...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Westland Garryana 3|1

In 2016, Westland began releasing annual small batches of single malt partially aged in Quercus garryana garryana, an oak native to the Pacific Northwest. Because it's a new avenue for whisk(e)y, and the trees are in limited supply, the amount of Garryana casks used vary from batch to batch. The company offers a lot of detail about this process, including nicely-shot pleasantly-scored videos, here, here and here. The releases have been in high demand, even with their substantial price tags, so I'm curious to see how (or if) these batches will scale up.

Batch 3|1 (2018's release) is a bit more of a blending feat than its predecessors. Five cask types and a bundle of barley varietals were involved in its production. Though it may not be all PNW, I'm still thankful to have the opportunity to experience this new whiskey frontier.

Distillery: Westland
Region: Seattle, Washington
Age: minimum 51 months
Mashbill: the five-malt mix, Washington Select Pale Malt and Heavily Peated Malt
Yeast: Belgian Saison Brewer’s Yeast
Fermentation: 144 hours
Maturation: Garryana Oak casks, New American (non-Garryana) Oak casks, 1st Fill Bourbon casks, 1st Fill Port casks, refill Ex-Westland casks
Release: September 2018
Outturn: 1638 bottles
Alcohol by volume: 56%
(from a bottle split)

The nose begins with freshly hewn lumber and old rye, then hints of mossy smoke and Play-Doh. Toffee, melted dark chocolate and saline. Vinyl siding in the summer heat. It has a very thick mouthfeel. Sweet malt and honey-roasted nuts ride up front in the palate. Tart lemons and a brisk herbal bite in the midground. Plasticky smoke and a little bit of mocha in the background. Thankfully the finish is mostly tannin free. Larger notes of toasted almonds, ginger and mocha are met with quieter moments of pepper and herbal bitterness.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1¼ tsp of water per 30mL whiskey
Cinnamon rolls, toasted almonds and wood smoke make up most of the gentler nose. Milk chocolate and coastal notes linger in the background. The palate becomes less sweet, more savory. Pan-heated dried herbs, sea salt and coastal peat. A hint of mocha. The finish matches the palate with maybe a little more nuttiness.

A very enjoyable single malt with a great mouthfeel, Garryana 3|1 feels well-assembled throughout. It seems like one piece with the port casks nowhere to be found and the peat serving as a gentle seasoning. This batch does read a little different than the regular releases and single casks I've tried, but I'm not sure if that's the Garryana or blending at work. And while I understand the reasoning behind the premium pricing, the Garrayana batches are a bit dear for my wallet.

Whether or not this is the future of single malts, I can't say. Whisky's destiny will be determined by producer-swallowing corporations and tariff-spewing governments. While the consumer will foot the bill for both elements, hopefully something good emerges for quality distillers like Westland.

Availability - probably sold out
Pricing - $140-$180, it's cheaper in Washington though the state liquor tax makes up for the difference
Rating - 87

Friday, December 27, 2019

Westland single malt, cask 4358

The last pair of Westlands I tried had multi-maturations, and that's all they had in common. Today's whiskey is a single cask. Monday's whiskey will be......its own thing.

Released this year for distillery visitors, cask 4358 came from just the Washington Pale Malt, was first matured in a former rye cask and then finished in an Oloroso hogshead. That rye and Oloroso combo sounded intriguing, if done well. And I've had little reason to doubt Westland's single cask skills thus far.

Distillery: Westland
Region: Seattle, Washington
Age: 57 months
MashbillWashington Pale Malt
Yeast: Belgian Saison Brewer’s Yeast
Fermentation: 144 hours
Maturation: ex-rye cask, then an oloroso hogshead
Cask #: 4358
Release: March 2019
Outturn: 200 bottles
Alcohol by volume: 59.4%
(from a bottle split)

Sure enough, the nose first reads like a rye aged in an Oloroso cask. There are nuts, raisins, peppercorns and brine. Despite the lack of peated malt, the whisky has a definite smoke note. Notes of VOC fumes and envelope glue mix with lemon candy in the background. The rye recedes with time (and never returns), as prunes take over. Sherry buries everything in the palate, like a baby Kavalan, wit both a PX sweetness and an Oloroso nuttiness. Prunes, black raisins, a hint of soy sauce. Bits of citrus, smoke and ginger ale. Some bitter oak. And it's hotter than expected. The savory and sweet finish carries black raisins, black pepper and drying tannins.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Mostly sherry in the nose. Prunes, black raisins, milk chocolate, maple and plenty of ethyl. The palate is sweeter, and gains the familiar mocha note. Some maple syrup too. Otherwise it's all grape jam and chocolate-covered raisins. The finish remains mostly the same, but picks up metallic and salt notes.

Per the official page: "The whiskey, prior to finishing, was remarkably developed considering the time spent in cask."

Then why suffocate it with this sherry cask finish? The spirit's character is absent 95% of the time, and the rye cask makes itself known for maybe 15 minutes in the nose. This results in a generic aggressively sherry-finished single malt, something the scotch market is already flooded with. As I'd mentioned previously, the world's whisky market is sadly short on rye cask single malts. It would have been fun to try this particular whiskey before it was finished off.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 79

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Westland single malt, cask 3204

Yesterday's Westland and today's Westland were both matured for 45 months (oops, this one was 46 months), but the similarities end there. The malts are different, as are the casks' sizes and previous contents. Also, for what it's worth the ownership had changed between their releases.

Cask 3204 is a peater from a first fill oloroso hoggie. Many scotch whisky distilleries have been cranking out big peat + big sherry combos recently – because each of those elements sell – seemingly without consideration that those two characters often don't play well together. Lemme try Westland's stab at it.

I should have just done a selfie.
Distillery: Westland
Region: Seattle, Washington
Age: 46 months
MashbillHeavily Peated Malt
Yeast: Belgian Saison Brewer’s Yeast
Fermentation: 144 hours
Maturation: "First-fill Oloroso Hogshead"
Cask #: 3204
Release: September 2019
Outturn: 250 bottles
Alcohol by volume: 60%
(from a bottle split)

Kilchoman? Seriously, the nose. It starts out all salty seaweedy peat and dark scary smoke. No generic raisin notes (hooray!). A raspberry treat and maybe some blueberry jam? Lime zest and band-aids. Massive kiln notes lead the palate. I wrote, "Gigundous peating". The sherry is very reserved, and may be contributing to a nice salty/savory aspect that expands with time. Also some fresh chiles, cayenne and white fruits. It finishes savory, smoky and salty, with a dose of good hot sauce and a figgy hint in the background.

I guess I should add water. For science.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or >1¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Funkier peat in the nose, more moss and seaweed. The fig notes now shows up here, with some cocoa powder and honey mustard. The palate becomes earthier, bitterer. Extra extra dark chocolate. Peat and limes. More limes in the finish too. It's still very smoky and mossy, with just a whiff of sweet sherry.

NEAT. I mean, yeah, you can add water. But NEAT. The sherry cask was gracious in defeat, adding small secondary notes when called upon. And yet the whisky is not a palate-killer. The standard Sherry Wood and American Oak expressions were still easily read after consuming 3204. But cask 606 got pantsed.

Though I referenced Kilchoman above, there's also something Ardbeggish about 3204 as well. Yet I like 3204 better than either distillery's current sherried things. It's less raw, and yet there's less cask influence. I hope Westland can continue this level of quality as they start to use more locally-sourced peated malt. In the meantime, cask 3204 is a success.

Availability - A distillery-only release, don't know its status...
Pricing - ???
Rating - 89 (NEAT)

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Westland single malt, cask 177

I know you're asking, How deep can a Westland man stan? Everyone has his/her/their limits. Por ejemplo...

The next pair of Westlands I'm comparing were both 45 months old. Today's whisky (177) was from a 1st-fill bourbon barrel, tomorrow's (3204) from a 1st-fill Oloroso hogshead. The former came from Washington Pale Malt, the latter from heavily-peated sourced malt. They were released three years apart.

Released four years ago, during the distillery's indie phase, cask 177 has lightest color and has the most straightforward production of the six Westlands I'm reviewing, so I'm much intrigued.

Unintentionally the ugliest background I could possibly find
Distillery: Westland
Region: Seattle, Washington
Age: 45 months
Mashbill: Washington Pale Malt
Yeast: Belgian Saison Brewer’s Yeast
Fermentation: 144 hours
Maturation: "1st Fill Ex-Bourbon"
Cask #: 177
Release: December 2015
Outturn: 176 bottles
Alcohol by volume: 59.3%
(from a bottle split)

The nose is very scotch-y. Oranges, citronella, hot plastic, some oceanic hints. Feels a bit closed. Dried thyme. Gravel. The HOT palate eeks out some oak spice, salt, some mild nutty barley. Feels a bit closed. Faint vanilla and butterscotch. Nothing but heat, salt and vanilla in the finish.

Feels a bit closed.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose still hews close to bourbon cask Speyside. More fruit in the mix: apples, pears and lychee. Less gravel, more dried herbs. A pear note arises in the palate, reminiscent of Glenfiddich but with some actual eau de vie added. Some tannins, acidic notes. Not much else. It finishes with heat, salt and tannins.

More water, like enough to make Ralfy nod in approval.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or 1 tbl of water per 30mL whisky
It still noses well. Pears, roses and citronella. The palate gets a little sweeter, brighter. Vanilla and florals. The finish reads like one of the basic Glens.

The palate was very inexpressive for a Westland. I know my palate was not the problem because I sipped some of the regular range just to be certain. (Also, its sparring partner did not have this issue.) The good news for some folks is that this indeed the closest to "Scotch" of any Westland I've had, though with the volume turned down. The 30-month-old cask 606 was sunshine compared to this. Was that due to the cask, or the malt varieties? Why not both. Meanwhile, I'd take the the distillery's silkier, nuttier American expression over this as well.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 77

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Westland single malt, cask 745

Like Monday's Westland (cask 606), cask 745 was made with a five-malt mash bill and was matured in new American oak. But while #606 was aged for 30 months, #745 matured for 62 months (ancient!). Cask 606 was very good, even at that age. Could its youth have prevented the oak from intruding? Or could more be expected with 107%-longer maturation? Interestingly these two whiskies were barreled at nearly the same time...

Distillery: Westland
Region: Seattle, Washington
Age: 62 months
MashbillFive malted barley strains
Yeast: Belgian Saison Brewer’s Yeast
Fermentation: 144 hours
Maturation: new American oak
Cask #: 745
Release: January 2019
Outturn: 200 bottles
Alcohol by volume: 56.2%
(from a bottle split)

The nose is softer, but similar to 606. Mocha, Coca-cola and black sherry soda. Fresher ginger this time, and with a hint of mint leaf. Time in the glass gives it depth, awakening butterscotch and peach skins. The palate is really damned good. Tart cherries, ginger beer, lime and guava juices, grapefruits and lemons. A big herbal bitter bite and just a touch of mocha. The finish is toastier and smokier than the palate. Dark chocolate-covered nuts, fresh ginger and bitter herbs.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1⅓ tsp of water per 30mL whiskey
Now it noses like a fizzy plum soda, with notes of flower blossoms and smoked almonds in the background. A riot of tart citrus and herbal liqueur lights up the palate. Small notes of smoke, sugar and coffee. The finish matches the palate with a little more ginger.

I don't know how they fashion excellent, unique whiskey in five years, but here's yet another Westland gem. As mentioned in the notes, the palate is the real star and I really recommend you just keep this stuff neat. Sorta short on words here, my mind is blown.

One thing I will note: This is avant-garde whiskey. It's slightly insane and in a different dimension than both Kentucky bourbon and Speyside scotch. It's bitter and juicy and nutty and fizzy and herbal. I doubt this style can be scaled-up and broadly beloved, if that's what Remy Cointreau expected when buying the distillery. The good news is this whiskey was released (this year!) under Remy's ownership. May the Westland honey casks keep rolling.

Availability - probably sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 90

Monday, December 23, 2019

Westland single malt, cask 606

I'm closing out the year with six consecutive Westland single malt reviews. Not sure how exactly, but the posts will be posted. So prepare thyself.

Though I reviewed the regular range in October, it's the single cask medium wherein Westland shines brightest. I recently jumped in on six different bottle splits so I could survey the expanse of their uncut whiskies, then I tasted them in pairs in order to compare and contrast.

First up is cask 606 (release 58). It's a baby at only 30 months, made with their oft-used five barley mash bill: Washington Select Pale Malt, Munich Malt, Extra Special Malt, Pale Chocolate Malt and Brown Malt. (See below for more details.) Like its sparring partner, which is being reviewed tomorrow, this whiskey spent its entire short life in new American oak.

Distillery: Westland
Region: Seattle, Washington
Age: 30 months
MashbillFive malted barley strains
Yeast: Belgian Saison Brewer’s Yeast
Fermentation: 144 hours
Maturation: new American oak
Cask #: 606
Release: February 2016
Outturn: 218 bottles
Alcohol by volume: 57.8%
(from a bottle split)

The nose begins with a light combination of white and citrus fruits, along with the chocolate-mocha note that often appears in their American Single Malt expression. Some mild notes of ginger powder and fruity cinnamon float about. With time the whiskey gains subtle band-aid and ocean/brine notes. Very little burn considering its strength and youth. The palate is very similar to the nose, with its mocha and ginger. It's also very toasty (oak and barley), and has highlights of grapefruit and bitter herbal liqueurs. Mocha makes up most of the long finish, along with toasted almonds, lemon juice and bitter herbs.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL of whiskey
Quite a shift in the nose. White chocolate, unsweetened breakfast cereal (toasted nuts and grains), guava juice, grass and brine. The palate has become simpler. Barley, ginger, a sweet creaminess and a tiny bit of bitterness. Mocha, ginger and bitter cocoa in the finish.

This is a burlier, bolder take on their American expression. Unless it's my imagination, the Pale Chocolate and Brown malts seize the main stage here, while something else has summoned a refreshing herbal bitterness. One begins to wonder, as one noses and sips this 2.5 year old thing, matured in the state of Washington, how it is so much more complex and complete than a scotch at 4x its age. Is it the brewer's yeast? Is it higher quality barley? It's not the new oak, as we shall see in the upcoming reviews.

Availability - probably sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 85 (preferred neat)

Friday, December 20, 2019

Longrow 15 year old 2001 Refill Chardonnay Cask

Recently a whisky score of 87 upset someone, so I'm glad no one banned me from Campbeltown after I rated the new 18 and 21 year old Longrows merely very good. Now let's see what kind of damage I can do today.

Secret Agent Man and I thoroughly discussed today's whisky when it was released two years ago. I really wanted to buy a bottle, but The Party Source was slinging this 15yo for nearly $200. So I passed on it. Secret Agent Man did not, and he shared a sample of the whisky with me last month.

There was no quickie finish forced upon this whisky, instead it had a Cadenhead-esque double maturation, spending its last nine years in a refill chardonnay cask. I like the "refill" word and I'm intrigued by the "Chardonnay" part since Glen Moray's old 10yo Chardonnay Cask was surprisingly solid. Lemme see how this one turned out.

The data:

The nose starts with roasted nuts in toffee, then Corn Nuts and bacon smoke. Hints of lemons and tangerines just beneath. The cask is much more present on the palate. In fact, it reads like a Sauternes cask. Floral, mineral and sweet. Midori and applesauce. Candy corn and fizzy ginger ale. The sweet and creamy finish holds ginger ale, oranges and roses.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1¼ teaspoons of water per 30mL whisky
Oranges, wood smoke and kiln ash on the nose. Then toasted oak, saline and anise. The palate does change much. Its fruit (nectarine) and floral (rose) notes seem to be coming from the wine. Still sweet, a little tangier and very little peat. The finish is also sweet and tangy, less floral, more peppery.

That was one really active refill cask, or perhaps it was aggressively seasoned? The wine just rolled right over the spirit. I've never had a chardonnay as sweet as this, though I usually only drink French chardonnay.

*dodges thrown pans*

*ducks a thrown orange toupée*

*never leaves the house again*

Like I mentioned in the notes, this is really for Sauternes fans. And for people with sweeter teeth than mine. I like the whisky better once it's diluted as some Longrow character comes out in the nose, and the palate's fruit is less candied. I wonder what the whisky was like after six years in the wine cask, or one year really. There's a 17 year old chardonnay cask Longrow on the market now. That one terrifies me. Am I the only person interested in a 17 year old refill bourbon cask Longrow?

Availability - Secondary market, maybe?
Pricing - ???
Rating - 80 (with water)

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Longrow 18 year old, 2019 edition

Monday's Longrow 21 had a pair of nifty sparring partners, including this year's edition of Longrow 18 year old. And, yes, I poured the review sample from my own bottle. I've had a chance to try a number of previous Longrow 18s, and while they each differ slightly one thing stays the same: the delicate peat.

Though Longrow's malted barley is peated to a burly measure of 50ppm, and one can certainly feel those phenolics in the young Peated and late CV (💘),  something seems to happen to that peat rather quickly once Longrow hits its early teens. It gets gentler, almost floral, often reading less peaty than Springbanks of the same age. Age truly mellows it out.

That was the case with this bottle during its first third. But it picked up steam after that. This review is from the bottle's midpoint.

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Longrow
Region: Campbeltown
Age: minimum18 years
Maturation: 75% sherry casks, 25% bourbon casks
Batch: 2019
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(from midpoint in my bottle)

There's an old school Highland peat thing going on in the nose, which quickly met by seaweed and anise notes. Then guava and white peaches. Those fruit notes build with time, picking up some grapefruit along the way. The palate feels smokier, sharper and spicier than the nose during the first couple of simps. There's also cherry syrup, tart berries, fresh stone fruits and a hint of veg. It softens with time, but never gets too sweet. Citrus notes jump out later on. The smoke vanishes before the finish, tilting more towards salt and stones, savory seaweed. Then tart cherries and black peppercorns.

Though the good palate improves with time (just like the 21), the nose wins (just like the 21). The fruit notes are the highlights in both categories. I do enjoy drinking it, but the thing is, the whisky never gets beyond a comfy sipper phase. It really could use a little more peat and/or Campbeltown character to hoist it up to another level, or at least set it apart from other single malts. The 21yo gets the edge here because it has some of that complexity. Still, the 18 is less than half the price of the 21, so weigh that as you like. I'll have to return to this someday with at least one other L18 for comparison.

Availability - Many European specialty retailers
Pricing - £90-£110
Rating - 86

Monday, December 16, 2019

Longrow 21 year old, 2019 edition

It's Relevant Longrow Week! And (AND!) Wednesday's Longrow review is from a bottle I purchased. Yes, this is still Diving for Pearls.

First up, the new Longrow 21 year old. Springbank had been rolling out official 18 year old editions of its heavily-peated malt for more than a decade, so I'd been wondering when something older would come along. And here it is:

Bottled just two months ago, this 21yo is a mix of sherry and bourbon casks, with a emphasis on the former, like many of Springbank's non-single cask releases. Hopefully this is the start of a regular annual expression, and that they keep it near its current price.

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Longrow
Region: Campbeltown
Age: 21 years (bottled 2 October 2019)
Maturation: 60% sherry casks, 40% bourbon casks
Outturn: 3,600 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(from a bottle split)

The nose starts off with dirty peat, dirty sherry cask and dried herbs. But that all calms down after 15 minutes or so. Then there's combination charcoal smoke and dusty kiln. Dried berries, a raspberry confection and key lime pie. Smaller notes of soil and wet dead leaves float in the background. The sherry reads much cleaner and fruitier in the palate. Longrow lemons join in. At first the peat, a little farmy and earthy, sits in the far back at first then expands, balancing well with the casks, with time. A lime note overtakes the lemon as well. More smoke in the finish than the palate. In early sips it reads bitter, then it becomes earthy later on. A mix of sweet and tart citrus and berries provides an additional dimension.

This one grew on me. The nose, in all its forms, always worked, but the palate was no more than just fine for a while, seeming more like a generic sherried Speyside. The emergence of limes and earthy smoke really lifted it up. Though the sherry casks bury the bourbon casks, the spirit finds its way through. While this is not a revolutionary whisky, it's a high quality beverage and it's priced lower than the Springbank 21yo. Seeing how just 60mL of it improved with time, I can imagine 700mL would provide a more extensive trip.

Availability - A few dozen European specialty retailers
Pricing - £190-£225
Rating - 88

Friday, December 13, 2019

Bladnoch 26 year old 1992 Cadenhead Authentic Collection

As I mentioned in the previous post, I never really understood Bladnoch's appeal. In fact, aside from Auchentoshan's kooky (or cookie?) indie single casks, there's nothing from current Lowland distilleries that appeals to my palate. Hell, Springbank's Hazelburn does Lowland better than the Lowlanders.

But that was before a recent tasting between this 26 year old Bladnoch and a 22yo from the 1970s. I tucked into the '77 Old Malt Cask whisky first and was immediately impressed. Could this more recent single cask compete?

Distillery: Bladnoch
Region: Lowlands
Ownership at time of distillation: either Bell & Sons or United Distillers
Independent Bottler: Cadenhead
Range: Authentic Collection
Age: 26 years (1992 - 2008)
Maturation: bourbon hogshead
Outturn: 246 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 49.3%
(Thank you to LV33 for the sample!!)

The nose begins with apples, pears, saline and rope. 10 minutes later: fruity cinnamon, lime juice, barley grist and almonds. 10 minutes after that: lots of fragrant stone fruits skins. The palate is Barley City. Its inhabitants also include limes, citrons, minerals and hint of milk chocolate. Minimal sweetness. Slightly medicinal without being peaty. It finishes with lemons, limes, salt, barley and a little bit orange juice.

It's romantically unromantic. A goldilocks malt. Well-matured with no woody interference, this Bladnoch brings the citrus and stones and barley and......then my glass is empty. But before I finished it, the whisky was great! (For those of you who demand a whisky's approval by a certain Frenchman, here it is.) It certainly stood up to the 1977 OMC Bladnoch. There's all of a one point difference in scores between them, which is meaningless because on another day I could think this the better Blad. I'm so happy to have discovered Bladnoch, a decade too late or not, though I'm unhappy that I've already found myself window shopping other single casks of this Lowlander.

Availability - At Cadenhead shops, maybe?
Pricing - €150ish
Rating - 89

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Bladnoch 22 year old 1977 Old Malt Cask

While I've never actively disliked Bladnoch, I've also never understood its (former) cult appeal. Its previous owners, the Armstrongs, seem to have run the distillery as a family business, warts and all, which was refreshing as the Scotch industry slid into corporate control. I also never took part in the Bladnoch Forum, which seemed to wrap up its releases just as I began my online whisky life. As a result, some of y'all reading this post will have your feet more firmly planted in the old Bladnoch world than I.

(Obligatory paragraph about modern Bladnoch: The distillery's current ownership seems to have tried to force a generally unknown brand into the ultra-premium sphere. They haven't released a single thing that sounds interesting, so they (like 99.9% of the ultra-premium brands) will enjoy success without my contribution.)

Whisky friend Cobo, sent me this sample of '70s(!) Bladnoch a few years ago, and I've been sitting on it (literally!) until it had a proper drinking mate. And now it does. Today the '70s, Friday the '90s. From Carter to Clinton. Fill in your joke here. I'm sure Randy Brandy will.

Distillery: Bladnoch
Region: Lowlands
Ownership at time of distillation: Inver House
Independent Bottler: Douglas Laing
Range: Old Malt Cask
Age: 22 years (December 1977 - July 2000)
Maturation: maybe a bourbon barrel?
Outturn: 174 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 50%

The nose has a gorgeously malty base with hints of earth and whole cloves on top, followed by pairings of peach candy and flower blossoms, kiwi juice and dried cranberries, dunnage and ocean air. Then a hint of incense. On the palate, a low rumble of tart fruits (citrus, berries, guava) carries along loads of barley. Sweet apricots, bits of musty dunnage. A butterscotch note develops with time, and the citrus edge expands. It has a very creamy mouthfeel. The finish's sweetness is balanced by tart citrus and a peep of horseradish. Some tropical fruit hints arise along with the nose's dunnage note.

This is fine fine whisky, leagues beyond what I'd anticipated. It's perfectly matured malt without any woodiness, its elements having achieved dynamic equilibrium. There are three single casks of 22yo 1977 Bladnoch in the OMC line, the other two have shown up in European auctions, their hammer prices high but not unreasonable considering the quality and age. This one, though, with the smallest outturn of the three seems to be scarce, hopefully consumed! Anyway, if you have a bottle of it collecting dust, please open and enjoy it. It would be a cracking drink when spring returns.

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 90

Monday, December 9, 2019

Glen Moray 14 year old 2004 Old Malt Cask 20th Anniversary

Though they've recently been tinkering with a slew of NAS whiskies, Glen Moray had a range of low-priced age-stated single malts for the past decade or two. Even though their prices were fair, I have nearly no experience with that distillery's output. Like so many other Glens their official whisky is artificially colored, chillfiltered and diluted to the max so my interest was minimal.

I wrote about the distillery's history three years ago, and have little to add except that the year this single cask was distilled (2004) was when the former Macdonald & Muir sold the distillery to LVMH. So, I'm not sure if this was distilled under Bill Lumsden's supervision or not. Or if it even matters. If you've had more experience with Glen Moray and know of a style change please let me know in the comment section below. I'm all for more whisky education, of both words and liquid. And today's liquid learning was sent to me by My Annoying Opinions (thanks, Teach!) who has posted a simultaneous review of this same whisky this very morning!

Distillery: Glen Moray
Owner: La Martiniquaise
Region: Speyside (Elgin)
Bottler: Hunter Laing
Series: Old Malt Cask
Age: 14 years old (April 2004 - August 2018)
Maturation: probably a hogshead
Outturn: 337
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No

Quite a bit of bread, cheese and herbs in the nose at first. The herbs remain but the other two float off. There's also a vegetable broth note. Small notes of lemon juice, flower blossoms and vanilla linger. The whisky has an unusual palate that closely matches the nose. Definitely a salty broth note on top of a citrus base. Then little bits of corn syrup and mint. The finish is very tangy and lightly sweet. Minor notes of black pepper and copper/blood.

DILUTED TO ~43%abv, or 1 tsp of water per 30ml of whisky
The nose shifts and opens up a little. Though a grassy note leads the way, there's also apple peel, lemon zest, toasted coconut and smoked almonds. The palate stays lean and tangy. Barley, oats and sweetness make up the rest. It finishes tangy and yeasty with toasted grains and an herbal bitterness.

Paler than a Kravitz in winter, this whisky reminds me of the ol' green bottle Cadenheads releases, though much less violent. It reads new and young, though not off-putting, instead crisp and spirit-forward. What it sacrifices is any sort of complexity. It delivers quirk, salt, herbs and tang (lowercase "t"), no more, no less. Perhaps this is close to the distillery's style?

Availability - Probably fewer than a dozen European retailers
Pricing - £55-£65
Rating - 82, preferred with water

Friday, December 6, 2019

Randy Brandy drinks 2 batches of L'Encantada XO Armagnac

Begging for Pearls brought the righteous Lib indignation this week. Mmmm god it's delicious. Who needs food? JUST COOK UP SOME EAU DE VIE À LA GAUCHE AND SHOOT IT BETWEEN MY TOES.

As an extra Christmas present to us all, Krabs then went full hipster with one of those This Terrible Thing That No One Likes is Actually Good gems because those posts always age well.

And since, like testicles, all good things descend in threes, so Randy Brandy is here to review TWO L'Encantada armagnacs.

At L'Encantada, François and François [Ed. note: Not their actual names.] [Better Ed. note: Shut up.] have Crafted two batches of XO: Lot 1 and Lot 2.0, also known as There Is Pibous In It and There is NO Pibous In It.

L'Encantada found two casks of Domaine Lous Pibous and you won't believe what happened next!

They blended them with three casks of not-Pibous. Brilliant. Because there is definitely an infinite amount of Pibous in the world. Anyway, Lot 1.

Hot for BILFs? Then Lot 2 is for you. 40% of it is 30+ year old fluid, so pull your cork to that. (I should work in advertising.)

That's all the intro I had the patience for. I liked it.

Here are my notes.

LOT 1 - There Is Pibous In It, 46.8%abv
Nose - It's very Christmassy. Allspice, dried cherries, apple pie and chestnuts. Wet twigs and envelope glue. Oaky like an old bourbon.
Palate - Spicy, like pumpkin pie spice. Maple, honey, cinnamon, salted butter and lemon.
Finish - Salted nuts and honey. Tannins and lemon.

More Notes - L'Encantada is good at finding armagnacs that smell like very old bourbon, but don't taste like you blew an oak tree. So, yes this will thrill bourbon geeks whose jaws are sore. The notes of apples, cherries and lemons are also much appreciated.

LOT 2 - There Is No Pibous, 44.6%abv
Nose - Black walnuts, applesauce, buttery caramel, golden raisins, grape juice, some kind of citrus juice.
Palate - Armagnac candy: toasty and very sweet. Speyside whisky aged in new oak. Brazil nuts and toasted almonds. Syrupy and oaky with a little bit of acid.
Finish - Very sweet and tannic. Cabernet Sauvignon and Brazil nuts.

More Notes - Less of the bourbon thing than Lot 1, more brandy and malt whisky. It smells good and drinks fast, but the palate could use some more fruit essence and less sugar. The tannins show its age, but if you don't want any oak in your drink, stay away from L'Encantada altogether. If you love oak then there's a certain aforementioned American beverage that misses that thing you do.

There were my notes.

L'Encantada wants whiskey drinkers and their blind whiskey money. You know who you are. Pony up because you can't take your money with you when you go, especially if you go due to cirrhosis and you're too broke to pay your medical bills. At least there will be more brandy for me then.

Merry War on Christmas, Libs. I'll see you in 2020 with some Pibous.

L'Encantada XO, Lot 1 - B/B+
L'Encantada XO, Lot 2.0 - B-/B

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Loch Dhu, part deux

Speaking of questionable whisky ideas, Loch Dhu everyone!

Yes, I previously reviewed this, one of the world's most reviled whiskies, but I had another sample from possibly the same bottle. And we've all gotten a little older in the five years since. I'd also tried another regrettable whisky this week so I thought, "What the hell."

For those who have never see Loch Dhu, it is black like crude oil. It's similarly, terrifyingly viscous, as it still sticks to the sides of the sample bottle four days later. I don't know why this product was created, with its Coca-Cola (or higher) levels of e150a. Mannochmore distillery produces some very good single malt. Why did United Distillers choose to do it wrong?

Distillery: Mannochmore
Ownership: United Distillers (proto-Diageo)
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Age: minimum 10 years
Maturation: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? Yes
Caramel Colored? Dhu
(Thank you to Andy, again)

It has a bold nose for its low strength, made up of coffee grounds, caramel candy, prune juice, Worcestershire sauce, mold and burnt garlic. There are burnt raisins, burnt celery, burnt cardboard on the palate. And all those burnt bitter things float in a sour vinegar puddle. The finish is very bitter and very sour, but also has mellow chocolatey side to it.

This is nowhere near as horrifying as its reputation, and better than I'd remembered it to be. I'm not saying it's good whisky. It's shit. But there are foul strata, and Loch Dhu does not rest on the bottom layer. Its nose is plenty strange, and not exactly what one would describe as alluring. But it's sniffable, and sort of interesting. The palate is bad, approaching one's lowest expectations, yet the finish's chocolate note approaches appealing.

While the whisky isn't the worst, it's still among the most regrettable of whisky ideas. I wish it had served as a lesson to the SWA that e150a should be banned with the rest of the additives. But no one learned anything. So enjoy all your orange Diageo whiskies!

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 55

Monday, December 2, 2019

The deeply problematic St. George Baller Whiskey


In the middle of the socializing segment of last month's Columbus Scotch Night, Doctor Springbank handed me his bottle of St. George Baller Single Malt Whiskey and said, pokerfaced, "You have to try this."

At first glance the bottle label's Ukiyo-e-style art was gorgeous. Also, my wife and I love St. George's gins and I've found their absinthe to be a fun take on a beloved spirit. When it comes to whiskey, aside from Charbay and Westland, no other American distillery is doing anything that consistently appeals to me at this point, so I was quite excited by this new thing.

And then I drank the whiskey. And it was awful. As in "wait this cannot be that bad oh my fuck it is that bad ahh gah nooooo this finish" bad.

Perhaps it was my momentary vom face, but Dr. Springbank knew immediately. "Yes! I thought it was just me." We handed it out as a blind taster to at least six other people, and everyone hated it and was kinda mad we pushed it on them. And then I said "Please sir may I have another," and I took a sample home.


After I completed my home tasting (see NOTES below), I read Baller's official page and more issues became apparent.

The first words are, “A California take on the Japanese spin on Scotch whisky.” That phrase is problematic and possibly meaningless. The current "Japanese spin on Scotch whisky" is to mix together Canadian, Irish and Scotch whisky, bottle it with kanji on the label and call it Japanese whisky, or to bottle ultra-young NAS single malts. And the producers who are doing the latter each have different styles. So there is no current single Japanese spin on Scotch whisky. Even if one was to look at the Japanese whisky market in its heyday (quality-wise) Yamazaki, Hakushu, Yoichi, Miyagikyo and the dozens of upmarket blends each had its own character.

And what exactly is "A California take"? If you think the process is specifically Californian or Japanese, you are incorrect. This "single malt" uses both malted and unmalted barley (is that technically a single malt?), is aged in bourbon and French oak wine casks, then is charcoal filtered and then is finished in plum liqueur casks. They refer to the liqueur as umeshu, though it was made using California ume.

So, the plums are from California. And I guess the French oak wine casks are sort of Napa-ish. Charcoal filtration is very far from a born-in-Cali thing. And the mixed barley mashbill is kinda Irish.

Regarding umeshu casks, some portion of the late Hibiki 12 year old Japanese blend was finished in plum liqueur barrels, but was done with a very gentle hand.

Reading on, I learned the label "reimagined" St. George as a samurai slaying a dragon. And then there was the Japanese flag. This was becoming a plague of cultural expropriation. And since nothing surrounding this whiskey is actually Japanese, one begins to wonder if this entire farce was motivated by the hope someone would mistake it for actual "Japanese" whisky and pay through the nose for it.


Writing about this whisky forced me to think about my own choices. I love Japan. My two trips there were among the highlights of my life. I continue to study its culture, religions and history. I've repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to learn the basics of its language. I have filled my daily visual space (that I can control) with Japanese art and products. But I do this in my private time, and I do it with humility knowing I am an outsider looking in at a proud, profound and unique culture. Seeing a company market a product using nothing but cultural appropriation — even if it's a joke, exploitation is the whole show — empties me of any compassion for the producer, whether or not said company says their $200 whiskey was made for highballs.

Distillery: St. George Spirits
Type: Single Malt?
Region: Alameda, CA, USA
Mashbill: Part malted barley, part toasted unmalted barley?
Age: 3 years old
Maturation: First maturation in a Mix of bourbon and French oak wine casks, then a finish in California plum liqueur casks
Alcohol by Volume: 47%
(Thank you to Doctor Springbank)

Is there a mosquito infestation? Because my nose smells citronella candles and OFF spray. And Bounce fabric softener sheets. A violet liqueur note buries hints of grapefruit and toasted oak. The palate is watery but hot. It's also VERY floral (flowers, soap and perfume). Ginger liqueur and dried oregano. Burnt paper and eggy sulfur. After 20 minutes a strong note of Grand Marnier laced with Nutrasweet pushes forward. It finishes with hot floral soap, bitter orange zest and a chemical sweetness.

This is comparable to the height of the '80s Bowmore terrors, with perfumes and soaps and sulfur and chemicals and burnt things. As I am not a distiller, I can only guess at what went awry, but the level of tinkering involved in this whisky's production leaves a lot of potential for cockups. The liqueur casks are very aggressive, and makes one fear the actual liqueur. Charcoal filtration why? And what about the original distillate. Perhaps it started off in a good place? Or was the soap and perfume always present?

As I enjoy their gins and absinthe, I will certainly continue to purchase those St. George products. But Baller was wrong on so many levels that I'm going to forgo their whiskey products altogether.

Availability - UK, Singapore and 13 US states
Pricing - $150-$300, though a few stores now have it for less than $100
Rating - 57