...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Springbank Gone Wild: Springbank 15 year old 2002 Cadenhead

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

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

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

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

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

The whisky didn't deserve paragraphs.

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

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

Availability - hopefully nil
Pricing - too much
Rating - 44

Monday, July 29, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With a tiny bit of water...

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

More water?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 26, 2019

Luxury Product Report: Amrut Greedy Angels 10 year old (2019)

Yes, at north of $800, this is the sort of whisky that gets its own casket and Certificate of Death, er, a note from Master Distiller, Surrinder Kumar, thanking me for buying a bottle.

What? Me buy a bottle? No, Surrinder!

*air drums*

I bought one ounce.

Local whisky friends offered up a bottle split, so I decided to be extra helpful and buy the smallest possible portion.

The story behind the Greedy Angels series is all about Bangalore's summers which do a number on Amrut's casks, with the "Angels" withdrawing generous amounts of contents through the cask staves. The key for Mr. Kumar is to get the whisky bottled before it's hot oak syrup, something we have plenty of here in The States.

This edition of Gready Engels was distilled from peated Scottish barley, then aged first in a Pedro Ximenez butt for seven years. What remained at that point was split between an ex-bourbon cask and "a 100 litre refill virgin oak barrel" (a series of words for which I have many questions) where it spent another three years. I have a feeling that the results were diluted to 60%abv, since a previous 10yo Gritty Angeles was 71%abv. This may make it a more approachable drink while also increasing the outturn. I can't guarantee that, but 60%abv is a very round number.

What we have in this edition is peat, sugary sherry and American oak, likely squared or cubed. Amrut Spectrum 004 was quite a ride, so I'm all buckled in for this thingamajig.

Distillery: Amrut
Region: Bangalore, India
Age: minimum 10 years
Maturation: see notes above
Outturn: 324 bottles, 1/3 of which are for the US
Alcohol by Volume: 60%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(from a bottle split)

So many things going on in the nose. There's barbecued pork with a sugary sauce. Brown's cream soda. Dark chocolate with smoked sea salt. Old Armagnac. Cedar chips. Dried cherry marsala sauce. And a whiff of incense smoke. After some time in the glass, there's more orange oil. Cigarette smoke in a Tokyo whisky bar.

Charred citrus peels and charred peppers arrive first on the palate, then sweet berries and mint. LOTS of cardamom. Hints of grape jam and ginger snaps. A lovely tartness throughout. There's remarkably no generic oak or vanilla present.

The long finish balances tartness and sweetness. Cardamom, chile oil and a gentle dusty smoke.

The gorgeous nose is utterly transportive, and I can't ask for anything more from a whisky. I don't know if it's Nose of the Year because I can't remember what else I've drunk thus far. Hell, I don't remember where I put my keys just now. Anyway, this Greedy thing was a thrill to sniff for an hour. There was nearly no chance the palate could meet the sniffer, so I wasn't disappointed when it was merely very good. I'm happy to enjoy a B-grade palate with an A-grade nose. The absence of aggressive American oak on the palate was very impressive. Were this Amrut one-fourth its price......

Availability - There may be a few dozen retailers in the world with a bottle
Pricing - $800-$1000
Rating - 90

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Speyburn 15 year old

For nearly a decade and a half, the entire Speyburn range was made up of a 10 year old, a 25 year old and (occasionally) the NAS Bradan Orach thing. Then in 2017, the distillery added another NAS (Arranta) and a 15 year old. In 2018 they went cuckoo bananas and added an 18. And now there are single casks? So many Speyburns! How am I to keep up?

Well, here's a review of the 15 year old. And perhaps in 2022 I'll review the 18yo, just to be so timely. Per the official website the 15yo is made up of whiskies aged in American oak and Spanish oak casks. As of 2017, the outturn was to be 3500 cases/year. It's also the rare whisky that is often cheaper in the US than in Europe.

To ease your mind, this one wasn't a freebie. But I did try it with the two waters that worked best with the 10 year old. Don't worry I won't be doing these double dilutions in every review going forward. Probably.

Distillery: Speyburn
Ownership: Inver House (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Age: at least 15 years old
Maturation: American oak casks and Spanish oak casks
Outturn: 3500 cases per year
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from a purchased sample)

Oh great. I wrote my tasting notes in salmon-colored pen as a Speyburn joke, but now I can barely read them. Hilarious!

The sherry casks (or at least 'Spanish oak' casks) are nice and subtle in the nose, more nutty than dried fruity. There's some lemon, brine and aged dry cheese. Then toasted oak spices, pineapple and strawberry bubblegum. There's an ol' musty dunnage note in the front of the palate that then gives way to orange creamsicles and chiles. Though it gets sweeter with time, there's a good tartness to balance it out. Toffee pudding, then lime and guava juices. A sharp metallic note sits in the background. The long, warm finish has toasted nuts and grains. A hint of sherry cask dried fruit. Guava juice and marshmallows.

Time for the two waters.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv with Uisge Source Speyside water
The nose reads a little woodier, but not too much. Saltier, a hint of wood smoke. Limes, strawberry bubblegum and marshmallows. The palate has minerals, smoky pepper, bright ginger ale and lemons. And they play pretty well together. A little bit of toffee in the background. The finish goes heavier on the minerals and lighter on the sweets.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv with Columbus Municipal tap water
Tropical fruits and berries on the nose, then brown sugar, ginger beer, oak spices and copper. The palate has a good balance of sweet, salt and savory. Think toffee pudding, sea salt, mustard seed and mushroom. Hints of limes and fruity sherry casks. It finishes more on the savory side. Hints of oak spice, limes and bitterness.

This is a full step or step-and-a-half above the current 10 year old. The 46abv/NC/NCF presentation definitely helps. And while there is an oak spice element throughout, it reads toasty, and there's much less vanilla here than in the 10. The fruit element is my favorite (as ever), but I appreciate the balance the palate maintains, with or without water, never letting things get too sweet.

It's easily consumable, though an occasional quirky note pops up to remind one that this isn't just another simple Speyside to sip and dismiss. I may get a bottle of this to see if it'll crack my favorite 25 malts under $80.

Availability - Several dozen retailers in the US and Europe
Pricing - $50-$70 in the USA, $55-$80 in Europe (w/o shipping)
Rating - 85

Monday, July 22, 2019

Water Sports with Speyburn 10 year old!

Will this post title draw more clicks? Will it make me lose my connect? Or will the entire internet start sawing logs at the very mention of Speyburn 10 year old? Who knows, but I'm pretty sure this going to be a TL;DR post!

I've always liked Speyburn 10 — thank you, Florin, for the introduction all those years back — as it had actual character while it somehow underpriced the big Glens. It's only occasionally on the shelves here in Ohio, and when it's available it's 50-60% more expensive than it was in California. In late April, Amy from Ten Communications offered up the Speyburn 10 Year Old Source Water Gift Pack as an idea for Father's Day. The pack includes a seven-fitty of Speyburn 10yo and a 100mL of water sourced by Uisge Source from Speyside. (Thank you, Amy!)

I'm not averse to diluting whisky, and I do so in nearly all of my reviews. But I'm also not of the opinion that water helps to open up every whisky; in fact I'm on a recent streak wherein dilution keeps screwing up almost every whisky I try. My take — and you may need to sit down for this one — is that sometimes dilution helps, and sometimes it doesn't.

The Speyburn Source Water Gift Pack not only lets me try an old go-to, but it also gives me a chance to experiment with waters. I usually use filtered water (sourced from my fridge!), though sometimes I go totes crazy and use spring water. Despite the fact that I try to be mindful and science-ish about my approach I'm not sure how or if the two waters would influence the same whisky differently.

First, I needed to find the dilution point. The whisky vanished at 30%abv, but there was something still going on at 35%abv. So 35%abv it is.

Second, the waters!
  • Neat, aka No Water
  • Uisge Source Speyside water
  • Spring water from Michigan (don't tell anyone in Ohio I did this)
  • Filtered water from Columbus, Ohio
  • Columbus, Ohio, municipal water straight from the tap
Thirdly, a soundtrack. Some Dex is called for. No, not Dexy's Midnight Runners. I mean, Dexter Gordon's Go!.

Okay, I'm set.

Onto the event.


Neat, 40%abv - Barley-heavy along with apples, green grapes and mint candy. Still has a raw bite to it and hints of taffy and vanilla bean. Picks up a cream soda note after 45 minutes.

Uisge Source Speyside Water, 35%abv - The raw edge has departed. Now there are mint leaves, flower blossoms and almond butter on bananas. Small notes of sugar cookies and something salty/savory.

Michigan Spring Water, 35%abv - Flat-ish. Barley-ish. Takes a while for anything to show up. Nuts and ground cumin. Hints of vanilla, lemon zest, cinnamon and black raisins.

Ohio Filtered Water, 35%abv - Also very quiet, though some of the raw spirit note remains. More lemons than limes. Hints of nuts, soil and blossoms.

Columbus Municipal Unfiltered Sink Water, 35%abv - Much more vibrant than the filtered water. Lots of lime zest. Roses, nuts and toffee. Orange oil and toasted oak. Still potent after 45 minutes.

Noses ranked from best to worst:
1. Columbus Municipal Unfiltered Sink Water
2. Neat
3. Uisge Source Speyside Water
4. Michigan Spring Water
5. Ohio Filtered Water

Yes, you read that correctly. Of all the gastnesses, I am feeling the most flabbered.


Neat, 40%abv - Creamy and lightly sweet. Very malty. Small notes of tart lemons, hay and melon rind.

Uisge Source Speyside Water, 35%abv - Pleasant but quiet. There's something distinctly Japanese (culinary, not whisky) going on here, like a fermented/umami thing. Toasted oak, toasted grains. Hints of habanero and ginger.

Michigan Spring Water, 35%abv - She's Not There. It's lightly bitter, lightly salty, lightly malty, and that's it.

Ohio Filtered Water, 35%abv - Some of those umami and ginger notes show up here too. It's malty with a little bit of vanilla creaminess. Some salt and flower blossoms.

Columbus Municipal Unfiltered Sink Water, 35%abv - Rich and sweet. Almost Thai in its combo of savoriness + lime + chiles + brown sugar. Whiffs of earth and toasted nuts.

Palates ranked from best to worst:
1. Columbus Municipal Unfiltered Sink Water
2. Uisge Source Speyside Water
3. Neat
4. Ohio Filtered Water
5. Michigan Spring Water

Again, what?


Neat, 40%abv - Creamy and mildly sweet. Little bits of tartness, pepper and malt.

Uisge Source Speyside Water, 35%abv Just the right amount of sweetness. Not much else though. Hints of ginger, grains and vanilla bean.

Michigan Spring Water, 35%abv - Finish? It barely started. Sweet and bitter, maybe.

Ohio Filtered Water, 35%abv - Umami, pepper and blossoms. Moments of sweet and heat.

Columbus Municipal Unfiltered Sink Water, 35%abv - Longest lasting of the finishes. Limes, brown sugar and red pepper flakes.

Palates ranked from best to worst:
1. Columbus Municipal Unfiltered Sink Water
3. Neat
2. Uisge Source Speyside Water
4. Ohio Filtered Water
5. Michigan Spring Water


Rarely has a tasting surprised me like this one. Firstly, there was a significant difference in the dilution results. Though they were all related, they read like five different whiskies. One could get carried away with this, or this could carry away one. I will return to this discovery.

Secondly, three cheers to Columbus's finest!!! The more filtered "cleaner" American water did not result in better whisky. Uisge Source's Speyside water fared the second best overall. I liked what it did with the palate. The Michigan spring water neutered all the flavors. Ohio's filtered water also produced disappointing results, which was very educational because that's what I usually use for my tastings.

Finally, sink water. Yeah, I must explore this further.

Here are the overall rankings:

1. Columbus Municipal Unfiltered Sink Water (B-/B)
2. Uisge Source Speyside Water (B-)
3. Neat (low B-)
4. Ohio Filtered Water (C+)
5. Michigan Spring Water (C-/C)

Availability - The whisky is available at most specialty retailers in the US, not sure about the availability of the water gift pack
Pricing - the water gift pack has an MSRP of $29.99, the whisky itself is $20-$35 in the US
Rating - 81

Friday, July 19, 2019

Pittyvaich 20 year old 1989 Special Release

Built by Bell's in 1975 right next to their Dufftown distillery, Pittyvaich ran for less than 18 years before it was shut down by United Distillers (proto-Diageo). It's in the running for the least sexy of the dead malt distilleries but that hasn't kept Diageo from putting out three Special Releases, which is sort of cool if one doesn't mind spending $300 on Pittyvaich. And for those who don't know, a $300 Special Release is a bottom shelf Special Release.

Before this whisky, I'd had a grand total of one Pittyvaich, one of those 1990s 40%abv Connoisseurs Choice Bleh Whisky experiences all geeks should experience at least 74 times before being able to label oneself an anorak. Let's see what happens to Pittyvaich's single malt when it's not diluted to a beige flavor.

Distillery: Pittyvaich
Ownership: United Distillers
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Maturation: American oak casks
Age: 20 years (1989 - 2009)
Outturn: 6000 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 57.5%
Colored? No
Chillfiltered? No
(from a purchased sample)

Fruit, glorious fruit in the nose. Pineapples, mangoes and lemons. Tinned fruit cocktail juice, apricot hamantaschen and fried plantains with (fruity) cinnamon. The pink scented marker. And a gentle ripple of barley in the background. An impressive lack of oak in the palate. Lots of green herbs mixed with lime and lemon juices. Hints of toasted barley. Moderate amounts of heat, sweetness and tanginess. There's also something grungy and metallic in the background. It finishes with those limes and lemons. The herbs are dried now, and joined by a sprinkle of sugar and salt. A spicy zing lingers the longest.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose's fruit note shifts to yellow bananas, honeydew and lime zest. Now there's a mix of bubblegum, shortbread, cloves and mint leaves. While the heat on the palate somehow gets more intense, things also get very very sweet. Then there's plastic and an herbal bitterness. More bananas. It's actually kind of a mess. Some tartness joins the sweetness in the finish. More bananas, now covered in caramel sauce. More plastic.

I'm on a streak here. This is the fifth consecutive single malt I've reviewed that doesn't fare well under dilution. Each one has either gotten neutered or fallen apart. The nose on this Pittyvaich stands up just fine with dilution, though I prefer the fruit riot of the neat nose. The palate, though, goes very wrong once water is added. When neat, the flavors are fresh and crisp, seasoned by a subtle weirdness. But I was very disappointed when I was left with a half-sample weakened by water. Such a Pitty.

Availability - after 10 years it's still around at some European specialty retailers
Pricing - €250-€350 w/VAT
Rating - 86 (neat only, dilution knocks it down 10-15 points)

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Port Dundas 12 year old

I completed this tasting a few days before typing the first word (I!) of this post. And though my expectations were set low, this "whisky" still unperformed. Make that capital-U Underperformed. I could not make it past one-third of the sample.

Leaving aside my dislike of Scottish grain whisky, this release doesn't make sense to me. Port Dundas is a dead distillery. Why not let this stuff age for 30+ years and then sell it for a small fortune to the saps who pay $1k for Special Release grain whisky? Or if it's such a large parcel, why not keep it for blends? Or do a combo of the two so there's more grain for old ultra-luxury blends?

There's nothing else constructive I can say about this "whisky", so I'm just going to get to the notes.

Distillery: Port Dundas
Owner: Diageo
Type: Single Grain
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: American oak
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(Thank you to Brett for letting me relieve his collection of 1 ounce of this stuff)

The nose is all watered-down bottom shelf Canadian whisky blended with vodka. Vodka, imitation vanilla, caramel, nail polish remover, butter and simple syrup. The palate impressively and unimpressively matches the nose. Vanilla vodka, woody bitterness and palate-killing levels of sweetness. It's all heat, vanilla vodka and sugar in the finish.

Can someone with spare liver cells do a Port Dundas 12yo versus Smirnoff Vanilla taste off? Or not?

Availability - The USA because we're suckers?
Pricing - $40-$60 (should be $9.99)
Rating - 49

Monday, July 15, 2019

Bunnahabhain Moine 9 year old 2008 Bordeaux Red Wine Casks

There's a theme to each week's reviews. This week's theme? Some Random Stuff.

Once upon a time, Bunnahabain's official range included the 12yo, 18yo and 25yo. Now, according to their official site, there are 23 current releases. Is this progress? I don't know. But their 12 year is still excellent. Today's whisky is a young heavily-peated Bunny that spent its entire life in red wine casks from the Bordeaux region. I predict intensity.

Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Ownership: Distell Group Ltd.
Region: Islay, but not the Dirty South

Age: 9 years (18 Dec 2008 - 26 Feb 2018)
Maturation: Bordeaux red wine casks
Outturn: 4536 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 58.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(Thank you to Matt for the sample!)

There's dark chocolate, peanut butter, ham and rubber smoke in the nose. Beneath that: mixed berry jam, cinnamon candy and dried cherries. With 20+ minutes in the glass, the rubbery smoke turns leafy. Salty burnt seaweed leads the palate, followed by grape jelly and bitter chocolate. Then cayenne pepper and bus exhaust. It picks up some fruit sweetness and lime juice, with some time in the glass. Madness in the finish. Bus exhaust, limes, berry candy, peanuts, burnt paper and mild bitterness.

That was a lot. Let's tone it down?

DILUTED TO ~46%, or > 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Yeah, the nose does calm down and the separate parts merge: chocolatey peat, lemons, cloves, cinnamon and peanuts. Water has washed most of the wine away in the palate. Peated peanut butter, cinnamon and wood smoke lead the way, followed by smaller notes of citrus, berries and sugar. Simple sweet smoke, nuts and fresh berries in the finish.

The good news is Bunnahabhain isn't tying itself to one simplistic distillery character. On the other hand, what is this stuff?

It's pretty wild, though it's not bad. In fact, I'd take this over most of the countless immature 5-8 year old single casks the indies are currently dumping onto the market. If you hate winey whiskies — whether your palate or a whisky blogger has told you so — just add water to this thing and then worry not. If you want violence, then don't dilute it.

I'm baffled by the whiskybase scores for this whisky. Or maybe everyone's just throwing around 90+ scores at this point in time. I will say this product commits fully to entertaining the drinker, but who the heck could get through a whole bottle of this stuff?

Availability - Maybe a dozen or two retailers around the world
Pricing - $100-$200, yeah I don't know either
Rating - 83

Friday, July 12, 2019

PUNI Nero 4 year old, 2017 Edition

In this Nu-Whisky era, experimental whiskies coming from the usual countries often interest me less than the bottles from unconventional locales. Yet, when I sat down with a sample of this Italian whisky and read that it was four years old and aged entirely in Pinot Noir casks I had......feelings.

It's tough to find a comparable sparring pour in my collection, so I chose the Ardnamurchan 2018 AD due to its sweetness and cask influence, watering it down to a comparable 46%abv. Yes, that was setting the bar low, but I had......feelings.

PUNI is fully committed visuals. Here's the distillery:

Do a Google image search for "Puni distillery". You won't regret it, whether you think it looks like a giant honeycomb built by square bees or The Future Because We'll All Be Living In Deserts.

And here's the bottle:

I normally don't care for bottle flair, but I enjoy this design more than the Octomore monolith.

So PUNI has its design in order, but what about its actual products? Nova, Sole and Alba are their core releases. The limited edition Nero has been released twice, so far.

The Nero's color was noticeably lighter than that of the Ardnamurchan, and 4 years of maturation in Northern Italy is different than 4 years of maturation in Port Askaig. Also, not all wine casks are the same. Yet those......feelings.

Distillery: PUNI
Region: South Tyrol, Italy
Age: 4 years
Maturation: Pinot Nero (think Pinot Noir) wine casks
Bottling Date: 2017
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltration? No
Colorant? No
(from a purchased sample)

The nose is very pretty. It starts with honey, flowers, lychee, applesauce and cinnamon sticks. That's followed by star anise, saline, kirschwasser and a hint of oats. The palate is like a salty almond-ginger cake (if that's a thing). There's also a note that took me forever to figure out: Foursquare rum. Eau de vie lingers in the background, as does a strong herbal note that leans toward pepper and smoke. The medium-length finish is drying and very herbal with eau de vie and pinches of ginger powder and white pepper.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose simplifies and focuses on McIntosh apples, honey and dried thyme. Lots of dried savory herbs in the palate, along with anise, eau de vie, mint leaves and a slight bitterness. The finish mirrors the palate, but with more bitterness and salt.

Well, as Randy Brandy always says, feelings are wrong and no one should have them. This PUNI Nero is a light pleasant whisky that probably works well as a spring or summer pour. Indeed it is young, but anything more than an additional year or two in those casks would result in an overbaked winey whisky. At 4 years old, it's better neat and never very sweet (rhymes!). It's subtler, better balanced and much more enjoyable than the Ardnamurchan. Italy just won the week.

Availability - Many European specialty whisky retailers
Pricing - €50-€65 (w/VAT)
Rating - 80 (neat only)

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Ardnamurchan 2018 AD

The first two whiskies this week were distilled by companies better known for their independent bottling of other producers' single malts. On Monday it was Wemyss, today it's Adelphi.

Ardnamurchan Distillery began distilling in 2014, but has yet to release something old enough to be called 'whisky'. Instead they squeezed out 1 year old spirit bottlings in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Their site says they aim to release their first single malt in 2021. That means they're either struggling to get things right at 3 years, or they're (gasp!) waiting to bottle something older. I hope it's the latter.

Considerable effort has been made to keep this side of the company more modern than most. Their handsome bottle design includes some blockchain-QR tech, which allows them to track every bottle and deliver more narratives to customers. Meanwhile, the distillery is powered by local renewables and their byproducts are reused locally.

This West Highlands distillery produces non-peated and peated (30ppm at malting) malt, using Concerto barley. Like Kingsbarns, they're keeping things small with a capacity under a half-million liters per year.

Now that all these facts are behind us, it's time for some hot takes!

Distillery: Ardnamurchan
Owner: Adelphi
Region: Way Out There (Highlands)
Age: the youngest stuff is said to be 1 year old
Maturation: 1st fill sherry casks
Bottling Date: 2018
Alcohol by Volume: 55.3%
Chillfiltration? No
Colorant? No
(from a purchased sample)

An absolute whompin' of sherry cask influence on the nose: dried berries, cocoa and a hefty meatiness. There's also a mix of honey mustard, watermelon candy, mint, peat smoke and metal. The palate starts out with a brushfire character that's reminiscent of Balcones Brimstone. Lots of mesquite smoke and ham and soil. Beneath that is thyme, cinnamon, honey and salted nuts. The drying finish is mostly heat and smoke, with a large dose of salty peat.

What happens when we cool it down?

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1¼ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose gets funkier with bigger peat and honey and black raisins. Burning plastic siding. It's beginning to shift from Brimstone to Leviathan II. The palate is much sweeter and bitterer now. Leafy peat, cinnamon and nuts float in a simple syrup. The finish's bitter and earthy notes are swallowed up by a sugar flood.

Without dilution it's Brimstone, with dilution it's Leviathan II. With those two products struggling to be unique whiskies rather than stunts, and often losing that battle, it's not the best company for a new scotch to be in. I think Ardnamurchan 2018 AD comes out ahead of those two, but just barely.

The issue isn't the raw aggressive peat character, rather it's the blanket of overactive casks and a blinding sweetness. These elements clash with the earth, leaves, bitterness and plastic smoke, leaving one wondering what the spirit would actually be like if left alone.

I'm assuming Adelphi released this spirit drink for revenue purposes and to fuel the brand ahead of time. Once it sells through — and it will because it's New — it'll gross around €250K. The company is also likely utilizing the outsized premium they charge for their independent bottlings of other distilleries' whiskies, like €155 for 5 year old blended malt, €200 for 7 year old whisky and nearly €300 for 14 year old single malt to keep the distillery's lights on. That's certainly one way to crowdsource.

Availability - Many European specialty whisky retailers
Pricing - €65-€90 (w/VAT)
Rating - 70 (neat only)

Monday, July 8, 2019

Kingsbarns Dream to Dram

Many of the online reviews of this whisky lean heavily on the words "young" and "Lowlands", and that's not helpful. Firstly, of course it's young. It's barely 3 years old. So rather than using the Y-word, I'll attempt to use sensory descriptors. Secondly, geographic location no longer determines what a whisky tastes like, if it ever really did. There are unpeated Islays and heavily-peated Speysides. There are triple-distilled single malts from Speyside and Campbeltown, and there are double-distilled whiskies from the Lowlands. So I won't use latitude measurements to describe what a liquid tastes like.

Kingsbarns Distillery opened in 2014, then its spirit started going into barrels in early 2015. The facility currently fills 24 casks per week, though the distillery has a higher capacity. Kingsbarns is located in Fife and the barley is from......Fife. Novel!

Dream to Dram is the distillery's first widely-released legal whisky. It's mostly from bourbon casks, though there's a portion from STR casks. STR = shaved, toasted and re-charred wine casks. Yes, this is now a thing.

Distillery: Kingsbarns
Owner: Wemyss Distillery Ltd.
Region: Lowlands (Fife)
Age: minimum 3 years
Maturation: 90% 1st fill bourbon casks + 10% shaved, toasted and re-charred wine casks
Bottling Date: 2018
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltration? No
Colorant? No
(from a purchased sample)

The nose starts out with lots of pears and yeast. Very worty. Ground mustard, grass, oatmeal and sugar. A barley note emerges then expands with time. Barley and a hint of vanilla lead the palate, followed by toasted nuts and cayenne pepper. It needs 10+ minutes of air, then there's almond biscotti, vanilla fudge and a hint of milk chocolate. Milk chocolate-covered almond biscotti, barley, pepper sauce and a little bit of sweetness finishes it out.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Sour beer, cheesy yeast, barley and a squeeze of lemon in the nose. More heat in the palate than when the whisky was neat. Flavor-wise, there's barley, vanilla, flowers, ginger powder and a little bit of herbal bitterness. It finishes hotter as well. It's also more acidic and tangy. Barley and nuts.

Forget adding water to this whisky, it plays best when neat and given some time in the glass. At times it's very close to wort, but at other times it seems like it's on its way to something very good. The mouthfeel is a little thin, but Dream to Dram makes for easy drinking and it's never too sweet. While I do look forward to this stuff after it has spent 10 full years in a cask, in the meantime I like it much better than the two Wolfburns I've tried. Good luck, Kingsbarns!

Availability - Many European specialty whisky retailers
Pricing - €40-€50 (w/VAT)
Rating - 79 (neat only)

Friday, July 5, 2019

Killing Whisky History, Episode 26: National Distillers-era Old Crow bourbon, bottled in ...

This month's whiskey comes from often-beloved-in-hindsight National Distillers. It is of a certain age and a certain bird. But is it old? And is it anything to crow about? Click to find out!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Old Forester Rye

There have been three failed attempts at starting this post in a witty fashion, so I'll just say it outright: I do not like Brown-Forman's standard American whiskies, from any of their distilleries.

The catch is I've never had any of their ryes, nor any of their new Old Foresters. And I'm trying to expand my mind and palate when it comes to spirits I don't like. For instance, I used to think all tequila was foul. But I've had good tequila now. I mean, it still makes me vomit, but it tasted better on the way down.

My point is, Old Forester Rye. It's new, it's under $30 and it's rye. The official site even has a mash bill. I'm going to fix myself a Manhattan first, then try the rye neat. I hope this works!

Brand: Old Forester
Company: Brown-Forman
Distillery: Old Forester Distillery
Region: Louisville, Kentucky
Type: Straight rye
Age: NAS
Mashbill:  65/15/20 Rye/Corn/Barley
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
(many thank yous to Jack for the sample!)

MANHATTAN, 2:1 ratio
I'm easy when it comes to Manhattans made with Carpano Antica. They're either bad, good or great. And more than three-quarters of the Carpano Antica Manhattans I've had are of the good or great categories.

It is with some relief that I can say my Old Forester Rye Manhattan fits in the good category. It starts out woody for a brief second, then slides right into a fruity spicy zone from which it never returns. Cherries, oranges, wood spice and anise (which is Kristen's note).


The nose starts off with simple rye grain and oak notes. Then it picks up brine, black pepper, fennel seed and mint leaf. This is met with a mix floral and toasted grain notes as well as apricot jam and peaches. The palate is surprisingly fruity up front. Lots of black cherry syrup/soda and a little bit of orange candy. Not much outright oak. It starts with moderate levels of sweetness and pepper, then they slowly expand. It finishes sweet and berry-ish, with small notes of orange candy, pepper and salt.


I like it.

There, I wrote it. In tiny font.

I think I like it even better than the current Wild Turkey 101 rye. In any case, it's my favorite Brown-Forman standard American whiskey release. Its bright fruitiness and lack of aggressive tannins hits all the right spots for me. Works as a cocktail and works neat. If Ohio liquor stores actually sell this, then I'm going to get a bottle. Thanks to Bourbon Guy, whose review made me consider trying this B-F product someday. And thanks again to Jack for helping make this happen.

Availability - Slowly expanding across the US since 2/1/19
Pricing - $24-$32
Rating - 84

Monday, July 1, 2019

Henry McKenna 10 year old BIB Single Barrel 3270

Look what I found in the back of my cabinet!

No, not that.


Who here is sick of the Heaven Hill posts? Other than me?

Actually, Henry McKenna 10 year old BIB Single Barrel is both reliable and priced exceptionally well for being bottled in bond, a single barrel and 10(!) years old. I've already reviewed two other HMcK10BIBSBs and one dusty HMcK. Lemme do up a quick review of this barrel.

Oh wait, look what else I found in my cabinet!

Come on.

Thank you.

This is a sample of the HMcK10BIBSB I reviewed 19 months ago. Hopefully this will provide some depth and perspective to this tasting.

Brand: Henry McKenna
Distillery: New Bernheim, Louisville, KY
Owner: Heaven Hill
Type: straight bourbon whiskey
Age: at least 10 years
Mashbill: 75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malted Barley (maybe)
Distillation date: November 9, 2006
Bottling Year: 2016 or 2017
Barrel: 3270
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
(Sample from my bottle, mid-bottle)

Barrel 3270 - Very intense, full of vanilla bean, almond extract and caramel sauce. Fruity Vietnamese cinnamon, jasmine and ginger ale. Hints of limes, envelope glue and sawdust.

Barrel 3563 - Muted and peppery. Some generic nuttiness, paper and barrel char. Fresh ginger bursts through after 20 minutes, joined by a little bit of orange peel.

Barrel 3270 - Limes, vanilla and nice aromatic oakiness. Gentle sweetness and moderate heat. Dried cherries and a touch of woody bitterness. It picks up more sweetness and citrus with time.

Barrel 3563 - Fruitier than the nose. Lots of dried fruits and tannins, like a wonky sherry cask. Cayenne pepper and ginger powder give it some zip. Bits of cherry lollipops and tangy citrus.

Barrel 3270 - Lots of small notes: Vanilla, oranges, salt, bitterness. Bigger notes of tart limes, pepper and barrel char.

Barrel 3563 - All drying tannins. No sweetness. Pepper and cherry cough medicine.

I forgot that I hadn't liked barrel 3563. Curiously, I thought its palate was flat last time and this time I found the nose to be the bigger problem. Well, the biggest problem are the violent tannins that obliterate the finish.

But I'm really supposed to be focusing on barrel 3270 today. Its oversized sniffer is a delight, even with a couple quirky notes. The palate's good oak notes survive the quieter not-good oak notes, while the fruitiness and extra sweetness turn it into a quality drink. Had the finish delivered on the nose's or palate's promise, this would be a very good bourbon.

Forgetting all those words words words, and the decent score I'm probably going to give it, there's still an issue here. I opened this bottle a year ago, and I'm still barely at its midpoint. Perhaps it's all the oak or the uninspiring finish or my desire to drink something that kicks more ass at the end of a crap day. Just because something is a good deal doesn't mean it's going to be one of the ten most interesting things in your cabinet (including Pinkie Pie!). Though I appreciate its price point, barrel 3270 is my last Henry McKenna.

Henry McKenna 10 year old, Barrel 3270
Rating - 81

Henry McKenna 10 year old, Barrel 3563
Rating - 76