...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Ledaig 17 year old 1993 G&M Connoisseurs Choice (bought in Japan)

I had two whisky retailing surprises during my first trip to Japan. First, there was no age stated Japanese whisky to be found (and this was more than three years ago). Secondly, there was SO MUCH scotch whisky on the shelves, especially from independent bottlers. The former was a bummer, the latter floored me especially because the prices were often really good. Port Charlotte PC8 was $60. And today's 17yo G&M Ledaig was, I kid you not, $46.

I say this with some confidence: We will never see prices like that again. Ever. And that's probably why so much of that scotch and bourbon was cleared out when I returned to Japan two years later.

The intro is over. Long live the intro.

The G&M Connoisseurs Choice range has a several 43%abv Ledaigs from right around the mid '90s time period. This one was from refill sherry butts and may have just been a Japanese release. While Ledaigs from the mid-'00s are hot stuff right now, '80s and '90s are still not considered sexy. So I can't even make the hipster claim, "I loved this stuff before it was cool." It's still terribly uncool. That's why we're homies.

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Ledaig
Current Ownership: Distell International Ltd.
Ownership at time of distillation: either Burn Stewart Distillers or Tobermory Distillers Ltd.
Region: Isle of Mull
Independent Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Range: Connoisseurs Choice
Age: 17 years old (May 1993 - December 2010)
Maturation: refill sherry butts
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
(review sample taken from the bottom half of my bottle)

For its sparring partner, I poured a glass of my enjoyable 15yo OB 2001 bottling.

The refill-est of butts. Very spirity. Toast, wet sand, leaves, yeast and grist. Momentary whiffs of vanilla ice cream and raw cocoa. Totally lacking the fruity, medicine and peat of the 15yo. Okay, there's a little bit of fermenting apples. Molasses. Tofu. Heck, it's more savory than peaty. It fades out after 20 minutes, even when covered.

Butter and lemons take the place of the nose's yeast and apples. A big hit of horseradish. Some sugary bits, with a hint of dried berries. More marshmallow than vanilla. Burnt toast. Slight floral estery things. The butter note grows with time and the lemons get sweeter.

Toasted grains, horseradish and lemons. Kinda sweet. Kinda short. Something burnt.

This felt half its age, which could be a good thing. But wasn't. The '90s Ledaig Strange Degree (LSD) was low, which also a bummer. It's, essentially, a sleepy Tobermory. Just a little bit of fruit or moss or fish or gravel or gravy or something would have made a big difference.

Despite the preceding paragraph, this isn't terrible whisky. In fact, I almost gave it a low 80s grade for being as fine and friendly as this era of Ledaig can get. But it sorta bumped its ass on the landing — that's not a thing, but it's late here — and leaves behind a fading burnt shrug in the mouth.

But I must say, I'm happy with the price I paid.

Availability - Happy Hunting?
Pricing - ???
Rating - 78

Monday, May 28, 2018

Glenmorangie Astar, 2017 Release

For those of us who enjoyed the original Astar release, let us remember that it was a very oaky thing. And NAS. And thus it was proof that not all NAS oaky whiskies are crap. Its creamy richness highlighted good qualities of the oak and the spirit. Still it remains an exception to the rule for Glenmorangie's limited releases.

Astar's official site references my main issue with Glenmorangie's special edition when it notes that the Ozark oak casks are designed to "impart their maximum flavour to our delicate Highland spirit". Or......Lumsden and his team use sledgehammers to play a piano.

This new Astar supposedly uses the same type of casks, from "slow-growing" trees in the Ozarks that are air dried for years before they're coopered into Jack Daniel's casks for their first life. Next the delicate Highland spirit is applied for at least three years. And then marketing noises like "hewn", "harbour" and "bespoke" are applied liberally to lure the usual suspects into paying $100+ for the product.

Still, it could be good whisky.

Distillery: Glenmorangie
Ownership: Louis Vuitton Moet-Hennessy
Region: Highlands (Northern)
Age: minimum 3 years
Maturation: Missouri Ozark Oak (ex-Jack Daniel's)
Alcohol by Volume: 52.5%
Chill-filtered: ???
Colored: ???
(From a purchased sample)

Sadly, I had neither old Astar, nor Glenmoragie 10yo to compare with this whisky. Instead, I lined up the bottle-strength version with its 43%abv diluted form.

43%abv - Bourbon. Barrel char and notebook paper. Burnt notes. Perfume, vanilla, lemon and ginger beer. A bit flat at times, like a blend.
Full Strength - Pine needles, sap and bark. Limes and cotton candy. Caramel sauce and vanilla bean. Toasted oak spices. Cinnamon and nutmeg. A hint of Old Spice cologne.

43% abv - Actual wood. A bit grassy, with dandelions. Bitter, burnt and gingery. Vanilla and green peppercorns.
Full Strength - It has a dense fudge/citrus/grass combo that reminds me of Irish pot still. Slight burnt and bitter note. Lemons and oregano.

43%abv - Green and pink peppercorns. Fresh ginger. Very bitter.
Full Strength - A better bitterness and very little sweetness. Thyme and oregano. Lemon and pepper.

This is a curious lively whisky at 52.5%abv. It is pretty bad at 43%.

It is indeed oak-driven with the citrus and herbal notes being the only spirit characteristics that escaped the Mozarks' clutches. The good news is that the oak notes are never boring and there's some depth to this fluid. But only at full strength. It falls apart so abruptly when diluted (even at about 48%abv), that the random-seeming bottling strength now seems less random.

It's a different animal than the original Astar, and with fewer thrills. But for a whisky that's 90% oak-driven, the 2017 Astar still impresses at times and makes for an entertaining addition to Glenmorangie's range. Pricing it higher than the far superior 18yo is also entertaining.

Availability - Many specialty whisky retailers
Pricing - $70-$100 (Europe, ex-VAT), $85-120 (US)
Rating - 83 (neat only, plummets 10-20 points once diluted)

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Rum Dummy drinks Hampden 18 year old 1998 Kill Devil

I like three things. Rum, not reading rum reviews and not writing rum reviews. But Mr. Diving for Pearls gave me free rum (which is better than rum) so I'll write this. But I won't read it.

I've been told to thank "MAO" for this rum because "MAO" finances this entire site. Thank you, "MAO"?

Hampden distillery makes good rums. Their old rum is usually not cheap. Their old rum is usually not in America. The old rum is in Europe because Europe is so much closer to Jamaica than America is.

You can keep shipping costs down by piggybacking off your sad friend who buys at least 14 whiskies a month from Europe and then brags about it. The more he buys, the less you pay. Everyone wins, except for him.

I had nothing to do with this picture.

A review:

Nose - Olives, black licorice, honey. Banana nut loaf. Hot tar, dead leaves. Lots of brine. Ping pong paddle.

Palate - Charred pizza crust, black olives, honey, leather, soil and black sesame seeds. Blackberry jam, with salt.

Finish - Charred pizza crust, sesame seeds and red pepper flakes. WD-40. Banana pudding. Salt. Good.

Three interesting things about this rum. It has no grain, but there's bread to it. I can't stop drinking it. I can't stop drinking it.

I'm naming my next dog Hampden. Or Kill Devil.


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Edradour and Ballechin twins! Same bottler, same year, same cask type.

First, Hazelburn and Longrow. Now, Edradour and Ballechin. My original intro was five paragraphs long, let me just outlineify it here:
  1. Edradour distillery produces unpeated single malt (Edradour) and heavily peated malt (Ballechin)
  2. Edradour distillery is owned by the independent bottling company, Signatory.
  3. van Wees, a Dutch indie bottler (allegedly) draws its single barrels from Signatory's warehouses.
  4. van Wees releases a few Edradour and Ballechin single casks each year.
    1. Usually ex-sherry casks for Edradours
    2. Usually ex-bourbon casks for Ballechins
As soon as I spied a sherry cask Ballechin, I swooped in and got semi-matching samples: Ballechin and Edradour, both distilled in 2008, matured in sherry butts and released by van Wees in their The Ultimate series.

Check the photo for the stats. Note the very similar ABV. Also the butts had very similar outturns: 696 and 694.

To the tasting!


Edradour (8yrs 1day) - It starts off with oranges, cinnamon and dried apricots. Then raspberry jam, fudge, cardamom, nutmeg and a whiff of butterscotch. And, yes, plenty of alcohol.
Ballechin (9yrs 178days) - Smoked fish, eucalyptus and clementines. Dried cranberries, ocean air, ham and charred peat. With time in the glass it picks up baked pears with cinnamon and sugar.

Edradour - Dried fruit, especially cherries and golden raisins. Very salty. Tart lemons and raspberry jam. Sweet and heat. Thick mouthfeel.
Ballechin - Massive mossy peat. Charred veg and not-charred dried fruit. Lightly sweet, lots o' heat. Cinnamon and Tabasco sauce. Develops some bitterness with time.

Edradour - Sweet. Berries, fresh and dried. Tart lemons and a hint of woody bitterness. But its the ethyl heat that lingers longest.
Ballechin - More of that huge peat. Chili oil. Very little sweetness. Similar heat and bitterness to the Edradour.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or <2tsp water per 30mL whisky

Edradour - Fudge and flower blossoms. Lime peel, prunes and raisins. Very big even at this ABV.
Ballechin - Ledaig, is that you? Seaside, peaches, cinnamon, peat and citronella.

Edradour - 
Plum wine, tart berries, ginger ale and cream soda. It's very peppery and drags along some woody bitterness.
Ballechin - Somehow the peat feels even bigger and darker. Quite a tar note. Well beneath the peat is a balance of sweetness (brown sugar), salt, savory and moderate bitterness.

Edradour - A mix of cayenne pepper, grape jam, bananas and bitterness.
Ballechin - Char, dark chocolate and salty ham.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or ~1Tbsp water per 30mL whisky

Edradour - Very manageable. Mint leaves, ginger, anise, blackberry jam and Macallan 12.
Ballechin - Just char, mint and brine.

Edradour -
 It has become creamier, with fresher fruits (think plums and pears). Ginger powder.
Ballechin - Still plenty of punch to it. Peat and pepper and salt. Tart citrus and oak spices.

Edradour - Pepper, berries and bitterness.
Ballechin - Identical to the palate.

You may read quotes from "experts" that the cask is 2/3s or 3/4s or 70% responsible for a whisky's final character. Well, the Edradour is 100% cask. It is at times a very good cask. At other times it's too aggressive, held only in check by the high alcohol content. It seems to be doing its best Orphan Barrel Bourbon imitation with all that woody bitterness. But it gets better the more it's diluted.

The Ballechin is all Andrew WK. With peat levels that would embarrass southern Islay, heat levels that rival Stagg Jr and sherry levels comparable to, well, the Edradour, this 9 year old Ballechin is a whole lot of too much. Which works. If you're into that sort of thing. If it could shed the bitterness, I'd love to see it arm wrestle one the many murderous SMWS Port Charlottes.

At full strength, Ballechin's outrageousness wins. Yet as the whiskies are diluted, the Edradour reveals more stamina and complexity......even though it's all cask. But, in the end, it's all combustion.

EDRADOUR 8yo 2008 van Wees, cask 118
Availability - continental Europe
Pricing - €50-€60 w/o VAT
Rating - 85 (with water)

BALLECHIN 9yo 2008 van Wees, cask 189
Availability - continental Europe
Pricing - €50-€60 w/o VAT
Rating - 84 (neat)

Monday, May 21, 2018

Springbank 14 year old 2002 Bourbon Wood

A new-ish Springbank! Serge Valentin, whose soul patch maintains the whiskyfun Twitter account, reviewed it. MAO, whose handlebar mustache grades students' essays, reviewed it. Now it's time for me, whose Rabbi Haddock beard helpfully saves the contents of every meal, to review it.

Unlike so many of Springbank's brands' cask strength releases. this whisky is entirely from former bourbon casks. This sort of release is likely more difficult to produce than it sounds. Too much oak influence will cause a large portion of fans to complain about the smothered spirit. Too many limp casks could result in hot, sharp, immature whisky. And with Springbank's deservedly great reputation, expectations will be high for each thing they do.

I was very lucky to get a sample of this whisky twice(!), thanks to MAO and Matt W.

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Region: Campbeltown
Age: 14 years (November 2002 - August 2017)
Maturation: "Fresh and Refill Bourbon Barrels"
Alcohol by Volume: 55.8%
Limited Bottling: 9000

Because I had such a nice quantity of this Springbank, I tasted a full strength and diluted (46%abv) version side by side.

46%abv - Gummi bears and peach candy. The moderate simple unobtrusive oak lets some wort and bright lemony notes shine through. There's also plastic toys, brine and some distant vanilla. Very little peat.
Full strength - Less fruit, weightier oak. Salty and a hint of something savory. Lime peel, caramel candy. A little bit papery. More heat, obviously, but also more peat.

46%abv - A little of the nose's fruit, mostly tart stuff. A creamy, vanilla side with some brown sugar. Ginger and cinnamon candy. Some heat. Woody bitterness and a surprising amount of heat.
Full strength - The alcohol burn seems to be holding back some good stone fruit. Lots of salt. Metal. Limes and lemons. A bit peppery. Acid and bitterness levels build with time.

46%abv - Tart citrus and pepper. Bitter. Some sweetness rolls in to balance things out. Medium length.
Full strength - Heat, salt, citrus and metal. A sweeter fruit element comes in late for an assist.

My tasting notes sit somewhere between Serge's and MAO's, though I hold the whisky in slightly lower esteem. Dilution is key with this one, because (for me) the goal is to push back the heat and bitterness to find that fruit. It's that bitterness and acidity that give my palate trouble. I don't mind the vanilla or caramel here because they work well with the rest. Perhaps I hold Springbank to a high standard because recent batches of their standard 10yo have been spot on, or perhaps the spirit has gotten to the point that it performs best with a little bit of sherry cask influence, or perhaps I'm full of shit.

Availability - Some specialty whisky retailers
Pricing - $100-$125 (why) 
Rating - 84 (diluted only)

Friday, May 18, 2018

Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie Scottish Barley

For those keeping score, Bruichladdich's The Classic — their NAS offering — has undergone a few design changes. First it was just Classic, in the old livery. Then there was Laddie Classic Edition_01, complete with the underscore and charade that this was the first edition. A brief hot flirtation resulted in Sherry Classic. Next, a brand-wide movement towards showcasing barley terroir motivated the Scottish Barley The Classic Laddie, with Scottish Barley getting the BIG FONT. Finally (for now) came the switch to The Classic Laddie Scottish Barley, with the classic-ness receiving the visual emphasis. The whisky's Scottishness was deemed less important than branding and/or subjectivity getting the upper hand on objectivity.

Because I've had mixed feelings about Bruichladdich's recent unpeated output, I'd expected this triple-tasting to be utterly unfair and humiliating (if one can humiliate an inert liquid) to the most current of the "Classic Laddies". But *SPOILER ALERT* the results were not that imbalanced.

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Ownership: Remy Cointreau
Region: Western Islay
Age: ???
First Maturation: probably just American oak casks
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

Well, they're not kidding about the barley (on the nose at least), perhaps it should have gotten first billing?!.?!1.? A little bit of yeast and wort and flowers and cocoa powder. Anise and apple skins. Some barn and metal. Sugar and cinnamon. Maybe a peep of white tequila. The palate is full of clean crisp spirit. Very little heat, despite its age and alcohol content. Roasted nuts and mild sweetness. Hints of subtle smoke, like a polite mezcal. Tangy, tart fruit and brown sugar. The finish leads with roasted grains, cayenne pepper and brown sugar. Mint leaves and a hint of yeast. Very tingly and green.


I expected very little from this whisky, especially since I had so many issues with the 8 year old. And I paired it up with two near titans. And yet, it held its own.

As I referenced in the tasting notes, the crisp clean spirit shines without burning. It's not too sweet nor does it scrape the tongue like so many other very young whiskies. The barley is the whole show, not whatever "The Classic" is. It's an ultra-young malt that succeeds without heavy peating. These things do exist. I like it. Kristen liked it. I might even buy it if I can find it for less than $50.

Availability - Most specialty whisky retailers
Pricing - $45-$65 worldwide
Rating - 85

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Mathilda Malt: Bruichladdich MCMLXXXV 27 year old 1985, aka DNA4

The fourth and final release in the much too brief DNA series, this whisky was distilled in MCMLXXXV like the DNA3 I reviewed yesterday. While its cask types are undisclosed, I'm going to guess they're all ex-bourbons, which made it a great contrast with its predecessor. Unlike DNA3, this edition has an actual distillation date listed on the back label (along with a random Orson Welles reference) which means these weren't just a bunch of random casks. You have octuplets! It rolls right off your tongue, and into your heart. Oc-tup-lets. Oops, we're not supposed to be talking about Apu right now. Also, they could be nontuplets or dodecuplets for all we don't know.

As mentioned yesterday, I tasted this whisky alongside DNA3 and the current Scottish Barley from Bruichladdich. Here's the review of DNA4, the 27 year old.

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Ownership at time of distillation: Invergordon Distillers
Region: Western Islay
Series/Gimmick: DNA
Age: 27 years (March 7, 1985 - August 22, 2011)
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks?
Outturn: 1698 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 49.3%
(from a purchased sample)

It has a nice amber color to it. It noses of chalk and dirty rocks. Almond extract, yellow plums, white nectarines and pears. More time in the glass brings out more fruits, such as pineapple. A hint of barn. Mint and honey. It smells like sunshine. It also has that great oily mouthfeel. Lots of barley, tart apples and blackberries on the palate right up front. Then green peppercorns and a bitter bite. Hints of wood smoke, cocoa and grassy leafiness. Lemon juice. It finishes as earthy as the nose. Tart fruits, leaves, lemons and peppercorns. Chili oil and honey.


Another lovely thing. I'm impressed by the casks' restraint. (Or maybe I've gotten to used to contemporary whisky woodwork.) The palate is good, but the nose is sublime. I can gripe a little bit about the finish, but I'm going to focus on the positive. And I could wonder how many more of these well rested barrels were dumped and candied by those indie owners, but I'm going to focus on the positive. And I could also marvel about the tremendous and complex palate the 25yo had but this had not, but I'm going to focus on the positive. This is great ex-bourbon cask whisky.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - somewhere between £200 and £300
Rating - 89

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Mathilda Malt: Bruichladdich MCMLXXXV 25 year old 1985, aka DNA #3

Since my Littlemill stash is indeed little, I decided to do something slightly different to celebrate Mathilda's birthday this year.

Consider the Bruichladdich DNA series. While the McEwan/Reynier regime devoted half their business to drowning thousands of Invergordon Distillers-era 'Laddich single malt in Mogen David, ex-Listerine octaves or wine spit cups (or all the above in the Black Fart series), they chose to release the four "DNA" single malts nearly unscathed. Were these casks (likely less than 40 for the four releases combined) left alone because they were deemed good enough? Or were they put out to provide a wider range of color amongst the pink and burgundy hue of Bruichladdich's other releases?

I'd like to find out. So I tried two of the DNAs along with the current Remy Cointreau-era Scottish Barley Bruichladdich, which probably isn't that much older than Mathilda.


DNA #3 was bottled the year I started writing about whisky, back when everything was amazing! Everything except Murray McDavid. Back in 2011, there were a lot of Bruichladdichs on the shelf, which was "fun" and strange and confusing and I ignored them.

Like many of the 'Laddie oddities, DNA #3 has some good age to it. Unlike many of the 'Laddie oddities it comes from a mix of classic casks: ex-bourbons and sherry butts (or just sherry butts depending on one's sources).

Now, how they got Jim McEwan's DNA into the whisky isn't safe to speak of on a family blog such as this. Let's just say no one will second guess the man's affinity for sherried butts ever again.

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Ownership at time of distillation: Invergordon Distillers
Region: Western Islay
Series/Gimmick: DNA
Age: 25 years (1985-2011)
Maturation: Whiskybase says bourbon casks and sherry butts, TWE says sherry butts
Outturn: 1665 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 50.1%
(from a purchased sample)

It has the darkest color of the three. Its nose leads with milk chocolate, Worcestershire sauce, soda bread and ocean air. Then there are the mangoes. Tobacco, dunnage and a subtle earthiness. York peppermint patties, a slight beefiness. That salty air note blends with the chocolate flawlessly. Oh wow, such a thick mouthfeel. On the palate it's chocolate with smoked almonds. A slightly savoriness. Dried apricots and cranberries. Clementines and melon. Limes and ginger. Despite the expanding fruit notes, it's never very sweet. An underpinning of bitterness and pepper lends balance and complexity. It has a very earthy, almost smoky, long finish. Think fresh cigars (Habanos). Very warming. A ginger+peppery zing meets the palate's dried fruit.

Never had the urge.

Fabulous. Rich and balanced. Fruit, earth and killer casks. This is the sort of whisky that can spoil a person rotten and make him sneer at most modern sherried malts.

The early '90s Invergordon/W&M era of Bruichladdichs can be a mixed bag, but this is my first try of a mid-80s malt from this distillery and it's a candidate for my favorite technically-unpeated Bruichladdich ever. Only one other can compete...

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - somewhere between £200 and £300
Rating - 91

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Mathilda Rose turns 4!

Here she is, posing with the two snow demons I'd summoned to appease Kuraokami.

You don't see your child grow up in real time. There are the moments when she'll do something that has always been just beyond her, and you gasp involuntarily. Or the sudden realizations of, "When did she get so big?", as you feel a great loss and a great gain at the same time.

Mathilda wants to be a big girl and a baby at the same time. (Which is kinda the human condition in general.) But her grasp of math, art and architecture (really) is the most amazing thing I've witnessed aside from the girls' births, and that time this little girl just stood up and started walking. I'd like to think she gets her math skills from her nerdy father. But the artistic side ain't from my people. In fact it's totally foreign to me, and it makes her her own person — which she's always been, anyway, since birth.

Happy Birthday, Mathilda Rose. The possibilities hiding in every moment have become infinite ever since you've been around.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Mathilda Malt: Littlemill 22 year old 1990 Berry Brothers & Rudd (round 2)

I opened my one bottle of Littlemill, one year ago, to celebrate Mathilda's birthday. And......I was kinda whelmed. From my commentary:
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.
I like the youth, the leafy grassiness, the bite, the fight in this Littlemill......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.
So I did just that. I mummified it with parafilm, then had it sit in the corner of a dark closet for one year so it could think about its behavior, much as I've done with Mathi.......okay, okay. Take it easy. Just a little joke for the parents out there.

(Actually, that was just to see if Kristen still reads my blog. I don't think she does because my readership has dropped 100% this year. From 1 to 0.)

How about that whisky?

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?
Cask number17
Alcohol by Volume: 54.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

On the nose it's lemon bars and key lime pie and orange lollipops. Roasted almonds and peach ice cream. A merging of mellow malt and vanilla, along with a green leafiness. Subtle for its ABV. That balance of malt and vanilla shows up in the palate as well. Then almond cookies, tart limes and salt. A crisp graininess. Something between a minerally white wine and tonic water. Limes and limestone? I don't know why I wrote that. There's a sweet undertow throughout. There's citrus in the finish, lots of citrus, but not acidic, thankfully. Brisk minerals, tonic water and almond cookies. A great length to it.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1tsp water per 30mL whisky
Water pulls the nose's characteristics closer together. Citrus/leaves/oak/nuts merge into one. There's a new tropical fruity note now, and a new vanilla cake one too. Meanwhile, the palate gets sharper, bitterer. Spritely. Mineral, quinine/tonic and limes with a sweet Bushmills-esque malt. The finish keeps its stamina. Tart fruits, mild bitterness and vanilla cake.

Yay! All the dissimilar parts, which had been crashing into each other like cops in a Buster Keaton short, have transformed. The weird new oak notes have vanished, and the remaining vanilla plays nicely. Lots of spirit remains. Very fruity and minerally stuff. I liked the nose better when it was diluted, but the palate was more enjoyable when neat. I dig it either way.

But wow, what a change. This is great. Happy days! I'm going to enjoy another glass or two, then parafilm it up and open it again next year for Mathilda's birthday.

Availability - Sold out :(
Pricing - $140 back in January 2015
Rating - 88

Friday, May 11, 2018

Colonel E.H. Taylor Rye Bottled-in-Bond (2017)

Though I've tried most of the major ryes on the market, I didn't taste this — shall we say...Four Year Old Taylor? — rye until December of last year. And I liked it a lot. But when I priced-shopped, I was disappointed to find that $70 is apparently now considered a bargain, and many retailers won't blink at charging $90-$100 for it. It was better than the $25 Rittenhouse BIB but not by that much. And this BIB is neither scarce nor old. So I gave up on it.

Then one day, while driving through a state that neither begins nor ends with an 'O', I found a bunch of bottles of Taylor Rye BIB selling for $52.

And that is how I wound up with my one bottle, a bottle that has not impressed me at all, I regret to say. It hasn't work well in Manhattan's, at full strength or watered down. It's approachable but unremarkable when sipped neatly.

Because of this disappointment, I've left it alone for the past two months. The fill level is now below the halfway point. I hope a little bit of oxygen helped it out.

Brand: Colonel E.H. Taylor
Company: Buffalo Trace (Sazerac)
Distillery: Buffalo Trace?
Region: Kentucky
Type: Straight rye
Age: at least four years old
Mashbill: just rye and malted barley, the %s are as of yet unknown
Bottling Code: L172850115087
Alcohol by Volume: 50%

It has a nice, crisp nose full of fruit and spice. Anise and mint combine with hints of stone fruit. Orange peel and cinnamon. Rye seeds, vanilla syrup and potpourri. The palate has mild sweet and heat levels. Cinnamon and freshly split lumber. Jalapeño oil and oranges. Ume and tart limes. Loads of wood. A touch of vinegar and bitterness. It finishes on lumber and limes, ginger, alcohol heat and chili oil.

An improvement! The nose really opened up. And the palate is a little better. The whiskey is likely from a very high rye mashbill, but Sazerac pushed the oak big-time, perhaps to hide any scary parts. Thus this will be one of the rare times where I'll say this whiskey would not be better with a few more years of maturation.

Though it's a different style than Pikesville 6yo or High West's Double, Taylor Rye BIB is of comparable quality. But that's all a matter of temperament, as is how one feels about spending $90-$100 on a $40 whiskey.

Availability - In the US, most specialty retailers. A little harder to find overseas.
Pricing - $70 to (really) $200 (US), $100-$150 (Europe, w/o VAT or shipping)
Rating - 83

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Balblair 1999, 2nd Release (bottled 2016)

As with the 2003 first edition, Balblair's 1999 second edition has had three releases: in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Then consider that the 1999 1st edition was also released during those same years, as well as in 2017. So that means one round of the first edition was released after the second edition but at the same time as the first release of the third edition. Transparent shell, chewy opaque center?

The good news is that all those second editions seem to have been produced from a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. Could it have been one big batch blended in 2014, with a one-third then being bottled and the rest put in steel? Or is the 2016 release two years older than the 2014?

DISCLOSURE: Amy from Ten27 Communications sent me this bottle, along with the 2003 and 2005 that I've already reviewed. (Thank you, Amy!) The 2003 somehow read younger and rawer than the 2005. They were both very decent whiskies, but since the 2005 felt more complete or fully formed, I preferred it over the elder bottling. Those two were entirely from American oak. The 1999 has some Spanish action going on...

Distillery: Balblair
Ownership: Inver House (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Region: Northern Highlands
Maturation: "American oak, ex-bourbon barrels"+ "Spanish oak, sherry butts"
Vintage: 1999
Bottled: 2016
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No

A bit of sharpness to the nose, some brute youth still in there. Nothing grapey or winey about this whisky. It's all mineral, lime, ocean air, barley and Cara cara orange peels. Those limes and oranges show up in the palate, and are met with tart berries. Then malt, molasses, honey and almonds. A little bit of heat too, which carries into the simple but long finish. Just honey, citrus and malt.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv or <1tsp water per 30mL whisky
Lots of barley in the nose. An unoaked mineral white wine with hints of lemons and peaches. A milk chocolate moment. The palate is sweeter, creamier. Darker. Tarter citrus, berry syrup, roasted barley and a sprinkling of soil. The finish has (good, homemade) limoncello with fresh ginger and a little bit of barley.

"Straightforward" is the keyword about this whisky. It's neither subtle or loud, plain or complex. No gimmicks, no oak syrup. Just whisky, man. Consequently it's also difficult to rave over such a thing. But it's impossible to hate. It's a swimmer. And it *gasp* works on the rocks, especially on a muggy night such as this.

Plenty of refill casks are in the mix. Also, I wouldn't be surprised if the batch was in fact made in 2014 because the whisky reads like it's in the early part of its second decade. That's not really a knock, since hints of old Balblair fruity charm are just starting to peek through. 20+ years with this maturation though...

Availability - some specialty retailers in Europe and the US
Pricing - $80-$100 (US), $65-$85 (Europe, w/o VAT or shipping)
Rating - 85

Monday, May 7, 2018

Hazelburn and Longrow twins! Same age, same year, same cask type.

Like me, my friend Matt W. is a Springbank fan. Unlike me, he actually reels in Springbank bottlings from around the planet and then opens 'em up. I think I've received samples of all of them and for that I am very thankful.

He brought a pair of cask strength bottlings to a recent whisky event. Both distilled in 2007. Both nine years of age. Both matured in Sauternes hogsheads. One Hazelburn and one Longrow. This past weekend I decided to set the siblings against each other...

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Hazelburn
Region: Campbeltown
Age: 9 years (December 2007 - September 2017)
Maturation: "First Fill Sauternes" and, judging by the outturn, a hogshead
Alcohol by Volume: 56.9%
Limited Bottling: 252

Of the four single malts produced by Springbank's owners, Hazelburn lands in fourth place, for me. That's not an insult since Hazelburn is still better than two-thirds of all Scotch malt brands. I haven't had a terrible Hazelburn, but I also haven't had a great one. So I'm wishy-washy on them overall, even though the triple-distillation approach should appeal to my palate.

Surprisingly available in the US, today's Hazelburn was three months short of its 10th birthday when bottled, and has a not-unreasonable ABV in its youth.

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Longrow
Region: Campbeltown
Age: 9 years (November 2007 - October 2017)
Maturation: "Fresh Sauternes Hogsheads", probably four or five
Alcohol by Volume: 56.3%
Limited Bottling: 1134

Whereas Hazelburn is Springbank's Lowland-type malt, unpeated and distilled three times, Longrow is the Islay stand-in, heavily peated and distilled twice. Though I am unsold on the entire Longrow Red winey series, I did enjoy the now-old 14yo Burgundy Wood release as well as a Shiraz cask from Open Day 2010. Still, straight up all-bourbon-cask Longrow is one of the best things (ignoring the 10yo 100proof).

Today's Longrow was bottled exclusively for the Springbank Society. It falls only one month short of 10 years and its ABV is very similar to that of the Hazelburn.

There's the setup. Here's the tasting.


Hazelburn - Flower blossoms, oranges, lemons and cardamom. Toasted nuts in caramel. A slight dunnage note. Definitely a mossiness to it. With time, there are larger notes of yeast and cereal grains, as well as vanilla.
Longrow - It's....almost identical at first. Flowers and citrus. Hints of vanilla and caramel. Slightly peatier. More wort and salt. But it gets more expressive with time, picking up more moss and iodine.

Hazelburn - Heat and sweet. Salt. Golden raisins, gobs of honey, lemon juice and apricots. Cardamom and cinnamon. Paper smoke and moss.
Longrow - Sweeter arrival, but with less heat. Similar honey/lemon/apricot note, but milder. It has its own oranges + cayenne pepper + peat moss + earth note. The peat reads much much quieter than its 50ppm malting level.

Hazelburn - Here's the cayenne pepper, along with honey and apricots. It's plenty winey, but the sweetness gets gentler with time. Hints of smoke and tangy limes.
Longrow - Less wine here than in the Hazelburn. Less heat too. It's tangier, peatier, with plenty of honey and pepper.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1.5tsp water per 30mL whisky

Hazelburn - Less wine, more grain, at first. Simple citrus. Toasted oak spice. Then vanilla, sawdust and mint leaves as it trends towards American whiskey.
Longrow - Orange oil and toasty peat. Lemon peel, orange pixy stix and citronella candles.

Hazelburn -
A very easy drink. Better mouthfeel with this dilution, milder sweetness. Hint of bitterness. Limes, lemons and moss.
Longrow - Better mouthfeel on this one too. Calmer sweetness, but perkier pepper. More bitterness and smoke.

Hazelburn -
Smoke, limes and sugar.
Longrow - Sweet citrus, black pepper and peat moss.

This is yet another Hazelburn that reads peated, even though its barley was not. Perhaps it's tough to scrub the phenolic residues out of the stills, thus the Hazelburn runs pick up some elements in that part of the process. The good news is, it helped out here, giving the whisky an extra dimension. The first fill cask and its wine are active throughout. I enjoy the imparted fruit, since it goes well with the 3x-distilled malt. It's a bit too sticky sweet here and here, but time and water fix that. I like the palate better when diluted, but prefer the nose when neat.

The Longrow is less peaty than expected, but I often find Longrow's peat mysterious. This lower peat register brings the two whiskies closer together in style on the nose. Again, time separates them. The earth, pepper and iodine show up, countering the wine casks. The two sides (Longrow vs Wine) cooperate more than clash, most of the time. I might like it better neat, but it dilutes well.

I prefer the Longrow due to the willpower of its grungier spirit. Perhaps it was served well by having multiple casks in the mix. I am not a big fan of Sauternes casks, but since they both had full maturations rather than finishes, the end results were usually light on weird messy sweetness. But drinkers who hate even the mention of wine-cask-matured whiskies should stay away from the Hazelburn.

HAZELBURN 9yo 2007 single Sauternes cask
Availability - America, somewhere
Pricing - $115ish
Rating - 82

LONGROW 9yo 2007 Sauternes casks
Availability - Springbank Society only
Pricing - ???
Rating - 86

Friday, May 4, 2018

Killing Whisky History, Episode 12 - Old Charter 13 year old Proprietor's Reserve

Before Diageo was Diageo, it was United Distillers. And Guinness. And Grand Metropolitan. And The Distillers Company Ltd. And John Bald & Co. More to the point, at one time that big company acted like it cared about those who were enthusiastic about their products. For instance, in 1994 they released the Bourbon Heritage Collection, to which Old Charter 13 year old Proprietor's Reserve belongs. This is my episode about this very bourbon.

And if Dylan can keep Ballad of a Thin Man under six minutes, then I can keep one episode of Killing Whisky History under six minutes. Enjoy!

Now take that time you've saved and spend it with your loved ones. And by "loved ones" we all know I mean "more episodes of Killing Whisky History".

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Fail...er...Adventures in Blending: Improving Kilkerran Cask Strength?

It pains me to write this, but I was disappointed by the first batch of Kilkerran 8yo Cask Strength. I'd waited and waited for them to release something like it. Then they did, and I bought it. And I found it to be just fine, which is (for me) a letdown because I'm very big fan of their whiskies. Also, the key to making it "just fine" was by diluting the whisky down to 46%abv, which is the strength of their regular releases. Yet, even then it wasn't as good as their regular releases.

At the end of my review of that whisky, I said it "could have used a small percentage of the distillery's good sherry casks to lift it up a bit". After additional sips, I realized it was so raw that perhaps it needed some sherried whisky with more age and less alcohol. This called for my new blending friend: Famous Grouse 18 year old blended malt.

While visiting another one of these United States this year, I found the oldest of the vatted Grouse on clearance for $49.99. So I scooped one up and opened it immediately (but not in the parking lot).

I'll review it on its own another time, but I'll say here that it's deeply sherried and very approachable. As it was bottled in 2011, it contains quality ingredients from the early nineties, possibly Macallan and Highland Park, though more likely it's mostly Glenturret.

Its individual parts were chosen for blending purposes so that the end result would be a good blend. And that good blend, in turn, seems to blend well when applied to other whiskies. Would it work with the fiery Campbeltown youngster?

I made two vattings and let them marry for three months. A Vegas marriage, if you will. Here's the resulting Taste Off:

K8CS - Kilkerran 8yo Cask Strength batch 1, full power (56.2%abv)
K46 - Kilkerran 8yo Cask Strength batch 1, diluted to 46%abv
KILL GROUSE, THE YOUNGER - (4:1) 4 parts K8CS to 1 part Famous Grouse 18yo (53.6%abv)
KILL GROUSE, THE ELDER - (2:1) 2 parts K8CS to 1 part Famous Grouse 18yo (51.8%abv)

Nose - Yeasty, bready. Citronella candles and fresh apricots. Simple peat. A hint of raspberries.
Palate - Very hot. Sweet and malty. Unsmoked tobacco, chocolate milk, black peppercorns, yeast and paper.
Finish - Heat, peppercorns, sugar, yeast and paper.
Commentary: I'm sad to report that this bottle has gotten less interesting in the eight months it's been opened. While it's of interest to try something that seems like a barely legal Glengyle, it's not worth more than one try at full strength.

Nose - Cocoa, flowers, a few more fruits. Dough and wet cardboard. It fades fast, becoming just yeast and peat.
Palate - Still hot, though creamier and peatier. Peppery and grainy. Hints of tobacco and flowers. Fades quickly here too.
Finish - Hot sauce and apples. Sense memory: unflavored prescription cough medicine from the '80s.
Commentary: My notes here are different than they were in the November review. The dilution also doesn't work as well as it did before. It's still a minor improvement over the neat version.

Nose - Very fudgy. Some dunnage notes and funkier peat. Mixed berry jam. How about brownies with a raspberry ribbon?
Palate - Starts with honey, oranges and lots of fresh ginger. But then the K8's heat comes blasting in. It turns tangy and peppery. With port-like berries and pretzels?
Finish - A gingery sizzle on the tongue. Tangy and sour citrus. Pepper. Less heat.
Commentary: It's an improvement. It's also sort of a mess on the palate. The nose works though. Fascinating how just a little bit of the 43%abv 18yo malt totally turned the nose around.

Nose - More grapes. Cocoa and baked blueberries. The peat fades into a soil-like note. Chocolate malt, nougat, graphite and a hint of lime.
Palate - Softer heat and more graceful peat. Limes, berries, light florals, milk chocolate. Mothballs. Less ginger. A bit winey at times.
Finish - Big. Ginger, pepper, citrus candy and peat.
Comments: Best mouthfeel and longest finish of the foursome. It's the closest to a complete product, though again the theoretically thinned out older malt still knocks the younger stuff right over in the mix. More of the 18yo would have hidden the Kilkerran entirely. Though that's not the worst thing, it also wouldn't result in a balanced blend.

KILL GROUSE, THE ELDER wins the battle, and that was entirely due to the surprisingly muscular Famous Grouse 18yo malt. But. Kilkerran Work in Progress editions 5 through 7 (all woods) would beat all four of these contestants by some margin. So I'm going to steer clear of the Kilkerran CSes until they pick up some age or a few sherry casks.