...where distraction is the main attraction.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Floki Sheep Dung Smoked Reserve Icelandic Malt

There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who look at a smoldering pile of feces and say, "That's a metaphor," and those who look at a smoldering pile of feces and say, "Let's smoke some malted barley."

Halli Thorkelsson of Eimverk Distillery in Iceland is of the second group, and today's brown fluid is the result of his team's efforts. Dried sheep poop has long been a legitimate and quite renewable fuel source from Ulaanbaatar to Reykjavík. So if the Scots use peat smoke to dry their barley, why shouldn't an Icelander burn some patties? I'd read somewhere that Eimverk Distillery was only going to produce ten casks of this young malt, but now they're up to cask 33 because apparently this is the shit.

I have been waiting for more than two years to drink this. May there never be a more appropriate time for it.

Distillery: Eimverk
Brand: Floki
Region: Iceland
Age: Less than 3 years
Maturation: American oak
Bottling year: 2017 or 2018
Alcohol by Volume: 47%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(from a purchased sample)


Nose: One can smell the dried grasses that had passed through these ruminant ungulates. The nose is slightly wooly too, or is it the wool that smells of dung? Then there are notes of those little petting zoo feed nuggets......which makes me question what those things are made of. Beneath those genuine farmy notes one may find juniper, Slivovitz, honeydew and diesel. Reducing it to 43%abv mellows the nose, turning those sheep-ish notes to a grassy smoke. Honeydew and pears still linger, and maybe a hint of eau de vie.

Palate: You know that smell of grass clippings after the rain. Imagine it as a flavor. That's this Floki's first layer. Then cinnamon syrup, barley and the aforementioned feed nuggets sit in the middle. The palate sweetens beneath, developing blood oranges with time. (What, do you not like the words "blood" and "feces" in the same post?) Diluted to 43%abv, the malt simplifies. It's peppery, sweet, and slightly grassy with a hint of orange. A bit closer to familiar malt whisky.

Finish: It's a grassy eau de vie with a little bit of cinnamon, copper and soil. It becomes fruitier at 43%abv, with notes of pears and apples.

First the score, then the conclusion:
Rating - 82


There's no need to fear this stool-smoked malt. My own expectations were screwed up because of the word "Dung". Having now tried the malt, I wouldn't mind buying a bottle. Yes it is a little more, say, organic than most of us are used to but it's not like drinking out of a porta potty. It isn't even distilled feces, or a mutton steak for that matter. I find myself drawn to this young malt, though I had anticipated horrors.

I could proffer a thought like, When life gives you shit, make whisky. But that's not really valid. There are days, months and years in our lives that devastate us. When this happens we can admit the darkness of our moment and not try to spin it all into an immediate growing experience. Perhaps there will be time to learn later when our ghosts aren't so near, but this is happening now. We will endure but we will not be the same. May there be good in that, someday. May you all stay healthy and safe. And may 2020 now fuck right off.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The burden of single cask single malt, and also Ardmore 13 year old 2006 SMWS 66.161

I've already tried today's whisky, and my tasting notes lie here in front of me. Despite ending its maturation in a brief first-fill charred ex-red wine barrique finish, this Ardmore isn't as much of a flop as I had anticipated. But it did leave me thinking about its need to exist.

SMWS has released scores of hogshead-matured Ardmores (see the two I reviewed just this week). I can't imagine this whisky was superb when it was pulled from its first cask, a hoggie, after 12 years, before it was primed and prettied in its second vessel. Though the wine cask finish didn't mangle the whisky, why did this even need to be released as a single cask single malt at all? Because, despite fads and pandemics and tariffs and Brexits, the single malt marketplace is still humming along. Single cask single malt has become one of the most expensive spirits in history. And those single casks keep selling out. But does single cask single malt always represent scotch whisky in its finest form? It's certainly close to being scotch whisky in its most unadulterated state, but does that mean it drinks or smells best in that form?

When drinking casually (as in, no notes!), I now reach for small(-ish) batch official bottlings and dusty blends. My nose and palate have confirmed those whiskies are no less complex, satisfying and reliable than single casks, in fact they're often more so. I gain more respect for the blending craft with each passing year, and I'm beginning to believe that many mediocre-to-decent single casks could have been better utilized in a high-quality blend, vatting or small batch single malt. I'm not saying 1 + 2 = 4. Rather, 1 + 2 may in fact equal 3, though it takes tremendous skill to get there.

I stopped reviewing current bestselling blended whiskies some time ago due to the grim quality I've found in many of them. This isn't intended as a dig at individual blenders, nor do I think it's due to some sort of corporate conspiracy beyond general capitalism. Taking even a cursory look at the demand for single malt whisky, one can surmise the supply of good malt available to blenders is at one of its lowest points in the history of the craft. If the good stuff sells better and higher on its own, then that's how it will be offered. And blenders can't create the same art with fewer quality options for their palates and palettes.

I won't tell you that all old blends are amazing. There have always been plenty of stinkers. But many of the blends from the '40s through the '80s were fabulous. Even my open 1970s J&B Rare has become the best highball scotch I've ever had. The flavors, the facets, the maltiness in previous decades' blends leads me to believe that during eras of small, or nonexistent, demand for single malts, whisky companies had better options for their blenders.

That brings me back to today's whisky. Was this Ardmore malt (and its drinkers) best served by depositing its hogshead's contents into a potentially hyperactive cask for a short period of time? Or would it have been better as a pivotal element in an upscale Teacher's blend, or a Compass Box vatting? I don't know. Not too long ago, I would have chosen the single cask because Purity. But now, I'd lean towards the latter.

Distillery: Ardmore (SMWS 66)
Ownership: Beam Suntory
Region: Highlands (Eastern)
Independent Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
Age: 13 years (6 March 2006 - 2019)
Maturation: ~12 years in a hogshead then ~1 year in a first-fill charred ex-red wine barrique
Cask#: 66.161
Outturn: 295
'Quirky' name: Chateau du pork scratching
Alcohol by Volume: 58.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(from a bottle split)

None of the suggest meaty notes appear in the nose, instead there's cocoa, fabric, marshmallow fluff, cherry jam and jalapeños. The peat appears in the form of chocolate-dipped moss. The palate begins with a fizzy combination of cherry-flavored Tylenol, mint leaves and Dr. Brown's cream soda. Hints of herbal bitterness and blackberry jam float beneath. Cherries, tart and sweet, lead the finish, followed by salt and burlap.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose shows considerable improvement. It's more herbal, vegetal and nutty. It's even slightly earthy. Cocoa, butterscotch, marzipan and raspberry jam appear here and there. The palate remains sweet and berried (a joke!?), with raspberries in whipped cream, but some sea salt, pepper and bitterness provide additional angles. It finishes with a cherry/ginger syrup, a pinch of salt and squeeze of lemon.

Despite my fears, this was not worse than 66.32. In fact, with a little added water, this Ardmore was very approachable. Though the spirit does seem hindered, tragedy is avoided. It is not "strangely sweet, gloopy" (what an odd way to pitch your whisky) despite SMWS's label notes.

Before finishing this sample I looked at the remaining whisky in my glass and wondered what the point of this whisky was. And that triggered all those paragraphs above. I'm thankful to have had just 60mL of this whisky rather 750mL. Had I a full bottle I'd immediately initiate some foolish vattings, attempting to find a better whisky.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - was £61 one year ago
Rating - 80 with water

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Ardmore 20 year old 1997 SMWS 66.137

If a 1980s hogshead can't force me to release my grip on 90 points for an Ardmore, then what chance have these other two Ardies?

At least today's whisky also spent two decades in a hogshead. And the SMWS scriveners have dubbed it "Dirty but good." I'm not going to travel down the "Nudge nudge. Nudge nudge. Know what I mean? Say no more. Know what I mean?" path, but whatever happened to "Dirty and Good"? Or did they mean, "Dirty butt, good"? The mysteries of life.

Distillery: Ardmore (SMWS 66)
Ownership: Beam Suntory
Region: Highlands (Eastern)
Independent Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
Age: 20 years (23 October 1997 - 2018)
Maturation: refill hogshead
Cask#: 66.137
Outturn: 292
'Quirky' name: Dirty but good
Alcohol by Volume: 54.7%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(from a bottle split)

The nose begins very salty and sort of savory, like seaweed and kelp. Then there are some cashews, wet sand, sesame seeds and burlap. Was this supposed to be the dirty part? A swirl of peat and dried herbs (oregano, thyme and bay leaf) greet the palate first. Small doses of salt, pepper, stones and weed follow. Malt and ginger beer float in the background. This was actually very clean. It finishes with dried herbs, black pepper, pickled ginger and the palate's two stony notes.

Maybe some water will filthy it up.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or >1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose might be a little farmier, though I am digging deep to find the dirt. It's more on walnuts than cashews now. A sprinkle of brown sugar. The palate hasn't changed much. It's a slightly sweeter and saltier, and has picked up a drip of sesame oil. Not much change in the finish. Maybe more pepper and salt.

This is clean and good with nothing dirty about it. That's not a problem. Or is it? This 20yo Ardmore proves to be a solid, spirit-forward herbal peater that'll do the job in any cold weather. In fact there are a lot of refill cask Ardmores from the late '90s that consistently hit this mark. Boringly great, I guess. Maybe this dirty boy longs for some grit and grunge. For those afeared of the weird, you'll be okay with this whisky.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - was £95 in 2018
Rating - 86

Monday, December 28, 2020

Ardmore 24 year old 1985 SMWS 66.30

Speaking of SMWS......how about three SMWS Ardmores from three decades this week?

Since I know you're keeping track of every single post, you have obviously noticed I have been out of character, ignoring my Ardmore Fanboy #1 role, when reviewing actual Ardmores. I've given a grand total of ONE Ardmore a 90-point mark. Don't think that I have not noticed this. Though my parent brain has fully calcified, and I often have to pee in front of an audience, I have not shed my conjoined twin, Self Consciousness. Perhaps I have to review more Ardmores, or better Ardmores. Or maybe I should open up my closed hoarded imprisoned Ardmores. Meh. I'll just review more Ardmores.

I received this sample from the very generous Teemu of Whisky Science during a sample swap. That previous sentence was also used for this humbling Yoichi. He spoiled me.

Distillery: Ardmore (SMWS 66)
Ownership: Beam Suntory
Region: Highlands (Eastern)
Independent Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
'Quirky' name: An outdoor banquet
Age: 24 years (March 1985 - 2019)
Maturation: refill hogshead
Cask#: 66.30
Outturn: 244
Alcohol by Volume: 52.5%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(from a sample swap)

The nose begins with a nice unromantic combination of hay, ocean water, toasted grains and a hint of honey. A slight yeastiness then eases in, followed by notes of plaster and rosewater. After 30+ minutes white peaches roll in, followed by a fig confection. Its autumn palate offers hay, dried leaves, dried rose petals, soil and a slight bitter rootiness (or rooty bitterness). After a good long time in the glass, the whisky picks up a squeeze of lemon juice, sea salt and extra virgin olive oil. It finishes with salt, earth, soot and savory herbs. Little bits of flowers and olive oil in the background.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Ah, the nose gains a whiff of that beach bonfire note I love so. More peaches and citrus as well, with hints of ash, fig and ocean in the back. The palate gets leaner. Salt, soot, tart off-season nectarines register first, followed by hints of flower kiss candy and horseradish. The finish actually sweetens, getting a bit floral, almost creamy. But sea salt and kelp keep things from getting too crazy.

Thanks to the extremely-refill hoggie and austere (oh that word) spirit, this Ardmore shows itself to be the opposite of a modern whisky. With its fruit and smoke, the nose offers up the most flair, while the palate never cracks a smile. That's okay, everything can't be "fun" and "delicious". We're all serious adults here. Joy is for silly people.

Also I like the palate, and the whole thing gets better with a little water. It almost gets me to Silly.

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 88 with water

Friday, December 25, 2020

Bowmore 14 year old 2004 SMWS 3.313 for Feis Ile 2019

I don't know when I bought into this bottle share, nor do I remember why. Unless an Ardmore or some old weird thing is offered, I don't chase after SMWS bottlings for reasons covered in this blog ad nauseum. But I apparently went in on this Feis Ile exclusive, and it probably wasn't cheap. That festival has inspired many humans to spend an unwise quantity of GBP/EUR to fetch a single bottle of exclusive whisky on the secondary market. If that quantity is X, then an SMWS Feis Ile whisky expenditure will be approximately 2X.

Anyway, this whisky is gorgeous.

Distillery: Bowmore
Owner: Beam Suntory
Region: Islay
Independent bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
Age: 14 years (September 2004 to 2019)
Maturation: second-fill hogshead
Cask "name": Tempting trilogy of tastes
Cask number: 3.313
Outturn: 138 US bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 54.2%
(from a bottle split)

Three layers to the nose. Mango, honey and honeydew on top. Juicy Fruit gum and cinnamon in the middle. Pumpernickel bread and grassy peat on the bottom. It gradually all fades out leaving only mango and honey behind. The palate is fruitier somehow. Grapefruit, papaya, lychee and a hint of that mango are all in the foreground. Minerals, earth and serrano peppers rumble beneath. The fruits glide slowly into a crisp tartness after 30 minutes. It finishes moderately sweet/tart with lychee, lemons, malt and a whiff of smoke.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose keeps all the neat fruits, adds some orange oil and dusts it all with baking spices. Similarly, the palate holds onto all the fruits, with the bright grapefruit being framed by chimney smoke and an herbal bitterness. It finishes with tart fruit, minerals and a hint of bitter smoke.

Kristen drank a third of this sample. Nothing I can say will top that approval. But I'll write a few more words, as I do. The fruity essences' intensity shows best in the palate as it meets and merges well with the darker notes, while the nose is so pretty that one can only thank and re-thank Bowmore for ditching this cask instead of burying it in an OB. Thanks again, Bowmore! Keep giving away the honey casks.

Availability - Sold out in primary market, secondary market though...
Pricing - originally $155, secondary price is a lllllllllot more
Rating - 90

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Bowmore 17 year old 2002 Blackadder, cask 20199

After Monday's 1989 Bowmore, I thought I should review a more recent Blackadder Bowmore, one that some of you at home may have seen. Distilled during the very fine Bowmore era of 1999-2002 (specifically, 2002), the whisky was bottled just last year----

Oops, I should have offered a trigger warning there. Are you okay?

I'll try to keep my expectations under control, but I do adore ex-bourbon single casks of Bowmore from this period.

Distillery: Bowmore
Owner: Beam Suntory
Region: Islay
Independent Bottler: Blackadder
Range: Raw Cask
Age: 17 years (2002 to 15 October 2019)
Maturation: Hogshead
Cask number: 20199
Outturn: 308
Alcohol by Volume: 53.4%
(from a bottle split)

The nose is a bit on the lean side. Some farmy smoke, pine needles and butter arrive first. Then, slowly, grapefruit, citronella candles and peach ice cream make their appearances. Time to use the "A" word. The austere palate starts off with stones, grains and pine needles. Bitter smoke rolls up into the midground. It's very salty and spirity, almost like a 7yo rather than a 17yo. The finish has more character than the palate, adding menthol and lemons to the bitter smoke.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose gains a nice seaside/harbor note to go with the grapefruits, lemons and dirty stones. The palate is "slightly" a lot of things, mostly in balance: slightly sharp, slightly peppery, slightly salty, slightly sweet and slightly bitter. That harbor note rolls after a while, adding some character. Again the finish proves to be more interesting, leaning heavier on the salt while adding a lychee candy note.

While this is probably a technically flawless thing, with its lean style and great nose, I found the palate somewhat uninspired. Again. Could my expectations have influenced my experience? Or could the excellence of its sparring partner (arriving on Friday) have given me a different perspective than had I tried this whisky alone? For a more positive review, see that of My Annoying Opinions who reviewed the same whisky from the same bottle two weeks ago. He found more going on in the palate than I did, therein lies the difference in our scores.

Availability - Probably sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 85

Monday, December 21, 2020

Bowmore 21 year old 1989 Blackadder, cask 12861

It's been more than two years since I reviewed an independently bottled Bowmore. I shall end this blog's longest indie Bowmore drought ever with a trio of single casks this week, starting with one that was distilled at the end of the difficult Bowmore period, call it what you will. By the time the late '80s arrived, some of the more troubling distillate notes were in the past. I hope that's the case with this one. I'm cool with flowers blossoms, floral soap and floral perfume not so much.

Here's the data:

So used to the bold peat on recent Bowmore indie casks, I am surprised by the mildness of the peat on this whisky's nose. Flowers and fruits read much louder: think cantaloupe, yellow plums and white nectarines. In the background, a quirky Loch Lomond-style funk merges well with a molasses note. The palate begins very hot and very sweet with some vegetal peat on the side. There's a mix of shouga sembei (Japanese ginger cookies) and mint candy up front, hints of caramel and cherry cola in the background. A new note develops after a while, a curious old-blend-like thing that I can only attempt to describe as ink, mold and paper. A sweet smoke appears in the finish, followed by charred veg and toasted oak spices.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1½ tsp per 30mL whisky
Quite some variety in the nose now. Vegetal peat smoke, lemon candy, carpet, leather and baby poop. The palate also meanders all over the place. At first it's a blend of candy canes, ginger cookies and peanut butter. Then there's this note, it tastes like I'm licking the label, and it sort of takes over everything. Luckily it doesn't carry too far into the finish, rather we're back to the mint, smoke and pepper.

Despite the whisky being quite hot at full power, I do not recommend diluting it to 46%abv because all cohesion is shattered and things start getting strange. And not in a fun way. When neat, the whisky seems to stay close to the spirit, with cask interference held to a minimum. As noted by Ganga in the comments section on my most recent FWP post, the floral notes here are (thankfully) of actual flower blossoms, not soap. And that prevents the nose from dropping to wacky bad from its wacky goodness. The neat palate is unmemorable aside from the inky, moldy note, and the finish is a bit plain and short. This cask is most notable for being a relatively successful Bowmore from this period, with the italics on "relatively".

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 83 (but keep it neat!)

Friday, December 18, 2020

Caol Ila 14 year old 2005 Chieftain's, cask 302361

I've been snooping around online and can find very little about this whisky. It's almost as if all the bottles were bought up and are now collecting dust in everyone's oh-my-god-a-new-thing cabinet. It's a 14 year old single cask Caol Ila that was actually released in America last year. Other than an occasional K&L conquest, this country doesn't get double-digit-aged single cask Caol Ilas on the reg anymore. Thank you, Ian MacLeod, for letting one escape across the Atlantic.

Distillery: Caol Ila
Region: Islay
Owner: Diageo
Independent Bottler: Ian McLeod
Range: Chieftain's
Age: 14 years (March 2005 - August 2019)
Maturation: Hogshead
Cask #: 302361
Bottles: 218
Alcohol by Volume: 55.9%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(from a purchased sample)

A flawless nose. Gosh, I miss Caol Ila. Anyway: seaweedy smoke, roasted almonds, Canadian bacon and hot tar. Brown sugar in the middle. Fresh apricots, yellow plums and apple skins in the background. Massive peat in the palate, like CI+. But it's not all peat. Tart apples, sweet apples, fennel, lime juice and horseradish hold steady in the smoke. Silky texture, too. It finishes with an excellent sweet/smoky balance. Then limes, salt, stones and horseradish.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1¼ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
How is it possible that the nose is peatier and stinkier? It's in the Ledaig/PC/Croftengea zone. Beyond the black smoke lies damp soil, mushrooms, plums and cherries. Bitter herbs and bitter cocoa lead the muscular palate, followed by horseradish and heavy smoke. But just as one starts to stagger from the wallop, sweet oranges rise up to tickle the palate. It finishes with earth, roots, herbs and oranges.

A list of thoughts:

  1. Awesome.
  2. Y'all have been keeping this a secret from the rest of us, haven't you? Y'all.
  3. The Ledaig/PC/Croftengea zone is a good place to be. If this isn't the peatiest Caol Ila I've ever had, it has to be in the top three.
  4. Despite the whisky's youthful character, there are no mezcal notes, which I appreciate. At first it was fun to find mezcal notes in baby peated whiskies, but after the fourth or fifth time that note appeared I found myself just wanting some mezcal rather than underaged scotch.
  5. This whisky's price was silly because of The Tariff, right?
Availability - Scarce
Pricing - $180-$190
Rating - 89

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Glenburgie 16 year old 1998 Chieftain's, cask 5006 (my bottle)

This is the Glenburgie that got me into Glenburgie. Like Monday's Fettercairn, I tried this whisky during the previous Chieftain's blog blast almost five years ago. And like the Fettercairn I had enjoyed many pours of it preceding its review. While the Fettercairn brings power and complexity, this Glenburgie is a mellow drinker, due to both its ABV and style. This pour is from the upper third of the bottle below.

Distillery: Glenburgie
Region: Speyside (Moray)
Owners: Pernod Ricard
Independent Bottler: Ian McLeod
Range: Chieftain's
Age: 16 years (November 1998 - October 2015)
Maturation: Hogshead
Cask #: 5006
Bottles: 230
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(from my bottle)

The nose begins with barley, celery and loads of anise. It also shows some light grassiness and vegetable broth. Wasabi and Red Hots candy. The palate is malty malty malty. There's also kiwi juice and watermelon juice. Green grapes and mint leaves. Butterscotch and a slight mineral edge. Malt leads the finish as well, with little bits of watermelon, cantaloupe and a jalapeño bite.

I never add water to this, but what the hell.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or < 1 tsp of water per 30ml whisky
Hmmm. Funkier, muskier fruit appears in the nose, along with manuka honey. Sesame crunch and pickled ginger. The palate has become bitterer. Though there's more vanilla and butterscotch, the fruits hold strong: apricots, limes, sweet apples and roses (not a fruit). It finishes with roses, limes, a maraschino cherry and a hint of toasted oak.

Wow, maybe I should have been diluting this stuff the whole time. Though non-Western notes existed in the neat nose, at 40%abv it moves further East. I apologize for that sentence. Neat or diluted the palate is fruity, malty and concerningly easygoing. I try not to use the word "recommend" in this blog because this whisky shit is expensive, but if you can still find a bottle of this for $90 or less, it's not the worst thing to have.

Availability - Unsure. These could still be out there, somewhere.
Pricing - $90-$100 was its original price
Rating - 87

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Braeval 23 year old 1996 Chieftain's, cask 111109

It's fair to say I'm a fan of bourbon cask Braevals. It's the summery honey and fruit style that gets me every time. If Pernod Ricard ever committed to a regular Braes range, it would probably become A Thing. For like five minutes. Despite this bottle's hefty price tag, I did consider blindly buying a bottle, instead I'll settle for a split.

Distillery: Braeval
Ownership: Pernod Ricard
Region: Speyside (Banffshire)
Independent Bottler: Ian McLeod
Range: Chieftain's
Age: 23 years old (July 1996 - August 2019)
Maturation: bourbon barrel
Cask number: 111109
Outturn: 209 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 53.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from a bottle split)

Orange creamsicles, rose blossoms, cloves, nutmeg and chocolate malt read loudest the nose, with hints of strawberry Bubble Yum and vanilla bean in the background. The palate starts off with malt, honey, sweet shisha and apricot jam. Lots of apricot jam. Then raspberries, yuzu and fruity cinnamon. Great tart/sweet balance. It finishes with honey, lemons, apricot jam, toasted grains and a hint of smoked vanilla bean.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose becomes even brighter! Lots of citrus peels, minty ice cream and brown sugar. A little bit of tapioca pudding, dunnage and that green plant which is still illegal in Ohio. And I don't mean broccoli. Or do I? Though the palate is full of peach ice cream, butterscotch pudding and fruity cinnamon it's not too sweet. There are some tart lemons, a gentle smokiness around the edges, maybe some nectarines in the back. The finish is all lemons, nectarines and butterscotch.

I could drink this stuff all day, so it's probably a good thing I have only a sample of it. It would be a great summer pour. Or any season really. Though this Braeval delivers neither complexity nor the longest of finishes, I'd bet most Speyside distilleries would love to capture this style. Just radiant fruity fun.

Availability - As with the previous two Chieftain's, there are probably several bottles of this whisky on retailer shelves out there somewhere in America.
Pricing - $185-$225 (Can I wish this down to $125?)
Rating - 88

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Teaninich 20 year old 1999 Chieftain's, cask 302865

Not only is this my first second Teaninich review, but it's the first time I've ever spelled the distillery's name correctly on the first try! Teaninininininch is one of those Diageo-owned malts that the big D hoards for its blends, so we rarely see even an indie bottle of it here in The States. This barrel, part of what may be Chieftain's final single cask bottling runs, also has a sibling cask #302864 in Europe. And, pretty remarkably, they've both mostly sold out, so I'm thankful to have gotten my claws on a bottle split.

Distillery: Teaninich
Region: Northern-ish Highlands
Ownership: Diageo
Independent Bottler: Ian McLeod
Range: Chieftain's
Age: 20 years old (March 1999 - August 2019)
Maturation: bourbon barrel
Cask number: 302865
Outturn: 152 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 56.2%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from a bottle split)

It has a fascinating nose. There are veggies on the top: with cucumber skins, wheatgrass, vegetable broth and charred bell pepper skins. And flowers and fruits on the bottom: lilac and yellow plums. And it works, somehow. The palate stays close to this style. Flower petals, cucumber skins and an herbal bitterness arrive first. Peach skins, lemon-infused olive oil and a hint of metal follow later. One can almost chew the peach skins and cucumber skins as they arrive so boldly. It finishes bitter, tart and vegetal with smaller notes of peppercorns and metal.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1⅓ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Wow! The nose actually intensifies, with the bell peppers and wheatgrass taking over, the blossoms and peaches in the background, and hints of salty broth and dunnage here and there. The palate's vegetal note remains, but with more minerals and metals. Hints of flowers and plums around the edges. Flowers, plums and pepper in the finish.

The late scotchwhisky.com said that Teaninich's spirit has "a fragrant exotic grassiness," and that element is alive and well in this bottling, providing a distinctive experience. Plaudits to Chieftain's for bottling a low-oak whisky with this level of organic zing. I really enjoyed these two ounces, but I can't imagine getting too far into a full bottle before being worn out. Whether this style is divisive or not, it's great to have this in the whisky world. If you've had this whisky too, let me know in the comments what you thought of it. For me, tomorrow's (Wednesday's) whisky had the clear edge.

Availability - There may be a few bottles still floating around at American retailers
Pricing - $200-$225 (which is actually much cheaper than its sibling cask)
Rating - 85 (maybe, I dunno)

Monday, December 14, 2020

Fettercairn 19 year old 1996 Chieftain's, cask 91131 (my bottle)

I regret to say I may starting this five-part Chieftain's week with a whisky the others can't match. On the other hand I'm happy that a Fettercairn could be the peak of a whisky week. This Fettercairn conquered my other Chieftain's series almost five(!) years ago. Such was its quality that I bought two bottles and got in on a bottle split of a third. My review pour comes from a first bottle sample. Here's the second, unopened, bottle:

Complete with casket

Distillery: Fettercairn
Region: Eastern Highlands
Owner: Emperador Distillers Inc
Independent Bottler: Ian McLeod
Range: Chieftain's
Age: 19 years (September 1996 - October 2015)
Maturation: Oloroso cask finish
Cask number91131
Outturn: 474 bottles 
Alcohol by Volume: 57.4%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: No
(from my bottle, bottom third)

The color is much lighter than the picture leads on. The nose seamlessly spins and merges a plentitude of characteristics. There's toasted barley and dark chocolate. Here's some soil, machine shop and befouled hay. Then cherry lollipops, candy corn and apple pie. How about fresh cherries and guava juice? Yes 'm. The palate shows off a very nutty sherry, full of walnuts and raw almonds. It's also earthy and rooty, and loaded with baking chocolate and hay. Hints of baking spices and bitter herbs rest below. Fruits sneak out into the finish; think tart limes, dried apricots and dried cherries. The roots, rocks, bitter herbs and raw almonds remain, now joined by jolt of Thai chiles.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Dried apricots and dried pineapple slices appear in the nose, followed by toffee, roasted almonds, chalk, clay and something "dirty" though I'm not convinced it's cask sulfur. Now diluted, the palate has become snugglier, with apples, pineapples, pink peppercorns, almonds and dark chocolate. The finish matches the palate, adding a peppery glow.

When I reviewed this whisky five years ago, I had no idea it was the result of an Oloroso finish, thinking it'd had a full maturation in a stellar example of that type of sherry cask. I'm still fascinated by caliber of its cask integration. In fact I'd take this whisky over ~95% of the full-term sherried whiskies I've ever tried. Though I compared this whisky to a few other distilleries in the first review, after 30+ ounces of experience I see this Fettercairn as Ben Nevis's sibling. It can certainly compete with some of those lovely 1991 Signatories. That's some good company.

Availability - There may be a few bottles still floating around at American retailers
Pricing - $125-$150
Rating - 90

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Saying goodbye to Chieftain's

In October of last year, K&L Wine Merchants' D.O-G shared news that genuinely surprised me: Ian Macleod Distillers was "abandoning" their Chieftain's brand. Chieftain's has long been one of my favorite independent bottlers. I've tried at least two dozen of their single casks, and found not a single flop among them. At worst their casks were just fine, at best exquisite. I've also purchased a number of their whiskies. In fact, my stash includes more bottles of Chieftain's than of any other indie bottler.

Checking Whiskybase this week, I discovered that in fact there were zero Chieftain's distillery-specific single casks bottled in 2020, their only bottlings being the mystery-meat "Cigar Malt" and "The Village". So the dissolution seems to be happening, and it's understandable through a specific perspective. No longer a tiny operation, Ian MacLeod Distillers has developed into a second-tier player (with the first-tier being giants like Diageo, Pernod Ricard and Beam Suntory). They own three distilleries (Glengoyne, Tamdhu and second-act Rosebank), twenty other whisky brands (including Isle of Skye, Smokehead, Pig's Nose, Sheep Dip and Shieldaig), four gin brands and three rum brands. That's a lot of moving parts, and the single cask unit must have been seen as the most vestigial or too niche for their current business.

Since I see no hints that this situation will be reversed, it's time for me to send them out with a week of five Chieftain's reviews. Toodle-oo, Chieftain's, you were a good one.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Killing Whisky History, Episode 34: Three Ages of Bell's

Welcome to Episode 7's sequel! Three Bell's, three ages (or non-ages), three bottle shapes and three labels from three time periods. One of these whiskies is very good, one is very not. The beard is very beard and getting bearder.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Speyburn 18 year old

 A summary of my Speyburn experience in list form:

How about I open it?

Distillery: Speyburn
Ownership: Inver House (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Age: at least 18 years old
Maturation: American oak casks and Spanish oak casks
Bottling date: 2018
Outturn: 9000 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from a purchased sample)

The nose is Pop. Orange peel, yellow nectarines, ginger ale, rosewater, anise and dark chocolate. Diluting it to 40%abv narrows it a bit. Flowers and stone fruits. Hints of white chocolate and confectioner's sugar. Bark and barrel char in the background.

The palate is Toast. Toasted nuts, toasted grains, toasted oak, toasted bread, toasted coconut and toasted marshmallow. Lots of limes, some minerals and anise in the background. It trends more towards oak spice with 30+ minutes in the glass. It gets much bitterer once diluted to 40%abv. Bitter chocolate, bitter herbs and bitter oak. One clementine and a vanilla whisper in the midground.

The finish is Grownup Candy. Limes and minerals. Salt and anise. Luxardo cherries and Red Hots. Once diluted to 40%abv, the finish holds the palate's bitterness while keeping some anise and minerals in the rear.

This appears to have been a limited release honoring distiller Bobby Anderson's 18th year at the distillery. So that means he needs another 32 years of service before anyone pays him some respect. Politicians, ugly buildings, etc.

This 18 year old turned out to be a very enjoyable whisky, on par with the 15. I think this one's nose wins out, while my notes on the 15's palate sound a little better. Due to the price difference, I'd probably give the 15 the nod. The 18yo works best at 46%, as the oak flops out at 40%, so thank goodness Inver House bottled it with an adult presentation. Those extra few percentage points help it compete with any of the Big Glens' 18s. Will Speyburn make this a regular member of their range, or will its slow sales keep it limited indeed?

Availability - maybe a dozen or so US retailers, but many, many more in Europe
Pricing - $110-$140 in the USA, $75-$100 in Europe (w/o VAT)
Rating - 85 (keep it neat!)

Monday, December 7, 2020

Tobermory 10 year old versus Tobermory 12 year old

To mark the distillery's 2019 reopening, Tobermory bumped up the age of its intro malt from 10 to 12 years. They also changed the recipe in a matter I don't find promising. The 10 was aged in ex-bourbon casks, a large portion of which seemed to be refill (per my senses). The 12 is a mix of first-fill ex-bourbon and new oak casks. So the modern Moar Oak! Method has now been adopted by yet another uniquely-styled spirit producer. I do not understand why they did that. It's not like all the rich kids are suddenly going to start drinking Tobermory.

One wonders if this would have happened under Ian MacMillan's watch.

Of course if I actually like the 12 year old better than the 10, you can just ignore every sentence above, except for the first one. I did weary of my last bottle of the 10yo, which is why I kept adding it to vattings and pouring out samples. At the time of that review, I applauded the producers for resisting "trying to turn it into something cuddlier and more commercial", yet I was left with "no interest in ever buying it again". And now here we are.

Tobermory 10yo (2015) Tobermory 12yo (2019)

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Tobermory
Owner: Distell International
Region: Isle of Mull
Age: minimum 10 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks
Bottling year: 2015
Alcohol by Volume: 46.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(from the bottom third of my bottle)

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Tobermory
Owner: Distell International
Region: Isle of Mull
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: first fill ex-bourbon casks + virgin oak casks
Bottling year: 2019
Alcohol by Volume: 
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(from a purchased sample)

Tobermory 10yo (2015) Tobermory 12yo (2019)

Lots of grains in the foreground, like oats, wheat and barley. Grass, moss and limoncello fill out the middle. Hints of sugar and whipped cream float in the background.

It takes a very long time to open up. Once it does (after 25-30 mins), it's all apple skins, toasted oak spice, black raisins, cheese danish, apple crumble and roses. Manure and marshmallows begin to appear after 45 minutes.

OBSERVATIONS: The 12's nose, once it finally opened, was much better than I'd expected. Though zany and unbalanced, it's also thoroughly entertaining. I still prefer the 10's simple, rustic nose. I can't think of another single malt like it.

Tobermory 10yo (2015) Tobermory 12yo (2019)

It's still very youthful, but also has a silky mouthfeel. Toasted barley, apples and ginger snaps appear first. Then minerals and hay. After 30 minutes, a vibrant citrus note takes the fore.

Fresh ginger, lemon cookies and floral white stone fruits register first. When the oak kicks after 30 minutes, sugar, vanilla and caramel push nearly everything else out of the way, with limes being the only fruit that remains.

OBSERVATIONS: The 12's palate reads bigger than the 10's, and at first it's a bright, brisk drink, but then the casks arrive, neutralizing anything unique about the whisky. Though admirably raw and spirit-forward, the 10's palate continues to burn me out after 30mL.

Tobermory 10yo (2015) Tobermory 12yo (2019)

Minerals, roots, hay and ginger in the first few sips. Limes, lemons and grapefruits gradually take over.

Tart and a little grassy at first. Hints of herbal bitterness and pickled ginger. Most of those notes are pushed away by a massive sweetness in later sips.

OBSERVATIONS: As with the palate, the 12's finish starts off fresh and crisp, but then takes a turn for the sweet and generic. My thoughts about the 10's finish mirror those of its palate, though I do appreciate that it never gets sugary.

As whisky production is not a charity, the folks at Tobermory were left in an awkward spot. The 10 year old's sales and word-of-mouth never seemed to lift off due to the single malt's unique style, but if the producers were to aggressively tinker with the whisky, then it wouldn't appeal to the few existing Tobermory fans.

A choice was made. By oak-doping the new 12 year old they elected to push it towards a modern, nearly characterless, character. While the quirky nose probably shows the best that can be done by mashing together a bold spirit with heavy wood extraction, all Tobermory notes quickly abandon ship in the palate.

On a positive(?) note, the 12 puts the 10 in a better light, making the retired single malt look like one of the last holdouts from a previous era. Other than the new 18 year old, all other official Tobermory releases have fortified wine finishes. They haven't gone Full Murray McDavid, but they're close. And that is why I have no other Tobermory samples in my collection.

Availability - phased out but still available throughout Europe and USA
Pricing - $45 - $65
Rating - 82

Availability - Available at many European and American specialty retailers
Pricing - $45 - $65 (Europe), $80 - $90 (USA)
Rating - 79

Friday, December 4, 2020

Old Pulteney 1989-2015 Lightly Peated

In a practice never since repeated by the distillery, Old Pulteney released two limited edition batches of lightly peated single malt in 2014 and 2015, distilled in 1990 and 1989, respectively. The malts themselves were not peated, rather the whisky spent the entirety of its maturation time in bourbon barrels that had previously held Islay single malt.

If you haven't had the opportunity to try Laphroaig bottled in that time period because whisky prices are now so extreme, then please take my word that Laphroaig was a much different whisky then than its current counterpart, earthier, oiler and certainly fruitier. (I don't know if this Old Pulteney was aged specifically in Laphroaig barrels, but there was at least one official single cask distilled in 1990 that had spent its life in such a cask.) So I hope today's small batch of 15+ casks resulted in a mildly smoky thing.

Distillery: Pulteney
Ownership: Inver House (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Region: Northern Highlands (Wick)
Age: 25 to 26 years old (1989 - 2015)
Maturation: refill bourbon barrels that had previously held Islay malt
Outturn: 3210 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(from a bottle split)

Smoked almonds, white peaches, rosewater and hint of cotton candy show up in the nose first. It gradually takes on a slightly mossiness, hints of Canadian bacon and blue cheese, as well as a newly opened box of graham crackers. That last note carries over into the palate where I immediately find s'mores and charcoal smoke. Then lime juice, copper, cinnamon, toffee chips and a Campari-like bite. An old school industrial note rumbles beneath. It finishes with charcoal, limes, grapefruits and Campari.

Gonna be gentle with the water...

DILUTED TO ~43%abv, or < ½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose focuses on almonds, orange peels, citronella candles and a snuffed bonfire. A bright herbal bitterness pushes the palate's sweetness aside. Lots of almonds and maybe a half cigarette. The finish matches the palate.

Indeed, it's mellow; a calm, casual Highland malt. I wonder if Pulteney could recreate something like this today, or have peated casks become too violent? Anyway, I was neither surprised nor disappointed by this whisky. The citrus, subtle bitterness and slight dirtiness of the palate proved to be among the highlights, along with the smoked almond and white peach combo in the nose. Dilution simplified it, but didn't ruin it. Buyers may wish for sensory fireworks when purchasing a whisky at this bottle's current price, but one should instead expect a pleasant, unfussy drink.

Availability - It's still around
Pricing - though it was 
€180 upon release, expect anything from €450-€900 now
Rating - 87

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Clynelish 23 year old 1995 Single Cask Nation, cask 8660

Monday's light-to-medium-tinged refill cask Clynelish surprised with all of its sherry influence. Today's Clynelish is two years older and from a second-fill sherry butt, but is dark dark brown, looking like it was one of those refill casks sandblasted with fortified wine. So I'm going to set my dials to Sherry Blob.

On a note that's only interesting to me, I tried to get in on a bottle of this whisky three times. The first two sent to me were smashed by the courier. The third survived. At least I already know how it smells.

Distillery: Clynelish
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Highlands (North)
Bottler: Single Cask Nation
Age: 23 years (September 1995 - March 2019)
Maturation: 2nd fill Oloroso butt
Cask number8660
Limited bottling: 580
Alcohol by Volume: 52.4%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(from a bottle split)

The nose is soaked with almond extract. It takes a few minutes before the rest appears: cocoa, metal, and mustard seed with hints of blossoms of brine. Some mango juice and dunnage notes appear after 30 minutes. No prunes nor raisins. Plums and cherry lollipops lead the palate, followed by blueberries, pecans and tart limes. A curious mix of Worcestershire sauce and fennel floats in the background. Less sweet than the palate, the finish shows more pepper and nuts. Lots of plums remain, though.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose gets LOUDER. Cherries, carob, toffee, mocha, amaretto and lime juice. Hints of barrel char and vanilla bean in the back. The palate begins with pipe tobacco, brine and plum jam. Tart limes and a touch of herbal bitterness keep it from getting too sweet. Then it gets sweeter in the finish, with cherry candy and plum wine. Bits of salted almonds and bitter herbs show up here and there.

Though this was indeed another sherried thing, it also proved to be a quirky adventure. And I liked it a lot. Its nose lobbed a lot at my nose, yet it worked, and worked better when neat. When neat, the palate's fresh plumminess was a highlight, but I appreciated how its elements came together and mellowed out once diluted. The whisky was zany enough to interest me in purchasing a bottle, had it cost $100 less. I understand its pricing is comparable to the rest of the market for Clynelish at this age, so I'm happy to let it pass me by.

Availability - Mostly sold out
Pricing - $250-$300
Rating - 88