...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Calumet Farm bourbon

Sometimes I review a whisky because it fits in with a weekly theme. And sometimes I review a whiskey because its bottle takes up too much damn room in my storage box.

Western Spirits appears to have invested in a slinky, curvy vessel for their Calumet Farm bourbon, even though the thing is twice as wide as the average bottle. One wonders how much they invested in the NDP NAS non-straight whiskey itself. A 750mL of Calumet sells for $50 in many states. How much of that goes towards recouping the expense of the glass?

Non Distiller Producer: Western Spirits
Brand: Calumet Farm
Distiller: ???
Type: Bourbon
Region: Bowling Green, Kentucky
Maturation: New American oak
Age: ???
Mashbill: ???, mystery meat indeed
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

Its color is very pale for a bourbon, sort of a light gold Scotch tone. The nose leads with flowers, almond paste, paint and cardboard. Quite a mix there. Loads of barrel char. Snuffed cheap cigar butt on the morning after. Then hints of vanilla and chlorine. The palate is mildly sweet. Hold it. Never mind. REALLY sweet. Honey and hint of citrus. Slightly nutty, slightly chemically. It finishes tooth-rottingly sweet. Honey butter and orange candy. Sour aftertaste.

Plenty sweet. A bit of caramel candy shows up. Barrel char. Cigarettes. The finish ditches its sourness.

I was expecting the worst after reading Sku's review and its comments. But the bourbon is not horrible. It does feel watered down, and the nose is cockeyed. Yet, it's drinkable. And though it is waaaaaaaay too sweet for my mouth, other drinkers may not feel the same.

Its lack of "straight" designation has me thinking one or two things are going on. There could be very young whiskey in the mix or there's a tiny bit of sweetener or flavoring that has been added. Or both.
(UPDATE: As Florin noted in the comments, bourbon can't technically have any flavoring additives, though rye can. Though, as morlock added, if the industry is self-policing it becomes easy to suspect some tinkering.)

Calumet Farm would be a good-enough bourbon in the $15-$20 range, but it's not in the $15-$20 range.

Availability - Most US specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - US: $38-$55, averaging close to $50; Overseas: $100+ (yup)
Rating - 75

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Old Pulteney Navigator (blind tasting)

The first whisky of the blind tasting was Old Pulteney 12 year old.
The second whisky was Old Pulteney WK 217 Spectrum.
The third whisky was Old Pulteney Clipper Commemorative Edition.
And then there was Old Pulteney Navigator.
This whisky confuses me. The official website lists it as a limited edition release, but it's been around for four years, and the company never announced a bottle count. The site also says the whisky was "inspired by the intrepid maritime adventure in the 13-14 Clipper Race", but that's the same thing they said about the Clipper Commemorative Edition. The Clipper edition, which I reviewed yesterday, was also a limited edition but its bottle count number was publicized. To make things even cloudier, these whiskies were released less than ten months apart. Navigator (2013) was released before Clipper (2014), yet Navigator is still being bottled—for instance, my bottle was from June 2016—and, as mentioned at the start, is listed by the company as a limited edition. So, what exactly qualifies as a limited edition nowadays?

Distillery: Pulteney
Ownership: Inver House (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Region: Northern Highlands (Wick)
Type: Single Malt
Maturation: "Bourbon and Sherry Casks" per the tube
Age: NAS
Bottled: 2016
Bottling code: L16/178 R16/5182 I8 13:05
Limited Bottling: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? ???
Colored? ???
(DISCLOSURE: This was one of the bottles that Amy from Ten27 Communications had sent me recently (thanks, Amy!).)

Its color is the second lightest of the group, sort of a light gold. This nose is......active. Ham, deep fryer oil, yeast and Romano cheese. There are hints of orange candy and toffee, as well as something metallic and industrial. A little more barley slips in, with time in the glass. The palate is loaded with cinnamon, carpet and rye new make. Toasted wheat bread. Hints of caramel sauce and umami. It grows sweeter with time until it's much too sweet. It finishes with cinnamon and salt. Barley. Toast. The sweetness issue shows up here as well.

There's another glass of Navigator in my hand right now. As I smell and taste it in very different (non-blind) circumstances, I'm finding that cheese note to be overwhelming. It's the largest thing happening in the nose and it's blocking most other notes from showing up. The palate has a sharpness and hotness to it that I didn't notice before. On the positive side, there's a definite lack of oak.

I like hot mess whiskies, but this one doesn't work for me. Like the Clipper, Navigator is young stuff, but there's something dearly out of whack to it. Unlike Clipper, it doesn't present a united front. A bunch of things misfire simultaneously. The good news is that OP doesn't try to paper over all of it with a bunch of new oak, like most other distilleries (in many countries) are doing right now. So I do respect them for that. But if the Clipper and Navigator are on the shelf, I'd go with the Clipper.

Availability - Many specialty retailers worldwide
Pricing - Japan, Europe and US: $45-$65
Rating - 77

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Old Pulteney Clipper Commemorative Edition (blind tasting)

Keeping with all their boat-themed NAS expressions, Old Pulteney released this Clipper Commemorative bottling as a tribute to the folks who raced 'round the world in their yachts in the...er, Round the World Yacht Race in 2013-2014.

Released in July 2014, the Clipper Commemorative edition was "limited" to 16,200 bottles. Perhaps due to its lack of age statement, an overestimation of the whisky-drinking yacht enthusiast contingent and the high bottle count, the Clipper can still be found rather easily in US, Europe and Japan.

I included this amongst my four-whisky blind tasting this past weekend. It turned out to be the third glass. (See here for the first whisky, and here for the second.)

Distillery: Pulteney
Ownership: Inver House (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Region: Northern Highlands (Wick)
Type: Single Malt
Age: NAS
Bottled: 2014
Limited Bottling: 16200
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? doubtful
Colored? probably not
(DISCLOSURE: This was one of the bottles that Amy from Ten27 Communications had sent me recently (thanks, Amy!).)

Its amber color is the lightest of the four. The nose has a momentary Loch Lomond-style garbage note at the start, but that quickly vanishes. It's replaced by very clean light floral notes, followed by whisky wash, and a hint of grape candy. It's very grassy. With time, it picks up small notes of maple syrup, vanilla and yellow delicious apples. Wow, the palate starts off all barley. Straight up wort. Yeast. Roasted nuts with a sprinkle of confectioner's sugar. Then brown butter and saltines. Hints of bitter herbs and a phenolic note. It finishes with brown butter and barley. A little bit of heat. Mild bitterness and that phenolic element.

This one fascinates me. During the blind tasting it sat next to the WK217, the darkest of the four. Both are made up of American oak and Spanish oak casks, but they couldn't be any further apart in style—perhaps due to first-fill/refill cask status. While the Clipper does pick up some small oak-influenced notes after oxidation, it's usually very grassy and barley-forward. Meanwhile the WK217 is mostly sherry. Despite their differences, these two were my favorites.

Yes, the Clipper is undoubtably young, but I don't find it out of balance. Nor is it hot. Nor do I find it as oaky as Whiskyfun and The Whisky Jug did. I've had a few pours of it since the tasting, and I still feel the same way. Because I'm not exactly part of the yachting crowd, I have no idea if Clipper is great for fancy boat drinkin'. But I can say it's a nice spring or summer whisky, and takes to ice very well. I'd happily buy it at $40, though that's the lowest price it goes for.

Availability - A few dozen retailers in the US, Europe and Japan
Pricing - Japan: around $70; Europe: $55-$80 (w/o shipping and VAT); US: $40-$60
Rating - 85

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Old Pulteney WK 217 Spectrum (blind tasting)

The first of my reviews from this four-part blind tasting of Old Pulteneys posted yesterday. That was Old Pulteney 12yo (2016). Review #2 is of Old Pulteney WK 217 Spectrum.

WK 217 Spectrum was third of a three-part series of whiskies named after Wick fishing boats. They were each a little different than the next, though were all NAS and sold through travel retail. I knew nothing about this whisky when I requested it during a sample swap with Mr. My Annoying Opinions.

Distillery: Pulteney
Ownership: Inver House (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Region: Northern Highlands (Wick)
Type: Single Malt
Maturation: American oak bourbon casks and Spanish oak sherry butts
Age: NAS
Bottled: 2012
Limited Bottling: 9600
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? ???
Colored? ???

Its color is the darkest of the bunch, slightly lighter than maple syrup. Speaking of which, there's touch of maple syrup in the nose, though the fruit notes are much larger: dark cherries and raspberry fruit leather. There are hints of carpet, plastic and moss to give it an edgier dimension. Defined dry sherry notes in the palate. Raisins and walnuts. Marshmallows and black peppercorns. It gets sweeter with time, trending towards a Macallan style. Though it has a slight bitter bite throughout. Its finish is nutty, with moments of dried currants. Bitter coffee in the back of the tongue. A little bit of heat. Gets more sherry forward with time.

Yum. Though not classically Pulteney in style, WK 217 Spectrum is a pleasant sherried thing. It took me by surprise, since I was expecting to like this Duty Free Mystery Meat the least. Instead it was either my favorite of the four, or tied in first.

I can't say it's that complex, nor has had a particularly lengthy maturation, but there were some sopping sherry casks in the mix. I'd take it over the current version of Macallan 12. I don't think it's better than Bunnahabhain 12, but it's within a step of that one. MAO liked the WK 217 slightly less than I, but seems to agree that it's "solid sherry" stuff. Too bad it's gone from Duty Free, as it was sold in liter bottles!

Availability - Sold exclusively through travel retail in 2012 and 2013
Pricing - dunno, maybe $80 for 1L?
Rating - 85

Monday, April 24, 2017

Old Pulteney 12 year old (blind tasting)

This past weekend I did a blind tasting of four recent Old Pulteney expressions. FULL DISCLOSURE: Amy from Ten27 Communications sent me a heapin' helping of Old Pulteney bottles recently (thank you, Amy!). I thought the best way to get a good idea of their qualities would be to taste them side by side, blindly. So I did three of those whiskies, and added in a generous sample of an OP NAS release that MAO sent me via a sample swap (thanks, MAO!).

My, she was yar.
And also on fire.
The first of these four was the most well known of the bunch, Pulteney's 12 year old. I reviewed the 12yo four-and-a-half years ago, also from my own bottle. That was a 2012 bottling, this is a 2016.

Distillery: Pulteney
Ownership: Inver House (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Region: Northern Highlands (Wick)
Type: Single Malt
Maturation: ex-bourbon American oak casks (I think)
Age: minimum 12 years
Bottled: 2016
Bottle code: L16/074 R16/5108 IB 14/18
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? Yes
Colored? Yes

Its color is the second darkest of the four, a medium gold. The nose leads with apples and pears. Brine and burnt butter. Caramel, citronella and slight plastic note. It picks up a lot of saline with time. The palate is mild, but super malty. Toasted almonds and bread crusts. A moderate amount of vanilla bean. Hints of dried oregano and Worcestershire sauce. Texture is a bit thin and watery, though. It finishes with the oregano and savory-ish note. Salt and citrus in the aftertaste. It later sips, it picks up more sweetness and oak.

It's malty and salty, with a touch of umami. It's not the most immediately approachable 12yo for fans of Johnnie Walker and Chivas. But after one has gotten comfortable with the familiar Glens, OP12 is a good challenge. Tasting it now, it feels like a decent early-spring whisky.

If they bottled it at 46%abv and cut the chillfiltration, this would be one of the best 12yo OBs. Still, I do commend the company for keeping the price (usually) below $40, and sometimes it can be found for nearly $30, which gives it a decent quality-price-ratio in the current market. Though my notes are different than the 2012 bottling's review, I'm going to give it the same rating.

Availability - Wide
Pricing - $30-$50
Rating - 83

Friday, April 21, 2017

J.W. Dant Bottled-in-Bond versus Heaven Hill 6yo Bottled-in-Bond, 3 Ways!

Yes, just last week I reviewed Heaven Hill 6yo BIB. Then I noticed I had JW Dant BIB on the calendar for this week. What better way to get a clearer idea of a pair of bourbons than with a little Taste Off! perspective?

That was a rhetorical question.

I bought these two bottles in Kentucky last year: $9 for the JWD and $11 for the HH. (If you're a scotch drinker, you may be saying "Fucken A" right now.) I opened both at the same time and, as you can see, they're both almost gone.

A quick refresher: Both of these bourbons are distilled by Heaven Hill Distillery, and both are bottled at 50% from barrels in bonded Kentucky warehouses. The HH BIB is at least 6 years old (though there's something going on with this release possibly pointing towards bad news), while the JWD BIB is at least 4 years old. And both, as mentioned before, are hella cheap.

I tasted these bourbons side-by-side in three different formats: Old Fashioned, Manhattan and Neat.

Distiller: Heaven Hill
Brand: Heaven Hill
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Region: Louisville, Kentucky
Maturation: New American oak
Age: at least six years (HH), at least four years (JWD)
Mashbill: 75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malted Barley
Bottle Code: F167 615 27 (HH), 173 5122 (JWD)
Alcohol by Volume: 50%

(orange peel, angostura bitters, half a demerara cube and a splash of water muddled together, then rocks, then 25mL of bourbon)

Heaven Hill 6 year old BIB
The whiskey merges with the orange peel and sugar very well, so that one can't tell where the whiskey ends and the other ingredients begin. A substantial bubblegum note. Overall its very even and drinky.

J.W. Dant BIB
More spirity and mouth-drying, though also plenty sweet. Needs a lot of ice melt to straighten it out. Though that also brings out a green woody bitterness.

Verdict: The Heaven Hill old-fashioned is pretty decent. The JW Dant old-fashioned is pretty bad.

(20mL of bourbon stirred with 10mL of Carpano Antica, angostura bitters and a drop of Luxardo cherry syrup)

Heaven Hill 6 year old BIB
Tangy and caramel-rich. It's a little woody (tee-hee) but not too much. The bourbon leaves room for the Antica to shine. Very fruity and full of cinnamon.

J.W. Dant BIB
Hot, sharp, mouth-drying, and very oaky (sawdust and bark). Ah, and there's the woody bitterness. It feels out of balance, but is still drinkable.

Verdict: This bottle of Heaven Hill BIB has been my go-to Manhattan bourbon ever since I opened it. I dig it. The Dant is a mess but will serve its purpose if that's what you have on hand, or if you're already on your third Manhattan.

(If you say that these whiskies were not designed to be sipped from a Glencairn, then I would say you're right, now hush up.)

Heaven Hill 6 year old BIB
Nose - Orange peel, cinnamon, cloves and brown sugar. Fresh cut lumber. Lots of vanilla after 15 minutes of air.
Palate - Not as vibrant as the nose. Cherries, oak, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon. A little bit of heat and a little bit of hazelnuts.
Finish - Simple and straightforward. Oak char and oak spice.

J.W. Dant BIB
Nose - Sawdust, rock candy and corn whiskey. Something green and vegetal.
Palate - Hotter than the HH. Burnt nuts, loads of drying oak. Dirt and bark. Sugar and soap.
Finish - Soap, oak, caramel and nuts. A little bitterness. Lots of heat.

Verdict: Heaven Hill wins again. Excellent nose, good enough palate. The Dant is so-so.


My opinion of Heaven Hill 6yo bourbon remains the same as last week, though its quality was made quite clear when compared with the Dant in cocktail form. Meanwhile, it's difficult to recommend the Dant for cocktails. When neat, it smells and tastes very similar to the average well bourbon. No more, no less. With that being said, I'd still pick the Dant over the basic scotch blends (JW Red, Dewar's, Cutty Sark, etc.) that are 2.5x-3x Dant's price.

Verdict: J.W. Dant BIB smells and tastes like cheap whiskey. Heaven Hill 6yo BIB has better qualities than most of the common bourbons twice its price, and every "craft" bourbon four or five times its price. R.I.P.?

Availability - These are both only available in certain states. (EDITED) Availability of the HH is getting slim and labels are changing...
Pricing - HH: $10-$15, JWD: $9-$20(!)
Rating - HH: 82 and JWD: 70

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Ledaig 11 year old 2005 Signatory sherry butt #900160

The first whisky from last week's event was this Glen Keith.
The second whisky was GlenDronach Cask Strength, batch 6.
The third whisky was Amrut Portonova, batch 15.
Batting cleanup, not entirely figuratively, was Ledaig 11yo 2005 Signatory sherry butt #900160.

So I started with a bourbon cask Speyside, and followed with a rich sherried malt. Then came a heavy port cask whisky. As always I concluded with a cask strength big peater. There's always a possibility that one will be a palate wrecker.

I was happy to score this Signatory Ledaig. This series of peated Mull in sherry butts has been recommended to me by whisky fans whose palates I highly respect. I tried cask #900145 at the Signatory tasting bar last year, but didn't find it overly thrilling. Let's see how this one fares...

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Ledaig
Region: Isle of Mull
Independent Bottler: Signatory
Age: 11 years (November 8, 2005 - November 22, 2016)
Maturation: First-fill Sherry Butt
Cask number900160
Bottles: 654
Alcohol by Volume: 58.0%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No

The nose leads with new sneaker rubber and tar. It's densely earthy, but also has a bright sugary note. A very good merging of big peat and big sherry. There are also subtler notes of sesame oil, plum wine and orange peel. The palate has lovely herbal peat, as well as loads of lemons, limes and dried berries. It's tarry, with a little bit of umami. Some coffee bitterness. Later on, the dried berries develop into fresh blackberries (both sweet and tart). It finishes with a great sting. Dingy peat and cayenne pepper meet up with a jammy sweetness. A bit of horseradish bitterness in the back.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose is all cleaned up. Tropical fruits and menthol. Salty peat and flower blossoms. Mild notes of sherry-ish dried fruit. The palate is also milder and cleaner. Calmer bitterness and (great!) peat. Fresh ginger and a fruity sweetness. Toasted nuts. A few tart lemons and berries. The finish is ashier and pepperier. With more of the toasted nuts note. Still has a good length to it.

Damn, this is swell. Two different whiskies (with and without dilution) for the price of one, and both are great. And it's not a palate wrecker. Rather, it makes one want to taste every open bottle of peated whisky in the house.

BUT, you gotta be down with the bitter and the earth. If those characteristics don't do it for you, then skip this one. Otherwise, damn this is swell.

Availability - Europe
Pricing - I nabbed this bottle for $77, before shipping
Rating - 90

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Amrut Portonova, batch 15

The first whisky from last week's event was this Glen Keith.
The second whisky was GlenDronach Cask Strength, batch 6.
The third whisky was Amrut Portonova, batch 15.

I've enjoyed just about every Amrut single malt I've tried. Aside from the loony prices on the Blackadder bottlings, cask strength Amruts are much cheaper than cask strength Kavalans, and (in my unpopular opinion) often of better quality. The Portonova is my favorite of the Amrut releases. See here for my raves on batch 1. It was my pleasure to introduce this Indian single malt to the ladies and gentlemen who attended the tasting. Sure enough it was the attendees' second favorite of the set, next to the GlenDronach. Would I feel the same???

Distillery: Amrut
Region: Bangalore, India
Age: minimum 3 years
Batch: #15
Maturation: first round in American oak, second round in ex-port casks
Alcohol by Volume: 62.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? ???

The nose is very sniffable considering the big ABV. The port character is more reserved than I expected. Yes there's mixed berry candy and pipe tobacco, but there's much more ginger candy and toffee. The palate is also not too hot to sip. Here the port is almost silent. Instead there's ginger, clove, nutmeg, tart limes, chili oil and a defined barley note. Its long, warm finish is lightly sweet, with plantains and limes. Some tingly spiciness.

WITH WATER (~50%abv)
Hmm, more American oak in the nose. Maple syrup, vanilla extract, ginger beer. Dates, dough and chocolate malt. The palate is very peppery, as in peppercorns and chili peppers. Moderate herbal bitterness and earthy notes. It's definitely not sweet, though the finish does pickup some sugar. And vanilla and pepper. Shorter overall.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Now the nose is all bourbon cask. Caramel, vanilla and brown sugar. Okay maybe a hint of prunes. Ginger beer. Not much has changed in the palate compared to the 50%abv version. Maybe some more grain action. The finish is all pepper and cinnamon.

I do like this batch, but it's nowhere near batch 1's quality. It's one of the rare Amruts that feels its ~3yo age. In fact, once water is added, it feels a little like "craft" whiskey, under-matured but with lots of extra oak. Thus I don't recommend diluting it, despite its high alcohol content. It also feels like it's missing an extra dimension from the port casks.

With all that being said, it's good whisky. It's very approachable and its youth presents some fun spicy notes throughout. It would serve well as a winter warmer if one's looking for such a whisky. If this stuff were half the price in the US, I'd even consider getting it.

Availability - easier to get in Europe than the USA...
Pricing - ...and it's cheaper there too. $70-$90 (w/o VAT or shipping) in Europe, $130-$140 in the US
Rating - 84 (neat only)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

GlenDronach Cask Strength, batch 6

Glen Keith led off the lineup at last week's tasting at Blind Lady Tavern. That bourbon cask whisky was followed up by the sherry cask GlenDronach Cask Strength, batch 6.

I've found this NAS CS series to be pretty reliable. The first batch was awesome. Batch 3 and 5 were both good. Batch 6 is, at the moment, the most recent round, having been released last year.

I like taking Glendronach to events as a Macallan-killer. This one proved up to the task, as it wound up being the most popular whisky at the tasting.
A sample of GlenDronach CS 6 but not THE sample.

Ownership: Brown-Forman (I hated typing that)
Region: Eastern Highlands (on the edge of Speyside)
Age: ???
Maturation: a mix of former Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks
Alcohol by Volume: 56.1%
Batch: 6 (2016)
Limited bottling: ??? — the first two batches had a bottle count, the following batches may not have
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

The nose has a nice steady sherry that lets the malt out, occasionally. Nuts and jam. Shortbread cookies (or biscuits) and baklava. Lime candy and charred meat. A respectable balance of malt and sherry in the palate. Toffee, dried cherries & currant, roasted nuts and coffee beans. Citrus notes emerge and expand with time. It's actually a little smoky. Not too sweet. The sherry reads stronger in the finish. Raspberry jam and grape juice. Very tangy, a mild heat and good length.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose is much different now. Dessert notes up front, with the PX's jam and berries having vanished. Tablet, toffee, almond extract, and honey. A little bit of malt and vanilla. The palate is softer, simpler. More sweetness and pepper. Hints of sherry, smoke and citrus. More marzipan. It finishes salty, peppery and tangy. Raisins and limes. It's nice, though shorter.

Darn good stuff, again. GlenDronach Cask Strength batch 6 does the sherry cask style well, and it swims confidently too. As always, I recommend it to all Macallan fans. If you don't like heavily sherried whiskies, then you'd be best off steering clear. Otherwise, it's a great option at a competitive price in Europe right now.

Availability - Europe
Pricing - $50-$60 (w/o VAT or shipping) in UK, $65-$75 (w/o VAT or shipping) on The Continent
Rating - 88

Monday, April 17, 2017

Glen Keith 19 year old 1995 Signatory for Stoller Wines, cask 171202

This week, I'm reviewing the four single malts from last week's whisky event. The event went very well and the food was great.

I started the event off with a single American oak cask of a (former) mothballed distillery, Glen Keith. It was bottled by the Signatory folks, and was selected for retail by Stoller Wines, an Illinoisan distributor. The bottles were sold exclusively(?) at the Binny's locations.

This is only the third Glen Keith I've reviewed here. I found the other two (including another 1995 from Signatory) to be just fine. Nothing exciting. Proper whisky. Probably a cinch to blend. Nothing I'd run out and purchase, though. But this bottle did come from my collection. I swapped a much younger bourbon for it. And I thought it would be a good way to start an event with an approachable Speyside. Hopefully.

I don't think I took pictures of any of these bottles beforehand
and am waiting for photos of the event. In the meantime,
here's some clip art.

Distillery: Glen Keith
Ownership: Pernod Ricard
Independent Bottler: Signatory
Region: Speyside (Moray)
Age: 19 years (November 1995 - March 2015)
Maturation: Hogshead
Cask#: 171202
Bottles: 239
Alcohol by Volume: 56.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

The nose is big on hay and Nillas (like a cask strength Canadian blend). Orange peel, barley and lager follow. Some basic alcohol fumes, apple juice and a hint of lemon. The palate first comes in all citrus and floral. Then extra-sweetened toothpaste. It's mildly malty with some heat and caramel candy. An anise note floats in the back. In later sips, there's a slightly bitter char note. The main note the finish is Sweet. Just plain ol' sweet. Some heat. Some grain. A lengthy cayenne tingle.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose picks up a soft farmy note. Then citronella candles, vanilla, and underripe peaches. Some subtle dusty and herbal notes too. A phenolic/medicinal note shows up in the palate for a moment. (Found this curious note during the event too.) But the whole thing gets much louder with the dilution. Much sweeter and bitterer. More lemons, actually cheap limoncello. And a hint of plastic. Limoncello, vinegar, heat, grain and woody bitterness in the finish.

"Mmmmmeh," goes the bored cow? The Glen Keith is fully okay when neat. But it's nothing one can't find elsewhere, often. Though, it's a bit too sweet for me. It gets loud and weird when water is added. And I like it better that way. If it wasn't for the woody bitterness and vinegar in the finish, I'd be more excited about it. So I'd recommend it with limited dilution, but I don't know if I'd really recommend it at all. At least it had a good price tag.

MAO, always the relevant one, reviewed this whisky a year and a half ago. Always the enthusiastic one, he was more keen to it than I. He found some of the citrus notes and the vinegar thing, though I think its fruits treated him better. If anyone else has tried this whisky, please share your thoughts on it in the comments section below.

Still not that impressed with Glen Keiths, yet. I wish I'd started the event off with a more convincing whisky. At least the other three were MUCH different in style.

Availability - At Binny's, though I think it may have finally sold through
Pricing - it was $70
Rating - 80 (with water)

Friday, April 14, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Heaven Hill 6 year old Bottled-In-Bond Bourbon (2016)

I love this stupid picture
We are definitely entering a new bourbon era when even Heaven Hill starts dropping age statements from their classics. Now many of us recognize how great it was to have a 6 year old, high ABV, quality bourbon available for $10-$12. In fact now that I've typed it, I can't believe it was once true (like, as of a few months ago). But the new HH BIB is still a BIB, and I think it remains south of $15. But, yeah I know, it's not the same. This is another(!) review from one of my whisk(e)y bottles. This of the once (and hopefully) future 6yo BIB. Most of this bottle's contents found a home in Manhattans and Old Fashioneds.

Distiller: Heaven Hill
Brand: Heaven Hill
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Region: Louisville, Kentucky
Maturation: New American oak
Age: at least six years
Mashbill: 75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malted Barley
Bottle Code: F167 615 27
Bottling Year: 2016 (I think)
Alcohol by Volume: 50%

Its nose starts off with a sharply defined pine note, that gradually gets edged aside. There's almond extract, dried cherries and sesame oil. Then pears and grassy green herbs. Hints of rye whiskey and cucumber skins. It gets a little bigger as it's aired out. The palate is warm, rather than hot. It's nutty, has some wood spice, a cherried (dude, lazy) sweetness. There's a chili pepper heat that expands with time. A hint of tartness shows up to keep things interesting. The finish has a simple sweet oakiness. Nutty and peppery. Hints of vanilla, corn, salt and smoke. Cherry lollipops show up later on.

It's also quite good in Manhattans and Old Fashioneds, turning them sweeter than expected.

I may have said about other Heaven Hill products, but as a long-time scotch drinker, I'm shocked by the quality-to-price ratio here. I can't even think of a $30 scotch with this level of potency and reliable character. Personally, I like this BIB better than Even Williams White Label. (Wait, where are you going? Hey, I had a really bad experience with my last bottle of EW BIB.) Anyway, if you can still find this 6yo version for $10, I highly recommend it. Hell, I'd buy it for twice that, but don't tell anyone.

Availability - shrinking as it (EDITED) may be getting replaced by an NAS version, or the distillery has momentarily halted distribution
Pricing - $10-$15
Rating - 82

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Ardmore 14 year old 2002 Gordon & MacPhail Cask Strength

I did mention, back in January, that I was going to have to start opening up more Ardmore bottles from my stash. So, I did. The good news about this Ardmore is that it's currently for sale (overseas), having been released back in December. A relevant Ardmore, how about that? It's also one of the few sherried Ardmores I've seen since I became a Ardman.

I've been hesitant to buy Ardmores distilled from 2002 and later because 2002 was the year the distillery switched over from direct-heated stills (they were amongst the last five distilleries to utilize that old practice) to regular steam coil heated stills. The Ardies I've had from this new era have been uninspiring, though that may be due to the fact that most of them are super duper young.

So yes, this is another review from one of my own bottles!

Distillery: Ardmore
Region: Highlands (Eastern)
Independent Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Series: Cask Strength
Type: Single Malt
Age: 14 years old (July 1, 2002 - October 27, 2016)
Maturation: three refill sherry hogsheads
Casks: 935, 936 and 938
Alcohol by Volume: 57.5%
(Sample from bottle's midpoint)

Its color is a medium gold. The nose has waves of both medicinal and sugary peat. In fact it's peatier than officially bottled Bowmores. Salty beach notes. Lots of dry sherry. Creamy vanilla pudding. Ham. Lemon juice. After 30 minutes, the peat retreats, revealing toffee and milk chocolate notes. Surprisingly big sherry and big peat notes in the palate. Berry syrup and mint leaves. Fresh ginger and a nice peppery bitter bite. Dried berries and currants in the finish. Plenty of black pepper. Dry red wine and softer peat.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Now the sherry backs off in the nose. Anise, citronella and roses. Salty subtler peat and roasted grains. Cherry shisha. The palate is both sweet and bitter. Slightly tarry. Sherry, ginger, peppercorns, pencil lead and burnt notes. It finishes salty and ashy. Sherry, apricots and pencil lead.

This whisky is big big big stuff. It's, by far, the most sherried Ardmore I've had. The palate is very loud and the nose is always entertaining. Dilution drastically shifts the nose, but is equally as enjoyable. I'm not a fan of the pencil lead note that comes out in the palate, so I prefer it neat, overall.

It's been a fun Ardmore ever since I opened it, though it's a much different whisky than the early '90s Ardmores I adore. This difference seems to caused by the casks rather than any changes in the distillate. It will probably appeal to fans of recent Ardbeg Uigeadails and some of the sherried Ledaigs, but probably not to drinkers looking for subtlety. I'll enjoy this whisky for its own charms (thus the nice score), but I do prefer the bourbon casks from the previous decade.

Availability - European retailers
Pricing - I think this was less than $85, with shipping included
Rating - 86 (neat only)

Monday, April 10, 2017

Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 3 Single Malt Whisky

The first time I experienced a Balvenie Tun 1401 I concluded that my scoring system was all screwed up. The whisky was so good, I realized I'd been handing out too many 90+ scores. Here was a genuinely A-grade whisky. The nose, the palate, the finish, all were worthy of hyperbole. Unfortunately, at that time the whisky retailed for $250. I refused (and continue to refuse) to spend $250 for any sort of liquid, so I never bought my own bottle of 1401. Now of course, that price seems quaint. Batch 3 is being flipped on the secondary market for four figures.

Thankfully, I have samples of four of the nine 1401 batches. Batch 3 seems to have received the greatest plaudits, and look I have (or had!) a sample of that very whisky.

Since it was my lovely wife's birthday this weekend, I've chosen to review this special whisky in honor of her.

Distillery: Balvenie
Ownership: William Grant & Sons
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Type: Single Malt
Age: damfino
Maturation: 7 ex-bourbon casks + 3 sherry butts
Limited Release: US release, 1800 bottles
Release Year: 2011
Alcohol by Volume: 50.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? Hopefully not
(Two-ounce sample purchased at a bar long before prices got crazier)

Its color is a reddish mahogany. The nose starts with dusty musty moldy dunnage casks. Cocoa and toffee. Tropical fruit and honey around the edges. Figs, rich tobacco and dried apricots. The palate has plenty of kick to it, considering how old the casks were rumored to be. Lots of stone fruits and bitter chocolate. Lime candy, toffee and a surprising malty note. Hints of smoke and dunnage. A huge finish. Loads of limes, grapefruits, cloves and bitter chocolate. Balance of salt and sweet. Hints of dunnage and metal.

Just a teensy bit of water...

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Vanilla, tobacco and oak spice in the nose. Smaller notes of toffee, honeycomb and dunnage. Lots of drying tannins on the palate now. More dark chocolate and cracked pepper than before. Limes, mint and a slight hoppy note. The finish is tangy, peppery, sweet, citrusy and still very long.

The "dusty musty moldy dunnage casks" note has become the direct line to my heart. I just love it. This batch of 1401 has it. Meanwhile, those three sherry butts totally overwhelm the seven bourbon casks. This is rich old sherry cask whisky through and through. It sticks the landing well too with its endless finish. It's definitely more than one step better than the Tun 1509 I've tried.

Curiously, it didn't take to water very well. All the oak compounds seemed to rush to the surface. It got less complex and lost most of its singular charm.

When neat, this is excellent whisky. But.

Perhaps I set my expectations too high. I thought this was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime 95+ pointer. But it never busts through its big sherry character into something more singular. It's comparable in quality to the better 1990s GlenDronach single oloroso casks. There are some single sherry cask Springbanks that can match its quality. And I might even take this Whisky Doris Bunnahahbain over it.  That all being said, this is grand whisky, a real treat, something you won't regret having paid the original price tag for. If you've got, treasure it. If you don't, I wouldn't mourn what you're missing

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - $1000+
Rating - 91 (neat only)

Friday, April 7, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Larceny Very Special Small Batch Bourbon

Heaven Hill's bargain Old Fitzgerald BIB wheated bourbon has been getting phased out for some time. It appears to be getting replaced by John F. Fitzgerald Larceny Very Special Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Or, Larceny, for short. Like Old Fitz BIB, Larceny is distilled by Heaven Hill, using a mashbill with wheat (rather than rye) as the secondary grain. But Larceny is NOT bottled in bond. It swings at 46%abv and has no age statement. And it's 50-100% more expensive than Old Fitz BIB.


The official website has this weird quote: "Larceny was hand selected by the Master Distillers to have a taste profile of a six-year-old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey."

So it's....not(?)....technically six years old? And what exactly does a "six-year-old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey" taste like? There have been a lot of "six-year-old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskeys" throughout time, and they all have had their own taste profiles. And why six years old? And how old is this stuff really?


The original Larceny marketing brochure mentions 75 or fewer barrels per batch, while some reviews reference 100 or fewer barrels. For major bourbon producers this probably does qualify as a small batch. Plus it's nice that there's some sort of number attached to the batch size, even if it's 15,000-20,000 bottles wide.


I'm not the biggest fan of contemporary wheated bourbons. (Note my lament over my last bottle of Maker's.) I didn't mind Heaven Hill's Old Fitz BIB when it was around. Dusty wheaters are different story. I adore Stitzel-Weller's Old Fitzes. In any case, I'm approaching this tasting with an open mind. I'd like to like a current wheated bourbon.

 Heaven Hill
Brand: John F. Fitzgerald Larceny Very Special Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Region: Louisville, Kentucky
Maturation: New American oak
Age: ???
Mashbill: I've seen 68 corn / 20 wheat / 12 malted barley; and 75 corn / 20 wheat / 5 malted barley
Bottle Code: A0756
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
(Sample from my father-in-law's bottle)

The nose leads with caramel, char and bargain maraschino cherries (Red 40 standing by). There's also plenty of corn and stewed fruits. With time, a dandelion note moves to the fore. The palate is pretty easy, no burn and no complexity. It's sweet, like icing and the aforementioned cherries. A little floral note. Some halvah, corn, wood and black pepper. A little more heat in the finish. Mild char and wood spice. It gets VERY sweet with time.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose gets very grassy, and picks up a slight barbecue note. Still full of corn and char. The palate gets grainier and the oak dissipates. There's a good sweetness to it and some tart citrus. It finishes leaner and more peppery. A little acidic and bitter.

It's a very easy drink that improves with a little water. Not terrible on the rocks. Would probably serve decently in cocktails. Can't say I'd buy a bottle of it, but I wouldn't turn away a free pour. It's something you can drink and forget, thus it's an improvement over all of my Maker's experiences. I don't recommend it sipped in a Glencairn glass. Pour it in a tumbler, give it a splash of water and don't expect much.

Availability - Everywhere
Pricing - $20-$35
Rating - 78 (with water)

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Awesome Whisky Event Alert: Blind Lady Tavern, April 11th!

UPDATE! This event has now sold out. No more tickets will be sold. Thank you!

After hosting whisky shindigs throughout Southern California for a few years, I'm back and ready to start up the whisky events again, this time in lovely downtown Columbus, Ohio. My co-host, Matt E., and I have put together an evening quite unlike other the other whisky events in town.

Join us at Blind Lady Tavern on Tuesday, April 11th, for whisky and dinner. Tear into some hush puppies and short rib. Oh yes, and dark chocolate brownies from MY OVEN. ALL CAPS.

And there will be whisky. Full one-ounce pours of four very different single malts. Three different types of casks. Everything at full strength. And maybe a surprise pour to celebrate selling this event out.

As you know, I am not a rep. I'm not here to sell whisky. I do these events to make sure you have a unique whisky experience, get some fun learnin' in and enjoy an awesome night.

There's very limited seating at this event, and we have just a few tickets left. If you're in the Columbus area and are feeling hungry and thirsty, take a look at the flyer below. If you have any questions, please email the address above OR drop me a line at this blog's email address, and we'll get back to you ASAP.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Bowmore 14 year old 1996 AD Rattray cask 2873, BevMo exclusive

Believe it or not, here's my second consecutive review of a whisky I actually owned. Yay!

Once upon a time, the big BevMo retail chain sold AD Rattray bottlings that were exclusive to their stores. And then suddenly...they stopped. Amongst those BevMo selected ADR single casks were at least two Bowmores. As I mentioned in Monday's post, I've found AD Rattray's Bowmores to be consistently great. So I was willing to drive 45 minutes towards the Inland Empire to buy the final bottle of this particular whisky. It had been sitting on the shelf for more than three years waiting for me.

Curiously, this whisky was distilled on the same exact day as Monday's Bowmore. And I didn't realize that until just now. Let's see how it compares...

Distillery: Bowmore
Independent Bottler: A.D. Rattray
Region: Islay, Scotland
Age: 14 years (March 27, 1996 - August 4, 2010)
Maturation: ex-bourbon cask
Cask number2873
Bottle count: 239
Exclusive to: BevMo
Alcohol by Volume: 54.8%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
Sample from my bottle, somewhere around the bottom third

I can immediately tell by the nose, this is a different creature. It's beachy: seashells, seaweed and sand. It's a little grassy with a soft but bright peat note. Rubber tires, anise and wet sheep. The palate is hardcore. Super nude. Dingy, dirty, ashy and brimming with herbal bitterness. A soft fruity sweetness lingers in the background, until some citrus leaps forward in latter sips. Some smaller notes of basil leaves and anise. Its simple finish is salty and sooty. Plenty of heat. Sweet fruit in the back. Gets bitterer with time.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose has moved from the beach to the horse stall: hay, manure and apples. Soft smoke. Anise and chlorine. The palate is super bitter. But good super bitter. By that I mean rooty and herbal. A bitter liqueur minus the liqueur. Lots of peat and salt. Its shorter finish is sooty and bitter, until a nice sweetness rolls in to balance things out.

If you've had a bunch of indie Bowmores, you've likely come across some that feel as phenolic as the Kildalton distilleries' products, despite Bowmore's technically lower peat levels. This one comes across Ardbeggian at times (as in the unadorned versions of the Ten), or similar to the better versions of Kilchoman. While this cask lacks the balance and beauty of cask 960034, it gets serious points for framing well the Bowmore spirit without making it feel too raw or underaged. This was probably from a third-fill cask or a well-abused second-fill. If you have this bottle sitting in your whisky hoard—and why is this gathering dust after 6 years?—and you're a peathead, you'll dig this. If you enjoy a minimum of oak in your malt, this is your jam. If you're looking for grace, go to church.

Availability - Happy Hunting?
Pricing - I think I paid all of $60 for this. Oh, the days...
Rating - 88

Monday, April 3, 2017

Bowmore 18 year old 1996 AD Rattray cask 960034

While there probably is no perfectly safe bet in whisky, the casks that the Morrison family (of AD Rattray) have selected from Bowmore (a distillery they'd once owned) are very reliable. I have such confidence in Rattray's Bowmores that I bought this particular 375mL bottle blindly at a price I'm embarrassed to share. But because I am who I am, I immediately regretted spending stupid money on an unknown thing. Having long since opened and emptied this small bottle, I no longer regret my decision.

Distillery: Bowmore
Independent Bottler: A.D. Rattray
Region: Islay, Scotland
Age: 18 years (March 27, 1996 - April 9, 2014)
Maturation: hogshead
Cask number960034
Bottle count: 464
Alcohol by Volume: 59.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
Sample from my bottle at the halfway point

The nose starts off all beach scents and tropical fruit. Oranges, pineapples, honeydew, seaweed and whiff of band-aids. There's also this note of Mr. Sketch's blueberry scented marker that takes me on a sense memory trip back to the early '80s. The palate leads with melon rind, mint leaves and green tea. A moderate peat note dissolves into soil and grass. There are fresh peaches and an orange-y honey. Molasses chews. And a hint of tar. The finish has a great combo of lightly bitter melon rind and bitter lemon soda. Roasted peat and barley. Lots of lemon and lime juice in the aftertaste.

This is perfectly consumable at its high ABV, so I'm not going to add much water.

WITH WATER (~50%abv)
The nose is more focused on white fruits now, though there's still a papaya nectar thing going on. Wet grass and barbecue sauce. More of Mr. Sketch's blueberry marker. Hints of vanilla bean and lemon pastry. The palate is sweeter, with brown sugar and clementines. A touch of bitterness balances out those sweets. Gets a little more leafy, heightening the green tea note. Mmmmango. It finishes with peat, pears and honey.

Awesome stuff. Its quality and style are the exact opposite of the officially bottled Bowmore fluids. It's rich and complex. The big fruit notes on the nose are dynamite. The earth, fruit, honey and herbal palate characteristics sing in unison. It works with or without water. I highly recommended this whisky, if it's in your price range.

Availability - Happy Hunting!
Pricing - $90-$110 for a 375mL bottle
Rating - 91