...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Ardbeg 21 year old 1992 Sovereign, cask HL 9995 for K&L Wine Merchants

Back to Ardbeg! This week I'm reviewing three bourbon cask indie bottlings distilled during the Allied Lyons years, specifically 1992, 1993 and 1994. If you get an opportunity to try pre-LVMH Ardbeg, TAKE IT. You may find it's usually a subtler, yet thicker and more angular whisky than the current stuff. Or maybe you'll think it's boring, and the joke is on all those people paying four-figures for those bottles.

This 21 year old single cask comes from K&L's David&David Epoch. It was quite a feat for them to nab an Ardbeg cask of this age, since no regular release coming from the distillery had been older than ten years for, well, ten years at that point. Had I been in on more bottle splits back in 2013, I would have taken part just to try the old liquid. But I missed out. So I am very grateful to Saint Brett of Riverside for letting me steal a sample of this stuff.

Distillery: Ardbeg
Owners at time of distilling: Allied Lyons
Region: Southern Islay
Bottler: Hunter Laing
Brand: The Sovereign
Maturation: bourbon cask
Age: 21 years (1992 - September 2013)
Cask #: HL 9995
Outturn: 150 bottles
Exclusive to: K&L Wine Merchants
Alcohol by Volume: 49.6%

NOTES

What a nose. It's big on seaweed, briny shellfish and cinnamon-and-cocoa-tinged smoke, while apple peels, pineapples and limes float through the background, with clementines joining in after 30 minutes. The coast and smoke are pushed back once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv, with fruit (apples and cherries) and cinnamon being pulled to the fore.

My notes label the palate "ungussied", which is not a word, apparently. In other words, it's spirit-forward, with lots of Talisker-style salt and pepper on one plane, and tart limes, grapefruits, minerals and a subtle sweetness on another. Reducing it to 46%abv, doesn't change much. Maybe more minerals and metals.

Its finish reads heavier and smokier than the palate, with some lime candy in the background. The peat sits somewhere between the LVMH-Ardbeg soot and Talisker pepper. Diluted to 46%abv, it finishes with pepper, tart citrus and soot.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

K&L released this Sovereign cask within about 12 months of the 32 year old Caol Ila and 18 year old Caperdonich. That's some good work right there. This Ardbeg is definitely among my top five favorite K&L single casks, though some of you readers have had more of their stuff than I. As with the Caol Ila, the palate falls just short of a dreamy nose. But this nose, though. Not only does current owner LVMH not make 'em this way, I can't think of another Islay distillery that does. Perhaps I need to try more 21 year old Lagavulin. (Don't we all.)

The other two Ardbegs have some serious competition here. If they can keep up, it'll be a good week.

Availability - Sold out years ago
Pricing - $349 back in the day
Rating - 89

Friday, April 9, 2021

Redbreast 2001 cask 17126, for The Celtic Whiskey Shop

There are several of these single sherry cask Redbreasts floating around the (secondary) market. I thought it was a fun idea when the first of these dropped, considering the lack of official single cask official Irish whiskies. The prices were less fun, but the casks tended to sell out, so the market spoke. Despite my love for Redbreast, paying $300+ for a teenage Redbreast didn't compute. So they all passed me by.

It was nice to get in on a bottle split of a single cask that was exclusive to an actual Irish retailer, but it will be my one-and-done review of single sherry cask Redbreast. 

Brand: Redbreast
Country: Ireland
Distillery: Midleton
Style
: Single Pot Still
Age: 15 or 16 years
Distillation date: March 2001
Release year: 2017?
Maturation: first-fill sherry butt
Cask #: 17126
Outturn: 600 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 58.6%
Exclusive to: The Celtic Whiskey Shop
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
(from a bottle split)

THE NOSE...

...at full strength: A sherry titan, leading with beef fat and cherries. Then mint leaf and pine sap. Hints of figs and Manuka honey. Cheesy nutritional yeast occasionally drifts through the background. 

...at 46%abv: Not much change, other than a shift away towards nuts, and away from beef. Some Raisinets too.

...at 40%abv: It's 75% oak spice, 15% toffee and 10% milk chocolate. 

THE PALATE...

...at full strength: There's more dried fruit here than in the nose. PLENTY of tannins too. Carob, dates, prunes and black raisins sit in the foreground. Salt and savory in the background.

...at 46%abv: It gets leafier, subtly herbal. More baking chocolate and salt, less savoriness. Even more tannins come to the surface.

...at 40%abv: Oloroso Oloroso Oloroso. Tannins, black raisins and raw nuts.

THE FINISH...

...at full strength: A bright Oloroso note arrives first, with meaty and peppery notes in the background. A moment or two of tannins and mint.

...at 46%abv: Bitter oak and peppercorns. Tannic AF.

...at 40%abv: Oloroso, salt and tannins.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

The folks at Whiskybase love this stuff, and there is certainly a wide audience to whom it would appeal. I am not part of that audience, and thus my opinion will probably prove unpopular. This is just hyperactive cask juice to me. It's a ketchup sandwich.

I didn't dump it down the sink because there's something fascinating about this sort of faceless, nameless whiskey. It could be from anywhere. It's probably the future. B-minus whiskey 24/7.

But I'm going to knock it down a few more points because they ruined 600 bottles of Redbreast.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - probably north of $300
Rating - 78

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Redbreast 12 year old Cask Strength, batch B1/20 (my bottle)

 So here's the 2020 batch, with its new label style and bespoke chair.

Honestly, I had not sipped a drop of Redbreast 12yo Cask Strength since I moved to Ohio. So I decided to schedule this 4-part series, ending it with the most current version I could find. It's rare for me to buy a whisk(e)y blind, but I figured since this is Redbreast, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, my first three pours (not in the same night) were kinda boring. That bothered me. The previous two bottles I'd opened, the Kilchomans Machir Bay (2018) and Vintage 2007, are/were good but I've never been excited about drinking from either. Is it me or the whisky? This Redbreast had me thinking that I'm the problem. But of course, that would force me to think a little deeper about my choices.

And why do that? I'll just have a Redbreast Taste Off instead!

Brand: Redbreast
Country: Ireland
Distillery: Midleton
Style
: Single Pot Still
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry casks
Batch: B1/20
Release year: 2020
Alcohol by Volume: 57.6%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? Probably
(the fourth pour from my bottle)

NOTES

It's weird, I'm not getting much from the nose. First comes the American oak, bark and sawdust. Vanilla. Yesterday's 12yo CS was scotchy, will this be bourbonish? Then there's a hint of copper, some cranberry juice, cloves and sour apple candy. Diluting it to 40%abv and......yep, there it is. Cherry juice, menthol, toasted coconut and apricot hamantaschen.

The palate is more expressive but quite hot. Orange bitters shifts to orange candy. Almonds. A hint of mango juice. A bit of tannin. It's much gentler at 40%abv (surprise!). There's apricot jam, honey, limes and nectarines. The tannins are still there but remain in the background.

The finish may be more interesting than the palate, with dried mango, tart apples, orange juice and cayenne pepper. Once reduced to 40%abv, the finish keeps the palate's (and the neat finish's) fruits without taking on too much sweetness, while the pepper starts to lean towards the tannins.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

Water saved this for me. It's fine but almost exhausting when neat. What we used to pass off as a "craft whiskey" trend of big heat and heavy casks, is now a contemporary style across the whisky world. And it's alive in this one. But bringing it down to 40%abv really draws out the fruits, which is something I look forward to in a daily drinker. Or any whisk(e)y, for that matter.

For a moment, I considered replacing the bottle's ~120mL of open space with water. Then I realized I shouldn't make that sort of decision after drinking. Or should I???

Availability - This batch still exists as of this moment of typing
Pricing - $65(!) to $100(!!)
Rating - 86 (diluted)

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Redbreast 12 year old Cask Strength, batch B1/14

Compared to the other three batches being reviewed this week, B1/14 has by far the darkest hue. Of course, this whole series likely had e150a added. But this one wasn't orange-y or bland brown like many colorant-abused whiskies. It had the sort of color that drives some people to overpay for sherry cask whiskies.

I skipped over B1/13 because I don't even remember its existence, and also I didn’t have a sample of it. Thanks to an old friend, JLR, I did have a B1/14. I even remember swapping samples that day, more than six years ago, when we were both new fathers. That was another life entirely.

Brand: Redbreast
Country: Ireland
Distillery: Midleton
Style
: Single Pot Still
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry casks
Batch: B1/14
Release year: 2014
Alcohol by Volume: 58.2%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? Probably
(many thank yous to JLR for the sample!)

NOTES

The nose begins with, yes, a big sherry cask note reminiscent of Macallan circa 2014. Dried berries, toasted nuts and carob. Cardamom pods, vanilla bean and toffee. Once reduced to 40%abv, the whiskey's nose takes on a surprising medicinal/iodine character, which matches well with the pipe tobacco, dark chocolate, raspberry jam and Luxardo syrup.

The palate's a bit tighter than the nose at full strength. Less overt sherry cask action as well. There are lemons, brown sugar and cinnamon. Then cayenne pepper, honey and almonds. Dilution to 40%abv opens the palate up as well. Brown sugar + pineapple + pie crust, but nowhere near as sugary as it sounds. Herbal bitterness and grapefruits glow in the background

Heat and honey in the finish, with small notes of black pepper, almonds and lemons. Reducing the whisky to 40%abv sweetens up the finish, while also adding some tart limes and grapefruits.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

Ah ha, I was waiting for one of these batches to shine brighter at the regular 12yo strength of 40%abv. I wouldn't say the sherry casks and bourbon casks and spirit are fighting it out, rather it's kind of a cold war. They're not voluntarily commingling, but they're not fouling everything up either. The result is something that is more reminiscent of single malt scotch, than of Irish pot still. Will this whiskey's Taste Off partner follow the same path......?

Availability - This batch is gone
Pricing - ???
Rating - 85 (diluted)

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Redbreast 12 year old Cask Strength, batch B1/12

It's an old tale, the rock 'n roll band releases such a brilliant first album that the second album is often destined to suffer under the weight of expectations. But also the band had much more time to work through the first album's material, while a time limit often rushes the second one. Meanwhile all the sex and drugs delay proper songwriting focus. I say this knowing absolutely nothing about the subject matter.

With that in mind, I tasted Redbreast 12yo Cask Strength batch 1 (aka B1/11) alongside batch 2 (aka B1/12). There's a very good chance I had a bottle of B1/12 in 2013-2014 and consumed it briskly. Because I left myself not a drop of that theoretical bottle, I had to source a sample. Batch B1/12 had similar cask types, age and resulting ABV as its predecessor. Cask strength Irish pot still whiskey was in its infancy at the time, so could they assemble another hit?

Brand: Redbreast
Country: Ireland
Distillery: Midleton
Style
: Single Pot Still
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry casks
Batch: B1/12
Release year: 2012
Alcohol by Volume: 58.6%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? Probably
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

White peaches, dried apricots and peach gummies lead the nose. Flower blossoms, citronella candles and fresh laundry are in the middle, with a rumble of industrial metal/grease underneath. The nose brightens up further when diluted to 40%abv, with notes of jasmine, sugar cookies and molasses.

Compared to B1/11, the palate has less heat, but more pepperiness. Less fruit, more minerals, though gradually a few lemons do arrive. The pot still heart peeks out as a bit of the nose's industrial note shows up late. It gets tarter with time, but remains quite lean. Somehow reducing it to 40%abv makes it even leaner. Very little sweetness, maybe a few hints of lemon. A slight bitter bite meets meets a metallic note. Again, its tartness expends after a while.

It finishes with tart oranges, tangy pepper sauce, machine shop and a hint of sweetness. Once reduced to 40%abv, vanilla and lemons take over. Hints of bitterness and metal remain in the background.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

The nose is pretty but I couldn't unlock the palate. Had the palate brought in some of the nose's characteristics, this would have been another big winner. Due to the absence of depth and fruit, I found the whiskey’s darker spirity note the most interesting aspect of this batch. I also appreciate the lack of aggressive oak. Though possibly a very good whisky when tried on its own, B1/12 proved to be a couple steps weaker than B1/11. And again, I prefer it served neatly.

Availability - This batch is gone
Pricing - sorry, can't remember
Rating - 84

Monday, April 5, 2021

Redbreast 12 year old Cask Strength, batch B1/11 (re-review)

I'm going to take a week-long break from Ardbeg to review Redbreast. And by that I mean full-powered Redbreast. And by that I mean four batches of the 12yo Cask Strength and one single sherry cask.

If you're a newer reader, then lemme catch you up. I adore Redbreast. Not only is it my favorite Irish whiskey, but I think it was one of the finest whiskies in the world. I say "was" because damned Scottish single malt has had me distracted for the larger part of the past decade, so I don't know what's happened with the standard Redbreast releases.

This very bottle of Cask Strength batch B1/11 was reviewed EIGHT years ago, back when I was handing out 90+-point scores to every Redbreast I'd meet. I gave this whiskey a 91-point score. And for some reason, I've been sitting on a 2oz sample from that very bottle ever since. So, I'm going to start this week with a re-review of that whiskey, and then I'll review its sparring partner tomorrow.

↑ this guy is from this guy ↓

Brand: Redbreast
Country: Ireland
Distillery: Midleton
Style
: Single Pot Still
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry casks
Batch: B1/11
Bottle Code: L120231241 10:22
Release year: 2011
Alcohol by Volume: 57.7%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? Probably

NOTES

At full power, the nose unites oranges, apricots, eucalyptus, lilac, brown sugar, roasted almonds and a tickle of brine. Lemon cake and orange scones lead the nose once the whisky is reduced to 40%abv. There's a nice float of wort in the background, and a few roses in the midground.

The warm palate reads very close to the nose with its tangy citrus and stone fruits. Smaller notes of fresh ginger and vanilla bean linger in the back. The sweetness is kept in check by a growing tartness. Metals and minerals emerge after about 20 minutes. It's all very well knit. Reduced to 40%abv, the whiskey's palate becomes sweet and lemony, with a bunch of tart dried cranberries. Hints of sea salt and pencil shavings perch in the background.

It lands the finish with lemons, brown sugar, minerals and nectarines. A near perfect balance of tart and sweet. Diluted to 40%abv, the whiskey's finish holds lemon candy, sea salt and a hint of American oak.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

I wasn't too crazy eight years ago (in fact, I was probably saner), this whisky is a joy. My notes do not match those of the old review, in fact I no longer see the two cask types battling it out. It's balanced with a precision I don't frequently find in current Scotch or Irish whiskies. Water does seem to bring out the oak a bit, so in a 8-year 180-degree turn I'd say keep it neat. When neat, it sticks the landing brilliantly. The brand began this cask strength series well.

Availability - This batch is gone
Pricing - sorry, can't remember
Rating - 90

Friday, April 2, 2021

Islay Balance 14 year old 2005 Old Particular Spiritualist Series, cask DL14031

So the waiter says, "Who ordered the medium Swedenborger with the Mesmertini"

And Douglas Laing exclaims, "I didn't mean that kind of spiritualism!"

Wocka Wocka!

(I'm only halfway through the Ardbeg reviews, people. It's all downhill from here.)

Actually, Laing's 'Spiritualist' series does reference both alcohol and something......something. Possibly theosophical-ish more than spiritualist? The official site links "mindfulness" and "ying and yang" to Laing's tempered poison.

Where do I even begin, I mean--


The actual liquid is not called "Ardbeg" but the Intertube Sayers say it's Ardbeg. And a 14 year old cask strength refill hogshead-aged Ardbeg is what we former Ardbeg fans wish LVMH would offer. But they don't, so we have to go to the indies for all the fun.

Distillery: Ardbeg (?)
Region: Islay
Bottler: Douglas Laing
Range: Old Particular
Age: 14 years (November 2005 - April 2020)
Maturation: refill hogshead
Cask #: DL14031
Outturn: 325 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 53.2%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

There's a sauté of peat, butter, cherries and apples in the nose's foreground. Fresh apricots and grapefruits somewhere in the middle, and Bugles corn snacks and cheap plastic toys in the background. It shifts a bit once reduced to 46%abv. Ocean, grass and roasted nuts take over. Hints of honeydew, anise and hay appear later one.

Seaweed, salt and sweetness appear in the palate first rather than peat, with minor notes of limes, pepper and bitter herbs in the back. It tilts towards Campari, lime and copper with time. It gets gentler at 46%abv, with mild sweetness, moderate soot and some grapefruit (IPA-style).

Again, there's less peat than expected in the finish. It's mostly salt, bitter herbs, tart citrus and copper. Once diluted to 46%abv, the whisky finishes with grapefruit, soot and salt.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

I'm glad I could end the week on a positive review. The whisky isn't complex, but it does fill an empty spot on the OB marketplace. It is a reasonable, fuss-free and (yes) balanced Ardbeg. That combination of words is so detached from contemporary Ardbeg that I wonder if this really is Ardbeg. No matter. I'm sure Madame Blavatsky would approve.

Availability - European specialty retailers
Pricing - $140-$180 (w/VAT)
Rating - 86

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Ardbeg Kelpie, 46%abv US Release

I almost never have anything positive to say about Ardbeg's annual special releases, and I had no plans to review another one, ever. But then there's Kelpie, which is in the hot running for the worst of those limited editions.

Kelpie and I met at a Scotch Night event about three years ago. No one at the event had anything nice to say about the actual liquid. I witnessed a few Ardbeg fans pour their Kelpies down the sink. The notes I wrote were, "Sour, bitter and hot. Oppressively poor."

Though I thought I'd ditched my whisky masochist side, I recently found myself drawn to try this whisky again, by myself, where no one could hear me scream.

Distillery: Ardbeg
Ownership: Glenmorangie Plc (owned by LVMH)
Region: Islay
Product: Kelpie
Age: NAS
Maturation: virgin oak from the Adyghe Republic
Limited bottling: of some sort
Bottling year: 2017
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

The nose begins with layers of moss, sugar and ocean and leaves. Granny Smith apples, mint candy and cocoa powder emerge after 15 minutes, with hints of yeast and dried berries in the background. Diluting the whisky to 40%abv keeps the fruits and yeast, adding in cardamom.

The palate is very astringent, brutal even, after a couple of sips. Lots of salt and ash, no Ardbeg soot to be found. It calms down after 30 minutes, but then bitter oak enters the picture. It nearly disappears after being diluted to 40%abv. Wisps of ash, bitter oak, sweet citrus and cardboard arise after a bit.

The finish is astringent. I hate to reuse the word, but it fits. There's lots bitter oak, bitter roots, fabric, paper and ash. Once reduced to 40%abv the finish matches the palate, with an added metallic effect.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

Sourcing alternate oak species is an interesting idea, but every experiment doesn't need to see the light of day. Unless there's a significant sunk cost. And there's a customer base enthralled with the brand's baloney.

As with many of its Special Edition cousins, the Kelpie smells unique and entertaining, but flops in flavor. Here it's more dramatic than usual. It is slightly better than what I'd remembered, but not something I'd even try to blend out. It got THUMPED in a side-by-side with the 5yo Wee Beastie, then I let the rest of Kelpie swim down the drain. Once again, unless you're an Official Lumsden Honk, don't weep if this annual release passed you by. There's better Ardbeg. In fact, all of it is better. (Even Galileo.)

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - You do not want to know
Rating - 76

Monday, March 29, 2021

Ardbeg 5 year old Wee Beastie (2020 US Release)

The world does not need an Ardbeg cluster, and you and I live in that world.

But.

Welcome to two weeks of Ardbeg!

First up, I have this here sample of the only <20yo Ardbeg recent release I've had any interest in, their non-NAS (double negative) Wee Beastie. Though other distilleries have previously used 5-year-old age statements, it's nice to see this from a brand that hurls out NAS releases in a perpetual blur.

Distillery: Ardbeg
Ownership: Glenmorangie Plc (owned by LVMH)
Region: Islay
Age: minimum 5 years old
Maturation: bourbon casks and oloroso sherry casks
Alcohol by Volume: 47.4%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

Nice bright barley notes shine through the nose's peat. A mix of cocoa powder, anise and pear juice hides in the background behind a curious meeting of ultra-briny shellfish and MDP-style pickle juice. It feels more like a single unit once reduced to 40%abv, and it gains notes of lemon, mint leaf, basil leaf and a touch of yeast.

The palate is lightly sweet, with minimal mezcal. "Loots of soot and salt," per my written notes. Hints of bitter and tart citrus merge with black pepper and mint leaves in the midground. Just a peep of vanilla bean in the back. It gets sweeter and calmer when diluted to 40%abv, while gaining some grassiness and a good herbal bitterness.

Salt, pepper, soot and tangy citrus stretch out across the warm finish. While dropping it to 40%abv, doesn't change much, other than getting saltier and limier.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

This is better than my last two bottles of Ardbeg Ten, which is good news for the Beastie and me. Five years younger and five bucks cheaper than the Ten here in Ohio, the Wee Beastie makes for a much better starter peated Islay than Laphroaig's Select. This Ardbeg isn't going to inspire you to run out and buy a case, but its style is remarkably restrained considering its age and its distillery. A very pleasant surprise.

Availability - Widely available in Europe and USA
Pricing - $40-$50
Rating - 85

Friday, March 26, 2021

Green Spot 26 year old 1991 cask 50776 for The Whisky Exchange

Graced with success, the major Irish whiskey players are handling matters in the exact opposite fashion of the Japanese whisky titans. Irish Distillers and Teeling were prepared for a boost in their industry's popularity, and have lots of well-aged casks (20 to 40 years old) to dish out to their wealthy fanbase. Even Bushmills has their ultra-premium Causeway Collection. Meanwhile, Suntory and Nikka have NASes. The best world is one in which both countries issue gorgeous old whiskies and I can afford them all. This is not that world.

The TWE folks selected this single cask, one which had experienced the sort of maturation antics that could squeeze the harrumphs out of us serious cats. Bourbon cask and sherry cask Irish Pot Still getting re-racked in a marsala cask?! I'm getting the vapors. I've never found marsala + whiskey to be an enjoyable combo...

But, there are three buts. BUT Irish Distillers made port-pipe Redbreast 27 sing. BUT I enjoyed Red Spot 15yo, which had some marsala cask action in the mix. And the final "but" is the cask; an actual butt as opposed to a hogshead, with the greater size potentially allowing for more graceful interactions.

But enough words.

Brand: Spot
Spot Color: Green
Style: Single Pot Still
Country: Ireland
Distillery: Midleton
Age: at least 26 years (18 Oct 1991 - 2018)
Outturn: 576 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 55.7%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? Probably not?
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

It noses like a super-fruity old Speyside (think Glenburgie or Longmorn). Yuzu, yellow plums and yellow nectarines. Maybe a couple of roses. It's all very buoyant and pretty. Then mild unsmoked cigars ease in, followed by cloves, and it begins to remind me of a much older cognac. It shifts gears again at the hour mark, as an intense toffee pudding (The Sponge) appears in the glass. It's all very overwhelming and I think I feel a song coming on......

Peaches! Fresh peaches, canned peaches and peach candy on the palate. Lemon bars and almond cookies. Hints of those mild cigars and toasted oak spice. Very old cognac notes, again. It's all very silky, yet it still has a lively bite to it courtesy of Irish pot still power.

It finishes with peach crumble, elderflower and gentle toasted oak spice. More fruity and fragrant than sweet, it is all very extensive and lovely and I want more.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

This is grand. Imagine having an actual bottle of this! 20 pours rather than one. (That must be why people buy an entire bottle of whiskey.) I used to have a saying that any whisky that costs over $XXX had better be a storyteller. I no longer have that saying because now every whisky costs over $XXX. This Green Spot could be quite the storyteller, or at least leave a person babbling on with poorly phrased disjointed tales like this one. What a thing.

Availability - The Whisky Exchange
Pricing - £500 (can I pretend it's ¥500?)
Rating - 92

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Red Spot 15 year old Single Pot Still Whiskey

I ended the Blue Spot review with a tremendously subtle hint about today's whiskey. And I began that review with multiple paragraphs about the Spots. So let's keep it moving.

When Red Spot arrived in 2018, I was like, "Yeah!" And then I was like, "Oh but I live Ohio." And then I forgot about it because scotch scotch scotch scotch scotch. Three years later, someone was generous enough to split a bottle. And so now, here we are.

This excellent label took one drizzle of whiskey
and went from red to green.
Was this foreshadowing?
Brand: Spot
Spot Color: Red
Style: Single Pot Still
Country: Ireland
Distillery: Midleton
Age: at least 15 years
Maturation: a vatting of ex-bourbon barrels, sherry butts, and marsala wine casks
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? Probably
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

Plenty of fruit jumps from the nose, though it's more from the casks than the spirit; think lots of dried stone fruits. But it does have a malty layer, somewhere in the middle. Some butterscotch, almond extract and saltwater taffy beneath that. And, of all things, rum cake. It gets quite scotch-like when reduced to 40%abv, specifically like Glenmorangie 18, complete with the active (though good) casks. Vanilla frosting on lemon cake. Dried apricots. Toasted grains and newspaper print.

Simpler than the nose, though well woven, the palate leads with carrot cake (brown sugar, walnuts, cinnamon), oranges and a Thai chile bite. The brown sugar, walnuts and chiles push to the fore with time. Diluted to 40%abv, it picks up some good bitterness, and swaps out the oranges for lemons. Gets a decent mix of sweet and sour.

It finishes with notes similar to the palate — chiles, brown sugar and oranges — though it also develops a slight crème brûlée character. Dropped to 40%abv, the finish is all lemons, brown sugar and cayenne.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

To answer the caption, no this did not go the way of Green Spot. I sort of spell things out above, but like Yellow Spot, this Red Spot feels like an Irish Pot Still whiskey that would appeal to single malt scotch drinkers, thanks to the active casks, a pinch of malt and some proper maturation time. It's not complex by any measurement, but it's a very nice summer and/or dessert pour, and probably the first marsala cask whiskey I've ever enjoyed. But they lost me with the price.

Availability - USA and Europe, frequently sold out
Pricing - $150-$180, though (again) some American retailers are selling it at 2x that price
Rating - 85

Monday, March 22, 2021

Blue Spot 7 year old Cask Strength Single Pot Still Whiskey, US Release

Until now, I've only reviewed one of the Spots, Yellow. There are two reasons for this, one less legitimate than the other.

Though I've never written extensively of the more famous Green Spot, I can tell you I find it the most forgettable of all Middleton's single pot still releases. While the Green Spot brand does have a pleasant independent history, and I did find it quite good when I had it in Ireland a decade ago, something seemed to have happened to the recipe once it became mass-produced and distributed to the United States. I can't prove it because I don't have a sample of the pre-expansion Green on hand to compare to the current bottling. That would be a fun Taste Off!

Lack of actual Spots is the other reason behind their absence on Diving for Pearls. Red Spot wasn't resurrected until 2018, and Blue Spot was reborn in 2020.

I'll make up for this spotty vacancy this week, beginning with the cask strength 7-year-old Blue Spot, which was blended from bourbon, sherry and madeira casks, though actual proportions or potential finish times have not been formerly disclosed by the producer.

I adore the label!

Brand: Spot
Spot Color: Blue
Style: Single Pot Still
Country: Ireland
Distillery: Midleton
Age: at least 7 years
Maturation: a vatting of ex-bourbon barrels, sherry butts, and madeira wine casks
Alcohol by Volume: 59.2%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? Probably
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

There's plenty of heat and something smoky, like smoldering apples, in the nose. Beneath that darkness swirls a mix of the casks: oranges, cinnamon raisin bread, cherry lollipops and Cow Tales candy. Reducing it to 46%abv doesn't do much. I find flowers, apples, burlap, toasted grains and a hint of ocean.

The palate starts hot, metallic and salty, with subtle sugars and sweet citrus around the edges. A hint of lavender in the background. The salt develops into a defined coastal note. Here the 46%abv reduction works in the whiskey's favor. It has a better mouthfeel, and gains a good bitter herb note. More pepper, less sugar. Hints of vanilla custard, lemon candy and tart apples in the back. It's also picked up more of a young sharp pot still spirit, trending towards the Powers blends.

It finishes with sugar, salt and heat. Clementines, cayenne and dried lavender. It keeps that heat and pepper once the whiskey's been diluted to 46%abv. The citrus gets bitterer, and there's more grain and apple.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

Kudos to Irish Distillers for releasing a whiskey with a 7-year-old age statement, rather than going NAS and name dropping a historical Celtic landmark. I also appreciate that this didn't result in a sweet winey blob.

On the other hand, I'm not sure this one's done a-cookin'. The elements don't seem to have congealed in the neat nose, while adding water almost closes it up. Thankfully the palate takes to dilution better, releasing some of the pent-up spirit. The finish doesn't do it for me either way, reading sharper and rawer than its much cheaper blended cousins.

If Irish Distillers offers different Blue batches in the future, I'd be happy to give them a try to see how well the casks play together. But I'm more interested in something like this at say......15 years?

Availability - USA, mostly sold out
Pricing - $100-$120, though there are retailers selling it for $300-$500 because ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Rating - 80

Sunday, March 21, 2021

I'm waaaaaay behind on Irish whiskies

As a big champion of Irish whiskey my early blogging days, I'm feeling sheepish about how far out of the Éire nectar loop I have gotten. There are new distilleries, countless Midleton products and the Teelings keep charging ahead without Cooley. While it's true I've lost some of my 🍀 whiskey lust from 8-10 years ago, I'm still Irish curious.

While I'm lukewarm about a half dozen or more Jameson products clinking around shelves, there was one new expression that caught my eye. There are more Redbreasts than there used to be, but most of them have age statements. Some single casks from the major producers have snuck onto the market, something unheard of back in my Irish salad days.

Rather than bludgeoning you with an Irish cluster, I'm going to sprinkle Irish weeks here and there throughout the spring and summer, starting tomorrow. And because my Kilchoman cluster prevented me from reviewing an Irish whiskey on St. Patrick's Day, I've been damned near seeing spots...

Friday, March 19, 2021

Concluding the Kilchoman Cluster

(Kilchoman cluster homepage)

Seventeen Kilchomans, all with scores between 81 and 89, have been ingested, each compelling me to regurgitate words about them. That narrow range of scores may disappoint some and bore others, but there are plenty of tales beyond the scores. Of course there are! Blog content!

CASKS

As you may have noticed, there were no alternative casks included among these reviews. No STR, madeira or mezcal(?!) casks. Just bourbon and/or sherry casks, or no cask at all. I wanted to get down to the bones of the Kilchoman spirit and see how it moved across an extended sample size. There were pros and cons to my whisky selection:

Pros:
--A lot of Kilchoman.
--No hyperactive American oak.

Cons:
--Not enough sherry cask Kilchoman (with the Machir Bays showing nearly no sherry influence).
--A lot of repetition between all the bourbon cask babies.

I didn't realize the sherry cask issue until I got to the end of the seven Machir Bays. It was later painfully confirmed when I tried the two very good sherry cask whiskies side-by-side.

BARLEY

Some of my crunchier hipster readers may have wanted more 100% Islays in the mix, and that's valid. That Islay barley makes up 25% of the malt used for Kilchoman's products, so perhaps I should have had 4¼ 100% Islays out of the 17 selections. The reason for falling 1¼ short is because those annual batches remain (for me) the wobbliest portion the distillery's releases. It was difficult for me to summon the interest to get a sample of just one of the batches.

What did interest me about the two different spirits was that the 100% Islay whiskies took to dilution very well (3-for-3), while the Port Ellen Maltings (PEM) spirit did not. Only the two oldest of the fourteen PEM whiskies didn't crumble under slight dilution, and none of them improved when reduced. Could the Islay barley's spirit be sturdier earlier than that of the PEM? It makes one wonder how this will play out over the next decade.

HAPPY


Within the small band of scores — 81 to 89, or B- to B+ — were some positive surprises. The stellar PEM new make spirit demonstrated how Kilchoman gets off to a solid start even before barreling their spirit. My early Kilchoman adoration was validated by the 2013 Machir Bay bottling, as it firmly swatted my bottle of an 2018 release. The two whiskies with the highest scores were the two I am lusting after, the first Machir Bay CS and the 2020 Loch Gorm. One shows off the quality of the past, the other offers some hope about the future.

THE WHOLE PAST AND FUTURE THING


In this cluster's introduction, I wondered if the Kilchoman whisky we were enjoying from 2010-2014 was, in its youth, only hinting at the distillery's potential or if we were already seeing the peak. I truly hoped it was not the latter. But after 17 pours, I'm not convinced their whiskies have improved significantly despite higher age statements and seven more years of production experience.

The 2013 Machir Bay read older and more complex than its elder sibling, the 2018. In fact I'm tired of my 2018 bottle, and it's still half full. The 2014 Machir Bay CS was an utter delight, while I may have been charitable in not giving the 2020 a grade in the 70s, as its cheap-tequila palate dragged it down. The 2010/2019 Vintage had a disappointingly flat palate that read less mature than the 2008/2015 Vintage. As with the 2020 Machir Bay CS, the 2010/2019 Vintage was saved only by its nose. How much longer will that be enough?

Some hope does appear for the distillery's present and future whiskies. They DO have a legitimate and unique 14 year old whisky. And their Loch Gorm is getting better, developing into one of the best standard sherry cask releases on the island. Add in the gradual growth of the 100% Islay releases, and the distillery does have a framework for their future.

It's possible the bourbon cask PEM whiskies present the weakest link in this series. Seeing the decline in Ardbeg Ten — which uses the same PEM specs — in my big 2017 Taste Off makes me wonder if the two circumstances are related.

WHAT NEXT?


In 2019, Kilchoman Distillery expanded its facilities so that they could double their production. Taken out of context it already looks significant. But consider this: Their capacity was 110,000 liters in 2011; it is now 500,000 liters in 2021. That level of success and commitment means one of two things. Either the Willses are in the game for the long haul, with a standard 10-12 year old queued up for the 2030s, or they're getting the distillery in order for a massive payday from a multinational conglomerate. Either way, what's the price on that 12 year old going to be?

That's not just an idle, snarky question. I honestly don't know if I'll still be wacky for whisky in ten years, but I will be mindful of money. After this cluster, I have no interest in chasing down the next Vintage, 100% Islay, any single cask, nor even another Machir Bay. Perhaps I'll go after a Loch Gorm, especially if The Tariff vaporizes for good. But I'm going to leave the Kilchoman fanperson-ism for the new breed of whisky consumers. Cynicism hasn't yet touched their wallets.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Kilchoman 14 year old 2006, cask 18 for Impex Beverages

(Kilchoman cluster homepage) 

We have indeed reached the day where there are FOURTEEN YEAR OLD KILCHOMANS. Impex Beverages Inc stuck their American meathooks into this 14 year old first-fill bourbon cask and hauled it to The States. It was, at the time of bottling, the oldest Kilchoman yet. (The Wills family have released one older cask since then.) That this was the 32nd cask Kilchoman ever filled, and was done so in April 2006, shows that production was slow going in 2005 and early 2006. With its solid outturn of 208 bottles and an ABV of 53%, the cask may have sacrificed only alcohol content to the angels. I've nothing else to add other than I don't know what to expect.

DistilleryKilchoman
Region: Islay
Age: 14 years (12 Apr 2006 - 12 May 2020)
Maturationfirst-fill bourbon barrel
Barley: 50ppm, sourced from Port Ellen maltings
Cask #: 18/2006
Outturn: 208 bottles
Exclusive to: Impex Beverages Inc
Alcohol by Volume: 53%
Chillfilltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from a bottle split)

I have never gotten an Nutella note from a bourbon cask whisky, until now. Yes, the nose has a bundle of other nuts, like walnuts and pistachios, but Nutella sits up front. There are also dried apricots, green grapes, sesame oil and a little bit of honey. This is all very Mediterranean. Except perhaps for the Play-Doh note in the midground. Apples and honey take over when the whisky is reduced to 46%abv. Hints of sesame and nuts remain. A sort of a Korbel brandy note sits in the middle, along with a hint of sharp cheddar.

The palate reminds me of a ultra-minerally white wine, with an almost chalky terroir note. Fascinating. Bits of grapefruit here and there, backed by fruity and bitter smokes. Caramel chews in the background. Diluting the whisky to 46%abv makes it feel younger. There's more bitterness, smoke and cinnamon. Then a good dose of honey and a hint of Play-Doh.

It finishes with limes and minerals and minerals and limes. Just a smidge of smoke, a peppery smoke like a big Talisker. The diluted-to-46%abv finish nearly matches the palate, but improves on it with a better sweetness.

I've never had a whisky quite like this. And since there's a dearth of reviews of it online, I'm not sure if anyone else is in the same spot. The "Mediterranean" style of the neat nose works very well, while the neat palate makes this feel like the first-ever Kilchoman for summer weather. The diluted nose actually works, while the diluted palate doesn't, but that's not surprising considering the findings during this cluster. The solid quality (though not the style) reminds me of first release of Kilkerran 12yo. It may not top all of its younger siblings, but it has its own confident approach that should be taken seriously by fans and competitors.

I wouldn't have minded digging into a full bottle, but the price was beyond what I'd consider reasonable for 14 year old whisky. Yes, it's a "historical" bottling. But every year will bring at least another "historical" bottling, and thus the quotation marks will always remain.

Availability - Sold out, or mostly so
Pricing - $200-$240
Rating - 87

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Kilchoman Summer 2010 Release (a re-review)

(Kilchoman cluster homepage)

I reviewed this whisky many years ago and gave it a score of 92.

Yeah, I know.

Perhaps I was in Jim Murray Mode, handing out 92s for a good (rather than stupendous) whisky. But had I really been in 100% Murray Mode then I would have compared the whisky to the fanny of an ex-girlfriend that I never really had. But I didn't do that. Because I'm not disgusting.

Not lately.

My point is, I needed to try this whisky again. Things have changed a bit in the NINE years since that review (good luck finding it!). While I wrote the earlier post in a whisky bar, today's review plays out in a neutral setting, my sanitized padded cell.

DistilleryKilchoman
Region: Islay
Age: Three years (2007-2010)
Maturationbourbon barrels
Barley: 50ppm, sourced from Port Ellen maltings
Outturn: 17,500 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfilltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from a bottle split)

The nose is great! It starts off with bonfire smoke, dark chocolate, roasted pecans and tennis ball fuzz. It develops a baked apple and cinnamon note with time, also picking up raspberry jam and grassy notes. Reduced to 40%abv, the nose still kinda works. Almonds, peanuts, soil, ocean water and smoke start it off. Then some body...erm, mustiness arises. From the whisky

Simpler than the nose, the palate leads with lots of hay and bitter herbs. That's followed by heavy smoke, wet wool and a sharp tartness. Once the whisky is diluted to 40%abv, one finds bitter cardboard boxes and okay we're done here.

It finishes with a good balance of cracked pepper, smoke, horseradish and tart limes. Once diluted to 40%abv, it's all bitter and burnt and a bad idea.

I can sort of sense what had once thrilled me about the whisky. It does smell delightful, and the palate punches in with an almost Octomore violence. So it's good, likely better than many of the 6-8 year old peated single casks being rolled out by the indies. It's also better than several of this cluster's older Kilchomans. But the palate is very one dimensional. That dimension is done well, but it needs friends and happy casks and time. It can still probably beat most of Islay's NAS releases, but that's no big feat. Also, it's shockingly awful with water.

Younger me had found fruitier things in the palate, and a less complex nose. Reading those old notes again makes me think I should have given it a 87 or 88, not a 92. Today, it'll get a very high score for a 3yo whisky, but not nearly as crazy enthusiastic as that earlier rating.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - It was $60ish upon its release
Rating - 84 (no water please)

Monday, March 15, 2021

Kilchoman Loch Gorm, 2020 Edition

(Kilchoman cluster homepage)

This cluster has included an extensive look at Kilchoman's Machir Bays, as well as a few Vintage releases and one standard 100% Islay edition. Now it's time for their other annual release, the all-sherry-cask Loch Gorm.

In 2015 I reviewed the 2013 and 2014 editions, liked them both, then never tried another edition. Those two batches were 5-6 years old. Years have passed, and now Loch Gorm is older. The 2020 edition is 9 years old but also has 11-13 year old casks in the mix. The cynical of us would say, "Meh, there's probably one cask of each at most in the mix." Even so, there are only 21 casks in the vatting, so that older content is not insignificant. And I am thankful the Willses did not choose turn those 3+ casks into $300+ single sherry butt releases.

To gain some perspective, I tried this whisky alongside Friday's single sherry hogshead.

DistilleryKilchoman
Region: Islay
Age: Nine years (2011 - 2020), with 2009, 2008 and 2007 stuff added to the mix
Maturation21 Oloroso Sherry butts
Barley: 50ppm, sourced from Port Ellen maltings
Outturn: 15,500 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfilltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from a purchased sample)

Right from the nose reads older than any of the previous fourteen Kilchoman's from this cluster. The sherry merges with the peat very well. One can find walnuts, dried cherries, orange peel and just a touch of meatiness. Farmy peat and coastal peat meet and mix. Hints of dark chocolate, moss and golden raisins float through the background. The nose remains vibrant once the whisky is diluted to 40%abv. There are peated dried apricots and peated almond cookies. Briny shellfish. Very dark chocolate and toasted nuts.

The steady rumble of sooty peat doesn't smother the rest of the palate's characteristics. There are lots of roasted pecans and almonds. A balance of salt, pepper, sweetness and a bright coastal quality reads like the best batches of Talisker Distillers Edition, but louder. The palate maintains a good texture after it's reduced to 40%abv. Cloves, cardamom, molasses and dried apricots on top. Smoky residue in the middle. Minerals and oranges on the bottom.

Salt, soot and sweet are in balance again in the finish, with hints of limes, moss and dried cherries in the background. Reduced to 40%abv, the whisky's finish keeps the soot and sweet, while adding minerals and subtle bitterness.

I know I mentioned Talisker DE above, but what this really reminds me of are the better Ardbeg Uigeadail batches from recent years, once the Oogie lost its super-old-cask ingredients. It might even be better, though I would obviously require many full bottles to make a wise decision. Loch Gorm 2020 tops Friday's 100% Islay sherry hoggie because this whisky has the big spirit to stand up to the big casks. In fact, the bigger size of the butts (versus a smaller hogshead) may have helped ease any sherry violence. This is also the first of this cluster's PE malt Kilchomans that didn't fall apart with dilution.

This very very good whisky costs nearly twice as much as Uigeadail in the US. It's probably older than current Oog batches, and it has a limited outturn, and it has the benefit of not being owned by LVMH. Yet I still pause at spending $110+ for a 9 year old non-single-cask. We can't blame The Tariff for the pricing because the 2014 edition was already nearing $100. This pause will probably mean I'll miss out on a bottle. But I think about these things.

Availability - It's available in the US and Europe, but less so every week
Pricing - $100-$130 in the US, about $10 cheaper in Europe (for 50mL less booze)
Rating - 89

Friday, March 12, 2021

Kilchoman 7 year old 2011 100% Islay, cask 622 for ImpEx Beverages

(Kilchoman cluster homepage) 

The Whisky Advocate's blurb about this sherry hogshead release has a pair of interesting bites.

1.) Per WA, this whisky "uses only barley that was grown on the distillery’s farm". As of very recent scribblings by respected whisky sources, Kilchoman is using mostly their own barley. As of 2011, I'm pretty sure they were using much less than mostly. So I'm struggling to buy into that quote above. If you know more please feel free to share in the comments section below.

2.) Then there's this: "This single-cask expression is the first fully sherry-matured 100% Islay available in the U.S." I'm pretty sure K&L's cask 371/06 beat them to it by about seven years. But I dunno. Again, please prove me wrong in the comments below.

In any case, this marks the 14th Kilchoman in the cluster, yet only the first all-sherry version. Shame on me.

DistilleryKilchoman
Region: Islay
Age: 7 years (13 Oct 2011 - 20 May 2019)
MaturationSherry hogshead
Barley: ~20ppm, sourced from Kilchoman Farm
Cask #: 622/11
Outturn: 324 bottles
Exclusive to: Impex Beverages Inc 
Alcohol by Volume: 56.1%
Chillfilltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from a bottle split)

The mmmmmedicinal and mmmmmilk chocolate nose starts off just right. Then come the cherries, almond extract, roses and tar. Gradually, ocean and moss notes arrive, and the milk chocolate goes dark. The medicinal and coastal notes get pushed back once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv. Raisins, walnuts and plum wine come forward.

The palate starts with a good bitterness, lots of nuts and a hint of milk chocolate. Toffee pudding and tart limes. Just enough sweetness without getting silly. A lot of cask here, but good cask. A silky mouthfeel develops once the whisky is diluted to 46%abv, and the palate gets more heft to it than the diluted nose. More fruits (plums and grapefruits) and more tar, with a mild chocolate mint note.

It finishes with limes, heavy smoke and bitter liqueur. A little bit of cassia and a lot of sherry cask. It gets much sweeter once it's reduced to 46%abv with just a touch of bitterness and a lot of chocolate mint.

This is mostly cask, though I enjoyed it. Had there been a burlier spirit (like, say, Port Ellen's stuff) to stand up to the cask, this would have been a hell of a thing. It's a very contemporary whisky, appealing to the ever-growing consumer segment that buys whisky for its color. But even for a grump like me, it's a cask that's hard to hate and easy to like.

Availability - Perhaps a few bottles remain in the primary market
Pricing - $150+
Rating - 87

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Kilchoman 9 year old 2008 100% Islay, cask 549 for K&L Wine Merchants

(Kilchoman cluster homepage)

On Monday, I reviewed a 50+ cask-sized batch of 9-ish year old 100% Islay Kilchoman single malt aged in former Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels.

Today, I'm reviewing a single cask of 9-ish year old 100% Islay Kilchoman single malt aged in a former Buffalo Trace bourbon barrel.

How about that for accidental coordination?

The two whiskies went head-to-head (so many hyphens today). Let's see who won...

DistilleryKilchoman
Region: Islay
Age: 9 years (23 Oct 2008 - 27 June 2018)
MaturationBuffalo Trace bourbon barrel
Barley: ~20ppm, sourced from Islay farms
Cask #: 549/2008
Outturn: 250 bottles (quite a productive barrel)
Exclusive to: K&L Wine Merchants
Alcohol by Volume: 54.8%
Chillfilltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from a bottle split)

The nose holds the great coastal beach (sand/ocean/seaweed) note while staying a good distance from the new make. Orange blossoms, lemon zest, apple skins and honeydew take turns in the foreground, while the mellow smoke remains in the background. When diluted to 50%abv, that coastal note shifts to dashi. The fruits recede while cinnamon ice cream and vanilla bean power roll forward.

The palate begins lean and savory, with hints of seaweed, peppercorns, bell peppers and bitter herbs. Minty sweetness and tart fruit arise after 20 minutes. Cinnamon and cracked pepper take over at the 30 minute mark. Dropping it to 50%abv gives it a boost, trimming down that raw edge, revealing a fragrant mix of cloves and mossy peat. Hints of salt and sugar linger below.

It finishes with a mix of bitterer, heavy smoke and rye white dog, gradually sweetening with time. Reduced to 50%abv, it has a cleaner bitterness, less smoke, less sugar, more sea salt.

Another 100% Islay that takes water well. If you're keeping score, that's 2-for-2 with the local malt, 0-for-11 with the PE malt. Though I prefer the fruity nose neat, the palate fills out (again seeming like it adds a couple years to itself) with that little bit of water. This (1 cask) topped the 9th Edition (50+ casks), reading better composed and balanced. Here the whisky feels like it's almost there. I'm not going to say, "I can't wait until this stuff is 12 years old," but I think I kinda just said it.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - $150
Rating - 84

Monday, March 8, 2021

Kilchoman 100% Islay, 9th Edition

(Kilchoman cluster homepage)

Kilchoman doesn't source all its malt from Diageo's Port Ellen Maltings. An increasing portion of its barley comes from small Islay farms, including their own. The distillery's new malting floor and kiln provides the capacity to do 30% of their own malting going forward, using these local sources. While the Port Ellen malt has a phenolic content of 50ppm, the 100% Islay malt measures ~20ppm, resulting in a different spirit and whisky.

Since my palate usually enjoys whiskies in the 10-20ppm range, I keep hoping I'd prefer the 100% Islay products over Kilchoman's regular single malts. But it hasn't come to pass. The 3rd, 4th and 5th editions of the 100% are the most under-baked Kilchomans I've tried. Does the PE malt's 50ppm hide a spirit's immature side? Or does Diageo bewitch that stuff?

I'm rolling out three 100% Islay barley Kilchomans this week. They're all older than the aforementioned three editions (and the one single cask I kinda liked eight years ago), so I will attempt to approach them with no expectations.

DistilleryKilchoman
Region: Islay
Age: somewhere around nine years?
Maturationfirst fill and refill bourbon casks
Barley: ~20ppm, sourced from Islay farms
Outturn: 12,000 bottles
Release year: 2019
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfilltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from a bottle split)

Apricots, cinnamon, brine and rye white dog fill the nose, in fact this is very close to new make. There are some new tires, new sneakers and toasty peat in the midground. Oats in the background. It improves once diluted to 40%abv, turning into liquid churros (cinnamon, brown sugar and dough), with hints of jasmine and vanilla beans in the background. Notes of bonito flakes and piney peat develop with time.

The palate isn't particularly hot but there is an unmistakable ethyl flavor in the background. A mix of salt, smoke and sweetness sits on top of that, with hints of mint and grass in the corners. As with the nose, diluting the whisky to 40%abv makes it more dessert-like while also adding complexity. It's sweet, but within reason, with notes of brown sugar and Boston cream. Waves of pepper and seaweed provide heft.

At first the finish matches the palate. Then it gets mintier and sweeter, until the salt takes over. Reduced to 40%abv, the whisky finishes with fruity cinnamon, cayenne pepper and Boston cream.

Well I'll be. A Kilchoman that swims! Trying it neatly, all I could think was "Oh crap, not again. How many more editions will it take?" But once I diluted it, the whisky seemed to take on a few more years. I probably woke the oak, but it was needed. It's still the least-formed of the distillery's standard or annual releases, which is curious as these batches include 50-60 barrels. Looking around the Intertubes, I see my opinion does not match that of the majority. That's cool, the majority can keep enjoying this whisky.

Availability - Various 100% Islay editions can be found on both sides of the Atlantic, even in Ohio!
Pricing - $90-$110
Rating - 81 (diluted only)

Friday, March 5, 2021

Kilchoman 2010 Vintage

(Kilchoman cluster homepage)

Though some of the Machir Bays soared, I'm feeling more optimistic about these Vintage releases overall. The 2007 was good, though not as grand as I'd hoped. The 2008 was probably about as great as a 46%abv 7 year old whisky can be. Now I'm leaping up to the most recent Vintage (though a 2011 may be coming out this year), the 9 year old 2010. As of the moment these words are typed, this is the oldest Kilchoman I've ever tried. Of course that record will be topped soon......oops, I probably should've thrown a spoiler alert in there.

DistilleryKilchoman
Region: Islay
Age: Nine years (2010 - 2019)
Maturation30 bourbon barrels and 3 Oloroso Sherry butts
Barley: 50ppm, sourced from Port Ellen maltings
Outturn: 15,000 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 48%
Chillfilltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from a purchased sample)

The nose begins with a lovely note of a recently snuffed candle, with clove and brown sugar in the background. Pine and charred veg appears next, followed by pineapple and fruity cinnamon. A hint of manure in the background. It's mostly peated pineapple juice once the whisky is reduced to 40%abv, with hints of cinnamon and grass in the back.

The palate's salt is nearly excessive until it mixes with a vegetal note creating something like a veggie broth. Serrano pepper above, cardamom and flower blossoms underneath. The smoke gets sharper, bitterer and more metallic with time. That bitter, metallic smoke makes up most of the diluted 40%abv palate. It gets grassier and more floral, while losing the salt.

Smoky residue and cassia lead the finish, followed by black pepper and ocean water. Once it gets diluted to 40%abv, the finish gets very ashy, bitter and grassy.

Like all of this cluster's Machir Bays, this whisky's palate does not take water well. Thus it's not just a 5yo whisky issue. Though it's preferable at the 48%abv bottling strength (two points higher than its predecessors), this whisky struggled next to the 7yo 2008. It has a cracking start with an engaging nose, but the palate feels stunted and doesn't air out well. Its lack of oak is novel in today's Islay market, but the mouth and finish needed something more, a couple bolder casks or maybe more time. Perhaps that was the role of the three sherry butts, but they've disappeared within.

Next week: Kilchomans that are 100% not from Port Ellen barley. But for now...

Availability - Available on both sides of the Atlantic and Pacific, though mostly in Europe
Pricing - $90-$110
Rating - 84 (with the nose keeping it aloft)

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Kilchoman 2008 Vintage


Following the 5 year old 2006 Vintage and the 6 year old 2007 Vintage, Kilchoman released the 7 year old 2008 vintage in 2015. Unlike my experience with the 2007, I come to this review without expectations as I've never tried it before. Though often tempted to buy a whole bottle of it, I settled on purchasing a 60mL sample instead. Let's see how it fares against its previous, though younger, sibling.

DistilleryKilchoman
Region: Islay
Age: Seven years (2008 - 2015)
Maturation: "bourbon barrels"
Barley: 50ppm, sourced from Port Ellen maltings
Outturn: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfilltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from a purchased sample)

The nose is very beachy, lots of seaweed and salty air. A little bit of soot in the background. Bits of black licorice and fruity yeast here and there. With time, it develops a rich apple pie note. Diluted to 40%abv, it gets farmier and yeastier, while also picking up notes of apples and pineapples, pine needles and vanilla extract. And most importantly, black walnuts.

The palate's smoke is by turns savory, peppery and sooty. It has a nice combo of baking spices, brown sugar and almond extract, though it never gets too sweet. A slight metallic note in the background grows a bit once the whisky is reduced to 40%abv. Roses and tart apples in the background, earth and peppercorns in the foreground.

Lemons, baking spices and chiles lead the finish with gentle smoke and sweetness lingering behind. It gets bitterer and smokier when reduced to 40%abv, with a little bit of tartness around the sides.

This is the vintage I should have purchased. Unlike the 2007, the palate does not cower beneath the nose's excellence, and the finish is quite nice. The peat reads loudest in the nose as well, mellowing out in the palate. I prefer it neat, but the nose takes water very well. There's a quality here I had really hoped I would find during this cluster, the sort of merit that makes me think, "THIS is what I was looking forward to."

Availability - May still be found at some European retailers
Pricing - $85-$100 (w/VAT)
Rating - 88