...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Old Pulteney 8 year old 1990 Cadenhead Authentic Collection

The single malts of the Green Bottle Era of the Cadenhead Authentic Collection were often low on oak and super high on ABV. I don't mind the former, but the latter can prove difficult to crack. If the "Oak Cask" wasn't in particularly good shape, the resulting whisky can be raw, and dominated by ethyl notes; adding water to that situation rarely helps. Here are two examples of such experiences. And this one was the first and last whisky to make my face go numb.

Yet this series remains well loved by many old school whisky fans. It represents a simpler, less marketing-fatted time when there was less competition for treasures and a trip to the liquor store could result in surprise and discovery. And I wouldn't doubt if some would argue the whisky was better then. That era was, sadly, before my whisky time. I will say, one of the Collection's 1976 Banffs was pretty awesome.

This sample of an 8 year old Pulteney comes from My Annoying Opinions who—through some sort of Minnesotan witchcraft—rescued some green Cadenhead bottles from liquor store shelves in recent years. I'm not worried about the whisky's youth, but the 63.1%abv sets off Hazmat alarm bells.

Distillery/Brand: Pulteney / Old Pulteney
Region: Northern Highlands
Ownership: InterBev Group
Independent Bottler: Cadenhead
Range: Authentic Collection
Age: 8 years old (August 1990 - September 1998)
Maturation: "Oak Cask", helpful!
Bottles: 222
Alcohol by Volume: 63.1%

Its color is a yellow gold. Wow, not much heat on the nose. A good sign. It starts with green leaves, anise, roses and juniper.  Then cocoa, pencil eraser and lemon zest. There's a soft medicinal note that floats up occasionally. With 20+ minutes of air, the nose picks up a grape popsicle note. The palate is hot, but too hot. It's sweet throughout, like spicy orange candy. Maybe some green or yellow melon and fresh ginger. There's a good earthy note, out of which grows an agreeable floral character. The writer just realized the latent poetry, then shoehorned it in. Oh yes, there's plenty of malt to be found. It finishes with earth, ginger and lots of sugar. Flower petals up front, pepper in the back.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Flowers and fruit in the nose. Hints of grain (malted and un-) and yeast. Clean of oak. The palate is similar to the nose with more pepper and a caramel sweetness. A hint of of the earthy thing and a nice herbal bite. It finishes brightly sweet, with a sharp citrus edge and a tiny bit of the soil note.

Another good surprise. Though it's loaded with esters and other spirity things, the whisky isn't palate-shredding or out of whack. Instead, it's pretty good. It feels a little younger and simpler with water, but that doesn't ruin it either. It's not a very complex whisky, but it feels more composed than most of the contemporary ultra-young single casks I've tried recently (thisthis, this and this, are what come to mind tonight). My sample probably came from the second half of MAO's bottle, which allowed it some time (and oxygen) to open up. I can imagine a bottle like this could be brutal in its first couple of pours. But as MAO noted, it does open up. Just give it time. Like, months.

Availability - Happy hunting!
Pricing - ???
Rating - 86

Monday, February 27, 2017

Old Pulteney 1997-2012 Gordon & MacPhail for Alain Verspecht

This week I'll be reviewing a few independently bottled Old Pulteneys, none of which are currently available, each one less relevant than the previous. You're welcome!

For those readers who groaned audibly during that first paragraph, please note that I will be doing a week of current OB OPs in the very near future.

And for those readers who groaned audibly during that first paragraph, there's actually a nice story behind this whisky. Gordon & MacPhail bottled this cask to benefit a non-profit Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis research organization that also helps support Alain Verspecht, a Belgian whisky geek with ALS disease. The Bonding Dram was one of the two retailers selling this whisky, and though the bottles had sold out when I went to order one, there were still samples left to purchase.

Distillery: Old Pulteney
Region: Northern Highlands
Independent Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Supporting: A Cure for ALS and Alain Verspecht
Age: 14-15 years old (1997-2012)
Maturation: first fill bourbon barrel
Cask number1199
Bottles: 224
Alcohol by Volume: 57%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No

Its color is a light bright gold. The buoyant nose starts off with honeydew, ocean air, marzipan and citronella. There are creamy barrel notes at the start, but they linger around the edges rather than forcing their way up front. In fact, they often read like the toasted French oak notes from Spice Tree. After 20-ish minutes in the glass, the whisky picks up aromatic, floral vanilla character. There's an intense maltiness in the palate, followed by milk chocolate and caramel candy (Milk Duds?). It has Talisker-eque salt + pepper. Again, the oak feels more toasted than charred, so there are more spicy notes than vanilla and barrel char. Its sweetness grows with time, and a musty note appears in the midground. The finish has some mild heat and a good sweetness. Its main notes are malt, cocoa and toffee.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose becomes easier with notes of malt, vanilla, milky chocolate and a hint of lime. The palate also gets simpler. There's vanilla, black pepper and a slight bitterness. Some hints of oranges and wood smoke. It finishes with a good bitterness, mild sweetness and plenty of vanilla.

This is a very drinkable single malt that should appeal to almost any palate. This isn't the most complex thing, but it's thoroughly pleasant, something one can just sip in any season. Good cask selection for a great cause.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - it was €66, of which a portion went to the foundation
Rating - 85

Friday, February 24, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Rhetoric 22 year old bourbon

To refresh your memory, and mine, here's a list of the Orphan Barrels I've reviewed:

Forged Oak 15 year old
Lost Prophet 22 year old
Barterhouse 20 year old
and now Rhetoric 22 year old

Like Barterhouse and Forged Oak, Rhetoric was distilled at the old Bernheim distillery and then spent some portion of its maturation in the former Stitzel-Weller warehouse. Again, just to be clear, no matter how many times the marketeers reference S-W, these whiskies were not distilled at the S-W distillery. But they are hella old. And oaky AF.

Rhetoric is a little different than the others, as it is actually its own series. In 2014, a 20yo Rhetoric was released. Then a 21yo in 2015 and this 22yo in 2016. Diageo intends to keep this going until 2019 with a 25 year old. As much as I pick on the Orphan Barrel brand, this Rhetoric experiment is really interesting. Hopefully once the experiment is complete, something can be divined other than "the 25 year old is oakier than the 20 year old".

Owner: Diageo
Brand: Orphan Barrel
Orphan: Rhetoric
Distillery: Old Bernheim
Type: Bourbon Whiskey
Mashbill: 86% corn, 8% barley, 6% rye
Age: minimum 22 years
Alcohol by Volume: 45.2%
(Thanks to Vik for the sample!)

The nose starts off with almond extract and confectioner's sugar. Actually, that's almond croissants. Then apricot jam, amaretto liqueur and brown sugar. There's a solid vanilla bean note, yet there's a happy lack of generic oak going on. Hints of pistachios show up here and there. The palate is a bit sharp as the oak blasts to the fore. There's glue, vanilla and almond extract. A moderate sweetness. Molasses, ginger powder and tangy lemons. A rye rumble in the background. There's plenty of wood spice and cardboard, but no woody bitterness. It has a long peppery tangy finish that never gets too sweet. Plenty of wood spice, barrel char and floral vanilla.

With its fabulous nose and not-terrible palate, this Rhetoric is the best Orphan Barrel bourbon I've tried so far. If not for the glue and cardboard notes in the whiskey's mouth, I'd have recommended this to fans of oak juice. But as this percolated within a first use American oak barrel for 22 years of Kentucky climate, some difficult wood compounds were bound to show up. I did find it less oaky than the Forged Oak 15yo, and the nose is utterly charming.

Other reviews: The Whiskey Jug liked this bourbon a lot. Breaking Bourbon wasn't a fan, though he did enjoy the nose. Drinkhacker loved it.

Availability - A few dozen US retailers appear to have it in stock
Pricing - $120-$200
Rating - 81

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Talisker 27 year old 1985 'Maritime Edition' Special Release (2013)

As part of its 2012 special releases, Diageo released a 35 year old Talisker, which was curiously more expensive than the 35 year old Brora. Rather than following that up with something older or sherried in 2013, they instead released this a 27 year old from 1985. They called it the 'Maritime Edition' for reasons unknown to me. And, frankly, the Internet hasn't helped much on that account.

For those keeping track, 2013 was the year that Diageo decided to try to beat the secondary market (or just act like dicks) (or both) by greatly increasing the prices on their special editions. For instance, this 27yo Talisker was priced nearly the same as the 35, the Brora nearly doubled in price from the year before, the Port Ellen went up 150% and the market found itself its first £600 Convalmore. These price increases have continued ever since, which is interesting since most of these "Special Releases" (not named Port Ellen or Brora) remain on the shelves for years before selling through. For instance, this Talisker can easily be had in 2017 (if you have that sort of dough lying around). As I mentioned in my reviews of the still-available Oban and Convalmore releases, the wisdom of ultra-luxury pricing proves not to be airtight with these annual releases, and I wonder how long retailers will keep picking these up as they crowd the shelf with the old ones.

Back to the subject at hand. The Talisker.

Distillery: Talisker
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Isle of Skye
Age: at least 27 years old (1985-2013)
Maturation: refill bourbon casks
Bottle: 0790 of 3,000
Alcohol by Volume: 56.1%
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? Not much, if any
(Many thanks to Brett for this sample!)

The color is a regular gold, as opposed to the expected DiageoGold™. The nose is, quite accurately, maritime. Malt, salt, hay, burnt plastic, smoked fish and seaweed. Whole wheat crackers, shredded wheat and smoky cocoa powder. With time, it picks up lime, bacon and more cocoa. The palate is Assertive and Austere (I've reached my monthly 'austere' quota of one). Salty and malty, strung together with seaweed, eucalyptus, wood smoke and chili oil. It gradually develops a toffee sweetness, along with some milk chocolate and lime. Its fat finish mirrors the palate with malt, salt, seaweed, chili oil, wood smoke, toffee and tart limes.

Be delicate with the water because this monster has some age to it.

WITH WATER (~50%abv)
The nose picks up a new sticky honey note. Still has the smoked fish and bacon. Barley, seaweed and salt. Cracked black peppercorns. The palate blooms with water. Brown sugar, mint leaves and honey. Chocolate malt, limes, eucalyptus and a musty dunnage note. Again, the finish mimics the palate. Honey, salt, pepper and limes.

At times severe, at times lovely, this isn't just one of the better Taliskers I've ever had, it's probably my favorite single malt since my Japan trip two years ago. It likely places in my all time Top 20 whiskies. Its ability to show off brute force and grace in equal measures is reminiscent of the Laphroaig 25yos back when they were actually bottled at cask strength. I don't know what else to write about this maritime 'Maritime Edition'. It's expensive. It's a gem.

Availability - a few dozen specialty retailers in the US and Europe
Pricing - $550 to $750 worldwide
Rating - 93

Monday, February 20, 2017

Talisker 20 year old 1982 Cask Strength

I'm bringing Taliskravaganza 2017 to an end this week. Four weeks was plenty. Plus I'm saving few samples for the 2018 edition. Though the party is ending early, it's going out with a BANG!

Talisker bottled lightning with their three 20 year olds in 2002 and 2003. These three 20s—with ABVs of 58.8%, 59.7% and 62.0%—have received some of the highest scores for any Talisker from many reviewers (see the whiskybase community, LAWS, Whiskyfun, whisky-monitor and The Whisky Fedora).

For some reason only he knows, reader Cobo sent me a sample of the 1982 58.8%abv edition. Thank you, kind sir.

Distillery: Talisker
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Isle of Skye
Age: at least 20 years old (1982-2003)
Maturation: refill bourbon casks
Limited bottling: 12,000
Alcohol by Volume: 45.8%
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? Not much, if any

Its color is amber, making it the lightest non-Lagavulin-12yo whisky Diageo has ever released. The nose is very fruit-forward. Melons, limes, grapefruits and lots of juicy tropical exotic things. It's also very malty. Some smaller notes of eucalyptus, dunnage, tar and horse stall. The palate is very approachable even with such a high ABV. Pink peppercorns, green bell peppers, light smoke and light florals. Some vanilla sweetness and minty candy. With time it develops an intense citrus blast, with some mango in the background. A ripple of tropical fruit runs through the long finish, along with the nose's dunnage and eucalyptus. Lots of lemons. Heath bar and a hint of smoke.

I've never had a Talisker like this before, and I probably never will again. All those fruits ring out like in a well-aged bourbon cask Highland malt. The smoke and phenols are present, but stay in the background most of the time. If I'm going to gripe ("If"?) it's that the palate doesn't match the nose's quality and complexity. Still, it does have a proper second gear. This whisky is a real treat and deserves its grade, but...

...I tried it next to another Talisker, one that will be reviewed on Wednesday. Something older, but newer.

Availability - Secondary market, and maybe a handful of European specialty retailers
Pricing - under $400 in some places, over $1000 in others
Rating - 90

Friday, February 17, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Barterhouse 20 year old

I return now to the Orphan Barrel series. And it won't be the last time, sorry.

Barterhouse 20yo was one of the first of Diageo's oops-look-what-we-found-in-our-warehouses series. Despite the name, each Orphan Barrel release wasn't made from one lonely barrel, but instead these whiskies each had "limited" bottle counts in the tens of thousands.

To be honest, I really like the label design and bottle shape of this entire series. On the other hand, don't really like the whiskey inside the nice bottles. Because these bourbons spent more than two decades in oak, they tend to smell and taste like wood. Makes sense, right?

Barterhouse was distilled at the old Bernheim distillery, then bottled at George Dickel distillery, then spent some portion of their maturation at a Stitzel-Weller warehouse. Diageo mentions that final aspect in all of their marketing. I can't imagine why. *Insert emoticon here*

One more note: Barterhouse's label does not list the word "straight" anywhere amongst its many other words.

Owner: Diageo
Brand: Orphan Barrel
Orphan: Barterhouse
Distillery: Old Bernheim
Type: Bourbon Whiskey
Mashbill: 86% corn, 8% barley, 6% rye
Age: minimum 20 years
Alcohol by Volume: 45.1%
(Thanks to WhiskyWithRyan for the sample!)

I tried Barterhouse twice, once in public and once at home. Because I did not reference the first tasting's notes during the second go-around, the results are slightly different. I've listed both sets below.

Public sampling:
Flowers and split lumber. Paint fumes and hazelnuts. Plenty of vanilla and a tropical fruit note in the back.

Private sampling: Tree bark and peanut brittle. Lots of caramel. Wood pulp and pine needles. Cherry popsicles with hints of perfume and hazelnuts.

Public sampling: It's all oak. Vanilla, caramel, paper and sawdust. Paint. Creamy and acidic.

Private sampling: There's cherry candy, but it's moderately sweet. Dove hand soap. Lavender soap. Bitter woodiness. Some tart out-of-season berries. The soap notes fade with time, leaving behind paint and wood spice. It's like chewing a wooden fence. Planky.

Public sampling:
Paper, oak, caramel, acidic tart blackberries.

Private sampling: Soap and cherry candy. The cheap Red 40 version of maraschino cherries. Tart and slightly spicy. Quickly falls flat.

I am clearly not the intended demographic for this bourbon. Perhaps this gentleman would experience a deeper Barterhouse appreciation:
Like Forged Oak, Barterhouse's strongest asset is its nose. Yet, even its sniffer doesn't display the balance or depth of a modern 6-12 year old Heaven Hill bourbon. The best thing I can say about the palate is that its woody bitterness isn't as violent as Forged Oak's. And it is somewhat drinkable once the soap notes vanish. My notes on the finish should speak for themselves.

I'd take Barterhouse over Forged Oak, but not by much. I still like Lost Prophet 22yo better. Sku had some nice things to say about Barterhouse, though my take is closer to Andy's. The Whiskey Jug liked the bourbon. So did John Hansell, but his notes match no one else's. Meanwhile, Drink Spirits and Drinkhacker are less enthused. Before you go out and pay a bunch for Barterhouse on the secondary market, please take a look at some of these reviews to see what you'd be getting yourself into.

Availability - can still be found at some US retailers, more than three years after its "limited" release; also quite available on the secondary market
Pricing - $80-$300
Rating - 73

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Talisker 175th Anniversary Single Malt

Talisker distillery was founded in 1830 by the MacAskills, a pair of successful tenant farmers. Needless to say, the distillery was not owned by tenant farmers on its 175th anniversary, which was when this edition of its single malt was released.

I've seen various statements online saying there's 20-something year old whisky in the mix, while others say there's whisky up to 35 years old in there. The most thorough description I've found is this marketing blurb that appears a few sites:
To commemorate Talisker distillery's 175th anniversary in 2005 a special, limited edition expression of the Skye single malt was issued by Diageo. Talisker 175 carries no age statement and consists of a release of 60,000 bottles worldwide. It is largely the work of Diageo's Maureen Robinson, who says that some of the oldest component malts date back to the mid 1970s, while the youngest are at least ten years old. According to Talisker distillery manager Charlie Smith, 'It has all the elements of Talisker but in slightly different proportions to those in the ten or the 25-year-old. It's unmistakably Talisker, and one of the easiest drinking Taliskers I've tasted.'
So it's a 10-year-old.

I almost bought this whisky couple years ago when I found it on the shelf for something near its original price. As usual, my hesitation led to someone else scooping up the bottle a couple weeks later—after it had been on the shelf for nine years. Curiously, at a whisky event soon after, I met the very man who bought that bottle.

Cool story, bro.

Distillery: Talisker
Ownership: Diageo
Type: Single Malt
Region: Isle of Skye
Age: "at least 10 years old"
Maturation: ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks
Bottling date: 2005
Alcohol by Volume: 45.8%
Chill-filtration? Probably
Caramel colored? Yes

It noses like a vatting of Laphroaig 18 and Talisker 18, lightly medicinal and full of fruit (specifically nectarines). There's some old musty sherry cask funk in the mix. Then roses, citronella, dusty pepper, pound cake and dark chocolate. The sherry funk rolls right into the palate. Horseradish and a slight jalapeño sting. Chocolate malt and a little bit of vanilla. Some very dry red wine. A slight fizziness. There's oak to it, but a much different oak than what's in current Talisker, more delicate, less "rich" and gooey, never sweet. The foremost finish notes include black pepper, cocoa, and malt. There are smaller notes of brown sugar, menthol, anise and smoke.

This was much better than I'd expected. The nose is downright awesome. Its subtlety and grace might even appeal to peat-o-phobes. There are certainly some older casks in the whisky. Whether or not they were underproof casks that needed a home, they were well applied. Had the palate's quality/structure matched the sophisticated nose, I'd be talking about a near masterpiece here. The palate is good—thanks to the funk, malt and restrained oak—but it never ascends to "very good", let alone the excellence of the nose. I like the finish's simplicity but it fades a little too quickly. Still, if you can find the 175th selling at its old sub-$100 price, it's a nice thing to have.

Also see Serge's super happy review; Oliver and MAO's positive reviews; and LAWS's moderate reviews.

Availability - It's around, kinda
Pricing - $100-$250
Rating - 88 (dat nose tho)

Monday, February 13, 2017

Talisker 57º North (Current Label)

I reviewed the original label version of Talisker 57º North during the previous Taliskravaganza, three years ago, and found the stuff to be pretty awesome. I never got around to buying a bottle because its price had sailed over $100. The American TTB had approved the 57º North's label nearly four years ago, so I was also waiting for it to show up here. But it never did.

The 57º North's label got a design update, along with the rest of the range, in late 2012. That was right about the time that Talisker 10yo's quality started going downhill (in my opinion), thus I was even less motivated to buy the 57º. Thanks to Saint Brett of Riverside, I have a sample of the current labelled edition right here with me. Time to give it a try.

Distillery: Talisker
Ownership: Diageo
Type: Single Malt
Region: Isle of Skye
Age: NAS
Maturation: some version of American oak barrels
Alcohol by Volume: 57%
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? Yes

Its color is DiageoGold™, as expected. The nose starts off salty and remarkably fruity (honeydew, white peach and pear). Then vanilla bean, walnuts and lemons. A happy lack of ethyl heat. Ah, but the palate is very hot. Loads of ginger, peppercorns and cinnamon. It's very tangy with a sticky sweetness and some barrel char. The heat continues through the finish. It ends with vanilla, caramel, cinnamon, sweet citrus and woody bitterness.

WITH WATER (~45.8%abv)
It gets very cloudy very quickly. Eucalyptus and cocoa powder on the nose. Then wood char, pie dough and caramel sauce. The palate is desserty sweet. It's also loaded with black pepper and woody bitterness. An occasional mothball. Keeps coming back to the intensely sugary note that reminds me of lemon bars. The finish is sweet and woody, full of lemons and vanilla.

This is an example of a whisky with an exceptional nose and an unexceptional palate. And a mediocre finish. This is likely due to two unsurprising factors: lots of oak and under-matured spirit.

New and rejuvenated American oak can produce a lot of rich bold smells, but it can't hide young whisky; instead, it becomes the pig's lipstick. So, while this whisky's nose displays more depth than that of the two 5yo indie Taliskers I reviewed last week, the palate feels as rough or rougher. Adding water doesn't help matters since it brings the wood to the fore. But, on the bright side, the nose is excellent.

American scotch enthusiasts don't have to spend over $100 to get 57º North from Europe, thanks to the weakness of the euro and pound. But still, it will set you back $80-$90. It's just not worth it, to me. I'd recommend seeking out the version with the old label instead.

Availability - Many specialty whisky retailers in Europe and Asia
Pricing - $80-$90 shipped from Europe, w/shipping, w/o VAT
Rating - 82 (the nose is the only thing keeping it out of the 70s)

Friday, February 10, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Lot No. 40 Canadian Rye Whisky (2013)

I have served almost 150 individual world whiskies at the private and public events I have led over the past three years. And you know what was, by far, the whisky that won over the most people? This:

A screenshot from a '90s softcore Canadian sex film
Lot No. 40. Yes, a Canadian whisky. A Canadian rye. Aside from all those new Lot No. 40 fans, we've sorta gone through a few bottles on our own here in Ohio. No whisky has vaporized at this speed at home since Willett held court.

Now, like most of you, I'm not a big Canadian whisky fan. Not a lot of Canadian whiskies get reviewed on this site either. The only Canadian whiskies I've ever recommended were an early-'80s distilled Canadian Club blend and Collingwood 21yo rye. The former read like a high quality Irish blend. The latter is liquid rye bread and only appeals to specific tastebuds.

But then there's Lot No. 40, which—as I have seen live many times—has broader appeal. The 2012 version of No. 40 put it on the contemporary whisky map, and you can find a number of good reviews of it online. (Here's Serge. Here's Sku. Here's MAO.) Alas, I am not reviewing the 2012 batch today. Instead I'm reviewing the No. 40 bottled in 2013. That's the one that I've been sharing and enjoying.

Brand: Lot No. 40
Company: Corby Distilleries
Distillery: Hiram Walker Distillery
Region: Canada (a big region)
Age: ???
Mashbill: 100% rye (10% of which is malted)
Bottling Year: 2013
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? Probably
Added Colorant? Also probably

There's a direct rye delivery in the nose, a fennel and mint combination that's almost absinthe-like. A soft floral (blossoms not perfume) note meets real maraschino cherries. Mint leaves become mint candies. Salty almonds and a gentle bourbon note. I give it more than 20 minutes of rest, pick up the whisky glass to give it a sniff and suddenly I'm waist-deep in a meadow of herbs. There there are moments of baked peaches and ground mustard seed in the distance. There's a pleasant, but not weak, minty spicy arrival in the palate. Some floral hints, reminiscent of young cognac. And creamy root beer. With 20+ minutes in the glass, the whisky keeps coming back to a mix of mint, black pepper and white sugar. A slight fizziness. It has a rye bite throughout, and it builds with time. The finish has fennel in the back and a soft bitterness in the front of the tongue. Root beer. Mint leaves. A melting sweetness.

This is a great drinking whisky. When enjoying it casually, I don't find all of those notes listed above. I mostly find, "Mmmmm." That's important. Lot No. 40 stands so far apart from all the 40% Canadian blends in quality and content—yet also a bit different in character than American ryes—that it's difficult to compare it to anything else.

Back when Lot No. 40 hit The States 4+ years ago, there was a lot of blog talk about Canadian whiskies being the next big thing. As far as fads and economics go, that never happened. Apparently there are a number of Canadian ryes of quality that never pass beyond our neighbor's borders, so perhaps potential comparisons await. Until then, this is without a doubt my favorite Canadian whisky.

Availability - Available at most specialty retailers 
Pricing - $35-$65, though Ohio had it for $33 not too long ago
Rating - 87

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Talisker "Tactical" 26 year old 1974 Old Malt Cask

Like the whisky from yesterday's review, today's Talisker is a low-abv release from an independent bottler who couldn't use the distillery's name. I tried the two whiskies side-by-side. Yesterday's Talimburg was like a funky herbal liqueur, lessee what today's Tactical turns out to be.

Name: Tactical
Actual Distillery: Talisker
Independent Bottler: Douglas Laing
Range: Old Malt Cask
Age: 26 years (May 1974 - August 2000)
Maturation: an old malt cask?
Bottles: 292
Alcohol by Volume: 44.7%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
Thanks to Cobo for providing the sample!

Its color is gold, darker than yesterday's 19yo. The nose is full of minerals and earth. Chalk, clay and salt. Apples and almonds. Dunnage funk. After 20ish minutes in the glass, the nose trends towards white grapes and peaches. After 30 minutes, vanilla bean and honey appear. The palate starts with lots of baking spice: cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. More pepper than smoke. Briney, with some horseradish. After 20ish minutes, it picks up mint leaves. The brine and horseradish turns into a zesty herbal bitterness. After 30 minutes, it gets toasty, with a gentle toffee sweetness. The finish stays fruity throughout. Sometimes fruit cocktail, sometimes tart limes. Toffee, mint and a light bitterness.

Though I do like the 19yo Talimburg's herbal liqueur style, this 26yo Tactical is more my jam. The herbal notes are there, but so is an impressive amount of minerality (on the nose), sweets and spice (on the palate) and fruit (in the finish). The complexity dazzles considering the low abv, so thankfully the angels didn't steal all the good stuff. If you have a bottle of this release stashed away, Mazel Tov. It's a great one.

Availability - 
Happy Hunting!

Pricing - ???
Rating - 90

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Talisker "Talimburg" 19 year old 1986 The Whisky Fair, cask 1485

I'm going to stay with the whole Indie Talisker theme this week. Today's item is a bit of a dusty dram bottled by The Whisky Fair (from Deutschland) back in 2005. At 45.9%abv, it may have been diluted to approximately 0.1% more alcohol by volume than the official Taliskers. Or the angels snorted nothing but C2H5OH out of this cask. Because Diaego/DCL/SMD often did not allow 3rd parties to use Talisker's name on bottlings, The Whisky Fair put a little German twist on the name, calling it Talimburg.

Name: Talimburg
Actual Distillery: Talisker
Independent Bottler: The Whisky Fair
Age: 19 years (May 1986 - June 2005)
Maturation: bourbon hogshead
Cask number1485
Bottles: 252
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: No
Thank you to Cobo-san for providing this sample!

Just to note, I tried this whisky alongside the whisky I'm reviewing tomorrow.

The color is a nice simple amber. Oooh, lots of old dunnage funk, hot tar and burnt plastic on the nose. That somehow totally grooves with the golden raisin and dried apricot notes. Then lemongrass/citronella. With 30+ minutes in the glass, the whisky issues a barley/bran cereal note, as well as some butter. Like the nose, the palate starts with aggressive dirty funky stuff. Then mint leaves and Fernet-Branca. Brown sugar and cinnamon. Ink. It's herbal as all hellfire. It's like a bitter herbal liqueur with a little bit of tar and cinnamon blended in. It finishes very herbal as well, with ink, salt, and tart and tangy lemons.

Whew, this is a brisk, crisp, sharp thing, unlike any whisky being produced now. It'll put hair on your ears. Or, in some cases, MORE hair on your ears. The palate is devoid of oak, yet is not immature; it feels like it was actually aged instead of having more wood thrust into it.


I don't know if there are any unopened bottles of this stuff left on the planet. If you do have one, or one pops up in an auction, you can also take a look at Serge's review and the Whisky Monitor. My opinion is this is a whisky for a very specific palate. If you like funky, salty, herbal bombs then this Talimburg is for you.

Availability - Happy Hunting!
Pricing - ???
Rating - 86

Monday, February 6, 2017

Taste Off: A pair of 5 year old Taliskers bottled by the Laings

Let's go down to Tiny Talisker Town.

What I have here are a pair of whiskies with the following aspects in common:
  • Distillery: Talisker
  • Indie Bottler: The Laing family (Langside Distillers / The Laing Whisky Company)
  • Age: 5 years old
  • Cask: refill hogshead
  • Exclusive to: K&L Wine & Spirits
Long time readers may remember that I have reviewed The Speakeasy Talisker before. I've grumped a number of times about indie bottlers rushing to bottle immature whiskies, but I found the five year old Speakeasy to be quite good. So I decided to give another try, alongside the next baby Talisker cask selected by K&L, a 5yo 2009 from the Hepburn's Choice label.

Distillery: Talisker
Independent Bottler: The Laing Whisky Company
Age: 5 years (April 2008 - November 2013)
Maturation: refill hogshead
Cask number8
Bottles:  345
Alcohol by Volume: 58.2%
Exclusive to: K&L Wines
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: No
(Sample taken from my bottle)

Its color is a very light amber. The nose begins with mezcal, lemons, oranges and wood ash. With some time it transitions to mint leaves, burnt barley and lemon cake. The palate is peppery as heck. Chili powder. Smoky cocoa powder. Lemon candy and clover honey. It finishes with honey pepper hot sauce, lemons and mossy peat.

WITH WATER (~45.8%abv)
The nose gets very floral (blossoms, not perfume). There's a ham, honey, saltines and yeast. It fades pretty quickly though, leaving behind a single broad smoke note. The palate is sweet and spicy. Simple but balanced. Mezcal, barley and honey. The finish balances light sweetness, pepper and smoke, getting sweeter with time.

Distillery: Talisker
Independent Bottler: Langside Distillers
Range: Hepburn's Choice
Age: 5 years (2009 - 2015)
Maturation: refill hogshead
Bottles: 281
Alcohol by Volume: 59.5%
Exclusive to: K&L Wines
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: No
(Sample taken from a whisky event bottle)

It may have the lightest color I've ever seen on a whisky. It's almost clear. The nose is super vegetal with plastic and rubber band notes. But it also has molasses, mesquite chips, tequila and apricots. The palate has a spritely balance of veg, pepper and white fruit sweetness. Some mint and mossy smoke as well. Plenty of heat in the finish, along with peat smoke, black pepper, pretzels and charred veggies.

WITH WATER (~45.8%abv)
The nose picks up some grilled meat notes, more moss and more rubber. It gets coastal and farmy too. The palate is minty, salty, peppery, sweet and charred. The finish is very peppery with lighter smoke and sweetness. Cigarette smoke.


My opinion of The Speakeasy remains unchanged. It's a brash young whisky that will appeal to mezcal fans and peatheads. In addition to its fiery character, the whisky makes for a decent drink. It's one of the better low-oak super-young whiskies I've had. That being said, I'm glad I split this bottle with friends because I don't think I could have kept up the enthusiasm for an entire 750mL.

The 2009 Hepburn's Choice comes across even rawer and younger than The Speakeasy. In fact its color gives a pretty good hint as to what one should expect. It's probably as close to Talisker new make as a non-Diageo employee will be able to try. Even though it blitzes the palate, it's less abusive than the 46%abv 6yo Ardmore I reviewed two weeks ago. And it's more complex and enjoyable, compared to that Ardmore.

But, The Speakeasy wins the day here. It feels more like a mostly-complete product than immature spirit chosen for bottling because......well, I don't know why the 5yo cask was selected for a retailer by Langside. I don't understand why it couldn't have been left to cook for another 5-7 years. As referenced above, it's absolutely NOT bad whisky, but it still feels a bit like a stunt. Perhaps the hope was Speakeasy the Sequel. It's not, though it does provide a quick peek into Talisker's spirit.

Talisker 5yo 2008 The Speakeasy
Availability - sold out
Pricing - $60
Rating - 84

Talisker 5yo 2009 Hepburn's Choice
Availability - sold out
Pricing - $50
Rating - 78

Friday, February 3, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Forgotten Roses (Four Roses) Bourbon

BARD Friday returns with......a thing.

First, the story! I will protect the names of certain individuals and companies because I don't want to get anyone in trouble. Though one company's name is clearly in the post's title. And the anonymous's identities may be easily deduced with some research, but I'm going to roll with the secrecy because it's like midnight here and my brane is tyred.

My brother in-law's brother in-law (no not me, the other one) knows a girl who knows a guy who works at a well-regarded well-distributed independent brewery. Said brewery does the occasional barrel-aged stout. Sometimes they get their barrels fresh from Four Roses distillery. Recently, as per my source, "some of the barrels had some whiskey still in them which had secreted out of the wood after they were emptied." The fellas at the brewery siphoned out the leftovers and got at least a full bottle of whiskey out of it.

This resulting bourbon was 142 proof. Just a liiiiiiiiitle higher than 4R tends to go. I imagine that crazy levels of oxidation and absorption were the factors behind the super proof.

Anyway, my sources, let's call them Awdoo and The Money Man, sent me 2.5 ounces of this forgotten fire nectar for gits and shiggles. Thank you very much, Awdoo and The Money Man. Time to review the barrel juice.

"Forgotten Roses" 71.0% alcohol by volume

As you can see above, I separated this sample into two glasses. One remained at full strength, the other was reduced to 50% abv (BIB strength, 4R Single Barrel strength, etc.).

Full Power:

NOSE -- It smells like bourbon. Lots of charred oak and caramel. A little bit of corn and marzipan. A combination of cinnamon and orange candies. It can be on the perfumy side at times, but that note keeps transforming into honey. With a lot of air, sugar and leather are outted.

PALATE -- Minty with lots of spicy woodstuff. Brown sugar and barrel char. It's hot, but nowhere near as hot as anticipated. Here the perfumy side drifts into tangy fruit. Air brings out bitter oak.

FINISH -- Lots of barrel action. Think char and wet cardboard. Pinches of spice, bitterness and soap. It does have a good mild sweetness though.

And then:

Diluted to 50%abv:

NOSE -- Sherry and shoe polish. But mostly shoe polish. Butt sweat. I'll let you figure out if that's sherry shipping "butt" or not. Raspberries and vanilla.

PALATE -- Nutrasweet. Earthy, grassy, sooooooooooooooooooapy. Spicy burnt socks.

FINISH -- Fruity and sooooooooooooooooooapy. Carpet vomit.


As with Mogwai, don't get this whiskey wet. Somehow in all its unusual oxidation, it may be at peak form as is. At 71%abv, it's perfectly recognizable, drinkable, enjoyable, a bourbon I'd be happy to consume again. Its finish is the trouble spot that keeps it earthbound. But because I had expected the finish be like the receiving end of Hacksaw Jim Duggan's 2x4, I'd say this was a reasonable success, overall.

And then I added water. And then I died. And then I was arisen. And then I drank it all. And then I didn't sleep because the air was bleeding.

Thanks again to Awdoo and The Money Man. And hopefully everyone is alive and well at the beer-making place after consuming the bottle's contents. Happy Friday!

RATING: Gone but definitely not forgotten

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Single Malt Report: Talisker 2006 Distillers Edition (2016 bottling)

Yesterday I reviewed the 2009 chapter of Talisker's Distillers Edition and it was.....eh. Especially when compared to the current (2016) version. Which I did. Good sentences on this post.

See below for the second half of the Talisker DE Taste Off. The 2016 Edition doesn't have an age statement as usual, but this time it's entirely possible the whisky isn't a full ten years old. Nonetheless, it's not bad.

Distillery: Talisker
Ownership: Diageo
Type: Single Malt
Region: Isle of Skye
Age: 10 years or less (2006-2016)
Maturation: refill ex-bourbon casks for ??? years, then a brief finish in ex-Amoroso casks
Alcohol by Volume: 45.8%
Chill-filtration? Yep
Caramel colored? Also Yep
(Review from purchased sample)

Its color is DiageoGold™. The nose starts off with the same soap note as the 1998, but it fades quicker, thank goodness. There's more char and vegetal notes in this one. Burnt nuts, mesquite chips, BBQ ribs, tar and band-aids. It also has a sugary side to it, with caramel and buttery dough. In fact, one nostril picks up more sugar, the other gets more smoky stuff. After 30+ minutes there are some dry sherry cigarette notes as well. The palate is big on savory. Roast beef, Vegemite and smokiness that grows with time. There's also a bit of sweetness that stays in balance with the savoriness. Candied stone fruits, black licorice and a cherry + BBQ combo. Some zippy moments of fresh ginger and wood spice show up after some time. Its finish delivers a bigger bite than the '98. Wood smoke, fresh ginger and black licorice. Gumdrops, though at 1/10th the sweetness. A little bit of savory and salt.

Well, not everything used to be better than it is now. This current version of Talisker DE is more complex and well rounded, while delivering a bigger punch, than the 1998-2009 version. Though, to be honest the 1993-2007 Edition remains my favorite so far. One kinda forgets this one almost immediately after the finish fades. Anyway...

If you're standing at the whisky store, looking at the different blue Talisker boxes, I'd recommend this over Storm and Skye. It may even top some recent batches of the 10 year old. On the other hand, it's not worth $75+ IMHO. It's a B-grade whisky that's neither old or scarce. You can find it for a (comparable) song at some Netherlands retailers, though.

Availability - (this edition) Many speciality liquor retailers
Pricing - (this edition) $65-$95 in the US, $45-$80 in Europe
Rating - (this edition) 86

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Single Malt Report: Talisker 1998 Distillers Edition (2009 bottling)

I'm starting off Taliskravaganza 2017 with a pair of Talisker DEs. Happily I was able to try the 2009 bottling alongside the current 2016 version and I'll be sharing my thoughts on them today and tomorrow.

Here's a quick recap for those unfamiliar with these whiskies: Diageo releases annual Distillers Editions for many of its Classic Malts, including Oban, Lagavulin, Talisker, Glenkinchie, Cragganmore, Dalwhinnie, Caol Ila and Royal Lochnagar. Each single malt has been finished in a specific type of fortified wine cask for an unspecified period of time. For instance, Lagavulin is finished in Pedro Ximenez casks, Caol Ila in Moscatel, Oban in Montilla Fino Sherry, and Talisker in Amoroso. Oh, and there's no apostrophe in "Distillers" for some reason.

To quote a post from Taliskravaganza 2014:
...the age of the Talisker Distillers Editions has lessened over the years.  From 2000 - 2007 (vintages 1987-1993), they were 13 years or older.  In 2008 (the 1996 vintage), it was 12 years old.  Then from 2009 until the current version, it's 11 years or younger.  I'm going to guess that age reduction is due to demand.  Or it's possibly due to a level of production efficiency; over the last four years they may just take the regular 10 year old casks and give them the sherry finish....
Indeed today's 2009 bottling is around 11 years old, while the 2016 edition (like the 2015) is at most 10 years old.

Distillery: Talisker
Ownership: Diageo
Type: Single Malt
Region: Isle of Skye
Age: between 10 and 11 years (1998-2009)
Maturation: refill ex-bourbon casks for 10-ish years, then a brief finish in ex-Amoroso casks
Alcohol by Volume: 45.8%
Chill-filtration? Yessiree
Caramel colored? Yes'm
(Review from purchased sample)

Its color is DiageoGold™. The nose starts out a little quirky, mixing tar, Dove soap and orange candy. After a few minutes it straightens out a bit, bringing smoke and butterscotch to the fore as the soap and tar fade back. It takes 20-30 minutes for it to really shine, at which point black raisins, dried cherries, plums and toffee take over. The palate is more savory than sweet, though it does start off with ginger ale, limes and toasted oak spice. Then almonds, salt and fresh ginger leap forward. It's a simple thing, though it does have a good mouthfeel, making one wonder how much better it would have been without chill filtration. The finish is quiet for the first few sips, gradually taking on the palate's almonds, salt and fresh ginger, along with a nice inky bitterness.

This one takes a long time to wake up. Once it airs out, the nose is the best part, showcasing the some of the better characteristics from the spirit and wine cask. The palate and finish are both fine. Nothing offends (except perhaps that early soap note), but there's little in the way of highlights. This is certainly a full step down in quality compared to the Talisker 10 that was being produced at the time.

Availability - (this edition) Happy Hunting!
Pricing - (current edition) $65-$95 in the US, $45-$80 in Europe
Rating - (this edition) 82