...where distraction is the main attraction.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Laphroaig for my daughter: Laphroaig 40 year old

Writing this post is very surreal to me, but then again I'm so exhausted that the word "of" doesn't ring right in my ears when I say it out loud.  Uhv.  It sounds like a belch.

Reviewing Laphroaig 40 year old is strange for my brain because Laphroaig 40 is now a $5000 whisky (or $5300 with today's exchange rate).  And I don't understand how or why anyone would value a bottle of brown tempered poison at $5000.  As I hope this blog has demonstrated, I love whisky more than most man-made things.  And I have had the luck to have used luxury products at times during this life.  But at some point some whiskies get so expensive that I have difficulty reconciling them with logic and morals.

A whisky at this price point also exposes the vast financial strata of we whisky anoraks.  We see whisky pricing from different prospectives, often influenced by our income.  Some of us can spend $5000 on a bottle of whisky, some of us have a collection that is valued at $5000 in its entirety, and for some of us a $50 bottle is beyond our budget.  Just to be clear, I purchased this whisky sample as well as yesterday's sample of the 30 year old as part of a 20+ person bottle split a year and a half ago, when these bottles were 1/3 or 1/2 of their current prices.

And that sudden value rise brings up another set of realities, many of which would be better covered in its own separate post.  But Laphroaig 30 year old was originally priced at $240 in 2002, now it is selling for $1,600.  This 40 year old was once priced at $500, now it's $5000+.  So, unlike many current ultra-super-uber-premium releases, it did not start at four figures.  The market theoretically boosted it to its current price.  Also, it isn't Dalmore and it isn't Diageo.  At least it's old Laphroaig.

Distillery: Laphroaig
Release Year: 2001
Distillation Year: 1961 or earlier
Owner: Beam Suntory
Type: Single Malt Report
Region: Islay
Age: minimum 40 years
Maturation: likely ex-bourbon oak
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? No
Alcohol by Volume: 42.4%
Limited Release: 3300

The color is clover honey, noticeably lighter than the 30 year old.  The nose starts out with an intense maltiness, which is then countered by big rye-like spices (possibly from the oak?).  There's a little bit of a old bourbon character to it, lots of thick caramel and maple syrup.  There are moments of earthy molasses and flower blossoms.  Gradually, with air, an old dank musty smell emerges that reminds me of old sherry casks, but minus the sherry.  Then old sweaty leather notes and hints of lemons and peaches.  The palate dishes out big swoops of cream + vanilla + brown sugar + peat, at first.  Then the vanilla gets a little more floral, almost like jasmine.  Then big menthol and eucalyptus notes fire up, followed by some citrus around the edges.  That citrus changes a little in the finish, becoming bitter orange rind and bitter lemon soda.  Maybe some Juicy Fruit gum.  The cigar tobacco note that was so big in the 30 is quieter here and it gradually gets smokier in the mouth.  But the finish, like the palate, is never drying.

This was a surprise on many levels.  I had expected to like the 30 year old more than the 40 because I thought that the older one would have too much astringent oak.  But the flavors on the 40 are much more lively, and while the 30 dried my mouth out on contact, the 40 never did.  The peat is actually bigger on the 40's palate as well.  Also, as it's lighter in color than the 30, I wouldn't be surprised if more refill casks were in the mix.  It still has a old dusty bourbon quality to the nose, but that is only one segment of the whole.

If you're looking for an oldie with the biggest Laphroaig character, I'd still say you're better off with the 25 year old cask strength releases.  But this 40 year old is graceful without losing all of its power.  It keeps the subtleties of the 30, swaps out the drying tannic oak notes for more vivid tones, picks up some extra smoke, and gets darker and funkier in the nose.  I like it.  Is it worth $5000 to me?  No.  I've never had a whisky I'd pay $500 for, and only a handful I'd personally value over $250.  But add this one to that handful.  It was a unique pleasure.

Availability - A few retailers, mostly in Europe, probably some auctions too
Pricing - original US price range $500, currently......$5000 or more
Rating - 93

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Laphroaig for my daughter: Laphroaig 30 year old

I doubt that this whisky needs much of an intro.  From what I can piece together, there were a few European releases of Laphroaig's thirty year old around the turn of this century.  Then there was one release in 2002 and one in 2006, during which at least a few bottles officially made it to The States.  In 2008, another 30 year old represented their annual Cairdeas release.  In every instance, it was bottled at 43% ABV.

I obtained my sample of the 2002 release during the expansive Laphroaig vertical I attended a year and a half ago.  Rather than drinking it at the event, I wanted to save it for a special occasion.  And that occasion has arrived.

Distillery: Laphroaig
Release Year: 2002
Distillation Year: 1972 or earlier
Owner: Beam Suntory
Type: Single Malt Report
Region: Islay
Age: minimum 30 years
Maturation: probably American oak
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? Probably not
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

The color is dark gold.  The nose is bereft of peat, at first.  There's very ripe honeydew, creme brûlée, and orange oil.  Then there are spearmint leaves, star anise, jasmine flowers, and eucalyptus.  It eventually gets slightly tarry and the brief peat that does reveal itself seems encased in apricot flesh.  The palate starts with intense butterscotch, then toasted oak, toasted barley, and toasted wheat bread.  Then brown butter(!), salt, sautéed greens, and very subtle vanilla.  There's lots of rich unsmoked tobacco along with hints of mango.  After 45 minutes of air, the palate starts eking out peat-infused pineapple, chili powder, and menthol/eucalyptus.  It's very drying.  The finish is mostly very dry cigar tobacco (a mild one, nothing dark or spicy).  Pink and green peppercorns, salt, honeydew, and an herbal bitterness.

This is by far the gentlest of the Laphroaigs I have tried.  There's lots of character in it, but mostly very subtle and quiet.  The fruit and herbs on the nose are my favorite parts of the package.  And the one HUGE note in the whisky is the almost endless cigar tobacco in the finish.  But other than that, the whisky gives out hints of what it could be......if it hadn't been reduced to 43%.  I'm under no illusion that the 30+ year old casks were at strengths higher than 50%.  But every good note, aside from the butterscotch, honeydew, and tobacco, is cut short as soon as it appears.  This makes me wonder what this would have been like at cask strength, even if just a few points higher.

There seems to be two types of older official Laphroaigs, the soft subtle ones like the 18yo and the bold vibrant ones like 25yo cask strength.  The 30yo will appeal to the lovers of the 18yo; those 12 extra years in the barrel have made it more graceful and (yes) oakier.  But if you're looking for expressiveness and power, the 25 year old is the way to go.

On a final note, the 30 year old used to sell for $240.  The same bottles now retail for $1,000 - $1,600.  Congrats to those who got in on the ground floor with this whisky because I can understand its original price as it's still a good (and relatively difficult to find) whisky.  But at its current price......???  I'm assuming it's now to be bought as an "investment" (though who's going to buy it from you for more than $1600?), not to drink.  If you have that kind of money on hand, get three bottles of the 25yo instead!

Availability - A few retailers, mostly in Europe
Pricing - original US price range $240, currently......whatever people will pay for it
Rating - 89

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Laphroaig for my daughter: Laphroaig Cairdeas Port Wood Edition

Yes, after last week's Littlemills, Laphroaig is the other "L" distillery I'm drinking to celebrate my daughter's birth.  I'm going to dig into my Celebration-Only stash for the next two, but first: The Pink Laphroaig.


Distillery: Laphroaig
Product: Càirdeas Port Wood
Release Year: 2013
Owner: Beam Suntory
Type: Single Malt Report
Region: Islay
Age / Maturation: 8 years in ex-bourbon casks, then 14 months in former port pipes
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? Probably not
Alcohol by Volume: 51.3%
Limited Release: ?????

With this year's annual Laphroaig Cairdeas due to drop soon, I also thought this would be a good time to review last year's edition.  I liked the 2012 "Origin" edition a lot, partially because it was relatively futz-free.  Then last July, our local Laphroaig rep, Brandon, brought the 2013 Cairdeas Port Wood to Peatin' Meetin'.  Between the port finish and the pink color, the whole package seemed a bit dubious to me, especially coming from a distillery that prides its regular malt on being the "most richly flavoured of all Scotch whiskies".  I requested a pour of the Quarter Cask to chase the Port Wood just in case.  But to my surprise Pink Laphroaig was actually pretty good.  In the following months, I had another handful of opportunities (via different bottles) to try it.  And while I still liked it, the whisky was different each time...

First time -- strawberry shortcake, fresh raspberries, hint of peat
Second time -- tart blackberries, more peat
Third time -- no berries and a ton of smoke
Fourth time -- very sour cherries and salt

This mutability is what kept me from doing a review.  But then, my good buddy Daniel donated a significant sample of this whisky to help further my research.  This allowed me to take notes on two different samples, one much more oxidized than the other, to see if I'd find two different whiskies.

The oxidized sample sat in a half-full sample bottle for one month.  Then, after I poured it into a Glencairn glass I let it air out for 30 minutes.  The non-oxidized sample was kept in a sample bottle filled to the brim, then I nosed and tasted it as soon as it was poured, covering it to keep the air out of it the best I could.

Thus, here are two sets of notes:

Oxidized sample:
Color -- Pinkish orange
Nose -- Young spirity Laphroaig, with an ethyl bite.  Dried peat, tar, and band-aids.  Then milk chocolate, roses, and raspberry jam.
Palate -- Very ashy. Sweet notes like agave nectar and gummy worms. Ripe cherries with a dark berry & tobacco syrup.
Finish -- The sweetness grows, as do some sour berries. Tangy gummy bears.

Nose -- The peat seems wetter, more mossy.  Potpurri-like perfume.  Caramel chews.  Berries in yogurt.
Palate -- Ash, sugar, citrus acid, tart out-of-season berries
Finish -- Sweeter again, jammy and ashy


Non-Oxidized sample:
Nose -- A whole bag of gummy worms.  Lots of fresh berries, and whiff of manure from underneath.  Maybe a blackberry and blueberry compote cooking in a pot.  Port and band-aids
Palate -- Very peppery and smoky.  Sugary peat and berry candies.  A berry syrup that's mostly sugar.
Finish -- Salty.  Ocean peat if that was a thing.  Hint of tangy citrus or berries, but mostly Laphroaig cigarettes.

Nose -- Farty overripe strawberries, sour milk, mentholated peat.  Potpurri perfume and creme de menthe.
Palate -- Honey & raspberries, hints of smoke.  Sweet and porty.
Finish -- Sugar, port, smoke, in that order.

Time for observations.  In both samples, the nose was at its best when neat.  In both samples, water sweetens up the palate.  The oxidized sample was ashy while the non-oxidized sample had more fresh smoke.  Overall, I liked the palate of the oxidized version more, but liked the nose on the non-oxidized sample better.

These samples were different enough that I'm thinking of splitting my remaining Port Wood into different bottles, and letting one oxidize.  This whisky is that schizophrenic.  While that fact can be disorienting if one is looking for consistency every time out, it can also be berry very entertaining if one is just seeking good experiences.  And in this case it only works because each reveal has been good.

In the past, Laphroaig has claimed to not have a Master Blender, but someone is blending up every winey release.  Whomever he or she or they are, I applaud them for concocting this whisky.  I tend to strongly dislike wine cask finishes and I doubted that Laphroaig would go well with anything other than more Laphroaig.  But this one works for me.

Availability - Happy Hunting!
Pricing - original US price range $55-$75, currently......whatever people will pay for it
Rating - 87

Friday, May 23, 2014

Littlemills for my little girl: Littlemill 20 year old 1984 Hart Brothers

So, apparently it's difficult to publish blog posts in an expeditious manner when one has a newborn.

"What? How could I ever be a distraction?"
This week I've been drinking Littlemill samples in honor of my new daughter, Mathilda.  Tuesday's Littlemill, bottled by Berry Brothers & Rudd, was decent, light on the oak and bigger on the malt.  Wednesday's Littlemill, bottled by the whiskybase folks under their Archives label, was very pretty; all light citrus, flowers, and butterscotch.  Today's Littlemill was bottled by Hart Brothers, an indie brand I've often seen but never tried.

This bottling is at 46% ABV, which is good, but I've never seen a Hart Bros. cask strength release even though in the U.S. their whiskies are often priced like they were full strength.  On their official site, they list 30 current(?) single malts, only one of which appears to be at high strength.  On a more positive note, none of those thirty whiskies is younger than 11 years.

My sample was obtained via a swap with Mr. Opinions (Thank you, sir!).  He found some curious notes in his review of his bottle, which he had picked up when it was on clearance at Binny's.  So let's see what I find...

Distillery: Littlemill
Independent Bottler: Hart Brothers
Age: 20 years (April 1984 - January 2005)
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrel
Region: Lowlands
Alcohol by Volume: 46.0%

The color is a pinot grigio. The nose starts out with rolled oats and matza in rubbing alcohol.  In fact, that takes front stage for almost 15 minutes.  Then lemon sugar cookies and store-bought nectarines (you know, the out of season ones that sit on trucks for a week or more and never ripen well? Specific!) appear.  Something creamy and vanilla-ish.  Then, after more time, sour milk and (um) urine.  Meanwhile, there's still a whole lotta wet maztos in there.  The palate starts out a little soapy.  Lemon flavoring, mild graininess, geraniums, the aforementioned stone fruits. It's tart and a little "fizzy" (a borrowed descriptor).  Lots of dish soap in the finish.  A mild maltiness meets notebook paper.

Fewer unusual notes in the nose.  More citrus and tropical fruits.  In the palate, the citrus and malt get bigger.  The soap lessens and the fizziness remains.  The finish gets bitterer and the tartness ramps up as well.

An odd duck indeed.  Despite the fact that the notes may sound off-putting, the nose is actually a lot of fun.  Lemon cookies, matza, rubbing alcohol, and pee?  Good times.  The soap on the palate isn't too tough and not a deal breaker, but the finish is tragic.  When is joy not joy?  When it is Lemon Joy.  Water evens out the nose but doesn't help the whole package that much.

As MAO mentioned at the end of his review, there's something reminiscent of the "FWP" Bowmore period in this whisky.  All it's missing is the peat, then swap out the geraniums for lavender and violets.  Like some of the indie "FWP" Bowmores I've had, it seems as if the cask was picked for its nose and no one actually tasted the thing.  Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh.  Perhaps the soap notes grew in the bottle; they certainly expand with air.  This isn't a total throwaway whisky, it noses well, but if you're soap sensitive, beware.

Availability - Released in the US, likely sold out
Pricing - originally $110-$130
Rating - 76

NEXT WEEK, the celebration continues with another "L" distillery, one with a character noticeably different than Littlemill's.  Hint: It's not Lost Spirits.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Littlemills for my little girl: Littlemill 20 year old 1992 Archives

Whenever most folks start writing about Littlemill Distillery, they usually start with some information about it possibly being the oldest whisky distillery (excise officer accommodations built in 1772, the possibility that production started in 1750, a brewery being on site since the 1300s).  But, sadly, because the distillery has been closed, dismantled, and burnt down, it can't be in the running because it no longer exists.

Littlemill is one of those distilleries that has bounced from ownership to ownership to ownership throughout the years.  That didn't seem to effect production negatively in the 1700s and 1800s.  In fact, when it was owned by William Hay in the 1870s the facilities were refurbished and expanded.  When it was bought in 1931 by an American, Duncan Thomas, the distillery's triple distillation practice was ended.  Glenlivet and Barton Brands of Chicago bought the distillery in 1971 then mothballed it in 1984 during the glut.  It was then sold to Gibson International who reopened it in 1989.  Gibson International was then bought out by some of its own corporate officers two years later.  Then all of that company's assets went into receivership and it was bought out by Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouse Limited (later to become Loch Lomond Distillery Company, owner of the Loch Lomond and Glen Scotia distilleries) in 1994.  They then dismantled the Littlemill distillery in 1996.  The remaining buildings burned to the ground in 2004.

The whisky glut was probably the death knell for this distillery, but the constant shifting of ownership and management over its last 25 years certainly would not have helped keep production consistent.  It truly escapes me why Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouse Limited (whom I want to call Glen Latrine) found Loch Lomond Distillery of more interest than both Littlemill and Glen Scotia.  Loch Lomond was expanded and fitted with new stills, while Littlemill went to hell and Glen Scotia was left to run only a few weeks a year by the Springbank staff.  I'm going to assume it had something to do with blending contracts, but it's tough to imagine that a historically difficult malt like Loch Lomond would be more in demand for blends than a light fruity Lowlander like Littlemill.  But maybe I'm just bitter.  It would have been fun to have an old school Lowland single malt to compete with Auchentoshan (Beam Suntory) and Glenkinchie (Diageo).

Okay, so today's Littlemill was bottled by the Whiskybase fellas under their Archives label.  One of these days I'm going to get around to buying an actual full bottle of one of their releases because they're samples have been decent to very good so far.

Distillery: Littlemill
Independent Bottler: Archives
Age: 20 years (Feb 1992 - November 2012)
Maturation: ex-bourbon hogshead
Cask number44
Limited bottling: 339
Region: Lowlands
Alcohol by Volume: 54.8%

For the color, see the comparative photo above.  The nose holds lemons, papaya, roses, and orange hard candies.  There are more subtle notes of vanilla bean, butterscotch, and citronella floating in and out.  It's all very lovely.  The palate starts with some salt and dried savory herbs then......wow, it's otherwise the same as the nose: soft oranges and lemons, flower petals, vanilla bean. Then there's a soft rumble of malt following it all. It's a very easy drinker and has a nice thick texture.  The finish is just as pretty as the nose.  Flower petals and lemon zest and vanilla pudding.

The nose starts with caramel sauce and lemon candies.  Then the nougat in a Three Musketeers bar. Maybe some tangerine juice? Lots of flower blossoms after a few minutes. In the palate, there's a malt note that is almost chocolatey, followed by orange peel. It's slightly sweeter but not cloying.  The finish, though shorter, hasn't changed much, which is a good thing.

There's a reason I went with Littlemills this week, aside from the cute name.  There's an imaginary Lowlands stereotype I've built up in my mind, and this fits it perfectly; it is all light citrus, flowers, and butterscotch.  A beautiful baby girl of a whisky.

In more vague whisky-talk, it's neither burly nor heavy, yet very full and fragrant.  It focuses in on a half dozen notes and hits every single one head on.  Shoulda bought a bottle of this, but it's sold out now.  Dang it.  Congrats to those who beat me to it, you have a good one there.

Availability - Sold out, here's the original link
Pricing - around $130 w/o shipping, depending on exchange rate
Rating - 92

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Littlemills for my little girl: Littlemill 20 year old 1992 Berry Bros & Rudd

In the days leading up to Mathilda Rose's birth, my whisky drinking slowed to a stop.  I needed to be in Ready Mode at a moment's notice.  Plus with stress levels being high, I wanted to avoid utilizing it for medicinal purposes.  So for three weeks, I was down to a maximum of one drink per night; then the final week I stopped altogether.

But now she's here and to hell with restrictions, right?  Well, wrong.  First, I'm a responsible dad.  Secondly, when I opened my celebratory bottle of Yamazaki 18 I found out quite quickly that my former meager tolerance had been reduced by half.


To celebrate, I have four weeks of reviews of very different whiskies.

I'm leading off with Littlemills for my little girl this week.  I've tried a handful of indie bottlings of this closed distillery over the past few years and enjoyed all of them, in fact, I've liked them better than the pair of Rosebanks I tried during the same time frame.  So, at the moment it's the only Lowland distillery (current or former) that I consistently dig; though, I have heard that the old official 12yo can be a bit hideous uninspired.  In tomorrow's post I'll include some more info about the distillery, but since I've pished around so much in this post already, I'm going straight to the booze.

This is the first of three Littlemills this week.  Three, no more, no less.  Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three.  Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three.  Five is right out.  Once the number three, being the third number, be reached...

Distillery: Littlemill
Independent Bottler: Berry Bros. & Rudd
Age: 20 years (1992-2013)
Maturation: likely an ex-bourbon barrel
Cask number10
Region: Lowlands (though close to the Highlands border)
Alcohol by Volume: 54.9%

Thank you to Eric S. for another great sample!

The color is amber with some brassy notes up top.  At first there's lots of youth in the nose, especially chlorine and varnish, then big notes of barley and yeast.  Hints of sawdust and caramel.  Lime-flavored gummy candy, salty beach scents, pencil eraser, and white vinegar.  It grows more buttery with time.  The palate focuses mostly on barley, salt, and walnuts.  Gradually notes of caramel hard candies, spicy basil leaves, and tart oranges emerge.  Lots of heat still present.  The finish is simple but sturdy: cocoa powder, hazelnuts, and toasted barley.

The nose grows more bourbon-like with a boost to the sawdusty caramel.  There are orange peels and lime peels, flower kiss candy, and the inside of a Big League Chew bubblegum bag.  More water leads to more flowers and peels.  The palate is saltier and slightly savory.  The orange peels show up, as does an herbal bitterness.  The finish has the mild bitterness as well, along with toasty barley, and sour citrus.

A decent malt.  It's lean, pleasant, and with hints of greater things.  Its pleasures depend on how one feels about spirit-forward whisky.  In this whisky's case there's still tons of youthful barleyness present.  If one requires more oak in the presentation, then this may bore.  Personally, I like the low oak quotient.  But "like" is a far as I'll go.  It was a fun whisky to try but there's no need for me to get a bottle.

Serge Valentin is almost over the moon
 about this one, though he's clearly finding more going on in the palate and finish than I do.  But his reference to wormwood is right on; I liked the bitterness but wasn't sure what it reminded me of and Serge's review came to the rescue.  The whiskybase community also loves this stuff, but because only one person wrote up tasting notes I don't know what they're raving about.

Now, back to my opinion...  This whisky wins a couple extra points from me because I admire Berry Bros & Rudd for bottling the cask when they did.  They could have let it age for five more years and doubled the price.  Or they could have waited until it was 30+ years old and quadrupled the price.  But had they done so that sawdusty caramel note from the oak would have gradually taken over all the other flavors by the third decade.  A buyer would then shill out $500 for a "super-premium" single malt only to get the sort of oak juice that can be found in many 12+ year old bourbons at 1/10th its expense.  But instead, this Littlemill is brisk and spirity with subtle stirrings of American oak.

Tomorrow another 1992, but for today:

Availability - UK/Europe only, not sure if this specific cask has sold out yet
Pricing - around $130 w/o shipping, depending on exchange rate
Rating - 85

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Lots of blog milestones! Thank you!

It's going to be a quiet whisky week here at Diving for Pearls.  Next week, there will be some goodies, I promise you that.

According to Google Analytics, Diving for Pearls surpassed 100,000 views last week (Blogger has the count at 270K, but they seem to be counting all of the spambots).  Last week, I also passed the 600-post count.  After next week, I'll have reviewed my 300th whisk(e)y.

Thank you to all of my readers, whether you found this site via an image search for Anna Benson or wound up here looking for scuba gear.  Diving for Pearls wasn't originally structured around whisky reviews, but it has fascinated me how many people have stopped by to read my booze posts.  Sitting down with my whisky journal and a Glencairn of something new has become a lovely addition to my life.  My nosing and tasting process is slow, a little meditative, and probably sort of weird to anyone who is not me.  That process has improved over time, especially as I've been trying similar whiskies together.  That approach then helps me schedule my posts, giving each week its own theme.

My palate preferences have shifted over the years and I will try to warn you when they do.  Otherwise, I hope there has been some level of consistency in my reviews.  I do know that I used to give out much higher grades than I do now.  It's not that I like whisky less.  When one has tried 50 whiskies, one's frame of reference (or whisky sensory cache size) is much different than when one has tried 500 whiskies.  As I look at my whisky review list, I see a few towards the top that I want to retaste to see if they still hold up.

Perhaps you've noticed that I also give out fewer low scoring reviews -- for instance, I've been averaging two sub-80 point reviews per month in 2014, which is half the pace it was in the 2-1/3 years before.  That's not because I suddenly love everything I drink.  Instead, it's due to selection bias.  After doing a few "Cheap Blend Weeks" in the past, I found myself really not looking forward to drinking anything afterwards, such was the result of drinking one uninspiring whisky after the next.  Instead, I am and will be sprinkling oddities (and cheapies) throughout the weeks.  I'm both looking forward to and dreading the first sub-50 point whisky review.

I'm also looking forward to posting my first 97 point review.  I've certainly tried a few that could meet that grade, but never in a controlled review setting.  Will it be this year?  I don't know.  But in my whisky heart, I know that both the best whisky and worst whisky I'll ever try have yet to meet my lips.

"The Standings" was something I used to post every other weekend for a few months back in 2012.  It was pretty silly and oddly time consuming.  Also it was pointless and narcissistic.

So here are The Standings.

The All Time Top 25 Most-Viewed Posts:

1. Chivas Regal 12 versus Johnnie Walker Black Label - A pair of hard to find indie blends.
2. Glenlivet 12 versus Glenfiddich 12
3. Dewars White Label versus Johnnie Walker Red Label - Wherein a commenter calls me a snob and I call him a troll, one of this blog's finest moments.
4. Famous Grouse Blended Whisky
5. Glenfiddich 12 year old
6. Macallan 18 year old - I call a moderately okay whisky moderately okay and complain about its price.  And then its price goes up 30%.  Basically, it's every post I've done.
7. Black & White Blended Whisky - This is the fourth most popular post since 2014 began.  Really, people?
8. Lauder's Blended Whisky - Um...... Must have been all the nude photos.
9. Las Vegas, Days 4 & 5 - Fremont Street and Departure - Probably a lot of viewers stealing photos that I also stole.
10. J&B Blended Whisky - People like blends
11. Glenlivet 15 year old French Oak - This used to be the most popular review on this blog.  Now no one reads it, which makes me hope that people have stopped drinking the whisky too.
12. Johnnie Walker Black Label - The first, briefest, and least lucid of my Black Label posts
13. Macallan 17 year old Fine Oak - This is the bottling from four years ago, when it was better and cheaper.
14 (tie!). Jameson Select Reserve versus Jameson Select Reserve - I'm very happy that people are reading this post because the Black Barrel hype was very aggressive, meanwhile the whiskey is the worst Jameson product by a considerable measure.  My worst bottle purchase in the last three years.
14 (tie!). Willett 5 year old Single Barrel Rye - My first rye post. I later re-reviewed the whiskey and found the whiskey less good.
16. Maker's Mark versus Four Roses Single Barrel - A blind taste off.
17. Isle of Skye 8 year old versus Johnnie Walker Black Label
18. Talisker 18 year old - I really enjoyed writing this post, almost as much as I enjoyed the whisky. I say that free of sarcasm.
19. Diageo, Whisky Killer, Part 2 - The death of Green and Gold Labels - This was the moment when I decided to laxative-up and sh*t all over Diageo.
20. Ardbeg Uigeadail versus Ardbeg Uigeadail - L6 versus L13
21. Glenfiddich 18 year old
22. Power's Gold Label Blended Whiskey - Good ol' Power's.
23. Getting rid of baseball cards
24. GlenDronach 18 year old - Not sure why folks viewed this one more than its brethren
25 (tie!). Glenmorangie Original
25 (tie!). Macallan 12 year old

All of the above, except the Uigeadail post, are more than a year old.  The older the post the more opportunity for views.  Here are the top ten posts one-year-old or younger:

1. Ardbeg Uigeadail versus Ardbeg Uigeadail
2. Needed: Whisky Consumer Advocacy
3. Laphroaig Cask Strength Batch 005
4. Springbank 12 year old Calvados Wood
5. Finlaggan Old Reserve
6. Macallan 17 year old Fine Oak versus Macallan 17 year old Fine Oak
7. Lagavulin 16 year old
8. Willett Family Estate Single Barrel Rye 6 years old, Barrel #57
9. A Poacher Enters the Dusty Hunt
10. Whisky Fail: The Blind Taste Test

The Bottom 5 All Time Least Viewed Whisky Reviews:
5. Willett Family Estate Single Barrel Rye 4 years old, Barrel #85
4. Jefferson 10 year old Straight Rye (Hi Time Select)
3. Auchentoshan Three Wood
1. Taliskravaganza! Day 5: Talisker 18 year old 1986 Macleod's Vintage
Four of these are relatively recent reviews, but the Auchie 3 Wood was posted almost 2 1/2 years ago.  But that's okay, the whisky is crummy and my review is worse.

The Top 3 Posts Beloved By Spambots For Reasons Only They Understand:
The Flailing Writer Goes Gardening, Part IV
The Single Malt Report returns with a Kilchoman Taste Off!!!
K&L Single Cask Whisky tasting with the LA Scotch Club (Part 1)

Some more random facts:
My Johnnie Walker posts are responsible for 10% of my pageviews.
Blend reviews in general picked up 18% of my pageviews.
The big four malts (Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Macallan, Glenmorangie) counted for 14% of the pageviews.
21% of views are in languages other than English.
German, French, Dutch, Spanish, and Polish are the top five non-English languages.

The U.S. of A. makes up 57% of my views.  But here are the next ten countries in order of views:
United Kingdom

I hope that this was enough argle-bargle and/or fooferaw to distract you from the fact that I will not have a whisky review posted this week.  That's the sort of thanks you get for being a loyal reader of this blog.  But don't worry.  I'm pretty sure there's something fun up ahead...

Thursday, May 8, 2014

My Final Barrel Experiment, Part IV: Lessons learned

(Monday, Part 1, link)
(Tuesday, Part 2, link)
(Wednesday, Part 3, link)

Part 4 of 4

No matter how they resulted, all of my barrel experiments were fun.  There was a lot of joy in the anticipation each time, marking the calendar, weighing, nosing, drinking, guessing.  And I learned a number of things, the hard way:
  • A spirit does not taste the same fresh out of the barrel as it does after resting in a bottle for a week (or more) afterwards.  That has been true for every spirit I aged in my barrel.  Knowing this would make me a little concerned if I was selecting single casks for paying customers.
    • The Rye Storm was palatable when first bottled, but grew increasingly harsh and astringent in the matter of a couple of weeks. 
    • The Eagle Morning continues to change; the oak and rye notes have grown much stronger over time.
    • The Ron Matusalem rum that I'd used to season the barrel seemed to have changed little when I poured it back into the bottle, but less than a month later it was a sawdust-riddled sulphuric mess.  I've dumped a half bottle down the sink.
    • The whisky blend's palate went from being so-so to almost undrinkable in a week.
  • By suffocating the barrel and cutting off oxidation, maturation is severely altered. There's actual chemistry involved in aging spirits.  A shortcut is a guess and probably a bad idea.
  • One of the major whisky companies really should do a rye-finished single malt.  But...
  • Rye-finished single malts need very little time in the rye barrel because rye is STRONG stuff.  I wonder if rye-finishes have been tried and wound up unsuccessful.  Still...a brief finish in a Rittenhouse barrel shouldn't be too abusive.
  • Malted rye spirit is probably not the best thing to age if you're new to at-home spirit maturation.  Its flavors are much different than the unmalted rye most of us are used to.  I would recommend aging a regular rye spirit (and with some corn in the mash bill) before trying something more experimental.
  • My home is probably too warm to gracefully mature spirits.
  • Milliliters are not the same as grams, no matter what the kitchen scale says.  Density matters.
  • If you're doing spirit infusions, cinnamon sticks and orange peel are elements that require very little time in the liquor. I recommend tasting the infusion after four days, and then testing again each succeeding day.
  • Also, per Alex in yesterday's comments, the cinnamon sticks we Americans see in stores tend to be cassia bark, rather than true Ceylon cinnamon. Cassia tends to be hotter and spicier, while ceylon cinnamon tends to be subtler, fruitier, and pricier!
  • Infusions are an entertaining way to salvage crummy whisk(e)y.

These exercises have often been humbling, as I went into each with a just enough naïveté to mess with the results.  But even if I discount my inexperience, this little barrel was a mystery.  I never knew the char level nor the quality of the cooperage.  Now, if a business offered mini barrels with charring and oak options, I'd recommend it to those who want to do some spirt maturation at home.  But I don't think anyone is offering those options at the moment.  So it's difficult for me to wholeheartedly recommend buying a mini-barrel.

I don't foresee me getting a new barrel any time soon, either.  A 2-liter mystery barrel can cost $80-$100.  My three experiments cost $350-$400, not including the barrel (which had been wonderfully gifted to me).  The important result of those expenditures wasn't the weird brown fluids that emerged at the finish line.  What I really received was many months of anticipation, lots of blog content, and an education on how not to mature spirits.  That's been wonderful, but my next set of quirky ideas needs to be cheaper than $500.

Right now I'm much more interested in working on infusions and perfecting brandied fruits.  And I'm even more interested in drinking well made spirits fashioned by those who know what they're doing.  Again, my adventures aren't over.  They're just going to be a little different going forward.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

My Final Barrel Experiment, Part III: The Firebird and The Heron

(Monday, Part 1, link)
(Tuesday, Part 2, link)

Part 3 of 4

Almost two liters of ruined Scotch whisky sat in bottles, awaiting demise.  I awoke one more morning during the week following my failure, still disappointed that my experiment had added up to a lot of bitter brown fluid.  Driving out to the gym, I decided I'd just dump the whisky down the kitchen sink when I got home.  While cranking through my hour of cardio at the gym, my mind drifted (as it often does) to things anti-exercise.  I was thinking of buying a super cheap bourbon and infusing it with a split vanilla bean for one week to try to create a vanilla-bomb dessert bourbon.

But then I realized, why buy a bourbon?  I had a load of unpleasant whisky at hand.  We already had vanilla beans here.  Then I remembered the Armangnac cherries I'd made (a whole other story) last year.  Those were a success.  In the 'gnac and sugar reduction, I had used a cinnamon stick and some whole cloves.  Then I started thinking about fruit......I seem to be finding lots of citrus peel notes in the whiskies I've been reviewing.  So I could throw in some orange peel scrapings too in order to bring that part out.

But those were a lot of ingredients to infuse, possibly resulting in a jumble of flavors.  So I could split the experiment up.  If I set aside 200mL of the whisky fail for historical purposes, I would be left with two 750mL bottles of a whisky base.  I had two never-used clean 375mL bottles, so I could take one of the 750s and split it in two in order to see if this would even work.  One infusion would be a simple half vanilla bean (scored lengthwise) and a whole cinnamon stick.  The other infusion would be the busy one, a half vanilla bean (scored lengthwise), a whole cinnamon stick, four whole cloves, and a little bit of orange peel.

The infusions started that day:

I read some online suggestions about infusion times, but most folks were infusing vodka and gin.  My whisky was much less neutral and I anticipated that it might need a little more of a boost.  So I gave the bottles one week.

And the results were intense.

Vanilla Bean and Cinnamon Stick infusion
Nose -- Cinnamon! Fresh zucchini bread. Vanilla cookies.
Palate -- Woo. Spicy. Not much malt, maybe some dark rum. Chocolate. Lots of candied ginger. Cinnamon overwhelms the vanilla. Crazy spice heat, yummy  <-- technical terminology

Vanilla Bean, Cinnamon Stick, Whole Cloves, and Orange Peel infusion
Nose -- Orange then cloves then cinnamon then vanilla. Bold and perfumy. Juicy Fruit gum.
Palate -- Less spice, more fruit that the other one.  Mostly orange and cinnamon.  Cloves hit in the finish.  Vanilla drifts around the edges.

That color you see in the jars there, that's not a lighting issue.  The infusions were dark red.  And their flavors were just as vivid.  And they were good.  Probably a bit strong.  If I could reduce the character, I wouldn't do so by one full step, instead maybe a half step.  I already knew what to do: Refill infusions.

I took the second 750mL bottle of whisky base and split it between the two bottles with the same used infusion elements.  This time, I gave the two "refill" infusions five days rather than seven.

Vanilla Bean and Cinnamon Stick infusion, part 2
Nose -- Cinnamon is still in first, but the vanilla is more present now than before. More rum and whisky notes. Curiously, some lime peel too.
Palate -- More whisky. And better whisky. Creamy texture. Cinnamon remains the strongest link. Less ginger, but now some mint. There's still a touch of bitterness from the oak.

Vanilla Bean, Cinnamon Stick, Whole Cloves, and Orange Peel infusion, part 2
Nose -- Same order as before: Orange-Cinnamon-Clove-Vanilla. Orange remains very strong. The cloves and cinnamon seem to have fused into a single note. Something about this feels more like rum than whisky.
Palate -- Mostly orange and cinnamon. A little whisky in the mix. That hint of bitterness in the finish, as with the other one. But it's still pleasant overall. Less aromatic in the mouth than in the nose. Hints of malt make it more like whisky than rum.

Yep, still a little bit of whisky in there, yet also loads of infusion character.

Having mixed a little of the opposing infusions together, I realized that sort of blending added nothing to either.  They would stand on their own.  So, I combined like with like in the 750mL bottles.

courtesy of Kristen
The Vanilla Bean & Cinnamon Stick infused blended whisky is named The Firebird, after the mythical bird of rebirth which goes by many names in different European cultures and is also referenced (as "Chol") in the Book of Genesis and the Book of Job.  There is a well-known cinnamon-flavored-whiskey in the market at the moment with a name similar to The Firebird.  Let's just say that my version is a more graceful and layered, yet no less fully flavored, rendition of that popular flavored-whiskey's approach.

How about some official tasting notes, after two weeks in the bottle:
Color -- Cherry red
Nose -- Not just cinnamon (though there's plenty of that), but loads of carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.  Hints of vanilla and honeyed Speyside-style whisky.
Palate -- Spicy but never too sweet.  A little bit of green herbs and grass clippings.  Cinnamon and pepper largely keep the oak at bay.
Finish -- A soft bitterness mingles with cinnamon and vanilla.

courtesy of Kristen
The Vanilla Bean & Cinnamon Stick & Whole Clove & Orange Peel infused blended whisky is named The Heron, after Bennu the Egyptian deity associated with rebirth.  The Heron is unmistakably related to The Firebird, but keeps busy with more spice box elements and a burst of orange oil.

Official tasting notes:
Color -- Crimson mahogany
Nose -- Intense orange peel meets a clove-cinnamon fusion. Maybe a sprinkle of ground nutmeg. Juicy Fruit gum. And maybe maybe a hint of peat smoke.
Palate -- Starts big on the orange peel, shifts to vanilla, then explodes with clove, as cinnamon gumdrops linger behind.  It gives the impression that its going to be sugary but never gets too candied.  A moment of oak is carried away by the cinnamon.
Finish -- A cinnamon stick floating in a floral tea.

THANK YOU to my beautiful wife, Kristen, for creating those two labels.  They're better than my whisky infusions!  As a result, she has been promoted to Chief Operating Officer of D4P Distillers.

My infusions could be utilized as whiskies for people who are afraid of whisky; those folks who run to heavily-flavored artificially-sweetened watered-down versions of sorta-whisky so they can do some shots.  But The Firebird and The Heron should be sipped (even though they bring with them a higher ABV) and I think they would be more appealing to whisky fans than most flavored-whiskies on the market.  My infusions will still freshen your breath and get you tipsy if that's what you want, but there's much more to them to appreciate.

The Firebird and The Heron are far from what was planned.  But as the plans crumbled, I embraced improvisation and was rewarded with madness in a bottle.  Two bottles.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

My Final Barrel Experiment, Part II: The Maturation, The Numbers, The Result

(Monday, Part 1, link)

Part 2 of 4

I had the best greedy intentions.  By wrapping the barrel tightly, I wasn't gradually spilling my whisky into the air.  But I really didn't know how this would affect the actual maturation of the whisky inside.  Since there was less being lost, I hoped that would mean the aging process would be more gradual.  Small barrels, especially very small barrels, age whisky differently than large ones.  They can often result in a product that is somehow both much too young and much too oaky, a problem experienced by some American craft whiskey makers and even some Scotch producers who are trying to speed up the maturation process.  If I wrapped mine, then maybe things would go a little slower with less spirit-oak-oxygen interaction.

I really didn't know what would happen.

On Day 0, I estimated the blend to be 47% malt, peating level around 6ppm, and with a 44.6% ABV.

Measurement only.  Success!  0.96% lost to the angels (0.0343%/day).  An 89.5% reduction in the rate of volume lost to evaporation when compared to The Eagle Morning.  90.2% reduction in loss compared to Rye Storm.

Measurement: 2.24% lost to the angels (0.0401%/day).  That's a 89.3% reduction of the rate lost compared to Eagle Morning, 87.7% compared to Rye Storm.  I was actually going to keep my whisky!  But...

It tasted exactly the same as it had 8 weeks earlier.  None of the blended elements had integrated.  They were all floating around as separate parts.  On the bright side, there was very little oak present.  Though I had originally estimated 8 weeks as being my bottling point, this biscuit had barely begun baking.

Measurement only.  2.99% of liquid lost (0.0356%/day).  When I had re-wrapped it after the second checkpoint I likely sealed it more thoroughly, as evaporation had slowed further in the four weeks since.

Before unwrapping, I decided that this might need to be the cutoff point for maturation.  I had no idea how long was too long.  Then I cut off the wrapping and found the following:

The metal was being corroded and oxidized.  The whisky, unable to escape into the heavens, had been eating the barrel.  Yeah, it was time to empty it.

Measurement: 3.846% lost to the angels (back to 0.0343% per day).
In its final days, The Eagle Morning was losing 0.5% of its volume each day; Rye Storm was losing over 0.7% daily at its end.  Comparatively, this new blend was losing 0.028% per day during the last four weeks.  The angels drank The Rye Storm 25 times faster than this new blend.

Then, the tasting notes:
Color -- Medium gold
Nose -- Very nice and malty. A light dusting of cinnamon and peat smoke. Some gooey sugary stuff and talcum powder.
Palate -- Instantly astringent. Wood resins, green and bitter like chewing on a new branch.  A box of pencils: wood, lead, cardboard, yellow paint, and all.  Maybe a flat plastic shopping bag laying on the side of the road?  Difficult to find the whisky part.
Finish -- Sugar coated pencils. Very bitter.

So, statistically, this was a runaway success.

But it tasted poorly......which broke my whisky heart, because the blend actually smelled very good with the rum, oak, and whiskies pleasantly intermingling.  But whisky is for drinking and my whisky was not for drinking.

At some point in the maturation, without interaction with the air, the whisky dug deeper and deeper into the oak, past the charred surface, soaking up the bitter resinous plant material beneath, leeching the xylem and phloem.  And it couldn't breathe, so those compounds carried back into the barrel.

Something had been lost by wrapping up the barrel.  As mentioned above, at the 8-week point nothing had yet occurred in the palate and nose.  It smelled and tasted like all of the separate parts were still separate, as if it had just been sitting in a bottle for a couple days.  While it's true that char may have been largely exhausted by this point, I can't help but think that the angels' share exists for a reason.  They take but they also give.  Oxidation had been suffocated, maturation had been corrupted.

So now I was left with tainted goods.  Disappointed, I considered dumping it all down the sink.

But then an idea took root.  All was not lost.

Tomorrow, The Firebird and The Heron...

Monday, May 5, 2014

My Final Barrel Experiment, Part I: The Whisky, The Rum, The Plan

Part 1 of 4

The plan was complex in its simplicity: Create a high-malt peated rum-finished blended whisky.  Sounds fun, right?  It would be a big ol' batch of something fun to drink, at a lower expense than my previous experiments.

The first whisk(e)y thing that I had aged in my 2 liter barrel was The Rye Storm.

Too young to call a straight rye, and possibly too toxic to share, The Rye Storm was invaluable as an educational experience.  It also seasoned the hell out of the barrel, which led to...

...Whisky Two, The Eagle Morning Single Malt, a Highland single malt finished in my small ex-rye barrel.  Much more successful than The Rye Storm, The Eagle Morning was actually drinkable and utilizable during last year's hot weather spell in November.

After emptying the barrel of The Eagle Morning, I gave the barrel a good washout and then filled it with water to keep the insides moist.  The next whisky-thing had to be cheaper than the previous two, and very different.  I started considering a multi-step maturation, or at least a re-seasoning.

Around that time, I tried the Angel's Envy rum-finished rye.  It was like rye candy, too sweet for me, but intriguing nonetheless.  Replicating it seemed very easy to screw up.  For moment I considered a rum-finished Rittenhouse, but then I concluded I didn't want to directly copy anything.

With rum on the mind, I realized that I had enjoyed every rum-finished whisky I'd tried.  Though perhaps not mindblowing, they were always fun to drink.  And I'm always on the search for an inexpensive peated Scotch.  I had considered using either Bowmore Legend and McClelland's Islay, but Morrison Bowmore's young Bowmores can be questionable at best.

Standing in Total Wine & More, I stared at the shelves until it (figuratively) hit me.  Bank Note.  I like Bank Note.  I've had two good bottles and one not good bottle.  And the problems with that bad bottle were likely due to storage issues rather than the stuff itself.  It's lightly peated, a 40% malt blend, and is bottled at 43% ABV.  And I could get a handle (1.75L) of it for $36.99.

There would still be 250mL of whisky room left in the cask, and I needed more peat.  Luckily I had three heavily-peated cask strength single malts to fill out the rest of the room, raising the ppms and ABV a little bit.  But first, the rum!

I had a mostly full bottle of the very sweet and silky Ron Matusalem 15 year old.  Unlike aged whisky, aged rum is often very affordable; this 15yo had been only $19.99.  Though it filled less than 1/3 of the barrel, its brown sugariness would be just enough to season the staves.  I rotated the barrel every other day for three weeks.  At the end of the three weeks, I decanted it back into its original bottle.   While the barrel was still very wet and oozed candied scents, I first filled it with the Bank Note, then with my secret combo of peated single malts.

But wait, that's not all.

Several months had been spent maturing my previous two whiskies and there was one thing that became painfully obvious with each week's measurements......the angels take their share.  I had lost an outrageous amount of product to those drunkass angels, no matter what the storage location or temperature had been.  I wanted a lot of whisky at the end of this extended maturation experiment.

So I wrapped it.

I tried the plastic and hair dryer technique but that didn't do a thing.  So instead I bundled it up tightly, Cling Wrap and lots of packing tape, maltblocking those damned angels.

Then it was time to wait.

Tomorrow, we do the numbers and we do the tasting......

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Something Weird: Leviathan II American Peated Single Malt

I shall pluck the next peated American single malt from the Kravitz Cabinet of Curiosities...

...Presenting: The Tall Man!

First of all, I would like to thank my buddy Daniel for this bottle.  No matter what I say in this post, I really do appreciate this gift.  It has been an experience.

Lost Spirits Distillery was founded by Bryan Davis in Salinas, California, in 2009.  Using American barley, American and Canadian peat, and a steam-powered wooden still (which has recently been retired) his company has created about a half dozen unique whiskies (along with several other spirits).

But many of us blog readers know of Lost Spirits from Mr. Davis's direct feud with Sku's Recent Eats blog in 2012.  Picking a fight with a well-informed corner of the anorak populace probably isn't the best way for a small craft distiller to sell more bottles, but that was Mr. Davis's decision.  As someone who has tried to peddle unusual product in a difficult marketplace, I can understand the frustration that develops when the people you're trying to connect with reject what you're selling.  One thing I always try to remember is that in any form of production, from art to consumables, once the creation is released into the world the author's intent doesn't mean a damn thing.

With all of that in mind, let me get back to Leviathan II.  The barley is American.  The peat is from Alberta, Canada.  The barley is peated to a level of 110ppm (a little over Ardbeg Supernova's ppms).  But not all peat is the same, as it is formed from local vegetation.  Thus peat on Islay is different than peat on Orkney, which is different than Alberta peat.  According to Lost Spirits, the Alberta peat is "loaded with conifer and pine roots".  The American barley was smoke dried with this peat, then distilled in their former wooden pot still, and then aged in French oak casks that had previously held late harvest Semillon wine from Napa.

Did you get all that?  Here, I'll list it the way I usually do:

Distillery: Lost Spirits 
Brand: Leviathan
Type: Single Malt Whiskey
Region: Salinas, California, USA
Barley malt: American
Peat source: Alberta, Canada
Peating level: 110ppm
Maturation: ex-late harvest Semillon casks (French oak)
Age: "under four years"
Alcohol by Volume: 53%

My first pour from the bottle smelled like someone dropped napalm on a tennis court.  Everything was burned: shoes, tennis balls, the net, concrete, paint, and gasoline.  And it tasted the same.

I am a peat freak, and can take some serious peat abuse without complaint.  Octomore and Supernova are fun, not just because their peat levels are high, but because the flavors and scents are very complex and nuanced.  Meanwhile, at the top of the bottle, Leviathan II was a single slab of sensory violence.  And honestly, I had no interest in drinking any more of it.

(Quick aside -- To use another questionable comparison, I like hot sauce.  It's fun on the palate and I loves me some heat (well, my palate does but the rest of me doesn't).  But I've noticed that a lot of hot sauce producers just try to one up each other by climbing the Scoville scale.  As a result, a lot of their products taste terrible.  They bring the heat and that's it.  Creating and maintaining flavors is a difficult art.  I think we're at that stage with whisk(e)y that we can start to see that more peat doesn't necessarily equal more goodness.  There's so much more to the process that determines if the end result smells or tastes appealing, let alone great.  A lot of work went into the Octomores.  They're not just a whisky stunt, they're whisky.)

My Leviathan bottle sat 95% full.  Something had to be done.  Being someone who believes whisk(e)y changes considerably with air, I worked a couple more ounces down my trap until there was some space in the bottle.  In that space sat oxygen.  I let the bottle sit for a few days.  Then, I poured an ounce and let it air out for thirty minutes while I took notes on McCarthy's Oregon Single Malt.  I returned to the Leviathan II glass and here's the result:

The color is gold.  On the nose there are lots of black raisins, burnt ones too.  Burnt plastic.  Un-burnt polyester, carpet, hot concrete, new shoelaces, and really rough eau de vie.  With more air, a singed orange peel note grows, followed by McDonald's honey (yep, that specific one).  With an hour of air, it smelled of wet cigars and wet cat litter.  The palate has an immense cinnamon red hots character.  Then burnt wheat toast, liquid smoke, and unaged rye spirit.  There's an ethyl heat, a spicy heat, burnt plastic, and sea salt.  Burnt honey in the finish, along with charred tuna, dried rosemary, and Swisher Sweets.

The black raisins remain in the nose, joined by honey, rubber bands, and bile.  With more water, there's a note of, well, rubber raisins.  Cinnamon red hots still kickin' it in the palate.  Also sneakers (if I ate them), raisins, and toasty moss.  With more water, mossy red hots.  The finsh is mostly honey and raisins and char.  With more water, there's a floral note amongst rubber and moss.

Yes, the whole package improved.  But I'm not entirely sure for whom it is designed.  Is it for those hot sauce bros who just want to see who can crush the most ghost peppers?  Then why the sweet wine casks?  Even the Scottish haven't consistently mastered the sweet wine + peat combo and their experts have been at it for some time.

If you're going to do the Leviathan II and you're going to do it neatly, please please please air it out.  I'm not going to raise much of a stink about the whisky being too young.  It's definitely youthful and I think that's part of the point.  A lot more time in a sweet wine cask isn't necessarily going to make the whisky sexier.  It would just result in further imbalance between the cask and spirit.

I'm also not going to say that Lost Spirits should stop making this stuff, because it has a place in the market.  I think the challenge for Lost Spirits is that corner of the market has players like Balcones, Corsair, and Charbay already in it.  Those companies have a head start.  They have weird whiskies, bold whiskies, and weird bold whiskies.  Many of those products are very appealing and well sculpted.  There's real competition at the craft whiskey level.  Being small and crafty and original isn't enough anymore.

Leviathan II is indeed an experience that I'm sure many would be interested to try once.  But a 750mL bottle?  On a related note, I have a bunch of oxidized samples that I'd be happy to swap out.

Availability - About 10 to 12 specialty US retailers
Pricing - $50-$60
Rating - 69 (it rated in the mid 40s when first opened)