...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Knockando-do-do De-da-da-da: Knockando 24 year old 1979 Justerini & Brooks (private bottling)

Photo and sample courtesy of Cobo
Cobo won this bottle at an auction and sent me a sample.  The bottle's personalized label reads: "The whisky in this bottle was distilled at the Knockando Distillery during 1979. It was drawn from cask and specially bottled to commemorate the 50th Birthday of George 12th December 2003."  We don't know who George is other than a very lucky individual.  Hopefully there were other bottles and George was able to enjoy them.  But I'm seeing a water stain on the label and now I'm wondering if something terrible happened to George.  Like a flood or sobriety.  George is a great guy.  Give him a break, God.  ;-)

Distillery: Knockando
Ownership at time of bottling: Grand Metropolitan (via Justerini & Brooks)
Type: Single Malt
Region: Speyside (Central)
Age: 24 years
Distilled: 1979
Bottled: 2003
Maturation: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

The color is light gold.  The nose is big on florals (blossoms and soap) and is very delicate.  Dust, cotton, fuji apple skins, honey, and lemons right from the tree.  Whipped honey butter and cantaloupes.  Hints of grapefruit and the ocean.  The palate starts of musty, like a much older bottle.  Then there's apple juice, vanilla beans, and burnt toffee.  A slight note of industrial plastics, another of carpet.  But overall it grows sweeter and spicier with time.  The moderate length finish has the apple juice and vanilla beans as well.  Though it's more like vanilla meringue here.  Bit of the carpet fiber note too.  Like the palate, it also gains spices and sweetness with time.

This is a fragile-feeling whisky whose nose seems like its about to float right off its face.  The nose is quite pretty (and I would say "feminine" if that didn't make the oceans seethe) with its flowers, fruit peels, and honey (again!).  The palate is mild and gentle as well, though its charms escaped me quicker than those of the nose.  Still, this is a heck of a thing to be reviewing and I'm very thankful to have had the opportunity to do so.  Thank you, Cobo!

Availability - Ask George
Pricing - see "Availability"
Rating - 81

Thursday, May 28, 2015

More Knockando for you: Knockando 26 year old 1980 Duncan Taylor Peerless

With today's Knockando we're taking a step back to 1980.  This the only independent bottling of my Knockando review sextet, as well as the one that spent the most time in its cask.  Indie bottlings of Knockando are rare, likely due to the cask hoarding Diageo chooses to do for the popular J&B blend.  Whiskybase lists only 18 indies; The Malt Monitor lists only 7; Serge has reviewed only 4.  Diving For Pearls now has 1.

Distillery: Knockando
Bottler: Duncan Taylor
Range: Peerless
Type: Single Malt
Region: Speyside (Central)
Age: 26 years
Distilled: June 1980
Bottled: March 2007
Maturation: perhaps a refill ex-bourbon barrel?
Cask #: 1912
Bottle count: 268
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
(Thanks to Cobo for the sample!!!)

The color is a light amber, even after 26 years in the cask.  The nose starts grassy and ends grassy.  The next largest note is fruity, a combo of mango, nectarines, and lemons.  There's a floral burst, right between blossoms and floral soap.  Then secondary notes of pineapple, apple juice, and honey.  Occasionally there's a slight musty thing going on, as well as a hint of solvent.  After about 30 minutes, a solid lemongrass note develops.  The palate has some caramel poured over grilled pears.  The whole pot o' honey.  Cinnamon bark, vanilla frosting, almond skins, honeydew, and toasty grains.  The sweetness goes right to the edge, but never teeters into Too Much territory.  The sweet finish is full of honey, pear juice, vanilla frosting, and witbier.

For its age this is feels like a young and spritely thing.  The honey characteristic is reminiscent of yesterday's 1999 official bottling.  And similar to that whisky, there's quite a lot of spirit character in play in this one.  I think its age mostly shows up in the subtleties of the nose and palate.  Since Duncan Taylor chose to only bottle this cask at 46%abv, I don't know if it would have been bigger or better at full power, but it's still very nice at this strength.  But, with all things considered, it's only slightly better than the 12yo 1999.  Happily this wasn't terribly expensive back in the day.  Imagine, a 26 year old single malt selling for €86!

Availability - Happy Hunting!
Pricing - around €86 in 2007
Rating - 85

(For a very different opinion of this whisky, see Serge's review.  For a third review, see the one from 'bakerman' on Whiskybase.  His notes couldn't be more different than Serge's and mine.  Apparently this stuff is a Rorschach Test.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Let's Knockando it! Knockando 12 year old 1999 (OB)

Let's start where I started, with this recent Knockando 12 year old.  Knockando's official bottlings aren't sold in the US and their independently bottled versions are scarce everywhere because the J&B needs its 'do.  Thus when Florin (a prince) offered up a good portion of his bottle of the 12, I was happy to receive it.  At first I found it to be an easy drinker, something to sip and generally ignore.  With successive pours, it began taking on more form and character.  I set two ounces aside for a future review, and now the future has arrived.

Distillery: Knockando
Owner: Diageo plc
Type: Single Malt Report
Region: Speyside (Central)
Age: 12 years (1999-2011)
Maturation: primarily ex-bourbon casks with a smaller amount of ex-sherry casks
Chill-filtration? Yes
Caramel colored? Yes
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

The color is DiageoGold™.  Large quantities of barley and yeast in the nose, and a hell of a lot of honey.  Some notes of apples, fresh pears, orange hard candies, vanilla, and marzipan.  Some nuts, cigar tobacco, and cocoa from the sherry casks (probably).  An occasional gritty note.  With time in the glass, the whisky develops notes of dried berries, dried grass, and tangerines.  At first the palate is lightly smoky, with some salty butter and something a little dirty (literally dirt).  There are smaller notes of oak spice, lemons, sweet wine, and pilsner.  After some time in the glass, the whisky gets a little creamier, the lemons becoming lemon bars.  Some sugary frosting, orange pulp, walnuts, honey, and burnt barley emerge as well.  A hint of the honey.  The dusty/toasty/burnt thing sticks around into the finish.  There are also some oranges, black peppercorns, honey, and vanilla.  In later sips, the citrus grows as does a jasmine-like note.  A moderate length finish overall.

As I hinted at in the intro, the whisky really grew on me.  It's very pleasant and barley-forward.  It's not actually complex, but I did two different tasting sessions, which is why there's a pile of tasting notes.  I also wrote down, "Would be great with a beer."  It would be even better at a $30-$35 price point -- as it is in much of Europe -- since it's a small step up from Glenfiddich 12 and probably comparable quality-wise to Tomatin 12.  Hell, if J&B included more of this in their bland blend, I'd buy that as well.  But that's not happening, so maybe someday Diageo can find it in its cold black heart to bring Knockando to the US.  Perhaps?

Availability - European retailers
Pricing - $30-$40 (w/VAT, w/o shipping)
Rating - 84

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Good news everyone!  It is time for me to review the one distillery for which every single one of you have been waiting breathlessly.  The pride of J&B.  The little black hill.  Knockando.

Photo from scotchwhisky.net
For the next two weeks, I'm going to pile so much Knockando (nock-AN-doo) on you, you'll need a shovel to find sunshine.  Six reviews covering the '60s, '70s, '80s, and '90s.  Mostly the '60s though.

You may be asking your screen, "He's talking about AnCnoc, right?"  Nope, that's Knockdhu, another Speyside distillery, which changed its single malt's name to AnCnoc to prevent brand confusion with Knockando, only to create new confusion about how to pronounce AnCnoc.  AnCnoc is owned by Inver House.  Knockando is owned by a wee independent company called Diageo.  I'll be ignoring AnCnoc going forward and lavishing attention on the Diageo distillery.

Knockando Distillery broke ground in the late 1890s by entrepreneurs who wanted to take advantage of what was being hailed as a whisky boom.  By the time the distillery was complete, the boom was revealed to be bupkis and the whisky industry had tanked.  The distillery then closed soon after.  I'm sure there's no lesson to be learned there.

In 1904, W. & A. Gilbey, a London-based wine and spirits producer, bought the distillery and fired up the stills again.  Fifty-eight years later, W. & A. Gilbey merged with United Wine Traders to create International Distillers and Vintners (IDV).  One of the branches of IDV was Justerini & Brooks, or J&B.  Knockando became an ingredient of J&B's blended scotch, later becoming its main malt.  Justerini & Brooks was also responsible for releasing Knockando's first single malt, a decade later.  The distillery did their own floor maltings until 1968.  In 1969 they began purchasing malt (as of 2010 they were doing so from Burghead) and doubled their capacity by increasing their still count from two to four.  In 1972, IDV was bought by Watney Mann who was taken over by Grand Metropolitan who merged with Guinness to create Diageo in 1997.

Today, J&B is one of the world's top five best selling blended scotch brands, and was as high as #3 as recently as 2009.  So, it's popular stuff.  Thus most of Knockando's malt whisky is directed into that vat.  But quite a bit (650,000 bottles worth) still makes its way into a single malt each year, making it (as of 2012) Diageo's 7th best selling single malt.  We don't see those official bottlings here in the US since the sales are focused in Western Europe.  When Knockando was owned by IDV, its single malts always listed a vintage year (and not always an age statement).  Diageo took the unique (for Diageo) step by keeping that practice.  Currently the Knockando single malts list both the vintage and an age statement.

I'm going to begin the reviews with a recent release, then work my way back through the years.  This week's three single malts (two officials and one indie) will be from the time period after the floor maltings had closed.  Next week's three will all be from the floor maltings.  I write this intro having not yet tried the old stuff, but I'm excited to do so!  Stay tuned.

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Friendly Reminder to Kill Your Whisky Gods (figuratively)

Jackson, Valentin, Murray, Roskrow, Cowdery, Smith, Bryson, Mitchell, de Kergommeaux, MacLean, Broom, Gillespie, van den Heuvel.  These people (amongst many more names) brought us to whisky.  All of these people motivated us to explore beyond Johnnie Walker, Macallan, Grant's, Jameson's, Ballantine's, Crown Royal, and Chivas.  They inspired us to record and classify our sensory experiences.  Sometimes they were the catalysts for us to publish our reactions in digital or printed formats.  For those of us who do air our hubris publicly, our writing styles were influenced by the writers that came before us.  Our very reactions to whiskies, even those we've never tried, were on some level formed by their opinions.

And that's okay.  We all have to start somewhere.  A lot of these gentlemen have an expansive acquaintance with whiskies that the rest of us will likely never accrue.  They set us off on our way, provided guidance, and helped set a foundation (how many metaphors would you like?).

But we don't have to drink like them or write like them.  And we don't have to endeavor to drink like them or write like them.  We are not them.  I know that sounds simple, but it's not.  Acknowledging our influences is easy, breaking free from them to fully discover our own preferences is the challenge.  Why only buy what other people like?  Why spend our time chasing other people's pleasures?

We can like wine cask finished whiskies.
We can like young whiskies,
NAS whiskies,
Whiskies aged in rejuvenated casks,
Whiskies with caramel colorant,
Those that have been filtered,
Those bottled at 40%abv,
Those distilled at Loch Lomond.

Even if our mentors smell mirabelles and quince, it's okay if we smell maple syrup and pancakes.
Even if our mentors smell boat hulls and the Islay shore, it's okay if we smell cow shit.

We don't have to like Brora.
We don't have to like Port Ellen.
We don't have to like Stitzel-Weller.
We don't have to like Karuizawa.
We don't have to like Kavalan.
We don't have to like Clynelish, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, or Glendronach.
We don't have to force ourselves to enjoy these.

We don't have to drink from a Glencairn glass.
We don't have to add teaspoons of water to our whisky.
We don't have to drink it neatly.
We don't have to read whisky blogs.

We can love Edradour and still thrill to Glenlivet 12.
We can hate Johnnie Walker Green and love its replacement, Johnnie Walker Gold Reserve.
We can hate shopping at retailers beloved by anoraks and instead frequent BevMo.

We don't have to write down tasting notes.
We don't have to think about our every dram.
We don't have to call it a "dram".
We can call it a "dram" without shame.
We can spell flavor like flavour, no matter where we're from.
We can load our tumblers full of ice on a summer's day.  Or a winter's night, for that matter.
We can nose our whisky with one nostril while we keep both eyes closed.
We don't have to smell our whisky.

We may even discover one day we don't even enjoy whisky, we just got caught up in the excitement, and we would rather drink beer or martinis or a flavored spirit or pinot noir or grapefruit juice with Clamato.  Without the burden of conforming to those who came before us, we might enjoy more fully what we're drinking.

Thank you for your time.  This has been a friendly reminder to kill your whisky gods (figuratively), brought to you by Fireball Cinnamon Whisky: Tastes Like Heaven, Burns Like Hell.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Single Malt Report: Laphroaig 21 year old Cask Strength (2008)

Until the day before Mathilda's first birthday, I'd decided to select the two Ledaig 1973s as the celebratory samples and to end it there.  But then I realized that my celebratory sample stash was much bigger than it used to be, and how many occasions would be bigger than this?  There needed to be a third sample, and I knew exactly what it would be.

Best club event, ever.  And that gent in the gray label -- sometimes called the Heathrow Laphroaig because 750 bottles were sold exclusively at Terminal 5 -- was the best Laphroaig I'd had, easily one of the best whiskies I'd ever experienced up until that point.  Though everyone I had spoken to at the event had chosen it as their favorite of the bunch, there was inexplicably a quarter of the bottle remaining at the end of the night.  So I made off with my own sample.  And that sample is this sample:

Here's to Mathilda.  Here's to Kristen and I, we two noobs, keeping her alive for an entire year.  Slàinte mhath!

Distillery: Laphroaig
Owner: Beam Suntory
Type: Single Malt
Region: Islay
Age: minimum 21 years
Release Year: 2008
Distillation Year: 1987 or earlier
Maturation: unknown, but 9 casks were utilized
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? No
Alcohol by Volume: 53.4%
Limited Release: 750 in UK, 1427 in US

Color - Light gold

Nose (neat) - Many smoked things: salmon, ham, mesquite wood, orange peels, and probably peat.  Mango-infused lapsang souchong followed by the plastic siding of my childhood home.  There's lemon marmalade, orange oil, peated cream puffs, and a whole street of Scottish chimneys.  It's also very floral; blossoms, not soap.  Cognac, ocean, and a hint of caramel sauce.

Nose (with water) - Peels the peat back, turning this into a politer whisky.  Malty, creamy, some vanilla, peaches, and oranges.  A distant ship's smoke on the horizon.

Palate (neat) - Somehow both massively fruity and massively smoky.  Deep dark char meets tropical fruit punch.  There are also peaches, plums, cherries, oranges, honey, and key lime pie.  Mint and basil and whipped cream.

Palate (with water) - Even more floral and fruity esters.  Lots of citrus peel, cherries, and rose petals.  Small nibbles of peats and a subtle bitterness.  More sugars and vanilla gradually emerge.  Very graceful from start to finish.

Finish (neat) - Enormous.  And it's the peat that rules the night.  There's everything peat-related: moss, roots, dirt, char, ash, and smoldering coals.  Then brine, seaweed, menthol, and chili oil.

Finish (with water) - Fruitier and more aromatic.  Sweeter as well, with just a peep of good bitterness.

This whisky somehow brings together both categories of official Laphroaigs: the graceful fruiters like the 18 & 30 and the peat behemoths like the old 10CS & 25CS.  When neat it leans more towards the latter, then with water added it tilts towards the former.  But, man, what a finish.  It's that finish that'll make me recommend drinking this one neatly.  Though, it's a stunner no matter how one chooses to drink it.

I'm not going to ruin the glow in the report by talking about its four figure price.  I won't pick nits, it's a pretty close competition between the 25yo CS (2011 edition), the 40yo, and this 21yo CS for my favorite all time Laphroaig.  If you have a bottle of this in your collection, know that it's a treasure, a special occasion whisky, an experience you won't soon forget.

I have no idea how I'm going to celebrate the completion of Mathilda Year Two.

Availability - A few retailers, the occasional auction
Pricing - in 2012 it was $400-$600, today it's $1000-$1500
Rating - 93

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Single Malt Report: Ledaig 14 year old 1973-1987 Sestante

Okay, the 24 hour mystery is now over.  Yes, I had a sample of full strength 1973 Ledaig.

This 14 year old Ledaig, bottled by the much revered but now shuttered Italian independent bottler Sestante, received raves from the Malt Maniacs so it arrived in my glass with a reputation.  But I knew that no matter if this whisky was disappointing or great I was very thankful for this opportunity.  (Many many thank yous to Cobo!)

Distillery: Ledaig
BottlerGordon & MacPhail
Series: Connoisseur's Choice
Age: 14 years (1973-1987)
Maturation: ???
Region: Isle of Mull
Alcohol by Volume: 56.3%

Its color is amber, lighter than yesterday's Ledaig.  The nose immediately brings to mind three things:  A christmas tree farm.  The docks of a fishing village.  A grove of fruiting lemon trees.  Then highlights of grilled meat, soil, and kiln follow next.  With time some bold notes of cruciferous leafy vegetables, brine, and cow patties arise.  With water, there's noticeably more barn.  Then pineapple and burning hay.  While the nose is big, the palate is larger.  Such depth to its char and phenolic swamp...but then a sweet fruity twist at the end.  Fresh herbs in manure.  Sea salt and wasabi.  Time and water bring out lemon oils and candy canes.  That wasabi bite is in the very long finish even before the water is added.  There's a lot of brine and smoke with California sauvignon blanc (believe it or not) to balance it out.  Water and time makes it very rich and syrupy.  Stroopwafels!

It is indeed great.  While I prefer the nose on yesterday's G&M Ledaig (at any strength), this one smells very good.  But the Sestante's palate beats the snot out of the G&M's.  While the 14yo's kiln smoke is near monolithic on the tongue at first, herbs and fruits and sugars make brief appearances to balance things out.  Water and time in the glass do a few nice things, but this stuff is still so brawny after 28 years in the bottle.  There's a 40%abv version of this, but I personally wouldn't even bother (if I had that kind of scratch) because the power is the main attraction.

I will have to dig deep to try and top this one.  Tomorrow, I'll attempt it.

Availability - Happy Hunting?
Pricing - Yoooooge
Rating - 91

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Single Malt Report: Ledaig 16 year old 1973 Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice (brown label)

I believe this is the actual bottle,
courtesy of Andy Smith of LASC and LAWS

In 1973 Tobermory Distillery was called Ledaig.  Or maybe in 2015, the Ledaig Distillery was called Tobermory.  This 1973 bottling has the old Connoisseurs Choice label on the outside and the heavily-peated Isle of Mull spirit on the inside.  The distillery had sat closed for 42 years before it was reopened in 1972.  And then it went bankrupt again in 1975, closed, then reopened in 1978, then closed in 1982, then reopened in 1989, as Tobermory.  The facility has bounced between the two names a few times in its history.  While the current ownership has kept the Tobermory name, they have labelled their peated single malt brand as Ledaig.

Today's specific whisky, bottled over a quarter century ago with a label that just looks like essence of Ledaig, was distilled when the property (and the company that owned it) was called Ledaig.  I anticipate there being some peat involved.

My sample label, FWIW.

Distillery: Ledaig
BottlerGordon & MacPhail
Series: Connoisseur's Choice
Age: 16 years (1973 to 1989 or 1990)
Maturation: "oak casks"
Region: Isle of Mull
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Sample purchased from the LA Scotch Club.

The color is light gold.  The nose is unbelievably massive.  And I'm not just casually throwing in that overused adverb.  I had no idea that a whisky watered down to 40%abv could have a sniffer so expansive.  It starts with peated mint chip ice cream.  And also peat.  And then some peat.  Antiseptic and roses.  Bandaids and baklava.  Cinnamon candy, cologne, and mint leaves.  After twenty minutes, a note of extra nutty sherry emerges.  Then vinyl and burning plastic.  Seaweed rotting at the beach and, curiously, raspberries.  After 45 minutes, the stuff is still alive, emitting notes of oranges, cigarettes, and red lollipops.  I was afraid to actually drink it because then it would be gone. :(  But I did so anyway because whisky is for drinking.  Here on the palate it feels much more like a 40%abv whisky, thinner and briefer than the nose.  It starts with root beer barrel candies, a note that remains present throughout.  Then there's smoked seaweed, smoked brown sugar, figs, sweet peat stuff, sea salt, and a light bitterness.  It stays vivid even after 30-45 minutes of air, with smoked almonds, cinnamon, salt, and peat moss hanging around.  Those root beer barrel candies and figs make up much of the finish, followed by mesquite barbecue.  A salty note expands with time.  Gradually a mellow bitter note moves in with the salt.  Some tart lemons pop up.  Just a moment of sweetness.

What a tremendous nose.  I really don't know what distilleries did differently back then to make possible an olfactory landscape at the lowest legal ABV.  Today there are few full strength whiskies that approach this nose's depth.  The palate and finish are more realistic, though still of considerable quality.  This isn't a crowd pleaser, but it certainly will make Ledaig fans (all six of us) very happy.  Goodness gracious, what if I could find a '73 Ledaig that was bottled at full strength...

Availability - Happy Hunting!
Pricing - probably north of $500 :(
Rating - 90

Monday, May 18, 2015

Mathilda Year One, complete

The first year of Mathilda is officially in the books.  Most days I feel as if I have aged three decades in that time.  The New Parent Adrenaline wore off at Month Three, but I drag my dad ass out to the gym anyway most weekdays.

Mathilda, the girl of a thousand faces, 999 of which are my favorite (the crying one being subtracted).  She is becoming a person very quickly and that fact becomes less terrifying every day.  That doesn't mean I'm turning into a better father.  This whole parent business is impossible.  I fail so often every single day, that in order to survive I've learned to just yield to the whirling forward momentum.  Mathilda agrees to nothing, gives no quarter, every emotion a thunderclap.  Just my luck, a Kravitz.  But she loves with an intensity no rational adult could muster.  She makes me laugh every day.  I never laughed every day before.  I marvel at her curiosity, her appetite, her delights, her physical strength (if she lifted the couch to reach a blueberry underneath, I wouldn't be surprised).

No, there is no way I can do this experience justice via whisky reviews.  But Diving For Pearls turned into a whisky blog years ago, so there shall be whisky.  Before the possibility of Mathilda entered this reality, I earmarked a bottle for my child's first birthday.  A whisky I had once tried and loved.

Or, with a Mathilda filter:

While I won't be reviewing the Glen Spey this week (mmmm, you got your rye in my single malt!), I did haul out three special samples for this week.  No, these aren't Littlemills (as I did for her arrival last year), but they do all begin with the letter L.  No, they're not Lismore, because I love my daughter.  Nor Ladyburn, because that sounds like shaving accident in the shower.  Tune in tomorrow...

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Fail...er...Adventures in Blending: Salvaging a Springbank

As documented in my previous post, I recently encountered a problematic single cask bottling of Springbank, a bottling whose main characteristic was ethyl heat.  Applying water did help open the nose slightly, but the palate just became watery.  At the end of the tasting that led to my review, 2.5 fl. oz. of the whisky remained.  After taking 6 months just to consume the first five ounces, I didn't have much interest in drinking the rest as is.  So I decided to do three separate vattings to see if I could salvage my whisky.

Historically, my home vattings cannot be described as successes.  The only one I've enjoyed drinking was the ultra-high-rye bourbon I built last summer.  But failure never stopped me.  Actually that is not true.  Failure always stops me.  But not with whisky!  So I made my three vattings and set them aside to compare with the original whisky then......forgot about them for four weeks.  At least that left the ingredients more time to commingle and merge.  Here are the results:

Whisky #1
Springbank 13yo 1999 Rum Cask for Whiskykanzler
The original whisky, tasted again without looking at my previous notes.

Approximate ABV: 57.1%
Quantity bottled: 30mL
Resting time: 28 days

Nose - Oatmeal, pine, brown sugar, and a slight industrial edge that I don't remember being there before.  It's still one of the hottest noses I've ever experienced.  Smaller notes of band aids, honey, canned peaches, and polyester.
Palate - Heat.  Peat reading as smoke.  Caramel.  Coconut.  A hint of Mount Gay-like rum.  Slightly farty.
Finish - A sweetness that gets very aggressive, even with all of the ethyl burn.  Some citrus, rum, and smoke.

Verdict: Nose was better than I remembered it to be, but the palate is still a bum.  Suddenly way too sweet in the finish.
Grade Range: C/C+

Whisky #2 
3 parts - Springbank 13yo 1999 Rum Cask
1 part - Macallan Cask Strength (60.1%abv version)
Goal: Perk up the whisky with a little bit of full strength ex-sherry malt.  This version of Mac's CS is the only recent one I've enjoyed, and was also the only high strength sherried whisky I had open.

Approximate ABV: 57.9%
Quantity made: 15mL
Resting time: 28 days

Nose - Something between strawberry bubblegum and plaster.  Vanilla simple syrup.  Plastic toys.  Graham crackers, a hint of lime, and blue raspberry sno-cone syrup.  Less ethyl, despite the higher abv.
Palate - Peppery, peatier.  Still very hot, but more drinkable.  Toasted grains, golden raisins, and caramel.
Finish - Salt and tart with a peep of sherry.  Blackberry syrup?  Mildly sweet, but very acidic.  Gets weird on the tongue and I can't wash it off.

Verdict: Somewhat successful.  A better (and very zany) nose is the highlight.  The odd finish holds it down.
Grade Range: B-

Whisky #3 
3 parts - Springbank 13yo 1999 Rum Cask
1 part - Lagavulin 16 year old official bottling
Goal: Perk up the whisky with a little bit of quality peated malt, yet not turn it into a peat beast.

Approximate ABV: 53.6%
Quantity made: 15mL
Resting time: 28 days

Nose - An early puff of rotten meat exits quickly.  Lime and a light dusting of peat take over.  Also lemon zest, hot concrete, and a hint of mango appear.
Palate - Much peatier and saltier, pulling all the way out to Lagavulin territory.  But then it takes a quick turn into saccharine and ash.
Finish - Almost all Nutrasweet.  A whisper of peat shows up, only to be drowned in rotten milk.

Verdict: Nope.
Grade Range: D+/C-

Whisky #4
6 parts - Springbank 13yo 1999 Rum Cask
1 part - Lagavulin 16 year old official bottling
1 part - Macallan Cask Strength
Goal: Perk up the whisky by adding small touches of both rich sherried whisky and well-aged peated whisky.

Approximate ABV: 55.7%
Quantity made: 15mL
Resting time: 28 days

Nose - Band aids, prunes, orange blossoms, Turkish honey, dried leaves, and a little bit of tropical fruit too.  Somehow the sherry reads the loudest on this one.
Palate - Peppery and fruity sweet.  Lots of citrus and stone fruits.  Rose blossoms, watermelon Jolly Ranchers, and peat cinders.  Peeps of sherry and vanilla.  The least hot of all the palates.
Finish - Peat and oranges.  Tiny bits of tart and sweet.  Least weird of the finishes, though it still leaves a strange aftertaste.

Verdict: Success.  I would happily drink this again.  The issue with the finish keeps this one from flying.
Grade Range: B

With two successes and one failure this is the best luck I've ever had with vatting single malts.  One element that ran through all three vattings was a strange residue/texture in the finish.  Perhaps it was due to the Springbank spirit or the rum cask itself.

As always, I recommend taking it easy with incorporating a peated whisky into a vatting, especially if you're adding one of the big Islays.  I'd recommend being cautious with adding sherried whisky as well, though a blend should be able to take on sherry better than peat.  Ultimately, I do think many subpar single malts can be salvaged to a point with blending.  Just keep in mind, the quality of your final product often lies in the quality of your ingredients.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Single Malt Report: Springbank 13 year old 1999 Whiskykanzler (Fresh Rum Cask)

Here's the third of the three whiskykanzler single cask splits with Florin (a prince) and MAO.  The Arran refill sherry cask was reviewed last week, the Springbank fresh port cask was on Monday.

I'll get directly to the point.  This Springbank single rum cask couldn't be more different than the single port cask.  On one hand, that sort of variety can be a great thing. The Great Whisky Experience would get really boring and writing these reviews would get really boring if everything tasted the same.  Diversity is grand!  Yet, sometimes that same variety yields results that aren't exactly optimal.  For instance...

Distillery: Springbank
Bottler: Whiskykanzler
Type: Single Malt
Age: 13 years
Distilled: October 8, 1999
Bottled: May 22, 2013
Maturation: Fresh Rum Cask
Cask #: 307
Bottle count: 216
Alcohol by Volume: 57.1%

I love Springbank and I'm often impressed with the results from rum cask maturation, so this seemed like a perfect marriage.  But apparenly, marriage is a little more complicated than that.  When I took my first sniff and sip of this whisky, all I got was HOT ETHYL BURNING.  Even my esophagus felt scorched.  So unlike the port cask, this one wasn't consumed, er, vigorously.  These notes are from a tasting six months after that first sniff.

Its color is a mild amber.  The nose is hot.  Ashy peat, band aids, yeast.  Very little rum shows up; when it does it's as small notes of toffee and fried plantains.  Wet grass and wet moss.  With more than a half hour of air, the whisky finds hints of jasmine, powdered sugar, and lemon-scented bathroom cleaner.  The palate, hooooooo, very tight and hot.  Salt, pepper, tannins, and a green woody bitterness.  Rocks and soil.  A wee hint of sweetness.  Flat peat and white vinegar.  The finish is lengthy but not in a good way.  Heat.  Pepper, sand, and soy sauce.

Oooookay.  How about we douse this flame a little bit?

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose is simultaneously candied and farmy.  Stickier sugars and caramels than before.  Baked bread, orange peel, peat moss, and cherry lollipops.  Burnt plastic.  Flowers in dung.  Not much change in the palate.  Maybe more sweetness.  Still astringent with an off bitterness.  Peat getting fainter.  Barley shows up.  Maybe some sand.   The finish is bready and beachy.  The bread has been burned in the toaster.  Short note of caramel.  Loooooong note of bitterness.

A slight improvement on the nose.  Maybe some more water is needed to open the palate up?

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
More hay and farm animals in the nose.  The fruit seems to be slightly more tropical.  Lavender and orange blossoms.  Dove soap.  The palate?  *shrug*  It's watery.  Not much remains.  Stale bread, vinegar, salt, hint of soap.  Moments of peat and vanilla.  The finish is a little sweeter and aromatic, less bitter.  Peat-ish.

There's nothing to unlock in the palate.  It's not that it's closed.  There's just no there there.  The nose is fine (especially with a little bit of water), saving the whisky from tanking all together.  Had they not listed the fact this single malt was from a fresh rum cask, I would have guessed it was a 3rd or 4th fill puncheon.

After this tasting, I had 2.5 ounces left.  An idea formed immediately.  A question: Could this whisky be salvaged?  Find out the answer tomorrow!

Availability - Sold out at the retailer
Pricing - €69
Rating - 74 (with just a little water)

Monday, May 11, 2015

Single Malt Report: Springbank 13 year old 1999 Whiskykanzler (Fresh Port Cask)

Another borrowed bottle photo. Tomorrow we'll return to my photos.

Here's Florin's label if that's of any comfort.

Last week I reviewed a Whiskykanzler single cask Arran.  This week I'm reviewing two more Whiskykanzler single casks.  But this time, the whisky is from the Springbank distillery.  These two come from different cask types and result in two very different whiskies.  All three of these bottlings have an illustration by Ben Gash, who, if I'm reading correctly, also did the voice dubbing for Fox Mulder for the X-Files in Germany.  The different label illustrations can be lined up to make a little diorama panorama of a town.  It's a nice touch, and never gets cutesy or ironic like That Boutique-y Whisky Company's illustrations.

Today's review is of the Springbank aged in a "Fresh Port Cask".  The bottle count tells me that this wasn't a whole actual port pipe (which are enormous), so either they split one with another bottler or used a hogshead that was seasoned with port.  I'll guess the latter.  If you know more, please let me know in the comment section.

Like the single cask Arran reviewed last week, this bottle was split between Florin (a prince) and My Annoying Opinions.  Mr. MAO, who posted his review two months ago, liked it quite a bit.  But would I???

Distillery: Springbank
Bottler: Whiskykanzler
Type: Single Malt
Age: 13 years
Distilled: October 1, 1999
Bottled: May 22, 2013
Maturation: Fresh Port Cask
Cask #: 246
Bottle count: 312
Alcohol by Volume: 56.3%

Its golden color has rosy and maroon highlights.  There's also some sediment floating around in it, and I'm a sucker for schmutz in my whisky.  The port is very well integrated on the nose.  The chocolate and dried grass notes arrive simultaneously.  Leather jacket then hot cereal.  Grape and raspberry jam meet yeast and barley.  Some Heath Bar, too.  It's not hot at all, unlike the Arran.  After thirty minutes there's a gorgeous floral blast, followed by peels of lemon, citron, and apple.  The palate is hotter than the nose, but still nicely textured.  Some stewed or baked raisins.  An herbal fruit punch.  Flourless chocolate cake, dark cherries, and just a touch of smoke.  A hint of welcome sulphur.  There's some sweetness from the wine but the whisky remains very grassy.  Sweet and heat for much of the long finish, then bitter almond, bitter chocolate, and sour cherries.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose gets grape-ier.  Plums, cherry juice, a hint of manure, a rubber band.  Still some barley in there.  Maybe some smoke.  Definitely a cow (in boots) stomping on the grapes.  The palate calms down.  The elements merge to the point that they're tougher to separate.  There's a farm/hay note and silky fruit syrups.  Aromatic bitters.  Starts to get very sweet after a while.  The finish remains very sizable but gets sweeter and simpler.  Some more port starts to show.

I liked this a lot.  It was a good thing that I put aside two ounces to review because the rest of it vanished quickly.  I've started to warm up to port + whisky in general, but I think the full maturation (rather than a finish) in a port cask did the trick here as the parts are integrated into a solid whole.  Adding water doesn't improve things nor totally ruin them, though it does bring out more sweetness than my palate cares for.  The nose is the whisky's best part, but the palate is very good as well.

This single cask is sold out, but if you find one at an auction or in your own cabinet then drink it and don't flip it!  And when you drink it, I recommend it served neatly.  It may please both port fans and Springbank fans alike.  Well done, Whiskykanzler.

Availability - Sold out at the retailer
Pricing - €69
Rating - 89 (when neat)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Single Malt Report: Arran 1998-2012 Whiskykanzler (refill sherry cask)

Bottle pic from whiskybase. My own photos will be
returning to posts sometime next week.
During his travels to other lands, Florin (a prince) rescued four bottles from an excellent German whisky retailer known as Whiskykanzler (though the store itself is called Wein & Whisky) and was kind enough to split these bottles with MAO and I.  Three of these whiskies were single casks bottled by Whiskykanzler themselves.  They all have the perky cartoon-style label you see above -- though if you look closely there's a train crash occurring at the bottom of the label -- I'll explain this design further in the upcoming reviews of the other two single casks.  This will be the last of my small series on Isle of Arran single malts because the other two whiskykanzler single casks are from another distillery.  But those are scheduled for next week.  I'll take a sip of this Arran today.

Distillery: Arran
Bottler: Whiskykanzler
Type: Single Malt
Distilled: 1998
Bottled: 2012
Maturation: refill sherry cask
Cask #: 098
Bottle count: 267
Alcohol by Volume: 52.5%

The color is medium gold.  The nose is fruity as heck.  It starts off with apples and pineapples encased in ethyl fumes.  Then comes dried blueberries and cranberries, grape juice and orange juice.  After 15 minutes there's a moment of Black & Mild cigarettes.  So it begins spirity, then gradually the sherry arrives.  The palate starts off quite hot.  Lots of fruit again.  Welch's Fruit Snacks.  Those orange-cranberry scones that Whole Foods used to sell (or still does, I don't go to Whole Foods anymore).  A grapey sherry element grows with time, as does the citrus.  It finishes with zesty lime, dried cherries, grape jelly, and Welch's gummies.  The lime lasts the longest.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
More grapes on the nose, reading as grape candy and Manischewitz Concord now.  Gummy orange slices.  Plastic chairs and hint of beach air.  The heat is tamed in the improved lightly sugary palate.  Orange and lime peels take front stage.  A little barley actually shows through.  Those citrus peels stay for the more focused, creamy and pleasant finish.

The water worked well.  How about a little more...

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The much more relaxed nose picks up a mild grassy note.  Then its all citrus peels and vanilla.  Lemon creme pie.  Meanwhile, the palate takes on a lot of tartness and bitterness, as if one's eating those peels.  Some wood pushes through as well.  It's all pretty bold for the ABV.  The finish is mostly just tart with a small note of aromatic citrus blossoms.

I still had some whisky remaining and things were working well at 40%abv, what if I added more water?

WITH WATER (~30%abv)
Much more barley in the still vivid nose.  More vanilla too.  Lots of lime, grass, and leaves.  A puff of the original strength's fruitiness.  The palate is tart, sweet, creamy, and perky.  A hint of American oak pulp too.  It still has a finish: sugar, citrus, and vanilla.

This whisky improves with water, and that's not something I experience often.  Its money spot seems to be at 46%abv, it stays strong at 40%abv, and is more interesting at 30%abv than many whiskies are at 40%.  There's definitely some sherry present, but it never overshadows the fruity spirit.  Overall, this doesn't beat the official 10 nor 14 (nor maybe the 16), but it's still a decent whisky that swims very well.  It's also totally sold out now, so then there's that.

Availability - Sold out at the retailer
Pricing - €49
Rating - 84 (with water only, without water it's about an 80)

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Single Malt Report: Arran 14 year old (old label)

You'll have to pardon the official bottle shots over the next
couple of weeks. My parent brain (or my apparent brain?)
neglected to take bottle/sample photos for some of these.
DistilleryIsle of Arran Distillery
Type: Single Malt
Ownership: Isle of Arran Distillers Ltd.
Age: minimum 14 years
Maturation: 80% first-fill ex-bourbon casks, 20% ex-sherry casks
Region: Isle of Arran, Scotland
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No

After last week's extended schpiel about Arran, here's an actual review of my favorite whisky (official or indie) from their distillery.  This version of the 14 year old hit the shelves in 2010 and is currently being phased out for a new (and very good) version.  I received this sample of the old 14 via a swap with smokypeat (thanks!!!), see his review here.

The color is a light gold since the whisky is missing the boatload of e150a that floats in all its orange-brown glory in Oban 14.  The first volley in the nose comes in with charred orange peel, sea air, lemon blossoms, grass, and rye-like baking spice.  There's some nice moderate bourbon cask action going on, wherein the vanilla and caramel work more as a seasoning than as the entree.  After about a half hour of air, the whisky picks up some fresh thyme, ripe peaches, lots of flowers, Underberg, and just a whisper of something industrial.  The palate comes in as a united piece.  Toasty oak, Heath Bar, Werther's Originals, and fruit at the edges (maybe lime and apricot?).  A blend of salt and tart.  Maybe some marzipan.  My notes make it sound sweeter than it actually is because there's still something lean and mean about it.  The finish has long lasting aromatic bitters and tart citrus notes.  There are smaller notes of chocolate malt balls, toffee, and orange candies.

Yep, this stuff still hits the spot.  The expressive nose's quality is just as high as the well textured palate.  It's my favorite Arran.  Some of Arran's previous range of ten to twelve year old single bourbon and sherry casks are also very good, and the official ten year old is always a winner.  As I mentioned last week, the new version of the 14 is very close to the older version, perhaps a little more sherried and still of high quality.

Though winesearcher's price history shows that this hasn't gotten more expensive over time, Arran 14 could be found for $60ish in the LA area 2 or 3 years ago.  $70 isn't a terrible price in this market, but if your neighborhood retailers are selling this for $80-$90, you have my condolences.

For more opinions on the old 14, see the reviews by SmokypeatChemistry of the CocktailLAWS, My Annoying OpinionsWhiskyfun, and Whiskynotes.

Availability - Many specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - $65-$90 in the US, $40(!)-$70 in Europe (with VAT)
Rating - 89