1¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Massively farmy, the nose holds onto its ocean notes, but is otherwise much different than when neat. There's cocoa powder, rock candy, yeast and onions. Yep. The palate is loaded with green herbs and wood smoke, as well as very tart limes and salt. It finishes with peppery smoke, herbal bitterness and a little bit of brown sugar.

This is neither crap nor a palate wrecker. Success! It's more aggressive than the previous two, but that was to be expected. Youthful but not punishing. I like the quirky (Ledaig!) nose and find the palate very approachable. Still didn't van Wees give it another 3-5 years in the cask. The race isn't fully run, the cake ain't baking, the bread is par baked, the whisky has barely matured past new make. Not only that, but at 10-12 years old van Wees could've charged 50-100% more. I dunno. Good whisky, but what might have been...

Availability - A few European retailers
Pricing - Europe: €50-€65 (w/VAT)
Rating - 82

Friday, April 12, 2019

Randy Brandy drinks 3 Copper & Kings brandies

What a great Friday to be Randy Brandy in this glorious glorious country. Kravitz interrupted me while I was taking a perfectly good crap to tell me this post was due today. So I'm writing this from the toilet. I was also instructed to not make fun of Sku this time.

Look, everyone wants to be loved. Physically. And no one in the whiskey community, save Allison Asterisk of Brenne, has more lusty groupies than Sku. Though it's become a near toss-up since Allison got engaged. Kravitz tracks this stuff. And by "stuff" I mean Allison's Instagram.

Sku's writing style, before he was K&L'ed, was the key to his popularity. He never asked anyone to read much. He would unburden himself of a one sentence post and he got 4000 clicks. Kravitz writes Cloud Atlas and he gets 4 views including his 4-year-old daughter who accidentally clicked the bookmark when playing with her father's phone. Then she somehow found his Incognito Tab and she's been in therapy ever since.

The next day the 4-year-old got into an argument with her preschool teachers, insisting that a horse can ride a man. They thought she had it backwards. No, but someone definitely had it backwards. If you know what I mean. Look, I'd explain it to you but I'm supposed to be reviewing, uh, what I am reviewing? What is this, bourbon?

No, it's American brandy, allegedly. I did some research. And by research I mean I read some whiskey blogs, which was horrifying, how do you people do it?

Copper & Kings was created by the South African American (gotta watch the hyphens there) Heron family who create with drinks that they then sell to conglomerates. Gosh, I wonder what the fate of Copper & Kings is going to be. That's not a dig. That's some good American entrepreneurship. Howzit, Herons? I'm glad the Herons are making brandy, not bourbon. I hope their brandy doesn't taste like bourbon.

(sample from Florin, a man who shares)

Copper & Kings American Brandy, 45%abv

Nose - Apples and bourbon. Um. Sawdust, vanilla, corn syrup and white grape juice. Mint extract, cardamom. Much better now.
Palate - Not bourbon. More like a spicy sweet young cognac. Ginger, apples, horseradish, vanilla. Creamy. Gains taffy and peach candy notes after a while.
Finish - Sweet stuff. Vanilla, bubblegum, taffy.

I was asked by Kravs to add water to these next two because that is what is done. It's a good thing I always bring an eyedropper and beaker of spring water to the can with me.

(another sample from Florin, clearly a socialist)

Copper & Kings Cr&ftwerk Brandy finished in Oskar Blues Imperial IPA barrels, 55.5%abv

Nose w/o water - Grapefruit, anise, rubber, horseradish. Mint and hops. Pine sap.
Nose with water - Mint, pineapple, orange peel, pine sap, less grapefruit

Palate w/o water - Ginger, grapefruit, hops. Also known as IPA. But very sweet. Vanilla, pepper, and mint gum.
Palate with water - Sweet IPA and pine sap, apple cider, brown sugar.

Finish w/o water - Heat, lime juice and mint gum, vanilla. Bitter.
Finish with water - Much sweeter. Ginger and brown sugar.

(sample from Sku)
I don't understand art

Copper & Kings Butchertown Brandy, 62%abv

Nose w/o water - Grapes, blackberries, pears, potpourri, vanilla, cream soda. No burn.
Nose with water - Orange sherbet, cream soda, pine sap, more vanilla.

Palate w/o water - Here's the burn. Hot and sweet. Honey and pineapple juice. Tart cherries, ginger and cream soda.
Palate with water - Peppercorns, oranges, vanilla, tart lemons, very tannic.

Finish w/o water - Tart cherries and caramel, heat, oak spice and tannins, raisins.
Finish with water - Tart lemons, ginger, vanilla, mint leaves.

It's not bourbon. Good.

Do I need to write more?

Okay, I like the American Brandy the best. It's the most brandy of the three brandies. It's oaky, but I expected worse. It's straightforward. It has curves and edges. Wow, that was poetic and unnecessary and I repeat myself. I. Might. Buy. A. Bottle?

There's a lot of IPA in the Cr&ftwerk, which will appeal to IPA drinkers. It is difficult to find the brandy part. It does seem like a new thing, though. And I don't hate new things, unlike a certain blogger whose name is K*****z.

Butchertown is big. America Big. It tastes like oak and fire. It smelles good, but I wanted more of the American Brandy every time I drank Butchertown. Good name though.

Adding water did nothing useful. Shocker. I need to end this post now because my legs are numb and the seat has embedded itself into my ass. So I'm going to give these grades even less thought than usual.

Copper & Kings American Brandy - B
Copper & Kings Cr&ftwerk IPA - C+/B-
Copper & Kings Butchertown Brandy - C+/B-

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Braeval 18 year old 1994 Exclusive Malts, cask 159162

Yesterday's two Inchgowers did not spar alone. They had a third partner, today's Braeval. Unlike the Inchgowers, I had tried this whisky before, and I'd liked it. That's why I thought it was going to be a super triple tasting. But it wasn't super. Those Inchgowers could not compete. Bring on the Braeval, baby.

Distillery: Braeval
Ownership: Pernod Ricard
Region: Speyside (Banffshire)
Bottler: Creative Whisky Company
Range: Exclusive Malts
Age: 18 years old (December 1994 - January 2013)
Maturation: "Oak cask", probably a bourbon barrel
Outturn: 228 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 52.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(thanks to Brett for the sample!)

The nose delivers a spot on mix of malt, peaches, lemons and honey. Hints of roses, clementines and low-rye dusty bourbon rest beneath. At first the palate has citrus and toasted oak spice, then a rush of malt, limes and cara cara oranges takes over. Then almonds and apricots with a gentle ripple of chili oil. The rich long finish holds onto those nuts and fresh citrus notes, as well as the nose's malt.

I don't want to add water to this but for the sake of science:

DILUTED TO ~46% abv, or ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Ah gorgeous. Whew. Peach skins, roses, lemon cookies and orange peel on the nose. The palate hasn't changed much. Maybe a little sweeter, maltier. The finish matches the palate closely too with just little more of a spicy zip.

Flawless teenage bourbon cask whisky, with or without dilution. It's been a long time since I had something like this, and I hope dearly the next bottle I open from my stash is near this quality. I did have two opportunities to buy this in early 2013, and I turned them both down because spending $100 on a single bottle was CRAZY back then. Damn it.

See, a nice surprise this week! And a second 90-point whisky. Wut?

Availability - All gone
Pricing - It was around $100-$120 six years ago
Rating - 90

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Two sherry cask 1995 Inchgowers from the Laings

Sherry cask Inchgowers are somewhat scarce. The Laing companies seem to have 90% of the casks, which I don't entirely understand. That they would be enthusiastic about the stuff is reasonable; yet almost no other indie bottler is. Inchgower can be a quirky spirit, but it seems to do very well in a vibrant cask.

All three sherry cask Inchgowers that I have previously tried were great. So great that I went ahead bought a bottle of another sherry cask Inchgower. Blindly. 😱. One could say I was pretty excited about this Taste Off.

Inchgower 19 year old 1995 Old Malt Cask (Hunter Laing), sherry butt 11402, 50%abv

Right up front, the nose is strange. Wet wool, mold, raw alcohol. But also plum wine and apricots. After 20 minutes there's caramel sauce and fermenting apples. After 30 minutes, dark chocolate, prunes and more caramel. The palate is quirky, though it's a bit filthy and earthy, almost peaty. But also bursting with citrus and blackberries, with a subtle grassy undertone. There's a soy sauce and sesame oil combo happening in the background, and it kinda works. At the 30 minute mark there's some manuka honey and burnt raisins. It finishes with the palate's fruit and nose's fustiness. Then some raisins, vanilla and a hint of tannin.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or ½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose's oddities have calmed. Now it's dunnage and a tiny bit of peat. Prunes and chocolate make up the rest. The palate is sweeter, with more generic sherry cask notes (raisins, prunes). But there's also a savory note that meets up with orange candy. It gets very very sweet, and that sugariness goes right into the finish. Vanilla, golden raisins and lemons. The savory note lingers here.

Inchgower 20 year old 1995 Old Particular (Douglas Laing), refill sherry butt 10880, 51.5%abv

Oats on the nose. Oats and barley and lemons. Feels very raw and young. Roses and rock candy. The whole thing gets grainier with time. No sign of sherry cask to be found. Except, maybe, rubber. The palate leads with barley, burlap and cardboard. Sand, plastic and ethyl heat. A little bit tanginess and cayenne pepper, which also carries over into the finish, as does the sand, heat and plastic. Like a polluted beach.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose perks up a little. Barley, honey and oranges. But also fabric and alcohol. Barley, dried herbs and something meaty linger about in the palate, as does cardboard and plastic. The finish is papery, grainy and herbal.

The 19 year old is weird, but has its charms. I like the earthy, musty, phenolic notes. And there's a good spot somewhere between 10- and 30-minute mark after the whisky is poured. Its character is constantly on the move, which is entertaining but also slightly annoying. Diluting it to 46% straightens it out and declutters, but also risks turning it into just another generic sherry cask Speysider. It gets points for amusement but falls short of my previous experiences with sherry cask Inchgowers.

The 20 year old comes from one dead ass cask. Possibly a dead ass cask in a warm warehouse corner. Sometimes it's reminiscent of the tragic Dewar Rattray Auchentoshan (also 20yo and from a sherry cask) I reviewed last year. Sometimes it's almost recommendable for nosing purposes. The good news is it's devoid of vanilla and tannin. And there's plenty of barley rolling around the nose and palate. I'm hard-pressed to say anything else positive about it.

The two main takeaways today: I will not be buying another sherry cask Inchgower blindly anytime soon, and I'm beginning to understand the reluctance of all the other indie bottling companies.

Inchgower 19 year old 1995 Old Malt Cask (Hunter Laing)
Rating - 82

Inchgower 20 year old 1995 Old Particular (Douglas Laing)
Rating - 72

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Balvenie 14 year old 2003 Peat Week

There have been a number of recent tastings that did not go according to plan. Some were positive, most were not. Luckily I don't own any bottles of the disappointments, so the surprises weren't so heartbreaking. Here's one that was a surprise.

I haven't reviewed a Balvenie since February of last year. Though I find Balvenie's single malts to be consistently pleasing and well made, I don't have a single Balvenie bottle in my collection. This situation would be different had they priced the 15yo single sherry cask like its predecessor, the 15yo single bourbon barrel, but they didn't. The 15yo sherry cask is good, but not $120 good. The reliable 12yo Doublewood is priced north of $50 here in Ohio, and I don't value it at that level either.

In Europe, the Peat Week releases have been priced about 20% lower than the much more prevalent sherry cask bottlings. Yes, I realize those are "single" sherry casks, but there are hundreds (or thousands, or at least a constant supply) of them. Anyway, enough about those damned sherry casks. That Balvenie review posted 14 months ago was of Peat Week 2002. Today I'm reviewing Peat Week 2003. To quote last year's review with some edits:
For each of the past 17 years Balvenie distillery has devoted one week to heavily peated still runs. The malt used for this distillation is peated to around 30ppm with Highland peat. In 2018, they bottled this whisky with an actual two-digit age statement, no chill filtration and a respectable ABV — an almost revolutionary act by an official producer.
I stand by that last statement, though peated Speyside single malts are no longer unique. The good news is that malt dried with Highland peat produces different characteristics than malt dried with Islay peat. So different peaty experiences have been coming to the market during this past decade. That can be good. Let's see how this particular whisky panned out.

Distillery: Balvenie
Ownership: William Grant & Sons
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Age: 14 years old (2003-2018)
Maturation: American oak
Limited bottling: ???????? bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 48.3%
Chillfiltered: No
Colorant added: Probably
(from a purchased sample)

An aggressive Islay-style band-aid peat bursts forth from the nose at first. Beneath that is a very milky vanilla note. Then cut grass, apple peels, wet snuffed cigarettes and lumber. The palate is also mostly peat and smoke at the start. It transitions to an aggressive sweetness loaded with lime candy, ginger ale and vanilla. And, just, sugar. A hint of manure floats around in there. The finish is very sweet and tart with salty smoke, ginger ale and chlorine.

DILUTED TO ~43%abv, or ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose becomes farmier, but also picks up more vanilla and an apple cider vinegar note. The palate gets bitterer and bitterer. Then comes some sulphur, limes and sugar. LOTS of sugar. And sheep shit. It finishes with smoke, sugar and limes.

With its loud peat, louder sweetness and blankets of vanilla, this comes across as an aggressively engineered whisky. It could have used some more sheep shit.

Sad Cynic says, "The market doesn't need any more of this sort of whisky."
Happy Cynic says, "Balvenie has been spending big bucks to market themselves as a craft whisky, when all they really needed to do was make a craft whisky."

The whisky also doesn't work on the rocks, nor as hot whisky, in case you're curious. I was. Now I'm not. If you are ever given the choice between Balvenie 2002 Peat Week and Balvenie 2003 Peat Week, I'd recommend you choose Benromach 10.

Availability - Europe and USA
Pricing - Europe: $65-$85, US: $90-$120
Rating - 76

Monday, April 8, 2019

Old Pulteney 21 year old

To spice up my Birthday Bottle Kill event last August, I opened up two bottles and added them to the fray: Old Pulteney 21yo and Springbank 13yo Green. They wound up being the best things I put on the table. I've reviewed that Springbank already. It's time to talk about Old Pulteney 21 year old.

In full disclosure, this bottle was sent to me by Amy of Ten27 Communications two years ago, which was outrageously generous. The whisky was already being retired by Old Pulteney at the time and it couldn't possibly require any additional positive reviews after The Fedora gave it his lordly stamp of approval. But, thank you, Amy!

I haven't worn a fedora since prom night. Either I air out my monstrous fleshy pate or affix a Yakult Swallows cap when the sun is high. But I can and will lavish praise on this late whisky.

Distillery: Pulteney
Ownership: Inver House (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Region: Northern Highlands (Wick)
Type: Single Malt
Maturation: from the official site, "ex-bourbon casks with spirit from ex-Oloroso sherry casks. We mostly use second fill American oak, plus some Spanish oak first fill. However, there is a higher proportion of ex-Oloroso sherry cask compared to the 17 Years Old."
Age: minimum 21 years
Bottled: 2015
Bottle code: L15/323
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? Not much if any

The rich, complex nose starts off with anise, cantaloupe and cherry ice cream. Then, from underneath arises almost-smoky ocean air and dusty bourbon. After 30 minutes in the glass, there's raisin bread, honey, guava, orange peel, toasted oak and a subtle floral note. With a little bit of water, new notes of toffee pudding and sugar cookies appear. Then lemon peel and flowers. Orange pixy stix and berry jam.

The silky palate is a spicy, honeyed thing. Lemon bars with mint leaves. Paprika, orange liqueur (minus the sugar) and melon. The sweetness and sherry casks stay subtle. No raisins nor prunes. With a little bit of water it gets sweeter and spicier. Bread pudding with golden raisins. More lemon bars. Bits of baking spices.

It finishes with stone and citrus fruit, flowers and salt. Lots of oranges and limes. Mint candy and a slight serrano pepper bite in the back. It gets a little sweeter with a little bit of added water. Oranges, serranos and toasted oak.

I don't fully blame Jim Murray for killing this whisky off. Those at fault are the "news" organizations who blindly announce The Greatest Whisky In The World every time some oddball with an unusual palate sends out press releases. See also, Yamazaki. It's not Fake News, it's Not News.

While I adore Old Pulteney 17 year old, the 21 year old is (or was) something special. What struck me about the whisky is that it was excellent from the very first pour. I always (or 99% of the time) find the first pour from a whisky bottle to be very tight and narrow. This was luscious and perfectly balanced from the start. Because the price tag on the remaining bottles has bloated beyond reason, I'm just going to finish this bottle and bid this great expression adieu.

Availability - A few dozen retailers
Pricing - Europe average price is $254. US average price is $177, per winesearcher
Rating - 90

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Clynelish Distillery Only, 2018 Edition

I liked this lineup: an indie Clynelish, the sherry cask-finished Distillers Edition and this Distillery Only bottling. There was (SPOILER ALERT) not a bad whisky amongst the three. In fact, they might have been slightly better than the Crown Royal Taste Off.

MAO rescued a bottle of this whisky (please see his review here) from the very homey-looking confines of the Clynelish gift shop last year. He sent me this sample for which I am very grateful.

Stellar idea
So poorly executed
Where is my whisky
According to whiskybase, there was only one previous Distillery Only Clynelish. 7000 bottles of ex-bourbon malt bottled at a hefty 57.3%abv, back in 2008. The distillery took a similar approach in 2018, ex-bourbon and 6000 bottles, but reduced it to 48%abv. No it's not full power, but 48%abv is a good spot for whisky. For 80GBP, though, it'd better be a really good spot.

Distillery: Clynelish
Region: Highlands (North)
Ownership: Diageo
Maturation: bourbon casks
Age: ???
Outturn: 6,000 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 48%
Chillfiltered: Probably not
Colored: Probably not

Ah, no woodwork in the nose. It's bready, with sesame seeds and chives. Dry grass, dry soil. Pears and lemons and dried parsley. A barley note grows with time. The palate is brighter and fruitier than the nose, with loquats (I know it's random but I love loquats), clementines and limes. Some floral esters, ginger powder and a hint of soil. Very little heat. Brown sugar, honey and ginger in the finish, with a little bit of the floral esters and grassy notes.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or 1¼ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Lemons, dry grass, chives, brine and mint leaves on the nose. The palate and finish are identical to the nose. Lemons, mint, grass, herbs, salt.

This is a fine representation of lean Clynelish. Good on Diageo for not squeezing it out of recharred quarter casks. The fruit, grain, salt and herbs work well as a team whether the whisky is neat or diluted. I don't really understand the price (natch), but there aren't many/any cheap distillery-only bottlings in Scotland. As of last year this D.O. was available as part of the 12GBP tasting at the distillery, and that's probably the best way and place to taste it.

Availability - Distillery Only, as per the name
Pricing - £80
Rating - 86

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Clynelish 1997 Distillers Edition (2012 bottling)

Diageo's Clynelish Distillers Edition had a brief seven-year run, ending in 2012. Until now I didn't understand why they chose to end that one, but continue, say, Glenkinchie's DE. But I just realized Diageo also retired Green Label in 2012. Could they really have been facing a Clynelish shortage? Should I give them the benefit of the doubt?

No? Okay.

This final batch (Cl-Br: 175-7l) was brought out for a Columbus Scotch Night last year. It was a hit. People liked it better than Johnnie Walker Blue, because people have taste buds.

Distillery: Clynelish
Region: Highlands (North)
Ownership: Diageo
Range: Distillers Edition
Maturation: ??? years in ??? casks, then a brief finish in Oloroso Seco casks 
Age: 14-15 years
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered: Probably
Colored: Probably

The sherry cask keeps out of trouble in the nose. Brine, beachy kelp and miso lead the way. Then honey mustard and nuts. Small notes of cocoa and dried fruit round it out. More sherry cask in the palate. Dried stone fruits, buttery caramel and fresh ginger float in a mellow sweetness. Hints of flowers and limes. The edges feel sanded down. A lightly warm and sweet finish. Ginger candy, flowers, pepper, salt and a hint of drying tannins.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose shifts to raisins, molasses, brine, vanilla bean and apple skins. No raisins in the palate, but there are plenty of nutty notes. Mint candy, a few peppercorns. A good earthy note leaps out of nowhere. It finishes with cayenne pepper, salt and mint candy.

Though the spirit is much shier than in yesterday's Clynelish, it's not completely drowned out by the casks. This is a simpler, cuddlier Clynelish than the regular 14 year old, but it hasn't slipped into the long line of multi-cask somnambulant Speysides. Its Highland roots are still showing, and its shoes are scuffed. I don't actually know what that means, but this is still Clynelish albeit very approachable.

Availability - maybe a few European retailers
Pricing - ???
Rating - 85

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Clynelish 12 year old 1997 James Macarthur, cask 11828

When arranging this week's Clynelish lineup, I found a sample of this whisky:

I bought the bottle at the recommendation of the very wise Todd, just before I left California. After moving to Ohio, I promptly drank it all. Had I not left a sample in my now-defunct archive the whisky would never have been reviewed! And as we all know, a whisky not publicly opined upon does not actually exist.

So here's the first of this week's three Clynelish. It's a 1997 from an independent bottler I never see or hear from anymore. Anyone know if James Macarthur is still in business?

Distillery: Clynelish
Region: Highlands (Northern)
Independent Bottler: James MacArthur & Co.
Series: Fine Malt Selection
Age: 12 years (1997-2010)
Maturation: bourbon cask, possibly re-fill
Cask number: 11828
Alcohol by Volume: 45%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: No

Two bold elements play together well in the nose. There's an earthy-aquatic side: ground mustard seed, brine, dried leaves and seaweed in extra virgin olive oil. Then there's barley with apple and cucumber skins. Good stuff. The palate also keeps a duality in balance. Soil, salt, herbs and grass. Fresh peaches and apricots and a few flower blossoms. I guess it's all earthbound. Grass, earth, salt and pepper in the finish, with some apples lending color.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or ⅔ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose is all barley, lemon zest and ground mustard. The palate: barley, burlap, apples, salt and ginger candy. The finish has surprising length and warmth. Baking spices, canned pears and a little bit of sugar.

First, the airing of grievances.

The official tasting notes:
No, there's no vanilla or bourbon on the palate. And that's a good thing. Had I gone by the bottle's notes, I wouldn't have bought it. What Clyne fan wants vanilla and bourbon in his 'lish?

It's the distillate that sings here. And it is right and good. (Actually, a whisky buddy thought this was a refill sherry cask.) There's been enough maturation time to calm the whisky a bit, and let the potentially dueling sides merge.

No wonder this bottle went fast. I wish I had another. Todd probably told me to buy two.

Availability - I don't know
Pricing - was $50-$60 earlier in the decade, likely 50% more expensive now
Rating - 88

Monday, April 1, 2019

The Crown Royale -- 4 Crowns, 1 Noggin

Our lives have been incomplete, until now:

You ask, "No Northern Harvest Rye?" No, no artsy-fartsy crap. Jim Murray's Weird Payoff will get its own post someday. Maybe.

It's Crown Royal vs. Crown Royal Black vs. Crown Royal Regal Apple vs. Crown Royal Vanilla. I received Black, Apple and Vanilla as Secret Santa gifts last year, then I bought the 200mL of Fin De Luxe myself. May that put your mind at ease about the sourcing of these Canadians.

Before I continue, two clarifications:
  1. As one of the most popular whisky brands in the world, Crown has been enjoyed by millions of people for multiple generations. Hell, it sells more cases than Jameson. So this is not an April fool's joke. It's a legit Taste Off.
  2. I will grade Regal Apple and Vanilla as whiskies. If the major whisky industries insist on flooding their markets with artificially-flavored products with the word "whisky" attached, then these drinks should be judged as whiskies.
These four Crowns were first tried neatly via nosing glasses, then they were all served on the rocks and compared again. Here are the results.


Crown Royal (Fin De Luxe), 40%abv
Nose - Sugary and floral with a mild acetone note. Sawdust, vanilla and apples, with hints of malt and rye.
Palate - Grainy Irish whiskey + Johnnie Walker Red + pears. It gets very sweet after a while, all sugar and apples and flowers.
Finish - Warm, short and cloying.

Crown Royal Black, 45%abv
Nose - Sturdier and bolder than the classic Crown. Rye and orange peel. Vanilla bean, cinnamon and clove with a hint of glue.
Palate - Again, burlier and bigger. More American oak, but also more rye. Some good bitterness and dark dried fruits.
Finish - Simple. Sweeter than the palate. Has some of the dried fruits.

Crown Royal Regal Apple, 35%abv
Nose - Oh. Need to sniff from at least 3 inches away, because gross. Spoiled spiced cider, Children's Cherry Tylenol and nail polish remover. Or as I like to call it, Sunday night.
Palate - Chemicals. Cologne. Not apples. Watermelon candy. Candy canes. Children's medicine.
Finish - Aspartame and acetone and candy canes.

Crown Royal Vanilla, 35%abv
Nose - Nilla wafers, bottom shelf Irish whiskey, cinnamon, cherry pie and simple syrup.
Palate - Cream soda, confectioner's sugar and honey.
Finish - Same as palate. Brutal sweetness, but not full of chemicals.



Crown Royal (Fin De Luxe)
Vanilla and apples – how curious. There's also a honey note, but it's not too sweet. Just a slight bitterness.

Crown Royal Black
Its strengths have been neutralized. It's just vanilla and banana pudding. It's better when neat.

Crown Royal Regal Apple
I can still smell the chemical spill. The palate is less stomach churning. Perhaps there's some apple candy, but no whisky can be found. Tooth-rottingly aspartame sweet.

Crown Royal Vanilla
It smells like dog's breath. How does that happen? Then the palate goes all wrong. It's not vanilla. Something woody and not food.


Crown Royal (Fin De Luxe) - I was surprised to find this a full step better than modern day Canadian Club and Black Velvet and Seagram's. It works quite well on the rocks as notes of vanilla and apples come naturally(?) from the whisky. I'm going to keep what's left of my bottle for summer highballs, but I doubt I'll ever buy this again.
Rating - 71

Crown Royal Black - With its shocking 45%abv and use of new American oak, this comes across as actual whisky. It tops all standard Canadian blends I've had. And most standard Irish blends too. But in the $30 price range there are still many bourbons, a few ryes and and an occasional scotch with which it can't compete. Again, I'll keep the rest of my bottle, but I won't be pouring it onto ice.
Rating - 78

Crown Royal Regal Apple - This made me physically ill. Just looking at the bottle photo makes me nauseous. Sub-calvados, sub-applejack, sub-schnapps, sub-apple pucker, sub-Malort Regal Apple is bound to ruin many a cocktail. And everything else. Recommended!
Rating - 36

Crown Royal Vanilla - You know, it wasn't horrible before I put it on ice. I could see how it would work in dessert cocktails. And it was digestible. But if anyone is going to sip this, I'd assume they'd be doing so with it on the rocks, and that's when it goes wrong. Very wrong. But unlike Regal Ipecac, Vanilla can be used for things.
Rating - 59