...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Ken's Bar, Shinjuku

If you're staying in Shinjuku and you're looking for a casual corner of Golden Gai (or if you don't want to repeatedly shell out cover charges while bar hopping), Ken's Bar is a snug but easygoing spot to enjoy some new or dusty bourbon.

The Bar

Once upon a time (like, three years ago), Ken's Bar was The Place for Bourbon in that part of Tokyo. But Ken Matsuyama himself has opened a second bar and has now split his stash between the two locations. So be careful about your expectations. You won't find any Very Old Fitzgerald or Pappiez. But you will spot a couple dozen items that have long since vanished from American shelves, plus a few Japan-only Old St. Nick-type of bourbons.

I visited Ken's Bar on my first night in Japan. Jetlag had formed a calcified shell around my cerebrum, so the time of day was nothing more than someone's opinion. But I had a tummy full of noodles and beer, and nowhere to be; a true luxury for a parent.

Ken's sits about four people, but I was the only one there. A very early-90s-looking Pat Methany jazz concert was on the small TV in one corner. Lots of fun empties in another corner. A collection limited Maker's bottles in another.

The gentleman behind the bar didn't look like Ken (yes, I properly cyberstalk). He was very friendly, but it was instantly obvious that we spoke different languages; imagine that. I had yet to shed the smell of airplane, and already I had to put my infantile Japanese to the test. But despite our wide language barrier, the bartender and I spoke for nearly two hours. It was really nice.

He had the line of the night:

I said, "Watashi wa, Michael".

He pointed to a familiar bottle on the shelf and said, "Yamazaki 12 year old," then pointed to himself, "Yamazaki 41 year old."

Three months later and 6500 miles away, I came up with my comeback line, "Then you're worth millions!" I'm slow. And not nearly as funny as I think I am.

Bourbon 1

I was taking it easy on my first night in town because my senses were cloudy. So my first couple of drinky things would stay in familiar territory.

First up was Old Charter 10 year old. Weirdly enough, the next-to-last tasting I'd completed before this trip was Old Charter 8, which was not great. But people on the secondary market keep paying top dollar for the OCs, so I thought I'd try the 10. And the price was right.

If you can embiggen the photo, you'll see things get blurry around the bottom of the bottle. That's more or less an accurate depiction of my acuity at the time.

This was a Frankfort (thus Buffalo Trace) Old Charter, so it wasn't hella dusty. But it was a good drinker, significantly better than the 8, the difference between a C- whiskey and a B- whiskey. It's something you can drink whenever, wherever and however. Moderate oak nestled with moderate corn. Perhaps if the bourbon bust ever happens, Buffalo Trace can bring this back. Maybe?

Bourbon 2

Next up was Old Fitzgerald 1849. I know I just got finished writing about how I don't dig wheated bourbon, but I've always enjoyed Old Fitz 1849. I spent a long time searching this bottle for some clue if this was Stitzel-Weller or Heaven Hill stuff, but a big Japanese import sticker covered up some serious real estate on the back. No matter who made it, I liked it. Another B- bourbon. The sweetness was in check, as was the barrel. It's miles better than current Maker's, and could easily compete with the Old Weller line.

Bourbon 3

Yamazaki-san then set a private barrel in front of me. And I went with it, needing something barrel proof to close out the night. And I wanted a drink I couldn't get anywhere else.

This bourbon's source is officially unnamed but it may be from some Untamed Istanbul (not Constantinople). If that's true, then it's better than any OB whisky I've tried from them. Even better than their dusty stuff. It spent its first six years aging in Kentucky, then the next four years maturing in one of Chichibu's warehouses. It's a 2016 bottling so it may still be available at either of Ken's Bars. Oooh, and I have notes for this one!

The nose is much much fruitier than anything else by its rumored source. Then there's walnuts, almonds, fudge, butterscotch and pie crust. The palate has no bitter oak to it. But it does have lots of anise and green peppercorns. Strawberry Bubble Yum, toffee and a belt of rye. It finishes gently sweet, with some of the nose's fruity stuff, like berries and baked apples with cinnamon.

I'm not sure if I've given a contemporary bourbon an A- type rating on this blog, but this whiskey deserves it. It's fabulous. The fruit content is scrumptious, and surprising. Could this be due to the barrel's four years in Central Japan? A great selection by Matsuyama-san.

Final thoughts

Ken's Bar Shinjuku does have a cover charge, and I honestly don't remember if that includes snacks. But their whiskey prices were great. I think I drank all the above for $30-35 including the cover. I believe Ken is usually at the new bar (which is, I think, in Hacchobori, Chuo) but if he's at the Shinjuku bar, he's known to be an excellent bourbon resource. If Yamazaki-san is slinging drinks instead, please tell him I said hello. He's a great bartender with a lively sense of humor and is very sharp regarding whiskey options. He helped make Ken's Bar the perfect stop for my first night in Japan.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Bars of Shinjuku Golden Gai and......nope

I've had so many grandiose projects that never came to fruition that I've actually lost count of all the current ones. These ideas often remain incomplete due to my cowardice or lack of willpower at the end of the day. Other times it's due to having spent half of my adult life in pursuit of a screenwriting career and the miserable experience that turned out to be. But every once in a while, a brilliant plan gets nipped because of reality.

The place

Golden Gai was unknown to me until after I had returned from my first trip to Japan, in 2015. Then I immediately became obsessed with the place. To paraphrase Liz Lemon, I wanted to go to there. Over 200 bars squeezed into a handful of tiny alleys? Count my ass in. I was ready to change all of my anonymous online avatars to Golden Guy. I'd even thought out how I'd train for the mission.

The plan

As I scheduled this year's Japanese excursion, I made sure to set aside two nights to devote to Golden Gai. I bought an extra SD card for my fancy camera, and a stabilization device for my cellphone camera. The plan was to shoot a massive amount of footage and interviews (sober or not) so I could assemble the great YouTube document of Golden Gai.

Through airBnb, I'd reserved a nice apartment in Kabukichō, about two blocks from the edge of Golden Gai, for five nights. It was HQ for the Tokyo portion of my voyage.

An excellent sign

The reality

It wasn't until a few days before the flight to Japan that I started reading some online grumbling about the Golden Gai bars' widespread usage of seating/cover charges. As in ¥1000 (or $9) per bar. Upon my arrival in Shinjuku, this practice was confirmed.

Japanese bars are my favorite drinking establishments in the world. I've written quite a few posts about my dreamy adventures, and believe it or not, I've yet to drop the best one. But I cannot reconcile this cover charge practice with the rest of the experience. Some bars will provide snacks in return for the fee. Many don't.

If you like going wine tasting, you've encountered something similar: the tasting fee. A winery will hit you with a charge to taste 4 to 8 of their wines, which is understandable on the surface. But from there, wineries split into two camps: those that wave the tasting fee once the customer buys bottles, and those that don't. The latter are a major pisser. If I'm putting six bottles on the counter, and they're weighing in at $150, the fact that your business can't waive the $10 tasting fee is not only petty but it demotivates me from ever buying from you again. If I just do the tasting and walk away, then yeah the $10 charge makes sense.

When I go into a Japanese whisky bar, there's a 50% chance I'm about spend money like I'm 10 times wealthier than I actually am. If I'm polite and friendly, while being one of the biggest spenders of the night, why would you still charge me the seating fee?

There may be a cultural difference involved here. Tipping is frowned upon in Japan, but seating charges are frequent. Thus, when the bill came each time , I just pretended the fee was a crummy tip.
But nobody even notices her
because there's so much stuff going on.

The result

I did not go to the 200+ bars. There was no way I was going to drop $100, let alone $1000, to capture what was likely going to be poorly-lit poorly-focused visuals with bad sound. I mean, that's whisky money, man.

For my arrival day, I'd structured things so that I'd get to Shinjuku Station during daylight. If one is balancing several layers of jetlag, exiting that train depot at night may reduce your cognition to lemon Jello. Shinjuku is a sensory assault and there are chains and walls of fast moving city bodies blasting past you by the thousands per second. Last time, I was unprepared. This time, I knew better.

Despite finding my apartment with relative ease, I was plenty woozy. I was thankful I'd changed that night's plans from "Golden Gai, Night 1" to "wandering". Of course, my first move was to snoop around a half dozen liquor stores. Next I got some righteous noodles and a beer to clear my head.

Then, I settled in at one casual cozy bourbon bar, saving my real trouble-making for a few days hence.

To be continued...

Monday, September 25, 2017

State of the Blog 2017: Trying to keep things good

My first Single Malt Report posted six years ago and the Jewish New Year has begun. So I think September marks a good time to reflect on the past year.

Work and personal life require much more of my time than they used to, so I turn to the blog as an increasingly necessary form of recreation. But the more I need it, the less time (and energy) I have to devote to it. I could say that's why it's taking decades for me to return emails and reply to comments, but, let's be honest, I've always sucked at that.

Though I believe lower-case 'w' whisky is fun, capital 'W' Whisky is rarely fun. The industry and social media groups feed each other in particularly foul fashion. People buy more and more and more, and brag about how they're out of control, as if they've unlocked some amazing life achievement badge. Whisky producers, both official and independent, are more than happy to keep serving up hot brown products to this hypnotized segment. Meanwhile, corners of the bourbon secondary market turned viciously against each other this year, highlighting a sector of that marketplace which operates in a conflagration of anger, suspicion and self-hatred which burns with a heat that's too much even for this Jew.

On a related note, a very good enemy of mine traded a quarter of his collection for an international adventure. And he highly recommends it.

The point is, the blog shouldn't be work. I ain't getting paid for this. In fact, this is expensive. So my aim is to enjoy this distraction. Revelry is possible, even though the innocence is gone. Here are some steps I have taken or will take:
  • Despite my extensive history of whining about the scotch industry, I do deeply enjoy rummaging through the export numbers each year and pulling out of my ass producing the annual report for everyone's perusal. So I dig that part of capital 'W' Whisky because I love spreadsheets. And I'll continue with those posts until it's no longer fun.
  • This year, I introduced two guest reviewers, who have a llllllllot of catching up to do. Especially the fool sitting on all my brandy samples. Literally, sitting on them.
  • I've also started the "Killing Whisky History" video series, so you can watch how quickly fatherhood ages a man.
  • The blog may gain an additional guest reviewer, but she's elusive.
I also just bought a load of whisky samples. While reviews from purchased samples don't float everyone's boat, sorry Everyone. I prefer spending my now-hard-earned USD on an expanse of experiences, not overflowing my shelf space with things I'll open during Baron Trump's third administration.

Finally, I just did a headcount of the bottles I bought in 2017, and only five of them were Scotch whisky. One Springbank, one Kilkerran, one Benromach, one Port Charlotte, and one Ben Nevis. I've actually bought more world whiskies (no, not Kavalan) than scotch. A couple of those thingies should be reviewed over the next year. I do drink slowly. But I enjoy it.

Once the slog of capital 'W' Whisky starts hampering your lower-case 'w' whisky experience, it's time to take a step back and remember what you enjoyed about it in the first place. My daughter, Mathilda, has taught me how to play again, which has awakened me to the possibility that perhaps some of us grownups need to bring mirth back into our free time. Otherwise fuck Whisky. The bundle of burdens weighing on the spine of life is heavy enough. Stop voluntarily adding to it.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Old Weller Antique 107 proof (pre-2017 label)

Over the past three years, about 75% of the whiskies I've obtained have been from purchases made during international trips: Japan, Scotland and Japan. My recent Japanese excursion resulted in a suitcase full of, mostly, bourbon.

One evening, after a particularly lovely dosage of dry sake, I wandered around some residential streets in northern Kyoto to appreciate the summer night and also explore the nearby liquor store. Though there weren't too many surprises on the scotch shelves, I did instantly notice a certain bottling on the bourbon shelves. I hadn't seen Old Weller Antique at an actual liquor store in three years. And here it was, stocked six deep. Going for about $24.

Though I'm not a wheated bourbon enthusiast [apologies for the lack of trigger warning], I have found the Antique 107 to be the most compelling of the Old Weller series. I was also planning a private bourbon tasting event at the time, so I bought a bottle and brought it home. We opened it at the event last week, and it rated pretty well with the guests. I salvaged three ounces for myself so I could finally review this bourbon.

Owner: Buffalo Trace (via Sazerac)
Brand: Old Weller
Distillery: Buffalo Trance Distillery
Location: Franklin, Kentucky
Mash Bill: BT's mystery wheated mash bill
Age: probably south of 7 years
ABV: 53.5%

Loads of cherries (fresh, dried, candy) on the nose. Orange creamsicle, vanilla bean, halvah and Milk Duds. The palate isn't that hot considering the ABV. Some nice citrus notes. Lots of barrel char. Some moderate hard candy sweetness. Witbier, dried ginger, caramel and cayenne. It also has an acidity that continues into the finish, where the sweetness turns cloying. Some dried ginger and lemon sour candy.

WITH WATER (~45%abv)
More caramel on the nose. Dried cherries, cherry shisha, Luxardo syrup and cologne. The palate has citrus, pepper, vanilla and lime lollipops. The finish's sweetness improves. Cherry and lime lollipops. Still quite some acidity.

Like its older and more expensive sibling, Old Rip 10yo, Antique's nose is the highlight. The 10yo's nose is better, but I like Antique's palate more than Old Rip's. Antique's main weakness is its finish, but it improves once water is added. It also results in a much too sweet Manhattan.

Though Antique 107 is younger than Old Rip, their overall qualities are very close. Considering that whiskey is for drinkin' and considering the crazy price difference, I'd always be happy to go with Antique first.

Neither of those two bourbons are must haves for me, but if I ever find the Antique at its old price, I'd be happy to pick up a bottle.

Availability - Worldwide, on the primary and secondary markets
Pricing - All over the place, though usually $22 to $122. Some retailers are being cute, charging north of $200 for it. Good luck to them.
Rating - 83

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Good Blend: Exclusive Blended Malt 20 year old 1994 (50%abv edition)

Long time reader (all one of you!) knows I'm a straight-shooter (I can't believe I just wrote that) when it comes to the Creative Whisky Company (CWC). The last time I reviewed one of David Stirk's products, I caught a bit of heat. Will today's post get me into a different flavor of trouble?

During the June 2016 Malt Nuts event, I tried 18 different "Old and Older" blends. My top three favorites were all blends by CWC. And the best was one was a particular 20 year old blended malt. A year later — and you know a whisky's good when you're still thinking about it a year later — I chose this same blended malt to sneak in amongst a bunch of single malts during a whisky event I was hosting here in Columbus. Though I'd found the whisky for $80-something, all other US retailers were selling it for $100+. Anyway, it was my pleasure to share it with some great folks.

Once again, I was too flaky to remember to take a bottle pic. But I do have a photo of what's now left of my two ounce bottle of leftovers:

Company: Creative Whisky Company
Brand: Exclusive Malts
Type: Blended (or Vatted) Malt
Distilleries: from the Highlands and Speyside
Age: 20 years (1994-2014)
Maturation: first fill ex-sherry butt(s)
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No

The rich nose is more complex than I'd remembered it to be. There's dark chocolate, lots of stone fruits (especially apricots), honeydew, toffee and Ovaltine. Some French oak-like spices around the sides. It has a edgier side to it as well, with horse barn and salty beach air. With time in the glass, the toffee notes swells, while milk chocolate and oranges roll in. The sherry in the palate is lightly sweet here and there, though dry more often. Some raisin and prune. Orange peel, molasses, nutmeg and cloves. Giving it some air heightens the citrus and brings out fresh plums. The long, warm finish has toasted oak, citrus, black raisins, fudge and a slight mintiness.

Lovely stuff. But since I like to try to ruin everything, I'm adding some water...

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
I dare say the nose gets prettier. Apple skins, Ceylon cinnamon, honey, plums and roses. Just a passing hint of gunpowder. Lemons fresh off the tree. The palate has more nuts, fewer raisins. Good mix of sweet and spice. Honey, dried cherries and a little bit of malt. The milder finish reflects the palate, with additional hints of soot and tart fruit.

Monday's bad blend and today's good blend were both better than my previous impressions. In fact, this blended malt is wonderful. I declare this my favorite CWC whisky yet.

The fresh fruit in the nose and the baking spices in the palate are terrific. The very subtle peating shows up at all the right times. (Ardmore or Benromach or olde Glen Garioch?) It dilutes nicely as well. The good cask action is preferable to most of the Glendronach single casks I've tried.

Reviews of this whisky are scarce. In fact it's not even listed in Whiskybase. There's a 51.4% European version, but that appears to be a different creature. Nonetheless, I enjoyed this whisky tremendously. Damn good work, Mr. Stirk.

Availability - It's around, kinda
Pricing - good luck finding it for less than $100
Rating - 90

Monday, September 18, 2017

Bad Blend: 100 Pipers, bottled 1989

My first review of this particular fluid:

I wisely (or not) saved a two-ounce sample of this blended scotch shitsky for further study.

Brand: 100 Pipers
Ownership at the time: Joseph E. Seagram & Sons
Current ownership: Pernod Ricard
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: minimum 3 years
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Bottled: 1989

Its color is almost as light as water. The nose is approachable. Apples, cinnamon, caramel, plastic, brussels sprouts, nail polish remover. And then *wffff* gone in 10 minutes. Pretty much a bottom shelf dusty scotch nose. That palate, though. Really really bitter. And not herbal bitter or woody bitter. Chemical bitter. I've never tasted rust, but this probably tastes like rust. White vinegar, coconut, aspartame, urine (not that I....). Chemicals. Cleaning chemicals. Ammonia! The finish somehow worsens. Bitter, bitter, bitter. Acidic. Strange acrid burn. Ammonia.

Pro: It doesn't smell like it tastes.

Con: Between the ages of eight to seventeen, I cleaned my bathroom with ammonia. I know that smell. The hairsbreadth of difference between what ammonia smells like and what this whisky tastes like is terrifying.

Pro: Give it a half dozen shakes of Angostura bitters and it's salvageable in a highball.

Con: The burning sensation it leaves behind is not normal.

Moral of the story: If you see a dusty bottle of 100 Pipers on the shelf, leave it, my dear. Go live your life in peace.

Availability - It's around, but don't look too hard
Pricing - found my 375mL bottle for $8.99
Rating - 52 (received a few bonus points for the highball)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Returning next week...

To protect the sanctity of my whisky reviews, I am pausing for a few days until my tools have been sharpened my system has rebooted life finds a way I have a proper post in hand.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Balblair 2005 First Release (2015)

I like Balblair. There's a general lack of baloney in Balblair's regular releases. All but two of the bottlings I've had were 100% ex-bourbon cask, and the spirit always takes the lead. And even though they provide vintages without age statements, it's easy to quickly figure out the bottling date and then use maffs to deduce the age.

DISCLOSURE TIME: Amy from Ten27 Communications sent me this bottle of Balblair several months ago. Thank you, Amy!

So now you know its source. Feel free to turn back if you're afeared or distrusting of my intent...



Still here?

Okay. Here's the review.

Distillery: Balblair
Ownership: Inver House (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Region: Northern Highlands
Maturation: "American oak ex-bourbon barrels"
Vintage: 2005
Bottled: 2015
Bottle code: L15/8968
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No

Its color is light amber. Some mellow barrels, perhaps? The nose leads with barley, lemon and an big note of unaged brandy. This is followed by shortbread cookies, hay and Irish cream butter. The palate has a very creamy mouthfeel. Toasted barley, sweet white fruits (pears and apples) and candy canes. It finishes similarly with barley and the white fruits. Grass and simple syrup.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose leads with hay and hard toffee. It keeps the unaged brandy note, and picks up wort. Hints of lemon and apricot. That great mouthfeel remains. The palate is mostly sugars, cereals and kirschwasser. A soft peppery thing peeks out here and there. A floral new make note. The finish is short but still very clean. Floral tea, barley, mild sweetness, mild acidity and mild bitterness.

There are two great things about this whisky.

1.) Despite being about 10 years old it reads much younger, like the sort of extra-young-style whisky that only independent bottlers are releasing right now. Other official bottlers out there are releasing very young whisky but are applying all sorts of oak technology to hide the youth and age statement, and then charge more for the vanillin. What's also unique is there's no peat here to mask any potential flaws. That takes some confidence. And, you know, there was nothing to hide.

2.) This takes to water gracefully. The whisky keeps its excellent mouthfeel, while releasing some new notes. I had no idea what to expect when applying water to unpeated 46%abv baby whisky, and all was well.

I'm not going to tell you that this whisky will change your life or bring you to tears. What it does it does well, and that's that. What it does shouldn't be the exception for official bottlers, but it is.

Availability - 

Pricing - Japan: $30-$40, Europe: $45-$55, USA $60-$70 (of course)
Rating - 84

Friday, September 8, 2017

Auchentoshan 1983-2004 Scott's Selection

More often than not, I find officially bottled Auchentoshans to be sleepy, while independently bottled Auchentoshans burst fully awake and loony. Even when they spiral out all wrong, they're at least interesting. That's why I couldn't resist splitting this whisky bottle with my trio of whisky-bottle-splitting-people.

I reviewed the Glenlivet 1977 on Monday and the Bunnahabhain 1988 on Wednesday. The Glenlivet had a great sniffer, but the Bunny appealed to me more. Let's see where today's Lowlander lands.

: Auchentoshan
Distilled by: Eadie Cairns Ltd. or Morrison Bowmore
Current Ownership: Beam Suntory
Region: Lowlands (Glasgow-ish)
Bottler: Scott's Selection (R.I.P. 😿)

Age: 21 years or so (1983-2004)
Maturation: "in Oakwood casks" (great)
Alcohol by Volume: 52.4%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

Remember what I said about loony?

The color? Five beer piss. Oh yeah. The nose is all the cereals: oats, barley, spelt, farro, emmer and effer. Lemongrass, chives and pickle brine. These awesome Japanese ginger cookies I can't stop eating. The palate is really herbal and grassy. So many lemons. Spearmint gum. Malty and briskly bitter. More grass and lemons in the finish. Minty, bitter and malty.


How about I lower it to the usual OB strength?

WITH WATER (~43%abv)
The nose is the olfactory equivalent of the pretend salads my daughter makes for me. Oregano, bay leaf, cocoa, white rice, toffee, barley, lime yogurt and sidewalk chalk. The palate is still grassy and herbal. Slightly floral, with a softer bitterness. Barley and a mild sweetness. Kind of ashy. It finishes super herbal. Ashy, bitter, and malty, with hints of mint and malt.

I can't even.

This stuff is a riot of sensations and not a single one belongs together.

Some people would HATE this whisky. I am not some of those people. In fact, I'm sorta sad to see this one go. Count my boat rocked.

Availability - It's around
Pricing - $100-$200
Rating - 86 (maybe)

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Bunnahabhain 1988-2004 Scott's Selection

On Monday, I reviewed a Glenlivet 1977, the oldest of three bargain bin Scott's Selection single malts split by your favorite local #whiskydicks. Today I'm reviewing the Bunnahabhain 1988 which is, like Master Gee, the baby of the bunch.

While the Glenlivet was held by some very refill "Oakwood", the Bunny had a least one active cask in the mix. Aside from having some color to it, there was all sorts of curious stuff going in the palate during my first approach. First I thought it was a sherry cask, but then Scott's usually labels those malts with a "Sherry Wood" designation. Then I thought it was there was a spritely American oak cask involved. Now, I sorta kinda think there may be a refill sherry cask and a first fill ex-bourbon. I blah blah blah all this because Scott's Selection hasn't labelled these whiskies as "single casks".

Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Distilled by: Highland Distilleries Company Ltd.
Current Ownership: Distell Group Ltd. (via Burn Stewart Distillers)
Region: Islay, but not the Sexy South
Bottler: Scott's Selection (R.I.P. 😿)

Age: 16-ish years (1988-2004)
Maturation: "in Oakwood casks" (plural!)
Alcohol by Volume: 53.8%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

Its color is light gold, which really is one of the darkest shades I've seen in my Scott's bottles. The nose holds milk chocolate, caramel and lemon cake. Occasional hints of lychee and shoe leather. With time and air, it turns into maple syrup and Skittles. Seriously. The palate starts off salty and sweet, with a ginger zing and something phenolic. Tart citrus, tart berries and almond cookies. It grows sweeter and the fruit gets......fruitier. A touch of vanilla beneath. It has a long tingly finish with tart citrus and off-season cherries. More sugar and citrus with time.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
In the nose, an earthy note joins the milk chocolate and bright fruits. The palate gets sweeter. Some tart lemons and limes. There's that edgy phenolic thing again. Tartness, sweetness, bitterness and vanillaness in the finish.

At first the palate is a little closed, but then it blossoms with lots of air, turning into whisky candy. Its nose always works, with or without air, with or without water. Seems to swim well overall, though.

The "phenolic thing" stumps me more than the mystery cask(s). From my limited experience, Bunnahabhain of this period usually isn't this peatish. Could that be a cask artifact too? Or maybe just some whack funk in the juice.  👈 That sentence.

Monsieur MAO and I have some scarily similar notes on this same bottle of whisky. He picked up on that peaty thingamajig too. Florin (a prince) wasn't as excited about it, finding the oak a bit loud.

If you're in Illinois, Binny's may have a bottle or two left at the correct price of $79.99. Or they might not. It has that weird noncommittal status on the website. Otherwise it's selling for $150, $230, $250 and $400 elsewhere. What a country.

Availability - 
It's around

Pricing - see the final paragraph
Rating - 87 (with water, without water, whatever)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Glenlivet 1977-2004 Scott's Selection

Almost a year ago, Binny's Beverage Depot dropped the prices on all their remaining Scott's Selection whiskies. So four of us whisky gents split three of those bottles. Not too long after that, Binny's stopped shipping to Ohio. That's a bummer, but it has kept my whisky purchases limited, which is not a bummer.

It took a while before I tapped into my portions, but once I did they didn't last long. Luckily I saved 2oz of each for reviews......which are happening this week, starting with the oldest of the trio. A Glenlivet distilled in 1977.

Distillery: Glenlivet
Distilled by: The Glenlivet Distillers Ltd.
Current Ownership: Pernod Ricard
Bottler: Scott's Selection (R.I.P. 😿)

Age: 27-ish years (1977-2004)
Maturation: "in Oakwood casks" (rad!)
Region: Speyside (Banffshire)
Alcohol by Volume: 53.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

Its color is light amber, which bodes well. The nose starts off big on peach and mango. Then lemon zest and cantaloupe. Some shortbread and confectioner's sugar. Its palate is completely different than the nose: sharp, tart and tight. Barley, lemons, limes, almonds and a hint of vanilla fudge. It finishes warm and simple. Vanilla simple syrup and barley. Tart, with a slight bitterness.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose gets creamier. More vanilla. Ginger candy. Most of the fruits are gone. Only lemons and overripe peaches remain. The palate becomes softer, but no more complex. Lemons, barley, mild bitterness and woody/papery note. The finish hasn't changed much. Just a little sweeter.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose feels younger. Wort, salt water taffy, orange peel and vanilla. The palate is tangy and tart. Slightly woody and a little peppery. And that's it. The mellow finish has a melon note and acidic citrus.

Normally, I don't add much (if any) water to a whisky north of 25 years. But this one's palate would not open up at full strength. A little bit of water didn't do much, and by the time it hit 40%abv it was nearly dead.

This unfortunate because the nose was gorgeous at cask strength. Water didn't kill it, but it didn't improve it either. Had the palate sung like the nose, this would have been a dynamite thing.

The finish was alsio oddly flat and short throughout. These issues have me guessing that there was some lethargic "Oakwood" involved. Great nose, though.

Availability - Scarce
Pricing - one Midwest shop is selling it for $200
Rating - 83

Friday, September 1, 2017

Killing Whisky History, Episode 4 - Teacher's Highland Cream (bottled 1986-1989)

It's here! Episode Four of Killing Whisky History. Two successes: It's the shortest episode yet and I knocked out the first act in a full take.

I'm a big fan of the Teacher's blends — though not the current version so much — I opened one of my dusty bottles for last week's celebration. This will not be my last Teacher's episode because there's more where that came from. Cheers!