...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Inchgower 30 year old 1982 AD Rattray, cask 6964

I've decided to start mining the sample stash for the oldies more frequently. And by "oldies" I mean long-aged whiskies and/or samples I've had for a long time. Since I turn 91 years old on Saturday, I'm going try some nice roundly numbered single malts this week, all from Speyside.

Today's sample is an Inchgower — I like Inchgower — bottled by A. Dewar Rattray — I like A. Dewar Rattray — and was distilled in 1982. I love 1982. Two of my favorite humans were produced in 1982. This Inchgower is 30 years old, yet is still humming in at 56.3%abv. Perhaps this was a stubborn cask, or it sat in a warm corner of the warehouse. Or both. Or neither. I don't know, I'm just here for the whisky.


Distillery: Inchgower
Independent Bottler: A. Dewar Rattray
Region: Speyside (Banffshire)
Age: 30 years (30 June 1982 - 29 October 2012)
Maturation: bourbon hogshead
Cask number: 6964
Outturn: 208 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 56.3%
(from a purchased sample)

NEAT
The nose begins with fudge and raspberry candy. Small notes of mothballs, chlorine and moldy dunnage. Some peaches and apricots in the background. It gets more chocolatey with time. No alcohol prickle or burn. The palate is......unusual. Bitter fruit rinds, red pepper flakes, yellow mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Very tart, very tannic, very sweet. The finish is bitter, tannic and moldy with cocoa and burnt plastic. The heat lasts the longest.

I can't say that was pleasant. A little bit of water...

DILUTED TO ~48%abv, or 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Lots of sugary candy shop notes in the nose. Some honeydew. There are also hints of plastic, metal and dunnage mold. While the palate has gotten more savory and gained a tangy lime, there's also plenty of burnt hair, burnt plastic and burnt peppers. There's a worrisome poisonous edge to it. The finish has gotten sweeter, but the bitter, tannic and peppery notes remain. Burnt plastic, burnt cocoa.

That did not help matters. More water.

DILUTED TO ~43%abc, or 1¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Gone are the nose's funky elements. Now there are roasted nuts, orange oil, caramel sauce and anise. The palate is less harsh, but it's still very tannic, moldy and plasticky. Peppercorns and sugar. The finish is bitter and tannic.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
I like Inchgower a lot, and I'm aware that its single malt gets a bit divisive and weird with extended maturations. That's part of why I like it. And this whisky's low online scores actually inspired me to buy this sample.

But there are problems with this particular whisky, and it's a cask issue, not an Inchgower issue. The tannic assault is likely due to the whisky being left in the hoggie for too long, but the other palate problems may have been present years or decades earlier. I'm not sure if this could have been salvageable.

These are the bottler's official tasting notes, to wit:

Palate - Burnt Cajun spices and ginger.
Finish - An exceptionally different aged malt - curious.

Firstly, it's never a great sign when the official notes say "different", and even less great when they say "exceptionally different", and even more exceptionally less great when they say "curious". Secondly, the palate notes. "Burnt"? Certainly, but that's not always something to brag about. And, have they actually eaten Cajun food? Or, to be more American about it, do you even Cajun, bro?

The whisky's nose is very good, which makes grading this thing even goofier than usual. The real concern here is that five out of the last six Rattray products I've tried have been disappointing or worse. And I have another Rattray sample in the queue that is also not great. It's time for me to give up on this bottler.

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 74 (a generous grade which drops 3-5 when the whisky is diluted)

Friday, August 16, 2019

Ardmore 20 year old 1992 Archives, cask 4764

When a whisky unearths emotions it's due to two things: 1.) It reminds the drinker of another time and another place. 2.) Alcohol is a depressant.

Sorry to spoil the romance.

I caught a wee case of the feels when I poured this sample into my glass. This was a bottle I should have gotten, but didn't. It was seven years ago, to the month. I'd just fallen in deep smit over early '90s Ardmores when I put in a Whiskybase Shop order for a bottle of a beloved Whisky Doris '92. CJ (aka Ras Mazunga of The Shop) recommended their Archives Ardmore bottling of the same vintage. I turned it down, as I wasn't in the habit of buying multiple hundred-dollar whiskies at the same time. (I was so much older then.) Three months later I thought, yeah I'll get one of those. But they were gone, forever.

Life was very different seven years ago. With most of my non-cerebellum and non-skeletal cells having been replaced during that time, I'm pretty sure I'm a different person. Nothing seems to be the same. I don't know if I believe Heraclitus's shtick about being unable to step into the same river twice, or, per Mahayana Buddhism, if there even is a river.

Mathilda started kindergarten today. We'll see who sheds tears about this first, the five year old or the father. I'm opening up a bottle I reserved for the occasion. No, not an Ardmore '92. And, no, I won't finish it on the spot. One drink will do. Maybe two. Then I'll review it in a couple months. In the meantime, here's a sample of the Archives bottling of Ardmore 1992:


Distillery: Ardmore
Region: Highlands (Eastern)
Independent bottler: Archives
Age: 20 years (June 1992 to June 2012)
Maturation: "barrel"
Cask number4765
Outturn: 90(!) bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 48.6%
(Thank you, MAO.)

The nose is lovely and delicate. Lychee, dried apricots, Kasugai peach gummies, lime zest, dried roses, strawberries in cream. Notes of sake aged in cedar. A soft smoke that moves from wood to coal with time. The palate begins with lemon bars and a minerally white wine. Light smoke, a drop of herbal liqueur and a ribbon of salted butterscotch pudding. Then it slips into a different gear, full of extra virgin olive oil and tart guava juice. Though gentle in delivery, the finish lasts remarkably long. Limes, lemons and lychee on one level; stones, dunnage and a hint of bitter herbs on another.

I've used words like "delicate", "gentle" and "soft" here, and indeed this is the gentlest cask strength Ardmore (early '90s or not) I have come across. But none of it is fleeting. The nose and finish, specifically, seem everlasting. I could say they don't make whisky like this anymore, but I don't know who "they" are or what "this" is or if that statement is 100% true. But the whisky from this cask is gorgeous and alarmingly easy to drink. Hail, Ardmore.

Availability - gone
Pricing - ???
Rating - 90

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Kilchoman 5 year old 2007 cask 3010/2007 for Fountainhead

On Monday it was a 5 year old Kilchoman distilled in 2007 and matured in a bourbon cask. Today it's a 5 year old Kilchoman distilled in 2007 and matured in a sherry butt.  These two whiskies were bottled 6+ years ago and I have nothing Kilchoman-related scheduled for the rest of 2019. BUT, I intend to do two sets of comparative/retrospective reviews of Kilchoman single malts in 2020. And I'm kinda excited about those.

But for now, let's focus on Back Then. Single sherry casks of Kilchoman were a hot commodity several years back, mostly because sopping wet casks were being used by the young distillery, delivering righteous sherry+peat bombs at 4-6 years of age. I confirm that some of these were pretty super, but the prices — though short of Kavalan's nonsense — were prohibitive. I would like to thank Vik for the sample of this feisty thing!


DistilleryKilchoman
Region: Islay
Age: 5 years (14 November 2007 - 24 May 2013)
Maturation: sherry butt
Cask: 3010/2007
Exclusive to: Fountainhead (Chicago, IL)
Alcohol by Volume: 57.4%
Colored? No
Chillfiltered? No

NEAT
Pears, molasses, plums and mint leaves on the nose. Blue-scented Mr. Sketch marker smoke. A massive chalk note slowly transforms into a farmy note after some time in the glass. The palate begins with earth, almonds and blueberry jam. Cracked black pepper and red pepper flakes. Hefty smoke, mint candy and a brisk herbal bitterness. Some of this complexity disappears within 30 minutes. Again, heavy smoke in the finish. Black pepper, bitter herbs and moderate jammy sweetness.

DILUTION TO ~46%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
PEAT, coal and burning twigs on the nose. Then cherry popsicles and a new dollar bill. Less cask action in the palate, more straight up peated malt. There's a good balance of smoke, bitterness, sweetness and minerals. A gentle creamy nuttiness is probably from the cask, though. Dry peat smoke, smoked nuts and sweet lemons in the finish.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Plenty of violence again, but it's less of a rawness, less of an alcohol punch, more of a flavor blast. It's richer and more complex when neat, but it achieves a better balance with water. The low level of sticky sherry is a big plus in my book, so the cask promoted more positives than negatives, making this a better drink than the 5yo bourbon cask. If you still have a bottle of this on your shelf, it should probably be opened the next time the winter vortex hits Chicago.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 86

Monday, August 12, 2019

Kilchoman 5 year old 2007 cask 360/2007

I'm reviewing a pair of 5 year old single cask Kilchomans this week because my older daughter is 5 years (and 3 months) old and there isn't another 5 year old whisk(e)y I have any interest in drinking for fun right now. The first Kilchoman is from a bourbon cask, the second from a sherry cask. They both were released exclusively in the USA.

Today's sample was given to me by Saint Brett of Riverside (thank you, Brett!) right around the time I hit Kilchoman fatigue at the end of 2015. Yes, that means I haven't reviewed a Kilchoman in more than 3½ years. Which means I don't really know what's going on with them. I can confirm they keep Machir Bay, Loch Gorm and the 100% Islays on the shelves each year, but beyond that I dunno. And to continue my usual relevancy, today's and tomorrow's reviews are for casks released 6+ years ago. More about this on Wednesday. I want to get to the review part.


DistilleryKilchoman
Region: Islay
Age: 5 years (18 October 2007 - 7 November 2012)
Maturation: bourbon cask
Cask: 360/2007
Alcohol by Volume: 59.9%
Colored? No
Chillfiltered? No

NEAT
Violence on the nose, but, you know, classy violence. It's very green and very herbal and has a good dose of chili oil running through it. Then burnt sugars, burnt cocoa, cinnamon sticks, mint extract and fresh apple cider. After 30+ minutes, it releases sugar cookie and wet earth notes. Billowing black smoke and chili oil in the palate, followed by mint and anise candies. A sharp bitter herb note. A bit tangy. There's also a salty/brothy note in the background. The finish is similar to the palate. Lots of smoke and pepper. Bitterness, tanginess and a spoonful of soil.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose calms down. Smoked cinnamon sticks, eucalyptus, chlorine, anise and a moderate farmy note are what remains. Big clean smoke in the palate, along with a simple sweetness and a hint of bitterness. There's also a creamy citrus pudding effect that lifts it up. The smoky sweet finish has a nice tangerine note that lingers for a while.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Before this tasting, I was curious to see if my opinion of young (read: less than 6 year old) Kilchoman had changed. Though I'd toned down my fandom by late 2015, I still respected their bourbon cask stuff. And, based one ounce of this single cask alone, my take remains the same. As of 2012/2013 the distillery was at least one step ahead of everyone else when it came to < 6yo single malt, yet it would be foolish to say that the whisky is as good as it can get.

This cask is limited in its violence and simplicity at full strength. Dilution helps by bringing out the farm and citrus notes. It could take on modern Ardbeg twice its age, but if this stuff had more fruit, less sugar and less brutality then it would a hell of thing. It would probably be fun to try a single cask with more age, but with the 8-10 year olds running $150 and up, I doubt I ever will.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 84

Friday, August 9, 2019

A man walks into a whisky store...

...and leaves empty-handed.

My declaration that 2018 was the year of sickness was shortsighted as 2019 quickly became the sequel. It's my strange physical system's turn to malfunction. While I have not been impressed by the results coming from either Western medicine nor some of its alternatives, I'll keep plugging away at both until something works. Meanwhile, because we Kravitzes cannot suffer in silence — Dear God Why A Papercut!, etc. — I'm writing this post.

Despite the FACT that this body will run for another 314.159 years, thoughts unleashed themselves the night after I saw the sixth doctor in four months. I thought about the three ladies who share their home and lives with me. Then I thought about the choices I've made, on both ends of the quality spectrum. Approximately 700 melodramatic moments later, I thought about whisky. Three things, specifically.

First, there's a possibility that alcohol consumption is (*gasp*) not the best thing for my wellbeing and at some point a medical professional will tell me that. Secondly, my alcohol tolerance has vanished. Just call me Mad Two-Drink Max. Thirdly, I'm never going to drink all my whisky if I continue buying whisky.

Thoughts → action. Observing that I possess a quantity of samples that I will never ever consume, I decided it was time to give the sink a drink. Rather, drinks. A shivery thrill ran up my back as I dumped 21 samples down the drain. I have another dozen in mind for this weekend.

Then there was my inability to buy my annual August happy-birthday-to-me whisky present. I had intended to make that my last whisky purchase of the year. But now I feel little motivation to put a single bottle in my cart. I mean, I will do it, likely motivated by a bad work day, a synchronized double-daughter tantrum, and a second drink. But when sober and quiet, I don't see the need to buy anything.

BUT there will be more actual bottle reviews on D4P in the near future because I will be liberating some of my stash. There's a fundraiser this month, then Mathilda goes to kindergarten, then there will be something interesting (to me, at least) scheduled for the site in September, and then autumn follows summer. Then winter. Then spring. Then summer and another TL;DR personal post on Diving for Pearls.

Please enjoy what you have. It's better than anything you think you're missing.

On that note, reviews resume on Monday!

Thank you to Malt Klaus and Malt Fascination for their inspiring posts.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Springbank 17 year old 1995 Refill Sherry Butt

Today's Springbank is beloved by the whiskybase community. But there are no actual reviews written for it, nor do any of the scorers' names look familiar. Some of these folks could be using the Whisky Advocate approach of 90 points = good. I mean most, if not all, paid reviewers dish out hundreds of 90 point grades each year, one even gave Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye a 97.5 (let us never forget). Conversely, many individuals online believe that the entirety of the 100 point range must used in balance, thus an average whisky should receive a score of 50.

Though I'm not part of either school, I relate more to the latter than the former. If I score something below a 50, that means I'd rather sip Cuervo Gold or plastic bottle vodka. Thankfully, I have come across few whiskies that sink to those depths. It takes a hell of a lot for me to cough up a 90-point score and there are months when nothing gets that grade.

But no matter the drinker, circumstances affect one's perception, and ultimately one's grade, of a whisky. This includes one's drinking environment. Company, or lack thereof. First drink of the night or the seventh? Enthusiasm for a bottle purchase, or tougher expectations for a bottle purchase. The softness of the chair. Shoes. Astrological moon sign. Or, you know, one's individual palate.

My sample of this whisky comes from a bottle that was brought, half-full, to Columbus Scotch Night for 3 or 4 months before it was emptied. And that is a Springbank lovin' crowd too, mind you. It fascinated me that there was a 17 year old single sherry cask bottling of Springbank just sitting there and no one talked about it.


Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Region: Campbeltown
Age: 17 years (June 1995 - December 2012)
Maturation: refill sherry butt
Outturn: 438 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 57%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No

NEAT
Lots of dried fruit in this nose, think cherries, prunes and golden raisins. There's also coal smoke, marzipan, amaretto and cinnamon raisin bread. The palate has almost none of the nose's fruit. Instead there's some aged dry cheese and black walnuts. Salt, metal and burnt plastic with a slight savory note. Salt, dry cheese and sooty smoke in the finish. Drying tannins on the tongue.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or < 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
More fresh stone fruits than dried ones in the nose. It's bright and sugar with a squeeze of lemon and an oceany hint. The palate is sweeter now and slightly more complex. There's less salt and savory, but still some of the metal and plastic. The tangy, salty, metallic finish is much shorter now.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Well, the nose is great, with or without water. If Springbank was made only for sniffin' then this would be a big winner. The palate is sort of savory, sort of simple, but also loaded with metal and plastic, and not in a classic industrial Campbeltown sort of way. There's something off about it. The finish doesn't work for me, neat or diluted (the whisky, not me), dropping into bland territory (again, the whisky, not me). Either oxygen got to this bottle's contents, or this wasn't one of Springbank's honey casks. But the nose is very fine and worth spending time with, perhaps while sipping a different whisky. So much for theories about grades. I don't know what to do with this one.

Availability - Sold out years ago
Pricing - ???
Rating - 81 ? (saved by the nose)

Monday, August 5, 2019

Longrow 14 year old 2001 for Springbank Society

Last week was NOT one of my favorite review weeks. This week I'm going to try a pair of single sherry casks from Springbank distillery that should be less unusual.

The first one is a Longrow that was bottled for members of the Springbank Society. I'm not a member of that glamorous club but Sjoerd is. Wish me luck here...


Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Longrow
Region: Campbeltown
Age: 14 years (October 2001 - October 2016)
Maturation: fresh sherry butt
Outturn: 600 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 53.2%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(from a purchased sample)

NEAT
Clean, dry sherry on the nose, especially clean compared to last week's quirky Qampbeltowns. There's a salty ocean air note, soot, coal and a little bit of fig. Small notes of apricots, brown sugar and pinot noir. The palate is fruitier than the nose. Dried stone fruits meet tart citrus. Moderate sweets and moderate peats. A slight salty broth note in the background. Tangy citrus, dried cranberries and fresh ginger in the finish. Hints of salt, earth and grape jam.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
More dried fruits on the nose now. The smoke reads softer. Beach and blossom notes. Something very Springbank 10 about it (yes, I know that's not helpful). At first there's lots of tart fruit in the palate. Mild peppery smoke. Some bitterness. Gradually it shifts to a fruity sherry and the smoke fades out. Sugary sherry, black pepper and smoky residue in the tangy finish.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
This was a very good cask that was bottled at just right time. It's never woody, yet there's plenty of rich sherry that never chokes out the distillery's spirit. It was the very thing I needed.

This is another one of many bottlings that blur the line between the Springbank and Longrow styles. I've had Springbanks that feel like they come from south Islay. And there have been Longrows lots of fruit and subtle peat. This happens with single casks and small batches with some age on them. Otherwise, there's a significant distance between Springbank 10 and Longrow Peated. Perhaps time and fortified wine casks are the equalizers? Whatever this is I don't remember experiencing it 5+ years ago. It's not a criticism, just an observation.

Also this is a good whisky.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 88

Friday, August 2, 2019

Springbank Gone Wild: Springbank 25 year old bottled for IAAS


Earlier this year the Facebook group (yes), It's All About Springbank, got themselves their own single cask of Campbeltown Candy. The spirit spent 16 years in a bourbon cask, then another NINE years in a Chateau Petrus cask. Whiskybroker.uk did the in-between stuff. And I don't remember the exact bottle price but it was reasonable, probably less than half of what it's going for on the secondary market.

As you can see from this pic lifted from whiskybase, the whisky's color is precisely the level of maroon that terrifies many a whisky blogger.


Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Owner: Springbank Distillers Ltd.
Region: Campbeltown, on Well Close, just off of Longrow
Bottler: Whiskybroker.uk
Age: minimum 25 years
Maturation: 16yrs in a bourbon cask, 9yrs in a Chateau Petrus cask
Alcohol by Volume: 47.5%abv
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant Added? No
(thank you Doctor Springbank for the sample!)

NEAT
It smells of Carpano Antica, tawny port and grape jam. There are also notes of French's yellow mustard, ginger, metal, lemon, soil and a hint of sulfur. It actually tastes like a mix of sweet white wine and Madeira. There's also a plasticky side to it, and some black walnuts. It finishes very sweet and tangy. Dry cheese and that sulfuric bit.

DILUTED TO ~43%abv, or ⅔ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Fewer sticky sugars in the nose, and lower doses of Carpano Antica and cherry lollipops. More mustard, minerals and metal. The ghost of sulfur haunts it throughout. The palate is outrageously sweet and bitter and tannic, with a big dose of black walnuts. The finish is tannic and cloying.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
3 for 3 this week: Where's the Springbank? I mean, this is a 25 year old Springer, something we don't get to experience much anymore. It would be great to glimpse the spirit at that age. One can appreciate the fact that this wasn't a quickie finish, but the resulting volumes of wine and oak have buried (berried!) the whisky part.

The black walnut notes are my favorite part, and the nose is a whole lotta fun, but it's too sweet for my palate and the finish gets hairy. The good news is it's far from a whisky fail like Wednesday's thingy. On the other hand it could be nearly any spirit beneath the cask's influence.

Availability - secondary market, if at all
Pricing - ???
Rating - 78

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Springbank Gone Wild: Springbank 15 year old 2002 Cadenhead

You want some sulfur-ass whisky? Here's some sulfur-ass whisky.


Columbus Scotch Night's hopes were sky high when Nathan returned from Scotland with this bottle of sherry cask Springbank. Then we opened it. Then we drank it. Then we regretted everything. We've joked about it becoming a hazing whisky for noobs, as in "If it's your first night, you have to fight". Now I shall expose it to the world.

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Owner: Springbank Distillers Ltd.
Region: Campbeltown, on Well Close, just off of Longrow
Bottler: Cadenhead
Age: 15 years (December 6, 2002 - 2018)
Maturation: first fill sherry butt
Alcohol by Volume: 57.9%abv
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant Added? No
(Thank you for the sample, Columbus Scotch Night?)

NEAT
Nose - Rubber balls, rubber bands and a big sulfuric fart. Also lemons, brine and raspberry candy.
Palate - Bitter as hell. Rotten eggs and rubber. Some Pedro Ximenez-type sweetness.
Finish - Tannins, bitter woodiness, rotten eggs, Brussels sprouts and a cloying sugariness.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Nose - Ammonia, eggs, cheap perfume and strawberry popsicles.
Palate - Very sweet. Cheesy, peppery and bitter. Pharty sulphur.
Finish - Bitter oak and sulfur.

The whisky didn't deserve paragraphs.


WORDS WORDS WORDS
Drinking this foul, embarrassing, deeply broken whisky, I pondered the fate of the rest of the cask. One can only hope they dumped it and called it a loss. But does any company do that now? It would be difficult to blend out this level of horror.

It also makes one wonder how any distillery (let alone one with consistently high-quality products) allows a whisky to get this awful? This isn't just the-worst-kind-of-sulfur issue. The tannins and bitterness from the oak are also vile. Putting any portion of this cask out for sale has to have been an act of a disgruntled employee? Otherwise, why?

Availability - hopefully nil
Pricing - too much
Rating - 44

Monday, July 29, 2019

Springbank Gone Wild: Longrow 14 year old 2003 and some sulfur talk

It's a week of Saucy Springbanks. So if you worship every whisky the fabled Campbeltown distiller drops then avert your eyes. Or tune in, actually. Never fear, this will be the only long post of the week.

I first tried this sherry cask batch of Longrow when my friend, Matt, brought it to my birthday fête last year. I enjoyed it immensely. It took a few months, but I was able to hunt down a bottle. Then I made the mistake of reading internet comments about the whisky.


People complained about its unbearable sulfur levels. Then I saw lots of complaints about bounteous other sulfurous Springbanks. Much of the vitriolic vehemence became unintentionally funny. So once again, bye bye Internet.


I'm quite sulfur-sensitive, but I don't mind a little bit of sulfur in a whisky as long as it provides another facet of complexity, rather than standing out stupidly. Also, I recognize there are different shades of sulfur characteristics — a specific pepperiness, beefiness, struck matches, cap guns, rotten eggs — with some notes less pleasant than others, some notes coming from the spirit and some notes from casks. To me, this Longrow had just a teeny bit of cap gun which brought extra depth to the nose.

Matt and I began to wonder if "sulfur" was becoming the "rancio" of Scotch, with people shouting "Sulfur!" without actually knowing what sulfur smells or tastes like (thank you, Jim Murray). It made them sound Smart and Properly Snooty, while all they were really smelling were the results of sherry meeting peat.

So I was feeling all Smart and Properly Snooty myself until MAO reviewed this whisky and said, essentially, "Ew. Too much sulfur." That threw me for a loop. I respect MAO's actual experience with sulfurous smells and flavors. And our palates agree in 4 out of 5 instances, which is why you read his blog instead of mine to save time.

But the man forced my hand! And now I have to review the whisky, with the guarantee that I'm going to piss someone off. Good luck to me.


Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Longrow
Region: Campbeltown
Age: 14 years (September 2003 - July 2018)
Maturation: refill oloroso sherry
Outturn: 9,000 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 57.8%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(Thanks to Matt W for the sample!)

NEAT
There's dark chocolate, cherry syrup and raspberry jam in the nose. There's also a bit of leather, mesquite BBQ beef and young Ledaig-ish tennis ball peat. The palate is almost all sherry cask. Volley after volley of dried stone fruits and dried berries. Jelly rings. Fresh ginger and lemon juice. A moderate layer of sulfur sits in the background. Not much peat. Ah but there's a little more sulfur in the finish, but it's also very sweet and tangy. Lots of those jelly rings. I'm having a difficult time finding the Longrow in here.

With a tiny bit of water...

DILUTED TO ~50%abv, or < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Oh wow, the nose almost all cap gun. Small notes of dark chocolate, orange oil, cherry syrup and tennis ball peat. The palate has been toned down, but it's still very sweet with lots of sugary sherry. More pepper too. Some furry sulfur. The finish is getting ugly. Sulfur, pepper, sugar, berries, dry cheese and woody bitterness.

More water?

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Dark chocolate, prunes, dried cherries and mild peat in the nose. But almost no sulfur. The palate is much more approachable. Less sulfur, less sugar. More limes, minerals and peat. "Cleaner" sherry. Tangy limes, salt, dry sherry and a hint of peat in the finish.

WORDS WORDS WORDS WORDS
I see how this can be a problematic whisky and I'll try to summarize it here.

Sulfur - Yes, sulfur is present. To my senses, it's a low to moderate level when the whisky is neat. But those levels became alarming when the whisky is reduced to 50%abv. Diluting the whisky further seems to clear up the issue almost completely.

Longrow? - The "refill" sherry casks are so aggressive that (to repeat the tasting note above) it's difficult to find the actual Longrow part of the whisky when the drink is neat. It could be one of dozens of other single malts, which isn't a tragedy unless one buys a bottle hoping to drink some Longrow. Diluting it down to 46%abv greatly improves matters again as the spirit character peeks out from behind the crimson curtain.

So are the cries of "Sulfur!" nuts? No. Are they naive? Probably not. Though one cannot discount confirmation bias and the unconscious influence of other people's notes. Heck, I might have found more sulfur this time because I was looking for sulfur.

Is this the worst Longrow I've had? Nope. Was the retired regular 14yo Longrow better? Yep. Was the 14yo Burgundy cask Longrow better? Yes (please don't throw things). Do I regret buying a bottle? No(t yet). Am I going to stop these questions? Yes.

The transformation this whisky undergoes during dilution fascinates me. Once I open my bottle, I will explore it further. If anything interesting arises, I will report back.

Availability - A few dozen retailers in Europe and US
Pricing - Europe: $85-$115 (ex-VAT); US: $120-$160
Rating - 83 (with plenty of water, only)

Friday, July 26, 2019

Luxury Product Report: Amrut Greedy Angels 10 year old (2019)


Yes, at north of $800, this is the sort of whisky that gets its own casket and Certificate of Death, er, a note from Master Distiller, Surrinder Kumar, thanking me for buying a bottle.

What? Me buy a bottle? No, Surrinder!

*air drums*

I bought one ounce.

Local whisky friends offered up a bottle split, so I decided to be extra helpful and buy the smallest possible portion.

The story behind the Greedy Angels series is all about Bangalore's summers which do a number on Amrut's casks, with the "Angels" withdrawing generous amounts of contents through the cask staves. The key for Mr. Kumar is to get the whisky bottled before it's hot oak syrup, something we have plenty of here in The States.

This edition of Gready Engels was distilled from peated Scottish barley, then aged first in a Pedro Ximenez butt for seven years. What remained at that point was split between an ex-bourbon cask and "a 100 litre refill virgin oak barrel" (a series of words for which I have many questions) where it spent another three years. I have a feeling that the results were diluted to 60%abv, since a previous 10yo Gritty Angeles was 71%abv. This may make it a more approachable drink while also increasing the outturn. I can't guarantee that, but 60%abv is a very round number.

What we have in this edition is peat, sugary sherry and American oak, likely squared or cubed. Amrut Spectrum 004 was quite a ride, so I'm all buckled in for this thingamajig.

Distillery: Amrut
Region: Bangalore, India
Age: minimum 10 years
Maturation: see notes above
Outturn: 324 bottles, 1/3 of which are for the US
Alcohol by Volume: 60%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(from a bottle split)

NOTES
So many things going on in the nose. There's barbecued pork with a sugary sauce. Brown's cream soda. Dark chocolate with smoked sea salt. Old Armagnac. Cedar chips. Dried cherry marsala sauce. And a whiff of incense smoke. After some time in the glass, there's more orange oil. Cigarette smoke in a Tokyo whisky bar.

Charred citrus peels and charred peppers arrive first on the palate, then sweet berries and mint. LOTS of cardamom. Hints of grape jam and ginger snaps. A lovely tartness throughout. There's remarkably no generic oak or vanilla present.

The long finish balances tartness and sweetness. Cardamom, chile oil and a gentle dusty smoke.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
The gorgeous nose is utterly transportive, and I can't ask for anything more from a whisky. I don't know if it's Nose of the Year because I can't remember what else I've drunk thus far. Hell, I don't remember where I put my keys just now. Anyway, this Greedy thing was a thrill to sniff for an hour. There was nearly no chance the palate could meet the sniffer, so I wasn't disappointed when it was merely very good. I'm happy to enjoy a B-grade palate with an A-grade nose. The absence of aggressive American oak on the palate was very impressive. Were this Amrut one-fourth its price......

Availability - There may be a few dozen retailers in the world with a bottle
Pricing - $800-$1000
Rating - 90

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Speyburn 15 year old

For nearly a decade and a half, the entire Speyburn range was made up of a 10 year old, a 25 year old and (occasionally) the NAS Bradan Orach thing. Then in 2017, the distillery added another NAS (Arranta) and a 15 year old. In 2018 they went cuckoo bananas and added an 18. And now there are single casks? So many Speyburns! How am I to keep up?

Well, here's a review of the 15 year old. And perhaps in 2022 I'll review the 18yo, just to be so timely. Per the official website the 15yo is made up of whiskies aged in American oak and Spanish oak casks. As of 2017, the outturn was to be 3500 cases/year. It's also the rare whisky that is often cheaper in the US than in Europe.

To ease your mind, this one wasn't a freebie. But I did try it with the two waters that worked best with the 10 year old. Don't worry I won't be doing these double dilutions in every review going forward. Probably.


Distillery: Speyburn
Ownership: Inver House (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Age: at least 15 years old
Maturation: American oak casks and Spanish oak casks
Outturn: 3500 cases per year
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from a purchased sample)

Oh great. I wrote my tasting notes in salmon-colored pen as a Speyburn joke, but now I can barely read them. Hilarious!

NEAT
The sherry casks (or at least 'Spanish oak' casks) are nice and subtle in the nose, more nutty than dried fruity. There's some lemon, brine and aged dry cheese. Then toasted oak spices, pineapple and strawberry bubblegum. There's an ol' musty dunnage note in the front of the palate that then gives way to orange creamsicles and chiles. Though it gets sweeter with time, there's a good tartness to balance it out. Toffee pudding, then lime and guava juices. A sharp metallic note sits in the background. The long, warm finish has toasted nuts and grains. A hint of sherry cask dried fruit. Guava juice and marshmallows.

Time for the two waters.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv with Uisge Source Speyside water
The nose reads a little woodier, but not too much. Saltier, a hint of wood smoke. Limes, strawberry bubblegum and marshmallows. The palate has minerals, smoky pepper, bright ginger ale and lemons. And they play pretty well together. A little bit of toffee in the background. The finish goes heavier on the minerals and lighter on the sweets.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv with Columbus Municipal tap water
Tropical fruits and berries on the nose, then brown sugar, ginger beer, oak spices and copper. The palate has a good balance of sweet, salt and savory. Think toffee pudding, sea salt, mustard seed and mushroom. Hints of limes and fruity sherry casks. It finishes more on the savory side. Hints of oak spice, limes and bitterness.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
This is a full step or step-and-a-half above the current 10 year old. The 46abv/NC/NCF presentation definitely helps. And while there is an oak spice element throughout, it reads toasty, and there's much less vanilla here than in the 10. The fruit element is my favorite (as ever), but I appreciate the balance the palate maintains, with or without water, never letting things get too sweet.

It's easily consumable, though an occasional quirky note pops up to remind one that this isn't just another simple Speyside to sip and dismiss. I may get a bottle of this to see if it'll crack my favorite 25 malts under $80.

Availability - Several dozen retailers in the US and Europe
Pricing - $50-$70 in the USA, $55-$80 in Europe (w/o shipping)
Rating - 85

Monday, July 22, 2019

Water Sports with Speyburn 10 year old!

Will this post title draw more clicks? Will it make me lose my connect? Or will the entire internet start sawing logs at the very mention of Speyburn 10 year old? Who knows, but I'm pretty sure this going to be TL;DR post!

I've always liked Speyburn 10 — thank you, Florin, for the introduction all those years back — as it had actual character while it somehow underpriced the big Glens. It's only occasionally on the shelves here in Ohio, and when it's available it's 50-60% more expensive than it was in California. In late April, Amy from Ten Communications offered up the Speyburn 10 Year Old Source Water Gift Pack as an idea for Father's Day. The pack includes a seven-fitty of Speyburn 10yo and a 100mL of water sourced by Uisge Source from Speyside. (Thank you, Amy!)

I'm not averse to diluting whisky, and I do so in nearly all of my reviews. But I'm also not of the opinion that water helps to open up every whisky; in fact I'm on a recent streak wherein dilution keeps screwing up almost every whisky I try. My take — and you may need to sit down for this one — is that sometimes dilution helps, and sometimes it doesn't.

The Speyburn Source Water Gift Pack not only lets me try an old go-to, but it also gives me a chance to experiment with waters. I usually use filtered water (sourced from my fridge!), though sometimes I go totes crazy and use spring water. Despite the fact that I try to be mindful and science-ish about my approach I'm not sure how or if the two waters would influence the same whisky differently.

First, I needed to find the dilution point. The whisky vanished at 30%abv, but there was something still going on at 35%abv. So 35%abv it is.

Second, the waters!
  • Neat, aka No Water
  • Uisge Source Speyside water
  • Spring water from Michigan (don't tell anyone in Ohio I did this)
  • Filtered water from Columbus, Ohio
  • Columbus, Ohio, municipal water straight from the tap
Thirdly, a soundtrack. Some Dex is called for. No, not Dexy's Midnight Runners. I mean, Dexter Gordon's Go!.


Okay, I'm set.

Onto the event.


NOSES

Neat, 40%abv - Barley-heavy along with apples, green grapes and mint candy. Still has a raw bite to it and hints of taffy and vanilla bean. Picks up a cream soda note after 45 minutes.

Uisge Source Speyside Water, 35%abv - The raw edge has departed. Now there are mint leaves, flower blossoms and almond butter on bananas. Small notes of sugar cookies and something salty/savory.

Michigan Spring Water, 35%abv - Flat-ish. Barley-ish. Takes a while for anything to show up. Nuts and ground cumin. Hints of vanilla, lemon zest, cinnamon and black raisins.

Ohio Filtered Water, 35%abv - Also very quiet, though some of the raw spirit note remains. More lemons than limes. Hints of nuts, soil and blossoms.

Columbus Municipal Unfiltered Sink Water, 35%abv - Much more vibrant than the filtered water. Lots of lime zest. Roses, nuts and toffee. Orange oil and toasted oak. Still potent after 45 minutes.

Noses ranked from best to worst:
1. Columbus Municipal Unfiltered Sink Water
2. Neat
3. Uisge Source Speyside Water
4. Michigan Spring Water
5. Ohio Filtered Water

Yes, you read that correctly. Of all the gastnesses, I am feeling the most flabbered.



PALATES

Neat, 40%abv - Creamy and lightly sweet. Very malty. Small notes of tart lemons, hay and melon rind.

Uisge Source Speyside Water, 35%abv - Pleasant but quiet. There's something distinctly Japanese (culinary, not whisky) going on here, like a fermented/umami thing. Toasted oak, toasted grains. Hints of habanero and ginger.

Michigan Spring Water, 35%abv - She's Not There. It's lightly bitter, lightly salty, lightly malty, and that's it.

Ohio Filtered Water, 35%abv - Some of those umami and ginger notes show up here too. It's malty with a little bit of vanilla creaminess. Some salt and flower blossoms.

Columbus Municipal Unfiltered Sink Water, 35%abv - Rich and sweet. Almost Thai in its combo of savoriness + lime + chiles + brown sugar. Whiffs of earth and toasted nuts.

Palates ranked from best to worst:
1. Columbus Municipal Unfiltered Sink Water
2. Uisge Source Speyside Water
3. Neat
4. Ohio Filtered Water
5. Michigan Spring Water

Again, what?



FINISHES

Neat, 40%abv - Creamy and mildly sweet. Little bits of tartness, pepper and malt.

Uisge Source Speyside Water, 35%abv Just the right amount of sweetness. Not much else though. Hints of ginger, grains and vanilla bean.

Michigan Spring Water, 35%abv - Finish? It barely started. Sweet and bitter, maybe.

Ohio Filtered Water, 35%abv - Umami, pepper and blossoms. Moments of sweet and heat.

Columbus Municipal Unfiltered Sink Water, 35%abv - Longest lasting of the finishes. Limes, brown sugar and red pepper flakes.

Palates ranked from best to worst:
1. Columbus Municipal Unfiltered Sink Water
3. Neat
2. Uisge Source Speyside Water
4. Ohio Filtered Water
5. Michigan Spring Water



WORDS WORDS WORDS

Rarely has a tasting surprised me like this one. Firstly, there was a significant difference in the dilution results. Though they were all related, they read like five different whiskies. One could get carried away with this, or this could carry away one. I will return to this discovery.

Secondly, three cheers to Columbus's finest!!! The more filtered "cleaner" American water did not result in better whisky. Uisge Source's Speyside water fared the second best overall. I liked what it did with the palate. The Michigan spring water neutered all the flavors. Ohio's filtered water also produced disappointing results, which was very educational because that's what I usually use for my tastings.

Finally, sink water. Yeah, I must explore this further.

Here are the overall rankings:

1. Columbus Municipal Unfiltered Sink Water (B-/B)
2. Uisge Source Speyside Water (B-)
3. Neat (low B-)
4. Ohio Filtered Water (C+)
5. Michigan Spring Water (C-/C)

Availability - The whisky is available at most specialty retailers in the US, not sure about the availability of the water gift pack
Pricing - the water gift pack has an MSRP of $29.99, the whisky itself is $20-$35 in the US
Rating - 81

Friday, July 19, 2019

Pittyvaich 20 year old 1989 Special Release

Built by Bell's in 1975 right next to their Dufftown distillery, Pittyvaich ran for less than 18 years before it was shut down by United Distillers (proto-Diageo). It's in the running for the least sexy of the dead malt distilleries but that hasn't kept Diageo from putting out three Special Releases, which is sort of cool if one doesn't mind spending $300 on Pittyvaich. And for those who don't know, a $300 Special Release is a bottom shelf Special Release.

Before this whisky, I'd had a grand total of one Pittyvaich, one of those 1990s 40%abv Connoisseurs Choice Bleh Whisky experiences all geeks should experience at least 74 times before being able to label oneself an anorak. Let's see what happens to Pittyvaich's single malt when it's not diluted to a beige flavor.


Distillery: Pittyvaich
Ownership: United Distillers
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Maturation: American oak casks
Age: 20 years (1989 - 2009)
Outturn: 6000 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 57.5%
Colored? No
Chillfiltered? No
(from a purchased sample)

NEAT
Fruit, glorious fruit in the nose. Pineapples, mangoes and lemons. Tinned fruit cocktail juice, apricot hamantaschen and fried plantains with (fruity) cinnamon. The pink scented marker. And a gentle ripple of barley in the background. An impressive lack of oak in the palate. Lots of green herbs mixed with lime and lemon juices. Hints of toasted barley. Moderate amounts of heat, sweetness and tanginess. There's also something grungy and metallic in the background. It finishes with those limes and lemons. The herbs are dried now, and joined by a sprinkle of sugar and salt. A spicy zing lingers the longest.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose's fruit note shifts to yellow bananas, honeydew and lime zest. Now there's a mix of bubblegum, shortbread, cloves and mint leaves. While the heat on the palate somehow gets more intense, things also get very very sweet. Then there's plastic and an herbal bitterness. More bananas. It's actually kind of a mess. Some tartness joins the sweetness in the finish. More bananas, now covered in caramel sauce. More plastic.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
I'm on a streak here. This is the fifth consecutive single malt I've reviewed that doesn't fare well under dilution. Each one has either gotten neutered or fallen apart. The nose on this Pittyvaich stands up just fine with dilution, though I prefer the fruit riot of the neat nose. The palate, though, goes very wrong once water is added. When neat, the flavors are fresh and crisp, seasoned by a subtle weirdness. But I was very disappointed when I was left with a half-sample weakened by water. Such a Pitty.

Availability - after 10 years it's still around at some European specialty retailers
Pricing - €250-€350 w/VAT
Rating - 86 (neat only, dilution knocks it down 10-15 points)

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Port Dundas 12 year old

I completed this tasting a few days before typing the first word (I!) of this post. And though my expectations were set low, this "whisky" still unperformed. Make that capital-U Underperformed. I could not make it past one-third of the sample.

Leaving aside my dislike of Scottish grain whisky, this release doesn't make sense to me. Port Dundas is a dead distillery. Why not let this stuff age for 30+ years and then sell it for a small fortune to the saps who pay $1k for Special Release grain whisky? Or if it's such a large parcel, why not keep it for blends? Or do a combo of the two so there's more grain for old ultra-luxury blends?

There's nothing else constructive I can say about this "whisky", so I'm just going to get to the notes.


Distillery: Port Dundas
Owner: Diageo
Type: Single Grain
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: American oak
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(Thank you to Brett for letting me relieve his collection of 1 ounce of this stuff)

NOTES
The nose is all watered-down bottom shelf Canadian whisky blended with vodka. Vodka, imitation vanilla, caramel, nail polish remover, butter and simple syrup. The palate impressively and unimpressively matches the nose. Vanilla vodka, woody bitterness and palate-killing levels of sweetness. It's all heat, vanilla vodka and sugar in the finish.

WORDS
Can someone with spare liver cells do a Port Dundas 12yo versus Smirnoff Vanilla taste off? Or not?

Availability - The USA because we're suckers?
Pricing - $40-$60 (should be $9.99)
Rating - 49

Monday, July 15, 2019

Bunnahabhain Moine 9 year old 2008 Bordeaux Red Wine Casks

There's a theme to each week's reviews. This week's theme? Some Random Stuff.

Once upon a time, Bunnahabain's official range included the 12yo, 18yo and 25yo. Now, according to their official site, there are 23 current releases. Is this progress? I don't know. But their 12 year is still excellent. Today's whisky is a young heavily-peated Bunny that spent its entire life in red wine casks from the Bordeaux region. I predict intensity.


Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Ownership: Distell Group Ltd.
Region: Islay, but not the Dirty South





Age: 9 years (18 Dec 2008 - 26 Feb 2018)
Maturation: Bordeaux red wine casks
Outturn: 4536 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 58.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(Thank you to Matt for the sample!)

NEAT
There's dark chocolate, peanut butter, ham and rubber smoke in the nose. Beneath that: mixed berry jam, cinnamon candy and dried cherries. With 20+ minutes in the glass, the rubbery smoke turns leafy. Salty burnt seaweed leads the palate, followed by grape jelly and bitter chocolate. Then cayenne pepper and bus exhaust. It picks up some fruit sweetness and lime juice, with some time in the glass. Madness in the finish. Bus exhaust, limes, berry candy, peanuts, burnt paper and mild bitterness.

That was a lot. Let's tone it down?

DILUTED TO ~46%, or > 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Yeah, the nose does calm down and the separate parts merge: chocolatey peat, lemons, cloves, cinnamon and peanuts. Water has washed most of the wine away in the palate. Peated peanut butter, cinnamon and wood smoke lead the way, followed by smaller notes of citrus, berries and sugar. Simple sweet smoke, nuts and fresh berries in the finish.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
The good news is Bunnahabhain isn't tying itself to one simplistic distillery character. On the other hand, what is this stuff?

It's pretty wild, though it's not bad. In fact, I'd take this over most of the countless immature 5-8 year old single casks the indies are currently dumping onto the market. If you hate winey whiskies — whether your palate or a whisky blogger has told you so — just add water to this thing and then worry not. If you want violence, then don't dilute it.

I'm baffled by the whiskybase scores for this whisky. Or maybe everyone's just throwing around 90+ scores at this point in time. I will say this product commits fully to entertaining the drinker, but who the heck could get through a whole bottle of this stuff?

Availability - Maybe a dozen or two retailers around the world
Pricing - $100-$200, yeah I don't know either
Rating - 83

Friday, July 12, 2019

PUNI Nero 4 year old, 2017 Edition

In this Nu-Whisky era, experimental whiskies coming from the usual countries often interest me less than the bottles from unconventional locales. Yet, when I sat down with a sample of this Italian whisky and read that it was four years old and aged entirely in Pinot Noir casks I had......feelings.

It's tough to find a comparable sparring pour in my collection, so I chose the Ardnamurchan 2018 AD due to its sweetness and cask influence, watering it down to a comparable 46%abv. Yes, that was setting the bar low, but I had......feelings.



PUNI is fully committed visuals. Here's the distillery:


Do a Google image search for "Puni distillery". You won't regret it, whether you think it looks like a giant honeycomb built by square bees or The Future Because We'll All Be Living In Deserts.

And here's the bottle:


I normally don't care for bottle flair, but I enjoy this design more than the Octomore monolith.



So PUNI has its design in order, but what about its actual products? Nova, Sole and Alba are their core releases. The limited edition Nero has been released twice, so far.

The Nero's color was noticeably lighter than that of the Ardnamurchan, and 4 years of maturation in Northern Italy is different than 4 years of maturation in Port Askaig. Also, not all wine casks are the same. Yet those......feelings.

Distillery: PUNI
Region: South Tyrol, Italy
Age: 4 years
Maturation: Pinot Nero (think Pinot Noir) wine casks
Bottling Date: 2017
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltration? No
Colorant? No
(from a purchased sample)

NEAT
The nose is very pretty. It starts with honey, flowers, lychee, applesauce and cinnamon sticks. That's followed by star anise, saline, kirschwasser and a hint of oats. The palate is like a salty almond-ginger cake (if that's a thing). There's also a note that took me forever to figure out: Foursquare rum. Eau de vie lingers in the background, as does a strong herbal note that leans toward pepper and smoke. The medium-length finish is drying and very herbal with eau de vie and pinches of ginger powder and white pepper.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose simplifies and focuses on McIntosh apples, honey and dried thyme. Lots of dried savory herbs in the palate, along with anise, eau de vie, mint leaves and a slight bitterness. The finish mirrors the palate, but with more bitterness and salt.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Well, as Randy Brandy always says, feelings are wrong and no one should have them. This PUNI Nero is a light pleasant whisky that probably works well as a spring or summer pour. Indeed it is young, but anything more than an additional year or two in those casks would result in an overbaked winey whisky. At 4 years old, it's better neat and never very sweet (rhymes!). It's subtler, better balanced and much more enjoyable than the Ardnamurchan. Italy just won the week.

Availability - Many European specialty whisky retailers
Pricing - €50-€65 (w/VAT)
Rating - 80 (neat only)

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Ardnamurchan 2018 AD

The first two whiskies this week were distilled by companies better known for their independent bottling of other producers' single malts. On Monday it was Wemyss, today it's Adelphi.

Ardnamurchan Distillery began distilling in 2014, but has yet to release something old enough to be called 'whisky'. Instead they squeezed out 1 year old spirit bottlings in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Their site says they aim to release their first single malt in 2021. That means they're either struggling to get things right at 3 years, or they're (gasp!) waiting to bottle something older. I hope it's the latter.

Considerable effort has been made to keep this side of the company more modern than most. Their handsome bottle design includes some blockchain-QR tech, which allows them to track every bottle and deliver more narratives to customers. Meanwhile, the distillery is powered by local renewables and their byproducts are reused locally.

This West Highlands distillery produces non-peated and peated (30ppm at malting) malt, using Concerto barley. Like Kingsbarns, they're keeping things small with a capacity under a half-million liters per year.

Now that all these facts are behind us, it's time for some hot takes!


Distillery: Ardnamurchan
Owner: Adelphi
Region: Way Out There (Highlands)
Age: the youngest stuff is said to be 1 year old
Maturation: 1st fill sherry casks
Bottling Date: 2018
Alcohol by Volume: 55.3%
Chillfiltration? No
Colorant? No
(from a purchased sample)

NEAT
An absolute whompin' of sherry cask influence on the nose: dried berries, cocoa and a hefty meatiness. There's also a mix of honey mustard, watermelon candy, mint, peat smoke and metal. The palate starts out with a brushfire character that's reminiscent of Balcones Brimstone. Lots of mesquite smoke and ham and soil. Beneath that is thyme, cinnamon, honey and salted nuts. The drying finish is mostly heat and smoke, with a large dose of salty peat.

What happens when we cool it down?

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1¼ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose gets funkier with bigger peat and honey and black raisins. Burning plastic siding. It's beginning to shift from Brimstone to Leviathan II. The palate is much sweeter and bitterer now. Leafy peat, cinnamon and nuts float in a simple syrup. The finish's bitter and earthy notes are swallowed up by a sugar flood.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Without dilution it's Brimstone, with dilution it's Leviathan II. With those two products struggling to be unique whiskies rather than stunts, and often losing that battle, it's not the best company for a new scotch to be in. I think Ardnamurchan 2018 AD comes out ahead of those two, but just barely.

The issue isn't the raw aggressive peat character, rather it's the blanket of overactive casks and a blinding sweetness. These elements clash with the earth, leaves, bitterness and plastic smoke, leaving one wondering what the spirit would actually be like if left alone.

I'm assuming Adelphi released this spirit drink for revenue purposes and to fuel the brand ahead of time. Once it sells through — and it will because it's New — it'll gross around €250K. The company is also likely utilizing the outsized premium they charge for their independent bottlings of other distilleries' whiskies, like €155 for 5 year old blended malt, €200 for 7 year old whisky and nearly €300 for 14 year old single malt to keep the distillery's lights on. That's certainly one way to crowdsource.

Availability - Many European specialty whisky retailers
Pricing - €65-€90 (w/VAT)
Rating - 70 (neat only)

Monday, July 8, 2019

Kingsbarns Dream to Dram

Many of the online reviews of this whisky lean heavily on the words "young" and "Lowlands", and that's not helpful. Firstly, of course it's young. It's barely 3 years old. So rather than using the Y-word, I'll attempt to use sensory descriptors. Secondly, geographic location no longer determines what a whisky tastes like, if it ever really did. There are unpeated Islays and heavily-peated Speysides. There are triple-distilled single malts from Speyside and Campbeltown, and there are double-distilled whiskies from the Lowlands. So I won't use latitude measurements to describe what a liquid tastes like.

Kingsbarns Distillery opened in 2014, then its spirit started going into barrels in early 2015. The facility currently fills 24 casks per week, though the distillery has a higher capacity. Kingsbarns is located in Fife and the barley is from......Fife. Novel!

Dream to Dram is the distillery's first widely-released legal whisky. It's mostly from bourbon casks, though there's a portion from STR casks. STR = shaved, toasted and re-charred wine casks. Yes, this is now a thing.


Distillery: Kingsbarns
Owner: Wemyss Distillery Ltd.
Region: Lowlands (Fife)
Age: minimum 3 years
Maturation: 90% 1st fill bourbon casks + 10% shaved, toasted and re-charred wine casks
Bottling Date: 2018
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltration? No
Colorant? No
(from a purchased sample)

NEAT
The nose starts out with lots of pears and yeast. Very worty. Ground mustard, grass, oatmeal and sugar. A barley note emerges then expands with time. Barley and a hint of vanilla lead the palate, followed by toasted nuts and cayenne pepper. It needs 10+ minutes of air, then there's almond biscotti, vanilla fudge and a hint of milk chocolate. Milk chocolate-covered almond biscotti, barley, pepper sauce and a little bit of sweetness finishes it out.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Sour beer, cheesy yeast, barley and a squeeze of lemon in the nose. More heat in the palate than when the whisky was neat. Flavor-wise, there's barley, vanilla, flowers, ginger powder and a little bit of herbal bitterness. It finishes hotter as well. It's also more acidic and tangy. Barley and nuts.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Forget adding water to this whisky, it plays best when neat and given some time in the glass. At times it's very close to wort, but at other times it seems like it's on its way to something very good. The mouthfeel is a little thin, but Dream to Dram makes for easy drinking and it's never too sweet. While I do look forward to this stuff after it has spent 10 full years in a cask, in the meantime I like it much better than the two Wolfburns I've tried. Good luck, Kingsbarns!

Availability - Many European specialty whisky retailers
Pricing - €40-€50 (w/VAT)
Rating - 79 (neat only)

Friday, July 5, 2019

Killing Whisky History, Episode 26: National Distillers-era Old Crow bourbon, bottled in ...

This month's whiskey comes from often-beloved-in-hindsight National Distillers. It is of a certain age and a certain bird. But is it old? And is it anything to crow about? Click to find out!


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Old Forester Rye

There have been three failed attempts at starting this post in a witty fashion, so I'll just say it outright: I do not like Brown-Forman's standard American whiskies, from any of their distilleries.

The catch is I've never had any of their ryes, nor any of their new Old Foresters. And I'm trying to expand my mind and palate when it comes to spirits I don't like. For instance, I used to think all tequila was foul. But I've had good tequila now. I mean, it still makes me vomit, but it tasted better on the way down.

My point is, Old Forester Rye. It's new, it's under $30 and it's rye. The official site even has a mash bill. I'm going to fix myself a Manhattan first, then try the rye neat. I hope this works!

Brand: Old Forester
Company: Brown-Forman
Distillery: Old Forester Distillery
Region: Louisville, Kentucky
Type: Straight rye
Age: NAS
Mashbill:  65/15/20 Rye/Corn/Barley
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
(many thank yous to Jack for the sample!)

MANHATTAN, 2:1 ratio
I'm easy when it comes to Manhattans made with Carpano Antica. They're either bad, good or great. And more than three-quarters of the Carpano Antica Manhattans I've had are of the good or great categories.

It is with some relief that I can say my Old Forester Rye Manhattan fits in the good category. It starts out woody for a brief second, then slides right into a fruity spicy zone from which it never returns. Cherries, oranges, wood spice and anise (which is Kristen's note).

RATING: GOOD

NEAT
The nose starts off with simple rye grain and oak notes. Then it picks up brine, black pepper, fennel seed and mint leaf. This is met with a mix floral and toasted grain notes as well as apricot jam and peaches. The palate is surprisingly fruity up front. Lots of black cherry syrup/soda and a little bit of orange candy. Not much outright oak. It starts with moderate levels of sweetness and pepper, then they slowly expand. It finishes sweet and berry-ish, with small notes of orange candy, pepper and salt.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

I like it.

There, I wrote it. In tiny font.

I think I like it even better than the current Wild Turkey 101 rye. In any case, it's my favorite Brown-Forman standard American whiskey release. Its bright fruitiness and lack of aggressive tannins hits all the right spots for me. Works as a cocktail and works neat. If Ohio liquor stores actually sell this, then I'm going to get a bottle. Thanks to Bourbon Guy, whose review made me consider trying this B-F product someday. And thanks again to Jack for helping make this happen.

Availability - Slowly expanding across the US since 2/1/19
Pricing - $24-$32
Rating - 84