...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Single Malt Report: Benromach Organic

Gordon & MacPhail was established in 1895 as an independent licensed bottling agent.  In 1915, John Urquart became the company's senior partner and his family has run the business (from the original location in Elgin) ever since.  With more than a dozen different bottling series (such as Connoisseur's Choice, The MacPhail Collection, Secret Stills, Private Collection, Speymalt, etc.) they remain one of the leading independent whisky botters.  Their continuing success in the whisky business provided them with the means to purchase the mothballed Benromach distillery in 1993.

Benromach began distilling in 1898 (so it's actually younger than its current owner) and has been mothballed twice, in 1931 and 1983.  It changed ownership a number of times in its youth, including four instances over forty years.  It ended up in the hands of DCL (proto-Diageo) in 1953.  As the whisky market underwent significant turmoil in the Eighties and early Nineties, DCL (then United Distillers) mothballed Benromach to stanch its losses.  Then in an act very unusual for the company, DCL/United Distillers sold the distillery to Gordon & MacPhail.  It took five years to get the distillery back in operation and it has been running ever since.

Distillery: Benromach
Ownership: Gordon & MacPhail
Age: older than 3 years, younger than 10 years
Maturation: virgin American Oak
Region: Speyside (Findhorn)
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

This particular bottling is Benromach Organic.  First released in 2006, it was a noticeable effort to differentiate their brand in the Scotch whisky market.  It was the first whisky to be fully certified organic.  As per their website:
The whole process, including the use of the raw ingredients, distillation, maturation and bottling, is certified to the rigorous standards set by the UK Soil Association. The whisky is matured in virgin American oak casks from environmentally managed forests...
Virgin oak can impart an intense influence on a whisky.  Thus I'd bet the malt here is very young; too much time in new oak can crush any sense of the original spirit.

The color is bronze with bright orange highlights.  The nose starts with rich rye-like spices (think nutmeg and clove), overripe stone fruits, and lots of toffee.  Peach liqueur, lavender, brown sugar, and dark rum evolve over time.  The palate starts with MASSIVE vanilla.  Sweet spices, whole wheat bread, honey, and caramel sauce sing backup.  It's all very thick and desserty.  It finishes with the vanilla and caramel sauce.  Maybe dulce di leche?  But definitely rummy.  Very sweet.

The nose leads with toffee and dark rum.  Brown sugar, some malt, basic wood grains, and (since the nose can't technically smell "sweet") the illusion of sweetness.  It's much simpler but still quite nice.  The palate is like the nose, but more malt sneaks out once the water is added.  There's still a bit of brown sugar and molasses sweetness with a snip of black pepper in the back.  Whole lotta sweetness in the finish, in fact it's almost bourbony in its intensity.  The black pepper lingers.

I liked this a lot.  But my opinion isn't shared by everyone.  Please keep in mind this one is a big sweetie.  Untempered by previous fills of bourbon, sherry, or other malts, the oak does some serious syrupy stomping here.

On a side note, I'm a complete hypocrite.  While I've often complained about the wood effect from first-filled sherried-European oak and occasionally griped about first-fill bourbon-American oak, I've found I  really enjoy the wild character imparted by virgin American oak.  Perhaps it's because it reminds me of the best parts of American whiskey, especially straight rye.  I've found Bruichladdich's Organic Multi-Vintage whisky to be less sweet and more malt-forward than Benromach's, so that must have something to do with wood management.  But I do like this one as a dessert whisky.

The reviews on this whisky are all over the map, so I recommend you take a look at these before you run off and try Benromach's Organic syrup whisky:

LA Whisky Society - Did not like it.
Whisky Advocate - Found it mostly......meh.
Malt Maniacs - Mixed
Serge Valentin - Liked
Whiskybase (crowdsourced) - Mixed

The folks from Michael Jackson's Complete Guide were so-so on it, while Jim Murray was positive.

I think many of these folks are reviewing the initial 2006 launch, but I find the vastly different reviews very interesting.  While reading their notes, I wonder if they (or we) drank the same whisky.

I've tried it twice, from the same 750mL bottle (Thank you, Bob!!!) so I can concur that my notes come neither from a mini nor a packaged sample.

Ultimately, there ain't a lot of subtlety in this single malt.  Heck, there's not a lot of malt in this single malt.  But it's a sweetie, if you want a sweetie.

Availability - Select liquor specialists
Pricing - US $65-$75, International $45-$60 (before shipping)
Rating - 86

Friday, November 23, 2012

NOT Single Malt Report: Triple American Taste Off

Hope everyone had a happy and safe Thanksgiving!  Let's do a quick-ish three part American Taste Off:  Old Grand-Dad Bottled in Bond, Old Forester, and Midnight Moon.  (Too bad I didn't have some Old Crow, Old Fitzgerald, or Old Weller!)

I'm drinking all three neat, no water, because I'm an Amurican.  I'm also drinking all three in Glencairn glasses because I'm a communist socialist terrorist.


Owner: Beam, Inc.
Brand: Old Grand-Dad
Distillery: Booker Noe Plant
Location: Boston, Kentucky
Mash Bill: High rye, 30% rye
Age: minimum 4 years
ABV: 50% ABV

This is the younger brother of the Basil Hayden's Straight Bourbon (6-8 years).  Same mash bill, same distillery, same company.  Different age, different ABV weight, different bottle, different label, different price.  Basil Hayden, the man, is the "old grand dad" from the label.  I picked up a flask-sized 200mL bottle of this bourbon during a great weekend in Idyllwild.

The color is straight up bourbon gold.  The dense nose is loaded with hazelnuts, tree bark, and hay.  There are some apple skins and Hershey's milk chocolate in there too.  The rye sits in the background.  The palate is full of honey and corn, but some more rye shows through.  There's some Robotussin, corn syrup, cherry syrup, and a light nuttiness.  Corn whiskey lasts the longest in the finish, leaving a sticky sweet residue, along with a hint of amaretto.

Of the two bourbons, I enjoyed this nose better.  It makes a decent Old Fashioned as well.  Otherwise, I don't forsee buying a 750mL of this one.

Availability - Most liquor stores
Pricing - $18-$25
Rating - 71


Owner: Brown-Forman Corporation
Brand: Old Forester
Distillery: Brown-Forman Distillery
Location: Shively, Kentucky
Mash Bill: 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley
Age: approx. 4 years
ABV: 43% ABV

It uses the same mash bill as Woodford Reserve (a bourbon I do not like).  Brown-Forman also makes Jack Daniel's and Early Times, two more products with unappealing flavors.  So, it's a good thing I had no idea that Old Forester comes courtesy of these folks.  And I happily found a 99 cent mini of it a few weeks back.

The color is a slightly darker browner gold than the Grand Dad.  The nose starts with new sneakers(!), paper, caramel, leather gloves, lots of caramel sauce, zero rye, and a touch of dried fruit.  The desserty palate holds milk chocolate, whipped cream, vanilla, and TONS of butterscotch.  It's sweet but dense and hardy.  Sadly the finish doesn't hold out.  It gets a little odd, very vegetal (celery, lettuce, and kale?) with lots of corn.

I really enjoyed the butterscotch in the palate, but it's too bad the finish goes weird.  While I'm in no hurry to drink this again, I wouldn't mind trying the 100 proof Forester.

Availability - Most liquor stores
Pricing - $13-$18
Rating - 72


Owner: Piedmont Distillers
Brand: Junior Johnson's Midnight Moon
Mash Bill: 100% corn
Age: 0 years old
ABV: 40% ABV

This is a triple-distilled grain (corn) spirit that is said to be sourced from NASCAR great Junior Johnson's family recipe.  Having had new makes of all sorts, I've never tried an officially bottled product claiming to be moonshine.

It's clear, thus no color.  The nose is vodka, but more sugary.  Some dry grains, hay, notebook paper, and nondescript vegetation.  The palate: vodka, probably from an upper shelf.  There's some granulated sugar in there.  Tapioca pudding.  The illusion of vanilla.  Not much of a finish.  A little sweet.  Vodka.

This is watered-down ethanol.  It is very similar to big label vodka, though one of the better ones.  More Grey Goose than Ketel One.  I've had quite some vodka in my time, more than you can possibly imagine.  And I never drank it for the flavor.

This was also another cheap mini that required a pair of pliers to open.

Then I spilled half of it on the floor.  And was not bummed about it in the least.

Availability - Most liquor stores
Pricing - $18-$22
Rating - This is not whiskey

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

NOT Single Malt Report: Old St. Andrews 12 year old Blended Whisky

It's a mini.  Another one of this company's minis looks like this:
WTF, you may ask?

It is Old St. Andrews 12-year-old blended Scotch whisky.  Old St. Andrews has been in the blending business for some time and appears to be making whiskys mainly for the kitschy gift market.  (Just see this Google Image Search of their bottles.)  It appears to be more for the people-who-like-mounted-singing-fish rather than anoraks. I make that judgement call only due to their decisions on the presentation aesthetics of their products.

As for the barrel mini that was in my possession?  Firstly, the plastic barrel isn't terribly functional, as it took a pair of pliers to get the cap off the bottom.  Secondly, it doesn't make for easy pouring.  Thirdly, it was 99 cents at Hi Time Wine Cellars.

I will hold off any further design snark because ridiculing the barrel is like making fun of plastic pink flamingos on a front lawn.  It is aimed for a specific market of which I am not a part.

And hey, who knows, the whisky could be good...


Bottler: Old St. Andrews Limited
Distributor: Niche Imports
Age: minimum 12 years old
Ingredients: 12 to 18 single malts plus grain whisky, LOTS of grain whisky

I wish I could provide more information, but the company's own website has nothing on the 12yr.  The sales snippets on retail sites tend to push the fact that the whisky was aged in oak (unique!) and that Jim Murray once rated one of their blends highly, seven years ago (unique?).

Its color is a bright shiny yellow gold.  The nose leads with apples and light citrus.  It gets woody quickly.  Gradually hints of nuts, Scope mouthwash, and maple syrup arise.  The palate is of mostly grain whisky.  It has that Lauders-esque cheap vodka moment.  There's some plain sweetness and salt.  Some cocoa, burnt paper, some more wood, and a small ethyl bite.  Its finish carries some lemon candy and chocolate, somehow being both sticky sweet and lightly bitter.

The nose is oaky, gassy, grainy, brown sugary, and vanilla extract-y.  Better overall.  The grains improve on the palate too.  The water smoothens over any weird edges and leaves behind a mildly sweet generic vanilla note.  But the finish turns odd.  Something unpalatable and unnamable created a strange aftertaste that turned my stomach after a couple minutes.

Or maybe it was something I ate.  So I won't blame the 48-hour tummy ache on the whisky.

I felt it was quite interchangeable with Lauder's Finest and, similarly, best left for cocktails.  That's not necessarily an insult since Lauder's is palatable, but Lauder's is also 3 years old (as per its label) while this Old St Andrews is 12 years old.  Both are mostly (I dunno, 80%?) grain whisky.  Also, Lauder's can be had for $10 per 750mL.  Old St Andrews 12yr is much more expensive, but I guess one is paying for the bottle.

Availability - A few liquor specialists, worldwide
Pricing - ??? at $30-$50
Rating - 70

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Wife returns from foreign lands, with treats in tow

As mentioned last week, I had a whisky shop in Yorkshire truck a Ledaig 15yr parcel over to Kristen's hotel in Worcester.  I am indebted to her for many things, and I must add this to the list.  She couriered the bottle (box and all) back to me in her luggage with nary a gripe.

Actual bottle shot.
She was also in Wisconsin (twice) and brought us back a cold!  More importantly she brought herself back.  Both times.

Then she was in Australia...
 Where there are birds like this:
They bite people.  Probably just self-conscious about the tail issue.

Then she brought back this:
Buddha approves
First off, Vegemite.

Secondly, The Singleton of Glen Ord.  Diageo bottles three Singletons from three different distilleries: The Singleton of Glendullan (for the North American market), The Singleton of Dufftown (European market), and The Singleton of Glen Ord (Pacific market).  Of the three the Glen Ord is preferred by Serge V, the rest of the Maniacs as a whole, Michael Jackson's Guide, and Jim Murray.  The grand slam is it not?  So when Kristen (bless her) called me from Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport's duty free shop and ran down the whisky selection, the Glen Ord arose as the most intriguing (and affordable) option.  Can't get it here, only out there.  As I keep reading about all of its floral, orange, hazelnut, and chocolate notes, I'm doubting it will stay sealed for very long.

And the Sullivan's Cove Double Cask Single Malt?  Now that was unexpected!  Many thank yous to Chris and Connor for this very nice surprise!  It was an international effort and I/we owe you a drink or two.  In the meantime, shall I pair this with a Vegemite sandwich?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Single Malt Report: Rosebank 21 year old 1990 (Murray McDavid)

Delicate. Fragile. Brittle.

They're synonyms, but their conotations depict increasing levels of vulnerability.  There's more art and pathos in delicacy.  Fragility depicts something whole that has the potential to be shattered if mishandled.  Brittle paints a picture of underlying structural uncertainty, an anticipation of a rendering.

Whisky can take on any of these characteristics, especially as it gets older.  It does not necessarily keep getting better the longer it's confined in the oak.  Harsh edges are refined with barrel time, power becomes grace.  But to a point.  The whisky can become over-oaked or it can be mellowed into silence.  Thus choosing when to bottle a barrel is a cautious science.  Time and nature can be fickle with whisky.  And when the angels descend to take their share, alcohol content isn't the only thing they depart with.

I have a difficult time sussing out elements of gentle whiskies.  Currently my palate is drawn to rollicking young barrel-strength ryes and booming Scotch peat storms.  It wasn't always that way, but one's tastes change.  Twenty-one years ago, I was listening to MC Hammer.  Twenty years ago, I was listening to Poison.  Nineteen years ago, I was listening to Mike Oldfield.  Eighteen years ago, I was listening to U2.  Seventeen years ago, The Who.  Sixteen years ago, I was drinking Coors Light and doing shots of Skyy and Tanqueray.  Et cetera.

Its doors shut in 1993 after almost 200 years of production, the Rosebank distillery is now gone; its land sold to a developer and its copper stills stolen.  When it was up and running, Rosebank's stills produced a triple-distilled whisky.  The third round of distillation -- a practice shared by many now-defunct Lowland distilleries -- produced a softer, lighter spirit than that of the usual double-distillation practiced by the great majority of Scotland's whisky makers.  Auchentoshan is the only Scotch whisky distillery that regularly runs a third pass, though Glenkinchie has a spirit that almost mimics the hushed style.  Some Scottish distilleries, like Springbank, BenRiach, and Bruichladdich, produce occasional triple-distilled whiskys, but for the most part, Ireland's Midleton Distillery remains the largest practitioner of this process.

Distillery: Rosebank
Ownership: Diageo
Bottler: Murray McDavid (Mission series)
Age: 21 years (1990-2011)
Maturation: Bourbon barrels
Region: Lowlands
Alcohol by Volume: 54.6%
Limited bottling: 270

This Rosebank, from Murray McDavid, is delicate.  It isn't falling apart, it isn't silent, it doesn't go blank after a couple drips of water.  But it is soft as wilting rose petals.  It was thus a challenge for this writer.

Its color is Sauvignon Blanc.  The nose leads with vanilla beans, vanilla ice cream, and bourbon.  Then it's pound cake, ripe peaches, and orange hard candies.  So much comes from the oak and it only intensifies with time in the glass.  The palate, though, is full of malt.  It's sweet at the start, then the ethyl heat rolls in.  Lemon zest, chlorine, some sour fruit candy, a little wood grain, then a tiny bit of vanilla.  Its finish is extensive, probably much thanks to the cask strength ABV.  There's a pleasant sour lemon squeeze, more vanilla, and a gentle wave of flower blossoms.

WITH WATER (approx. 43% ABV)
The nose becomes much more herbal, think juniper and other gin-like notes.  There are ripe peaches and rotting apples, some mild cheese and pencil shavings.  Sweetness and vanilla at the palate's start again. The alcohol still pinches a bit.  Underneath that are fresh oranges and pipe tobacco.  The finish is a bit mouth drying, but very mild.  Some malt and barley sugar, maybe?  It's certainly candied, along with the continuing notes of vanilla and pipe tobacco.

It didn't do much for me at first sip that night.  The presidential election results had been called and the time was closer to midnight than eleven.  I wondered if I was too tired to fully experience this whisky.  Or perhaps this was just too quiet of a dram for me.

But with patience and time, I could see (and smell) its benefits.  It's likely not one of the best recent Rosebank releases, but it left me curious for more of this old gem because just as I was beginning to appreciate this late Lowland rose's delicacy, the whisky was gone.

Availability - Once available only in the UK, but now difficult to find
Pricing - $160-$180 (the cheaper end of this distillery's bottlings)
Rating - 83

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Two Whiskiest Weeks of My Life

Alright, get comfortable.  There's been a lot of whisky had.

The Glenmorangie Taste Off

To begin my recap of these whisky weeks, I should start with my actual blog posts.  The Glenmorangie Taste Off was as educational as any 'Off I've done.  I learned:

1.  I like the The Original a lot more than I used to.  I wish I would have had a bottle of it during our extended summer.  It would probably make for a better summer house malt than Glenfiddich 12.
2.  The Lasanta experience was disconcerting.  I'd enjoyed GlenMo's sherried whisky for years, but having now come back to it after two years of intensive whisky tasting, I no longer felt anywhere near the same level of joy or appreciation while drinking the Lasanta.  Will my palate shift back some day?  Or will the whisky change as consumers' palates and purchases make their own adjustments?
3.  Quinta Ruban mostly supported my continuing issue with port-finished whisky, as well as short-term wine-finished whisky.  I've only experienced one port-ed whisky that felt like an excellent convergence of wine, wood, and whisky (and I hope to report on it before the year is out!), but the rest of the port finishes I've had smell and taste like whisky + low-grade port.
4.  The Astar is an All Star.

A somewhat public whisky tasting

Two weekends ago, I attended an eight-part whisky tasting, mostly consisting of Ian MacLeod's products.

It was here that I had my first sip of the Isle of Skye 8 year.  I was sold on it, quite literally.  I purchased it, promptly, and it awaits its turn as a potential Johnnie-Walker-Black-Label-Killer.  There will be an official Taste Off between the two before the year is out.

We tried a few Chieftain's bottlings, my favorite being their Ben Nevis 13yr 1999 bottling.  It appears as if I wasn't the only fan, as it has sold out at Hi Time Wine Cellars, while K&L has only 5 bottles left.  It had a bit of citrus, white fruits, and flower blossoms in the nose and mouth, along with significant vanilla and brown sugar notes.  My single issue with it is the pricing: the 75-80USD range for a 13yr non-cask-strengther.

We also sampled three Arran single malts, my favorite being the 14yr, full of toffee and honey.  It's priced at $70 at all of my usual haunts.  The price is neither terrible nor super, but the quality is definitely there.  Also, to quote Serge V.: "excuse me but with this kind of quality, I guess they could now start to drop the wine finishes."

The winner of the night was probably Kilchoman Machir Bay, already lauded on this site.  But those above three whiskys (all different styles) provided some good competition.

A flurry of crazy purchases

So, yeah, let's get down to the meaty part.

Two weeks ago, a bunch of carefully planned purchases fell into place.

While my dear Kristen was in the UK for business, I just happened to find a little shop in Yorkshire that sold the now dead-for-eight-years Ledaig 15yr bottling for a reasonable price.  The shop agreed to ship it to Kristen's hotel.  And she couriered it back to me.  I have it!  Woo hoo!  My wife rules.
Pic courtesy of Wright Wine and Whisky Company
my source for this great bottle.
That same day, a shipment of two out-of-production peated whiskys arrived from The Netherlands.  I had been working on getting those to me SINCE AUGUST and now they are in my possession.  I'm keeping them a secret for now, but they've both been mentioned in passing on this site previously.  And I hope they'll be mentioned again soon...

Then, three days later......

Well......I'll just list the text I sent to Kristen:
Your husband drove to Boyle Heights at 9am to rescue two dusty whisky bottles from neglect at a corner liquor store.  And got to work ten minutes early.
I still can't believe I did that.

I can't believe I got to work ten minutes early.

That marks the end of my whisky purchases for the calendar year......

......okay, aside from the bottle of Thomas H. Handy rye I just discovered at a place that shouldn't have had it, at a price they probably shouldn't have been charging if they're hoping to turn a profit.

This past weekend

The whisky continues.  I met up with a bunch of old buddies, including one of my original Scotch mates from the East Coast.  There was a bottle of 2011's Talisker 18yr that had been burning a hole in my whisky cabinet since August '11.  I'd been waiting to open it until my friend (a fan of Talisker 10yr) visited the West Coast.  Open it we did, and a bunch of us did some damage on Saturday night.
On the afternoon before the Talisker-ing, I met up with Florin, a brilliant whisky man and a frequent commenter on this site.  And Oh My Whiskey, we drank some goodness!  We have similar palates when it comes to Straight Rye Whiskey, so that must have inspired him to share a magnificent Virginia Whiskey.  HOLY ABRAHAM BOWMAN AND HIS PIONEER SPIRIT!  People, I am not exaggerating when I say that THIS is the best American whiskey I have ever tried.  It was over 68% ABV, but a very delicious 68% ABV.  Sour Mash Manifesto has a review of it here, SKU has his review here.  Thank you very much to Florin for this and all of the grand whiskies (including a very impressive house vatted malt)!

Now I sit here...

...on Sunday evening, a little tired, a bit under the weather.  My senses have been compromised.  Sleep depravation, un-wise dietary choices, abrupt weather changes, and an almost excess of liquid pleasures have gotten the better of me.  I regret not a thing.

So many more opportunities out there.  I want to be in shape for them.  Thus it's time to dry out and recharge.

Did I mention that I also tried my first Rosebank?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Single Malt Report: Glenmorangie Astar

BOOM!  The mystery malt.
Bringing the American wood on this first Tuesday of November.
[Editor's note: Blogger seems to have eaten many of my photos.]

While the Astar (Gaellic for "journey") is one of the Glenmorangie's special bottlings (it doesn't appear to technically be a "Private Edition"), it isn't wine-finished.  In fact it spends its entire life in just one type of cask.  According to many non-Glenmorangie sources, Head Distiller Bill Lumsden did in fact travel to the Mizzouri Ozarks to pick out specific oak trees for his barrels.  Why pick out specific trees?  Because, according to 1001 Whiskies:
Oak grown on northern hillsides grows more slowly, which makes the wood finer-grained. Hence it will render more flavor during maturation.
Okay (or Oaky?), I'll roll with that.  How about a full 57.1% ABV?  That doesn't even sound like GlenMo.  Upon hearing these details last year, I was more than a little excited about this whisky.  But as time went on, the excitement was replaced by a more reasonable question, "Yeah, but does it taste good?"

The answer is...



Well, on to the details.


Distillery: Glenmorangie
Ownership: Louis Vuitton Moet-Hennessy (accents and umlauts not included)
Age: approximately 9 to 10 years
Maturation: Missouri Ozark Oak (more info below)
Region: Highlands (Northern)
Alcohol by Volume: 57.1%
Chill-filtered: No.
Colored: Possibly not.

Some more stuff about this whisky:  Per whiskyfun's interview with Lumsden, this (or the first?) batch was a vatting from 10 heavily-toasted, lightly-charred casks that were air-dried for two years.  Michael Jackson's Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch notes that the barrels had held Tennessee Whiskey for four years before the Glenmorangie spirit was dumped in.  (Haven't heard this specific element anywhere else.  In fact, I'd read that this was new wood.  If anyone can clear this up, I'd be much obliged.)

But clearly this is an engineered modern whisky.  But that should NOT be a strike against Astar because what's most important is the answer to the question, "Does it taste good?"

Here's what I found:

Neat --
The color is brass, though darker than The Original.  Bundles of citrus are in the nose but they have much company.  Cookie dough, cloves, cocoa, elements of a light rye whisky.  There's a small dose of ethyl burn, but not too much.  There's also apple juice, more perky rye-like spices, toffee cake, and drippy sweet desserts.  The palate is very malty.  Some of that cookie dough note too.  Rich milk chocolate, caramel sauce, white fruit juices, Nutella, and delicious (yeah, very subjective).  A touch of tangerine citrus returns in the finish.  With some molasses, a cherry lollipop, and caramel sauce, it's long and sticky sweet.

With water (approx. 34.3% ABV) --
The cookie dough and rye characteristics are toned down in the nose now.  The young citrusy spirit remains afloat, joined by a bit of pineapple juice and some Jolly Ranchers.  The alcohol buzz is still present in the palate, but it's bettered by bushels of fresh fruit (think berries, grapes, and lemons).  Maybe a tiny bit of the milk chocolate too.  The finish is drier.  The fruits lead, followed by a green herbal note (like basil, oregano, and chives).

Despite all of those notes about sweets, the malt is neither cloying nor saccharine.  With the big ABV, it's quite muscular and develops nicely in the glass.  Of course, I'm a sucker for any sort of rye note, so there's that to consider.

On this election day, Astar gets my vote of confidence.  Yes, it tastes good.

Availability - Select liquor specialists
Pricing - $70-$85
Rating - 90

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Single Malt Report: Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban

Three years ago, something went askew with my palete.  I started experiencing a harsh sour-bitter finish with most of the whiskies I drank.  They would start out fine in the nose and palate, at first, then suddenly something awful would sneak up and take over.  Though I've never sipped ammonia, I'm pretty sure it would finish similar to the sensation I was experiencing.

It started with Glenmorangie's Quinta Ruban.  My buddy, James, and I had a bottle for our brief (but epic) scotch club.  Oddly, I didn't mind the Finlaggan that was brought to the session.  But the Quinta Ruban just went bad in my mouth.  It was awful, felt poisonous.  Then, some days later, I noticed the same sensation with Glenlivet 12 and then JW Black Label.  Very different whiskys, same sour-bitter finish.

So I eased up on whisky for a year.  I was mostly drinking Irish whiskey; Jameson and Powers.  That was about the time I fell for Macallan 17yr Fine Oak.  Besides it being generally marvelous, it avoided that horrible finish.  Perhaps thanks to that Mac, I was cured of those sour-bitter experiences, just in time for my bachelor's party.  Just.  In.  Time.

Since then I've discovered that when a whisky gets too warm in my glass some of that bitterness creeps back in.  But other than that, I've been freed.  Thank goodness.  It's always had me wondering, has anyone else experienced this?

It's been 3 1/2 years since that Quinta Ruban evening, so including it in this Taste Off was a big whisky step for me.


Distillery: Glenmorangie
Ownership: Louis Vuitton Moet-Hennessy (accents and umlauts not included)
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: first- and second-fill ex-Bourbon American oak casks for the first 10 years or so, then around two years in former ruby port pipes
Region: Highlands (Northern)
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chill-filtered: No.
Colored: Possibly not.

Neat --
Its color, with its pinks and crimson, is a rosy dark gold.  The nose leads with sour port, then lots of lemon.  Then an orange smoothie, a tiny bit of tobacco, hay, and milk chocolate.  The palate is maltier than Lasanta and the port is relatively reserved.  There's some late harvest sauvignon blanc and apple juice.  Then muscato, green grapes, and sweet lemon.  The finish, port (surprise?).  Port.  Some more port.  Bitter lemon, muscato, and then some general sourness.

With water (approx 32.25%) --
The nose is much simpler.  Port, cherries, oranges.  The palate doesn't swim well.  It's very quiet; a little salty with brown sugar and some port-soaked sugar cookies.  It also finishes quietly.  The port is lighter, maybe there's some sweet molasses.  But it's mostly port and watered down whisky.

I'll lead with the positive.  Unlike Lasanta, a lot of the Glenmorangie malt's citrus notes are present alongside the port.  Even though they don't merge completely, it's nice to find less cream cheese on the bagel.

The bad news, the finish.  Both sorts of "finish", in fact.

Firstly, as the whisky is finished in ruby port pipes, the result is still just whisky with port on top.  As our commenters have pondered, who are these finished whiskys for?  I'm assuming this one is for port lovers.  A question to port lovers: wouldn't a little Fonseca or Grahams suit you better than a whole bottle of Quinta Ruban?

Secondly, the palate's finish goes wrong.  It's a different bitter-sour element than the one I'd experienced before.  But it's still bitter-sour.  This time it's made up of all the worst parts of citrus notes: very bitter and very sour lemon.  It's basically the opposite of "moreish".  I want to stop drinking it and drink something else......like the The Original.

Availability - Most liquor stores
Pricing - $40-$50
Rating - 73

One more Glenmorangie remains from the Taste Off.  What could it be?  And is it any good?


Friday, November 2, 2012

Single Malt Report: Glenmorangie Lasanta

Let's talk about bagels for a moment.  I've noticed many folks like to load slabs of cream cheese onto their bagels, smothering the bagel entirely, essentially creating a cream cheese delivery system.  Do they really need the bagel?  Do they know what the bagel, hiding under the cream cheese, tastes like?

Sometimes we see those gas station bagels.  You know the ones that have been sitting the fridge section for two weeks.  They come pre-packaged with cream cheese.  They probably need a significant schmear because they are tasteless on their own.

But what about the fresh baked bagels hot out of the oven from the local bakery?  Do they really need a choking of white spread?  Did you try the bagel first?  What if the bagel itself was good?  Would you know?

Personally, I lust after peanut butter.  Whenever I'd get a tasteless bagel, a proper thud of PB set it right.  Again, a delivery system.

Of course, nowadays I eat a total of three bagels a year and only if I know they're delicious on their own.  And by "on their own", I mean with a conservative spread of butter while they're hot.  The salty addition seeps down and gets absorbed by the bread, merging erotically (yes erotically, it's butter) creating a single unit.  1 + 1 = 1.

Or if I want peanut butter, I skip the bagel and just eat peanut butter.

So.  Sherried malts.  I've been having a difficult time with some of them recently.  I often find the sherry character so strong and so separate from the whisky, that I appreciate the sherry part but can't find much of malt beneath.  Then I wonder if I'd be better off just buying a half case of mid-shelf Jerez instead of a single malt shivering beneath the fortified weight.

I'm not saying this true with all ex-Sherry European oak matured whisky.  Many old ones and a few young ones have reached a state where the oak, wine, and spirit have fused into a single unit.  From Longmorn-Glenlivet 1967-2003 (Scott's Selection) to Glenfarclas 105, these whiskies are lovely happy drammy experiences.  But, for me, they're becoming the exception rather than the rule.

While I tend to like refill-sherry cask whiskys due to the toned down effect, it's the "sherry finished" whiskys that seem so...I don't know...CREAM CHEESE and bagel.  Perhaps its the Glencairn glass?  I didn't notice it so much before, when I would drink from wide mouthed tumblers.

This brings me to Glenmorangie Lasanta.  In 2007, LVMH replaced the Glenmorangie Sherry Wood Finish bottling with Lasanta.  It was still 12 years old -- the 10 year with at least another two years finishing in oloroso casks -- but it came in that new sexy bottle and had a name that sounded Spanish (but is actually Gaelic for warmth and passion).  The price was also $10-15 higher.  I bought one.

I had enjoyed the old Sherry Wood Finish bottling quite a bit.  It taught the potential of whisky finishing to this drinker here who knew nothing except that he preferred his liquor straight.  I thought the Lasanta tasted different or maybe that was the bottle and price talking.

I never bought a second bottle.  By that time my whisky ship had become unmoored, sailing into all sorts of strange waters.  When I could afford it, I was grabbing new bottles of all sorts.  Knowing that a number of whisky buddies still keep bottles of Lasanta in their whisky stash, I made sure to add it to a future Taste Off.  And here it is.


Distillery: Glenmorangie
Ownership: Louis Vuitton Moet-Hennessy (accents and umlauts not included)
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: first- and second-fill ex-Bourbon American oak casks for the first 10 years or so, then around two years in ex-oloroso sherry casks
Region: Highlands (Northern)
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chill-filtered: No.
Colored: Possibly not.

Firstly, neat --
The color is dark gold, maybe a little bit of auburn in there.  If those weren't first fill casks, then at least they were re-seasoned thoroughly.  The nose leads with a sandy dusty sherry, a lot of it.  Then there's plaster, burnt wheat bread, Elmer's glue.  Underneath that is stewed apricots and warm plums.  Cardboard, raisins, and apples.  The palate is full of dry sherry.  Stewed raisins and prunes.  Dried apricots.  Cinnamon and sugar.  A little molasses and a tiny bit of cereal grains underneath.  But the sherry keeps getting stronger as whisky and oxygen entangle.  The finish is a softer lighter sherry, dry tannins, dried fruit.

The Glenmorangie malt is nowhere to be found in here.  Those two years in sherry casks have covered it.  The only hints of the spirit are the plaster, glue, molasses, and sugar notes (not necessarily the best notes).  It can be puckeringly dry on some sips.  And there are plenty of stone fruits to go around.  The sherry holds court.

Then, with water (approx. 32.25%ABV) --
The sherry has mellowed in the nose.  There's a hint of sulphur, but it's quiet.  Some of citrus peeps out from deep down.  The palate, sherry.  It's a little yeasty and papery now.  But there's a nice sweet milk chocolate note in there too.  The finish is surprisingly strong.  It's all tannic musky cream sherry, but it still lasts a good long time.

That distant hint of citrus in the nose reveals Lasanta's spiritual roots, and maybe even that milk chocolate moment.

Otherwise, is this one unit?  If so, is that unit Sherry?  Should the excellent spirit be so silent?  I'm split on this one.  I enjoyed it, but not as much as I used to.  I never detected so much sherry before.  And I do mean Sherry, more than European oak.

Overall, it doesn't match up to Glenfarclas, Macallan, or Glendronach's sherried malts; though those are matured entirely in the European oak, rather than "finished" like Lasanta.  Perhaps more time provides a better opportunity for malt, oak, and wine to work it out together.  I'm not giving up on sherried malts, in fact I'm going to dig further.

I've seen bottles of the ol' Sherry Wood Finish from time to time in corner liquor marts.  If I find one at a reasonable price, I may get it.  Partially for old times' sake, partially to compare and contrast, partially to find out what's going on with my Sherry Detector's sensitivity.

If this doesn't make sense yet, perhaps the next Glenmorangie review will help clarify.  At least it will have fewer crappy metaphors.  Maybe.

Availability - Most liquor stores
Pricing - $40-$50
Rating - 77