...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Nine years of whisky reviews...

The ninth anniversary of Diving for Pearls whisky reviews approacheth. As a thank you to my most excellent readers, I will unleash four weeks of Ben Nevis reviews upon the world in September. Yes, really. So buckle up. And thank you.

But first, I'm doing a sweep-up of old samples on Wednesday. Specifically five dead distilleries.

This tenth year of reviews will be loaded with sample cleanouts and week- or month-long distillery themes. A bunch of bottles have been and will be opened. By the time the 10th anniversary arrives, I'll be darned close to whisky #1500. At that point I'll assess what a second decade of whisky reviews would look like. But let's all just get there first.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Birthday Booze: Bunnahabhain 40 year old 1978 by MASAM from Private Stock of Silvano Samaroli

I wanted to get my grimy mitts on a Birthday Bunna since I started this blog. And now I have one from a bottle split. And now I'm going to drink it. It spent 40 years in a sherry butt but it's as light as a 10 year old refill cask whisky.

This is what the sample bottle looks like:

on the back of a gigantic rabbit

But this is what the actual bottle looks like:

lifted from TWE, where the bottle was bought

The whisky was bottled by MASAM, an enterprise overseen by Maryse Accorsi, wife of the late Silvano Samaroli. I think all of MASAM's bottles have this roly-poly look and very old-school label design. But more importantly, the whisky...

Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Region: Islay
Independent Bottler: Samaroli
Range: MASAM, Private Stock of Silvano
Age: 40 years (1978-2019)
Maturation: sherry butt
Cask number7229
Outturn: 520 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 51.6%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? Definitely not
(from a bottle split)

It has a nose for foodies. Beef stock, aged cheese, back bacon. Smoked salmon on Irish soda bread. Honey butter, mangoes and yuzu. A dusty oil-stained garage. The mangoes and yuzu completely take over after 45 minutes, with some mizunara-style sandalwood notes in the background.

Minerals minerals minerals on the early palate. An earthiness that borders on smoky. Pan-heated dried herbs, miso broth, hints of flower blossoms. Limes, white peaches and yuzu. Toffee pudding far far in the back. Fresher herbs and bolder fruit notes appear after 45 minutes, while all those minerals stay put.

Minerals, salt, dried savory herbs, an OBE-like metallic note and a big squeeze of yuzu juice in the finish.

I drank this late, far too late, into the night, listening to quiet shakuhachi melodies and keeping all the screens off. What a calm vessel this sherry cask proved to be, its restraint generous, allowing time to settle in rather than punish. The results surpassed my high expectations. There's nothing else I can offer here other than goddamn happy birthday to me!

Availability - Several retailers appear to have bottles
Pricing - Half the price of the official 40yo
Rating - 92

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Birthday Booze: Craigellachie 20 year old 1999 SMWS 44.125

The bouncer didn't check my ID on the 24th of August 1999 which was a brief letdown, even though I'd been buying beer for more than a year before that twenty-first birthday. I looked like I was in my forties a long time before I was in my forties.

My birthday bottle, reviewed yesterday, was distilled on that very date in 1999, and today's whisky was distilled on on that very date in 1999. Perspective! Yesterday's whisky was an official single sherry cask of Craigellachie, today's is a single sherry cask of Craigellachie from the Saucy Man's Witticism Society.

I was informed these two casks produced very different results. Lemme see...

Distillery: Craigellachie
Ownership: Bacardi
Region: Central Speyside
Independent Bottler: SMWS
Age: at least 20 years old
Distillation date: 24 August 1999
Maturation: Refill Ex-Oloroso Sherry Butt
Cask #: 44.125
Cutesy name: El paraiso oloroso
Outturn: 445
Alcohol by Volume: 57.4%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(from a bottle split)

The nose is hotter than the 19yo's, though plenty of fruit is present: apple skins, applesauce, a hint of mango, chocolate cherry cordials. Roses in a burlap sack. Honey and a lot of charred oak. There's bitter chocolate and Angostura bitters on the palate, in fact it's very bitter thanks to some aggressive bitter oak. Beneath the oak are prunes, grape jam and soda bread. It ditches a small portion of the bitterness for some sweetness after some time. The finish matches the palate, then adds hints of smoke and oranges.

Gotta say, I'm not crazy about the palate. Time to add some water.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose has changed a bit. Dried herbs, grass, honey and roses. Yet dunnage and newly split oak uneasily occupy the same space. Thankfully the palate straightens things out. It's full of fruit, think limes, pears and dragonfruit (maybe). A little bit of salt, a lot less bitterness and a hint of vanilla. It finishes with herbs salt and tart limes.

Judging by the whiskybase scores, I'm in the minority thinking this is clunky but often good whisky. The neat palate is much too oaky, something that is well fixed by some dilution because at 46%abv the whisky shows balance and fruit. Meanwhile the nose goes the opposite direction. The oak goes big at 46%, but the fruits rule at full strength. Better to smell it neatly, then drink it diluted. It's enjoyable, but I prefer my bottle of Craigellachie.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - £105-£135 in Europe, $200 in the US, when it first came out. Higher in the secondary market
Rating - 84

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Birthday Bottle: Craigellachie 19 year old 1999 Exceptional Cask 129

For my forty-second birthday, I opened a bottle of a whisky that was distilled on my twenty-first birthday. It was a fortuitous find and one I was willing to overspend for.

Also, I like Craigellachie. It's a weird spirit, thanks to the distillery's worm tubs which theoretically give the newmake a sulfurous edge. To me there's always something slightly off-kilter going on with full strength Craigellachies, earthy-yet-not and fruity-yet-not, and those aspects blossom in a good sherry cask. I hope this is a proper example.

Craigellachie 19 year old 1999 Exceptional Cask #129, sherry butt, 55.2%abv
(second and third pours from the top)

No raisins nor prunes on the nose, instead there's mint, anise and chocolate fudge. Almond extract, grilled pineapple and funky honey. Hints of charred beef and toasted oak linger beneath. The palate begins with lots of orange notes (peels and candies) which gradually drift towards bright lemon notes. Just a little bit of sweetness and a hint of soil. Wood smoke, dried thyme and plenty of good bitterness. It finishes with a balance of moderate bitterness, citrus and sweetness. It picks up some white fruits and wood smoke with time.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1¼ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose begins with yellow curry and bundles of citrons and lemons. Oceany brine and hard toffee drift in the background. The palate is thick and creamy with savory herbs, Thai chiles and smoked turkey. Often whiskies sweeten up upon dilution. Not this one. It finishes with the Thai chiles and savory herbs, but now some tart limes have joined in.

I expected a challenge and that's what this cask delivers. Once diluted, it is one of the savoriest whiskies I've ever had, but when neat it's fruity, earthy and smoky. Will this freak out sulfurphobes? Possibly, but the wee 'S' is different than the gunpowder or rotten eggs or furry tongue finish that some curious casks deliver. Maybe Benrinnes and Mortlach fans will like it. The whisky is still a bit of a mystery to me. I have the bottle's fourth pour in front of me now and the palate's oranges have snuck into the nose. The mix of bitterness, citrus and earth remains sharp as ever in the mouth. The bottle has an equal chance of becoming either an 84-point or a 90-point whisky. Ah, the novelty of having 750mL at hand, rather than 60mL.

Availability - US only, bottles still available at several specialty retailers
Pricing - $200 and up
Rating - 88

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Birthday Booze: Blue Grass 4 year old Straight Rye 1935/1939 BIB

Yes, you read that title correctly. Usually, I put the work in to share a distillery's history or details behind an old whisky. But not today. The work I've been putting in has been for family and the daily grind, so I don't have any good research at hand. But there will be photos below!

First I'd like to share this lovely soulful tune by The Cannonball Adderley Quintet. It strikes me as relevant, starting with Cannonball's intro, "You know, sometimes we're not prepared for adversity."

I've rolled out a pair of Mega-Dusty samples previously, one 1936 bourbon for my 37th birthday and a pre-prohibition rye for this site's 1000th whisky review. I doubt I'll wait so long between Mega-Dusty reviews because I don't know how long the samples will hold up in their wee bottles during the darkest timeline.

Today's whisky — no 'e'! — comes from the very late Blue Grass Distillery Company in Louisville. I do know that Blue Grass was part of the National Distillers portfolio at the time of the rye's bottling and the whisky was barreled up from Fall 1935 to Fall 1939 because I can read the labels. And I am very thankful to have been part of the bottle split.

Bottle pics by ROC:

And my sample bottle:

The lusciously fruity nose includes mixed berry compote, guava(-ish) juice and blueberry jam. Notes like cloves, butterscotch, cotton, fruity cinnamon and roses fill in the background and mid-ground. The lack of major OBE or dusty notes leave this rye feeling very fresh. After 30 minutes in the glass, the whisky gets the full Havdalah Spice Box treatment that I so love in the best MGP ryes. The palate is very minty. Sweet, rich and tingly. Molasses and dried apricots. Hints of smoke, orange zest, lychee, cloves and herbal bitterness appear throughout. The very long finish balances sweet, salt and bitter. Honey, oranges and butterscotch, as well as plenty of fresh and dried herbs appear and linger.

Undoubtably rye from start to finish, this oldie faded not in its bottle nor my glass. Its juiciness makes it very difficult to compare to anything current, though I did match it up with some very good Willett samples. Four year old ryes today bring lots of American oak thunder, and perhaps Blue Grass did as well, 80+ years ago. But as the rye existed in my glass, the oak was very restrained. It did its job calming the spirit, without interrupting matters. I'd like to think the fruitiness was due to a specific sort of yeast and fermentation practice now lost or deemed inefficient, but really I have no idea, I just drink the stuff.

Rating - 91 (but please please ignore this number because what the hell is my point of reference?)

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Two 1978 Highland single malts from James MacArthur

At some point I'll get around to dishing out scores to all the whiskies from my Killing Whisky History episodes. Okay probably not. But I am happy to review the two 1978 single malts featured in Episode 16: Blair Athol and Ben Nevis, both 14 year olds bottled by James MacArthur.

It was just my luck that one was from a bourbon cask, and the other was from a sherry cask. The former was very good, the latter I pronounced "phenomenal" and it still remains among the top 3 whiskies I've covered in the KWH series. For more on these whiskies, please see Episode 16.

Blair Athol 14 year old 1978 James MacArthur's Fine Malt Selection, 53.1%abv

The nose's boldest note are wheat bread crust and strawberry candy. There's also clay, newspaper print, honey, shredded wheat cereal and hints of lemons and dried herbs. The palate leads with sweet limes, riesling and newspaper print. Gentle dunnage and smoke notes mix with malt and tart apples. It finishes with dates, soil and tart apples.

These notes differ a bit from those on the video. Some of the oak has peeled away and some earthier, dustier notes have joined the grain. It also has the sort of creamy mouthfeel one doesn't often find in modern malts. A pleasure.

Rating - 87

Ben Nevis 14 year old 1978 James MacArthur's Fine Malt Selection, 55.8%abv

The nose shows a very clean nutty sherry cask. Toffee, orange peel, Luxardo cherries. But that's just one side of the whisky, because Ben Nevis. Hot engine, hot concrete and a bushel of crushed dried herbs begin outside the sherry cask, then gradually work their way inwards. The palate is intensely earthy and mossy. Funky dunnage notes and manure. Fresh dark cherries and peach juice. It finishes long, sweet, earthy, with hints of herbal smoke and pickled ginger.

A lovely single malt pulled from the cask at just the right time, this Ben Nevis sets the bar very high for this year's birthday whiskies, one that might not be topped.

Rating - 91

Friday, August 21, 2020

Glen Spey 12 year old 1999 Blackadder Raw Cask, cask 125

Another Glen! Hooray! Today's Glen Spey is from Blackadder's Raw Cask label, a range I like more in theory than in reality. At least there tends to be truth in the name, with the whiskies being much closer to their spirit than the woody vessel. My Glen Spey experience is limited, so I have no idea what to expect.

Distillery: Glen Spey
Owner: Diageo
Independent Bottler: Blackadder
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Age: 12 years (6 April 1999 to August 2011)
Maturation: "Oak cask"
Cask number125
Outturn: 298
Alcohol by Volume: 59.8%
(sample from Florin (a prince))

The nose is not as hot as expected, though there is a definite chlorine note. Beyond that there's a curious mix of ocean water and candy shop (gummi worms, sour apple candy and lollipops). There's also earthiness and wood smoke, like Benromach-lite, which is not normally what one finds with Glen Spey. All sorts of things are going on in the palate: plastic, mushrooms, woody smoke, cream puffs and tart limes. The finish matches the palate.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
A very different whisky now. There are pineapples, lemons, flowers and vanilla in the nose, followed by baby powder, newspaper and cashews. It gets very metallic after 30 minutes. The palate is simple, malty and floral, reading hotter than 46%abv. It becomes bitterer and sweeter with time. It finishes sweet, peppery with hints of green herbs and smoke.

This one leaves me wondering if the bottle's barrel char bits affected the whisky because this is quite smoky, and it's a very woody smoke. It's not bad, but curious. The Glen Spey's nose works better with water, while the palate reads better when neat. Boring it is not, though I found drinking it to be a chore. It almost seems like it needed a *gasp* more active cask.

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

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Glenallachie 15 year old 1996 Signatory, casks 5233 + 5234

Monday's whisky was not diluted. Today's whisky is. It's part of Signatory's Watered Down range. It might actually be called the "Vintage Collection", but their the 43%abv semi-budget series. When window-shopping Signatories I always look past these whiskies, and perhaps that's unfair, but the UCF range is so darned good. Anyway, I think I've reviewed a couple of these Vintage Collection casks before and at least one of them was quite decent. This whiskies do stay close to the spirit......so make me a believer, Signatory.

Distillery: Glenallachie
Ownership: The Glenallachie Consortium
Region: Speyside (Aberlour)
Independent Bottler: Signatory
Age: 15 years (17 October 1996 - 18 January 2012)
Maturation: Hogsheads
Cask#: 5233 + 5234
Outturn: 798 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
(sample from Florin (a prince))

Barley, yeast and anise on the nose, followed by hints of roses and black walnuts. Little bits of peach candy and grapefruit drift through the background. Just a touch of vanilla appears after 30 minutes. The sweet and warm palate has Boston cream-filled pastries, a bit of bitter herbs, a slight grassiness. The bitterness and sweetness expands with time. The finish is lemony and grassy with pinches of sugar and salt.

This is a good spring or summer whisky, better than the Big Glenz. I also liked it more than the 12yo, 18yo and 10yo CS official Glenallachies. That's a relatively low bar, thus I'm not saying this is an awesome single malt. It's light and easily consumable without being oaky. It'll do well neat and probably result in a quality highball. It's also probably very sold out eight years later.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - I think it was less than €40
Rating - 83

Monday, August 17, 2020

Glenturret 29 year old 1989 Signatory, cask 235

Last Friday, I wrote about the 900000 series of 2005 Ledaig sherry casks of which Signatory held a significant portion. Signatory has also released eleven 1989 Glenturrets all aged in hogsheads numbered between 220 and 238, and all with very low ABVs between 42.4 and 46.5.

I have not enjoyed official Glenturrets and I'm very skeptical of cask strength whiskies whose ABVs have dropped so low, so today's whisky would seem like an odd choice for my tastes. But I have tried cask 233 from this series and I really enjoyed it. That one was bottled for Vine & Table in Indiana, this one was bottled for Whisky Club Luxembourg. Neighbors.

Distillery: Glenturret
Owner: Lalique Group
Region: Southern Highlands
Exclusive to: Vinothek Massen, Whisky Club Luxembourg and Whiskyexclusive
Age: 29 years (21 April 1989 - 14 March 2019)
Maturation: Hogshead
Cask number235
Outturn: 262 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 44.9%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from a bottle split)

The glorious nose is full of watermelon, kiwi, papaya, cucumber and fennel. Then some farm notes and cherry candy. A spring breeze across a meadow of wildflowers. There's a good balance of sweet and tart fruits on the palate, like limes, mango and kiwi. Then brown sugar and sour beer, as well. It gains minerals and a funky dunnage note after 30 minutes in the glass. It finishes with a light sweetness and gentle floral notes. Hints of limes, pineapples and bitter herbs.

Upon first sniffs, I had though there was a 92+ point whisky in my glass. Rarely would I describe a whisky's nose as beautiful, but that word fits here. The palate and finish were very pleasant, but also shallow and simple. One can't ask for this to have been bottled at a higher ABV at this same age because the whisky isn't watered down. Nor is it over-oaked. It is what it is after almost three full decades in a hogshead. Time steals many things, including a half dozen points from this whisky.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - I think it was less than €200
Rating - 87

Friday, August 14, 2020

Ledaig 13 year old 2005 Single Cask Nation, cask 900165

Single Cask Nation hit the big time last year as round after round of their single casks appeared then disappeared at many popular whisky retailers. The first of these releases I'll review is also the third 13-year-old Ledaig of this week.

This whisky is part of the ever expanding 900000 series of 2005 Ledaig casks that found their way to a number of independent bottlers. The cask numbers started with a pair of Berry Bros releases (900008 and 900012), then bounced around to a few random indies, then to Sansibar for several casks, then stayed with Signatory for 16 consecutive casks and then hopped over to Elixir Distillers. This SCN cask number (900165) sits in the middle of the Elixirs. Most, if not all, of the 900000s are sherry casks and many have very good reputations, especially the Siggies. Did the distillery sell or trade off this massive parcel? If so, I hope they held onto a few for official releases.

Cask 900165 is a second fill sherry butt, but the whisky is very dark, the reddest of this week's Ledaigs. I've a had few recent "refill" casks that were outrageously sherried, leaving me wondering if they were all re-seasoned and/or recharred.

This 13-year-old hit the market at $140, a price point that disincentivized me from getting a bottle. It didn't stop other folks, so I went in on a bottle split and set my expectations high.

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Ledaig
Owner: Distell International Ltd.
Region: Isle of Mull
Age: 13 years (Oct 2005 - March 2019)
Maturation: Second fill sherry butt
Cask: 900165
Outturn: 575 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 57.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant Added? No
(from a bottle split)

The nose is......yep. Need more than that? A muscular herbal peat meets moderate nutty sherry in perfect balance. There's rotting kelp, charred veg, almond extract, pound cake, one cherry lollipop and a squeeze of lemon. The palate matches the nose very well, with a lovely nuttiness and dark chocolate pairing with salty seaweed peat. Mild sweetness, a little bit of citrus and big herbal bitterness. It finishes with toasted seaweed, sooty smoke, almonds, bright bitterness and a hint of sweetness.

It pains me to reduce this. But for science:

DILUTED TO ~46.3%abv, or 1⅓ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose has cotton candy(?!), tar, old rye spiciness, cherry shisha and baked pears. The palate doesn't have the nose's candy shop, rather it's an intensely bitter herbal thing with some sweet white fruits providing some balance. Plenty of tar as well. White fruits, bitter herbs and tar in the finish.

This excellent whisky from the Single Cask Nation crew leveled the other two Ledaigs in the big matchup. It was all over in the opening moments. The cask's weight and the spirit's intensity stay well-balanced (and delicious) throughout, something I don't find that often with sherry + peat. I have nothing but more hyperbole to spill about this. Expectations surpassed.

Availability - Sold out, or almost thus
Pricing - $140
Rating - 90

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Ledaig 13 year old Port Pipe Matured

I may be entering more cask-driven territory now with this heavily-peated Tobermory spirit that spent its entire life in Port Pipes (probably 5 or 6, per the total outturn). Despite early negative expectations set by some whisky geeks, I have had decent experiences with many port cask matured single malts, including a few peated ones items, with Benriach's 17 year old Solstice marking the summit. I don't know why it works for a palate that could without wineskies forever. Maybe the key is tawny port? I like tawny port.

Ledaig, though. Expectation level set to: Sure, What the Hell.

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Ledaig
Owner: Distell International Ltd.
Region: Isle of Mull
Age: minimum 13 years
Maturation: Port pipes
Outturn: Two releases, 3,199 bottles
Bottling year: 2019
Alcohol by Volume: 58.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant Added? No
(from a purchased sample)

Opposite of what I'd anticipated, this has the most muted nose of the three Ledaigs. There's a minor Caol Ila / Ardmore-esque snuffed bonfire note and a little bit of ocean along with flowers and baked plums and blueberries. The palate feels big but its elements are difficult to discern over the first couple of sips. There's plenty of berry essence without the sugar. Smoked fish and wood smoke. Tart and bitter citrus. There's also a curious grainy note in the background. The mouth-drying finish has lots of heavy smoke, tart citrus, the aforementioned grainy note and lots of heat.

DILUTED TO ~46.3%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose becomes very pretty with its flowers, pineapple and fruit cocktail. The smoke and ocean notes grow, and brown sugar makes an appearance. The palate is more on herbs and grasses, now. Good bitterness, subtle sweetness. Milder smoke. It finishes dry and grassy. It feels young, but no mezcal this time.

These were certainly not wet port pipes, or they were gingerly seasoned because the fortified wine note remains minor throughout. And the pipes' large surface area prevented the whisky from getting woody. It also resulted in another youthful Ledaig. It's less funky and more friendly than the 13yo Amontillado finish, but there's also an odd drying aspect to the finish that I didn't enjoy. Expectations met, I guess, though not surpassed.

Availability - Sold out, or almost thus
Pricing - €120-€140
Rating - 84

Monday, August 10, 2020

Ledaig 13 year old Amontillado Cask Finish

Three 13-year-old Ledaigs this week! Because!

Leading off is an official 13yo that was bottled in 2017 and cost (usually) under €100 back then. The only major harrumph I'll harrumph today is regarding the "Cask Finish" as its length is unspecified, so it could have been 10 years or 10 days. A little help here, Tobermory.

Expectations set to: Moderate Enthusiasm. The official 10 is good and the first batch of the 18 was positively odd, but the three 19s I reviewed last year were disappointing. Thus I'm glad Dr. Springbank risked a bottle and sent me a sample. Time to test my luck!

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Ledaig
Owner: Distell International Ltd.
Region: Isle of Mull
Age: minimum 13 years
Maturation: bourbon casks for ? years, Amontillado casks for ? years/months/weeks/days
Outturn: ????
Alcohol by Volume: 59.2%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant Added? No
(sample from Dr. Springbank. Thank you!)

The nose is somewhat reminiscent of the weird early-90s Ledaig that disturbs some drinkers while delighting others. There's hard cheese, walnuts, baked potatoes, smoked salmon and mezcal (a.k.a. breakfast). Grasses and cocoa powder appear after some time. Ah, the sherry's in the palate. It still has the walnut and aged cheese notes but now those are met with dried berries and golden raisins. It hauls along loads of salt and a massive youthful sneaker peat wallop. It finishes hot and salty, with bitter smoke, sneaker peat and a hint of sherry.

May I attempt Distell's favorite ABV?

DILUTED TO ~46.3%abv, or 1⅔ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Though the nose is bolder and farmier, it also holds almonds cookies and peach and pear nectars. Some apple juice and ginger candy. The peat now trends towards seaweed. The palate reads both very young and very sherried, at first. Classic oloroso (not Amontillado) style, too, which is strange but we're in Ledaig Land now so...there it is. It sweetens and softens up with time. It finishes with farmy smoke and mild sweetness.

Keep going:

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or about 1 tbsp of water per 30mL whisky
It's getting younger now? The nose is all yeasty, malty newmake, with confectioner's sugar, flowers and mint. Sugar, almonds and sneaker peat in the palate and the finish.

This Ledaig presents the reverse of Friday's Kilkerran, wherein this whisky's original bourbon cask maturation seems to have resulted in very little maturation, and then the distillery tried to give it a little nudge with secondary sherry cask aging. It sresults in something reading half the listed age, but it works better (for me) than all those indie single-digit mezcal-Taliskers. I like this whisky best when neat where the sherry works well and the nose is the oddest. This style may be divisive. I'm more than moderately enthused, but this isn't a casual sippin' whisky.

Availability - Sold out?
Pricing - ???
Rating - 87

Friday, August 7, 2020

Kilkerran 15 year old Oloroso Wood single cask

Welcome to the future! Ignore, for a moment, the daily horrors and realize 15-year-old Kilkerran exists. I'm not going to fire up The Chambers Brothers yet, but the years have indeed passed and now there's no need for a whisky fan to ask "What if they let Kilkerran age?".

Four of us considered splitting a $260 bottle of this Oloroso single cask, then decided against it. Now stores in Southern California are pricing it at nearly $500, which is $100-$150 more than individual flippers are trying for. Consider the tariffs and everyone's favorite importers, then consider how much of that $500 Springbank would actually receive. Welcome to the future! (The future, Mr. Gittes.

But the whisky. Look on the back label and you'll read something utterly outlandish: "This Kilkerran Single Malt Scotch Whisky has been matured for ten years in a fresh oloroso sherry butt, followed by five years in a refill bourbon hogshead." That right there is something called cask management. Or someone tripped over an "Oops!" cask five years ago. I'm not going to say which I believe, but...

I did wind up joining a larger group who split a bottle. My two ounces:

Distillery: Glengyle
Owner: Mitchell's Glengyle Limited
Brand: Kilkerran
Region: Campbeltown
Age: 15 years (May 2004 - October 2019)
Maturation: 10 years in a fresh oloroso sherry butt, then 5 years in a refill bourbon hogshead
Outturn: 280 bottles
Bottled for: U.S. of A.
Alcohol by Volume: 51.5%
(from a bottle split)

The nose's first wave of hazelnuts, pine and ocean remains for 10-15 minutes before revealing nectarines, melons and cherries underneath. Toffee pudding and sweeter fortified wine notes appear later. Calmer than the nose, the palate has some of the fruit but much more nutty dry sherry. Moderate notes of mesquite smoke and barn. Lightly sweet with some bitter oranges. Thick mouthfeel. It finishes with pine sap and smoke residue, gradually sweetening up with blackberries and blueberries.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose begins tilting toward a classic sherried Speyside style, then is rescued by small notes of seaweed and beef stock. The palate has become bitterer, but it also holds sweet cherries and a mild cigar. And a little bit of that seaweed. The finish is similar to the palate, though slightly sweeter.

It's good! But I'm of many minds about this whisky. If one is a fan of deeply sherried whisky then know this Kilkerran delivers on that level. For those Kilkerran fans looking for some Kilkerran in their Kilkerran, some digging needs to be done here. Though greatness was in this whisky's grasp, the first ten aggressive years nearly wiped out the excellent umami, fruit and phenolic notes. Dilution and air are again the key, so gradually apply more of each to find what you're looking for.

This can be a fun whisky in a historic sense (until the 20 year olds appear in five years) and if you can find it close to the distillery's suggested retail price then I'll bet it's a swell winter warmer. For my palate, though, I like the WIP 7 Sherry Wood a little better and the Open Day 2016 sherry cask even more.

Availability - Secondary market and secondary market-styled retailers
Pricing - All over the place
Rating - 87 (diluted)

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Kilkerran 8 year old Cask Strength, recharred Oloroso casks (57.1%abv)

Yes, another sherried Kilkerran! Though this one comes with a different sort of built-in expectations. After enjoying all of the Kilkerran Work In Progresses, I found the first(?) batch of 8yo CS to be disappointing, so much so that I'm still trying to blend it up into something better almost three years later. I also publicly swore off any further batches unless the CS got older or got sherry. The latter has come to be. 15,000 bottles of sherry cask CS action hit the market last year and was very VERY popular, and the secondary market prices did what they do. I'm happy to have gotten in on a bottle split so I could actually try the stuff and report back.

It was to my partially-naïve surprise that my sample bottle arrived with a "recharred" notation on it. Yes, the entire batch was fashioned from re-charred sherry casks. Springbank has been doing this sherry cask re-charring quite a bit over the past two decades and aren't hiding it. Allegedly, the 19yo 1997 sherry cask Springer I loved so was from a re-charred butt and I don't think the re-char process harmed it because the Springbank spirit met the cask head-on and fought it to a thunderous draw. That does not happen often, but I hope the young Kilkerran spirit survives.

Distillery: Glengyle
Owner: Mitchell's Glengyle Limited
Brand: Kilkerran
Region: Campbeltown
Age: minimum 8 years
Maturation: re-charred oloroso casks
Limited release: 15,000 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 57.1%
(from a bottle split)

The nose is heavier, tarrier and smokier than Monday's 8yo sherried Kilkerran. And perhaps my new knowledge is influencing this, but I'm getting a basic charred American oak note. And burnt bark. Otherwise, there are guava and lime juices, mint candy, baked apples, a hint of yeast and some sort of mango-vanilla creme dessert. The palate proves problematic right up front, as it's all bitter oak, sugar, cardboard and limes. It needs a lot of air. Then it gets nuttier, leafier. There's a pepper + ocean note reminiscent of Talisker DE. A bit of tar. Still feels kinda tight, though. The finish is bitter, tart, leafy and salty.

Watering this one down:

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
This lightens it up. More tropical fruit in the nose, as well as something savory. There's also a decent combo of citrus, anise and faint wood smoke. The palate is better, rounder. Dry sherry, walnuts, salt. A tangy citrus and a less-woody bitterness. The finish matches the palate, with the saltiness lingering longest.

The first two sips worried me. I knew my palate wasn't screwy because I was tasting this whisky along with the Open Day 2016 bottling, but I was concerned that the re-charring had gotten into my head. With time the palate improved, but not enough. Dilution unlocked the palate's better elements. The nose works pretty well with or without water, but ultimately whisky stuff is made for drinking. I don't think the whisky meets the hype, which was likely stirred by a desire similar to mine for a sherried cask strength Kilkerran, and then was further stoked by the darkness of the liquid. It's a good sherry cask whisky for its original SRP of €60, but not at secondary prices for two to three times that amount.

Availability - Mostly sold out on the primary market
Pricing - see just above for this info
Rating - 84 (diluted only, it's 5+ points lower when neat)

Monday, August 3, 2020

Kilkerran 8 year old for Open Day 2016

July 13, 2016 was one of my best whisky days and probably the last time Kristen actually enjoyed drinking single malt scotch. Campbeltown. Springbank Tour. Glengyle Tour. Cadenhead Warehouse Tasting. Ardshiel Hotel Bar.

Among our drinks at the Ardshiel, one Springbank missed and one Kilkerran hit. And I mean really hit. I'm not going to share how much of this bottle we both consumed --

-- but it was a fair amount. (No, that bottle wasn't full when we got there. Maybe.) I remembered the whisky well, then chased it down at an auction more than a year later. On February 24, 2020 (the last in-person scotch event before the quarantine began), I brought it to Columbus Scotch Night where it was happily consumed among 20+ new Kilkerran fans.

I made off with a good sample of the Kilkerran that night because though I loved it two times I was also convinced the tasting environments had influenced my experience. So here's this prized sherried thing as it's about to be consumed in my hermetically sealed tasting chambers:

Distillery: Glengyle
Owner: Mitchell's Glengyle Limited
Brand: Kilkerran
Region: Campbeltown
Age: at least 8 years (??? to 29 April 2016)
Maturation: sherry cask(s?)
Bottled for: Springbank Open Day 2016
Alcohol by Volume: 56.4%
(from my bottle)

It wasn't just my previous enthusiasms, the nose has layers! At first there's pineapple, a hint of yeasty wort, lightly peated dried apricots and almond extract. Next, earth, farm, aged parmesan and a funky (manuka?) honey. Then it's all butterscotch candies and Smith & Cross rum. The intense (but not hot) palate is all dark chocolate, coffee beans, pipe tobacco and dried herbs. Notes of plum wine, soil and smoked almonds ease in later. It finish with earth, herbs, dark chocolate and a gingery zing.

Not going to add much water here...

DILUTED TO ~50%abv, or ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose becomes prunier and peatier. There's also a sugary candy note, golden raisins and burnt veg. The palate gets saltier and plummier (adjectives!), and picks up a definite rye seed note which follows into the finish, which is otherwise all smoked almonds in toffee.

This is in the running for my favorite Kilkerran, or the best high strength version I've had so far. I preferred it neat by a good distance over the diluted pour. Dilution removes its quirks, uniqueness and complexity, so go it straight! I'm so happy to have opened this bottle up with friends and watched it bring joy to others. And, yes, I'm giving this whisky one extra point for emotional purposes.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 90 (neat!)