...where distraction is the main attraction.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Ballechin 17 year old 2004 WhiskySponge, The Spongetopia Trilogy 36B

Full disclosure: I know neither Mr. Whiskyfun nor The WhiskySponge personally, but I was William Teacher in a previous incarnation, which is why I absolutely cannot open up my Ardmore bottles and review them on this site.

With that out of the way, it's time for the second chapter of The Spongetopia Trilogy: Ballechin 36B. 36A was an Islay-ish thingy from a nonintrusive bourbon barrel. The "B" arrives via a refill fino sherry butt.

Distillery: Edradour
Malt: Ballechin
Ownership: Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Co., Ltd.
Bottler: WhiskySponge
Region: Highlands (Central)
Age: 17 years (2004 - 2021)
Maturation: refill fino sherry butt
Outturn: 629 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 55.5%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

Nose - I get a lot of dry, nutty sherry at first. There are mustard, meat and tennis ball notes that might hint at sulfur, or just may be Ballechin's phenols tussling with the cask's. Smaller notes of melon and toasted seaweed stay in the background. The nose is more aromatic at 46%abv, full of baking spices and dried flowers. Kind of a salty cinnamon custard. Slightly less peaty as well.

Palate - Peat in the front, almonds in the middle, peppery heat in the back. It seems to get younger with each sip, getting sharper, peatier and bitterer with time. It stays spirity once it is reduced to 46%abv. Lots of soot, coal, salt and raw nuts.

Finish - The peatiest part, loaded with soot and salt. Maybe a hint of cassis. It gets bitterer as the whisky Benjamin Buttons. Diluted to 46%abv, the whisky finishes with bitter nuts, soot and barley.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

While I appreciate the raw nuts, soot and bitterness, that combination may not be to everyone's liking, which makes this whisky more admirable than many contemporary wine-doped sherry cask releases. Still, the whisky's palate development is hampered by the same rawness. Once again, I enjoyed the nose (neat and diluted) more than the palate. Mr. Opinions found more going on with his pour (possibly from the same bottle), so please see his review for another take. It's tough to come up with a score for this thing.

Availability - It's probably sold out by now, but I'm not sure
Pricing - ???
Rating - 84

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Ballechin 17 year old 2004 WhiskySponge, The Spongetopia Trilogy 36A

I miss WhiskySponge's once-regular posts, but he appears to be doing well for himself, in business bottling casks, as well as contributing to the whisky review site that decides if whiskies live or die, a site that may want to consider not reviewing Sponge bottlings in the future, just to keep things "fun".

Recently, The Sponge was allowed to raid Andrew Symington's warehouses for three teenage Ballechins in order to assemble The Spongetopia Trilogy. 36A was a bourbon barrel, 36B was a fino butt, and 36C a sherry hoggie. After indulging in a bottle split of each, I begin with 'A'.

Distillery: Edradour
Malt: Ballechin
Ownership: Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Co., Ltd.
Bottler: WhiskySponge
Region: Highlands (Central)
Age: 17 years (2004 - 2021)
Maturation: 1st fill bourbon barrel
Outturn: 188 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 53.7%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

Nose - A spirit-forward Ballechin! It's big on the seaweed peat, like a muscular Bowmore. Apricots, roses, lemon tarts and coal roll through the background. It reads like a leaner Islay once it is reduced to 46%abv, with wet coastal stones, kiln, hay and smoked salmon.

Palate - Toasty in its early sips, the whisky gradually gathers fresh apricots, raw walnuts and coal. Metal, molasses and Underberg linger in the back. Diluted to 46%abv, it gets sweeter while also picking up more herbal bitterness, with quieter notes of roses and chile oil around the edges.

Finish - Lemon, coal smoke and a touch of bitterness. At 46%abv, it ends with coal smoke, smoked almonds and metal.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

The nose wins here, even though I dig the reserved palate. My written notes throw around a lot of Islay distillery references that even I got tired of reading. To summarize, this Ballechin sits somewhere between Bowmore and Lagavulin in style. While that's some good company to keep, I'm not sure if this could actually compete with bourbon cask teenage versions of those sluggers. It's pretty good though, and I always appreciate an absence of splinters.

Availability - Probably sold out within seconds
Pricing - ???
Rating - 86

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Ballechin 16 year old 2003 Signatory, cask 186

I matched Monday's whisky with today's whisky for a little head-to-head. Both were sherry casks, have matching ABVs and were bottled by Signatory (which may be more relevant after the rest of this week's reviews). This one will be, temporarily, the oldest Ballechin I've ever tried. Also, its cask is "a Sherry Butt after Islay", which I think means that the sherry cask was employed to mature Islay single malt before it was utilized for this peated Edradour spirit. If not, can someone let me know what those words mean?

Distillery: Edradour
Malt: Ballechin
Ownership: Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Co., Ltd.
Bottler: Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Co., Ltd.
Region: Highlands (Central)
Age: 16 years (12 Apr 2003 - 4 Oct 2019)
Maturation: "a Sherry Butt after Islay"
Cask #: 186
Outturn: 620 bottles
Exclusive to: Whisky Club Luxembourg and Whisky-Elfen
Alcohol by Volume: 58.9%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

Nose - It has plenty of meatiness to it, like yesterday's whisky, but it also has some cherry syrup. Thankfully, some briny beachy stuff survived the maturation process. Smaller notes of pine and smoked almonds remain in the background. It all holds together pretty well. Once the whisky is diluted to 46%abv, the nose shifts towards male musk (it's not me, man!) and bonfire smoke, with apricot and pickle (heehee) brine in the back.

Palate - It's very intense, like Uigeadail on creatine. Huge peat & sweets, mint and jalapeños up front, with wool and good bitterness behind. It starts to shed its sherry cask when reduced to 46%abv. Lots of tangy citrus joins a familiar sooty peat.

Finish - Mostly Ardbeggish peat, with tangy pickled jalapeños and herbal bitterness on the side. It's all limes and soot at 46%abv.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

There's no mystery about which Islay malt I think this cask housed previously. It's all very giant, though one rarely finds subtlety in Ballechin stuff. In fact, this butt is even more aggressive than yesterday's. Could have been the extra time. Could have been its Islay predecessor. Or both. To me, the nose works better when the whisky's neat, while the palate feels more balanced when diluted. Though I preferred the 10yo, this is my second favorite Ballechin single sherry cask at the moment.

Availability - Pretty scarce, if not sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 87

Monday, January 17, 2022

Ballechin 10 year old 2010 Signatory, cask 195

I was feeling pretty burned out by full-power Ballechin when I wrote my last review of such creatures two-and-a-half years ago(!). But hey it's 2022! And if there's anything to be learned by this new year, it's that we can't run from......well, anything. So I will be reviewing FIVE single cask Ballechins this week.

First off, the baby of the bunch, a 10 year old first fill sherry butt. In what may be a first, this cask was split by seven different groups (see here and here). As you may see from the links, this whisky is nearly maroon in color, which is not my preferred whisky hue, but what the hell, engage.

Distillery: Edradour
Malt: Ballechin
Ownership: Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Co., Ltd.
Bottler: Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Co., Ltd. (hmmmm)
Region: Highlands (Central)
Age: 10 years (13 Aug 2010 - 15 Sep 2020)
Maturation: 1st fill sherry butt
Cask #: 195
Outturn: 675
Exclusive to: like, all of Benelux?
Alcohol by Volume: 58.9%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

Nose - More BBQ pork than BBQ pork (Tyrell's side hustle). Waves of dark chocolate, roasted almonds and roasted pecans. Elote! It shifts towards campfire and s'mores after 30 minutes. After being diluted to 46%abv, the whisky tilts more towards tri-tip. The roasted nuts and dark chocolate remain the same, but are joined by a big brininess.

Palate - Starts out very smoky and savory, with a just a little bit of sweet dried fruit. It gains very dark chocolate, pipe tobacco and Underberg with time. It gets outrageously smoky at 46%abv, with hazelnuts, burlap, incense and charred beef in the background.

Finish - Underberg, pork, pipe tobacco and bonfire smoke. At 46%abv, the finish matches the palate, though slightly bitterer.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

The cask is pretty ridiculous here, but I love this stuff. Despite or Because? I don't know. It's loud, but much more interesting and enjoyable than Ardbeg's tinkerings. Also, we're getting a good snowin' today, and this whisky feels tailor-made for this sort of weather. I commend all the responsible parties for getting this bottled at ten years because it would have been nigh undrinkable at 12-15, though it would have been dark as coffee and sold for twice as much then. To small victories!

Availability - I think it's still around
Pricing - €85-€100
Rating - 89

Friday, January 14, 2022

Ben Nevis 9 year old 2011 Signatory, cask 142 for SoCal Wine & Spirits

You may look at this whisky's ABV and say, "Diving for Pearls, why are you doing this to yourself again?" I have three answers:

1. Because I love you.
2. Because Wednesday's Ben Nevis needed a sparring partner.
3. Because some old whisky buddies of mine helped pick the cask, and I missed out on a bottle because I live out here in *uckeye country.

And this whisky is 50% older than Wednesday's creature. And Signatory. And it is 7% (or 4.4 alcohol percentage points) lighter. And And And.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Signatory
Age: 9 years old (4 May 2011 to 15 May 2020)
Maturation: bourbon barrel
Cask #: 142
Outturn: 229 bottles
Exclusive to: SoCal Wine & Spirits
Alcohol by Volume: 63.2%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

Once again I'm starting with a diluted version because I value my tastebuds, somewhat.

At first, the 50%abv version is all malt and alcohol on the nose, but after a few minutes some anise and savory broth notes appear. Then comes dessert: marshmallows and caramel sauce. It smells quite a bit different at full strength. It's mostly pears, peach skin and lots of flowers, with hints of bread and caramel in the background.

At 50%abv, the palate registers simply, with barley, salt, sugar, tart apples and champagne vinegar. There's more complexity at full strength. Sweet apples meet tart lemon juice; malt merges with a gentle herbal bitterness.

The finish matches the palate at 50%abv, while at cask strength the finish gets a little bit sweeter and maltier.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

While this Ben Nevis does come across as a young whisky, it's no stunt release. Its cask plays less violently than Wednesday's, even though it was much smaller, so we're getting a nice close glimpse at a very polite Ben Nevis spirit. I still would've loved to have tried this at twice its age to see if it turned into one of those lovely fruity Nevii I do adore.

Much like the 6yo, this 9yo was much better when neat. All of the high proof baby whiskies I've tried recently have struggled once diluted, which makes them feel even more undercooked. As per my spreadsheet I have only 3 more scotch samples that are over 63%abv. I think I'll get them all out of the way this year.

Availability - Sold out, I think...
Pricing - ???
Rating - 81 (neat only)

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Ben Nevis 6 year old 2013 Single Cask Nation, 67.6%ABV

Monday: a Ben Nevis that I totally get and adore.
Today: not Monday's whisky

Six years in a first fill amontillado butt resulted in 754 bottles of 67.6%abv Ben Nevis. Those aren't typos.

I am not a high-ABV fan when it comes to scotch, and this is the second-strongest single malt I've ever tried. I wouldn't have given it a go had it not been Ben Nevis. But it is and so I did. I coated my esophagus with lard beforehand so the poison could safely slide right down.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Single Cask Nation
Age: 6 years old (Dec 2013 to Sep 2020)
Maturation: first fill amontillado butt
Cask #: 1278
Outturn: 754 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 67.6%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

I'm starting with a diluted version because.

The nose is extra dirty at a diluted 50%abv, and I love dirty sherry casks, but this is something else. It's like a mix of burnt bark, hot rubber and urine. It's almost peaty. Somewhere behind the filth awaits a spoonful of raspberry jam. It's similar at full strength, though more closed. Burnt rubber, piss and pears up front, wet sand and marzipan in the back.

The palate reads cleaner than the nose at 50%abv. There are apples, black raisins, balsamic vinegar and plenty of woody bitterness. It develops notes of vinyl and earth with time. It is surprisingly drinkable at full strength, though quite hot, of course. Tart and tangy notes take up most of the space, with touches of salt and raisins in the background.

At 50%abv, the finish is all tannins, rubber and black raisins. It's a little sweeter and less tannic at cask strength, with a little bit of tart apples in the way back.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

Though I have avoided do thus so far, I am now going to use a word that makes some men uncomfortable. Sulfur. This is a sulfurous whisky, especially on the nose. Element S is not a dealbreaker for me, but a whisky has to have something to join S, counter it, frame it, or offset it. The nose does not have that. The palate has Aggro Cask going on, but that's not a plus. This did work better at full strength, where the tartness shines (or burns), but I'm not sure how much of this can be consumed comfortably in one sitting. I don't know. It's difficult to see a 754-bottle, 67.6%abv, sulfurous 6-year-old as anything but a stunt release. It did sell through though. What an age we live in.

Availability - Sold out (USA)
Pricing - maybe around $90
Rating - 72 (neat only)

Monday, January 10, 2022

Ben Nevis 19 year old 1996, private cask 1424

Private cask of Ben Nevis?!?!?! #lifegoals. But a private cask of Ben Nevis now probably requires $100K of extra walkin' around money. Also #lifegoals. I'm not sure to whom cask 1424 belonged, but its contents seemed to have travelled all over the world: to Serge, to a few dozen whiskybase members, and The Whisky Show 2021. Though 1990s Ben Nevis sherry casks are the rage (for good reason), #1424 seems to have been a former bourbon vessel...

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Age: at least 19 years old (1996 - ????)
Maturation: ???
Cask #: 1424
Outturn: ??? bottles
Cask Owner: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 51.8%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

The nose has chalk, wax, citronella and something coastal up front. Then comes the barley, apple skins, lychee and pineapple. Diluting the whisky to 46%abv tightens the nose's focus to lychee, pineapple, chalk and peaches.

Great mouthfeel here. Pineapple, guava and lemongrass arrive first in the palate. After 30 minutes minerals and herbal bitterness provide excellent dimension and balance. But 46%abv is where it's at. It becomes herbal, leafy, mineral, very tart, and almost smoky. Limes, peaches and lemongrass ripple beneath.

It finishes with bitter herbs smothered in wax. Limes and lemongrass hold on endlessly. At 46%abv, it finishes with minerals, limes and lemongrass. It's gloriously tart.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

I can tell why certain wax-loving enthusiasts have befouled their britches over this whisky. It may be waxier than any modern Clynelish I've had. The merging of the wax with the minerals, herbs and fruits elevates it for me. This must have been a lovely bottle (let alone cask!) to have. Enjoy and share, all you lucky ducks out there!

Availability - Secondary market, maybe
Pricing - I don't want to know
Rating - 90