...where distraction is the main attraction.

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 chose 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