...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Benriach 32 year old 1987 Gordon & MacPhail, cask 19/005

What is going on here? Three 90-point whiskies in a row?! That's just weird, and totally irresponsible of me. Let's see if I can find the repressed curmudgeon in me.

Distilled during Benriach's Seagram era, today's whisky spent some or all of its 32 years in a refill sherry hoggie before it was conveyed into 213 of G&M's fancier thicker Connoisseurs Choice bottles, each secured within its own wooden casket. I don't have much more to add, and most of this information can be found below. Time to drink.

Distillery: Benriach
Current Ownership: Brown-Forman
Owner at time of distillation: Seagram Distillers
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Range: Connoisseurs Choice Cask Strength
Age: 32 years (15 June 1987 - 26 July 2020)
Cask #: 19/005
Maturation: refill sherry hogshead
Outturn: 213 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 51.1%
(from a bottle split)

NEAT

In the nose, notes of orange oil, eucalyptus, and marzipan are framed by musty old oak and newspapers. The palate is neither too tannic nor bitter. Instead, sweet oranges and white cherries lead the way, followed by hints of walnuts, ginger powder, and vanilla. It finishes with tart plums, walnuts, nutmeg, caramel sauce, and slightly more obvious oak.

DILUTED to ~46%abv, or ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky

More caramel and marzipan appear in the nose, it also becomes more floral, while taking on hints of lychee, and limes. The palate is mostly toasty oak spices, with sweet citrus and honey in the background. The finish mostly mirrors the palate, but picks up a touch of woody bitterness.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

This is a very good whisky, a bit adventurous on the nose, but a model mellow modern Speyside in the palate, something to drink casually. Now, if that's what you want in a $600 whisky, then have at it. Perhaps if it wasn't paired with Monday's '71 Benriach, then this '87 may have shown brighter. But I can only write what I experienced in the tasting, and that is a Benriach Anytimer with a problematic QPR. The curmudgeon returns!

Availability - Still available in Europe more than 3 years later
Pricing - $575 to $625
Rating - 85

Monday, February 26, 2024

Benriach 42 year old 1971 Whiskybroker

Whiskybroker.co.uk has a throwback vibe (I think I know what those words mean). Their prices are fair, their packaging is minimal, and their labels rarely have more than three colors. Owner Martin Armstrong — yes of those Armstrongs — stays very transparent about his struggles and successes via that Bookface website, which allows many a whisky nerd to fantasize about what it'd be like to run their own indie scheme.

It's because of Whiskybroker's restrained pricing that I was able to participate in a bottle split of a FORTY TWO year old Benriach single cask. The spirit produced by this distillery during the Glenlivet Distillers years (1965-1978) has quite the fruity reputation. This is my sixth (probably last) opportunity to try Benriach from this era, so I'm looking forward to this!

Distillery: Benriach
Current Ownership: Brown-Forman
Owner at time of distillation: Glenlivet Distilleries
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Bottler: Whiskybroker
Age: 42 years (1 September 1971 - 29 November 2013)
Maturation: ???
Outturn: 189 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 40.8% (close call!)
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

The nose delights with apricot preserves, mango juice, orange peel, and fig jam. Some dunnage here, something brothy there, and a pumpernickel note in the background.

The palate's apricot preserve note is remarkable. This is whisky, right? Bits of mango and lime float underneath; a hint of lychee, too. It gets tarter with time, also picking up some bitter citrus. Ah, and the mango expands too.

It finishes with a cocktail of mango, blood orange, cherry juice, and mint leaf.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

Oh my. Yummy. The only thing preventing this whisky from being an all-timer is the ABV, which results in a conspicuous fragility and brief finish; though those factors only further contribute to my desire for seconds, thirds, and fourths on the whisky. Had the angels not picked away at this cask like vultures, I'm not sure how high this Benriach's ceiling would be. Maybe 1960s Longmorn? But I shall not ponder what could have been. This excellent pour results in the 3rd 90-pointer in a row, which I'm pretty sure has never happened here before.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 90

Friday, February 23, 2024

Red Bag #1 (Ardbeg) 16 year old 2006 Dramfool

Yesterday's indie Ardbeg was a hardy, tarry creature from a sherry butt. Today's older Ardbeg, er, Red Bag comes from an ex-bourbon hogshead and has a much lighter color. Not only do I know little else about it, but I can't remember when or why I went in on this bottle split. Anyhoo, I tried it alongside yesterday's excellent 12yo SMWS.


Distillery: Ardbeg
Owner: LVMH
Region: Southern Islay
Independent Bottler: Dramfool
Age: 16 years (9 Mar 2006 - 18 Mar 2022)
Maturation: bourbon hogshead
Cask#: 53rd release
Outturn: 260 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 57.7%
(from a bottle split)

NEAT

A quirky industrial, paralleling older Loch Lomond and Ledaig, arrives first in the nose. It lifts to reveal apricots, peaches, overripe cantaloupe, wet sand, chocolate, and soot-free peat. Oh the palate, though. Guavas, limes, tart nectarines, sweet plums, and kiwis! Of course there's also moderate peat smoke, a dash of salt, and a whiff of manure. The tart and sweet stone fruits, as well as the kiwis, live on into the finish, where they're met by salty peat and a slight herbal bitter bite.

DILUTED to 46%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky

The nose is a beachside car repair garage filled with ripening guavas. Extra tart limes lead the palate, with salty toffee, milder smoke, and a soft sweetness beneath. It finishes with a stellar balance of tart, salt, sweet, and smoke.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

Another fab single Ardbeg cask, showing a character opposite to yesterday's cask. In fact it's reminiscent of an older pre-LVMH Ardbeg style, where the peat supports all the other elements, rather than lording over them. The fruits were a very welcome surprise that won me over instantly. I would have never imagined fruity Ardbeg appearing in the 21st century. This would have been a stellar bottle to possess were it half (or a third) of its price.

Availability - 
Sold out

Pricing - over $350
Rating - 90

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Ardbeg 12 year old 2007 SMWS 33.139

That two-week Westland run was the least read cluster so far, and had the lowest weekly turnout since the last time I reviewed Japanese whisky. Sure enough, this week's first Ardbeg post's clicky count has already passed those Westlands. Scotch brings readers to the blog. Other countries' single malts appear to be of very little interest, while some bourbon fans aren't particularly happy with how I rate the oak juice. That's okay, single malt scotch is always served in my happy place, so I shall continue with the indie Ardbegs.

Today, it's a refill 'Beg butt bottled for the 2020 Feis Ile that never happened.

Distillery: Ardbeg
Owner: LVMH
Region: Southern Islay
Independent Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
Age: 12 years (24 May 2007 - 2020)
Maturation: 2nd fill Oloroso butt
Cask#: 33.139, "You would not believe!"
Outturn: 603 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 61.3%
(from a bottle split)

NEAT

Mmmmm good nose. Oysters, herbal-tinged peat smoke, almond butter, and dried cherries live on top, with hints of charred and smoked meats linger below. The palate starts out with tar, umami, kiln, lime, and salt. It's gorgeously bitter. Charred green bell pepper and iodine arrive later on. It finishes tart, salty, and savory, with that herbal bitterness looming largest.

DILUTED to ~50%abv, or > 1¼ tsp of water per 30mL whisky

The nose keeps the oyster/beach note, but now there's a dirty boat dock too. Cinnamonny peat and pine needles stay in the midground. Dried cherries have joined the palate's excellent bitterness, while dark chocolate and kiln notes hug the edges. It finishes with kiln, dried savory and bitter herbs, as well as a little bit of basil syrup.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

"You would not believe!"? Ardbeg, I cannot believe you let this gem of a cask out of your sight! It knocks the current Oogie batches on their arses. Aren't you charging like $400-$800/bottle for these official single butts now? So I guess this a "thank you". Thank you for letting this cask slip out so that SMWS could charge a mere $285/bottle for it.

This whisky market sucks.

Anyway, 33.139 is how I like my peat monsters, full of savoriness and ocean and bitterness and a hint of fruit. Adding water to it felt almost tragic, but luckily it held together. To those of you who haven't flipped this bottle, just know that at least you received high quality in return for all those $$$€€€£££.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - $285 (I think) in 2020
Rating - 90 (neat)

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Ardbeg 13 year old 2005 Chieftain's, cask 700163

One way to get back into single malt scotch reviews is to dive nose-first into three Ardbegs. Indie Ardbegs, in fact.

I said goodbye to Chieftain's more than three years ago and, oh look, here's my second post-Chieftain's Chieftain's review (with at least two more to try in the future). That means, of course, that this review isn't even remotely timely. Diving for Pearls is nothing if not consistent.

Cue the Ardbeg!

Distillery: Ardbeg
Owner: LVMH
Region: Southern Islay
Independent Bottler: Ian McLeod
Range: Chieftain's
Age: 13 years old (April 2005 - September 2018)
Maturation: Hogshead
Cask number: 700163
Outturn: 328 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
(from a bottle split)

NEAT

It reads almost like Caol Ila on the nose. No soot, but lots of ocean, seaweed, and oysters. Grapefruit and brown sugar. Lemon bars and cinnamon-loaded applesauce. But oh is it modern Ardbeg on the palate, so heavy on the bitter soot. There are some hints of dark chocolate, earth, and sweetness, but it's mostly soot. It finishes savory and peppery, sooty and salty.

DILUTED to ~42%abv, or ½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky

The fruit moves forward and the beach retreats in the gentle nose. Not much change in the palate, though. In fact it's even more monolithic, one dark big pile of soot. Just a little bit of mint in the background, maybe. The finish gets pepperier, bitterer, and mintier.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

Great nose! Not great palate. It smelled closer to Caol Ila, Bowmore, and Allied-era Ardbeg, which was a thrill thwarted by the nearly one dimensional flavor. Perhaps this would have appealed to me more, like, twelve years ago, when gigantic peat was still exciting to me. Now, I'd be happy just to nose this while outdoors in autumn. Your own peat mileage may vary.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - around $200, even in 2018
Rating - 82 (palate is in the 70s)

Friday, February 16, 2024

Way Too Many Westlands + a Movie, Part 6

I'm ending this series with a horrible film.

New York Ripper (1982, Italy)

source

Eleven years after A Lizard in a Woman's Skin, Lucio Fulci vomited out the putrescent New York Ripper. Indeed Ripper doesn't even seem to have been directed or produced, rather it was mindlessly ejected — no, not ejaculated, as that verb has some positive connotations — from bored, hateful bodies. The cinematography is flat, the writing wretched, and the editing clumsy. Barely a thought seems to have gone into the "mystery", or how anything actually works within New York City, psychopaths, or humans in general. The film slumps around between extended scenes of the humiliation, torture, and graphic slaughter of women. To top it all off, Ripper commits the greatest sin of any exploitation film: It's boring. At least Fulci's The Beyond, Don't Torture a Duckling, and especially Zombi offer creativity, imagination, and craptacular entertainment. Even with its killer that tries to talk like a duck, New York Ripper has not a moment of good WTF-isms, rather it's "Why TF am I wasting my life with this" from beginning to end.

Verdict - quack quack quack flush this



Now, the whiskies.

Both of these are older than yesterday's immature 2 year olds, and one of them has special barley!

Westland 3 year old 2012, cask 34 for Whole Foods

Distillery: Westland
Region: Seattle, Washington
Age: 39 Months
Mashbill: The five-malt mix
Yeast: Belgian Saison Brewer’s Yeast
Fermentation: 144 hours
Maturation: New American Oak
Release: November 2015
Outturn: 174 bottles
Alcohol by volume: 55.5%

NEAT

A bit dessert-like on the nose. There's a mix of apple, cinnamon, clove, and yeast up front, with bourbony cherry syrup in the back. This might have more oak-driven baking spices in the palate than any other members of this cluster. Toffee and white chocolate sit just underneath the spice, and coffee awaits in the distance. It finishes with citrus, white chocolate, nutmeg, and coffee.

DILUTED to 46%abv, or 1¼ tsp of water per 30mL whisky

The nose is an apple-cinnamon pastry stuffed with golden raisins. The palate and finish are sweeter now, with a cloud of cloves, cassia, and nutmeg.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

At first, cask 34 reads like a cross between Westland's standard American Oak expression and a Buffalo Trace Distillery bourbon, but then it goes its own way, which is mostly the cask's way. I like all the baking spices and it's never too tannic, but it doesn't do much else to separate itself from the pack of B-minus-grade Westland casks.

Rating - 82



Westland 4 year old 2015, Pilsen cask 2508

Distillery: Westland
Region: Seattle, Washington
Age: 50 Months
Mashbill: Pilsen barley, sourced from Germany
Yeast: Belgian Saison Brewer’s Yeast
Fermentation: 144 hours
Maturation: ex-Heaven Hill bourbon cask
Release: July 2019
Outturn: 225 bottles
Alcohol by volume: 59.8%

NEAT

Lots of barley in the nose, with raw pecans in the middle, and florals and orange peel in the background. The crisp palate is also barley-driven, with baker's yeast, lime, and a cinnamon hint filling out the rest. It finishes bready and lightly sweet, with a hint of tart lime.

DILUTED

Somehow the nose gets even nuder, presenting as a clean mix of barley and Oleo Saccharum (no that's not a Satanic prayer, look it up). The palate has, in order, barley, lime, yeast, and toasted whole wheat bread. It finishes with lime and bread.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

I like this Westland variation, and wish I knew it had existed earlier! Between the German beer barley varieties and the refill cask, the distillery succeeds in their mission to allow "the grain notes space to express themselves alongside the gentle influence of a used cask". It's my second favorite whiskey of the Westland Dozen, and a nice way to end this series. If I'm ever in the market for an actual bottle of Westland, I'll keep my eyes open for a Pilsen release, or a Washington Pale Malt with a pale color. Otherwise, I'm Westlanded out.

Rating - 87

Okay everyone. Back to single malt Scotchitude next week. Have a good weekend and don't watch New York Ripper!

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Way Too Many Westlands + a Movie, Part 5

A Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971, Italy/France/Spain)


I adore Lucio Fulci's A Lizard in a Woman's Skin. Does its story logic fail to hold up in multiple viewings? Possibly. Are its killer hippies unintentionally funny? Sure. Is Anita Strindberg's nudity a bit over-utilized? Probably. Does any of that hamper my love of the film? Nope!

Every other Fulci movie I'd recommend (or not recommend) is blandly filmed, half-leaden, half-gross, one-quarter-WTF, glorious crap, which is why I find Lizard so thrilling. Lucio really assembles a grown-up film. He seizes the giallo genre by the testicoli, stuffing it with eroticism, psychedelia, fake psychoanalysis, gory dogs, and one giant goose. And the police procedural isn't half bad.

Carol (Florinda Bolkan), has been having sexy dreams about her drugs-and-sex party-throwing neighbor Julia (Ms. Strindberg), which is all very well and good until Carol dreams of murdering Julia......and the sultry neighbor is found dead in exactly the same fashion the next morning. The police make a genuine effort to sort this out and Carol comes apart at the seams. Throats are cut, heads are shot, and the murderer is caught in the final scene.

Lizard gained international notoriety when the filmmakers were taken to the Italian courts because a show-stopping scene of disemboweled dogs looked much too real. Carlo Rambaldi — yes, the man who created E.T. — had to prove in court that those poor pups were just props. The scene is unnecessary to the plot, but the effects really are remarkable for their time. And perhaps they were a hint of Fulci films to come.

Aside from Stanley Baker's solid turn as Inspector Corvin, the women steal the show. Their characters and performances are much more complex than that of their male counterparts, rendering much of the film's underlying misogyny weak in their wake.

I wonder what happened to this version of Fulci. Using the entire frame and wide-angle lenses, he builds real cinematic imagery in Lizard, without stealing too much from Bava and Argento. He even offers one split-screen moment that would make DePalma proud. After this, things got bleak in his films, and not the fun kind of bleak.

Verdict - One of my top 5 gialli!



The whiskies on the other hand......

I've hit the point of Westland exhaustion, and look forward to returning to Scotch Land soon. Here's a pair of very young Seattle single malts:


Westland 2 year old 2012, cask 242

Distillery: Westland
Region: Seattle, Washington
Age: 28 Months
Mashbill: The five-malt mix
Yeast: Belgian Saison Brewer’s Yeast
Fermentation: 144 hours
Maturation: New American Oak, 18-month air-dried staves, #3 char
Release: October 2014
Outturn: 223 bottles
Alcohol by volume: 54.25%

NEAT

Nutty and bready notes arrive first in the nose, followed by apple skins, vanilla, and brine. Almond extract and walnuts stick around the longest. The palate mixes apples and pears with white chocolate and butterscotch chips. Pears, butterscotch, and a hint of malt finish things off.

DILUTED to 46%abv, or 1 tsp of water per 30mL whiskey

The nose shows pears, caramel, barley, and watermelon rind. Malt, caramel, and a vague tartness form the palate. It finishes tart, sweet, and sort of malty.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

This whiskey doesn't go too far down the Craft road with overwhelming oak covering immature spirit, thankfully. It's essentially the standard American Oak release at a bolder strength, without any of the flair or quirks that a single cask can bring.

Rating - 79



Westland 2 year old 2012, cask 266

Distillery: Westland
Region: Seattle, Washington
Age: 27 Months
Mashbill: The five-malt mix
Yeast: Belgian Saison Brewer’s Yeast
Fermentation: 144 hours
Maturation: New American Oak, 24-month air-dried staves, heavy toast/light char
Release: October 2014
Outturn: 220 bottles
Alcohol by volume: 54.5%

NEAT

The nose is similar to 242's, but with more vanilla powder and a slightly skunky note, as well as hints of confectioner's sugar and cardamom in the background. The palate is a mix of vanilla, champagne vinegar, and ethyl. Bits of malt and bitterness peek out here and there. It finishes with pear and ethyl.

DILUTED to 46%abv, or 1 tsp of water per 30mL whiskey

The nose is just vanilla, malt, and cardamom. More sweetness and tangy vinegar, with ethyl and malt staying back in the palate. It's all sweet caramel in the finish.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

This one wasn't done cooking, yet there's a lot of vanilla. It's raw, but not as good as the distillery's new make. Unsure why they picked this cask to release, I would happily choose the standard American Oak expression over this whiskey regardless of the price.

Rating - 75

Fulci wins, and I am grateful that only one more Part remains in this series.