...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Speyside 13 year old 2001 Blended Malt, Archives

Aiming for my week with the few pageviews as I report on another blended malt. This time, this one has been sold out for two years! On Monday I reviewed a Islay-only vatting, today I'm reviewing a Speyside-only vatting.

According to Whiskybase Shop's description, this whisky was blended, or left to marry, in a sherry butt in 2001. From what I gather from the description, two of the single malts were distilled well before 2001, while the third malt had been distilled in 2001. Thus the 2001 vintage. That makes sense so far. What's curious is the butt's final bottle outturn (of 180) is about 1/3rd of what one would expect after 13 years. And the abv is all of 44.7%. One answer to the second quandary is that the older malts, or rather "leftovers", were sub-40%abv malt spirit at the time of the marriage, and the new make lifted the % up into the legal category. As for the outturn, I dunno, unless it's a shared cask. If you have any ideas, please share in the comment section below.

We selected this whisky for an OCSC event once upon a time. This sample was pulled from this bottle.

Company: Whiskybase
Brand: Archives
Type: Blended (or Vatted) Malt
Distilleries: Three Speyside-only distilleries (perhaps Glenfarclas, Glenrothes and Tamdhu?)
Age: at least 13 years old (October 2001 - March 2015)
Maturation: sherry butt
Cask: 117
Bottles: 180
Alcohol by Volume: 44.7%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No

Its color is copper. The nose starts with a simple nutty oloroso, then apples and pears. Hints of leather and plastic toys. Buttery. Watermelon rind. The palate has some broad American oak-style vanilla and more heat than I'd expected. Walnuts, tart berries and a hint of funky old cask. Slightly grassy. Slightly flat. It does have a curious finish though. It's slightly meaty, perfumy, inky and tannic.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Heavier sherry in the nose, with dried plums and figs. Walnuts, polyester and a hint of eucalyptus. The palate is perfectly fine to consume and ignore. Lightly bitter, lightly creamy. Some tannins, some florals. A wee bit of sherry. The mild finish finishes quickly, tannic and briefly stone fruity.

I'm a little puzzled by Archives' choice here. Those fellows usually pick very good casks. This was their first, and (as of this post) only, blended malt selection. And it's not "very good" nor very good. The nose is decent, quirky, though not entirely of one piece. The neat finish is weird in a good way. The palate underwhelms when neat, then goes sub-Glenfiddich-12yo (and sub-Glenfarclas-12yo) when reduced to 40%abv.

My opinion sits at the low end of the scale for this whisky. Serge liked this better than I, though his notes don't seem to be leading to his score. Whiskynotes liked it a lot—though that doesn't surprise me since our palates are dissimilar—but his tasting notes make it look like he consumed something quite different than Serge and I.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - £70
Rating - 79

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Big Smoke 60 Blended Malt, Duncan Taylor

Duncan Taylor has released a pair of The Big Smoke blended malts, one is bottled at 46%abv, the other is 60%abv. I have been told by a reputable source that the two vattings have different recipes, and the 60%abv one has a lot of Ardbeg in it. But both are made up of nothing but Islay malts.

I eyed the 60 many times in the past, especially when it was priced at $50. Couldn't think of too many super high strength peated whiskies at that price range. Alas, I never bought it. BUT, I was gifted a sample of the 60 by Brett of Riverside last year. Let's see how it do.

Company: Duncan Taylor
Brand: The Big Smoke
Type: Blended (or Vatted) Malt
Distilleries: Islay-only
Age: NAS
Maturation: probably American oak
Alcohol by Volume: 60%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? Probably not

The nose actually isn't that smoky. It's definitely peaty though. A stacking of seaweedy, salty, ocean smells. Butter and boat fumes. With time it picks up hints of vanilla, ginger powder and pears. The simple palate is hot, but young-60%abv hot. Peat, salt, barley, and ground pepper. Hints of fresh mint and dried oregano. A little bit of brown sugar. The finish has heat, peat and sweet(ness). Vanilla and peppercorns.

Gonna douse this one.

WITH WATER (~43%abv)
What an improvement! The nose is boldly fruity with more pungent peat. Also molasses, cocoa and figs. The palate has a silkier texture. Tart lemons and limes. Gritty peat and a horseradish bitterness. Some maltiness too. The finish holds tart candy, smokey reside and an effervescent bitterness.

How about a touch more dihydrogen monoxide?

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose gets a little more candied and minty. Still plenty peaty. And the palate stays vibrant. Seaweed, salt, peat and a good herbal bitterness. The finish is leaner, with less sweetness. More focus on the peat and bitter.

I've experienced very few whiskies that improved with dilution to the extent The Big Smoke 60 did. It becomes an entirely different whisky at 43%, and it still feels richer at 40% than it did at 60%. In fact, if I bought a bottle I'd dilute the whole damn thing to 43%abv, thus getting 1050mL of Big Smoke in the process!

So if you have a bottle of this open and you've grown bored of it, add water to see what it does. Gonna guess there's young Caol Ila, Bowmore and Ardbeg in the blend. I read somewhere that there's Bruichladdich in it; maybe baby PC then? I don't exactly know why the average US price has gone up 60% (Big 60!) in the past three years. But at $65, it's probably not the worst deal in the current market.

Availability - A few dozen specialty retailers around the world
Pricing - $65-$90 in the US, cheaper in Europe
Rating - 87 (with water only!)

Friday, May 26, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year old (2016)

Baller. That's right. That's me. I'm here to strengthen my reputation for reviewing whiskies that neither you or I can find or afford. This time I'm reviewing Old Rip Van Winkle ("Don't Call Me Pappy 10") 10 year old.

So about that "afford" issue. There's no actual defunct-distillery Stitzel-Weller juice berben in ORVW anymore. It's just wheated stuff from Buffalo Trace. And it's released every year. And Buffalo Trace never announces the actual bottle count. Thus the secondary market's price is based almost solely on demand.

But why is it in demand? There are other wheated bourbons, other 10 year old bourbons, other 107 proof bourbons, some of which are made very similarly to ORVW. But ORVW is part of the annual Pappiez release. In fact, it's sorta like cheap Pappy. One can proudly add the bottle to the Conspicuous Consumption Display dick pics one airs out on social media, I suppose.

There are still some people who actually open the bottle and drink Ol' Rip, good people like Ryan from New Jersey, from whom I recently received this sample in a swap. Thank you, Ryan.

Owner: Buffalo Trace (via Sazerac)
Brand: Old Rip Van Winkle
Distillery: Buffalo Trance Distillery
Location: Franklin, Kentucky
Mash Bill: BT's mystery wheated mash bill
Age: at least 10 years
Release year: 2016
ABV: 53.5% ABV

The nose begins with a rich round mature corn whisky note. Aromatic oak (as opposed to generic char), marshmallows and toffee pudding. Hints of cherry candy, pine sap, salty meat and Old Spice. The palate has caramel sauce, dark cherries and black cherry soda. Very minerally. Jalapeño oil and a whisper of ginger beer. The finish has the essence of candy without too much of the sweetness. Fresh cherries and cherry popsicles. Mineral. Lots of heat.

Dare I add water to Van Winkle? Sure. I'll drop it to Buffalo Trace levels.

WITH WATER (~45%abv)
The nose shows cloves, caramel, cherry candy and almond extract. The palate is mintier, sweeter. Similar cherries, less caramel. The finish is shorter, simpler. Cherries and candy.

Without fail, the Van Winkle bourbons smell fabulous. Also without fail, the palates never reach the noses' heights. This edition of ORVW has an excellent nose. While I appreciate the palate's reserved nature, it's missing the sort of depth that rye may bring. Yes, I'm a rye and high-rye bourbon fan, so I'm partial. Whatever the culprit may be, the palate hits a wall it cannot ascend. Thankfully though, it's not an oakfest. And I liked it a little better than Weller 12. Old Rip Van Winkle's suggested retail price is probably representative of its quality. The secondary market prices are not.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - $60 suggested retail price, $350-$375 actual price
Rating - 84

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Bruichladdich The Laddie Eight

After going 2-3 years without an official age-stated whisky, Bruichladdich released this 8 year old single malt to the Travel Retail market in early 2016. Less than six months later they dropped a 10 year old into the world market at about the same price as the 8. That should give you a hint as to how the whisky industry feels about Travel Retail customers.

Both the eight and the new ten are made up of similar casks and are bottled at the same ABV, and have similar packaging. And now they can be found on the same shelves at dozens of European retailers.

After the new 10yo was announced, I bought a 60mL sample of the 8, partly for gits and shiggles, partly because I was hoping to find a successful single-digit age-stated whisky.

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Ownership: Remy Cointreau
Region: Western Islay
Age: minimum of 8 years
Bottling year: 2016
First Maturation: American and European oak casks
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

Its color is of yellowed straw. The nose starts off farmy and slightly pukey. Lots of grains: cream of wheat, oatmeal and new carpet (not a grain product, yet). Burnt leaves. Cereal milk and mild cheddar. The palate is similar to the nose, grainy and milky. Necco wafers, Ceylon cinnamon and pencil lead. Moderate sweetness and something kinda peaty. With time in the glass, it gets hotter. It finishes tangy, milky, pukey. Burnt grains, lead and soil.

Maybe some water?

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Hints of apples, pears and cinnamon in the nose. Less barf, same cheese and grains. A whiff of wood pulp. Apple juice shows up in the palate. Sweet-ish and lightly bitter. Milky and malty. Very very acidic. The sweet and tangy finish still has the milk and lead notes, as well as a hint of buttery pound cake.

I've picked up on modern Bruichladdich's milky note before, but never like this. That note doesn't usually bother me much, but while that character sets this whisky apart as eccentric, it also verges on foul. Things get slightly better when the whisky is diluted, but then the violent acidity crashes in.

I like when the fruit shows up, and the forwardness of the grains is refreshing. But with or without water, Laddie Eight feels American Craft Whiskey-esque. And that's not a compliment. In fact, now I'm going to avoid the new 10yo. Perhaps if they let the spirit go 12-15 years in oak, then I'll give it another try.

Availability - Travel retail and many European specialist retailers
Pricing - $50-$70 (w/o shipping)
Rating - 71 (with water only, at least 5 points lower when neat)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Laphroaig 10 year old, bottled late 1980s

Long time friend and whiskyman, Bernardo, came into possession of this Duty Free Liter of Laphroaig 10yo:
Turns out, it was bottled at the end of the '80s. The top thin label appears to have fallen off due to old dried glue. We opened it up not too long ago—crumbly cork, of course—and gave it a substantial drink or two. When I visited Bernardo two weeks ago, he allowed me another substantial pour for review. Thank you, sir.
Distillery: Laphroaig
Owner at the time: Whitbread & Co.
Region: Islay
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrels
Age: minimum 10 years
Bottled: late 1980s
Chill-filtration? ???
Caramel colored? Maybe
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

Its color is a brassy gold. The nose begins with chocolate and malty drinks like Ovaltine and Yoo-hoo. There's vegetal peat (not smoky) and a gentle salty seaweed note. Apricots and limes show up early. With some air there's an acidic stone fruit note, like yellow plums. And a hint of fig too. Smoky, salty, savo(u)ry peat in the palate. A little bit of fudge and a nice leafy (young Kilkerran) note. There's a fat, almost rich, bitterness to it. Very little sweetness. A gentle tingly heat. It has a long warm finish of mild cigars, leaves, sea salt and toasted barley.

What a gorgeous nuanced thing Laphroaig once was. (See Serge waxing poetic about the 10s from that era.) It's rich without being oaky (attention: Beam Suntory), and challenging without being brutal. Though it's so very different than the Laphroaigs from this decade, and the previous, there are still matching DNA markers between those and this. Apologies for the ExhaustedWriterMetaphor™.

Perhaps there's older malt in the mix since the scotch market was still limping about at that time. Or maybe the folks at the distillery knew how to produce a stunning whisky at 10 years of age back then. I can only dream that someone—likely not under corporate ownership—cracks that code at a distillery somewhere in the world in my lifetime.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 91

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Japanese Reboot

To my great readers in Tokyo and the Kansai region who are available to waste some good hours with this crazy person in the near future, please email me at divingforpearlsblog at gmail.com. Or if you have some suggestions for off-the-path ramen spots or awamori (and, er, whisky) bars, my furry ears are open. Thank you for your time and help!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Four Roses Single Barrel bourbon, HW-15-5U

If you've been following my B.A.R.D.F. series this year, you may have noticed that I haven't been particularly impressed by the bourbons and ryes I've tried. The three I've recommended—Heaven Hill 6yo BIB, Lot No. 40 and Bulleit Bourbon—are (or were) pretty easy to come by in many states, and many of you are already familiar with at least two of them. Though I have some American oddities, dusties and crafties awaiting review, I'm going to try to make sure there's a few regular comfies in the mix.

With that in mind, I've decided to review old reliable Four Roses Single Barrel for Mathilda Rose's birthday week. It's one of the few whiskies (of any sort) to be priced lower in this part of the country than in California. It's below $40 in Ohio and I saw it at $32(!) in Kentucky last weekend. I know it's hipper to talk up the cask strength private barrels, but I'm comfortably cool with the 50%abv version that can still be found without much struggle.

Am I ashamed to not have had a classier photo?
Actually, yeah, a little.
But it's late here.

: Four Roses
Ownership: Kirin
Type: Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Region: Lawrenceberg, Kentucky
Age: ???
Recipe: OBSV (high rye, fruity yeast)
Maturation: charred white oak barrels
Warehouse: HW
Barrel #: 15-5U
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
(review sample taken from midpoint of the bottle)

Its color is rosy brown. The nose has a mix of fresh apples and cherries with brown sugar and cinnamon. And some cantaloupe. Some earthy molasses and brine to give it a slight edge. The vanilla stays subtle throughout. The palate has a comforting warm. A spicy rye rumble balances with the moderate sweetness. Cherry Squishees. Salt and unsweetened cocoa. Some orange roll up late. The sweetness grows with time, though so does the spice. It finishes with cherries and rye. Toasted grains and brief citrus. The spice picks up in later sips.

The nose is very fruity. Cherries and oranges. Still some peppery spice in the palate, with raspberries and caramel. The finish is full of pepper and berries.

Man, this is just right. The nose has great balance, while the palate never gets too oaky, and the finish lingers well. It won't knock you out of your chair—unless you have five pours—but it works like I wish more bourbons worked, neat and in cocktails.

I enjoyed it more than I'd expected, but then again, this release is a bunch of single barrels. Still there's a decent consistency between each batch/barrel. I think this particular one was in East Coast shops last year. If you find it, I doubt you'll be disappointed. If you find a different barrel, odds are it ain't bad either.

Availability - East Coast USA, I think, way back in 2016
Pricing - This series: $35-$50
Rating - 86

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Mathilda Malt Report: Littlemill 22 year old 1990 Berry Brothers & Rudd

After Mathilda's birth, 3 years ago, I celebrated on this blog by reviewing three Littlemills. A few months later, I hurried out to a Total Wine & More to buy a bottle of what may be the final sub-$200 full strength single cask Littlemill. It's the only Littlemill in my collection.

Since we all survived these three years, I have chosen to open the bottle now. Chances are, I may only open the bottle when her birthday rolls around each year, thus giving me an opportunity to track how it develops/oxidizes over time, much like I did with my Balblair '78.

Distillery: Littlemill
Former Owner: Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouse Ltd (proto-Loch Lomond Distillery Co.)
Independent Bottler: Berry Bros. & Rudd
Region: Lowlands (close to the Highlands border)
Age: 22 years (1990-2013)
Maturation: American oak of some sort
Cask number17
Alcohol by Volume: 54.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

Its color is a brassy gold. The nose starts off with bundles of fruit, think melons and lemons. Hints of bourbon up top and a malty undertow. Butterscotch, vanilla and a little bit of wood pulp. The palate is hot, tight and sharp. But it's also creamy, full of butterscotch and apples. It's also grassy and green (specifically, leaves). A little bit bitterness. Feels much younger than its age. Apples, grass and leaves in the finish. Some bitterness and heat. Vanilla. A good length to it, though.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose is mostly unchanged. Less bourbon, more grassiness. Cucumber, melons and cream soda. The palate has lemons, grass, tart apples and a hint of vanilla. More bitterness. Still some heat to it. It finishes lightly sweet with a bitter bite. Ashy oak, vanilla and grass.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose gets slightly maltier. Almond extract, caramel and vanilla. Lemons and brown rice. The palate is sweet, creamy and grassy. Heavy on the caramel. Limes and bitter lemon soda. Vanilla and grass in the finish. A little bitter, a little sweet. Not much change, I guess.

This one has me stumped. When I first opened the bottle on Monday night, I was struck by the difference between the nose and palate. It smelled pleasant and fruity, but was very sharp and austere (there it is!) on the tongue. I usually find that a bottle's initial pour can be too tight. So I made sure my review pour on Wednesday had plenty of air. That resulted in the notes listed above.

There were substantial youthful notes throughout, yet there was also some heavy oak. And they didn't (or haven't yet) come together. I wonder if this whisky spent most of its life in a third- or fourth-fill cask before being re-racked into a hyperactive first-fill or new oak barrel. There are a number of official bottlers of whom I'd expect that, but not a steadfast indie like BB&R. They don't help matters by listing only that their whiskies have been matured "in oak".

I like the youth, the leafy grassiness, the bite, the fight in this Littlemill. And for that it gets extra points. But the naked unintegrated (segregated?) oak stuff holds it back. I will indeed let this sit in the bottle for a year before I open it again, then I'll review it again to report on what's happened.

Availability - Total Wine & More, though now sold out
Pricing - I think it was $140 back in January 2015
Rating - 83 (probably being generous)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Mathilda Malt Report: Caol Ila 27 year old 1979 Whisky Tales

For the next Mathilda malt, I'll scooch from Hokkaido to Port Askaig for a 1979 Caol Ila single cask. It was released by the German independent bottler, Whisky Tales, in days of yore (2006).

I miss two things about California, the year-round local produce and my whisky friends. One of these friends, whom I didn't meet until only a year before I left, is Mr. Zaro. Mr. Zaro, an always generous soul, celebrated his birthday yesterday, so I decided to go with this rare whisky he shared with me. I count myself spoiled. Thank you, Mr. Zaro!

Distillery: Caol Ila
Ownership: The Big D
Region: Port Askaig, Islay
Independent Bottler: Whisky Tales
'Quirky' name: The Unicorn
Age: 27 years (1979-2006)
Maturation: fresh bourbon cask
Bottles: 215
Alcohol by Volume: 57.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

Despite spending twenty-six years in what was likely a first-fill American oak barrel, the whisky has a nice light gold color, which gives me hope that it's not over-oaked. Indeed, the nose leads with anise, basil and mint leaves. Apple skins and ash. A medicinal moment here and there. Vanilla pudding. Smoky toffee (if there was ever such a thing, bring it on). With a long time in the glass, the whisky starts to pick up a fresh peach note. The palate is intensely herbal. Big on oregano, and a certain still-illicit-in-many-states herb. It's lightly sweet and not too hot. Lots of apples and a couple of limes. Hints of strawberries, marshmallows and salt. More pepper than peat. It finishes with limes and dried herbs. Salt and pepper. Lightly sweet and lightly tannic. Good length.

WITH WATER (<46%abv)
The nose is still minty, but now it's also malty. Limes and a hint of forest-y peat. A quiet pretty note of nectarine skin. The palate is still herbal and leafy. Sweeter, though with a hint of good bitterness. Like the nose, it's maltier. A few tannins. The peat seems to have dissolved. It finishes very sweetly. Again, no peat. Black peppercorns and a hint of bitterness.

Yes! The oak stayed in the background throughout, though water did bring it forward a little. Like the stunning 31 year old Special Edition Caol Ila that Cadenhead released two years ago (also a first-fill ex-bourbon cask), this whisky is very light on peat. Both read more Highland than Islay. While the Cadenhead was fruit forward, this one dishes out pepper and dried herbs. This Caol Ila is a little louder, I think. If you've opened your bottle and find it to be a bit too edgy, plop a teaspoon of water into your glass and you should find the whisky getting sweeter.

Availability - I dunno, it's a unicorn
Pricing - Rainbows?
Rating - 89 (though might be 90+ on another day)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Mathilda Malt Report: Yoichi 26 year old 1987 SMWS 116.20

In honor of my daughter's third birthday, I'm hauling out a bunch of fun oldies this week. Leading off, is the sort of whisky I will likely never try again. And frankly we may never see something of its sort during our lifetimes. A 26 year old Yoichi.

Yoichi is my favorite Japanese distillery (though Yamazaki is welcome to fight for the number 1 spot once they start releasing properly aged single malts again). Less than four years ago, finding a 15 or 20 year old officially bottled Yoichi wasn't that difficult nor horribly expensive. Though, at the time I thought $120 for the 15yo was a bit too steep. Now it's $400+. Today's whisky is not bottled by the distillery's owners, Nikka, rather it was bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. According to whiskybase, SMWS is the only independent bottle to have released any Yoichis. This was their 20th, and possibly last, bottling of the Hokkaidō malt.

I received this sample from the very generous Teemu of Whisky Science during a sample swap. More on his take below.

Distillery: Yoichi (SMWS 116)
Ownership: Nikka
Region: Hokkaidō, Japan
Independent Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
'Quirky' name: Fascinating complexity and finesse
Age: 26 years (November 7, 1987 - 2014)
Maturation: virgin oak puncheon
Cask#: 116.20
Bottles: 452
Alcohol by Volume: 61.6%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

Its color is maple syrup with maroon highlights. Longest legs I've ever seen on a whisky. It adheres to the glass. The nose is oh, oh dear. Fresh tobacco, dark chocolate and elegant Yoichi peat. Some spicy oak notes that sniff a little like mizunara rather than American oak. With time it develops vanilla bean, fresh peaches and National Distillers-style butterscotch. The palate makes the nose's elegance seem like pretense. Intense sooty peat meets barbecue ribs. Apricots and plums. Ginger, cinnamon, green grapes and a hint of cream soda. It starts to get a little old-bourbony after 30+ minutes. It's pretty hot throughout. More of the gigantic peating in the finish. Then chili peppers, citrus and a little bit of chocolate malt.

Going a little easy on the water here due to the whisky's age.

WITH WATER (~50%abv)
Somehow the nose gets malty. It becomes sootier too. Then smoked tea, cocoa powder, honey and caramel sauce. Less peat, more hot peppers in the palate. Less alcohol heat. Lots of aromatic baking spice. Fresh ginger and a pinch of Laphroaigy iodine. It finishes with smoked tea, butterscotch and more of that pepper.

This whisky was a fascinating experiment by Nikka and a bold choice by SMWS. Twenty-six years in new oak could have resulted in something foul. But it didn't. The nose is fantastic, probably a top ten favorite for me, detailed and graceful. Meanwhile the palate flexes that big ABV, unloaded baskets of character. I wondered about that virgin oak cask while nosing the whisky. There were notes to it that are familiar from European, American and Japanese oak. Turns out, Teemu had a similar question:

The American oak possibility seems more likely the longer one lets the whisky air out. More vanilla, caramel and butterscotch eases out. I'm guessing many of those other mystery notes come from a well-matured complex spirit.

Overall, the nose wins the day. The palate may improve a bit with water, but then the nose starts to lose its charm. But it's a hell of a whisky. It'll also set you back $2000-$2500 if you can find it. If you think that price is egregious, just consider that most versions of Pappy Van Winkle 23 sell for more than that in the secondary market. A bargain!

Availability - Happy Hunting!?
Pricing - $2000-$2500
Rating - 91

Monday, May 15, 2017

Happy Birthday, Mathilda Rose!

The Earth has completed three full revolutions around the sun since her birth. They've been three years unlike any other three years. It's fair to say we've all earned tonight's pizza and cupcakes. Her gender-flexible bear has earned it the most.

I am humbled every day by the expanse of Mathilda's imagination and emotions. The world can be overwhelming for someone who loves and cries as deeply as she does, but I know that our fiery and glorious mighty battle maiden will be just fine.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon

For good number of years, brewers have been aging their beers in ex-whiskey casks to often very good results. Recently, whiskey producers have flipped that around by maturing (or finishing) their whiskies in barrels that formerly held beer. Of course, those barrels usually held whiskey before the beer, so there's a whiskey-beer-whisky seasoning sandwich going on.

I've only tried one beer barrel finished whiskey so far, Jameson Caskmates, the classic Irish blend with a stout finish. It's regular Jameson with a little extra creaminess to it and a couple seconds of roasted notes. It didn't seem different enough from the regular release to be worthy of its own expression, nor deserving of a $10 premium.

New Holland Brewing is a Michigan brewer/distiller. According to their site and the bourbon's label, they distill their own bourbon. They also make the Dragon's Milk beer whose barrels (which were utilized for bourbon before the beer) are used for today's whiskey's three-month finish. Though New Holland's straight malts are bottled at 45%abv and their Dragon's Milk stout has a high alcohol content (for beer), they choose dilute the bourbon down to the 40%abv minimum.

All that being said, I don't know what to expect here.

Company: New Holland Brewing
Region: Michigan
Type: bourbon whiskey
Age: ???
Maturation: new American white oak, then a 3-month finish in former Dragon's Milk beer barrels
Mashbill: 70/5/25 corn/rye/barley
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
(Thank you to Vik for the sample!)

The nose has some coffee character from a smoky but flat stout. Lots of malt and marzipan. Honey and cherry candy. It also has an unmistakable grainy small-barrel craft whiskey note. The palate leads with cinnamony white dog. Black pepper and vanilla. More malt than corn. Burnt toast and a sharp bitterness. A surprising lack of sweetness, too. There's more of a beer note in the finish, sort of fizzy too. Banana bubblegum, and that strange bitterness.

I'll start with the positives. The nose has unique layers to it. I've certainly never smelled another bourbon like it. I appreciate the big malt note and lack of sweets in the mouth. It does provide an original experience.

But, I find it difficult to believe this whiskey spent "several years" in oak. The strong pepper, cinnamon and bitter notes—along with an odd quantity of heat—in the mouth, make it feel very young. As in, months-young. I don't mind the fizziness of the finish but the banana bubblegum bitterness thing is unpleasant and I'm having a hard time getting the sensation out of my mouth.

I couldn't finish the sample and I'm perfectly okay with never drinking this whisky again, but, curiously, it did make me want to try the stout.

Availability - A number of Midwest and East Coast states
Pricing - $30-$40
Rating - 69

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Ballechin 13 year old 2003, cask 221, distillery-only

Edradour was my first distillery stop during our Scotland trip last July. When you're at Edradour, I highly recommend the Signatory Tasting Bar. It was at that wee drinking room I had a chance to try a 13-year-old distillery-only single cask of their heavily-peated brand, Ballechin. It won me over. It also was my sixth drink in two hours. I bought a bottle of the whisky, which is still one of the oldest Ballechins they've yet released.

By (my) definition the perfect winter whisky, it was opened as soon as late November rolled around. Five months later, the bottle was still more than 1/3 full. That's even after I'd shared it with a half dozen people. So I had maybe eight pours in twenty-two weeks. It's not that the whisky was bad. It's just that Ballechin can be enormous, even when diluted to 46%abv. This whisky is a lumbering beast, full strength, dense peat and oceans of cask influence. It's not a casual sipper.

Distillery: Edradour
Malt: Ballechin
Ownership: Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Co., Ltd.
Region: Highlands (Central)
Age: 13 years (May 16, 2003 - May 18, 2016)
Maturation: port cask (hogshead?)
Peat level at time of malting: ~50ppm
Cask #: 221
Bottles: 259
Alcohol by Volume: 58.6%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(bottom third of bottle)

Its color is a dark dark gold. Its nose starts off with new sneakers and new tennis balls. Dense dirty peat and brown sugar-crusted bacon. Raspberry jam. The palate has dark sooty Ardbeg-like peat, then, beneath that, is a layer of mossy peat. Then bitter baking chocolate. It's plenty sweet and winey but the peat is so massive that it usually holds the grapes in check. It's intense, overwhelming. It finishes sweet, salty and hot. Lots of port. Lots of peat.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose still has a sneaker rubber note, but the bacon, and now charred beef, are louder. There are also notes of roasted nuts, grape jam, salty air and orange peel. The palate feels more focused, simpler. The sooty peat and sweet are closer to merging now. The bitterness recedes. The only new note is that of toasted almonds. The finish is earthy, nutty and jammy sweet.

More water...

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose has a salty beachy note; I'll go with seaweed on this one. It's still mossy, though there's a new note of fresh plums. The palate continues to get simpler. Peat, orange peel, raspberry jam and a subtle nutty note. The finish stays sweet, and keeps notes of walnuts and almonds. The peat has lightened significantly.

Five years ago (or five drinks in) I would have sung this whisky's praises for thirteen paragraphs and given it a 92+ point score. Because bigness.

This whisky is undoubtably big in character, but is its quality as great? No. Its depth, intricacies and balance were shamed by BenRiach Solstice 17yo when I tried them side by side. What salvages this Ballechin is its ability to take water well, which sorta pulls its shit together.

I don't know if I'm going to drink another drop of this stuff neat going forward, because I'm not as masochistic as I used to be about my whiskies. And if you're looking for a porty Ballechin, I recommend Discovery Series batch 3 for both bigness and greatness.

Availability - Edradour Distillery only (if it hasn't sold out)
Pricing - £90-something
Rating - 83 (with water!)

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Springbank 10 year old 1995 The Alchemist

How about a review from one of my open bottles rather than another sample? Okay then.

I bought this bottle blindly, not just because it was highly recommended by a chap whose opinion I respect, but because it was an indie port cask Springbank for goodness sakes. At the time I thought I'd overpaid ($100) for it, but port cask OB Springbanks are now going for thrice its price.

I'm not sure what happened to The Alchemist, but the bottler released a number of pretty decent whiskies 8-12 years ago. This particular bottling was not a single cask, rather a small batch mix of first-fill ex-bourbon casks and first-fill port casks. The whisky didn't do much for me when I first opened it. But then, gradually, it improved. My review comes from about mid-bottle.

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Owner: Springbank Distillers Ltd.
Region: Campbeltown, on Well Close, just off of Longrow
Independent Bottler: The Alchemist
Age: 10 years (December 1995 - April 2006)
Maturation: vatting of first-fill ex-bourbon casks and first-fill ex-port casks
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

Its color is very dark gold with reddish highlights. The nose leads with dingy dirty extra-mossy peat. It's slightly tarry with some raspberries, black grapes and grapefruit. Peat in the center, wine around the edges. The palate is industrial and dirty. A little hot, a little sweet. A nice tart note merges with the peat. Grape jam, dark chocolate and lime candy. Its finish is the least peaty part. More fruit and sweets. There's a little bit of earth and tar. A peppery heat. Good length to it.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The peat goes herbal in the nose, though it does still have some mossy character to it. Dark chocolate and fruit (grapefruit, limes and raisins). Now there's less peat in the palate, and more port. Lots of black licorice. Grapes and limes. That good tartness remains, then sticks around through the finish. No more peat. Mostly black licorice, grape jam and limes.

As mentioned above, this whisky really grew on me. At the start it was mostly porty with very little Campbeltown showing through. But here at the middle of the bottle, the peat shines in the nose. The palate is messier but still a very good drink. Water mellows it out and sweetens it up. I like it quite a bit and will enjoy the rest of the bottle, but $100 was much too high of a price, especially since the 10yo OB now shines at $60.

Availability - Happy hunting!
Pricing - $100+
Rating - 86

Monday, May 8, 2017

BenRiach 17 year old Solstice (2nd Edition)

As promised, there will be a few port cask whisky reviews this week. Though I did these tastings on my home turf, I wrote the posts while traveling. I hope they make at least a little bit of sense!

First up, is (SPOILER ALERT) one of the best port cask-finished whiskies in recent history. The fact that it's also peated is impressive since wine and phenolics rarely dance well together. Also, I usually don't like wine cask finished whiskies since the elements rarely merge well, making the flaws more obvious rather than silencing them. Billy Walker and his team seemed to know something most other blenders don't because Benriach's finished peated whiskies had (in my opinion) by far the highest success rate in the business.

Yes, you may have noticed my use of the past tense. Brown-Forman bought the Benriach Distillery Company last year—I just barfed in my mouth—so who knows what happens next.

Distillery: BenRiach
Ownership: BenRiach Distillery Company (now owned by Brown-Forman)
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Age: at least 17 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks first, then an extended finish in tawny port casks
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colored? No
(from a purchased sample)

The nose leads with rich peat character: seaweed, tar, salty air and band-aids. There's a light grapiness (grape-y-ness?) around the edges. Then butterscotch, burlap and honey. The peat remains ever-present in the palate, alongside a dynamic milk chocolate note. Early notes include lemons, toffee, nougat and caramel. A hint of mango. It gets sweeter with time in the glass. There's an effervescent fizziness to it throughout. A toasty peatiness highlights the finish. There's also toffee, lemon and brine. Hints of grapes and fresh ginger. A surprising lack of heat.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose becomes quite farmy. And lots of band-aids. Some tobacco and apples. The calmer palate has more butterscotch and toffee. A nice coffee/mocha note. Hints of salt and peat. A little bit of chocolate in the finish, which is sweeter than before. Lots of lemons and limes. Caramel sauce and grape jam.

Solstice is a pleasure. I hope there's a third edition in the works and it hews to the formula of the second edition. The peat is pretty fab, the port casks aren't too aggressive, and there's a remarkable lack of heat. It all works (and swims) well. I'm going to assume this is due to very good casks and great cask management. Though I'm not in the market for buying any bottles right now, I'm very tempted to get one of these.

Availability - A few dozen retailers around the world
Pricing - $80-$125, on the lower end of the range in Asia, on the higher end in Europe
Rating - 89

Friday, May 5, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Tap Rye Sherry Finished 8 year old Canadian Whisky

Though scotch producers are prohibited from adding sherry to their products, Canadian whisky makers are not. I learned the latter when Alberta's Dark Batch Rye came to the US in 2015 with its 1% sherry content.

The folks at Tap Whisky add a little something extra to each of their three products: maple syrup, port and sherry. When their US distribution rep offered me a bottle, I elected for the sherried one because it had a good old fashioned age statement.

The rye is sourced from "the oldest distillery in Western Canada", which is probably Alberta Distillers. It does eight years in new American white oak, after which an undisclosed quantity of Amontillado sherry is added. That combo is left to marry for 60 days before bottling.

Company: Tap Whisky
Distillery: probably Alberta Distillers
Region: Canadiana
Type: rye whisky
Age: at least 8 years
Maturation: new American white oak
Mashbill: ???
Batch: 14TL-8-98
Alcohol by Volume: 41.5%
Sherried? Yes
Chillfiltered? ???
Colored? ???
(This bottle comes to Diving for Pearls courtesy of Conundrum Marketing. Thanks!)

Its color is quite light compared to eight (or even two) year old American rye. Sherry dominates the nose at first. Gradually other notes emerge. Grape drink, fennel seed and apples. A drop of almond extract. Even though this isn't a blend, there's a hint of Canadian Club-type neutral spirit drifting in the midground. The sherry is the loudest note in the palate as well. Toffee and almonds. Prunes. Ginger ale, black peppercorns and black licorice. Some mild heat and graininess to it. The finish is quite candied. Twix bars, prunes, ginger ale and black licorice.

It's a very sweet, light combo of red wine and sweet sherry with a hint of cinnamon.

I've found Canadian producers to be very successful at making totally inoffensive whisky, seeming to play into American stereotypes of Canadians. (Of course, part of the reason Canadian whiskies drink so easily is their maximum dilution levels.) My two favorite Canadian whiskies have been the Collingwood 21yo and Lot No. 40, whose characters are anything but shy.

Tap's 8 year old sherry-finished rye feels like it would have been lost among the many character-light Canadian whiskies out there if not for its extra ingredient. I don't know how much sherry was actually added, but it takes over the whisky throughout. There's not much rye left to speak of.

If you're not terribly picky about sherry-cask-finished single malt whiskies, then this rye may appeal to you most. For instance, if you're a big Glenmorangie Lasanta fan, then you may want to give this a try. It could also appeal to people turned off by bold American ryes. For the rest of us, I will say this is a little better than the usual Canadian blend, whatever our feelings about Canadian blends may be.

Availability - 
A few dozen US liquor specialty retailers

Pricing - $30-$45
Rating - 78

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Linlithgow 28 year old 1982 Mackillop's Choice, cask 2206

Mazel Tov (good fortune!) to a great honest lifelong friend, his wife and their new baby boy! To celebrate, I unearthed a gem from the stash and, after a wee l'chayim, consumed it......in good health.

Built in the late eighteenth century on the grounds of a former convent and leper colony(!), St. Magdalene distillery cranked out single malt in the town of Linlithgow for nearly two centuries before being shuttered and demolished by a certain spirits conglomerate in 1983. St. Magdalene / Linlithgow was one of the last remaining Lowland malt distilleries before the weak market spelled its demise. Like its sister-DCL-destroyed-Lowland distillery, Rosebank, its output was mainly for blends, but its single malts are well-loved by that previous generation of whisky nerds who are even more pissed off than I am about the current whisky world.

This is my first St. Mag / Linlithgow. And if many other single malts by this late distillery were as good as this one, then I'd be proper raging too.

Distillery: Linlithgow (a.k.a. St. Magdalene)
Region: Lowlands
Owner: DCL (proto-Diageo)
Independent Bottler: Mackillop's Choice
Type: Single Malt
Age: 28 years (October 5, 1982 to April 2011)
Maturation: a cask
Cask number: 2206
Alcohol by Volume: 57.3%
(Thank you to Eric S. for this super thing.)

It has a light amber color, which is nice to see after so many years in the cask. Its nose moves forth on two levels with impressive balance. The Light: gentle tropical fruits, toasted oak, honeydew and apple pie. The Dark: soil, eucalyptus and hints of dunnage. Similar yin-yang on the thickly-textured palate. Plenty of barley; marshmallows and butterscotch, though moderately sweet; and late BIG citrus. This is met by hints of savoriness and wood smoke; soft heat and cool herbal bitter nip. The two sides come together in the finish as an herbal (basil?) candy that both cools and bites the mouth. Lemons and earth. A lengthy experience.

This is so good. (For another review, see the review by some whisky funyun.) This Linlithgow's duality plays out in every aspect of its nature. And I can't think of too many current whiskies that keep this balance. It's like old Balbair with some dirt thrown on it. It's also very light on the oak after 28 years, yet clearly not from a crap cask. I shouldn't have been worried that this one wasn't going to hit the mark, but I was. The pleasures of pessimism!

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

Monday, May 1, 2017

Speyside (Glenfarclas?) 10 year old 2004 Exclusive Malts, Port cask finish

I was going to do a whole week of port cask whiskies, but there's been a wee change of plans. Though today's whisky is porty, the full week of port cask goodness has been delayed until next week.

This single malt's spirit was distilled by a Speyside distillery that elected to prevent this independent bottler from using its name. There's a certain family-owned Speyside distillery has a habit of doing this, especially when indie bottlers release their single malt not aged in sherry casks. While I can't guarantee this whisky was distilled by Glenfarclas, I will say that's my guess is it's Glenfarclas. If so, it was a cool idea for David Stirk's The Creative Whisky Company to give folks a chance to try it port cask-style.

Distillery: Glenfarclas?
Region: Speyside
Independent Bottler: The Creative Whisky Co.
Series: Exclusive Malts
Age: 10 years old (May 2004 - August 2004)
Maturation: port cask
Limited bottling: 296
Alcohol by Volume: 57.7%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
(Thank you to Mr. Perkins for this sample!)

Its color is very dark and rosy. The nose is full of chocolate—rather than berry—port notes. It's a bit hot, sharp and young, but it's also full of barley notes that stand up to the wine. Earthy, candied, a little floral. Hints of cassis juice and nectarines. In the palate, it's the berry port notes that show up. It's hot and sweet. A little bit of good bitterness. Hints of menthol and tart citrus. Lots of port. Its warm finish is moderately sweet. Tart berries and citrus. An earthy bitterness.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose has completely changed gears. Kirsch, roses, mint leaves, cookie dough with toffee chips, brine and butter. The palate is very earthy, tart and sweet. There's some pencil lead and shavings. Salted butter. The berries are much quieter. But then they show up again in the finish. Sweet, grapey and buttery with a hint of earthiness.

The vibrant nose is the star here. In fact, it's gorgeous when reduced to 46%abv. The port cask overwhelms the palate, when neat. The palate gets quirkier and rougher when water is added, which was an improvement in my opinion. If you like port cask whiskies, you probably won't have too much problem with this one. Other than the price, perhaps.

Availability - It's still around, a dozen or so US retailers
Pricing - $95-$105
Rating - 84 (with water only)