...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Single Malt Report: McCarthy's Oregon Single Malt

I've tried two peated American single malts recently, two whiskies whose characteristics couldn't possibly be any further apart.  In my opinion, one is successful, the other is not.

One half of me wonders if my palate has changed and that I'd have felt the opposite about them two years ago.  Another half of me thinks I would have never liked the second whisky, ever.  Another half of me was just happy to try them both at the same sitting.

Let's start with the one I liked:

I first tried McCarthy's at Peatin' Meetin' two years ago and was underwhelmed by it.  In hindsight, I'm pretty sure my palate had been blown out by bigger cask strength peated whiskies that day.  I wanted to give it another try, in a quieter controlled setting.  Last year, I gained a sample of McCarthy's from Jordan of Chemistry of the Cocktail in a sample swap.  And I'm glad I did.

McCarthy's is distilled at Clear Creek Distillery in Portland, Oregon.  Owner Steve McCarthy buys peated barley malt from the Port Ellen maltings on Islay and has it shipped to Oregon.  After it arrives, the malt is fermented by the Widmer Brothers Brewery.  The resulting wash is distilled only once in Clear Creek's Holstein pot still.  According to their site, the spirit spends some time in old sherry casks (though these casks may have been discontinued several years ago) as well as casks made from Oregon oak.  They age it for three years.  If you've ever tried to buy a bottle of McCarthy's you'll know why they don't age it any longer:  each batch sells out quickly.  For more details on their processes, please see Jordan's review or the Clear Creek site, both of which have a lot of good info.

I'm uncertain which batch this was from.  Jordan's review mentions that it may be somewhere between 2006 and 2008.  Many batches have been at 42.5% ABV, one was "cask strength" at 49% ABV.  This one was bottled at 40% ABV.

Distillery: Clear Creek Distillery
Brand: McCarthy's
Type: Single Malt Whiskey
Region: Portland, Oregon, USA
Malt source: Port Ellen maltings
Maturation: ex-sherry casks (though these may have been discontinued before this bottling was aged) and Oregon oak casks
Age: three years
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

The color is gold.  The first thing I notice in the nose is the ocean.  Is it the Atlantic or Pacific?! Then bacon, well charred bacon. Then cinnamon, brown sugar, and kirsch.  The peat is rich, clean, and bright (if that makes any sense) as opposed to dirty or ashy. There's a nice vanilla bean note, maybe from the Oregon oak? Also some plum brandy (Slivovitz) to go with the kirsch. After being aired out for over 30 minutes, the whiskey releases a scent that reminds me of the white plastic siding on the house I grew up in (the Horseheads house for you insiders).  The palate is loaded with applewood smoked bacon.  The peat gets ashy here, though it gets brightened up by sweet mint.  Sweetness grows with time, but it is kept in check by an IPA-style bitterness.  More bacon in the finish.  The beer that goes with the palate's bitterness shows up here.  Then sugary cigar ash.  And -- to continue the personal notes -- the air on Inis Mór, the rocky Irish island I got lost on eleven years ago.

Some fresh fruits (apricots and apples) peek out into the nose.  Lots of bourbon-like American oak notes too, caramel specifically.  Then candied peat, apple mint, and tangerines.  The palate gets sugary, toasty, and mossy.  Maybe a little bit of green herbs and yeast.  The finish is sweet and smoky.

I can't believe this is the same whisky I tried two years ago.  This further proves how different a whisky can be in separate settings.

It's been a while since I've experienced multiple sense memory connections with a single whisky.  Putting aside these emotional connections for a moment, I have no issue with this single malt's very young age.  While there are distillate characteristics in the nose, they work very well with the big ocean, bacon, and beer notes.  The sweetness stays mellow until water is added, the oak doesn't get too big, and the peat lingers at a medium level.  While I prefer it neat, water doesn't wreck it, which is impressive considering the low ABV.

But I cannot ignore those sense memories.  I realize that you won't have the same connections, but they draw me more deeply into the drinking experience.  Maybe you'll have your own.  Or maybe you'll see this as a decent alternative to the other (imported) whiskies created from the Port Ellen maltings.  In any case, McCarthy's shouldn't be dismissed by you peat fans.  If young Taliskers and Caol Ilas ever get out of your price range, maybe you should look to Oregon next.

Availability - Here's Clear Creek's list of stores that carry their products
Pricing - $45-$60
Rating - 87 (neat score only, and for this batch only)

Friday, April 25, 2014

Single Malt Report: Tobermory 10 year old (new label)

Today, it's the last of this week's Tobermory Trio.  Tuesday, it was a sherried 18 year old indie.  On Thursday, I looked at and (sadly) drank the previous version of the official 10 year old.  Today, it'll be the new edition of the 10 year old.

Just as a reminder here are the pics from yesterday's post:

The whisky I'm reviewing today is the one on the right.  I tasted the one on the left yesterday and found it to be disappointingly poor.  The one on the right is much different.

The updated edition of Tobermory 10 began retailing in Europe in 2010.  It came to The States in late 2011.  The old version was 40% ABV, colored, and probably chill filtered.  The new one is 46.3% ABV, and neither colored nor filtered.

I've had the pleasure of trying this new version on several occasions, but usually wasn't taking notes.  For the purposes of this review, my main notes are from the above Master of Malt sample.  But I also have some brief notes I took during a tasting led by brand rep Travis Tidwell, last November.

ALSO, as an extra bonus, this is the fifth of Five Fab Fridays of simultaneous reviews between Diving for Pearls and My Annoying Opinions.  I'll post the direct link to MAO's review of this new version of Tobermory 10yo once I wake up this morning.  And here's the link to his review.  It's a little different than mine...

TOBERMORY 10 YEAR OLD, current edition

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Tobermory (the distillery's unpeated malt)
Ownership: Burn Stewart Distillers
Age: minimum 10 years
Maturation: all ex-bourbon casks
Region: Isle of Mull
Alcohol by Volume: 46.3%
Colored? No
Chillfiltered? No

The color is plain ol' amber.  The nose is intensely herbal at first sniff, think anise and juniper.  There are lots of grasses, dead and alive.  Pungent burnt grapefruit peel, pine sap, mild hand soap, and something mossy (though this is their unpeated whisky).  It likes air, getting slightly fruitier (ripe lemons) and developing cream of wheat and mild cheddar notes.  After 45 minutes, it smells like the inside of a barn.  The palate is sweeter than the old version, but without being very sweet.  The old one's chemical bitter/burnt thing is replaced by a baking-chocolate-type of palatable bitterness.  The mystery moss note oddly but pleasantly continues along here.  Barley and yeast (worty?) meet cracked white peppercorns.  Subtle notes of vanilla, cinnamon, and sour apple.  It's mostly very grassy and spirit forward, which continues on into the finish.  Some pepper in the throat.  Vanilla pudding and oatmeal.

And here are my notes from the November 2013 tasting:
Nose - Spirity, cereal grains, anise, red delicious apple skins, nutmeg, baking apples, cut grass
Palate - Nice, grassy and grainy, those hot cereal notes, pepper.

Three things to note:

1.)  I included that second set of notes because this Tobermory can change quite a bit in the bottle (see Chemistry of the Cocktail's notes here, his bottle eventually came together nicely) and can also differ quite a bit from batch to batch.  My buddy Florin (I think it was him!) noted, quite accurately, a "sour garbage" character at the top of his bottle but then things got much better as the liquid made its way to the bottom of the bottle.  Speaking of variation...

2.)  Peat.  I was a little weirded out by the distinct peat moss notes I got in the Master of Malt sample.  It wasn't Ledaig-level peaty but it was unmistakable, and unique to all my previous Tobe 10 tastings.  As soon as my Taste Off was over, I went online to gauge my nuttiness.  Thankfully, Senior Sergio Valentino had found peat notes in both of his Tobermory reviews.  So it's good to know, as crazy loves company.  Could it be that Tobermory's stills sometimes carry some peat residue from previous Ledaig distillations?  Many of Caol Ila's "Unpeated" releases are noticeably peated, but they have quotation marks on their labels.  I don't think Tobermory has any quotes around its unpeated designation.

3.)  Peat or no peat, this is more than just a step up from the old version.  The two are barely related.  Could this change be as simple as removing the colorant, avoiding filtration, and adding less water?  Or did the company institute better barrel management?  Or did I just get a crappy mini of the old edition?  I don't think Tobermory whisky is as much of an acquired taste as the reputation that precedes it.  It is undoubtedly quirky, but accessible if you like herbal, grassy, barley-forward malts.

Don't fear the Tobe.

Availability - Most liquor specialty retailers
Pricing - probably in the $40-$60 range
Rating - 85 (current edition only!)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Single Malt Report: Tobermory 10 year old (old label)

On Tuesday, I reviewed a sherried independent bottling of Tobermory.  Today and tomorrow, I'm going to take a look at two versions of the main bottling of Tobermory's official range: the 10 year old.

Both of the whiskies above are Tobermory 10s, but from different periods.  The one on the left was bottled at 40% ABV, held caramel colorant, was very likely chill filtered, and was available from approximately 2002 to 2011.  The one on the right is the newer version of the 10 year old.  It became available in Europe in 2010, then in the US in late 2011.  That one is bottled at a stronger 46.3% ABV, is neither colored nor chill filtered.

Here's another look at these same two whiskies:

Their colors look a little different, don't they?  Tomorrow, I'll write about the one on the right.  Today, I'll be talking about the whisky on the left.  The Tobermory 10 year old "Old Label".

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Tobermory (the distillery's unpeated malt)
Ownership: Burn Stewart Distillers
Age: minimum 10 years
Maturation: probably ex-bourbon casks
Region: Isle of Mull
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Bottled: March 2011
Colored? Yep
Chillfiltered? Probably

As you can see in this post's very first picture, I had a 50mL mini of this older version.  During one of my visits to see family in Arizona, I spotted a flock of these minis at a corner liquor store.  When I bought one, the man at the register asked, "Are you sure don't want any more?" with a noticeable level of desperation.  These bottles had been sitting on the shelf for at least two years, and almost no one wants to spend money on old weird Tobe.  The next time I went to Arizona, I considered just buying the rest.  But I didn't...

The color is a brownish gold.  A little brown-er and less gold-ish than than whisky usually gets on its own.  The nose is very quiet, almost like a cheap blend.  It takes some time to wake up and even then some clear nasal passages are required.  First, apple skins.  Then floral soap, caramel, and burned oats.  With more air, the soap recedes, replaced by milky oat flakes and corn flakes.  Then cardboard and maybe peach juice.  The palate is very grainy, like a bottom shelf blend (Lauder's minus the vodka notes). But it's also very bitter with an strong odd burnt note.  I know there are two schools of thought regarding if industrial caramel colorant can actually be tasted -- it can or it cannot -- but I'm wondering if the chemically bitter burnt thing is e150a, because it doesn't taste like a naturally derived flavor.  Beyond that, there's some uncooked rice and hair (also uncooked).  That bitterness carries over into the finish.  Also some more burnt stuff with dusty caramel and notebook paper.

I wasn't going to add water to this since it was already so thin, but then I did so anyway to see if the whisky could be saved.

The apple note grows in the nose.  But so does something that's reminiscent of rotting meat.  That note isn't large, but it's there.  Above it is cilantro, cinnamon, caramel, and cheap perfume.  And there's the vodka note that was missing in the neat palate.  No vodka in the watered down palate, though.  The good news is that the bitterness has lessened.  But the only other element I can detect is uncooked oats with fake maple flavoring (Quaker's Instant?).  The finish holds only one flavor: Kaliber, Guinness's ghastly non-alcohol beer.

The good news?  Three things:  1.) The nose was almost fun when neat.  2.) The palate wasn't horrible with added water.  It was plain and easy to sip.  3.) I felt no guilt dumping 20mL down the sink.

The rest is bad news.

As a Tobermory fan, I was very disappointed.  I had thought this edition of Tobe was disliked because of weird cereal, grassy, yeasty things -- and was actually looking forward to that experience.  But the reality is that this is $9.99 bottom shelf blend material.  On its LAWS page, they show it has having been $31 back in 2008.  That's unfortunate.

The LAWS dudes give it a C.  Serge gives it a 70.  Averaging out the two sets of old 10yo scores on Whiskybase, the public gives it a 74.11.  They're all being a little more generous than I.

Keep in mind, all of this is regarding the older version of Tobermory 10.  Had this version been a hit, Burn Stewart Distillers wouldn't have made some drastic changes to the brand.  But they did and for the better.  More on that tomorrow.

TOBERMORY 10 YEAR OLD (older label)
Availability - It's still around in lesser-visited liquor stores, but its space on the shelf is mostly filled with the new version
Pricing - probably in the $40-$60 range
Rating - 67

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Single Malt Report: Tobermory 18 year old 1995 Anam na h-Alba

The first of this week's Tobermory Trio...

It's an 18 year old independent release of Tobermory distillery's unpeated malt.  It spent most of its life in an ex-bourbon hogshead, then got a fresh finish in an Oloroso sherry cask.  It's the first sherried independent Tobermory I've tried.

Tobermory's whisky can be a bit difficult.  Some might say gross.  But I like it.  It has a very distinct grassy, hot cereal character.  People who are not fans often find it to be a bit butyric, using descriptors like "baby vomit".  If a little person barfs up milk and/or oatmeal, I guess I can see where that thought comes from; but maybe we should all take a deep sniff of some hot cereal pre-barf and file that away in our sense memory.  Hopefully I'll have some examples in my notes this week.

Anam na h-Alba is an independent German bottler whom I had never heard of until this month.  Serge Valentin has reviewed a total of one of their bottlings.  Perhaps by the end of the year, I will have reviewed twice as many as he.  So there!  Their name means "Soul of Scotland" (I think) and their online website has some very good prices.....and is also entirely in German, so "viel glück"!

Thank you, Saint Cobo, for this sample!
Distillery: Tobermory
Independent Bottler: Anam na h-Alba
Age: 18 years (June 1995 - August 2013)
Maturation: ex-bourbon hogshead, then finished in an ex-oloroso sherry cask
Region: Isle of Mull
Bottles: 85 (possibly a shared cask?)
Alcohol by Volume: 55%
Colored? No
Chill filtered? No

The color is a reddish gold.  The nose leads with cocoa and prunes from the sherry.  But there's also quite a bit of barley in there.  Also hay, a hint of yeast, and hot cereal (farina and oatmeal).  There's a slight salty and savory thing going on like a mild cheese.  The palate is quiet for a half second, then the sherry blows in, expanding and expanding and expanding, carrying with it sweet grapes, sweet cherries, orange peel, and milky coffee.  No heat to speak of, which is notable considering the ABV.  Sweet dried fruits from the sherry bloom open up in the finish.  It's very sugary.  Prune juice, pineapple juice, and maybe some ginger.

This is a curious one, as many Tobermory are.  In this case, it's the casks that of interest.  The non-sherried part of the nose feels MUCH younger than 18 years, but then the sherry part is rich like an older cask.  The label doesn't specify how long the "finish" was, but here's my theory: The first cask, the hoggie, must have been very sleepy, so to spruce things up someone pouring the whisky into a very very wet sherry cask.  Thus the dichotomy between young malt notes and intense sherry ones.

I'm not the biggest fan of sherry finishes, though the sweetness of this one was entertaining.  It gave the spirit some room to express itself in the nose, then silenced it in the ever-expanding sherry burst in the mouth.  As a result, it sometimes feels like two separate whiskies.  (Though I do like it better than the official 15 year old.)

This is a dessert whisky, as it can be PX-sherry-level sweet.  I would have preferred some of the nearly nude whisky in the palate, but sherry fans won't have much to complain about.  Those same fans would have plenty to complain about in the next two whiskies in the trio.

Availability - Possibly sold out
Pricing - was only 59euro?!
Rating - 83 (though sweet sherry fans will probably adore it)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Single Malt Report: Aberlour 22 year old 1990 Exclusive Malts

Welcome to the fourth Friday of simultaneous whisky reviews between Diving for Pearls and My Annoying Opinions.  The first three Fridays reviews were of bottles we had split.  Today's whisky is from a bottle that MAO owns and shared with me in a sample swap.  Thanks, MAO!  (And here's the direct link to his review.)

It's a first-fill bourbon barrel Aberlour from Exclusive Malts.  If you're a fan of Aberlour's official sherried releases, I encourage you to seek out a taste of an indie ex-bourbon release of their malt.  They're usually very honeyed.  Before this one, I'd had three ex-bourbon Aberlours.  I loved two, the other (reviewed here) was so-so.  So this is my fourth, the first of which is confirmed to be from a first fill cask.

Information and reviews on this bottling are difficult to find online.  The crowd-sourced Whiskybase folks love it, but that's all I've really been able to glean.  With a mere 129 bottles from this barrel (probably having lost half the original contents to the angels), there might not have been much to go around.  In any case, hopefully MAO and I can contribute a little more to the Internetwhiskysphere.

Distillery: Aberlour
Independent Bottler: The Creative Whisky Co. Ltd.
Series: Exclusive Malts
Age: 22 years (distilled on October 30, 1990)
Maturation: First Fill Bourbon (probably) Barrel
Region: Speyside (Banffshire)
Cask #: 16972
Bottles: 129
Alcohol by Volume: 51.5%

The color is a deep, almost brownish, gold.  The nose is a bakery.  Vanilla extract, lemon peel, butter cookies, and angel food cake first.  It's still a bit hot at its age.  With some more air, the whisky releases notes of fresh flowers, cookie batter, orange peel, and cream of wheat.  There's also a bourbony woodiness, think barrel char and hot spices.  The palate is very creamy in texture and flavor.  A dark brown paste made of brown sugar and honey.  A lime tartness and some cracked pepper to go with the barley.  After some air, subtle peach notes develop, as does a pinch of cinnamon and cardamom.  That little bit of peach continues into the finish, along with the pepper and tartness.  Some vanilla from the oak.  Still there's a lot of barley singing through it.

Now there's peach yogurt, orange Pixie Stix, hay, and a minerally champagne in the nose.  The palate is much saltier.  The sweetness picks up after a moment.  More citrus now too.  The finish gets milder.  Tangy oranges and a hint of wood smoke.

The nose is gorgeous.  The palate is fine, but let's get back to the nose.  It is at turns pretty, comforting, and makes one want cake ahora mismo.  The whole package still has a youthful nip to it which isn't necessarily bad, it just needs to be aired out.  With water, the nose changes but remains entertaining.  The palate thins out.  So, I recommend it neat.  Sometimes it seems like the perfect single malt for bourbon fans with its big American oak notes, but at other times the malt spirit stands in front.

Even though the palate doesn't knock me out the way the nose does, this proves to be another fun ex-bourbon Aberlour.  The folks who rated it on Whiskybase think it's the bee's knees, with my score being the lowest, so this was definitely a beloved barrel.

Availability - Here, and that's about it
Pricing - At least $120, with shipping
Rating - 86 (but the nose is super!)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

'Fiddich Fever: Glenfiddich 15 year old Distillery Edition

Monday was the 14 year old Rich Oak.  Tuesday was the regular 15 year old (formerly known as the Solera Reserve).  Today: Glenfiddich 15 year old Distillery Edition.

The Distillery Edition (DE) used to be sold in The States, but has since been pulled from the shelves.  I'm going to assume it was due to supply issues and not for low sales.  And it still appears to be for sale in Canada and Europe.  Unlike the regular official 15, the DE never spent time in a solera vat, instead it's a combo of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks mixed and bottled at 51% ABV without chill filtration.

I've been looking forward to this one since I bought the sample two years ago.  So, whisky first, comments second.

Brand: Glenfiddich
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks
Age: at least 15 years old
Alcohol by Volume: 51%
Colored? Maybe
Chillfiltered? No

The color is dark gold, though lighter than the regular 15.  So perhaps the industrial colorant was kept to a minimum?  The nose starts with a bundle of pine, peaches, pineapple, and pork (er, ham).  Then cardamom in clover honey.  Vanilla ice cream, limes, lots of toffee and caramel, and raisins.  The pears are in the waaaaay back.  It's very active and opens well with 10+ minutes in the glass.  The palate is grassy, fudgy, and toffee-y.  Then dried fruits in caramel.  The sherry notes grow with time.  Something almost peated but not, sort of like spicy roasted lawn.  It's never too big or out of control, but remains thick and substantial.  That dried fruit in caramel note is the biggest part of the finish.  Lots of chocolate and oloroso sherry too.

Green fresh herbs now show up in the nose.  Then toffee and more vanilla.  The palate is more sherried.  Leather, black pepper, black coffee, and honey.  The finish is drier, leaner, more grain than dried fruits.

Finally, an adult whisky from Glenfiddich.  Seriously, it's almost shocking to experience a Glenfiddich that can easily compete with other upper echelon Speyside/Highland malts.  It's good to know what the word-of-mouth buzz was about.  It's a bummer the stuff has become so scarce in the US.

It swims decently, probably the only 'Fiddich to do so, but I really recommend it neat because that's where its richness shines.  I'm not sure I even see much resemblance to its younger (or same aged) brethren.  Older Glenfiddichs can be good too, but they are all considerably watered down, so you'd probably have to go to some of the super fancy ones to find another with this richness.

I'm not saying this is 90+-point whisky (though it's close).  But it's a real whisky and it's good to know what Glenfiddich can do.  Now how about you bring this one back to us, William Grant & Sons?

(The LAWS guys don't fully agree, but Oliver Klimek does.  Oliver is right.)

Availability - Europe & Canada only (Boo.)
Pricing - If you can find an old bottle in the US it'll probably be $60-$70, getting one from Europe or Canada (with shipping) will run $75-$100
Rating - 88

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

'Fiddich Fever: Glenfiddich 15 year old

Yesterday I reviewed the Rich Oak 14 year old Glenfiddich.  Today, it's the 15 year old, formerly known as the Solera Reserve.  Inspired by a Spanish sherry producing technique, Glenfiddich began vatting some of its whisky in a solera system.  Here's an explanation of the process, from Roskrow's 1001 Whiskies volume:
The vat is filled with a mix of 70 percent refill bourbon casks, 20 percent European oak, and 10 percent virgin oak.  The liquid is then left to marry in the huge 700 [liter?] solera vat for three to six months, before half is emptied out and bottled.  The vat is then refilled to start the marrying process once more.
So, for the 15 year old Solera Reserve, which was first released in 1998, that's 15 year old whisky being dumped into the vat, joining a lot of older  earlier-distilled whisky from countless previous vattings, possibly some of which was distilled in 1983.

They also use a similar solera technique for their small batch 40 year old, but since I dumped all of my Glenfiddich 40 into a can of Sprite last Thursday, all I have available to review is the 15.

Brand: Glenfiddich
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation/Age: a 70/20/10 combination of refill bourbon / ex-sherry / virgin oak 15-year-old whiskies is vatted with earlier-distilled 15-year-old whiskies in a solera vat for 3 to 6 months; after that it is married further in a Portuguese oak tun 
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Colored? Yes
Chillfiltered? Yes
(Many thanks to Florin for the sample!)

The color is a dark gold, the darkest of this week's Glenfiddichs.  At first blush, in the nose there's a very nutty oloroso, but then it vanishes quickly.  The familiar 'Fiddich pears are more reserved, but still present.  There are toasty grains, a rubber note, and a lot of toffee.  It smells woodier than the 14yo Rich Oak.  Like the 14, the 15's palate is not too sweet.  Mild dried fruit notes from the sherry meet some milk chocolate and black tea.  Then vanilla extract, dry grass, and cracked pepper.  The texture is a little thin.  The grasses and pepper hang around into the finish.  There's also caramel, some dry sherry, and a hint of tartness.

Artistically, it's a shame that they water this one down to 40% after all of that effort with the solera vat.  Some very nice notes show up, then vaporize.  (On a personal note, I was happy to realize that the sherry notes were not a turn off, and that I was actually searching for more.)  The whole thing oxidizes VERY quickly in the glass.  So you'd be best off not letting it sit alone for too long.

I like it about the same as the 14, though they are different whiskies.  Had the 15 had any stamina then I'd be happy to holler with glee about it.  But it doesn't, so I can't.  It's an easy drinker and, since it is available in the US, it's one of the best priced 15yos out here.  It is a step up from the 12, but not a leap.

Availability - Most liquor retailers
Pricing - $40-$45 West Coast; $50-$55 East Coast; was $33.99 at Trader Joe's a year ago but no longer :(
Rating - 84

Monday, April 14, 2014

'Fiddich Fever: Glenfiddich 14 year old Rich Oak

The first of the three 'Fiddich friends: the 14 year old Rich Oak.

The words "Rich Oak" often bring to mind thoughts of craft whiskies that have been aggressively overoaked in small barrels.  My hope was that this wasn't a failed-experiment-type of release by Glenfiddich.  You know, something they screwed up but made so much of it that they had to release it (such as this more expensive whisky).  Their Rich Oak hasn't yet made it to the US, where big oak is often appreciated more by bourbon fans than single malt fanatics, but I was able to buy a sample of it through Master of Malt.

To find out what Glenfiddich meant by "Rich Oak", I went to their official UK site that has a page dedicated to it.  You can go there if you like; there are moody photos and a gauzy video.  You'll discover that the whisky spent its first fourteen years in a mix of previously used American and Spanish oak casks and then is finished in a different mix of new, virgin American and Spanish oak casks for twelve weeks.  There are also a bunch of vague tasting notes about vanilla, "fruit", "oak", and "spice".  Let's see if I can whip up something more specific.

Brand: Glenfiddich
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation/Age: 14 years in ex-bourbon American and ex-oloroso sherry Spanish oak casks, then another 12 weeks in a mix of virgin American and and Spanish oak casks
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Colored? Yes
Chillfiltered? Yes

The color is a medium gold.  On the nose, that "oak" is more toasty smelling than charred.  The "fruits" are fresh white fruits, specifically golden delicious apples, pears, and green grapes.  But mostly pears.  In fact there's also a strong note of baked pear in caramel sauce.  Also, floral perfume, oats, and hints of menthol.  The palate is surprisingly malty and drier than I had expected.  There's some subtle vanilla, a hint of tree bark, dry grass, toasted almonds, and a pleasant bitterness.  It's all very mellow.  There's some plain caramel and vanilla notes in the finish.  Some fresh apricot, along with the floral note from the nose.  Some nuts and grains in the mix.

I only tried it neatly because at 40%ABV, it's already so watered down.  The whisky would be much more interesting if Glenfiddich did more of a crafty presentation of it, bottling it at 46%, un-colored and un-chillfiltered.  It seemed like there were more cereal notes and possibly some farmy ones hidden beneath the water, but we'll never know.

As it is, it's not bad.  It's a tiny step above the 12 year.  That pear note seems to show up in every Glenfiddich I've had, which I always like as a sort of signature characteristic.  The 14 year isn't as sweet as the official tasting notes would lead one to believe and it's actually almost spice-free when comparing it to bourbons and ryes which spend their entire lives in new oak.  Those are not criticisms at all.  To me, those are good things.  The malt hasn't been suffocated away.

If you're trying to buy it from Europe it can get prohibitively expensive thanks to shipping.  A cheaper option may be a Duty Free store if you're traveling internationally.  For those folks living in Europe, the 14 is priced about the same as the 15, about a 30% markup over the 12.  I wouldn't say it's 30% better, but it's unique enough to provide a different experience.

Availability - Europe and Travel Retail only
Pricing - If in Europe: $50-$60; For US folks (w/international shipping): $65-$75
Rating - 84

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Some Single Malt Ramblings for the weekend

Just a few items that were floating around my head:

1.  Last Monday, Jordan at Chemistry of the Cocktail had a killer post about the importance of long fermentation in whisky production.  Science is one of Jordan's fortes, so yes the post is science-y.  But it underscores a mutual concern: the speeding up of whisky production does have an effect on the final product.  Denying it only serves the purpose of protecting the brand through misdirection or naïveté.  Maturation has changed, barley varieties have changed, yeast has likely changed, and barrels are getting dumped earlier and earlier.  These changes to the product are not being done in the name of progress, they're being done for revenue.  Anyway, that's my hot air.  Jordan's post has actual fact-based observations and studies about fermentation effects.

2.  My Annoying Opinions unleashed his latest opinion piece last Wednesday.  As he is apt to do, MAO ventures out into delicate territory.  This time he explores the blurry lines between whisky blogging and brand marketing.  As usual, he is right on.  The resulting comment section is quite something.  Some big names in the whisky blogging community respond to MAO's questions.  Sometimes the comments are very thought-provoking, and sometimes the comments are very disappointing.  Good stuff.

3.  A little update on that weird Suntory Royal SR blend I'd found.  In my post I said that making a mizuwari out of it was okay.  I was wrong, it's really not okay.  The sink drank the drink.

4.  Two weeks ago, I posted a rave review of two Old Taylor bourbons that had been bottled in the 1980s.  I'd noted then that the 1985 bottling had oxidized very quickly.  Well, the 1987 bottling (which I'd given the higher grade) has now oxidized very quickly as well, nearly silencing the palate and adding a subtle soapiness to the finish.  I'm beginning to wonder if this quick oxidation is something that happens often to dusty bourbons once they're opened.  Dusty scotch whisky doesn't thin out like this.

5.  I added a Diving for Pearls Facebook Page follow button on the right side of the blog.  If you're reading this (and thank you for doing so!), then you already have your method of getting here -- by boat, train, Twitter, Google+, Feedly, blogger links, searches, etc.  Facebook is another method.  If I find fun stuff to share on FB then that will join my links to the posts.

6.  I've got a fever and the only prescription is more 'Fiddich.  'Fiddich Fever burns hot this week.  All of three bottlings worth.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Single Malt Report: Bowmore 15 year old 1990 James MacArthur

Welcome to the third of five consecutive single malty Fridays of coinciding reviews between Diving for Pearls and My Annoying Opinions.  Week 1 brought a sherried Longmorn.  Week 2 was a youthful Caol Ila.  This week it's a 15 year old Bowmore, distilled in 1990, bottled in 2005 by James MacArthur & Company for their Old Masters series.  (Here's the link to MAO's review!)

I really like independently bottled Bowmores.  I've had the pleasure of trying fifteen of them over the last two-and-a-half years, and found only one of them less than very good.  A bottle of this James MacArthur Bowmore was split between MAO, a Mystery Malt Mensch, and me.  Because it was distilled in 1990, we were running the slight risk of FWP.  But I'm a man who lives on the edge, man, so I rolled the dice, spun the chamber, ordered the fugu, and laid my money down.

Distillery: Bowmore
Independent Bottler: James MacArthur & Co.
Series: Old Masters
Age: 15 years (1990-2005)
Maturation: probably re-fill bourbon barrels
Cask number1168
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 51.1%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: Probably not

The color is a medium amber.  The nose starts with burnt manure.  Mmm, lots of it.  Then lemon zest, anise, layers of rotting vegetation, and fresh garlic.  Now plastic toys are melting and tire rubber burning.  And, unless I'm just imagining things, perhaps there's a note of cannabis?  There's a load of moss in the palate, along with coffee grounds and dirt (which is redundant to some of us).  Also plenty of sweeter peat smoke, peppery arugula, lemon sour candies, and cayenne peppery.  Some Laphroaigy cigarettes in the finish, followed by lemoned peat moss.  Behind a wall of kiln smoke alternates peeps of tart, bitter, and sweet.  It's huge.

The peat moss recedes a little in the nose.  More barley and vanilla come up front.  There's still the burnt rubber, lemon zest, and weed.  It's spicier, with a little bit of the farmy note.  Some sort of fruity Belgian ale too.  The palate is herbal and mossy with moments of mild sweetness.  Cardamom cookies served on a nest (an actual nest).  Bright spices are more apparent in the finish.  A little lemon, less smoke.  Fresh herbs amongst the moss.

This is wonderfully dirty Bowmore.  Nothing artsy or subtle about it.  No flowers or soap.  The peat is so much more aggressive here than in Bowmore's official stuff.  It'll sock you in the nose first and when you're on your heels it'll punch your mouth.  The smoke and fire isn't due to it being too young, instead it's courtesy of a very good spirit and a decent refill cask.

This one's my favorite of the three MacArthurs we'd split.  None were bad, but the Bowmore is really my style.  I'm going have another glass of it right now.

Availability - Sparse
Pricing - probably $100-$120
Rating - 89

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Taste Off! Glenmorangie 10 (old label) versus Glenmorangie Original

Do you need much more of an intro than that?

Well, of course you're going to get one.  The older labelled Glenmorangies (back when they were distributed by Brown Forman) were the amongst the whiskies that really hooked me on single malts, especially the 10 year old and "Sherry Wood".  They were simple but flavorful and relatively affordable.  Perfect for a starter drug.

I've seen the Sherry Wood selling here and there for amounts a bit too steep for me to chase, but I have lucked into a bottle or two of the 10 for a decent price.  This bottle (on the left in the picture above) is from 2005.

In 2007, Moet Hennessey started distributing Glenmorangie (which it had also owned since 2004) and gave the packaging a full makeover.  Gone were the old school bottles, tubes, and labels, now replaced by new names, new font, and curvy bottles.  The "Sixteen Men of Tain" went from center stage to somewhere off in smaller print.  Glenmorangie was now a luxury brand, it couldn't look stogy, it had to dress the part.

But did they change the whisky?  It takes considerable effort to "change" a whisky.  Thousands of casks are dumped and mixed each year, and a BRAND like Glenmorangie has to be reliable enough in nature for its fans to return for more bottles.  But if a BRAND is trying to expand, could the producers tilt the whisky a little sweeter, smoother, or softer?

My memory says that the old Sherry Wood kicks the crap out of its current Lasanta iteration, but that's for a future Taste Off to challenge or confirm.  This year, I had in front of me the old 10 year and the new 10 year "Original".  I actually like the Original, so this seemed like a win-win for me.

Here's were things take a little bit of a turn.  This was a different bottle of Original than the one from my 2012 review and it's different than the one sampled by MAO in his review.  In fact, this one was an L7, as in from 2007.  When I first planned this review, I had intended to compare the oldie with something absolutely current.  I was pissed that I didn't look at the bottle code before buying (I'm a nerd like that), but then I realized that now I could actually compare Glenmorangies at the point of switchover from old to new, in 2007.


Distillery: Glenmorangie
Ownership: Louis Vuitton Moet-Hennessy (accents and umlauts not included)
Age: minimum 10 years
Maturation: first fill and refill ex-Bourbon American oak casks
Region: Highlands (Northern)
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

Older Label (2005, L5 237) 
The color is light gold.  When I first opened the bottle, scents of melon and tangerine poured forth after being closed up for eight and half lonely years.  But now, with the whisky in the glass and a little bit of breathing time, the nose holds more peaches, toasted barley, and lemon-scented soap.  It also vacillates between jasmine, grape drink, and mild cheese.  Gradually citronella and cotton candy come forth.  Give it more air, then vanilla and cucumber notes develop.  The palate starts with lemon peel tartness and cocoa (or perhaps brown butter to some).  Lots of barley, then peach, and orange pulp.  The tartness progresses to tanginess.  The barley note grows with time and continues on into the finish.  It's joined by lemons and talcum powder.  It's of decent length, the citrus staying the longest.

New Label, "Original" (2007, L7 306)
Its color is identical to the older version.  Lots of rosy perfume on the nose.  The grape drink has become Concord Manischewitz (also known as kosher grape drink).  A hint of peach in there, but much more orange Jolly Rancher and cotton candy.  Toasted grains and grapefruit round it out.  As for the palate, it's pretty simple.  Peaches, sweet cream, tangerines, and limes.  There's also a slight bitterness and greenness that feels sort of young.  The citrus grows in the finish.  There's a green veg note alongside rubbing alcohol.  And it's brief.

Let's walk backwards.  The L7 is much less oaky than more recent bottlings of the Original.  But it's also less complex.  And there's also less barley character than there is in the L5.  The nose of the L7 Original is much more perfumed, bright, and focused than the L5.  The palate seems younger than the L5's and feels a little thin.  The L5 has a big lemony finish, while the L7 has almost no finish at all.

Did the Master Blender/Distiller/LVMH try to change the whisky?  The peach, citrus, and cotton candy notes show the L5 and L7 are very much related.  And neither have much barrel influence showing up.  The L5's nose is more fun, but it's also wilder.  The makers of the L7 seemed to have reined in that jazz and replaced it with pop prettiness.  But that process has taken something out of the palate.  The L7 seems more readily accessible at the start, but provides much less excitement at the finish.  Could the latter have been due to heavier filtration?  The former can be from cask selection.  Or am I reading too much into something that could be a bottle-to-bottle issue?  Even so, I'm much more sold on the 2005 version.

If you can find a bottle of the older label, I don't recommend airing it out too much.  Usually I do encourage folks to allow a whisky some time to open up, but not in this instance.  This whisky has been best at the top of the bottle or at the start of the glass.  It seems to kinda slow down with air.  Though if you find a really old bottle you can ignore this whole paragraph.

If you go to buy the Original, check the code printed faintly somewhere on the lower-half of the back of the bottle.  The 2012s and 2013s (L12 and L13, I think), while more oaky (possibly due to Astar-style casks), have more character and zip.  While the L7 isn't bad, it seems like something intended to be poured over ice and forgotten.  There are plenty of blends available to serve that purpose.

If you've had similar or different experiences with the old 10, let me know.  I may seek out another bottle if the price is right.

Availability - Happy hunting!
Pricing - I've seen everything from $35 to $70
Rating - 85

Availability - Most liquor stores, though it's usually a more recent bottling
Pricing - $30-$40
Rating - 80

Monday, April 7, 2014

Something Weird: Suntory Royal SR Japanese blended whisky (early '80s)

At some point this year, my selection of open whisky bottles turned into Kravitz's Cabinet of Curiosities.  While I do enjoy having an occasional oddball bottle to share, there are too many of these open right now.  I lugged a box of them to a whisky friend's house last week and felt like I should have donned a top hat and commenced carnival barking.

From the Cabinet of Curiosities, I present The Bearded Lady.

Yes, that's a champagne cork in its whisky hole.

I found this sitting by itself on the shelf at a local liquor store, selling for $25.99:

As you can see, the immediate appeal is the rockin' bottle.  The bigger appeal for me was that it's a Japanese whisky that's been out of US circulation since the first Reagan administration.  After completing the sale, the woman behind the counter said that her husband would call in to get it restocked.  I said, good luck with that.

As I drove home with the bottle wedged upright behind my seat, I suddenly noticed that my car smelled like whisky.  As in, a lot of whisky.  As in, I-probably-don't-want-to-get-pulled-over-by-the-fuzz a lot of whisky.  When I got home and lifted the bottle, vapors of warm malt oozed forth.  I noticed when I had bought the whisky that the fill level was a little low (see pic above) but What The Hell?  There were little whisky bubbles forming around the closure.  Yet with its intricate rope-bound top, it was still technically sealed.

Normally, I don't open a bottle immediately upon purchase, but this year has been anything but normal.  And this bottle never qualified as run-of-the-mill itself.  So I twisted open the rope-sealing thing and noticed that the T-shaped top was basically resting on the bottle, providing no actual sealant.  I pulled it off to reveal this:

The cork had been almost entirely eaten away.  There were some crumbs around the bottle neck, but nothing appeared to be inside the bottle.  It had become part of the whisky.  And then I drank it.  And I was reminded of the time that Homer Simpson was told that he'd just drunk a sample of dish detergent and he responded with a shrug, "Yeah, but what are ya gonna do?"

The Details, or lack thereof:

There's an almost total absence of information about Suntory Royal SR online.  There are some auction and collection photos.  Nonjatta has a post regarding a different blend called Suntory Old, as does The Coopered Tot.  Here's Peter Lawford pimping a bottle in 1978:

But that's about it.  Pete Lawford's bottle shows a measurement in quarts, mine has metric.  Thus my bottle is post-1978 and probably post-1980 when metric measurements became used for US booze.  The listing of proof rather than ABV, the paper seal, and the lack of government warnings shows it to be from the early 1980s.

Regarding the ingredients, the label only says "Distillery at Yamazaki, Near Kyoto, Japan".  Could this be a blended malt?  That technical nomenclature didn't exist 30 years ago.  Did Japanese whisky companies use the term "Pure Malt" back then, or was any sort of blend just called a "blend"?  I know that Suntory currently has a grain facility called Chita, but I've been unable to find out when it was built.  If anyone knows, please share!  If Chita wasn't built at the time, and if there is grain whisky in the SR, could it have been distilled at Yamazaki too?  I honestly don't know.

So how is it?  How does this partially-oxidized, possibly cork-enhanced, mystery Japanese blend, bottled back when Brezhnev and Suzuki were neighbors, actually perform?  Here it goes...

Brand: Suntory Royal
OwnershipSuntory Whisky
DistilleriesYamazaki, maybe Chita?
Age: ???
Maturation: ???, my guess is a blend of ex-bourbon, ex-sherry, and Mizunara casks
Country: Japan
Alcohol by Volume: 43.4%

The color is a medium gold with a reddish tint.  The nose starts with watermelon candy, cherry candy, and tropical fruit candy.  Not the actual fruits, but the manufactured flavors.  Then an Abba-Zaba but with more vanilla.  Sherry takes a while to show.  As do some mothballs.  It still has bit of an ethyl nip even with time and oxidation.  Something papery lingers throughout.  Finally, there's an occasional rotten strawberry note that peeks out then vanishes quickly.  The palate goes from paper → tobacco → malt → bitterness.  Also a piece of tart citrus-flavored saltwater taffy (if that's a thing).  It gets very sweet over time.  And then there's that occasional bizzaro note that makes the drinker's face purse up; somehow it's both synthetic and rotten at the same time.  Luckily, it remains in the background.  Some moldy sherry appears in the finish, as does some tartness, the nose's fruit candies, and something like smoky paper.  After a while it gets cloying like a really sweet liqueur.

The nose starts with a cross between orange oil and locker room.  Then caramel, vague raisins and prunes.  The watermelon candy and mothballs are still here.  And maybe some of that moldy sherry?  The palate has hints of sherry, some bitterness, some brown sugar, malt, and vanilla.  The texture is nice and thick.  But then there's that synthetic-yet-rotting note.  The finish ends up tart and bitter, mostly modulated, but not always pleasant.  Prunes, vanilla, and caramel.  And a little plastic.

Well, I'm still here.  And I've tried a bit of this stuff.  No calls to Poison Control.  Are those odd notes due to the cork?  My guess is, probably.  What's impressive is that even with untold years of oxidation, the whisky is still very flavorful.  Without those rotten synthetic thingies, this could be a solid B-grade whisky.  I don't think water does it any favors, but it makes an acceptable mizuwari [Correction: mizuwari bad].  All things considered, this could have been much worse.

One final thought.  A dusty hunting tip.  Before you buy a dusty bottle of booze, take as good of a look at it as the store owner will let you.  Check out the seal, the information on the label, and the fill level.  Even though that old whisk(e)y you've found is cheap, it's still something that becomes yours.  It'll be in your cabinet and, eventually, in your mouth.  If you can smell whisky from across the counter, and that scent isn't coming from the cashier, then maybe you should just buy a lottery scratch-off ticket and call it a day.

Availability - Happy hunting
Pricing - ???, I found mine for $25.99 but who knows what it sells for elsewhere?
Rating - 75, though it could be an 84 had it been a normal bottle ... (score dropped to 71 in a 2nd review, then down to 69 in a 3rd review)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Single Malt Report: Caol Ila 12 year old 1994 James MacArthur

It's the second of five fantastic Fridays of simultaneous reviews with My Annoying Opinions (Here's the direct link to his review!).  Today's review covers another bottle that he and I split with Florin Industries' brand ambassador, Florin.  Last week it was a full powered Longmorn sherry cask.  This week it is a Caol Ila 12 year old single cask, again from James MacArthur's Old Masters series.

Brief tangent.  I really recommend doing bottle splits with fellow trusted geeks.  There's less financial risk per unit and your collection can expand much quicker, overflowing your cabinets with random small bottles from here and there.  A three-part split on a 750mL bottle results in 8+ ounces each, a four-part goes 6+ ounces each, and a five-part five ounces.

You just have to be okay with forgoing the big tall sexy bottle that you would normally be posting to the Malt Maniacs Facebook page with the same nervous excitement as if you were sexting a nude selfie.

Back to this stuff.  Here's a great opportunity for me to expand my indie Caol Ila experience.  I haven't had any bad CIs yet, so let's see how this James MacArthur version fares.

Distillery: Caol Ila
Independent Bottler: James MacArthur & Co.
Series: Old Masters
Age: 12 years (1994-2006)
Maturation: probably re-fill bourbon barrels
Cask number2103
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 59.5%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: Probably not

I promise there will be fewer notes than last week...

The color is of a very pale amber.  Diageo would not approve.  The nose holds A LOT more peat spunk than official CIs.  Green mossy stuff, plastic toys, and wet sand.  Then there are more foodie things like sugar cookies, basil leaves, burnt butterscotch, and smoked carob.  But that beach-moss characteristic looms large.  Smoked seaweed on the palate, and lots of it.  All kinds of moss in the back of the throat.  Graphite and white peppercorns.  Echoes of sweet and earthy molasses.  A mild tartness, some caramel, and two dried apricots.  Smoky and mossy on the finish.  Lemon oil.  Ocean water.  No that's not redundant.  Ever take a wave to the face and swallow some of it?  That's what I'm talking about.  The finish is simple but extensive.

Water brightens the nose up.  Maybe some sugary citrus.  Actually, more water = more lemon and citron.  Some whiffs of barley and a cinnamon stick.  But there's also some seaweed and pencil lead in the mix.  On the palate there's toasted peat and toasted barley.  Horseradish, bitter lettuces, and ground black pepper.  It's somewhat ashy with a lingering minor sourness.  Lots of peat residue in the finish.  The bitter greens and pepper remain.  Some more tartness and maybe a little bit of vanilla.

Due to the very reserved oak, this feels younger than a 12yo.  It's a bit dry and rough, but in a good way.  It's still sort of hanging around my taste buds three hours later.  The nose reminded me a lot of the L7 Ardbeg Ten I have open.  It would be a fun sparring partner for one of the more nude Laphroaig CSes, but because this CI can be a bit on the narrow side it wouldn't win a real fight.

If you like indie refill bourbon cask Ledaigs and/or that K&L Talisker "Speakeasy" then this is probably your whisky jam.  If you prefer your peat mingling with rich oak, I'm not sure if this is for you because this can get a little raw.

Availability - Sparse
Pricing - probably $80-$100
Rating - 86

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Batch Match Up: Eagle Rare 10 year old versus Eagle Rare 10 year old

Brand: Eagle Rare
DistilleryBuffalo Trace
OwnershipThe Sazerac Company
Type: Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Region: Frankfort, Kentucky
Age: minimum 10 years
Mashbill: BT low-rye: approximately 80% corn, 12% malted barley, 8% rye
Maturation: charred white oak barrels
Alcohol by Volume: 45%

Unlike the High West Double Rye from Tuesday's post, Buffalo Trace's Eagle Rare 10 year old (ER10) bourbon is a single barrel release per its label.  But nowhere is it listed what barrel number is used.  It's just "single barrel" and no listing of any specific real or made up information.  You know, just something to throw to their customers, so that we may say "Hey, barrel 3701B and 185A are the sh*t!" and buy more of the same.

Eagle Rare uses the approach opposite to the same company's Blanton's single barrel bourbon, whose label lists more information than most of us desire.  The lack of disclosure on the Eagle Rare label makes me wonder "Is this really from a single barrel?", "Is there any proof they have to provide to the TTB regarding its Single Barrelness", and "How much should I really care?"  I'm not angry about it, I just think it's a little silly.  Disclosing the barrel number would not only benefit us, but it would lend a little boutique element to a mass-produced bourbon.

I'm a fan of Eagle Rare's little brother, the regular Buffalo Trace bourbon, a $20-$25 whisky that always hits the spot.  So when I saw a 375mL bottle of the ER10 on a shelf for $14.99 I snapped it up.  It was an easy drinker, having many of the elements I liked in Buffalo Trace.  Thankfully, I saved a review sample of it before the bottle was empty.  I was then inspired to buy a 750mL bottle selling it for less than $25.  But from the start, that bottle was......not as good.  As a result it went into a number of Old Fashioneds and highballs.  I may have even poured a few ounces down the sink.  It wasn't terrible, but life is too short to sweat over lesser whiskey.  Again, I saved an ounce for review because I really wanted to match it up next to the first bottle to see if the whiskey was different or if my palate had changed.

Though ER10 does not have that barrel number on the label, there is a bottle code one can reference.  Whether or not it's from a single barrel, the bourbon is bottled in batches of some size and the printed code (near the bottle's back bottom) will at least provide a date of bottling.  Here are the codes for the two "barrels" in question:

B13119 - This was the original 375mL bottle I'd purchased at Hi Time Wine Cellars in early September 2013.  My guess is that it was bottled on the 119th day of 2013 (April 29th).
B13140 - This was the 750mL bottle I'd purchased at Hi Time Wine Cellars in December 2013.  Again, my thought is that it was bottled on the 140th day of 2013 (May 20th).

Two batches of the same bourbon, purchased at the same store, possibly bottled within a month of each other.  Here's how they match up:

B13119, first bottle
Its color is actually slightly darker than the other ER10.  The nose holds the old school Robotussin note that I sometimes find in regular Buffalo Trace.  There's also corn syrup, corn chips, spearmint, cilantro, and maple syrup.  With a lot of air, more youthful spicy rye notes open up along with some light caramel.  Quite a bit of spice in the palate, mostly pepper.  Peppery vanilla and caramel, then it quickly goes dry.  Mild mint notes carry throughout.  It's not that sweet at first, but (again) after a lot of air, the whiskey grows sweeter, very sugary.  At first the finish is dry and tight, a little salt and savoriness.  Once the sample was aired out, more pepper notes arose, along with dried cherries and vanilla beans.

This needed at least 35 minutes in the glass before it came alive, which is (in my limited experience) a little unusual for a modern 10 year old bourbon.  But it needs to breathe or else it seems very closed up.

B13140, second bottle
The nose starts with mint, floral perfume, and new carpet smells.  Then some taffy and bubble gum.  Corn and caramel notes grow with time.  Orange oil, rubber, sugary glaze, and one moment of menthol.  The palate goes from brief sweetness straight to bitterness.  Very closed.  Maybe some vanilla.  Sweet corn and a slight herbal rye spice.  But plain bitterness makes up at least 75% of it.  More bitterness in the finish.  Hints of corn, caramel, tart citrus, and granulated sugar.  But mostly bitter.

This one does not improve with time in the glass.

Nose - B13140
Palate - B13119 by a considerable margin
Finish - B13119
Overall - B13119

The B13140 reminds me of an IPA that is all bitterness with nothing else going on.  The single note is interesting for one glass and then you look around the shelf for something better.  The B13140's nose is the best part of the package, but even that can be easily trumped by most of Buffalo Trace's other products.

I still like the B13119 better, but not enough to ever buy Eagle Rare 10 again.  The price on the bourbon is good and it makes for a mildly easy drink, but not much more than that.  To tell the truth, I didn't finish either of these small samples and instead vatted them for a future Old Fashioned.

But back to the original intent of the batch match up.  There is a significant difference in the palate between the two Eagle Rare bottles.  The B13140 was bitter and otherwise boring from the start of the bottle.  The B13119 was always sweeter, though maybe a little limited on the nose.  There are similar elements between the two.  The corn, rye spice, and caramel notes, though present in different quantities, are comparable when they show up.  But other than those somewhat common bourbon characteristics, I doubt I'd believe these were the same brand if I hadn't owned the bottles myself.

(Update: For a different take, here's MAO's review of the B13140.  And I think our samples came from the same fill level in my bottle.)

Availability - Most liquor specialists
Pricing - $25-$35

Rating - 80

Rating - 74