...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Mackmyra 10 year old Swedish Single Malt Whisky

We live in interesting times.

I'm talking about whisky. You may use whatever adjective you'd like to describe the general present tense.

The new whisky distilleries we'd gushed over five years ago are now coming of age, releasing whiskies with firm age statements. But we were so innocent five years ago. Some of us have since (probably wisely) given up whisky for brandy, rum or time with loved ones. The rest of us are either actively working for the whisky industry or are just A BIT more cynical than we were.

In the next year or two, I look forward to taking a good look at the single malt scotch distilleries/brands that are all growns up. Each has taken its own path. One may wonder if they're hitting this milestone at the right time or the wrong; and if their successes or failures should be heeded by the next generation of new distilleries.

I foresee those posts requiring some real work on my part. For now, I'm going to review the first regular ten year old from Mackmyra, the leading Swedish whisky distillery.

Mackmyra has actually been running for more than 18 years, and is in their (I believe) second distillery building. They seem to have had a good time over these past several years, constantly experimenting with classic Scottish methods as well as casks and ingredients native to Sweden. They were also not always in the habit of listing age statements. This ten year old seems to lean a little closer to classic single malt cask types, so lemme see how it goes...

Distillery: Mackmyra
Region: Sweden
Type: Single Malt
Age: 10 years
Maturation: Here comes a paragraph, sorry. I've seen some conflicting online reports about cask types. But Mix Master Angela D was quoted saying there were four types of casks. So for now I'm going with: virgin American oak, Oloroso-seasoned Swedish oak, first-fill ex-bourbons and refill ex-bourbons.
Alcohol by Volume: 46.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No

Its color is blond (Ha! I got Swedish jokes). Okay, it's yellow amber. The nose starts off with barley, oats, pilsner. A little bit of lemon, raspberry candy and roses. It's all very polite, until a whiff of fermenting fruit rises up after 20 minutes. The palate leads off with tart & tangy berries, tobacco and a refreshing bitterness. Then some sort of cranberry-vanilla-almond custard. There's a quirky oak note that's like new American oak, but fruitier. Some oloroso appears after ~30 minutes. It's aromatic. Mysterious. Wait, no, ignore that last note as it is too Murray-esque. It finishes tangy and grassy with a hint of bitterness. Cherry brandy. Oloroso. It's mellow, but has a good distance.

This is the sixth Mackmyra single malt I've reviewed and, like the previous five, it's fascinating from start to finish. The nose is the quietest part, but remains grain- and fruit-forward throughout. It took a long time for me to unpack the palate. There's oak, but it's not OAK! Rather, oak? The tangy, bitter notes also push it further afield from Scottish or American whisky, and thankfully so. Though it's a different creature than their First Edition, it's of a similar quality.

At half the cost of their "Moment" whiskies, this 10 year old seems priced to get the bottles moving, so I hope it (or something like it) becomes permanently part of the Mackmyra core range.

Availability - Continental European retailers, many of the UK ones have sold through
Pricing - $65-$85 (ex VAT, before shipping)
Rating - 85

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Millstone 10 year old 2000 American Oak, Dutch Single Malt

Located just north of The Netherlands-Belgium border, Zuidam Distillers produces genever, gin, rum and liqueurs, in addition to its Millstone whisky brand. I've enjoyed their 8yo French oak single malt, and there's a bottle of 100 Rye on my shelf.

Their 10 year old single malts appear to be produced in pretty small batches, as I've yet to see a bottle number over 500. A number of their 10s, such as today's whisky, are older than 10 years; a curious and rare action taken in the current whisky market. The "American Oak" single malts use virgin oak, and the website says these are the "most robust" of their whiskies. I hope that doesn't mean it's an oak bomb. The Americans are the only ones who can seem to get that type right, though even they rarely do.

Distillery: Zuidam Distillers
Brand: Millstone
Region: The Netherlands (Baarle-Nassau)
Type: Single Malt
Age: 13 (not 10!) years - Feb 2000 to Nov 2013
Maturation: new American oak barrels
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No

Oak on the nose, but it seems more toasted than charred, reading as wood spice. Ceylon cinnamon, cardamom, pine sap and pine needles. There's also orange pixy stix and vanilla cake. It all fades out after 20ish minutes. The palate is different than then nose. Lemon cake, orange zest and peach candy. Grand Marnier and lime popsicles. Vanilla and vanilla fudge. Hints of malt and dried oregano. If someone infused an orange creamsicle with cayenne pepper, that would be the finish's main note. It's lightly tart. A little malt, vanilla fudge and pixy stix.

The first thing one notices when trying a European single malt is that it is not scotch. Most Asian distilleries do a good approximation of Scotch single malt, if not actually better than most current Scottish distilleries. But whiskies from the Dutch, Danish, Germans, French, Swedish, Swiss, etc., are not trying to imitate Speyside or Islay. Maybe it has to do with terroir, or maybe it's distillers doing their own thing. Either way, I enjoy the change of pace.

This Millstone single malt isn't as sticky sweet as the tasting notes read. There are numerous fruit essences in different forms spinning around each other. The whisky could benefit from less vanilla, but otherwise the oak isn't abusive. While a scotch drinker wouldn't consider it "robust", the whisky has a decent richness to it, considering the low-ish ABV. I liked it overall, though not enough to buy a bottle. If Zuidam decides to use refill barrels for future 10s, then I'll give 'em another try.

Availability - A few dozen European retailers
Pricing - $55-$75 (ex VAT, before shipping)
Rating - 82

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Rum Dummy drinks Amrut Indian Whisky, Jamaican Rum Cask Finish (Blackadder)

I like rum. When Mr. Diving for Pearls sent this whisky to me, I reminded him I only review rum. Then I smelled it and understood.

I don't like whisky for two reasons:
1. Online whisky people. Scotch fans make bad financial decisions, then brag about it online. Bourbon fans are angry. Do happy people drink whisky?
2. Whisky is not rum.

This label says whisky:

This stuff was released by that company that sprinkles mustache stubble into every bottle.


Diving for Pearls sent me two samples. One said "61.2%abv", the other "Diluted to 45%abv".

The only thing I like less than whisky is an adjective, so this review makes me, er, nervous.

Nose - It's not whisky. It's Hampden. Olives, brown sugar, honey, orange oil and tire rubber. Vanilla.
Palate - Very sweet. Hot. Dunder and soot. Ginger. Wood, vanilla and jalapeños.
Finish - Very sweet. Lemons, olives, brown sugar and vanilla.

"Diluted to 45%abv"
Nose - Mt. Gay levels of sugar and caramel. Cinnamon bread, cardamom, orange oil and cloves. Disappears quickly.
Palate - Foursquare? Olives, molasses, vanilla, flowers and American oak.
Finish - Sweet, tingly, vanilla-infused rum.

This is good because this is rum.

This is not a complaint, but, um, Blackadder knows that the rum must be poured out of the barrel in order to call it an "ex Jamaican Rum cask", right?

If you like Hampden or Foursquare, then this w****y won't be the worst thing. But this cost $150. That's the worst thing.


Friday, December 22, 2017

Willett Week Two: 8 year old rye, barrel 1408

On Monday, there was a dazzling 6yo rye.
On Wednesday, there was a curious but very good 7yo rye.
Today, it's an 8 year old rye.

All three of these were tasted during one long evening...

BottlerKentucky Bourbon Distillers (also known as Willett Distilling Company)
Brand: Willett
Range: Family Estate Single Barrel (WFE)
Type: Straight Rye Whiskey
Age8 years
MaturationNew American Oak
RegionBardstown, Kentucky (Distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana)
Barrel: 1408
Alcohol by Volume58.8%
(From a purchased sample)

Cocoa, tobacco and smoky toffee register loudest in the nose. Then cherry medicine, saline, apricot jam and mint. There's also a considerable phenolic/medicinal/bandage note floating around. The palate leads with toffee, citrus, pine sap and a crisp rye zing. The citrus and sweetness grow with time, but are kept in check by a burly pepperiness. The looooong finish is boldy tangy and earthy. Full of cloves and brown sugar.

This is a grand warm winter rye. Reading-by-the-fireplace stuff. Willett emptied this barrel right on time. At 8 years, the spirit has matured well, picking up depth and darkness (if I may be esoteric) without even a whisper of vanilla, butter or sawdust to be found. It's highly recommended, though I doubt a single bottle of this barrel remains on any primary market.

*  *  *  *  *

All three of these ryes are recommended, and they bested all three of last week's Willett bourbons. Because the American secondary market remains an illegal operation, I cannot publicly suggest you purchase these bottles secondhand. But as far as I can tell that's the only way to buy Willett single barrel MGP ryes, unless the distillery still puts them on their gift shop shelves. Good luck hunting one down!

Availability - Secondary market?
Pricing - ???
Rating - 89

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Willett Week Two: 7 year old rye, barrel 56

On Monday, I reviewed a powerful scrumptious MGP-distilled Willett rye. It was 6 years old. Today, it's a 7 year old. And, it's my bottle!

I brought it along to the recent whiskey tasting that I've referenced a few times on this blog. From what I gathered no one there had ever tried something like this before. It elicited lots of Whoas. No one hated it. But I gathered that it was more respected than loved.

BottlerKentucky Bourbon Distillers (also known as Willett Distilling Company)
Brand: Willett
Range: Family Estate Single Barrel (WFE)
Type: Straight Rye Whiskey
Age7 years
MaturationNew American Oak
RegionBardstown, Kentucky (Distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana)
Barrel: 56
Alcohol by Volume57.2%
(From my bottle)

The nose has a layer of orange, cherry and lime hard candies. Some bubblegum too. But it also has a dirty, salty, candle wax layer which reminds me, oddly, of Clynelish. Some ham. After a while it flashes moments of cherry blossoms (I'm an asshole for that one). While those nose notes are often quite quiet, the palate is much louder. Tart citrus, mint and tart cherries. Mellower spirit action than in the 6yo. A mild bitterness. A medicinal note and seaweed saltiness. Citrus and cherries in the finish too, though it's never sweet. A little bitter and tart. More rye spirit. Grows saltier with time.

Fascinating. Its sniffer was silent for almost ten minutes, and didn't really open up for nearly a half hour. I wasn't worried about oxidation because I sealed off samples as soon as I'd opened the bottle. Meanwhile the palate was just as rockin' as any MGP rye. Then there are all the (good, but weird) coastal single malt Scotch notes. They're not the whole show, in fact they're sort of tertiary. But they're there. The finish was very solid and the palate never tumbles into sweetness or oakiness. It's very good overall, but no match for the 6yo.

Availability - Secondary market?
Pricing - ???
Rating - 86

Monday, December 18, 2017

Willett Week Two: 6 year old rye, barrel 124

Willett's MGP-distilled rye is my favorite American whiskey. The single barrels vary, but they always deliver a tremendous and nuanced experience. Last week, I did a whole schpiel about the crazy pricing of Willett's single barrel bourbons. I won't do the same for the ryes because I already covered that territory here and here. Needless to say, they ain't selling for $40 a pop anymore.

Because they're scarce and because they ain't $40, we no longer open two Willett ryes each year here. Maybe one every two years at this rate. But I was able to align three samples of the current era of WFE single barrels to compare and contrast in one sitting. And, hey, it's even a verticale this time!

BottlerKentucky Bourbon Distillers (also known as Willett Distilling Company)
Brand: Willett
Range: Family Estate Single Barrel (WFE)
Type: Straight Rye Whiskey
Age6 years
MaturationNew American Oak
RegionBardstown, Kentucky (Distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana)
Barrel: 124
Alcohol by Volume58.7%
(From a purchased sample)

The nose begins with saline and candied fennel seed (which is a thing). Then black licorice and peach candy. It also has a dirtier side that moves to the forefront with time. It strikes of industrial grease and drywall dust. It's the most expressive nose of the three ryes. The happily not-hot palate is full of Luxardo cherries, clementines, smoked whole cloves (a thing?), mint leaves, brown sugar, and charred chiles. This runs along a bass rumble of rye power, a robust bundle of peppers and dry spices that almost reads smoky at times. It finishes with spicy cherries, chiles, molasses, salt and a burst of rye spirit. And it's so long...

I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a burst of melancholy on the last sip. Of the three ryes, this one was most reminiscent of what once was.......those $40-$50 4-6yos we were much spoiled to have four years ago.

I'm going to set those romantic memories right over here, so I can continue this post.

This is an excellent rye. Each new characteristic, spun out by the grain, merges perfectly with every element that came before. The oak has done its subtle work without intruding. And then finish is right on pitch and unending. Damn.

Availability - Secondary market?
Pricing - ???
Rating - 90

Friday, December 15, 2017

Willett Week One: 11 year old bourbon, barrel 268

And here's the last of the three Willett Family Estate Single Barrel bourbons that we tried last weekend. The first bourbon (a 7yo for TPS) was fine, short on character but otherwise decent. The second (an 11yo for Wine & Cheese Place) was almost great. They were certainly different than each other. And this third bourbon follows suit, playing its own tune.

BottlerKentucky Bourbon Distillers (also known as Willett Distilling Company)
Brand: Willett
Range: Family Estate Single Barrel (WFE)
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Age11 years
MaturationNew American Oak
RegionBardstown, Kentucky (Distilled in/by ???)
Barrel: 268
Exclusive to: whomever bought a bottle
Alcohol by Volume62.6%
(Thanks to Florin for the sample, again.)

Okay... So, it's 62.6%abv. Kristen says it's "light". I say it's "kinda dead". It needs more than 20 minutes to arise. Before the nose opens, is just faint apples and honey. But then comes the orange peel, pumpkin pie spices and lots of vanilla bean. There is zero burn. Though the palate does open up with time, all I find are vague things. It's tangy, briny, peppery and a little savory. Some brown sugar. Picks up some verve with time, getting tarter and louder. The finish is mostly brine and lemon pepper. Tannic. Plenty of barrel char.

While none of these three bourbons were crap, this bourbon was the least good. If you're an impatient drinker, you may find yourself bored with the whiskey. But if you give it some time, at least the nose grows nicely. The palate is fine, no better, no worse. It's in this bourbon's finish where the oak factor overwhelms, for the lone time among the three whiskies.

Of the three bourbons, this one had the most rye character to it, but was probably still from a low-rye mashbill. Not that high-rye is must for me, but having more of that particular grain in play may have helped the first and third bourbons. The second bourbon, the 11yo for Wine and Cheese Place, would have been smashing if not for the questionable finish. Are any of these worth hundreds of dollars? No. But that's one man's opinion.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - Big bucks
Rating - 79

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Willett Week One: 11 year old bourbon, barrel 2364 for Wine and Cheese Place

Since I spent two paragraphs musing on the secondary market prices of the Willett Family Estate single barrel bourbons on Monday, I shan't waste any words on it today. Instead, here are my notes on the second of the three WFE bourbons that my wife and I sampled this past weekend.

BottlerKentucky Bourbon Distillers (also known as Willett Distilling Company)
Brand: Willett
Range: Family Estate Single Barrel (WFE)
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Age: 11 years
MaturationNew American Oak
RegionBardstown, Kentucky (Distilled in/by ???)
Barrel: 2364
Exclusive to: Wine and Cheese Place
Alcohol by Volume58.55%
(Thanks to Florin for the sample!)

The nose is plum gorgeous. It mixes tropical fruit and flower notes, with raspberry jam and wood smoke. After 20+ minutes comes the vanilla and toffee. This sets up an expectation of a rich dessert whiskey on the palate. But that doesn't turn out to be the case. While there are some sweet tropical and salted caramel notes, it has some nuts, wood smoke and sharp limey citrus (Kristen went with lemon). It's also the hottest of the three bourbons. The finish is a little odd, with a fizzy, salty, tart burn to it. There's some smoke and mint too.

It smells fabulous and the palate has more complexity than the 7yo I reviewed on Monday. The only thing that keeps me from raving about this is the strange sensation left behind by the finish. Kristen experienced this same thing and found it to be a bit hot overall. Still, it's the most enjoyable of this week's three bourbons and dishes out less oaky violence than other bourbons its age.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - Big bucks
Rating - 85 (lost a few points on the finish)

Monday, December 11, 2017

Willett Week One: 7 year old bourbon, barrel 255 for The Party Source

There comes a time when we heed a certain call,
When the blogger must review
Two weeks worth of Willetts.

This week, I'll report on three Family Estate Single Barrel bourbons. Next week, it'll be the ryes.

Though I may not like secondary market prices on bourbons, I usually understand where the valuation comes from. The Van Winkle collection is well known even outside of whiskey circles. The Buffalo Trace Antique Collection is perpetually in demand and often delivers high quality. Defunct distillery whiskies are part of history and in limited supply.

But I don't understand why the Willett single barrel bourbons are pulling astronomical asking prices. I'm not talking about the 20+ year old stuff. I'm referring to the 6-12 year old wax top bourbons that sell for Van Winkle prices. The Willett Family Estate Single Barrel brand isn't known outside of whiskey geek circles, and the majority of barrels are sourced from existing distilleries. So the naive sexy/lusty factor is lower than the whiskies named in the above paragraph. And it's not like there were just a few barrels laid out. There have been hundreds. So I'm stumped.

Musing complete. On to the review.

I sampled all three of this week's whiskies together — yes it was one of those nights — in order to get some proper perspective. As an added bonus, Kristen joined the Taste Off! First up is a 7 year old single barrel that was sold exclusively through The Party Source several years ago.

BottlerKentucky Bourbon Distillers (also known as Willett Distilling Company)
Brand: Willett
Range: Family Estate Single Barrel (WFE)
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Age7 years
MaturationNew American Oak
RegionBardstown, Kentucky (Distilled in/by ???)
Barrel: 255
Bottle: 28 or 164
Exclusive to: The Party Source
Alcohol by Volume60.1%
(Thanks to Florin for the sample!)

This one has the most violent nose of the three, bringing heat and chlorine at first. But it opens up after 10-15 minutes, showing off cherry candy / marasca syrup, apricot jam, cocoa powder and flower blossoms. The heavy palate is full of sugar and salt, almond extract, and corn bread. There's a tiny bit of lemon zest and oranges. A complete lack of rye. The finish is sharper than the palate, with more barrel char and bitterness. But it also has a lightly sweet and aromatic layer beneath the noise.

Kristen immediately noticed the chlorine character too. But she also found more positive notes of vanilla and rosemary.

The first thing I noticed was how freaking heavy full-strength bourbon is when one has been drinking primarily "Japanese" whisky for a few weeks. So it took a while for my palate to adjust. Luckily, this one requires some time in the glass.

The nose is the highlight here. The palate is pretty straightforward, though I wish there had been more rye and/or fruit notes present. That goes for the finish as well. Overall, it probably has no major flaws, but it lacks the complexity of similarly aged WFE rye.

The next two bourbons are a little older...

As for this 7yo...

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - A lot. And if this had a wax top then it's a lot a lot allot.
Rating - 83

Friday, December 8, 2017

Royal Brackla 14 year old 1998 Gordon & MacPhail for Binny's

Two years ago, Bacardi released three age-stated (12, 16 and 21yo) official Royal Bracklas, which is good. They bottled them all at the legal minimum 40%abv, which is bad. Seriously, why would they do that, when they released the age-stated Aultmore series entirely at 46%abv during the previous year? That's a weird step backwards.

Previous to the official releases, one had to go to independent bottlers, like G&M, to explore Royal Brackla single malt. Today's G&M Brackla was bottled exclusively for the Binny's chain.

There are two things I really appreciate about reader Florin (a prince). That he'd blindly buy a Royal Brackla in the interest of experience and science and propping up Chicago's economy. And that he'd give to me this sample that was clearly intended for MAO. It's been four years now. I hope MAO can find it in his heart to forgive me for his drinking his whisky.

Distillery: Royal Brackla
Region: Highlands, just on the other side of the western Speyside border
Independent Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Age: 1998 - 2012 (I think)
Maturation: probably American oak
Cask number58
Exclusively for: Binny's
Alcohol by Volume: 56.5%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No

The nose is fun. Glue, lemongrass, ground mustard seed, green grapes and pineapple. Some late caramel and burnt wood. The hot palate starts on banana, vanilla and orange peel. Then it "develops" into unripe stone fruit, green woody bitterness, mild sweetness and a cayenne zing. Meanwhile, the finish spins off into a different orbit. Bitter char, vanilla, chlorophyll. Fake plastic sweetness.

Now, I'll dunk it down to the official bottlings' strength:

DILUTED TO ~40%abv
The nose still exists. Lemon, fried plantain and something phenolic (diesel?). Then grapefruit and grass clippings. Again, the palate seems to be from a very different whisky. Bitter melon rind, bitter oak. Vanilla, sugar, sour berries and a hint of soap. It has a nice texture, though. Its pencil lead finish is bitter, sour and acidic.

If whisky were only for smellin', I'd recommend this odd thing. The palate is challenging, but rarely in a fashion that leads to success. Too much bitter oak and indistinctive vanilla oak for me. But that's better than the finish proves to be a bit of a horror show, with or without water.

This seems like a cask that was nosed, rather than tasted, when it was offered by G&M, then chosen by Binny's. The Chicago retailer may have had more success with an earlier bottling, and I hope their current Brackla is better than this one too.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 71

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Strathmill 23 year old 1989 Blackadder Raw Cask

Where my Strathmill fans at?!

I've tried a grand total of two Strathmills, both of which were part of Signatory's budget "Vintage" range, but neither of which were any good. Yet, this site has a complete absence of Strathmill. So here's a review of the first cask strength Strathmill I've ever tried. It's from Blackadder's Raw Cask range has had more hits than misses for me, so I'm cautiously optimistic. Thank you to aaron197172 of Booze Dancing for gifting me this sample.

Distillery: Strathmill
Owner: Diageo
Independent Bottler: Blackadder (Raw Cask)
Region: Speyside (Moray)
Age: 23 years (October 1989 to June 2013)
Maturation: Refill Sherry Puncheon
Cask number10308
Bottle: 77 of 305
Alcohol by Volume: 53.3%

It has a light yellow gold color and Raw Cask Shmutz®. The mellow nose starts out with light beer, anise, rubber and plastic toys. Saline. Walnuts. Lots of barley throughout. The palate is very grassy and leafy. Fresh savory herbs, cocoa powder, a little bit of white fruit. Slightly drying. With time it picks up fennel seed and rye seed notes. The finish has a lot of roasted character, and an occasional burnt note. Dried herbs and a hint of cigar smoke. A copper/blood note. Barley.

The label recommends "a little added water". Sure, what the hell.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv
The nose has become very herbal; think dried basil and sage. That's met with lemon and pineapple. A little dusty. Big on barley, still. The palate is a little sweeter and spicier. Dried leaves. Light bitterness. Wood spice. Armagnac-ish. The finish gets grassier. Mixes chile peppers and gummi bears. Cigar ash.

This one plays close to the barley and its lack of sexiness makes it feel slightly old school. At full strength, this Strathmill works better on the palate. Once water was added to the whisky, I preferred the nose. Its lean, low-oak style appeals to me, and I would have given it a higher score, but the finish is a little short and flat. Still, this was MUCH better than I'd expected.

Availability - Still at some European retailers four years later
Pricing - $150-$180 (ex-VAT, w/o shipping), and that's why it's still available
Rating - 82

Monday, December 4, 2017

Cocktail Recipe: Ginza in June

I've never liked whisky cocktails. No cocktail improved the drinking experience that the whisky itself offered. Sweet vermouth was one of the main culprits. Just two drops of sweet vermouth in a cocktail ruined everything. Its cloying nauseating flavor spread through the drink like a drop of ink a glass of water. (That's a metaphor I promise to overuse.) Then, one day last winter, I discovered a solution: Don't Use Cheap Sweet Vermouth.

I mean, the real solution was Carpano Antica Formula and Luxardo cherries. Since then, I've been drinking a lot of Manhattans. During some stretches, I'm drinking Manhattans more often than single malts. I finally found a use for American whiskey! 😬

Then, in October, as I was opening my current bottle of Nikka Whisky from the Barrel (NWFTB, not NKOTB), I had an idea. What if I created something along the lines of a Manhattan or Rob Roy with my beloved NWFTB? I'd go easy on the Carpano Antica in order to highlight the quality of the whisky.

And it worked on the first try. The Carpano Antica merged with the whisky, pushing the grain aside and moving the malt to the fore. Plenty of spice, not too much sweetness.

* * * * *

Because this drink is utterly bourgeois with its expensive Italian vermouth and cherries, and it includes the whisky I travelled with during both of my Japan trips, I chose to name it after the bougie-est corner of Tokyo I explored this year.

With its Rodeo Drive-inspired lineup of Valentino, Salvatore Ferragamo, Dior, Fendi and on and on and on, Ginza is the epitome of rāga, one of the three forms of suffering (or poisons or fires) in Mahayana Buddhism, stemming from the desire for wealth and the ownership of physical, sensory things.

The gorgeous weather on June 14th made that corner of Chuo feel even more posh. So, inspired by the sugary romance of "Danke Schoen" ("I recall Central Park in Fall"), I named my cocktail, Ginza in June.

* * * * *

And now, the recipe.

1.5 fluid ounces (or 45mL) of Nikka Whisky from the Barrel
0.5 fluid ounces (or 15mL) of Carpano Antica Formula
2 generous dashes of Angostura bitters
2 drops of marasca syrup (from the Luxardo jar)
1 Luxardo Maraschino cherry

1. Fill a tall mixing glass with ice cubes (not crushed ice).
2. Pour the first four ingredients over the ice in the mixing glass.
3. Stir clockwise 24 times. (Lucky number hachi multiplied by my lucky number san)
4. Plop the cherry into the most faux-proletariat glass you own.
5. Strain the cocktail into your prole drinking glass.

— Feel free to up the whisky content to 60mL, but make sure the whisky-to-vermouth ratio remains 3-to-1. Also remember that NWFTB is 51.4%abv. So be cautious.
— For more zip add more bitters.
— I don't recommend adding more than 2 drops of the syrup because it will take over the drink.
— Feel free to apply less sweet vermouth. I don't recommend adding more if you want the whisky to fly high.
— If you don't have NWFTB on hand (and who does, really) I recommend high quality blended malts that have little or no peat. Compass Box (speaking of bougie) Spice Tree may do the trick.

Kanpai, my lambs.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Killing Whisky History, Episode 7 - Bell's Extra Special and Bell's Extra Special

Considering how emphatically my iPhone, iCloud and iMovie all shit the bed this week, I am surprised to have a Killing Whisky History episode up today. But here it is, a less-than-seven minute (woohoo!) chapter on a pair of Bell'ses: one bottled between 1980 and '82, the other between 1964 and '76. Thanks for watching!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Japanese Whisky? Nikka Whisky from the Barrel

As a father of a new baby, I have two choices for doing multiple reviews each week. Either I do a number of tastings in one sitting. Or I forfeit sleep at night. Regarding the former, to quote one of Mathilda's favorite expressions, "That's a bad idea." So I've been doing the latter.

When I started the series this week, I underestimated what I was getting myself into. On Monday, I asked "What is Japanese Whisky? And does it matter?". On Tuesday, I reviewed Nikka Pure Malt Black. On Wednesday, I reviewed Nikka Pure Malt White. Today, if the post makes any sense, I'm reviewing Nikka Whisky from the Barrel.

The previous two Nikkas were blended malts. Today's Nikka is a blended whisky. The Pure Malts were bottled at 43%, while this blend weighs in at 51.4%. None of these three Nikkas include the term "Japanese Whisky" on their labels. The Pure Malts were both rumored to have some sort of Scotch malt content, while Whisky from the Barrel has never (to my knowledge) been accused of such. But why should we assume it doesn't have Scotch whisky in it? Because what constitutes "Japanese whisky" is uncertain at this point in time and because the label is missing that term, anything could be possible.

Nikka Whisky from the Barrel is my favorite blended whisky. I've reviewed it before. I've gone through more bottles of it than any other whisky over the past three years.

It's my desert island whisky. It may not be the best whisky on the planet, but it's always very pleasurable, always great in a pinch and somehow works even better in a tumbler than a glencairn glass. Also, on two occasions I bought it in Japan for less than $20/bottle, which gives it an astronomic quality-price-ratio.

In fact, the bottle I'm reviewing today was purchased during my Japan trip this past spring. I only bought one because my suitcase exploded. For real...


...okay never mind. I had photographic evidence of the terrible violence caused by too many whisky bottles. But I can't find it amongst my 1200+ photos and it's past midnight here so you'll have to take my word for it.

Ownership: Nikka
Type: Blended Whisky
Region: Japan (and others?)
Distilleries: Miyagikyo and Yoichi (and others?)
Age: ???
Maturation: ???
Bottling code: 6/08G241515
Alcohol by Volume: 51.4%

The nose is malty, leafy, full of honey and roasted almond notes. Wood (mesquite and sandalwood) smoke. Burnt beef. Pound cake with orange syrup and mint leaves. When in a tumbler, it has notes of currants, roses and eucalyptus.

The palate is moderately sweet, citric and spicy: brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, orange juice and lime juice. Some older toffeed malt swimming around in there. Sea Salt. Vanilla bean. A medicinal hint. It has a thick mouthfeel and shows very little of its ABV.

It finishes with citrus and salted caramels. Brown sugar and the nose's wood smoke. Hints of melon liqueur and bitter greens.

This whisky is perfect for pouring too much into a tumbler and then totally underestimating the alcohol strength and then going for subsequent rounds and then wondering why it feels like someone parked a Buick Enclave on your back at 5:30am.

And though this isn't my best bottle of NWFTB, it does help make a stellar cocktail. And I'll share that recipe......someday.

Is this whisky delicious? Yes.
Is there Scotch in it? Probably not.
If there was Scotch in it would that affect my opinion of the whisky? No.
If the words "Japanese Whisky" appeared on the label, what would those words mean? I don't know.

Availability - Japan and Europe, more prevalent than the Pure Malts
Pricing - 500mL - $20-$25 Japan, $45-$55 Europe (w/shipping)
Rating - 87

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Japanese Whisky? Nikka Pure Malt White

On Monday I pondered the definition of Japanese whisky. On Tuesday, I reviewed a whisky blended in Japan, by a Japanese producer, which may have had Scottish-distilled malt in it. The whisky was Nikka Pure Malt Black, and nowhere on its labels was the phrase "Japanese Whisky". Today, I'm reviewing one of its siblings.

I'd always thought Nikka Pure Malt White was supposed to have had Caol Ila in it. With no idea where I'd originally heard that rumor, I did some googling. I found a couple European retailers claiming there was Caol Ila in the mix. At least a dozen bloggers' reviews say the same. Nonjatta references the CI rumor, but states quite plainly: "This one, the white, is a bit different: it is based on whisky from Islay in Scotland." The comment section in Whiskynotes's review furthers this discussion. But there's no official source for any of this.

But then there's The Whisky Exchange 2015 interview with Nikka's European brand ambassador, Sayumi Oyama:
"[On rumours there is Ben Nevis in Nikka Pure Malt White] We try to use only Japanese whisky, but I think today it is necessary to use malt from other countries."
First off, what Ben-Nevis-in-Pure-Malt-White rumors are they talking about? The Ben Nevis rumors were about Pure Malt Black. The White rumors were regarding Islay malt.

Secondly, I'd say the brand ambassador's answer is a big YES. About something.

Like Pure Malt Black, there's no reference to "Japanese Whisky" on the Pure Malt White bottle. So what is it?

It's remarkable.

: Nikka
Brand: Pure Malt
Type: Blended Malt
Region: Japan (and others?)
Distilleries: Miyagikyo and Yoichi (and others?)
Age: ???
Maturation: ???
Bottling code: 6/02E400907
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

Avert your eyes. Loquacity approaches.

The nose spins orange peel, mint leaves, dried apricots, almond cookies and damp peat smoke together. Beach air, black licorice, green apples and Kasugai peach candy. A box of Werther's Originals in a dusty closet.

The palate has an consistent undercurrent of baking spices and mizunara(?) wood spice. An exotic smoked sea salt. Umeboshi (yes, that again) and plum wine. A light cherry candy sweetness. Hints of burlap, eucalyptus and malt.

There's a lovely fresh herb and Kilkerran-like forest floor (flor?) combination in the finish, which meets up with a mineral note. The smoky sea salt finds equilibrium with a subtle sweet note. And then at the end of end, a moment of OBE-esque funk.

Yes. I opened this bottle up on Sunday night, took my first sip and said, "Oh. Oh this is fabulous." And I don't say things like that.

What it reminds me of is not Caol Ila or any other Islay malt, but rather Yoichi. Good Yoichi. The Yoichi that corrupted some of us before the age-stated stuff went out of production and quintupled in price. Yet, Pure Malt White also has big time fruit notes on the nose and curious spices everywhere.

Because it's not a cask strength thing, Pure Malt White works best when a father captures a rare silent moment. I won't call it meditative (because it's whisky) but it needs quiet.

I don't know how they did it, nor why no one in Scotland has been able to design a standard blended malt of this quality. At 43%abv.

PLEASE NOTE: I have seen Pure Malt White's reviews around the internet and they all make me look totally insane. So please just pass this review off as hyperbolic nonsense. That's okay. Let me cuddle up within my madness.

Availability - A dozen or so European shops, unsure about its status in Japan
Pricing - $60-$100 in Europe (w/shipping, 500mL bottle)
Rating - 90

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Japanese Whisky? Nikka Pure Malt Black

On Monday I wrote about the knotty state of Japanese whisky. Today I'm reviewing the first of three Nikka whiskies which may or may not contribute to that industry's mishmash.

That Nikka uses Ben Nevis's malt whisky in their Japanese-produced whiskies is no secret. From the Malt Whisky Yearbook 2016:
Ben Nevis is an important supplier of whisky for the owner's (Nikka) blends and for 2015, 50% of the newmake will be sent directly to Japan, primarily to be part of the popular blend, Nikka Black.
Now Nikka Black, or rather Black Nikka, is a blended whisky that's found in probably every corner liquor store and Seven-Eleven in Japan. And there's been a whole series of spinoffs and special blends baring its name over the years. But Black Nikka is not Nikka Pure Malt Black.

Nikka Pure Malt Black is an all malt blend, or vatted malt or blended malt. There has long been a rumor that Pure Malt Black contains Ben Nevis malt amongst its ingredients, but where and when that rumor started, I don't know. And though it is blended in Japan and the bottle exhibits more kanji than English characters (because it is made in Japan), it does not list "Japanese Whisky" anywhere on its labels. So I can't say if there's any subterfuge going on here.

In all my liquor store scouring in Japan this year, I found only one store with Nikka Pure Malt Black in stock. The 500mL bottle was all of $25 (with a great exchange rate). The product can also be purchased from a dozen European retailers for at least twice that price (with shipping).

Ownership: Nikka
Brand: Pure Malt
Type: Blended Malt
Region: Japan (and others?)
Distilleries: Miyagikyo and Yoichi (and others?)
Age: ???
Maturation: ???
Bottling code: 6/04G420907
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

The nose starts off mossy and leafy. Nutty liqueur and cherry bubblegum. Fudge and a young-Ledaig-ish peat. With time it picks up lemons and clementines. Dried lavender and umeboshi. The autumnal palate is leafy and lightly sweet. Tobacco and vanilla ice cream. Key lime pie and an ethyl bite. The peat is softer here than on the nose, reading as hints of soot and antiseptic. It gets sweeter and tangier with time. The finish is simple and sweet. Vanilla, limes, ginger beer. Almost no peat.

Picture a mix of Johnnie Walker Black Label and the former Yoichi NAS, but better. Some parts feel young, and others oaky, but none are too loud. There are subtle sherry cask notes, and the peat doesn't overwhelm. I can't tell if there really is Ben Nevis or any other scotch whisky present, but I do think <10yo Yoichi pulls most of the weight. Ultimately it's a well blended thing and I like it.

Availability - Some Japanese retailers and a dozen or so European shops
Pricing - $25ish in Japan, $50-$80 in Europe (w/shipping)
Rating - 84

Monday, November 27, 2017

What is Japanese whisky? And does it matter?

another brilliant D4P photo masterwork, feel free to steal it!
In August, a respected online whisky writer went on a multi-day run complaining about the fractured state of Japanese whisky. He unleashed an interesting subject, but unfortunately — because rumor, hearsay and anecdotes are more available than facts — I was left feeling more perplexed about the entire picture than I was beforehand. Fortunately, other bloggers have since dug deeper into individual Japanese whisky products, helping bring some focus to a blurry subject.

Now I'm going to try to simplify the situation via an outline.

Here are the current types of Japanese whisky producers and their products:
  1. Japanese non-distiller producers (NDPs), similar to American NDPs, bottling whisky that was distilled in Japan by another company.
  2. Japanese NDPs bottling whisky that is a combination of Japanese and Scotch whisky, or entirely Scotch whisky, and
    1. labelling it "Japanese Whisky", or
    2. not labelling it "Japanese Whisky".
  3. Young distilleries
    1. bottling their own distillate
    2. bottling their distillate blended with Scotch whisky,
      1. labelling it "Japanese Whisky", or
      2. not labelling it "Japanese Whisky".
  4. Well-established distilleries
    1. bottling their own distillate
    2. bottling their distillate blended with Scotch whisky,
      1. labelling it "Japanese Whisky", or       conjecture?
      2. not labelling it "Japanese Whisky".
So. There are Japanese companies bottling blends of Japanese-distilled whisky and Scotch, as well as only Scotch whisky, and calling it "Japanese Whisky". Then there are some Japanese companies who are bottling the same, but not calling it "Japanese Whisky". And, apparently, there are still distilleries bottling their own stuff.

Though the Scotch Whisky Association can be a complete pain in the ass, and occasionally suspect in its intentions, it has attempted to iron out what Scotch whisky is through strict regulations. Because Japan doesn't have a similar organization, chaos can break out when their industry goes through a major transitional period, as it is doing now.

Keep in mind, much of the information regarding who does what in the Japanese whisky industry is based on the aforementioned rumor, hearsay and anecdotes. But if half of it is true, one begins to wonder, "What is Japanese Whisky?" If the rumors are mostly true, then how can we know if the long-established distilleries really are bottling 100% Japanese-distilled whisky? How do we know that Suntory's Hakushu isn't being boosted by the company's Laphroaig/Ardmore/Bowmore assets? What are we drinking?

Should this piss you off? That's up to you. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with mixing whiskies from around the world. In fact, I think it's a great idea, and an undiscovered country for whisky blenders. BUT, I do think it's crooked for a company to call its whisky "Japanese" when the stuff in the bottle is less than 100% Japanese-distilled. Said producers are banking on the idea of "Japanese" and are willing to hide the truth in order to do so. I hope companies instead promote the fact that there's Scotch in their whisky, because people still love Scotch. A lot. For real. Worldwide.

This week I'll be reviewing three whiskies from Nikka that may or may not have Scotch whisky in them. But none of these products have the word "Japanese" on their label, in kanji or English.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Laphroaig 18 year old 1995 SMWS 29.148

Happy Thanksgiving Plus One Day. I feel like I ate all the things. To commemorate the goofiest shopping day of the year, I've decided to review an SMWS whisky. I've already submitted a rant about the silliness of SMWS, so I will avoid repeating content. For a change.

My friend Matt, always very generous with his whisky/whiskey/rum/brandy, gave me a sizable sample of today's single cask. The last refill cask of SMWS I tried was fabulous. That was a Highland Park. This is not a Highland Park.

Distillery: Laphroaig (SMWS 29)
Ownership: Beam Suntory
Region: Islay (Southern Coast)
Independent Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
"Funny" name: A fantastic fusion of flavours
Age: 18 years
Distilled: April 1995
Maturation: refill ex-bourbon barrel
Cask#: 29.148
Bottles: 206
Alcohol by Volume: 60.7%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

The nose is very herbal, think dried sage and oregano. The Wuyi Whiskey Tea I've been drinking this year. Anise, lemons and spearmint gum. Vanilla and caramel. The very hot palate is full of bitter smoke, and is as intensely herbal as the nose. Green peppercorns, vanilla, sweet peat and a bitter absinthe. The simple finish has bitter smoke, horseradish, sugar and ocean water.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv
The nose becomes much quieter. Mint, vanilla, anise and dried sage. Not much change in the palate. It's bitterer, with more mint and salty ash. It's still too hot. Plenty of heat in the finish too. Bitter, salty and drying. Less sweetness.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv
A little more expressive and modern-Laphroaig-ish on the nose. Chlorine, mild smoke and lemon. Mint and vanilla. More smoke in the palate, lots of sweet mint. Salty and bitter, though milder. The finish is all vanilla, sugar and salt. And oddly milky.

I think Matt said this wasn't his preferred form of Laphroaig. And I'm inclined to agree. The refill barrel did curious work over the 18 years. The spirit is still plenty raw, yet there are heaps of generic American oak notes on top. It takes a lot of water to iron out its kinks, but the weird milky finish keeps it from really working. There are plenty of "flavours" as per the name, but the "fantastic fusion" never happens.

To drink a "fantastic fusion of flavors" whisky,
Then enjoy instead the last Laphroaig 18 OB.

Availability - Sold out, may be available in the secondary market
Pricing - was $150
Rating - 79 (with water)

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Balblair 5 year old, 1980s botting

As mentioned in Monday's review, I added a third Balblair to the 2003/2005 vintage Taste Off. It was a sample of this:
It's the official 5 year old Balblair from back in the 1980s when "The House of Ballantines" owned the distillery. There were actually two different "Houses of Ballantines" in the 1980s: Hiram Walker, until 1987, and then Allied Domecq after that. No matter who actually released this version, (due to math) the spirit was distilled and barreled by Hiram Walker.

Before Inver House scooped up the distillery, there was little effort put into bottling a single malt. An NAS with a label similar this 5yo also surfaced in the '80s. Another NAS was bottled in the 1960s, by a previous owner, Robert Cumming. Otherwise, all Balblair went into blends for two centuries.

Distillery: Balblair
Ownership then: Hiram Walker
Region: Northern Highlands
Maturation: probably American oak
Bottled: 1980s
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
(purchased sample from Sjoerd!)

The nose has a great metallic, industrial edge to it, possibly Old Bottle Effect or maybe just Old School Whisky Effect. There's also burlap, lots of limes and a little bit of vanilla. It gets brighter and fruitier with time, picking up notes of apricots and green grapes.

Its mouthfeel is remarkably thick for 40%abv. The palate is full of praline, toffee and vanilla, but that's kept in balance with notes of hay and herbal bitterness. There's more fruit (pear), green herbs and malt after 20+ minutes in the glass.

The active finish has pears and tangy citrus; coriander and black pepper; milk chocolate and toffee. Notes of of ash and caramel candy linger in later sips.

This is very good. Shockingly good, if you need that extra adverb. How the hell did they make five-year-old whisky deliver like this when very few distilleries can hit this quality at thrice that age right now?

I'm not saying this is the best whisky of the '80s. But it's 5. And is diluted to the max. Yet it's a full whisky experience. Wat?

Too bad the secondary market is ahead of me on this one.

Availability - Several European retailers and auctions
Pricing - in auctions it'll run near or over $100, retailers have it for $115-$185 (booooo)
Rating - 87

Monday, November 20, 2017

Balblair 2003, First US Release (2015)

Balblair has three 2003 vintage releases, bottled in 2013, 2014 and 2015, all marked on their boxes as the "1st Release". Either they kept the release/batch sitting in a steel tank for two years or someone at the packing company was just replicating copy. The 2015 bottling was, I believe, the first US release of the 2003 vintage. Due to the aforementioned issue, I don't know if the whisky is ~10, ~11 or ~12 years old. If it's ~10, that would make it the same age as the 2005 vintage I reviewed two months ago.

In any case, to get some extra perspective for this review I tried the 2003 and 2005 vintage side by side......and then threw in a third(!) Balblair that I'll be reviewing on Wednesday.

My take on the 2005 remains the same as before, so here are my notes on the 2003 vintage:

Distillery: Balblair
Ownership: Inver House (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Region: Northern Highlands
Maturation: "American oak, ex-bourbon barrels", probably a good quantity of refills
Vintage: 2003
Bottled: 2015
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
DISCLOSURE: Amy from Ten27 Communications sent me this bottle of Balblair. Thank you, Amy!

The nose is aggressively green and full of barley. Cardamom, anise and pecans. Lemon-scented cleaner. It's less immediately expressive than the 2005. A blueberry muffin note shows up after 10 minutes, and expands to brighten the profile with time.

A rare example of a palate being richer and bolder than the nose. Butterscotch, vanilla fudge and simple syrup. Chiles and a slight green bitterness. Orange creamsicles and a hint of apples.

The finish has a newmake edge to it, unseen until now. Ethyl, citrus, floral and sugary things. It mellows with time, picking up the chile pepper note, as well as more citrus and caramel.

Like the 2005 vintage, the 2003 comes across younger than ten years old. The nose and finish read very very youthful, but the palate feels round and thick, and is where the American oak shows the most. The 2003 is not really for nosing, but makes for a good drink, which is probably the point of whisky. The oak isn't too loud and there's plenty of spirit flashing through, so it should appeal more to those who want more whisky in their whisky.

Availability - 
The 2003 was released worldwide, though this batch is in the US

Pricing - $55 to $85
Rating - 82

Friday, November 17, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Four Roses Single Barrel bourbon, MW-52-1V

Since it sometimes feels like an American has to travel to Japan to find a bottle of Blanton's Single Barrel, I've elected to audition Blanton's replacements. Four Roses Single Barrel has been pretty reliable and is cheaper than Blanton's ever was during this decade.

This bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel was amongst the whiskies I'd brought to a recent private event. Curiously, none of the 15 attendees voted for it in their Top Two (out of five). Many of them did like the Henry McKenna, though I did not. So I really don't know what to expect...

Distillery: Four Roses
Ownership: Kirin
Type: Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Region: Lawrenceberg, Kentucky
Age: ???
Recipe: OBSV (high rye, fruity yeast)
Maturation: charred white oak barrels
Warehouse: MW
Barrel #: 52-1V
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
(Sample from my bottle)

The nose is gentle for the ABV. Orange oil, lemon oil, pine, anise and mothballs. Flower blossoms, cherry liqueur and circus peanuts. The palate has none of the nose's character. There's vanilla, caramel and barrel char. Bitter, like over-steeped black tea. Sweet little clementines show up occasionally, but an acidity takes the fore. Also, cardboard. The lengthy finish is very sweet. Corn syrup and lemon juice. Plenty of woody bitterness.

 (3:1 bourbon : sweet vermouth, bitters, luxardo cherry)
It's fine, inoffensive, easy to drink. Oddly thin on the palate, though.

I'm going to vote with the group this time. This bourbon is not great. While the nose is quite expressive, the palate is boring or worse. In fact, this may be the worst Four Roses I've had. Just to make sure my palate wasn't shot during this tasting, I tried this bourbon side-by-side with Heaven Hill 6yo BIB. The Heaven Hill lorded over the Four Roses.

This one's so wobbly that I wonder why Four Roses didn't set the barrel aside for blending. No, it's not a disastrous whiskey, but it will cause me to pause now before buying another Four Roses Single Barrel.

Availability - Ohio and Kentucky, I think
Pricing - $35-$50
Rating - 76