...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Orphan Barrel Rhetoric 23 year old bourbon

After posting a combined total of zero BARD Fridays from December 2017 to February 2023, I've been true to my word bringing Bourbon and Rye Day back with 11 of these posts in the past nine months. Though none are scheduled for the rest of this year, I do have a slew of American whiskies open, so the BARDs will return in 2024.

I've tried several Orphan Barrel bourbons, and wouldn't particularly recommend any of them, but I found Rhetoric 22yo pretty drinkable. So how about a sip or seven of Rhetoric 23? I had a good week, so I'm feeling naively optimistic.

Owner: Diageo
Brand: Orphan Barrel
Orphan: Rhetoric
Distillery: Old Bernheim
Type: Bourbon Whiskey
Mashbill: 86% corn, 8% barley, 6% rye
Age: minimum 23 years (1990-1993 to 2017)
Alcohol by Volume: 45.3%
(from a bottle split)


The smells come in bundles. First there's pine, saline, and yuzu(!). Then cherry candy and furniture polish. Strawberry frosted cupcakes gradually turn into vanilla frosted cupcakes, with some limeade in the background. After 45 minutes, almond extract starts to take over.

There's less bitterness and sugar on the palate than I expected. It's slightly earthy. More honey than vanilla. Sweet oranges slide into tart limes. The background flavors in early sips are ginger and flowers. Later on, they're replaced by mint and root beer.

The finish gets wobbly with standard barrel char, overripe bananas, mint extract, and tannin-a-plenty.


Don't stop me if you've heard this before: The nose is the best part, by far. But the bourbon is......probably my favorite Orphan Barrel so far. Had the finish not deflated so abruptly, I'd offer some heavily-qualified raves for this Orphan. Tannin takeover is expected for a bourbon this old, in fact it often happens with bourbons half its age. That Rhetoric is still approachable at 23 years makes me wonder what these Old Bernheim barrels were like at age 15 (or 12 or 8). Possibly something like this?

Cheers! Welcome to December.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 82

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Black Bull 40 year old blended whisky, Batch 4

Alright, I'll get right to it. Between 2009 and 2016, Duncan Taylor released seven batch of 40 year old blended whisky. This is batch four, bottled in December 2012.

To note, most of the distilleries utilized in these batches match those of Duncan Taylor's old Lonach series. For instance, batch four was assembled with Glenlivet, Bunnahabhain, Glen Grant, Tamdhu, Invergordon, and Port Dundas whiskies. Lonach fans will recognize those names. And all BB40 batches, but the last, had ABVs between 40.2% and 41.9%. DT must have had quite a stash of low strength oldies in their warehouses.

As has been stated elsewhere on the Intertubes, this batch 4 was priced at less than €300. Three years later batch 7 was €900. Meanwhile, batch 7 is still available in Europe seven years after its release. Someone got a little bold with their prices.

But ignoring that €€€ issue, I'm looking forward to this 40-year-old nearly-all-malt blend.

Brand: Black Bull
Ownership: Duncan Taylor
Type: Blended Whisky
Parts: 89/11 malt/grain
Age: minimum 40 years
Maturation: ???
Batch: 4
Outturn: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 41.9%
Chillfiltered? No
e150a? No
(from a bottle split)


Black licorice slowly turns into black walnuts on the nose. Dunnage and soil. Amontillado and rye bread. Hints of tar, sandalwood, apricot jam, and sultanas drift by now and then.

The age and malt content give this whisky's palate more thickness than one would expect an ABV this low. It starts with dried herbs, toasty oak, and salted roasted almonds, followed by coffee and ginger powder. Hints of wormwood and old old old old sherry casks arrive 60+ minutes later.

Its finish is chocolatey, but with a bite, almost like Mexican chocolate. Pipe tobacco and bitter citrus make cameos.


There's no doubt about the whisky's age, and sherry casks are in the mix. As with many very old spirits, this 40yo's nose at first stuns the drinker, then steals the show from everything that follows. While the palate is quite good, it can't compete. And the finish proves to be a bit shorter and shallower than expected. Though I (very sadly) don't have Black Bull 30 on hand for comparison purposes, I think it edges this batch of the 40 due to its fruit and power. But Duncan Taylor's blenders delivered great whiskies in both instances.

Availability - Secondary market?
Pricing - ???
Rating - 88

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Black Bull 12 year old blended whisky (old label)

"Black Bull" carries a Testosterone-filled Grrrr Manly Grunt connotation, so it worked as a strong visual brand name for a Scotch whisky back in the 1860s, when the reality of the Scottish bovine was actually the shaggy, gorgeous stoner Highland Coo.

The Black Bull brand experienced peaks and valleys until it was purchased by Duncan Taylor in the 1990s. DT then gave the brand a reboot in the 21st century, offering NAS, 12yo, 18yo, 21yo, 30yo, and 40yo blends. Nearly all of the whiskies younger than 40 flexed a 50%abv, sherry casks, and a high malt content at a competitive price.

I reviewed the first batch of the 30 year old, which was nigh on divine, back in 2018, and thought I'd also reviewed my sample of the 12 year old. But to my surprise this year, I found that 12yo sample still filed away. So here it is, nearly nine years after it was bottled by Mr. Chemistry of the Cocktail himself:

Just a few things have changed since February 2015, but is the sample among those things???

Brand: Black Bull
Ownership: Duncan Taylor
Type: Blended Whisky
Parts: 50/50 malt/grain
Maturation: Malts: refill sherry European oak butts and refill ex-bourbon American oak hoggies. Grains: ex-bourbon American oak barrels.
Age: minimum 12 years
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfiltered? No
e150a? No
(thank you, Jordan!)


Some bright produce appears in the early nose: cantaloupe, honeydew, cucumber, and orange peel. Marzipan, maple, and cinnamon rolls fill the middle. And a whiff of steel wool stays in the back. The palate arrives simple but solid. Barley sugar, honey, and lemon candy play up front, but never get too sweet. Quieter notes of peppercorns, herbal bitterness, and tannin spice it up a little. The sweetness and bitterness balance out in the finish, with peppercorns and lemon candy lingering on the tongue.

DILUTED to ~43%abv, or 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky

At this more standard blend strength, the nose comes in more floral (mostly orange blossoms), and with a more noticeable Oloroso side. The palate picks up a zippier zing (an actual note I wrote), with menthol, ginger, and a bit more tannin. The finish keeps the light sweetness, but the oak takes up a little more space.


At 50%abv, this is much better than any standard 12yo blend on the market, though that's not saying much nowadays. There's no raw heat present (possibly due to its nearly nine years in the sample bottle), and it's well-balanced with the casks doing just enough without crowding the spirits. So it's very drinkable. At 43%, it starts drifting closer to its 12yo contemporaries, but not too tragically. I hope Duncan Taylor hasn't tinkered with their recipe too much because I'd certainly consider getting a bottle of the current BB12.

Availability - this batch has likely sold out
Pricing - current batches: $40 - $60
Rating - 85 (neat)

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Tamnavulin 1966-1990 Moon Import 10th Anniversary

Moon Import is an independent bottler better known by previous anorak generations than by more recent whisky lovers. In the 1980s and 1990s, Moon dished out old glories from Ardbeg, Glen Grant, Bowmore, Longmorn, Macallan, and Springbank. Their output has been much quieter over the past decade, though they seem to be connected to MASAM's bulbous bottles.

Today's 1966 Tamnavulin is probably the first (and last?) classic Moon Import whisky to pass though my liver. I tried it side-by-side with Monday's 22yo Tamnavulin, also bottled at 45%abv.

pic source

Distillery: Tamnavulin
Ownership then: Invergordon Distillers Ltd.
Ownership now: Emperador Inc. (via Whyte and Mackay Group)
Region: Speyside (Livet)
Bottler: Moon Import
Age: 23 - 24 years old (1966 - 1990)
Maturation: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 45%
(from a bottle split)


My nose notes say "Very similar to the 22yo but gentler", but then list completely different characteristics. It's "fruitier, dustier, funkier". Apples and lychees mix with mint leaves, cinnamon, butterscotch, and whole wheat bread crust.

The palate starts of toasty and nutty, almost like a Fino. Then the tart nectarines and sweet oranges appear. Apples and chile oil follow later, with a whiff of smoke in the background.

Sweet + tart citrus and stone fruits receive a zing of heat from the chile oil in the finish.


This is a bright, fresh Speysider that I'd be happy to drink any day or evening. The fruits and nuts work very well together, offering a tastier and more balanced palate than the 22yo possessed. It's also very light and almost fragile. As with the 22yo, this bottle was opened seven months ago and the splits were promptly poured, so oxygen hasn't had the time to alter the liquid. Could 33 years in the bottle have softened the whisky? And who knows what its storage situation was for all that time. Did it once offer a bolder experience? If you've had a better experience with this whisky, please share in the comments!

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ????
Rating - 86

Monday, November 20, 2023

Tamnavulin-Glenlivet 22 year old Special Reserve

All of 57 years old, Tamnavulin is one of those youngish Scottish distilleries that never really burst into the single malt scene, similar to Pittyvaich and Mannochmore, instead serving as blend fillings. It's been part of Whyte & Mackay's less-than-sexy facilities, like Fettercairn (which I like) and Jura (which I don't). It was closed for nearly 12 years after W&M's purchase, reopening in 2007. About ten years after that some Tamnavulin NAS single malts started showing up on shelves.

But before it was acquired by W&M, back in the Invergordon Distillers days, some official "Tamnavulin-Glenlivet" malts appeared as far west as The United States. One of these was a 22-year-old Special Reserve.

There's not much to be found online regarding the 22yo, other than auction listings. Some of those pages state that this bottling was from the 1980s. If so, it would have been, 1988 or 1989, since distillation began in 1966. The American labels list volume in milliliters and strength in ABV, so I think the bottlings are actually from the early 1990s.

from the bottle being reviewed

In any case, I got in on a bottle split on a 22yo Special Reserve, as well as a split of a sparring partner, which I'll review later this week. First, the 22.

pic from Whiskybase

Distillery: Tamnavulin
Ownership then: Invergordon Distillers Ltd.
Ownership now: Emperador Inc. (via Whyte and Mackay Group)
Region: Speyside (Livet)
Age: at least 22 years old
Distilled: somewhere between 1966 and 1973
Bottled: somewhere between 1988 and 1995
Maturation: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 45%
(from a bottle split)


The nose begins in an intriguingly unique fashion: something savory mixes with sesame seeds, pistachios, and chestnuts. Then it takes on more fun stuff like grapefruit, black walnuts, anise, and chocolate malted barley.

Unfortunately the palate REALLY doesn't compete with the nose. It's very bitter, with wormwood and bitter citrus. Then an over-baked bitter woodiness takes over. It needs more than 60 minutes (really) before it shifts gears. That's when the lime candy and tart apple cider appear.

Like the palate, the finish goes all in on bitterness. Later on it picks up notes of raw nuts, lime candy, and apples.


I can confirm the bottle was opened seven months ago and the sample was poured immediately after opening, which is why I discounted the possibility of sample issues with the early problematic palate. As noted, it improves after an hour, so I'm glad I didn't give up on it. Still, the nose sets up expectations for something much better. Olde Tamnavulin can do better. Next up, an indie...

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 82 (started in the 70s)

Friday, November 17, 2023

Benromach 35 year old

(Benromach cluster homepage)

After surveying newer young bottlings, and hoping dearly that the distillery doesn't screw up a great thing with too heavy of a reliance on active casks, I'm closing the cluster with generously aged Benromach, bottled by the current owners, but distilled by the previous regime. In the few, rare instances wherein I've sampled United Distillers-era Benromach, the spirit has read lighter and fruitier than G&M's version. And, to be honest, I've usually preferred the current heavier, peatier style. But I've never had 35-year-old Benromach. Until now.

Distillery: Benromach
Ownership: Gordon & MacPhail
Ownership at time of distillation: United Distillers
Region: Speyside (Findhorn)
Age: 35 years
Maturation: first-fill sherry casks
Bottled: 17 Sept 2015
Outturn: ????
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
(from a bottle split)


Plums. Plums on the nose. REALLY good plums (that were in the icebox). Orange marmalade, almond butter, and nocino. Roses and dunnage. Balsamic vinegar and a hint of industrial funk.

The lightly sweet palate tilts more towards apricots and tart oranges. Little bits of dunnage and menthol. Pipe tobacco. A brisk herbal bitterness appears at the 45-minute mark, while the oranges and menthol combine and magnify.

It finishes with a pretty balance of soft sweetness and tartness. Oranges and apricot jam; hints of almonds and menthol.


At 35 years, the UD distillate flaunts lovely bright fruits with flickers of darkness in the background. But 43%abv? G&M, why? So you could squeeze a couple dozen more bottles out of those casks?

It's still great whisky, but the palate has a slight thinness in its texture that feels like it's been chillfiltered or (surprise!) over-diluted. My goodness, what this whisky could have been...

I'll end this on a positive note. The oak was present but I liked what it contributed, and it never took away from the stone fruits. If you have a bottle, you may find that its whisky works best in springtime. Enjoy, indulge, and share!

Availability - a few bottles may remain in the primary market, more in the secondary
Pricing - anywhere from $750 to $1500
Rating - 89

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Things I Really Drink: Benromach 10 vs Benromach 10 vs Benromach 10

(Benromach cluster homepage)

Ah, here we are, the real reason for this cluster, three different bottlings of Benromach 10 year old, with three different labels, and three different bottle shapes. And, yes, all three of today's pours are from my own bottles. There's the maroon-labelled edition, bottled in 2010; the chalky script and small dark label, bottled in August of 2019; and the current edition, with the white and red label, bottled in December 2020. They are all a mix of sherry and bourbon casks, bottled at 43%abv.

Benromach 10-year-old arrived in 2009, ten years after Gordon & MacPhail restarted the stills. The entire range kept the label style seen in the first bottled on the left in the picture below, though in different colors for different expressions. In 2014, Benromach shifted to the style seen in the middle bottle, just as the 15-year-old saw the light of day (or the fluorescents above the shelf). And when the 21-year-old arrived in 2020, the design changed again.

Shifts in packaging design often trigger expectations of changes to the products within, with Talisker and Arran being two examples I've explored previously. It's time to find out how reliable ol' Benromach 10 fared across one decade.

Forres Triplets

Benromach 10 year old
bottled 2010
Benromach 10 year old
bottled Aug 2019
Benromach 10 year old
bottled Dec 2020
Nuts Nuts Nuts to the nose: hazelnuts, almonds, and pistachios. Brine, mint, and orange peel mix seamlessly with the peaty smoke. Limes, cantaloupes, and a smoky vanilla bean stay in the background.Lovely smoke blankets the nose. Hot asphalt, dead leaves (and the dirty ground?), and dark chocolate fill the middle. Dried mango and dried cherries emerge with time.This one's nose offers the most obvious Oloroso note, which balances well with an earthy peat. Grape jelly rings and mothballs stay in the background, and an apricot jam note appears after a while.
Much heavier smoke here on the palate, but wait, there's more! Hay, toasted oats, dried currants, dried blueberries, anise, and hint of sweet oranges mingle below.The palate matches the nose's style well. Salty smoke, bitter chocolate, and orange peel up top; tart cherry compote on the bottom. The bitterness and tartness blend and expand after 30ish minutes.It has more honeyed, vanilla US oak on its palate that the other two. But the dried cherries, ultra tart citrus, milk chocolate, and cayenne pepper keep the tannins in check.
It finishes with smoke from a spicy cigar, dark chocolate, and tart limes.The smoke gets sootier in the finish, and has a good industrial touch to it. Hay, bitter citrus, and a smidgeon of sweetness round it out.The sweetest of the three finishes, full of oranges, mellow peat, and a lil' cayenne bite.


Benromach 10 year old, bottled 2010 - Despite almost nine years in a sample bottle, this version has lost no oomph. The nose shows more balance than the busy palate, but everything works. At 43%abv, the whisky is light but not thin, though it does leave me thinking it could have been a real stonker at a higher strength.

Benromach 10 year old, bottled Aug 2019 - This terrific batch is as stellar as a 21st century 10yo 43%abv single malt can get. Yeah, it might have been better at 46%, but everything works so seamlessly here that I'm not going to grouse about it. Salt, smoke, bitterness, tartness, and sweetness all caught in a neat little delivery, perfect for this autumn. To think I bought this for $29.99, and to think I bought only one bottle.

Benromach 10 year old, bottled Dec 2020 - The most obvious and simplest of the trio, this batch seems to be composed of more active casks. Thanks to Benromach's spirit, it's still a good drink. Yet if the distillery pushes the oak any further, a very good single malt could be wrecked. I hope the blending team can get back to the 2019's style, and maybe they have in the three years since this batch. It'd be a shame for Benromach to join The Industry's ongoing oak extraction competition.

(In bigger news, Suzy Creamcheese actually stood still for a moment to express my very feelings about the winning batch. She's more difficult to photograph than the Loch Ness Monster, though more accurate at the litter box.)

All three of these bottlings proved to be very good, and thanks to the 43%abv, I was able to finish a Taste Off Trio without being knocked out for the night. Each batch had its own character, though the first two possessed what some of us consider an "old school" style, with fruits integrating well with moderate-yet-industrial peat, and very little oak intrusion. The 2020 bottling departs from that approach, leaning more towards a cask-led contemporary style. Yet, according to Winesearcher's analytics, the 10's average price, worldwide, is the same as it was nine years ago. So I expect I'll keep bottles of this in the stash, at the ready, for years to come.

Benromach 10 year old, bottled 2010 - 85
Benromach 10 year old, bottled Aug 2019 - 89
Benromach 10 year old, bottled Dec 2020 - 84