...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Taste Off Reboot! Chivas Regal 12 year old (2015) versus Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 year old (2015)

As you read this right now, I am driving across the country, going as far as I can from my old home in Long Beach.  The destination is a one month respite in Upstate New York, with a 9 day Scottish excursion hidden within that month, and then an arrival in my new home of Columbus, Ohio.  And so, in honor of Los Angeles County and the film industry which I have left behind, I am doing something that I have already done before.  It worked so well the first time that I definitely had to do it again.

Welcome to The Johnnie Walker Black Label versus Chivas Regal 12yo Taste Off!!!  49 months ago, I posted a Johnnie Walker Black Label versus Chivas Regal 12yo Taste Off and it became my most popular review ever.  I'm not saying it's my best, I'm saying it's my most viewed, thus my development executives say I need to reboot it.  To my long time readers, I'm sorry, I know I promised never to review Johnnie Walker Black again, but I need to bury some ghosts, if ghosts can be buried.  Perhaps they can be buried in the commas I've used in this paragraph.,

I come to this Taste Off with mixed feelings.  Over the past couple years I've had a number of disappointing bar pours of Chivas and Black Label.  And, with so many of Pernod's and Diageo's brands going NAS, I've been wondering if more 12 year old malt whisky is going into these two blends than in all of the 12 year old single malt scotch bottlings put together.  Maybe I should just try these blends, then comment.

Note: Both of these whiskies were bottled November 2015.

Brand: Chivas Regal
Ownership: Pernod Ricard (via Chivas Bros. Ltd.)
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: minimum 12 years
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Bottling: November 23, 2015
(200mL purchased at a local liquor store)


Brand: Johnnie Walker
Ownership: Diageo
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: minimum 12 years
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Bottling: November 4, 2015
(200mL purchased at a local liquor store)


Chivas 12yo
Its color is a somewhat subdued medium gold.  The nose starts with vanilla and caramel, never shaking those off.  Smaller notes of orange and lemon and apple peels, salty corn chips, mint candy, and coconut appear in the mid- to background.  Caramel and brown sugar lead the palate.  Some tangy orange meets sea salt, cassia cinnamon, and spearmint leaves.  But WOW mostly caramel.  It finishes on cinnamon, sugar, mint, caramel, and......vodka.

JWBL 12yo
Its color is DiageoDoublePlusOrangeGold™.  The nose starts off with the caramel too, adding in overoaked buttery chardonnay.  But then that's met with mild pepper and smoke, roasted almonds, hint of flower blossoms, and a slight raisiny cheap cream sherry thing.  Toffee and nondescript underripe citrus lead off the palate.  The mash-up of the supposed 43 different single malts leaves a bit of a Brown character, like a mush-up of 43 different colors.  There's a slight spicy zing and Sugar Daddies.  The "smoke" note isn't really smoke, rather a combination of mild earthiness, cracked pepper, and road dust.  Its mouthfeel is thinner than that of the Chivas.  It finishes with vanilla, the aforementioned "smoke" (quotes included) note.  Caramel, a mild bitterness, and more vanilla.


Chivas 12yo
The nose leads with orange Smarties and Pixy Stix.  Then caramel and vanilla.  Then celery and parsley.  The palate has somehow picked up more raw heat.  There's caramel, lots of sugar, and a weird bitter note that's neither woody nor herbal.  It finishes identically to the palate.

JWBL 12yo
Much louder raisins on the nose.  A hint of hot tar and moss.  More of that buttery chardonnay thing.  The palate moves closer to the neat version of Chivas.  Very sweet with caramel, mellow sherry, and a woody bitterness.  In the finish there's sherry, caramel, butter, a bleh sweetness, and a dingy smoky aftertaste.


Black Label wins again, though both of their scores are much lower than last time.  I'll do some pros and cons here...

Chivas Pros: It's much better when served neatly.  It has a respectable mouthfeel considering how much it has been filtered and watered down.  The neat palate doesn't completely suck.  Likely has less added colorant than Black Label.
JWBL Pros: Every element has more complexity than the Chivas, making for a more engaging drink.  It too is better when neat.  Holds up better on the rocks.

Chivas Cons: There can't be more than 20% malt content in this thing.  It's almost grain whisky.  It finishes poorly.  It sucks with water.  It vanishes on the rocks (maybe not totally a bad thing in some cases, which in turn is a bad thing).
JWBL Cons: Though its more complex than the Chivas, that's not saying much.  The finish is uninspiring and the palate is only one step above that.  Don't add water.

Overall Pros: I didn't buy 750mL bottles of either of these.  The Black Label was better than the recent bar pours I've had of it.
Overall Cons: I'm probably done with Chivas Regal 12.  Though these were 200mL, I had little interest in going past the 120mL mark of either of these.

I feel somewhat better now, since I doubt that much 12 year old malt whisky actually goes into either of these.  As I referenced above, you could have told me the Chivas was all grain and I would've believed it.  Black Label probably has more malt in it......or it is just some Caol Ila and Talisker livening it up a bit more than the Glenallachie and Tormore do for the Chivas?  I feel like I should be bummed about how far the Black Label's quality has fallen, but I don't.  Keep up the great work, Diageo!

I'm having a sip of Glenfiddich 12yo right now and it beats the pants off of both of these whiskies.  If 'Fiddich 12 is only $5-$10 more than the Chivas and Black Label in your market, it's worth paying up for it (or, even better, Tomatin 12).  Hell, Buffalo Trace, Elijah Craig 12yo, and Old Grand Dad 114 bourbons are about the same price as Chivas and JWBL and they are so much more fun than either scotch.  Just something to consider...

Chivas Regal 12 year old (2015)
Availability - Wherever scotch is sold

Pricing - $20-$40(!)
Rating - 74

Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 year old (2015)
Availability - Like Trump's face on CNN, it's everywhere

Pricing - $25-$45(!)
Rating - 79

Monday, June 27, 2016

Sku's A.H. Hirsch Blind Tasting Experience

Sku (he of Recent Eats) recently conducted a blind tasting of two bourbons by providing two samples (named only 'A' and 'B') to twelve very innocent volunteers.  One of those two samples contained one of the most famous non-Pappy bourbons in recent history, the A.H. Hirsch 16 year old (distilled in Pennsylvania(!) and now selling for over $1000).  The other sample was a current on-the-shelf mystery bourbon.

I was amongst the twelve volunteers Sku selected.  (Riveting Disclosure: I had never tried the famous Hirsch before, thus had no idea what the thing smelled or tasted like.)  We all emailed our findings to Sku and then, this past Wednesday, he published the results.  First off, the mystery bourbon turned out to be Elijah Craig 12yo (with the age statement on the back label).  Then secondly, the overall results turned out to be a tie.  Six of us preferred the Hirsch and six of us preferred the EC12.

Below you will see two sets of notes.  The first set are the very notes I sent to Sku immediately after the blind tasting.  The second set of notes is from my retaste of those two bourbons, one week after the blind tasting, now knowing what I'm drinking.


"I liked Whiskey 'B' better than Whisky 'A'. I don't know if I should hope that Hirsch was "B" or that a current and more easily accessible whiskey was 'B'."
Whisky A:
Nose: A lot of barrel char, burnt notes, tobacco, and caramel. Smaller moldy oak and medicinal notes show up after some air.
Palate: A solid fruity and peppery start. Cherries, brown sugar, and cream soda. Improves with time.
Finish: Cherry juice, molasses, pepper, ethyl heat.

Whisky B:
Nose: Three Musketeers bar, toffee, and apples arrive first. Then pepper and horseradish. Some wood smoke appears later on.
Palate: Soft, creamy, lightly spicy, lightly tangy, graceful, and subtle. Adjectives! Creme brulee, citrus fruit, brown sugar, and simple syrup.
Finish: A burst of baking spice, almost like a rye. Citrus, vanilla, sugar, and a slight good bitter note.

"'A' was okay, nothing I'd run out and get, no matter the price. I'd drink it again though, so it would probably fall in the C+/B- range. I did like 'B' right from the start. Great nose on it. Somewhere around a B+. I'd buy it, though not for three or four figures."

Whisky A was A.H. Hirsch 16 year old Famousness.  Whisky B was Elijah Craig 12yo.  So, yes, I was one of six folks who liked the EC12 better.  I really do like the EC12 a lot and that letter grade I gave it above matches the number grade from  my March review.


A.H Hirsch 16 year old (gold foil)
Nose: Lots of caramel and vanilla.  A mild cherry fruitiness meets wet moldy cardboard.  Werther's Originals, orange oil, and furniture polish.  After a lot of air, it develops a rich maple syrup note.
Palate: Ethyl heat, baking spice, mint, and lots of oaky bitterness.  Smaller notes of mild rye, wood pulp, and black pepper.
Finish: Endless oaky bitterness, ethyl heat, and black pepper. It's a little sweeter than the palate and picks up some caramel along the way.

Elijah Craig 12 year old Small Batch (the final edition)
Nose: Brighter, less oaky, fruitier.  White stone fruits and apricot preserves. Hints of lemon, caramel, and orange gummi bears.  Some less pleasant tree bark and peanut notes show up occasionally.
Palate: Lots of tart limes and pepper.  Rye, salt, pixy stix, and a little bit of tangerine.  Some ethyl heat here too.
Finish: Rye, salt, and a mild bitterness.  Vanilla and tart citrus candies.  More oak than the palate.

I still enjoy the EC12 more than the Hirsch, but the distance between them lessened slightly.  The Hirsch's nose needs time to open up because it doesn't start well, but once it kicks into gear it's the best part of the whiskey.  I really don't get much from the palate except lots of oak and heat.  Maybe I'd bump it up to a solid B- on a happy day, but that's about it.  Meanwhile the Elijah Craig seemed fruitier this time, which is good, but also picked up some disappointing qualities in the nose.  Its palate works better for me than the Hirsch's because the oak is more restrained, resting in the mid- to background.  I wouldn't call either of them complex or fascinating, but I'd prefer drinking the Elijah Craig without a second thought, though it drops to a B grade here.  (On a side note, Kristen preferred the Hirsch.  Bingo.)

I have two not-particularly-profound things to say in conclusion:

1.) My palate doesn't like to be bludgeoned by oak staves, so I tend to not enjoy most bourbons older than 12 years (my palate saves me money that way!).  That's a partially a personal preference, but on the objective side of things a load of oak can narrow a whiskey's palate and ruin much of its complexity.

2.) As Sku's experiment demonstrated, it's quite possible that there isn't much difference in perceived quality between these two whiskies.  So then, why pay 40 to 60 times as much for the Hirsch?  It's for the story, the scarcity, the history, and not the liquid itself.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Single Malt Report: Laphroaig 10 year old Cask Strength, batch 007

'Twas requested, now here it is: a review of Laphroaig 10 year old Cask Strength, batch 007.  My bottle of batch 005 was such a disappointment that I now refuse to buy any batch of the Laphroaig CS blind again.  Batch 006 was a definite improvement, but still had a noticeable amount of the unfortunate sugar+oak that plagued 005.  While I still refuse to lose hope that Laphroaig will right their ship and get their classic 10yo expressions right, I was skeptical about batch 007, even though it received a great review from sausagemeister.com.  Luckily my friend, Brett With The Labelmaker, immediately offered up a sample of the 007 after the 005 & 006 review.  Thanks, Brett!

On a related note, most local whisky stores here are still selling batch 006 and haven't even gotten to 007 yet.  Is this due to overproduction of recent batches or did 005 put a real dent in Laphroaig CS enthusiasm out here?  Meanwhile, batch 008 has already been released in Europe.  But back to batch 007...

Distillery: Laphroaig
Owner: Beam Suntory
Region: Islay
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrels
Age: minimum 10 years
Batch: 007, Feb 2015
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? Probably
Alcohol by Volume: 56.3%

A further reduction of the sugar and vanilla and butter on the nose.  Yay!  But it's also not a peat monster.  Lots of limes, hints of mango.  Dried basil, smoky chocolate, new carpet.  Mossy and salty peat, but no medicinal notes to speak of.  The palate is pretty sharp and edgy, really peppery (green and pink peppercorns).  Herbal, salty, not sweet.  An enormous herbal bitterness starts to take over at the 10 minute mark.  Big spirit and little oak in the finish.  Cigarettes, soil, roots, and bitter smoke.

WITH WATER (~48%abv)
More anise in the nose.  Fresher herbs (oregano?), one flower blossom, and a much woodier smoke.  Whew, if there was any sweetness when it was neat, water washes it right out of the palate.  No soft notes, all aggression.  Bitter greens, earth, peppery mint leaves, and peppercorns.  Bitter smoke in the finish, with those bitter greens too.  Seaweed, tart blackberries, and dark chocolate.

This is a definite change of pace from the previous two batches.  Though the nose has its pretty sides, its palate is a real smack in the mouth.  I dig the herbal bitterness and huge pepper notes, and the neatly served finish actually feels like Laphroaig.  So, to me, this is another step up for the CS.  But it kinda has to be your sort of thing, with the bitterness and pepper.  It's missing the iodine, medicinal stuff, and more of the unique Laphroaig style, plus I wouldn't mind some sort of added dimension to the palate.  But, thankfully, they're approaching their old form.

Availability - Many specialty retailers
Pricing - It's still $55-$85 depending on where you live.  Winesearcher's charts show that its average US price has gone up only 10% over the past 5 years. Remarkable.
Rating - 88

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Single Malt Report: Laphroaig Lore

Don't worry this isn't another TL;DR post full of declarations about the consumer's soul.  It's just a review about a whisky, a relevant whisky too!

Though the word "lore" usually refers to the past, Laphroaig Lore is yet another NAS release chock full of blending and various casks, clearly following the path of The New Laphroaig.  Because it was NAS, some of us cynics wondered why it was going for 3x-4x the price of Laphroaig Select.  In March, @RecursieWhisky planted a nice jab on Twitter about this issue, which was enough to get a response from Laphroaig's distillery manager, John Campbell.
The full conversation is worth browsing if you get a chance, especially when Recursie asks why they then don't proudly list the 7yo age statement on the bottle.  Campbell responds, "because it's not a 7 year old liquid".  Well, it is 7 year old liquid according to the Scotch Whisky Association.  Perhaps Laphroaig may want to join Compass Box's campaign to allow for more disclosure of whiskies' contents.  Or perhaps they don't.  As long as customers continue to pay three figures for mystery meat, why would they want more transparency?

Ruben of Whiskynotes mentions in his review of Lore, that this is the unofficial replacement for the 15yo and 18yo.  If Laphroaig disclosed the contents of every Lore batch, then this wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing.  Otherwise: mystery meat.

Distillery: Laphroaig
Owner: Beam Suntory
Region: Islay
Age: 7 years and older
Maturation: Quarter casks, virgin European oak casks, refill casks, first fill ex-bourbon casks, first fill ex-oloroso casks, and possibly more.
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? ???
Alcohol by Volume: 48%
(Many thanks to Josh of The Whiskey Jug for this sample! The man loves this whisky.)

Its color is a light gold.  There's plenty of the New Laphroaig sugary and oaky style in the nose, but there's also quite a bit of dank dingy peat beneath it.  Both the dark and the light existing simultaneously but separately.  Then there's vanilla smoke, wet sand, salt, tar, and sugar cookies. Some peaches in the far back.  The palate is very toasty.  There's a nice graceful peating up front, met by a good brisk bitterness.  More herbal (oregano?) than sugary.  Some floral peat that's reminiscent of older Longrow.  With lots of air, some gnarly rough peat rises up, met by cinnamon bread, and salt.  The bitterness expands in the finish.  Sharp peat smoke, seaweed, and miso.  An angrier Laphroaig than in the nose.

This is an odd cat and a rare instance (for me) of the palate being more impressive than the nose.  The old and new malt, along with the assortment of casks, never merge in the nose which gave me reason for concern.  But the palate salvages it.  It's a tasty one, developing gradually from grace to power.  Since it's whisky, thus it's intended to be tasted, I'll weight the palate heavier than the nose.

I wouldn't doubt if Lore does indeed replace the 18 and 15, being that it exists in the late 18's price point.  I think the 18 was a better all around whisky (especially for its last two years), and I found the recent limited edition 15 year old to be more consistent in the nose than this.  But Lore tastes great and delivers a quality Laphroaig wallop at the end.

Availability - most specialty retailers, except it's slow to get to California as usual
Pricing - $110-$145
Rating - 86

Monday, June 20, 2016

No Whisky Consumer is Ever Really Powerless, and a review of Booker's Rye

It sucks when you can't afford the thing you like.  It sucks worse when you feel powerless over this inability to purchase your desire.  Thus the commodification and premiumisation of whisky sucks.  It sucks the simple pleasures away and replaces them with the reminder that you are impotent in the face of large outside forces.  You feel anger because the stuff you like has been taken from you.  So you react.  Either you buy things you can't afford anyway.  Or you rage about these offenses against mankind on the corner of every online avenue.  Or you recognize that, damn, you've become emotionally dependent on an inanimate object, and that the people and systems that created this thing do not care about your existence.  And then you're left trying to figure out how you got to this point.  But rather than confronting this personal issue, you find it much easier to complain about prices, publicly swear you're not going to feed the market animal, and then quietly continue to buy whiskies at many times the rate at which you'll consume them.  Trust me, you'll be angry again.  Very soon.

This is my review of the new limited edition Booker's Rye, now selling and selling out for over $300.  Many many thanks to The Whiskey Jug for this sample.

Owner: Beam Suntory
Brand: Booker's
Type: Straight Rye Whisky
Distillery: Jim Beam Distillery
Location: Clermont, Kentucky
Mash Bill: known only by a dead man, apparently
Age: 13 years
Batch: 1
Alcohol by volume: 68.1%

There are so many dessert elements in the nose: toffee pudding, vanilla pods, almond croissants, milk chocolate, and toasted coconut.  Then there's something in between creamsicles and orange sherbet.  Puffs of wood smoke here and there.  Occasional moments of old oak framing the spirit.  Sometimes there's a hint of maple.  The palate leads with caramel sauce.  In fact its texture is almost as thick as caramel sauce.  Roasted almonds.  Tart raspberries and tart cherries.  Maybe some sour fruit candy.  Again, some wood smoke.  Rolos infused with cayenne pepper in the finish.  More of the caramel sauce, with tart berries and cherries.

What do you pay for when you buy a whiskey?  Are you buying the story?  Are you buying the packaging?  Are you buying the exclusivity?  Or are you just buying the fluid in the bottle?

We put our trust in the producers that the information on the label is correct, that the whiskey is X years old, so-and-so abv, that it's "Straight", that it's bottled-in-bond or a single barrel.  These are regulated by a government unit, but it's an entity that can't even get its own rules right when approving alcoholic products.  And that's just the label.

Then there's the story.  Story is essential, or so a revered whisky writer said publicly to a group of craft entrepreneurs a couple years ago.  So story is what we continue get, from both the little guys and the big guys.  Sometimes (if not the majority of the time), there's no truth behind the story.  Rather than take one element of a product and exploit its indispensable nature, many companies support the marketing approach of The Complete Lie, horking up a sticky web of effluvium to capture revenue.

But sometimes the tale may be true.  Booker Noe probably did make this one batch of high-rye rye whiskey before he passed away, taking the recipe with him.  Maybe this is legitimately limited and scarce.  Does that thrill you enough to entice you to pay triple the price of what you'd normally see for a pre-pubescent rye?  And speaking of the listed age, there isn't much 13yo rye out there to begin with, so does that get you to pay considerably more than you would for an 8yo rye?  I'm not talking about market forces.  I'm talking about the human behavior behind those forces.  I'm talking about we, the micro.

But am I anything more than superficially part of the 'we"?  Whisk(e)y pricing doesn't make any sense to me.  People buying whiskies at five to ten times the rate they consume the stuff doesn't make any sense to me.  People piling up credit card debt to buy things just to keep up with the cult doesn't make any sense to me.  I can't relate to any of this.  It's been years since I felt the ache of this consuming addiction, and I don't feel like I'm missing anything by not committing to the chase.  Does this make me a bad whisky blogger?  Does this make me unreliable?  Am I no longer part of the club?  Frankly, my dear, I don't give a fuck.

Booker's Rye is one of the best ryes I've had, comparable to the finest of Willett/MGP and Buffalo Trace.  While its nose is tremendous, its palate is merely awesome.  While I usually have issues with overbearing oak in whiskies half its age, that's not the case here.  The oak merges and heightens the well-matured spirit.  What a treat!  Would I buy it for $300?  No.  Would I buy it for half that price?  No.  But, though I've never paid $100 for an American whiskey, I would probably break that rule with this one.  The scarcity and the story do not move me as much as the whiskey itself does.  So I could recommend it at $100.  If the backstory affects your wallet's emotions and enhances your buying and drinking experience enough to pay thrice that amount, have at it.  But don't get angry when the next rye with a three-act structure enters the market with a $400 tag.  Especially if it's another rye by the same company.

Availability - Primary market? Good luck with that. Secondary market? Aplenty.
Pricing - $300 is the floor, there is no ceiling
Rating - 92

Friday, June 17, 2016

Single Malt Report: Islay Distillery 8 year old 2007 Exclusive Malts, cask 1601

I reviewed the 7 year old 2007 single cask yesterday.  Today I'm posting about the 8 year old 2007.  I tasted these two very different whiskies side by side a few nights ago.  I was a big fan of the 7yo, let's see how the 8yo fares.

Distillery: Lagavulin
Ownership: Diageo
Independent Bottler: Creative Whisky Company
Range: Exclusive Malts
Age: 8 years (October 17, 2007 - February 2016)
Maturation: probably a refill hogshead
Cask #: 1601
Bottles: 320
Alcohol by Volume: 56.2%

Its color is amber, much lighter than yesterday's younger whisky.

The nose is rawer, yeastier.  It's lemony and very vegetal.  Cruciferous veg, probably.  There's also some vinegar, cucumber, sweat, and plenty of moss.  Hints of bacon and Dove soap.

There's burnt rubber and burnt ham in the palate.  If yesterday's Lag was steaky, this one is porky.  But its biggest note, that almost overwhelms, is hot cinnamon candy.  There's also brown sugar, basil, and ethyl.

Brown sugar, cinnamon, ethyl heat, burnt rubber, and dry cheese in the finish.  It's sweeter than the palate.  There's a slight sourness to it and the heat lasts the longest.

WITH WATER (~43%abv)
The nose remains vegetal, but it also picks up an herbal quality.  It's a little floral with gentle peat and wood smoke.  Some cardamom too.

Still some heat in the palate.  Hot cinnamon candy leads the way.  Some salt.  A decent herbal bitterness like a German digestif.

Almonds, brown sugar, cinnamon, and the sour note in the finish.

This one embraces its youth, trending towards the Classic of Islay style, though at thrice the price.  You're going to have to like young raw peated stuff if you're chasing this bottle.  Though I usually prefer less oak in my scotch, I found the 7yo's rich barrel gave it more complexity, character, and thrills than the 8 and its (possible) refill barrel.

The nose is the best part of this whisky, though I enjoy its type of challenge.  The palate and finish prove narrow, but are still of interest.  I think the whole thing benefits from some water.  If you've already purchased this one, I recommend hydrating it a bit, adding a little water at a time to find its sweet spot.

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I don't really understand the pricing on these anonymous Islays.  Nor can I fathom the massive €€€ on the infant Caol Ila single casks (via other European independent bottlers) now hitting shelves in Europe.  Is everyone just chasing Kilchoman's single cask prices (of which 5yos often sell for $130+) at this point?  And is that wise?  Whisky Dave, Mr. Exclusive Malts, commented on yesterday's post about the expense, and I do look forward to some more thoughts from him on this issue, because these baby Islay price hikes may ultimately lead to a shrinking customer base.

Availability - Many US specialty retailers
Pricing - $150ish
Rating - 83

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Single Malt Report: Islay Distillery 7 year old 2007 Exclusive Malts, cask 904

The last time I reviewed something bottled by the Creative Whisky Company, my post caused a bit of a hubbub.  But rather than shying away from more hubbub, I'm going to just keep reviewing what've I got here.  And what I've got here is an Exclusive Malts whisky.  In fact I have two Exclusive Malts whiskies.  And, in keeping with this week's theme, they're both (allegedly) Lagavulins.  Let's see if I can stir up any shit this week.

Today's "Islay Distillery" whisky is a 7 year old from 2007, while tomorrow's is the 8 year old 2007 (currently on the shelves).

Distillery: Lagavulin
Ownership: Diageo
Independent Bottler: Creative Whisky Company
Range: Exclusive Malts
Age: 7 years (August 15, 2007 - January 2015)
Maturation: first-fill bourbon cask (hogshead?)
Cask #: 904
Bottles: 293
Alcohol by Volume: 54.6%

NEATThe color is a light gold, noticeably darker than the EM 8yo.

The nose leads with big gorgeous peat, then mint, menthol, and burlap.  After 20+ minutes of air, the whisky picks up vibrant notes of strawberry bubblegum, whipped cream, tangerines, and praline.

Sweet aromatic peat in the palate.  Rosewater syrup, almonds, agave nectar, and honey butter.  It's spicy (chili oil) and steaky.

The finish is slightly rubbery, but also sweet and peppery.  Peat syrup.  Almonds/marzipan.

WITH WATER (~43%abv)
All sorts of new nose notes, like flower blossoms, butterscotch, rich vanilla bean, and baked apple.  The peat gets more moderate.  The mint and whipped cream notes remain.

The peat remains just as intense in the palate, though.  Some cinnamon sneaks in now.  Salt, vanilla, brown sugar, and a hint of the nose's florals.

The salty and meaty notes show up in the finish.  Along with peat, pepper, sugar, and a hint of herbal bitterness.

Yum.  Now we're talking.  This isn't an example of a cask being pushed to the market early only to take advantage of the single malt craze.  This thing was plucked and bottled at the right time, rich at 7 years.  Had this been left to age until 10 it may have been totally overoaked.

The nose reads excellently with or without water.  The palate, though not terribly complex, is still very good, though better without water.  Unfortunately, the price on this whisky is/was beyond my comprehension.  Though it's a different whisky style than the official 12yo CS, it is of comparable quality to some of those batches, thus I'd have recommended it at $100 or less.  But at $160+, it's something for which you'll need to utilize your own value system.

Availability - A few US specialty retailers
Pricing - $160-$180
Rating - 89 (when neat)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Single Malt Report: Classic of Islay 2015 Jack Wiebers Whisky World, cask 1704

As mentioned yesterday, the online whisky anorak community has declared that Jack Wieber's Classic of Islays are in fact Lagavulin single malts.  I reviewed Classic of Islay cask 530 yesterday.  Today I'm reviewing cask 1704.  My sample comes from the bottle purchased for the OC Scotch Club event I hosted back in November.  I tasted these two whiskies side by side in order to compare and contrast and, hopefully, get more deeply detailed notes.  The results were mixed.

Distillery: Lagavulin
Ownership: Diageo
Independent Bottler: Jack Wiebers Whisky World
Range: Classic of Islay
Region: Islay, perhaps
Age: ???
Maturation: "oak"
Cask #: 1704
Alcohol by Volume: 56.4%

The nose is brighter and fruitier than cask 530's, lots of rosy esters.  There are also ocean notes like seaweed and oysters.  Then there's ham, caramel, and hay.  After 20+ minutes, a subtle butyric note floats up.

The palate is mild.  Simple.  Bland.  There's peat, heat, salt, and a light sugariness.  After 20+ minutes, it does pick up a tangy lemon note, but also a woody bitterness.

Heat, soil, and smoke in the finish.  It picks up some sweetness and lemons with time in the glass.

WITH WATER (~43%abv)
The nose gets oaky, as in American oak pulp and butter.  Flower blossoms, anise, mint leaves, and light peat.

The palate is peppery with a simple sweetness and some caramel.  The tangy note expands.

The finish is tangy, sweet, and bitter, with a big caramel note.

Like cask 530, this one doesn't swim well.  And like that cask, the nose is the bright highlight.  But this cask's palate is DOA.  I really dug into this one trying to unearth some palate character without much in the way of results.  My palate wasn't shot because I found plenty of stuff going on with cask 530 during the same tasting.  Plus my sample was not oxidized because I poured it the day after the bottle was opened.  Cask 1704 tasted sort of like a mellow peated blend, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but this is cask strength Lagavulin.  Also, I could really do without the aggressive oak notes which, at times, feel like American "craft" whiskey.  The folks at whiskybase like this cask more than I, so take a look at their reviews for very different opinions.

Availability - Continental Europe
Pricing - €40 to €55
Rating - 78

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Single Malt Report: Classic of Islay 2014 Jack Wiebers Whisky World, cask 530

For the past fifteen years, the German bottler, Jack Wiebers Whisky World, has been releasing multiple cask strength single casks of their "Classic of Islay" brand.  Since the Internet has decided that Classic of Islay = Lagavulin, and the Internet is always right and reasonable, that means Jack Wiebers has had in his/its possession more than 100 casks of Lagavulin and decided it was best to release all of them young, NAS, and cheap.  This baffles me from both a geek and business perspective.  I would figure that at this point in time spare Lagavulin casks are pure gold.  Why keep chucking these things out so quickly?  On the bright side, Jack Wiebers Whisky World has been keeping the price at €50 or lower.

I'll be reviewing two of these single casks.  One today, one tomorrow.

Distillery: Lagavulin
Ownership: Diageo
Independent Bottler: Jack Wiebers Whisky World
Range: Classic of Islay
Region: um......Islay?
Age: ???
Maturation: "oak"
Cask #: 530
Alcohol by Volume: 56%
(sample acquired via sample swap with Jordan of Chemistry of the Cocktail)

The nose is very meaty and salty, then vegetables burnt over mesquite chips.  Moderate notes of smoked salmon, anise, and dark chocolate show up here and there.  With time it picks up some manure and menthol.

Plenty of heat on the palate, but not too much.  It's mossy, minty, with crushed red pepper.  There a good bitterness to it, a light cherry-ish sweetness, and a slight lime note.

The finish starts mossy then goes ashy.  Less hot than the palate.  Soft bitterness, lime juice, and a sharp peppery tingle.

WITH WATER (~43%abv)
The nose quiets down.  There's hay, white wine vinegar, grapefruit, peanut dust, and a hint of manure.

On the palate there's mildly floral peat, a little bitterness, a light sweetness, a little spicy zing, and not much else.

The finish mirrors the palate.

Forget the water, go neat with this one.  The nose is rough but fun; either one is a fan of the style or not (check out the notes above).  The palate and finish are decent, though in need of some more angles or dimensions, something possibly gained by longer maturation.  I see some connections to other young Lagavulins I've had, but it really could be a young rumbling Caol Ila or a number of other peated whiskies bottled early.  Though I don't know how old this one is, I'm going to guess it's in the single digits, probably younger than 8 years.  It would have been nice to see what it would have been like after 12+ years in "oak".  In any case, the price of these "Classics" aren't bad considering they're single cask Islays.

Availability - Continental Europe
Pricing - €40 to €55
Rating - 83

Monday, June 13, 2016

Single Malt Report: Lagavulin 8 year old 200th Anniversary Limited Edition

2016 marks Lagavulin distillery's 200th birthday.  In honor of that nice big round number they released......an eight year old whisky.  My first reaction was, hee hee wut?

Last year, Laphroaig dropped a whole slew of celebratory releases of different ages for their 200th birthday.  For Ardbeg's 200th birthday, the distillery released an odd mish mosh NAS whisky which was their worst Ardbeg Day release yet.  So Lagavulin (read: Diageo) took this third approach.  They put out an 8 year old (age statement!) whisky at a respectable ABV (48%) and keep the fake colorant out of it.  I appreciated those three factors, but it still seemed like a "oh crap we need to release something" approach.  The good news is that it doesn't cost $100.  The less than good news is that it seems to go for relatively the same $$$ as the regular 16 year old.  The best news is that it's good whisky.

Distillery: Lagavulin
Owner: Diageo
Maturation: refill American oak and European oak casks
Age: minimum 8 years
Release date: 2016
Limited edition: 20,000 bottles
Chill-filtration? No Possibly
Caramel coloring? No Yep, mit farbstoff, as per German retailers
Alcohol by Volume: 48%
(sample provided by Brett from his own purchased bottle. Thanks, Brett!)

The color is a very light amber.  No e150a here.

The nose leads with peat smoke (duh), anise, hay, boat fuel exhaust, and cocoa powder.  Then toasted bread crusts and dried seaweed with hints of dried lavender and raisins.

There's a good rich tobacco note in the palate which is joined by mint and basil leaves.  A light herbal bitter nip is met well with a mellow sweetness.  With time, a smoked almond note develops.  The peat rings in loudly but it never overwhelms the rest of these characteristics.

Peat and salt arrive and stay the longest in the long finish.  Some black pepper, good bitterness, and dried cherries appear as well.  That peat gradually shifts from smoke to ash.

WITH WATER (~43%abv)
The nose is similar to its neat state.  Maybe a little more floral, with hints of dried stone fruits and dried berries, along with a whisper of vanilla.

Not much change in the palate either.  More smoked nuts, more smoke, and some lemon tartness.  It does seem to pick up a thicker mouthfeel.

The finish is similar too.  Slightly bitterer and tarter with a new smoked nuts note.

Like last year's Laphroaig releases, this Lagavulin seems scheduled to hit the California shelves last.  First it shows up in the UK, then Europe, then East Coast USA, then The Midwest USA.  There must be some distribution issues going on, again.

Anyway, I like this whisky.  It's a brisk raw alternative for those who love the 16yo.  It's also sort of a lighter version of their annual 12yo Cask Strength edition, though due to its age and lack of oak influence it's anything but soft.  Having now tried it, I do appreciate that Lagavulin elected to release this whisky and I wish they'd make it a regular member of the range.  Which, of course, they won't.

If you can find it for under $60, and you're a fan of the 12yo, then I recommend this one.  But if you're seeing it selling for $70+ -- 20,000 bottles is not that limited and this stuff is all of 8 years old -- then you might want to split a bottle with some friends.  Or just not buy it.  That'll be my own approach.

Availability - East Coast USA and Europe
Pricing - $55 (yay) - $80 (boo)
Rating - 87

Friday, June 10, 2016

Single Malt Report: Mannochmore 11 year old 2003 SMWS 64.60

While I do not begrudge anyone who belongs to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (especially those who have shared samples!), membership to SMWS makes no sense for my budget.  $229 membership fee and then an annual $70 renewal fee just to get the right to buy single cask whiskies?  While SMWS does bottle some sensational casks, so does Signatory and AD Rattray and Gordon & Macphail and Whisky Doris and Archives and......you get my point.  That $229 could go towards a number of excellent single malts (though it won't go as far as it used to).  Five years of membership without buying a single bottle would cost $509.  Dang.  That's a one-way flight to Scotland itself.  So clearly SMWS is for ballers only.  If you haven't already gathered from this site, I'm not a baller; I'm a bawler.

How about a review?

Distillery: Mannochmore (SMWS 64)
Ownership: Diageo
Independent Bottler: Single Malt Whisky Society
Funny name: Hemingway daiquiri
Age: 11 years (June 11, 2003 - 2015)
Maturation: first-fill ex-bourbon
Cask#: 64.60
Alcohol by Volume: 62.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(sample provided by Brett from his own purchased bottle. Thanks, Brett!)

The nose starts off with marshmallows and coconut creme, then graham crackers and brown sugar.  It exists somewhere between whoopie pies and Twix bars.  With 30 mins of air, some new notes of charcoal and hay linger around a vanilla bean.

The palate has an intense sharpness, though that's likely due to the big ABV.  Lime juice, peach juice, vanilla bean, cantaloupe, and a hint of marshmallows make up the rest.

It finishes with peaches, sugar cookies, graham cracker crust, and gummi bears.  Pretty long and hot.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Caramel sauce, toasted nuts, and vanilla bean start off the nose, followed by hints of peach and malt.

The palate gets thicker, clearer, darker.  New notes of berry syrup, toffee, watermelon jolly ranchers, molasses, and soft smoke appear.  It still holds its sweetness, especially with some peach candy.

It finishes with a complex rich sweetness.  Whisky toffee pudding, plums, and a whiff of smoke.

Wow, this is really good.  I dare say water opens it up too.  I don't have a sweet tooth, but this still makes for a great dessert malt that would pair with a lot of good side sweets.  SMWS's cask pickers plucked this one at the right time because that rich cask would have totally swallowed up the malt within another year or two.  For Society members, sorry, this one has already sold out.  :(

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - $110-ish
Rating - 88

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Single Malt Report: Mannochmore 12 year old Flora & Fauna

As Diageo drearily oozes out NAS malt after NAS malt -- Storm, Dark Storm, Skye, Neist Point, Port Ruighe, Little Bay, Selected Reserve, Gold Reserve, Amber Rock, Rare Old, Classic, Double Matured, Master's Art, Spey Cascade, Tailfire, Sunray, Winter's Gold -- like an infected wound leaking pus, one wonders why they elected not to take the road Bacardi is traveling.  The makers of Dewar's recently released new official ranges of single malts from a number of their distilleries (Aultmore, Royal Brackla, Craigellachie, and Macduff), with age statements too, mind you.  Both companies want a piece of the growing single malt market, but they're approaching from very different directions.  I'm not sure how Diageo hopes to secure single malt fans with silly names tied to young whiskies, but I do see how Bacardi can catch some of us with official ranges we've never seen in this century.

What I'm trying to say is, I wish Diageo would refresh the Flora & Fauna series and make it available worldwide.  Even if it's just one 10 or 12 year old from distilleries like Blair Athol, Dailuaine, Glen Spey, Inchgower, and Linkwood.  Hell, they don't even need to change the labels.  I would happily spend the $40 that I would never spill for any of the new NASes on this whisky instead.  This paragraph of course doesn't apply to the good folks in the UK who can actually obtain an F&F without much trouble.

I wrote a brief review of the Mannochmore F&F in my Malt Nuts post on Monday.  Josh from The Whiskey Jug gave poured me a sample from his bottle, the same one from the event.  Thanks, Josh!

Distillery: Mannochmore
Range: Flora & Fauna
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Age: at least 12 years
Maturation: probably re-fill American oak casks
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

Its color is a very light amber.  Nice, Diageo!

The nose is full of lemons and blossoms.  Watermelon rind (or it smells like rind tastes).  Peaches, dried apricots, and lime popsicles.  With time it develops small notes of vinegar, vanilla, and sambuca.

The palate is lightly malty with pepper and lime.  It's moderately sweet with flower kiss candy and almonds.  It develops a lovely sweet + spicy note after 20 minutes, and the flower blossoms float in.

It finishes sweetly with limes and malt. Vanilla and cream soda. Then that sweet + spicy note takes over.

WITH WATER (~35%abv)
The nose gets super malty, almost chocolatey.  Subtler florals.  Vanilla, limes, caramel, and sugar.

The palate is very malty too, with a hint of good bitterness.  Some tart lemons and limes, as well.

The finish matches the palate.

This would be a very solid starter malt, maybe a tiny notch up on Tomatin 12, fruity and pretty, but with a spicy zing to the palate to give it more depth.  The 43% abv works in its favor, so I'm glad it wasn't bottled at 40.  And it takes to water very well, turning deeply malty at 35%abv.  Also, no e150a, perhaps?  It looks like whisky, not orange-brown Diageo™.  So that's another plus.  If this sold for $40 in The States I'd recommend it.  But it's £45+shipping from the UK, so I can't.

Availability - Europe only
Pricing - £45 + shipping (for us USers)
Rating - 83

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Single Malt Report: Mannochmore 16 year old 1990-2007 Connoisseurs Choice

Mannochmore has a short unromantic history compared to other Speyside distilleries.  Built in 1971 on the same property as the Glenlossie distillery, Mannochmore's original purpose was to supply malt whisky for the Haig blends.  For more than three decades the two distilleries even shared employees.  Shut down in the second half of the '80s when rough times hit the Scotch industry, Mannochmore's distillery was shut down again in 1995, then reopened the following year.  Diageo currently uses 100% of the distillery's output in blends.

Connoisseurs Choice is one of Gordon & Macphail's longest running brands.  What has made Connoisseurs (no apostrophe) Choice great is that it has allowed whisky fans to try single malts from nearly every single distillery, especially those distilleries that do not have their own official releases.  On the other hand, all of the CCs are bottled at reduced ABVs.  It seems as if they were mostly (or entirely) bottled at 40%abv for a couple decades.  Then some were bottled at 43% and others at 46%.  Those 46ers are the ones I look to snap up, especially if they're priced reasonably.  And that's just what I did with this 16 year old Mannochmore from 1990.

Distillery: Mannochmore
Ownership: Diageo
Independent Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail (Connoisseurs Choice)
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Age: 16 years old (1990-2007)
Maturation: "oak casks"
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
(review sample taken from the bottom half of my bottle)

The nose has an entertaining mix of fruit and industrial stuff.  Pears, peaches, canned fruit cocktail, and lychee candy meet plaster, paint VOC, and a hint of moldy basement.  There are also some small notes of caramel and balsamic vinegar.

The palate has a bit of heat to it, but it's also big on fruits and fruit candy.  Lime, pineapple, pears, and fresh ginger.  Steady sweetness throughout and also that cayenne-like burn.

There's a hint of coffee in the otherwise sweet finish.  Gummy bears, lemons, limes, in-season apples, and ginger read loudest.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose gets maltier and picks up more caramel and vanilla bean action.  New notes of bubblegum and lavender flowers.  Still a lot of pears in there.

The palate cools off a bit.  There's vanilla, cream soda, limes, ginger, and black pepper.

The finish is similar to the palate with its lime and cream soda character.  But it also has the nose's caramel sauce and malt.

I enjoyed this whisky more at home (with a much larger pour) than I did at the Malt Nuts event.  The quirkiness of the nose became clearer, and actually worked despite what sound like clashing characteristics.  The fruits appear consistently throughout the experience and I liked them despite the occasionally aggressive sweetness.  It swims pretty well too, to the point where I might experiment with adding water whenever I drink what's left of the whisky.

There's a 15 year old 1990-2006 CC Mannochmore floating around out there too.  That one was from refill sherry casks.  Whatever "oak casks" this one came from, I'm going to guess they were refill (2nd or 3rd) too because aside from the little bit of caramel and vanilla, this was mostly spirit forward.  While this one won't win an excess of superlatives, it is a decent whisky and goes to show there's no need to fear the Mannochmore.

Availability - Scarce
Pricing - $75-$80
Rating - 85

Monday, June 6, 2016

Mannochmore Multitudes with The Malt Nuts

A few weeks ago I attended my first Malt Nuts monthly event.  Though it was their 55th get together and everyone already knew each other, they were very welcoming and I felt like I instantly fit right in.  And AND(!) these events are blind tastings.  So, though we may know the distillery or theme, we don't know the age or strength or anything about what's sitting in our glasses.

This month's event was all about Mannochmore (with one surprise) and a pair of Alexander Murray single casks.  For more details and photos, please see The Whisky Jug's post about this same event.  Because my notes are nearly illegible and because there's a lot of whisky to write about here, I'll keep my reviews as Sku-sized as possible.


These were poured for us by an Alexander Murray rep who claimed there will be more cask strength stuff coming from his company soon.  That would appreciated since the rest of their range is 40%abv, colored, and filtered.  Note: these two were not poured blindly.

Highland Park 13yo 2000 Alexander Murray, ex-bourbon cask, 56.1%abv
Review: The nose has something strange and stinky like moldy fruit. That's followed by floral gum, anise, and burnt hay. The palate has that odd funk from the nose, followed by some vague floral notes and moderate malt levels. It's quite drying, especially in the finish.
Comments: It is by far the least pleasant Highland Park I've ever tried. After sipping it, Josh (The Whiskey Jug) and I were like "WTF?" Man, I'm glad I didn't buy this blindly.
Grade Range: C-  (and that's probably generous)

Dalmore 15yo 1999 Alexander Murray, ex-sherry secondary maturation, 55.6%abv
Review: The nose is very floral with a little bit of mango and larger notes of dried cherries. The palate is herbal, buttery, and sweet.  Peppery alcohol heat, occasional hints of malt, and drying in the finish.
Comments: Though the palate was forgettable, the nose was pretty good. I'm not a Dalmore fan, but this one was better than the Highland Park.  Still, it's tough to recommend.
Grade Range: C+/B-


1A - Mannochmore Flora & Fauna 12yo, 43%abv
Review: The nose is very clean, herbal, and full of crisp grain notes.  The palate is a little bitter, a little fruity, a little malty. Texturally, it's thin and watery.
Comments: A happy lack of oak makes this a reliable naked malt.  I really wish it had more oomph and depth to it, but it's a Diageo product so they likely abused this stuff within an inch of its life.
Grade Range: C+/B-
(A full review to follow later this week!)

1B - Mannochmore 16 year old 1990-2007 G&M Connoisseurs Choice, 46%abv
This is the bottle I brought to the event.  Because it was unopened until that night, I had no idea what this whisky would taste like.
Review: A musty basement note starts the nose, followed by spicy, salty, and savory things. Also, nutty sherry? The palate is bright and mildly peppery with lots of malt.  White fruit notes start small then expand with time. A hint of salty toffee.
Comments: I'm so thankful it wasn't crappy.  It's not amazing either, but it's a solid drinker.  I'm looking forward to drinking some more of it.
Grade Range: B-/B
(A full review to follow later this week!)

1C - Mannochmore 11 year old 1996-2007 Duncan Taylor NC2 for D&M Wines, 46%abv
Review: The nose is all spirit.  A little bit of white fruit, lime, cucumber, sugar.  There's also a fishy/seaweed note in the background. The palate is perfumy and cloying with a slight leathery note.  I've had glasses of water with longer finishes than this.
Comments: Totally out of whack, this is the second D&M exclusive whisky I've found unpleasant.  I love spirit-forward whiskies, but......bleh.
Grade Range: D+/C-

2A - Mannochmore 13 year old 1998 G&M for Binny's, 57.8%abv
Review: The nose is fruity with a slight barbecue note.  Toasty, herbal, medicinal with pencil shavings and sherry? The palate is sweet and tangy with lovely bright fruity esters.
Comments: Surprising levels of depth and complexity.  The best of the bunch.
Grade Range: B+

2B - Glenlossie 17 year old Hepburn's Choice for K&L Wine Merchants, 55.4%abv
Surprise! A Glenlossie, Mannochmore's older sibling and next door neighbor.
Review: Baked bananas, vanilla bean, and lemon lollipops on the nose.  The palate is sweet, herbal, toasty, and malty.  Lemon candy and vanilla notes run right through into the finish.
Comments: Whisky candy! K&L recently dropped the price on this one to $69.99.
Grade Range: B/B+

3A - Mannochmore 12 year old 1999 Blackadder Raw Cask, 60.6%abv
Review: Sulphur, leather, and rocks on the nose. Sulphur, pepper, sulphur, heat, sulphur, and a slight sweetness in the palate.
Comments: Sulphur. It gets points for brutality, but I can't say I have any desire to drink this again.  A number of Nuts liked this whisky more than I.
Grade Range: C+

3B - Mannochmore 16 year old 1991-2008 Signatory, South African sherry butt, 55.8%abv
Review: Bananas, caramel, apples, and toffee pudding on the nose.  The palate is mild, grainy, grassy, and a little floral.
Comments: The Whisky Jug found the nose inert, but the palate vivid.  I had the exact opposite experience.  I wish the palate matched the great nose, though.  Meanwhile, I would have never guessed this was anything but a regular refill cask.
Grade Range: B-

3C - Mannochmore 11 year old 2003-2014 SWMS, first fill ex-bourbon cask, 62.3%abv
Review: Marshmallows, marzipan, confectioner's sugar, potpourri, and cherries in the nose.  On the sweet palate light perfume and white fruit notes meet spicy oak.
Comments: A good spicy dessert whisky.  Drinkable at full strength.
Grade Range: B/B+
(A full review to follow later this week!)

This great experience has me looking forward to June's Malt Nuts event (which will be my final LA whisky event).  Many thanks to Mr. Kaye for the invitation!

My favorites from this session were:
1. Mannochmore 13 year old 1998 G&M for Binny's, 57.8%abv
2. Glenlossie 17 year old Hepburn's Choice for K&L Wine Merchants, 55.4%abv
3. Mannochmore 11 year old 2003-2014 SWMS, first fill ex-bourbon cask, 62.3%abv

My own Connoisseurs Choice bottle probably finished fourth.  As I noted above, I will be providing full reviews of the Connoisseurs, Flora & Fauna, and SMWS bottlings later this week.  Stay tuned...

Friday, June 3, 2016

Single Malt Report: Arran 15 year old 2000 Sherry Hogshead for K&L Wine Merchants

Like Wednesday's Longmorn, here's another K&L exclusive single cask featured at the K&L Strikes Back event from two months ago.  In this case, K&L purchased the cask from the distillery itself rather than from an independent bottler.  Ooh, and like the Longmorn, it's actually still available for purchase as of this moment.

Distillery: Isle of Arran
Ownership: Isle of Arran Distillers
Age: 15 years (February 24, 2000 - April 7, 2015)
Maturation: sherry hogshead
Bottle count: 257
Alcohol by Volume: 56.8%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
Exclusive to: K&L Wine Merchants

Its color is a dark gold, flexing its sherry hogshead tint.

The neat nose leads off with a blast of dry nutty sherry.  Then green apples and cinnamon.  A bit hit of vanilla bean.  York Peppermint Patties crossed with Cow Tales and a generous helping of floral esters.  With water (~46%abv), it becomes very floral; both blossoms and soap.  A bit of fresh ginger too.  Some of the sherry pulls back letting larger notes of American oak (vanilla and caramel) come through.

The neat palate is also big on the florals.  But it also has notes of canned peaches and dried apricots.  Plenty of dry nutty sherry throughout, again.  Marzipan, raisins, green (Granny Smith?) apples, dried cherries, ginger ale, and a hint of malt.  With water (~46%abv), a nice bitter Campari note pops up, joining the stone fruits.  The ginger ale and malt remain, though the whole becomes more sugary.  Raisin Bran raisins and orange candy.

The peaches and apricots remain through the neat finish.  Lots of clean sherry.  Dried cherries, almonds, and prune juice, along with an ethyl tingle.  With water (~46%abv), it's almonds, apricots, orange candy, and caramel.

I'll say it here and then you can tell me to f*** right off, but I liked this better than the 29yo Longmorn.  The Arran's palate and finish not only match the nose, but surpass it at times, creating a more balanced experience.  The good sherry cask leads the way, though it does leave room for some more spirit-driven fruit and floral things.  For my nose and palate, 10-15 years is the prime spot for Arran's single malt, and this particular whisky continues the trend.  Like the Longmorn, K&L recently dropped the price to get more bottles out the door, shifting this to $97 from $130.  Not a bad idea.

Availability - Exclusively through K&L Wine Merchants
Pricing - $97, was $130
Rating - 88

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Single Malt Report: Longmorn 29 year old 1985 Hunter Laing "Old & Rare" for K&L Wine Merchants

Hey, about a whisky you can (as of the writing of this post) still purchase in the United States?  This one is a single cask sold only through K&L Wine Merchants, who seem to have a heck of an exclusive deal with indie bottler Hunter Laing.  In this instance they have a 1980s Longmorn, something one doesn't see much of anymore.  I absolutely adore good old Longmorns, so I was looking forward to this.

I came by a sample of this long-aged Speysider thanks to my installation as the substitute LA Scotch Club host for the K&L Strikes Back event at Lost Property in Hollywood on April 10th.  Andy, Mr. LA Scotch Club, was out of town that night, so it was David OG and I who held court.  Actually, it was 99% David OG.  I was just there to take care of money stuff, check people in, and be the keeper of the bottles.  I grabbed a sample for myself that evening and now here's my review seven weeks later:

: Longmorn
Ownership: Pernod Ricard (via Chivas Bros.)
Independent Bottler: Hunter Laing
Range: Old & Rare
Age: 29 years (October 1985 - July 2015)
Maturation: refill hogshead
Bottle count: 251
Alcohol by Volume: 51.9%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
Exclusive to: K&L Wine Merchants

Its color is yellow amber, a good sign the oak levels are moderate.

The neat nose starts off with a great fruit basket: limes, lemons, grapefruit, mangos, and clementines.  The vanilla note here is subtle, thanks to the refill-ness of the cask.  There are also roses, cherry lollipops, lime jello, and citronella candles.  With water (~46%abv), the limes and lemons grow louder.  Toffee pudding, butterscotch hard candies, and peach gummy candy notes arrive.  With water (~40%abv), it's still very pretty.  Fresh flowers, peach candy, and toffee lead the way.

The neat palate reads hot and tight at the start.  Tart citrus proves to be the biggest note throughout.  There's salt, some maltiness, a little bit of sweetness, vanilla, and a floral note.  Seems to need water to open up.  With water (~46%abv), it still has that tart bite, though it does become somewhat fruitier and floral.  Hints of malt, sugar, vanilla, and tangy lime candy.  With water (~40%abv), there's more malt, some baking spice, vanilla, and a peach hint.

The neat finish is tart, sharp, minerally, with hints of malt and vanilla custard.  With water (~46%abv), it's still mostly tart and tangy citrus.  Some quiet notes of vanilla and toffee pudding.  With water (~40%abv), it continues to get quieter.  Hints of canned peaches, vanilla extract, and chocolate malt.

The nose is the winner here, as it delivers all those fruit notes I so adore.  It has depth and dimension, as well as stamina as it stands up to well to water.  Had the palate matched the dynamic nose, I would have broken my rule about >$200 bottles and bought one of these for myself.  But the palate and the finish never really open up nor switch into another gear.  Time and water help the palate a little but shuts down the finish.  Thus this goes from an A- grade nose to a B palate to a B- finish, for those keeping score.

What I will say is that the current price of $199.99 is, in the current market (the usual qualifier), a great price for an almost-three-decade-old single cask Speyside.  The original $349.99 sticker is closer to what the market would call for, but it doesn't seem like this whisky flew off the shelves as fast as needed so K&L dropped their price, something we all wish other retailers did.

Availability - Exclusively through K&L Wine Merchants
Pricing - $200, was $350
Rating - 85