...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Tamdhu 12 year old (2019)

When it came time to select single malts for a recent charity event, I had to choose a Macallan Killer. For previous events I'd gone with Glenfarclas 15, Glendronach 15 or Bunnahabhain 12, all whiskies I knew well. This time I took a risk with something I'd never tried.

I had liked Tamdhu's 10 year old single malt and was surprised to see a 12 year old showing up beside it so quickly (in 2 years! Math!) this year. Thanks to a happy discovery right before the event I found a bottle of the 12 selling for the same price as the 10.

No one at the event hated the thing, and I don't remember finding anything wrong with it at the time. Now there's some left and I'm thirsty.

Distillery: Tamdhu
Ownership: Ian Macleod Distillers
Region: Speyside (Central)
Age: minimum 12 years old
Maturation: "the finest sherry oak casks"
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? probably not (per whiskybase)
Colorant added? probably not (per whiskybase and distillery site)

It has clean, bright nose, with notes of roses, orange peel, almond extract and ginger powder. Some spice (cardamom and clove) and funky honey as well. The palate has some of the nose's roses(!), but is otherwise tighter and more astringent than expected. Nutty sherry and caramel. More oak and tannins appear with time. Roasted grains and caramel in the finish. Lots of rich American-ish oak. Hint of lime.

DILUTED TO ~37%abv, or 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
More generic sherry cask notes appear in the nose, like raisin and toasted oak. A little bit of honey mustard. Grape candy, raisins and ginger powder on the palate and finish.

Not a Macallan Killer, this one. The very friendly nose clashes with the sharp oaky palate. I think the distillery claims to use mostly (or entirely) European oak casks, but I'm reading lots of American oak action throughout. The 10 year old suits my fancy much more than the 12, so I actually hope the older version does not replace the younger one. I found the 10 to be quirkier, more complex and a better drinker. Though this does not stop me from desiring a try of their new 15 year old.

Availability - Specialty whisky retailers worldwide
Pricing - $50-$75 USA, $40-$65 Europe (minus taxes and tariffs)
Rating - 81

Friday, October 18, 2019

Westland Week ends

As of late 2015, I ranked Westland's core range as follows:

1. Sherry Wood
2. Peated
3. American Single Malt

Sherry Wood and Peated were the two I had considered purchasing.

Four years later, after a corporate buyout, an increased age statement and one name change, the core trio is ranked as follows:

1. Peated
2. American Oak
3. Sherry Wood

Peated and American Oak are the only two I would consider purchasing.

The Sherry Wood went from a balanced somewhat-complex whiskey to a lumpy oaky yet sort of raw Craft Whiskey. The "American" improved a little bit, actually showing less oak than the Sherry Wood. The peated expression held its strengths, and possibly improved, over the years.

But you may notice I used the words "considered" and "consider" when it comes to actually buying a 750mL bottle. Westland's prices have always been steep. For years they were 2 year old whiskies selling for $70-$75. Even though they're 3 years old, $70 still seems bloated. I'm not sure what audience they're aiming for. Bourbon geeks will spend that amount of money on a bottle, but only when it's 10+ years old or extra limited or flippable. Casual bourbon drinkers (which is almost all of the market) can still get quality brown likker for less than $40. Scotch fiends will spend $70 on a 3-year-old bottle, but only if the brand lies to us really well in a Scottish accent while bestowing a Gaelic name upon the whisky. So who's left? I understand single malts are more expensive to produce than other whiskies, and that Westland hasn't cut corners, historically. But how does the company grow their business at these prices?

I may get a bottle of the Peated malt if I can find it for under $70 (with shipping, because Ohio). Otherwise, if I were to recommend anything it would be the 3-pack. It's a great way to test the whole range out, and 200mL is a lot more fun than a mini (says the man with many minis).

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Westland Peated single malt

Though it seems as if every distillery is attempting a peaty or smoky whisky this decade, Westland has shown more competence than most. I've found their single casks of peated stuff to be comparable to Kilchoman's. And that is not something I state casually.

As of 2016, Westland's 55ppm peated malt came from Baird's in Scotland. Not sure if that's still their source. If anyone knows, please share in the comment section. Thanks!

Distillery: Westland
Region: Seattle, Washington
Type: Single Malt
Age: at least 3 years
Mashbillsix malted barley strains
Maturation: three types of American oak casks
Alcohol by volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(from my bottle)

Islay-style oceanic peat (full of band aids!) hits first in the nose, then comes a metallic-tinged smoke. Tropical fruit punch, canned peaches and eucalyptus add an impressive complexity.

On the palate it's a baby Islay, but without the violence or mezcal. Antiseptic, band aids and dunnage(!). Gathers bright mint and menthol notes with time.

The longest and most balanced of the finishes. It has a gentler smoke than the palate, along with tangy citrus and sweet mint.

The winner! This will be the first bottle of the three I'll finish. I would be happy to buy this in lieu of most soon-to-be-25%-more expensive Islays. It's solid spirit-driven stuff, without any clunky oak. Though this likely took the distillery years to perfect, Westland makes this style seem pretty effortless.

Availability - Most American specialty whiskey retailers, as well as many European retailers
Pricing - $60-$80 (750mL), usually priced the same as the Sherry Wood
Rating - 86

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Westland Sherry Wood single malt

Here's an American take on sherry cask single malt, something scotch fans have been enjoying for decades. It's the busiest of Westland's core trio, with a slew of different cask types. They used to add a little bit of their peated malt to the mix, though their website doesn't show that listed anymore. Though this may not matter a whit, the whiskey isn't that much darker than the American Oak.

Distillery: Westland
Region: Seattle, Washington
Type: Single Malt
Age: at least 3 years
MashbillFive malted barley strains
Maturation: four types of sherry casks, two types of new American oak casks
Alcohol by volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(from my bottle)

Lots and lots of grapey things on the nose, especially a Pedro Ximenez jamminess. In fact, that's almost the entire show. There are some tiny bits of smoked almonds, mint, graphite and dirty stones in the background.

The palate is a spicy, chocolatey sherry bomb. The new oak character shouts louder here than in the American Oak expression, giving off plenty of smoked caramel and vanilla. Some dark cherries in there, as well as citric acid.

The finish is similar to the palate, though with more raw heat and imitation vanilla extract. Tangy and peppery, with plenty of PX.

This one was a surprise too, but in the other direction. It's the most Craft Whiskey of the three. Westland's treasured malt mix has been silenced by all the casks. This will probably appeal to someone who just wants a shite-load of sherry and vanilla, more than it appeals to me. Perhaps this was a wonky batch, because they've done better than this in the past.

Availability - Most American specialty whiskey retailers, as well as many European retailers
Pricing - $60-$80 (750mL), often $5-$10 more expensive than the American Oak expression
Rating - 77

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Westland American Oak single malt

Once upon a time this was just Westland American single malt. Then at some point, possibly after Rémy Cointreau took over, the "American Oak" part was added, which is helpful for those of us who'd mistake it for their Azerbaijani Pine core expression. Now the front label says "American" twice, again to clear up any confusion.

They appear to still be using the five-malt mash bill they'd had before, most of which comes from Washington state. I've noticed something new: the whiskey's age is no longer 26 months, but at least 36 months. Progress!

Distillery: Westland
Region: Seattle, Washington
Type: Single Malt
Age: at least 3 years
Mashbill: Five malted barley strains
Maturation: three types of American oak casks
Alcohol by volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(from my bottle)

Though rich oak notes are present in the nose, they're much less aggressive than any bourbon. No lumber, no sawdust, no outright vanilla. Instead, the nose holds roses, orange Smarties, lime candy, Cow Tales candy and milky coffee.

The moderately sweet palate shows cashew butter, toasted almonds and marshmallows. A little bit of black cherry soda here and there. The nuttiness gets bolder and toastier with time.

A good balance of toastiness, nuttiness, sweetness and subtle smoke highlight the warm finish. No vanilla!

This one surprised me, as I'd set my expectations low. Perhaps three years is the optimum maturation length when dealing with new oak in Washington warehouses. It is a very easy drinker that works as either an anytime-pour or dessert whiskey. It's also its own style, much different than any single malt coming from the rest of the world. Perhaps it could appeal to scotch haters?

Availability - Most American specialty whiskey retailers, as well as many European retailers
Pricing - $60-$75 (750mL), its average price price has dropped 10% in four years, per winesearcher
Rating - 83

Monday, October 14, 2019

Westland Week

Have the tariff turkeys and their enablers gotten you down? Never fear. Blended scotch, Irish pot still, cognac and many other brown spirits won't be affected. Yet.

Or you can, like, not buy stuff. Yeah, I know, I know. I know the struggle.

For my American readers, there is at least one decent single malt made in these United(?) States. As one of the only 21st century American distilleries that was backed with ample private investment, Westland produces a steady stream of single casks and limited edition malts. They also have a regular range that's widely available here and abroad.

I visited Westland Distillery nearly four years ago, enjoying the experience and the whisky. Rémy Cointreau bought the company the company a year later (yes, it's my fault), and wisely kept the lead distiller, Matthew Hoffman. There's been very little obvious corporate tinkering since then. Much like Westland, Rémy's scotch distillery, Bruichladdich, is all about barley varieties. The ownership has let both facilities continue to fly that experimental flag.

Westland sells their trio of regular bottlings in a 3x200mL set, something I wish more scotch companies would consider. When I found one of these sets selling at half price this year, I scooped it up and open the bottles relatively promptly.

Yes, the word 'American' appears six times.
I'm going to review each of these three whiskies this week, then sum it up on Friday, comparing the results to my expectations and previous experiences. Hopefully each post will be bite-sized or dram-sized or at least not TL;DR. But no guarantees!

Friday, October 11, 2019

Bea's Birthday Booze: Bowmore 21 year old 1973

The 9-to-5 (or rather then 7-to-5) work life leaves parents with a minimum of positive time with their children. We get to see our wee ones just after they wake up and just before they go to sleep. Those are not Happy Kid Times.

Recently I was blessed with an opportunity to hang out with Beatrice, just we two, for a number of hours during the day, and it was delightful. Here are some things we did:
  • Read eleven board books without pause. I'd exhausted my various character voices, most of which are offensive stereotypes, by book five. As narrator, I was not allowed to break for tea or potty.
  • Watched baseball, or rather BAY-BALL. (She speaks in bold and caps.) My girls now request to watch baseball highlights, which is a-ma-zing! The playoffs last only three more weeks, but the girls will have likely grown out of it by then. Treasuring it now.
  • My favorite: a makeover. For at least 20 minutes, I was instructed to SIT PAPA SIT, during which time zoo stickers were applied to my forehead (ample space!), and every item from the girls' play kitchen was rubbed all over my face and hair. She had incredible focus, taking seven different calls on her toy(?) phone without pausing her esthetician work. I look younger and prettier as a result.
Life went back to normal the next day. Remind me to schedule a followup appointment.

This sample has been sitting unopened for much too long. It's a good time for something special.

Distillery: Bowmore
Owner at time of distillation: Stanley Morrison
Owner at time of bottling: Suntory Holdings
Region: Islay
Age: 21 years
Distilled in: 1973
Maturation: sherry butts
Alcohol by Volume: 43%abv
(from a purchased sample)

The Nose - Yes there are ripe melons, yuzu, kabosu and summer peaches, but I cannot overstate the fruits' intensity. It fills the the nose from across the room. Just beneath that one can find the ocean, salty air, bonfire, kelp and seaweed. Gentler notes of ground cloves, shisha, antiseptic and honey linger around the edges.

The Palate - A swirl of dense gorgeous oceanic peat and delicate baking spices. Some of the nose's bright Japanese citrus (though beware of taking a bite of kabosu, those can be tart as a MFer), along with California lemons. The citrus takes over after 30 minutes and fills whatever sensory nooks haven't succumbed to the nose.

The Finish - The citrus peels and peat have merged and remain for a long, long time with just the right amount of sweetness.

Words Words Words - I don't really understand how this intensity came to exist in a 43%abv whisky that sat in its bottle 20 years, then in a sample bottle for 4-5 years. And had I been born twenty years earlier, and been used to consuming whisky of this quality, I would have quit scotch whisky in this decade. There's nothing like this now. Yes, Bowmore still hits doubles and triples with some of their independent single casks. But those ain't this. This is a remarkable whisky.

Availability - Auctions, maybe
Pricing - A whole lot of money
Rating - 93

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Bea's Birthday Booze: Charbay single barrel hop-flavored whiskey, bottled for T5C

Nearly every weekend morning begins with "PAPA! UP! PAPA GET UP! GET! UP! GET! UP!" Beatrice will even run over to the bed and grab the blanket and try to pull it off.

(I'm not complaining. She does this at 7:00am and not 5:00am. Not yet.)

Later that morning, "Can Papa give you a hug?" "NO!" Papa is proud of his confident girl. Papa also crawls into a cave in his mind to sob by hi-- "NO! PAPA OUT!"

Some Charbay perhaps?

As I mentioned to the gentleman who shared this sample, I basically lose my brains when I drink Charbay. My bias towards single pot still Irish whiskey proves quaint compared to my feelings about full-power Charbay.

Distillery: Charbay
Type: Charbay-flavored whiskey
Region: Charbay, Charbay
Mashbill: 100% Charbay
Age: 3 Charbays old
Maturation: Charbay cask
Exclusive to: T5C who selected this Charbay
Alcohol by Volume: 73.4% (yes, Charbay)
(Thank you to Secret Agent Man)

The nose: One would have no idea that this is 73.4%abv judging by the nose. There are pine needles, cherries and vanilla beans wrapped in a heavy hops blanket. Lots of fragrant wood: sandalwood, cedar and Palo Santo. It shifts with time, releasing maple, fennel, butterscotch sauce and more cherries. No burn.

The palate:

So yeah, dank. Unlike most Charbays it strikes right up front rather than unfolding later on. There are also mint leaves and fried plantains in honey. Lime candies and dried oregano amongst bitter herbal moments. More drinkable than most whiskies bottled 20 percentage points lower.

The finish: Looooooong. Graceful old oak, IPA, mint leaves and hints of bell peppers. It's gentler on the ganja than other Charbays. BUT IT'S THERE. Man.

Words Words Words: While this pick doesn't ascend to the heights of some of the numbered (I-VII?) series, it's still a tremendous thing. I don't understand how it can be so easily consumed when bottled at such a violent strength. It's scary and wonderful and yo where are the cupcakes and peanut butter and those really crunchy kettle chips. Oh, I'm sorry that's the "hops" talking. Meanwhile, the oak notes are lovely. It's as if the cask was fashioned with a variety of aromatic woods and some old furniture. The mad and marvelous Marko does it again.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 89

Monday, October 7, 2019

Bea's Birthday Booze: Daftmill 2006 Winter Batch Release (2018)

I've been a parent for five years now, and it's fair to say I still don't know what I'm doing. But I do know that Beatrice Joy turned 2 years old yesterday. And she is very Two. She is brilliant and social and hilarious and beautiful and I'm tired y'all. Here's a smiley picture:

I'm consuming and reviewing three hundred special whiskies in honor of her birthday. Firstly...

Of all the new distilleries introducing their first products during this decade, there's only one I've been following, Daftmill. It's a teeny Lowland farm distillery run by the Cuthbert family. They've been distilling (using their own barley) since 2005, but only released their first whisky last year. Yes, you read that correctly. They had the audacity to AGE THEIR WHISKY FOR 12 YEARS before bottling it for public consumption. It's madness I tell you.

Since they do only 100 casks per year, they're going to remain micro for the foreseeable future. And that's great. Just beware, the demand has exceeded the supply.

Thank you to Doctor Springbank for opening a bottle and sharing!

Distillery: Daftmill
Owner: Francis Cuthbert
Region: Bow of Fife, Lowlands
Age: 11-12 years (December 2006 - 2018)
Maturation: 5 bourbon casks (074/2006, 075/2006, 076/2006, 078/2006, 079/2006)
Outturn: 1265 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 46%abv
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant Added? No

There's lots of barley on the nose, along with grass, orange juice, pine sap, Cheerios, Frosted Mini Wheats and a hint of grapefruit. Breakfast on the farm. The palate is very worty. Barley with a quirky tangy edge. Also: jasmine, roasted almonds and an extra grapefruity IPA beneath a curiously sharp alcohol bite. Tangy floral yeasty wort in the finish.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Now there are baskets of grist from the mill in the nose, then smaller notes of maple, cinnamon, ground mustard seed and brown sugar. The gentler pleasant palate leads with the barley again, but now there's a honeyed sweetness to it. Subtle nut and flower notes. It finishes sweeter, less tangy and a little less floral.

To my nose and mouth, this Winter Batch Release seems younger than its age but not in the usual "ugh why was this bottled?" sort of way. Instead, with barley and the yeast in the forefront and the oak in the waaaaaaaay back, this whisky shows off what we snoots mean when we say "Distillery Character". Though the power of suggestion may be in play, I think this feels like a farm whisky. Another few years of maturation wouldn't hurt, or maybe other small batches read more mature, but this is a good launching point. It's actual whisky.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - about 4x what it originally sold for
Rating - 84

Friday, October 4, 2019

Randy Brandy does not drink Black & White whisky

Wow, that was riveting.

How about something that doesn't embarrass us all? Of course that isn't a guarantee over here. Let's see what Kravitz is giving me to review.

A mini. And a partial one at that.

You see this? You see what I have to deal with? Actually, you people deal with this on a regular basis. I'd feel pity for you if I felt pity.

Anyway: Camus VS. As in, Camus vs. my need to drink something else.

Hey look, it's another...


I'm so honored to drink Courvoisier from the 1980s that I WILL NOT POST A VIDEO OF MYSELF. I mean, who does that? All alone with a camera in his basement. Like a terrorist but without the viewers.

Oh wait, another brandy?

God, this picture is obscene. Those are D'Anjou pears, not Bartletts.

And here are my notes.

First I'll drink the Camus VS. They say it's big on esters, yet they also use small barrels. Yes, the latter has worked wonders for the quality of craft whiskies worldwide. And much to your surprise, it is the cheapest thing in the Camus line.

Camus VS, 40%abv
Nose - Pine, eucalyptus, tea tree oil, orange Smarties, Del Monte canned peaches, rye bread and dried apricots.
Palate - Citronella and peach schnapps. Lime juice and vanilla. And it is so goddamn sweet.
FFFFFFinish - Tart and syrupy sweet.

I'm not going to say they boiséd it up, just like I'm not going to say I poured most of this stuff over some vanilla ice cream. I will say it's a pretty smelling thing that tastes like Not Cognac. So at least you're getting two drinks for the price of one. Tastes good on ice cream though.


Video Boy says the Courvoisier is from the late '80s. He drinks pre-WWII scotch, then hands me this gem. Hey, Pearls, what'd you do, steal this from a thrift shop?

Courvoisier VSOP Fine Champagne, 40%abv, from the 1980s
Nose - Orange peel, raspberry jam, canned peaches again. Cardamom, cloves, rosemary. Caramel candy and Peeps.
Palate - Wood spice, tannins. More tannins. Lime juice, rosewater and simple syrup.
Finish - A sweet caramel-laden tannic cocktail. With cardboard.

Another great cognac for people who don't like cognac. It smells very good, though it does tease the coming Cloy.  My dentures hurt.


I'm beginning to feel pity. For myself. This Clear Creek had better not suck or else I'm going to break into Krav's house and steal his ONE bottle of Armagnac. One. How sad is that? I mean, he thinks he has six but his daughters have been swiping the bottles on the sly and flipping them for cases of cherry Tylenol. Nothing wrong with that. Says the man with extra long CVS receipts.

Clear Creek Pear Brandy, 40%abv
Nose - A mix of apple and pear ciders. Blackberry jam, lemon juice, eau de vie and PVC pipes.
Palate - Apples, anise and mint. Very creamy. 100% Bartlett pears by the second glass. And third glass. And fourth.
Finish - Same transition of apples to Bartlett pears. Good tart.

No more sugar or simple syrup or golden syrup or agave nectar or sucrose or galactose or Muscovado or Turbinado or Demerara or Dextrin or Sucanat or saccharin or stevia or treacle or trifles or spotted dick. A brandy can stay close to its fruit without going sweet, like this very Clear Creek brandy. The texture is good and it's easy to drink. It is not complex, but it is pear.


P. S. Achtung, D4P! No more brandy minis, ever. Bring out the real stuff so we can piss somebody off next time.

Monday, September 30, 2019

The Whisky Gaze: Two Black & White TV Commercials from the 1970s

I'd like to say that my Black & White stash motivated this month's thematic content, but the true inspiration was the discovery of two old Black & White TV commercials on YouTube. The commercials are from the same time period and carry the same message.

And that message is: Black & White = Hot Chicks.

To wit, Commercial 1.

A summary of the plot: The real life Artie Ziff is down in the dumps, standing at a cardboard bar in Pretend Morocco. Suddenly a blonde woman sees a chance at getting a free drink out of the sad sap. Because she's three feet larger than him she gets a tall drink. The end.

Weighing in at 59 seconds, this ad feels at least thrice that length due to its wretched editing. The editor either fell asleep on the flatbed (see what I did there?), or the commercial was cut by a drunkard's feet. At half its length the ad would have been twice as effective. But even then, the eye lines never match. The continuity is so poor, the final result seems like footage from two ads were smushed together.

Between the garbage direction, unfortunate editing and kick ass soundtrack, I half expected underexposed hairy hardcore sex to follow. Or maybe I've watched too many Joe D'Amato films.

Now, Commercial 2:

A summary of the plot: Black & White being poured over the rocks. A woman in a white bathing suit gets wet. The end.

Wow! This ad works so well, I think I saw breasts floating in the scotch. Someone out there had been studying his or her Kuleshov and Eisenstein. Unlike the other commercial, this thing blasts through like shit through a goose. Unlike the other commercial, this ad never hesitates on its way to completion. The woman and the whisky are put on equal ogling grounds, and then you the viewer get BOTH at the end of the day. Sounds legit. I'll buy a case.

According the comments on these videos, there was at least one more commercial from this campaign, one with a woman in a black bathing suit climbing out of a jacuzzi. So the theme was consistent. Though these ads worked in one way since people remembered them 35-40 years later, were they effective beyond simple voyeurism?

This objectification of women was not unique to these Black & White's advertisements, or the industry as a whole. An advertising campaign like this (or this) demeans, at minimum, 50% of consumers. As referenced in a previous post, Black & White's sales declined rapidly from the late '60s through the '70s, into the '80s. This campaign did not salvage the brand in any way because three more decades passed before Black & White's sales ascended. The need to objectify women overrode the need to expand the customer base, and the brand gained nothing.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Killing Whisky History, Episode 29: World War II era Black & White with a 1960s chaser

Going monochrome and wistful, I review this 1941 bottling of 8 year old Black & White and its 1960s cousin. Thank you for joining me on this month-long Black & White sojourn!


1960s Black & White
Rating - 86

Black & White 8 year old, bottled in 1941
Rating - 88

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Black & White blended whisky, bottled for United Airlines in 1961

Of all the Black & White bottles this month this one proved to be the most fun to research. Searching for the history of United Airlines quickly leads one right to their logos. Here are three links if you'd like to follow along: one, two and three.

After using a plain blue rectangle with white lettering from 1930 to 1939, United switched to the red, white and blue shield for its logo, trying out four versions of this style over twenty-two years. The final one looked like this:

Here the word "Airlines" has been dropped from the logo for the first time, and this change happened right around the time of their purchase of Capital Airlines. This look was very short-lived, lasting from 1960 to 1961. The shield was then switched to a diagonal spike (or wing?) until 1974 when it was replaced by the Saul Bass-designed U or tulip.

Since the logo on my 1/10 pint-er was used in only 1960 and 1961, I'm going to play things sooooper conservative and say that this bottle is from 1961.

In truth, I tried these last three Black & Whites side-by-side on one swingin' afternoon.

Brand: Black & White
Owner at time of bottling: Distillers Company Limited
Type: Blended Scotch Whisky
Age: minimum 3 years
Bottled: 1961
Exclusive to: United Airlines
Alcohol by Volume: 43.4%
(from my purchased 1/10 pint bottle)

The nose hints at the previous Black & White, but the fruit notes has moved from overripe to fermented and tropical. Then there are rose blossoms, cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks and a bright grassy cucumber skin note. A wee hint of machine shop. After 30+ minutes some fresh peach and nectarine notes show up. A swirl of small notes bouncing off each other fills the palate: orange, cardamom, nutmeg, chili oil, white nectarine and cucumber. The sweetness never gets out of control and citrus expands with time. There's a good length to the finish, which is highlighted by citrus, baking spices, ginger and toasted almonds.

Could United passengers even taste this stuff while locked in a cigarette smoke-choked cylinder in the sky? Because this stuff is very good. The blenders were successful in creating a lighter style than that of the Johnnie Walkers, Dimples and Teachers of the time, but the whisky isn't watery or boring. I could see this style appealing to a very wide market. It's bright and fruity while also showing off some depth, especially in the nose. Now, a quart of this wouldn't be a bad thing, if enjoyed responsibly. Let's see if I can top this on Friday.

Rating - 86

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Black & White blended whisky, bottled 1962-1964

This is the Black & White label style familiar to dusty whisky collectors and well-seasoned scotch drinkers. Used throughout the 1950s, this style's final year may have been 1966(see 1966 ad versus a 1967 ad). As per this month's introductory video, I have a number of these wee bottles.

Figuring out this particular bottle's fill date is partly based on its state tax stamp.

This very cool site says that the 2OZ font was larger than the rest of the stamp print in 1962, though there's no word on if that remained true from 1963 through 1977. I've seen quite a few Wisconsin state stamps with the big 2OZ font, but I'm not sure what year they were from.

I can tell you that there's a faint "64" on the bottom of the bottle — though I cannot seem to take a clear photo of it — so that gives me a potential timeframe to focus on: 1962-1964.

This one went head-to-head with yesterday's 1967-1969 bottling.

Brand: Black & White
Owner at time of bottling: Distillers Company Limited
Type: Blended Scotch Whisky
Age: minimum 3 years
Bottled: sometime between 1962 and 1964
Alcohol by Volume: 43.4%
(from my purchased 1/10 pint bottle)

At first the nose is very similar to the late '60s version, with its baked pears, Mr. Sketch markers and Mentos candies. But it opens up more and more over time. First come the peaches and anise. Then a slight phenolic note, cut grass and a machine shop. Finally, an overripe fruit note arrives (think melons and stone fruits) and completely takes over. Lots of those overripe fruits show up on the palate. There's also a quirky spicy buzz to it. The combination of those two factors give it a funky rum edge. There's minimal sweetness and no tannins. Notes of mulled wine, red pepper flakes, dried oregano and toasted grains show up after 30 minutes. The finish is devoid of the overripe, funky notes. There are oranges, peppercorns, dried herbs and caramel sauce. Again, no tannins, not much sweetness.

There was a significant difference between this whisky and yesterday's Black & White even though they were bottled 3 to 7 years apart. This one was covered in thick crazy funk. That one was tannic and sugary. That one was simple, this one was anything but. This B&W calms down at the finish, but before that it's all perky weirdness. No one produces whisky like this now, and I'm not sure if anyone could. It seems closer to rum at times. I'm not sure I could make through a fifth of this stuff, but 1/10 pint is the perfect amount. It was spirited fun. Now onto something else...

Rating - 84

Monday, September 23, 2019

Black & White blended whisky, bottled 1967-1969

The label style of the Black & White being reviewed today didn't last very long, not more than eight years. The key to further narrowing the timeframe are the quotation marks:

Here's a 1966 print ad that shows the previous label style. In this 1967 ad, the label style has changed to the one on today's mini and has the quotation marks. In this 1972 ad, the quotes are gone. The mark removal happened around 1970, per the master administrator at Drinks Planet.

Thought it seems like a tiny change, those quotation marks had been used for almost 70 years, ever since James Buchanan began quoting the name that pub patrons called his whisky at the turn of the century. It was Buchanan's Blended Scotch Whisky, but drinkers referred to it by the bottle and label colors, black and white. Ditching the quotes fully established the brand as Black & White, and cleared the way for another Buchanan's blend.

Time to drink up.

Brand: Black & White
Owner at time of bottling: Distillers Company Limited
Type: Blended Scotch Whisky
Age: minimum 3 years
Bottled: sometime between 1967-1969
Alcohol by Volume: 43.4%
(from my purchased 1/10 pint bottle)

Full of spirit and oak, the nose leads with guava, moss, vanilla bean, caramel and hay. Then baked pear with fruity cinnamon. Light blue scented Mr. Sketch markers and Mentos candies. The mild palate is lightly spicy and tannic. Bits of vanilla, paper and savoriness. It does have a good mouthfeel and it gets tangier with time. The finish has pepper, paper and tart lemons. It gets sweeter and tangier with time, as well.

As with the mid-70s mini I'd opened last week, the nose is better than the palate, though there's a smaller gap in quality. There's more American oak character present than I'd expected, giving it a modern tilt that the whisky probably doesn't need. And I'm not sure if the papery notes are due to flabby casks or five decades of unknown bottle storage. The nose's guava note and creaminess of the palate's texture salvage this from Meh Land. But it's certainly a step down from the stuff in the '70s quart bottle I'm enjoying.

Rating - 79

Friday, September 20, 2019

Killing Whisky History, Episode 28: Black & White blended whisky, bottled 1975-1977 (One Quart)

Presenting the second of three Black & White video reviews! And in a different location, with a better comparison whisky! Exciting!

It's a big old quart of '70s scotch this time, so it's a good thing I like the stuff. Oops, I spoiled my take. I guess I'll have to list a rating for it now as well:

Rating - 84

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Black & White blended whisky, bottled mid-1970s (1/10 pint)

Next stop on the Black & White Time Train: The 1970s!

I have a mini and a not-so-mini from a similar time frame. Today it's the 1/10th pint.

Liquor bottle liquid volume measurements went metric in 1980, so this 'un is from 1979 or earlier:

The IRS is given a shoutout on the federal tax stamp. That practice ended in early 1977.

Because the bottle's front label style began at some point after 1974, as per print advertisements, I can say with moderate comfort that this whisky was bottled in 1975 or 1976.

The metal cap was fastened very very tightly, which was a positive sign...

Brand: Black & White
Owner at time of bottling: Distillers Company Limited
Type: Blended Scotch Whisky
Age: minimum 3 years
Bottled: sometime between 1975 and early 1977
Alcohol by Volume: 43.4%
(from my purchased 1/10 pint bottle)

Another lively, pretty nose! Overripe stone fruits, apple peels, vanilla bean, guava juice and celery juice. With time it shifts towards orange and lemon peels, watermelon juice and a pear pastry. Meanwhile, the palate is bitterer and sharper than expected. Very tart citrus and tart berries. Tartness. Not much sweetness. Needs air. Then there's bread pudding with salty caramel sauce. Just a hint of wet cardboard. The finish keeps that bread pudding & caramel sauce note, while adding in almond brittle. Yet it's somehow not too sweet.

A couple of ice cubes neutralizes it, and it tastes like nothing. Boo.

Firstly, this whisky's sparring partner was the 2018 bottling. I'm not sure how much more often I'll haul out that current version. It's a very different whisky than all the older bottlings. And it's losing what little charm it started with.

Now back to the '70s bottling. The palate is more blend-y than I'd expected, raw at the edges, mix of vivid and flat casks in the center. But the nose is a pure delight. If this fruity, floral style is what blenders meant by "light" in decades past, then I'm sold, at least as far as the sniffer goes. I wish the flavor met it half way. Also the damn thing died on ice, instantly.

On Friday, it's the big bottle...

Rating - 79

Monday, September 16, 2019

Black & White Scotch Whisky print ads, a brief commentary

Every bio about James Buchanan says he was an animal lover. But the following sentence, in every bio, states that he raised racehorses from which he gained considerable financial return. Does that not sound like a man who rather loved money and exploited animals for profit? I don't know, but he did put horses in some of his advertisements. I mean, not wild or free horses, but draught animals:

circa 1903

He did like dogs — as far as I know he did not raise them to race or fight — and per the brand's myth, he got the idea of using wee terriers as part of Buchanan's advertising after attending a dog show in 1920. Though this ad, my favorite, is from 1914:

Though it would be a few additional decades before they graced bottle labels, the black and white terriers, Blackie and Whitey, were the focus of Black & White's print campaigns by World War II. Here are two ads, ca. 1942, that help promote the war effort. Note the terriers' shaded ad space features larger than the bottle itself.

The company went with the "The Scotch with Character" slogan for at least two decades as well. And by the 1950s, the advertising campaigns committed to fully establishing the terriers' adorable, playful characters. I mean, look at these little faces:

And now they're playing American football!

And baseball!

And celebrating Christmas, of course!

Here, in a 1957 ad, they are at the beach:

Now, note that the dogs are portrayed as lifeguards. They're positively dependable, like the whisky. Keep that in mind when you look at this beach-themed ad from 1974:

So, comedy(?), I guess?

Either the dog is turned on by human women, specifically human women who have undergone the sexual humiliation of a suit top slipping in public. Or that humiliation is seen as funny? Or women are being lowered to the level of dogs. Or all the above? And why? And how does that sell whisky?

Not all of their '70s ads were this baffling, but with the whisky industry's historical and current abysmal treatment of women, I thought I'd just dump this one onto the fire.

Let us now cleanse our palate with an image of happy doggos.

We can ignore the awkward cutting and pasting within the image. And the weird background. And that either the dogs or the bottles are in the wrong order. Let us instead focus on the simplicity of the idea. Two dogs, two whisky expressions.

The Extra Light version didn't last long, even in dog years. But Blackie & Whitey live on.

A cheesy hashtag as well as awards won by everything in a bottle, yes. But at least Whitey isn't chasing someone else's tail.

Image sources:
--MacLean, Charles. Scotch Whisky, A Liquid History. London, UK: Cassell Illustrated, 2005.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Killing Whisky History, Episode 27: Black & White blended whisky, bottled 1980-1983

Here it is! The first of three Black & White video reviews. It's a few minutes shorter than other K.W.H. episodes since I already covered Black & White history here. Enjoy the reverb!

This is a 750mL bottle filled sometime between 1980 and 1983. The liquid within weighs in at 43.4%abv. Per the reviewer, "This is a crisp, clean, well-made blend." And if you need a rating to go with that, here it is:

Rating - 82

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Black & White blended whisky, bottled late 1980s

Neither of these mini bottles show even a hint of a tax stamp, yet their alcohol volume is still measured in proof. That would put their bottling after 1985, but before 1990.

One important observation. Whitey looks a lot happier on these '80s bottles:

Than he does on the 2018 bottle:

Is that loyal pup trying to tell us something?

Brand: Black & White
Owner at time of bottling: United Distillers
Type: Blended Scotch Whisky
Age: minimum 3 years
Bottled: sometime between 1985 and 1989
Alcohol by Volume: 43.4%
(from my purchased 50mL bottles)

Oh, the nose is fruity! Peaches, apricots, roses, grapefruit and sour apple candies. There are also moments of toasted grains and yeast. The fruit trends more towards a flower blossom note with time. The palate is much simpler than the nose. It's mostly tart citrus, jalapeño oil and toasted nuts with hints of wheat and barley. Straightforward, spirit-forward. Not much going on in the finish. Soft pepperiness and herbal bitterness. A slight BBQ smoke note.

The nose's fruits and flowers are gone, replaced by caramel, maple syrup and young malt whisky. The inoffensive palate is mildly sweet and very reminiscent of Glenfiddich 12yo.

As with all the other Black & Whites I'm reviewing this month, I tried this whisky alongside the 2018 version. This one is certainly a step up from the current B&W, but not much more than that. Yet, once again, I find no connecting threads between the two eras. They feel like very different whiskies produced from different recipes. Perhaps the ingredients are similar, but older, and with greater emphasis on malt whisky. While the nose is quite pretty, the palate is......agreeable. Nothing off. Nothing on. It wouldn't surprise me if this late '80s mix is similar to the version of Black & White I first tried nearly two decades ago.

Rating - 76

Monday, September 9, 2019

Black & White 12 year old Premium blended whisky, bottled 1990s

With just a few exceptions, Black & White has been just Black & White, a single expression brand. There was an Extra Light version for a brief time around the '50s-'60s. That was preceded by a 12 year old De Luxe version in the '30s-'40s. But it was just Black & White NAS for decades after that until another 12 year old appeared at the end of the twentieth century.

The exact start and end dates of the more recent 12 year old have been difficult to sort out. I've seen Italian import bottles with post-1991 tax stamps, and (from what I've been able to gather) it hasn't been produced during this decade or possibly the previous. So I'm going with the broad "bottled 1990s" designation.

Sometimes this 12yo came in a creepy decanter which required the drinker to pull Whitey's head off to access the booze within. But most of the time it was sold in a bottle-shaped bottle.

Black & White
Owner at time of bottling: United Distillers
Type: Blended Scotch Whisky
Age: minimum 12 years
Bottled in: 1990s (probably)
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
(from my purchased 50mL bottle)

It has a rich, fudgy, toffee-filled nose. Dried cherries, leather, moss, ocean water. Hints of dunnage and dried apricot. Lots of black raisins and carob in the palate. Molasses, salt and a hint of tannin rest beneath. After 20 minutes, notes of golden raisins and honey emerge, sweetening things up. Raisins, salt, lemons and honey in the finish.

This whisky bears no resemblance to the current NAS Black & White. If whisky could be humiliated, then contemporary Black & White would pour itself into the soil and disappear in shame. The '90s 12yo Black & White is loaded with sherry cask-influenced malt whisky. In fact, it seems like a cousin to 10-12 year old Glenfarclas, except it reads even older.

Of my reviews this month, this is the last Black & White to be bottled at 40%abv. Everything else is going to be 43.4%abv (or 76 UK proof) going forward. And it's that low abv that holds the 12yo back from soaring. That extra dilution thins out the palate and shortens the finish. At 43.4%abv it may be a 87-90 point whisky.

As it is it's still a heck of a lot better than any current 12-year-old blend from a major producer. If or when a future whisky glut hits, I hope this whisky, or at least this style, returns.

Rating - 83

Friday, September 6, 2019

Black & White blended whisky, bottled 2018

I always keep one open bottle of a current blended whisky in my cabinet to...

Okay, I can't keep that lie going even one sentence. The quality of mid-shelf blends right now is so awful, and life is so short, that I don't waste money or anything else on blended scotch. There were quite a number of blends to recommend as recently as six years ago, but even those are approaching undrinkable.

But it's Black & White Month here, and I'd like to establish a point of reference before we drift back to the past, so it's best to start with the current iteration of this big bright shining star. Black & White and I go back 17 years, so I hold no illusions that it is heaven's nectar in a green bottle. But it used to be very reliable on the rocks or as a highball.

Let's get these reviews started off with today's Black & White.

Brand: Black & White
Owner: Diageo
Type: Blended Scotch Whisky
Age: minimum 3 years (and probably not much older)
Bottling code: L8275CP007
Bottling year: 2018
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? Yes
Colorant added? Yes
(top third of my bottle)

On the rocks:
The unmistakable bitter sharp woof of bottom-shelf plastic-bottle whisky, which should be (literally and figuratively) beneath this brand. Once the ice melts the resulting water tames the bite, making the whisky much more drinkable.

As a highball:
Painless, though also tasteless. A blank canvas for whatever bitters one chooses to add.

The nose is the best part. There's a sugar, mint and copper combination that reminds me of Midleton's Irish blends for some reason. There's also raspberry candy, vanilla and a slight floral note. Most of the palate is vanilla-ed grain whisky with black pepper. It's sour and ethyl-loaded like cheap Canadian and American blended whiskies. The finish is Black pepper & White dog.

You may look at the rating below and say, "Damn, that's cold." But really, it's a higher score than I'd give Johnnie Walker Red, Dewar's White and Cutty Sark; and just about where I'd put Chivas Regal 12yo, Ballantine's and J&B. But that says more about the state of blended whisky right now than it does about Black & White.

This is the roughest, grittiest, yet blandest Black & White bottling I've yet tasted. The palate reads like it's about as young as a Scotch whisky can legally be, with something close to 20% malt / 80% grain in the mix. The nose also seems barely legal, but it's helped by some of the pretty aspects of new make.

Here's to hoping I'm starting at the bottom.

Availability - All over Europe (minus the UK), but getting scarce in the USA. More recently it's been widely available in Brazil, Mexico, India, South Africa and Colombia
Pricing - $8-$12 in "emerging markets", $15-$25 elsewhere
Rating - 68

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Black & White blended whisky, a history

Born in Ontario and raised in Scotland, James Buchanan began working with Charles Mackinlay & Co in London in 1879, at the age of 30. In 1884, he started his own company, James Buchanan & Co Ltd. Sourcing whiskies from W.P. Lowrie, Buchanan began selling The Buchanan Blend the following year. (Buchanan and W.P. Lowrie later had Glentauchers Distillery built in 1896, and together bought Bankier and Convalmore in the following decade.)

Buchanan's goal with his Blend was a whisky, light in character, that would appeal to the English palate. It was such a success that Buchanan & Co received an exclusive contract with Parliament, the following year, to supply them with Buchanan’s House of Commons Finest Old Highland (also known as, House of Commons).

James Buchanan, Lord Woolvington
The House of Commons whisky, also sold by English grocers, came in a black bottle with a white label, and that's how customers began ordering it: "that Black and White whisky." As he began exporting the whisky around the world, Buchanan renamed it "Black & White" (with the quotation marks) in 1902.

As one of the most influential Scotch whisky producers, Buchanan chose to expand his business further by merging James Buchanan & Co Ltd. with the company of Scotch titan, John Dewar, forming Buchanan-Dewar in 1915. Their company was then consumed by the giant Distillers Company Limited (DCL) in 1925.

Black & White — the quotes were dropped around 1970 — included Dalwhinne, Clynelish and Glendullan malts for many decades, with Dalwhinnie often being the main ingredient. It's likely that the blend had Glentauchers, Bankier and Convalmore in it at various times as well. Though it usually had no age statement, Black & White was at various times an 8 year old. A 12-year-old version was briefly offered post-Prohibition, then again a half century later. And, as if the light-style whisky wasn't enough, there was an Extra Light version in the mid-20th century.

Said to have been an animal lover, Buchanan often used images of horses in his early adverts. But, as the legend goes, after attending a dog show in 1920, he got the idea of using two terriers, one black, one white for all his advertising campaigns. Early on, they were known as Scottie and Westie, but became better known as Blackie and Whitey.

Black & White has appeared in novels as diverse as Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night, Fleming's Moonraker and Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions. It has also shown up in films such as La Dolce Vita, Dr. No and Father Goose.

In 1964, the year of Father Goose's release, Black & White was one of DCL's best selling brands, trailing only Haig and Johnnie Walker. But as the market changed, and DCL experienced management struggles, Black & White's sales fell 50% over the next five years. Volume declined throughout the 1970s, until the brand was eventually pulled out of England and became an export-only product.

By focusing on emerging markets, Diageo was able to revive Black & White's sales in the latter half of the 2010s, expanding its volume 100% between 2013 and 2017, raising it from the 18th best-selling Scotch brand to the 10th. Two decades into its third century, Black & White has left its original demographic, finding more welcoming new homes in South America, Asia and Africa.

--MacLean, Charles. Scotch Whisky, A Liquid History. London, UK: Cassell Illustrated, 2005. (also, the photo source)

Monday, September 2, 2019

A Black & White September

Welcome to a full month of Black & White blended whisky. There will be reviews, videos, big bottles, little bottles, some history and classic ads. Stay tuned!

Friday, August 30, 2019

Birthday Booze: Yoichi 15 year old

I've just reviewed five long-aged single malts and there wasn't a killer in the bunch. In fact, the best of the five were the two with the lowest ABVs. The key to their mild successes were good palates. I didn't have a problem with the five noses, but lots of time sometimes equals lots of cask which in turn endangers the palate. Unless the drinker loves tannins. I am not that drinker.

Anyway, hear ye! Hear ye! Birthday whisky! No, I didn't open a 1978 bottle, nor did I open something that is of my age. Yes, I did declare the same bottle that I opened on Mathilda's first day of kindergarten as my birthday bottle. I'd been traveling for business for some time when I came home for my birthday and then did not have the mental energy to open up something else.

But now I'd like to briefly open up the past. (Segue!) Rewind seven years ......

...... when I was very excited about the rumor that Nikka was bringing their single malts to America. Then they arrived and I saw Yoichi 15 year old's price. $120! What? I tried it and loved it, but still that seemed a little silly. But I bought one bottle. Then age-stated Japanese single malts vanished, and Yoichi 15's price went to $300, then $400. Now there are US retailers selling it for $700-$1000.

What's it like opening a thousand-dollar whisky? I don't know, I paid $120 for it. What I do recognize is that I'll never own another bottle of Yoichi 15. We're likely 8-10 years away from seeing an updated release, and if people are paying $400-$600 (let along $1000) for a bottle now, why should anyone expect Nikka to price the next batch under $400?

There are a lot of dollar signs in the previous two paragraphs. But what did you expect? This is Diving for Pearls and I'm moping about Japanese whisky. Here are some actual tasting notes.

Distillery: Yoichi
Ownership: Nikka
Region: Hokkaidō, Japan
Age: minimum 15 years
Maturation: I've seen references to bourbon casks, sherry casks and a mix of casks. The label helpfully clarifies everything by saying, "oak casks"
Alcohol by Volume: 45%
Bottle Purchased: April 2014

Diaphanous(!) peat and wisps of charcoal smoke float along the surface of the nose. There's melon, plum wine, butterscotch pudding with smoked almonds and a hint of ginger candy. After 30 minutes, notes of clay and anise arise. A salty, seaweedy peat reads louder in the palate. Weaving through the peat is a good balance of calvados, subtle orange marmalade sweetness, black peppercorns and savory dried herbs. The finish is similar to to the palate with the salt, marmalade and calvados. The smoke grows more savory with time.

A few drops of water...

DILUTED TO ~43%abv, or ¼ tsp per 30mL whisky
The water brings more sugary notes to the nose. Also citronella, limes and an almost chocolatey peat smoke. No big change to the palate. Maybe more of a mineral note. A moment of sugar cookies. The finish also remains similar. Perhaps slightly sweeter with more of a cigarette smoke.

The graceful peat reads like nothing coming from Scotland right now (or ever?), and all the whisky's facets play well together in both the palate and nose. Nothing ever looms too large. The finish is moderate but very satisfying. At times it feels a bit tighter than I remember it to be, but airing it out seems to fix that.

While Yoichi 15 elicits neither sobs or swoons, as Yamazaki 18 has been known to do, it is still a great whisky. The whisky world would be better off with it readily available on shelves around the world, but its absence is more of disappointment than a tragedy. I'll enjoy this bottle while it lasts, and that will be enough.

Availability - Primary market, secondary market, tertiary market, etc.
Pricing - High
Rating - 89