...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Killing Whisky History, Episode 30: MacDonald's Glencoe Malt Whisky, two bottles a half-century apart

Well, I'm home. And you're probably home too. And home is where the whisky is. 'Tis a wonder it took only two weeks for a Killing Whisky History episode to be birthed.

Because of the times, this episode is a little light on history but heavy on alcohol. To be more specific, there are two bounteous pours from freshly opened MacDonald's Glencoe Blended Malts. Ben Nevis malt is at the heart of both whiskies, one is a mini from the '60s/'70s, the other is a 750mL bottle from the late Teens.

Please enjoy, THE BOMB SHELTER EDITION.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Life of a Whisky Bottle: Tobermory 10 year old (2015)

The 46.3%abv version of Tobermory 10 year old succeeds as a unique and spirit-forward single malt. Since this whisky was rebooted as a higher ABV, unchillfiltered expression in 2010, both Burn Stewart Distillers have Distell Group resisted trying to turn it into something cuddlier and more commercial. So it was with plenty of joy that I opened my bottle four months ago. But by the end of the bottle, that pleasure drifted to exhaustion. More on that in a bit.

I pulled samples from the very top of the bottle in early November 2019, then at the midpoint in January 2020, then at its very bottom last week. These three pours were tried side-by-side so I could observe how the whisky progressed with time and oxygen.

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Tobermory
Owner: Distell International
Region: Isle of Mull
Age: minimum 10 years
Maturation: American oak casks
Bottle code: PO33859 L5 10:22 15097
Bottling year: 2015, I think
Alcohol by Volume: 46.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(from my bottle)

Top of the bottle sample from November 2019
Nose - A mix of pear and barley eau de vies. Heck, throw in Slivovitz too. Juniper, lavender flowers, mint leaves, sugar and a hint of yeast.

Palate - Lots of barley. Saltines and a bitter herbal liqueur. A gentle sweetness and tartness.

Finish - Saltines, raw almonds and a mild sweetness.



Middle of the bottle sample from January 2020
Nose - Brighter and a little more rounded. Flower blossoms, brown sugar and citronella candles. There's also a curious raisin note and flour dust. Though the barley supposedly has a peat measure of 0-2ppm, a definite peat-like phenolic note appears after 15 minutes.

Palate - Tart lemons, brown sugar, horseradish and chewed grass start things off. With time in the glass, the whisky develops notes of roasted sweet potato, raw almonds and Slivovitz.

Finish -  There's the peat-ish note again. Then horseradish, wort and a growing sweetness.



Bottom of the bottle sample from March 2020
Nose - Drifting back towards new make, it smells floral and grassy. Small notes of chicken broth and citronella linger in the background. The peat note has disappeared.

Palate - Milder now. Moderate tartness and bitterness. Lemons, grass and malt. Toasted grains and nuts.

Finish - Soft, grassy and malty, with a hint of lemon cookies.



CONCLUSIONS
Though I was excited to start this whisky in November, I'd gotten desperate to finish it in March. In fact, this review was supposed to happen three weeks ago but I just couldn't bring myself to drink anymore of it for fun. And that's a problem.

There's a bit of confirmation bias here, probably. I tend to like whiskies best at mid-bottle, and sure enough that was the best spot for this one. By then the whisky had gained some interesting angles and the peat-like notes gave it much-needed depth. I doubt those characteristics lasted long.

While I cannot deny that young Tobermory is truly its own animal and I applaud the honest, naked nature of this official bottling, I have no interest in ever buying it again. Perhaps my palate has changed, or maybe this stuff drinks better in late spring, or clearer signs of mortality have made me fussier about my poisons, but there was no thrill to be found in this bottle.

Availability - Worldwide, though possibly being phased out for the 12yo
Pricing - $45 - $65
Rating - 82 (and only at mid-bottle)

Friday, March 20, 2020

Redbreast Small Batch D

If you're reading this now, you have made it to Friday. Congratulations! Time to weaken your immune system with whiskey.

No fails in the first three Redbreast Small Batches. And *SPOILER ALERT* this one passed muster as well. Kudos to everyone who nabbed one or more of these whiskies five months ago. Their secondary market prices are a primary bummer, but that is how it goes today.

Batch A - "Modern scotch-styled Irish pot still”, 85 points
Batch B - "Chocolate, fruit and flowers", 88 points.
Batch C - "The birdy gets dirty" (sorry not sorry), 89 points
Batch D - ......


Distillery: Midleton
Brand: Redbreast
Region: Cork, Ireland
Type: Single Pot Still
Age: at least 14 years
Maturation: bourbon casks and oloroso sherry casks
Batch: D
Bottled for: Oak + Violet, Bounty Hunter Wine & Spirits, Redstone Liquors and Julio's Liquors
Outturn: 252 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 58.9%
Chillfiltered? ???
Color added? ???
(from a bottle split)

NOTES
Like Batch B, D has plenty of sherry cask action on its nose. Not raisiny or pruny, rather dried cherries and raspberries in dark chocolate. More honey than grape jam. Hints of mustard and steak emerge after 30 minutes. The palate ditches those last notes for a cleaner character, at first. Lots of nuts and dried fruit. Lime juice and a good bitterness. But it gets a little edgier with time, gaining small notes of earth and salted pork. It finishes with limes, dried blueberries, nuts, cayenne pepper and a minor metallic note.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Batch D could be great on its own, but next to batches B and C it becomes merely very good. C is grittier, B is brighter. Both are probably more complex. Still, I like D's transition from light to dark, and though the nose is simple it is simply enjoyable. Obviously the scores of the four whiskies barely vary, so any one of these could top the others depending on the day and the drinking circumstances. The strong Redbreast quality is present in all four. Perhaps Pernod could do a few more small batches for, say, Ohio?

Final score card:

Batch A - "Modern scotch-styled Irish pot still”, 85 points
Batch B - "Chocolate, fruit and flowers", 88 points.
Batch C - "The birdy gets dirty" (sorry not sorry), 89 points
Batch D - "Simply enjoyable", 86 points.

Availability - US of A
Pricing - it was $100
Rating - 86

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Redbreast Small Batch C

Onward to Redbreast Small Batch C, and quick word about pricing. Of course.

....

....

Wait for it.

......

These small batches were priced fairly.

Each of the four 14 year old cask strength batches had the outturn of a single hogshead. One bottle cost $100 dollars. Redbreast's regular 15 year old is mass produced and diluted, but it costs $120 a pop in Ohio. Or in the rest of the USA it averages $98, per Wine Searcher. The 12 year old cask strength which is released in much larger batches and is regularly available clocks in at $81 on average. The 16yo single sherry cask Master of Malt of was slinging to years ago? Its outturn was two of the 14yo small batches combined, yet cost nearly $200. In fact there were several of those 2001 sherry casks floating around the UK/Ireland market, and they now carry $350-$400 burdens on the secondary market.

Maybe that was a lot of slow words, but I did try to keep them short.

Batch A - "Modern scotch-styled Irish pot still”, 85 points
Batch B - "Chocolate, fruit and flowers", 88 points.
Batch C - .......


Distillery: Midleton
Brand: Redbreast
Region: Cork, Ireland
Type: Single Pot Still
Age: at least 14 years
Maturation: bourbon casks and oloroso sherry casks
Batch: C
Bottled for: Title Town and Blackwell's Wines & Spirits
Outturn: 252 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 59.1%
Chillfiltered? ???
Color added? ???
(from a bottle split)

NOTES
The nose is a little tighter than A's & B's, taking at least ten minutes to lift off. Once it does, there are dried berries, almonds, ginger ale and dried apricots. Countering those perky notes is an earthy note and something oily-ish Clynelish-ish. That latter note shows up in the palate as well, industrial, almost smoky. Getting close to Powers territory too. It's also nutty and limey. Small notes of dark chocolate, berries and chile peppers. After about 20 minutes it shifts gears as tart citrus tumbles in alongside a glowing herbal bitterness. Chile peppers and walnuts finish up matters, followed by a squirt of lemon, a little bit of sweetness and a good dose of herbal bitterness.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Here my experience parts with how the whisky was officially described — "showcasing exotic fruit and toasted wood flavors" — and for the better, really. Batch C is more complex than A and B, and it takes some time to get there. It was worth the wait, as it may be the darkest style of Redbreast I've had. It actually has the least direct wood and fruit notes of the four batches, leaning heavier on oily spirit, herbs and a bit of the 27yo's tartness. Another excellent batch.

Availability - US of A
Pricing - it was $100
Rating - 89

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Redbreast Small Batch B

On Tuesday I reviewed the first of four recent cask strength small batch single pot still Redbreasts. Though I missed out on their simultaneous release, I was able to get in on a group bottle split. I tried all four side-by-side to get a better perspective of these whiskies. Each was different than the next, which in itself is an impressive bit of blending. Here's the scorecard so far:

Batch A - "Modern scotch-styled Irish pot still”, 85 points.
Batch B - .......




Distillery: Midleton
Brand: Redbreast
Region: Cork, Ireland
Type: Single Pot Still
Age: at least 14 years
Maturation: bourbon casks and oloroso sherry casks
Batch: B
Bottled for: K&L Wine Merchants and Gordon's
Outturn: 252 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 57.2%
Chillfiltered? ???
Color added? ???
(from a bottle split)

NOTES
The nose is very milk chocolatey. Think Hershey's Kisses and Milk Duds. There's also some orange peel, circus peanuts, saline and a slight rosy note. Musty sherry cask and lime zest emerge with time. Bright fruits and florals emerge from the palate first. Tangy oranges and peaches. Pear juice. Cranberry juice with Angostura bitters. Toasted grains and toasted oak. It finishes with nut butters, dried cranberries, peach skin and pinch of cayenne pepper.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
This batch, bottled for K&L, was described as "having added depth from sherry cask maturation", per Whisky Advocate. That's a pretty safe description and, yes, the sherry casks do some good work here.  But so do the bourbon casks. While the nose seems to hint at a complete sherry bomb, the palate instead reveals some great juicy fresh fruits. I dare say this has the best palate of the four, and also the most flamboyant. I'm a sucker for fruity whiskies, from any country, so this was a very easy drink. It's too bad I missed out on a full bottle of this one.

Availability - US of A
Pricing - it was $100
Rating - 88

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Redbreast Small Batch A

Though Irish was my first whisk(e)y love, I stopped paying attention to that category at least five years ago. It's not because it became popular, rather none of Midleton's one or two dozen new inventions sounded remotely interesting, and I was uninspired by Cooley/Teeling's regular output.

As a result of this behavior, I missed out on four cask strength actual-small-batch releases by Redbreast, the one brand I always enjoy. And by "actual" I mean there were a total of 1000 bottles between the four batches. These bottles were split between eleven retailers in San Francisco, San Diego and Boston. All four were 14 or more years old and a mix of bourbon and oloroso casks.

Thankfully I was able to get in on a bottle split and try all four side-by-side.

First up, Batch A...


Distillery: Midleton
Brand: Redbreast
Region: Cork, Ireland
Type: Single Pot Still
Age: at least 14 years
Maturation: bourbon casks and oloroso sherry casks
Batch: A
Bottled for: Julio's Liquors and Redstone Liquors
Outturn: 252 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 58.6%
Chillfiltered? ???
Color added? ???
(from a bottle split)

NOTES
The first thing I notice about the nose is that it's very "scotch", like a late-teenage first-fill bourbon barrel Speyside. Butterscotch and oak spice, rather than vanilla. White nectarines, lychee candy and pencil shavings. Hints of blossoms and dried apricot. There's very little heat in the palate, considering the ABV. There's oak spice, fresh ginger, halvah, honey, Cara Cara oranges and a creamy vanilla note. After 30ish minutes the whiskey is all ginger+honey+oak spice. The finish follows a similar pattern. Oranges, honey, almonds, ginger and caramel.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Per Whisky Advocate, Batch A is described as "wood-driven". While I agree, the whiskey is more rounded and pleasing than the sound of that phrase. It trends towards toasted spices (as noted repeatedly) rather than sawdust, tannins and capital "V" Vanilla. The honey and oranges are also a nice touch. It's a modern, undemanding but tasty whiskey, something that will appeal to casual single malt scotch fans. Those looking for vibrant sherry casks will have to look elsewhere....

Availability - US of A
Pricing - it was $100
Rating - 85

Monday, March 16, 2020

Redbreast 27 year old, batch B1/19

Since some of us are shut in our homes with our children during this St. Patrick's Day Week, I elected to keep us buoyant with All Kinds of Redbreast. Five days, Five RBs.



It seems as if Midleton (and Pernod Ricard) have suddenly embraced the ultra-luxury market after seeing scotch's success. There are now 20+, 30+, 40+ year old cask strength pot still whiskies flashing through the markets. Redbreast 27-year-old sells for $500 and up, sitting at the base of this new category's price spectrum.

The marketing material focuses on the whiskey being "enriched by Ruby Port Casks". To get the real(?) scoop, one will have more luck reading this Master of Malt blog post. The highlights:
What we have here is a combination of four cask types: first-still[sp] bourbon and refill bourbon, first-fill oloroso sherry casks and first-fill ruby Port pipes”...
...Today, Irish Distillers now imports between 40-60 European oak 500 litre port pipes annually. The wood is medium-toasted and seasoned with red wine for approximately 12 months before ruby Port is added for approximately 12 months. [Head of maturation Kevin] O’Gorman explained that the process was a response to “the challenge of seasoning Port. If you put it into a virgin oak cask, you’re going to get a major wood contribution. One of the techniques we figured out right from the start was that we needed to take some of these tannins and wood compounds out from the start,” O’Gorman explains.
I like that their head of maturation actually wants to reduce "major wood contribution", taking some "tannins and wood compounds out from the start". That sounds almost scandalous in the modern whisk(e)y era. Time to find out if he was successful.

The times
Distillery: Midleton
Brand: Redbreast
Region: Cork, Ireland
Type: Single Pot Still
Age: minimum 27 years
Maturation: first-fill and refill bourbon casks, first-fill oloroso sherry casks and first-fill ruby Port pipes (see above for more details)
Outturn: 528 bottles
Batch: B1/19
Alcohol by Volume: 54.6%
Chillfiltered? ???
Color added? ???
(from a bottle split)

NEAT
The nose begins with mango, grapefruit, newspaper print and wheatgrass. Then cantaloupe and yellow peaches. The fruit notes grow muskier with time, and are then joined by hints of white chocolate and dunnage. It's reminiscent of old Longmorn and older cognac. Oak spice hits the palate first, then is trampled by gorgeously tart fruits, reflecting the nose's tropicals, citruses and stones. Then come the roses and an intensely mineral white wine. Salt appears after 45 minutes, as do mint leaves and Werther's Originals, but it never loses that vigorous tartness. The finish is loaded with mango, grapefruit and lime juices. Roses and butterscotch pudding. A hint of peach pit.

DILUTED TO ~50%abv, or >½ tsp of water per 30mL whiskey
The nose remains similar. Maybe some brighter fresh stone fruit notes. Some toffee. Guava rather than mango. A new fresh herbal note jumps with the palate's tart fruits. Thyme, rosemary, cardamom, lemons and grapefruits. A pop of chile heat, a spoon of cherry jam. The cherry note joins the tropical fruit and limes in the finish, underscored by that peach pit bitterness.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
This is fabulous. Its price made me want to hate it, but it's just too freaking lovable. Kristen took a sip and then said, "More." It's all about the fruits and the herbs and flowers and the minerals, rather than fortified wines or vanilla. As I mentioned in my nosing notes, this Redbreast reminded me of other gracefully matured spirits of even greater ages. Impressive cask management here. I'm going to say the Midleton crew was successful.

Availability - US and Europe
Pricing - $450 - $650
Rating - 92