...where distraction is the main attraction.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Ardbeg 17 year old 1994 Murray McDavid Mission Gold

Hey, another Murray McSerious! How about that? I won't tell you how long this sample was burning a hole in its box, but those who remember the original whiskysamples.eu know well enough. I tried this one next to Wednesday's terrific MMcD Ardbeg.

Distillery: Ardbeg
Owners at time of distilling: Allied Lyons
Region: Southern Islay
Bottler: Murray McDavid
Brand: Mission Gold
Maturation: bourbon cask (hoggie?)
Age: 17 years (1994 - 2011)
Outturn: 305 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 56.5%
(from a purchased sample)

NOTES

The nose has a machine shop note, full of hot metals and synthetic oils. It's youthful without being raw. There are cardamom pods, basil leaves, brown sugar and a zippy chile note. The peat reads much gentler than that of the LVMH Ardbeg spirit. It opens further after 45 minutes, with roses and Fig Newtons. Diluted down to 46%abv, it goes toasty, floral, yeasty and slightly peachy. Some basil and honey in the background.

Similar but slightly different than the 18yo, a distinct blueberry pie note appears early in the palate. It's peatier and mintier than the nose, and there's some mildly bitter molasses. At 46%abv the whisky reads simple and focused, with toasted grains and toasted nuts, soot and a hint of bitterness.

Soot and cigar smoke make up much of the finish, with quieter tangy and herbal notes in the distance. When reduced to 46%abv, the finish matches the palate.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

That's one looooooong year of difference between the two MMcD Ardbegs. And, yes, a completely different cask. This is still a great whisky, and some folks may even enjoy it more than the 18yo. But the pirouette the 18yo pulls with dilution puts it over the top. This 17yo feels of a similar age to the Allied-distilled 10 year olds (one of which I tried with this as well), but this malt reads more industrial and herbal, which is a big plus for me. A good week indeed.

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 88

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Ardbeg 18 year old 1993 Murray McDavid Mission Gold

I have said unkind things about Murray McDavid in the past. But I come here hoping to praise MMcD, not to bury it. When they don't play drunken games with their wine casks, instead of letting a whisky just be, the results can be great. The results can also be disappointing but we're not going to talk about that.

Here's an 18 year old Ardbeg, distilled by Allied Lyons and aged entirely in a bourbon cask (likely a hogshead). Good elements here.

Distillery: Ardbeg
Owners at time of distilling: Allied Lyons
Region: Southern Islay
Bottler: Murray McDavid
Brand: Mission Gold
Maturation: bourbon cask
Age: 18 years (1993 - 2011)
Outturn: 245 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 56.9%
(from a purchased sample)

NOTES

The nose begins with chalk and earth, and hints of mangoes and smoked fish. The rich peat reads more toasted than burnt. Notes of mint leaves, baked apples and figs(!) gradually appear. It gains an iodine note after 45 minutes. Something fascinated happens once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv, it turns into Hampden rum, full of olives and diesel. Smaller notes of rosemary, pine and fermenting apples fill out the background.

Heavy salty and medicinal notes meet berry pie filling in the palate, and it works. Bitter orange peels and lemon juice arrive as the whisky opens with time. The palate goes Hampden when diluted to 46%abv as well. Olives, diesel and butterscotch.

It finishes with salt, chiles and limes. Quite some length to it. The reduced-to-46%abv version matches the diluted nose and palate.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

When you hear much-experienced whisky drinkers make the "X is the new Ardbeg" comparison, I'm pretty sure this Ardbeg hints at what they're talking about. It's a reductive statement, and there are now a few whisky generations who haven't had higher-tier Ardbeg, but I can see how it works and can understand the comparison. As noted above, this single malt goes Ardbeg → Hampden. And it's excellent on both sides of the arrow. It must have been a great pleasure to consume a bottle of this.

Speaking of reductive:

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

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 saut√© 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