...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Island of Orkney 12 year old 2006 Exclusive Malts, cask 342

Hey, how about it: A review of a bottle, and not a sample. Yay!

Firstly, I'm just going to call this a Highland Park because The Creative Whisky Company was likely contractually forced to jump through hoops and I'm not. It's Highland Park in French Oak. Sounds cool, right? It did (and still kinda does) to me, which is why I bought it blindly.

And now I'm going to give you my conclusions up front. I've struggled to get my brain around this whisky. There are times when I just don't like it. There are times when I just nose it for an hour, finding all new odd facets. For instance, sometimes this HP just smells like danishes and nothing else. Heavily-glazed cheese danishes. I shared the whisky with the Columbus Scotch Night crew and they all seemed to like it a lot. Now I'm past the bottle's midpoint and I just don't know.

Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Isle of Orkney
Independent Bottler: The Creative Whisky Company
Range: Exclusive Malts
Age: 12 years (21 June 2006 - 2018?)
Maturation: French oak (maybe a hoggie)
Cask #: 342
Alcohol by Volume: 56.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

Its nose starts with an almost-Clynelish is-it/isn't-it-peated phenolic note, which floats away within 20 minutes. That scent is coated in a sugary orange peel / madeira candy shell. Drifting around that is salty ocean air, honeydew, toffee and — stay with me here — Slim Jims. Though I'm not getting the entire danish note this time, there's a lot of pastry glaze and buttery sour cream. A hint of maple syrup, too.

A new paragraph for the rest. The palate has some of the nose's notes, specifically oranges and salt. A burnt hay-like peat note. There's lots of dried oregano and ginger beer. Even more vanilla and whipped cream. It remains hot even after a half hour in the glass. It finishes with a ginger beer, cream soda, carob and oak spice.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1⅓ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Brought into slightly sharper focus, the nose leads with orange peel and pine sap. Hay, cinnamon and nutmeg. Kinda of a Dead Sea-like salty mud bath. And something milky. The whisky is at its most familiar in the diluted palate. Sweet, with gentle citrus and fresh cherry notes. Hints of dried herbs. Lots of vanilla and oak spice. It finishes very sweet and tannic. Vanilla and butterscotch are the main notes.

Hopefully my scattered notes give you an idea of my scrambled thoughts on this thing. I like French oak much more than American oak — Randy Brandy is going to give me hell for that — but I have that preference because I like toasted French oak. This cask almost seems like newly charred French oak. There's genuine aggression here. The Gaspar Noé of casks, perhaps?

It's certainly not boring. Nor can I call it flawed. I don't have an existential struggle with it, unlike my bottle of rum cask Ardmore 1991, but I'm never in a hurry to pour a glass for a casual sip. I'm going to give it the same rating as that Ardmore, just to assign a number to it. I'm pretty sure the whisky is laughing at me.

Availability - may still be available at some European retailers
Pricing - obtained it for ~$80 (w/shipping, w/o VAT) in a moderate order last October
Rating - 84 (but who knows, really)

Monday, April 29, 2019

Three high strength official Isle of Arran single malts

I woke up at 4:45am this morning in order to nab my flight home and have now just completed bedtime for two little girls. My exhaustion is complete, and will spare you from longer introductions. If I rate one of these whiskies a 347 or Ol' Dirty Bastard you'll have to pardon me.

Here are three Arrans from a recent Taste Off:

Arran 8 year old 100º Proof, 57%abv, bottled in 2006
(from a purchased mini)

Though I'm an Arran enthusiast, I've never been able to keep up with their zillions of early releases. When I'd bid on this mini at an auction, I hadn't previously heard of the 100º Proof bottling. Apparently no one else did either. I wound up paying an embarrassingly tiny sum for it, something I can't say for any other auction win ever. From the notes below, my guess is this whisky was all from refill bourbon casks.

The nose starts with malt, apples, oranges, earth and umeboshi. Small notes of clay and oats drift underneath. With time it gets prettier, more floral. The palate is loaded with white fruits: apples, pears and green grapes. Then there's barley, citrus candy and a curious mustiness. The finish has as a good length considering the whisky's age. There's citrus candy, barley and a slight pepperiness.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or ½ tbl of water per 30mL whisky
The nose of a good floral, fruity newmake. No heat, lots of lemon peel. The palate gets very tart, and picks up the neat nose's musty note. It gradually gets viciously sweet while a wonky bitterness comes crashing in from a different direction. A tooth-rottingly sweet finish with hints of cayenne pepper and tart lemons.

This feels very close to newmake, and I sort of wish Arran still bottled this because it's BS-free. They'd sell like 5 bottles of the thing, but I'd get one if the price was right. I do not recommend adding water to it, though, which is fine because the neat version does not burn the mouth. Here are the usual disclaimers: it's not complex, there's little depth, etc. But — the usual claimer — it's very educational and barley-forward.

Availability - Auctions / secondary market
Pricing - ???, though the minis can be had for single digits
Rating - 86 (neat only)

Arran 12 year old Cask Strength batch 3, 53.9%abv, bottled in 2013
(thank you to Florin for the sample!)

Several years after the short-lived 100º Proof experiment, Arran started its Cask Strength series. Batch 3 is made up of 5 first-fill sherry butts, 13 second-fill sherry hogsheads and 31 bourbon barrels resulting in an outturn of 15,000 bottles.

The nose seems very closed when neat. There are grains, yeast, flowers and (again) umeboshi. Quiet sherry cask-ish notes of roasted meat and nuts show up occasionally. It picks up more sugary notes with time. A mix of stone and citrus fruits highlight the more expressive palate. The malt note rings louder the toasted oak note. There's a good sweetness to it. There's a surprising amount of heat to it, which continues on into the finish. Otherwise it's sugar, barley, nuts and black pepper.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Yeast, cocoa powder, almond cookies and a lighter floral note on the nose. The palate is very simple but approachable and drinkable. There's more oak and less spirit, yet notes of lemons, limes and red plums remain. The shorter finish is less sweet, and much more tart.

Another simple but decent Arran malt. I was surprised by the lack of sherry cask notes, as well as the considerable burn which registers much hotter than one anticipates from the ABV. The high quality Arran spirit ensures a good drink, even if better casks were saved for single cask releases. Still, I like the 10yo and 14yo better.

Availability - Auctions / secondary market (for this batch)
Pricing - ???
Rating - 85

Arran 12 year old Cask Strength batch 6, 52.4%abv, bottled in 2016
(from a purchased sample)

From what I've seen online, this was the last batch of the 12 year old Cask Strength series. If anyone knows more info or why they ended these batches, please share in the comment section. Batch 6, fashioned from first fill sherry butts, refill sherry hoggies and first fill bourbon barrels, had an outturn of 13,800 bottles and is still being sold by some European and American retailers.

Another closed nose. I'm getting grapefruit, brine, yeast and lemon. A hint of plum wine. With time, there are notes of apples, cocoa powder and watermelon candy. The palate has a hell of a citric bite, and is very very sweet. A little bit of grapefruit. A little bit of barley. A big bit of toasted oak. Oranges, grapefruit and toasted oak in rush of sweetness in the finish.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Flowers, earth and grass on the nose. Some more grapefruit. Not much oak. But the palate does have plenty of oak spice to go with the grapefruit and lemons. A little bit of grassiness here too. Lots of caramel sweetness. It's very drinkable, but feels hotter than the neat version. The finish has an easier sweetness than the neat version. More fruit essences, and just a whiff of oak spice.

I enjoyed the palate better than then nose, which a rare thing. And to cloud things further, I liked the palate better when diluted, and the nose better when neat. Perhaps it requires more experimentation with water? This seems to have even less sherry cask influence than batch 3, and it could have used a honey butt or two to give it more dimension(s). But for a 12 year old cask strength whisky, it's priced pretty well in the current market conditions. Still the 10 and the 14...

Availability - Many European whisky specialist retailers, fewer retailers in the US
Pricing - $70ish in the USA; €45-€65 in Europe (w/VAT)
Rating - 83

The discontinued — well, these are all discontinued — 100º Proof wins the day, though they're very close in quality, enough so that their ratings could switch around depending on the setting and/or further dilution. I'm glad I was able to try them all, but I'm in no rush to buy a full 700/750mL bottle of any of them.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Bunnahabhain 20 year old 1997 Palo Cortado Finish

I'm a fan of the Bunnahabhain's 1997 experimental peated distillations. It's big and dirty whisky. Or at least it was when it was younger. I'm more used to the 13-15 year old range of the stuff. But suddenly...it's over 20 years old?! That's terrifying. What happened? What are all these gray hairs in my beard?
above the boat captain...in the reflection...there's a crooked old man...
I had thought all that spirit was sold off to blenders and independent companies. Or maybe it had and now the distillery has bought some back? I think this is the first official release of that distillate. There was a 2017 Feis Ile bottling (finished in virgin oak, WTF) but the tasting notes I've read show no peat.

The distillery opted to give this small batch a finish, or secondary maturation, of "almost" two years in Palo Cortado casks. Palo Cortado is an unusual and interesting sort of sherry, and I'm going to direct you to SherryNotes for a deeper dive. Style-wise it sits between Amontillado and Oloroso, and should not be very sweet.

Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Distilled by: Highland Distilleries Company Ltd.
Current Ownership: Distell Group Ltd.
Region: Islay, but not the Sexy South

Age: 20 years (22 Nov 1997 - 26 Apr 2018)
Maturation: 19 years in "traditional oak whisky casks", then less than two years in Palo Cortado casks (size not specified)
Alcohol by Volume: 54.9%
Outturn: 1620 bottles
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(Thank you to Matt W for the sample! Additional note: after being a bit quirky upon opening, this bottle was left to sit for three months before this sample was poured)

No smoke on the nose, instead it's more organic, like moss and seaweed. Delicate sherry notes. Walnuts, brine and a hint of prunes. Orange blossoms. The expressive palate starts with smoked meats and little bit of red curry. Then lime juice and very dry cheese. Marijuana and marzipan in the background. Dried berries show up later on. Smoked meat and smoked nuts in the finish. Ginger, chile oil and limes.

Going to take this down to regular Bunny strength.

DILUTED TO ~46.3%abv, or about 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose starts with moss, earth and flowers. Then sticky candy and ground mustard seed. Hints of wood smoke and gunpowder. The palate has become much sweeter with a hint savoriness. Think brown sugar and bacon. Lemon candy, salt and a little bit of moss. The finish is sweeter too. A little tangy and salty and mossy.

It's almost two whiskies for the YOOOOGE price of one. The diluted version is simpler but a real joy to drink. The neat version would be a thinker more than a drinker were it not so thunderous. But it's not really peat that causes the (entertaining) ruckus. Instead it's the bold spirit and a reserved parcel of casks causing mischief. In fact my notes have me doubting how many of these casks held the 50ppm-peated-malt spirit. (Or 30ppm, as per Jordan, who is probably right.) This reads less phenolic than many similarly aged Springbanks and Ardmores. Could they have blended a couple unpeated casks into the vatting? No matter what's in the mix, this is another great official Bunnahabhain. If it were one-third the price, I'd buy a bottle!

Availability - A couple dozen retailers worldwide
Pricing - Europe: €350-€550 w/VAT; USA: $500-$600
Rating - 89

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Arran 22 year old 1996 Old and Wise

On March 1st, after my regrettable full February of Glenfiddich 12, I wanted to drink something remarkable. As I window-shopped my favored online whisky shops, I began to wonder if I could afford "remarkable". Gradually a conclusion was formed. While I may be able to afford "remarkable", blindly buying countless three-figure-priced whiskies in the search for "remarkable" was a poor idea.

Even better, I have a heavily curated, but expansive, whisky stash that has a respectable remarkable-to-acceptable ratio. And that made me happy.

But I did buy a few samples of whiskies that looked mighty fine, in the hopes of finding a real gem. This twenty-two year-old Arran is one of those samples. I put my feet up on a lovely evening and tried the first half of the sample without notes. The second ounce of the sample was saved for today's review.

Distillery: Isle of Arran
Ownership: Isle of Arran Distillers
Age: 22 years (7 Feb 1996 - 5 July 2018)
Maturation: sherry hogshead
Cask number: 055
Outturn: 305
Alcohol by Volume: 50.9%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(from a purchased sample)

The very pretty but very quiet nose leads with nutty sherry, apricots, plums and orange peels. Then Sprite, creamsicles, citronella and a candy shop note. It's lightly floral, with a slight oakiness. The palate is also fruity and soft, without ever being too sweet. Fresh stone and citrus fruits (more citrus with time). A bite of mango, hints of vanilla and flower kiss candy. A dose of oak spice and toasty notes, like nuts and coconut. The finish is the least woody part. No drying tannins, plenty of the palate's fruit notes (citrus, stone and mango) and a gently floral+sweet note reminiscent of Junmai Ginjo sake.

"Old and Wise"? I don't know. "Fruity and Fragile"? Yeah. And that's not a bad thing. Not every whisky has to be "Sturm und Drang". This is a pretty whisky, and possibly as light as 51% alcohol can be, which is why I didn't add water. One can appreciate its restrained measures of sherry and oak. I'm not prepared to part with $150+ to bring a whole bottle home, but it was a quiet pleasure and now it's time to move on.

Availability - A couple dozen European retailers
Pricing - Europe: €140-€160 w/VAT
Rating - 88

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

GlenAllachie 18 year old

On Monday I found Glenallachie's cask strength 10 year old to be problematic. On Tuesday, the 12 year old was just fine. Today, I'm reviewing the last of the trio of GlenAs, the 18 year old.

This Taste Off did not go as planned. Despite my commentary about Walker & Co's past doings and the weird branding choices, I do (or did) appreciate the good stuff Walker brought out of Allied's warehouses at Glendronach and Benriach. So I was hoping for, or even expecting, something fun from at least one of these whiskies. SPOILER ALERT: It wasn't to be.

Distillery: Glenallachie
Ownership: The Glenallachie Consortium
Region: Speyside (Aberlour)
Age: minimum 18 years old
Maturation: Oloroso, Pedro Ximenez and virgin oak casks
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered: No
Colorant added: No
(from a purchased sample)

All kinds of wood going on in the nose. At first there's pine sap, butter, caramel and eucalyptus. Then there are flowers, grapefruits and vanilla. And lumber. After 30+ minutes, it's roses, apricots and charred oak. The palate goes the opposite direction. It's loud and raw, feeling younger than the 12yo. It's herbal and grassy, loaded with white peppercorns and heat. Vanilla and marshmallows in the background. Pepper, vanilla, oranges and dried herbs in the hot finish.

DILUTED TO ~43%abv, or < ½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose calms down a little. Apple peels and cider, lemons and lumber. The palate becomes aggressively sweet. It also remains sharp and pepper and tart. The finish is sweet and herbal with a hint of pine sap.

I agree with Serge and Ruben, the 12 beats the 18. What's worse is that the 12 is "just fine". And the 18 is $125+. Regarding the whisky itself, the 18 year old has Craft Whisky written all over it. Loads of oak, rough spirit, nothing in balance. I'm having a hard time finding the inspiration to finish my sample. (Editor's note: Into a highball it went!)

As always, I encourage you to read other reviews by writers whose palates are similar to your own. Perhaps you may find better luck with these Glenallachies. I have zero interest in trying another of their standard range again.

Availability - Many specialty whisky retailers
Pricing - Europe: €90-€110 (w/VAT); USA $125-$150
Rating - 77 (neat only)

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

GlenAllachie 12 year old

I'm reviewing three of the new GlenAllachie single malts this week. Yesterday, there was the 10yo CS batch 1 review. Today, it's the 12 year old. There was one BIG issue with that 10 year old. Let's see if it reoccurs with the 12.

I won't expand upon yesterday's Billy Walker riff. I do wish him and his company well because the scotch industry can always use some good new products. They have brought along the quirky capitalization practice as they had with GlenDronach and BenRiach, highlighting the Glens and the Bens. The "The" they've added to Glenallachie seems silly and way-1990s. But really, what's up with the Harry Potter font?

Onto the whisky:

Distillery: Glenallachie
Ownership: The Glenallachie Consortium
Region: Speyside (Aberlour)
Age: minimum 10 years old
Maturation: Oloroso, Pedro Ximenez and virgin oak casks
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered: No
Colorant added: No
(from a purchased sample)

The nose's top layer is a mix of malt, vanilla and wasabi. Beneath that are hints of honey, clementines, jellybeans, burlap and nutritional yeast. It picks up a slight dirty hay note with time. While there are malt, herbs and peppercorns in the palate, the biggest note, by far, is marshmallow. Hints of frosted shredded wheat, limes and fresh ginger show up now and then. The marshmallow note fades out before the finish, pushing the frosted shredded wheat, limes and fresh ginger notes to the fore.

DILUTED TO ~43%abv, or < ½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Even with just this little bit of water, the nose has changed. It's all apples, lemons, Riesling and sharp cheddar. The palate is a jumble of wood and grain. Barley and raw spirit. Toasted oak and bitter green oak. Moments of tart limes and hay. The finish matches the palate.

The virgin oak issue is much less pronounced in the 12yo when compared to the 10yo CS, until one adds water. To stay positive-ish in this paragraph, I'll focus on the neat edition. The marshmallow note is curious, but there's a lot of barley, herbs and lime present, and the sweetness never spills over the top. It's simple, but very drinkable.

Yet again, the sherry casks are nearly invisible, which really isn't a problem until a few drops of water are added. And is "simple, but very drinkable" worth $50-$60? Not only does Glendronach's and Benriach's 12 year olds beat this whisky, but it loses to the new Loch Lomond 12 year old (I tried 'em side-by-side) as well. Still, I'd take GlenAllachie 12 over its more expensive, but younger, cask strength sibling.

Availability - Many specialty whisky retailers
Pricing - Europe: €40-€55 (w/VAT); USA $50-$60
Rating - 81 (neat only)

Monday, April 22, 2019

GlenAllachie 10 year old Cask Strength, batch 1

I have mixed feelings about Billy Walker's whisky work.

On one hand he did a masterful job building his GlenDronach brand by bottling high quality whisky made by a different owner (Allied). His team also bottled a modern classic, GlenDronach 15 year old Revival, until the old whisky ran out. He also created my favorite range of alternative cask finished peated whiskies over at Benriach. As far as the whisky actually made under his command, the GlenDronach Hielan is pretty good.

On the other hand, once the Glendronach honey casks started running low, lower quality casks were re-racked (or finished) in fresh sherry casks and that was never disclosed to consumers. The cask strength Benriach whiskies distilled by his team, and his peated Glendronach are multiple levels below the quality of the whiskies distilled by previous owners.

Also note this timeframe:
2014 - Glendronach's re-racking and unreliable labelling became widely known thanks to great work by My Annoying Opinions and Ralfy.
2015 - Glendronach 15 year old Revival is removed from the range. Whiskies distilled by Billy Walker's team see their first release.
2016 - Glendronach and Benriach are sold to Brown-Forman.

This was a wise business move, selling high before risking any further damage to the brands. At the same time, it would be understandable of current or former Glendronach and Benriach enthusiasts are less enthusiastic about this series of events.

A year after the big sale, a consortium that included Billy Walker purchased Glenallachie distillery (and a whole lotta stock) from Pernod Ricard. In 2018, Walker-era single malts, branded as The GlenAllachie, appeared on the market. I will be reviewing three of these standard range whiskies this week. Let's see what been done with Pernod's Glenallachie casks.

Distillery: Glenallachie
Ownership: The Glenallachie Consortium (seriously?)
Region: Speyside (Aberlour)
Age: minimum 10 years old
Maturation: Oloroso, Pedro Ximenez and virgin oak casks
Outturn: 12,000 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 57.1%
Chillfiltered: No
Colorant added: No
(from a purchased sample)

The nose is a virgin oak candyland, all taffy, vanilla, caramel and coconut. There's also grapefruit, eucalyptus, orange popsicles and gummy bears. The palate starts out hot and tangy. Beneath the heat is A LOT of sugar with bits of bitterness and barley. Plenty of vanilla, specifically vanilla marshmallows. It finishes sweet and hot. Vanilla and barley with hints of limes and bitterness.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or ½ tbl of water per 30mL whiskey
The nose becomes simpler and more focused. It's just vanilla, flowers and tropical fruit candy. The palate is still very sweet. There's also tart citrus, toasty oak and a hint of woody bitterness in the mix. The tart, peppery finish has more woody bitterness and vanilla than the palate.

I could tell you that the nose was so-so and the palate never really worked, but I'd rather focus on the cask issues here. The PX casks are nowhere to be found and the Oloroso casks are smothered. There's just so much new or recharred American oak in the glass that I'm left wondering, "How crummy were the Pernod casks?" Mark Reynier & Co went with wine casks when they inherited questionable Bruichladdich stock. Walker & Co are going with new oak? I hope this is not seen as a permanent solution. Will the other two GlenAllachies fare better?

Availability - Many specialty whisky retailers
Pricing - Europe: €55-€70 (w/VAT); USA $60-$80
Rating - 76

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Rum Dummy drinks 2 Foursquare rums

Randy Brandy isn't the only funny writer on this site. The Rum Dummy has jokes!

Hey look, I am drinking two Foursquares, or should I say......Sixteen?

No wait, there's two. I'll start again.

Hey look, I am drinking two Foursquares, or should I say......Thirty-two?

But what if it's two times four to the second power. I'll start again.

Hey look, I am drinking two Foursquares, or should I say......Sixty-four?

Wait wait that doesn't work because it's Foursquares not Foursquared. I'll start again.

Hey look, I am drinking two Foursquares, or should I say......Eightsquares?


Pretty good, huh?

Yeah, just wait until I review some Uitvlugt. Uitvlugt. Hilarious, right?

The first rum today is:

Foursquare 10 year old Criterion (bourbon & Madeira casks) blended rum 56%abv

Richard Seale of Foursquare distillery uses big words like "Criterion" and "Exceptional" on the bottle label, which are weird words to see on a rum label. But I also see "Blended" and "Rum", and I know what those words mean. People who sold these bottles said the rum was aged in bourbon casks for 3 years, then Madeira casks for seven years. They could be right, I don't know.

Nose - Bourbon, dusty old shoes, cocoa, caramel, cloves, pinot noir, honey mustard and vanilla. Putting water in the rum makes the rum smell spicier.
Palate - It's hot on my palate and also tannic. Also lemons, sweet oranges, cinnamon and little bit of almost-Jamaican funk. Putting water in the rum makes the rum taste mostly the same, maybe sweeter.
Finish - Long, hot, tangy, sweet, bitter oak and baking spices. Putting water in the rum cools down the finish, leaving it very tannic.

It smells very very good. Tastes mostly good. Lots and lots of woodiness though. I don't know how much this matters because no one's selling this rum anymore.


Hey, I also know some funny limericks!

Oh, yeah, there's another rum here. Stick around for my funny limericks after the second rum.

The second rum is:

Foursquare 12 year old 2005 (bourbon casks) blended rum, 59%abv

This is kinda like a sequel to the 11 year old I reviewed last year. Just bourbon casks. The 12 year old rum's label says "full proof" just like 11 year old's and is the same exact ABV as the 11 year old. Is that magic? I'm so confused.

Nose - It smells medicinal. And there's caramel, vanilla, milk chocolate, plastic toys, citrus and root beer. Putting water in the rum doesn't change it much.
Palate - Softer than the nose. Smaller medicinal note. Toasted almonds, caramel sauce, bourbon and bourbony cherry note. Putting water in the rum makes it tannic and sweet.
Finish - Sugar, hotness, vanilla, caramel, a little bit of funk. Very long. Putting water in the rum makes it tannic and sweet.

This is like a bourbon from an ex-Islay cask. Sort of. Better wood notes than the Criterion. Better finish too. I like it better.


Okay, so here's my first funny limerick.

There once was a girl from Enmore
Who dressed like--


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Loch Lomond Loch Lomond Loch Lomond (or Loch Lomond Inchmoan Croftengea)

Loch Lomond has released A LOT of grim whisky over the years. But then suddenly, their official bottlings are no longer mocked. And they're putting out single casks. Has the punk rocker gone full Green Day?

Count me intrigued. I've always enjoyed their rejection of the Scotch Whisky Association (or was it the other way around?) and their unorthodox distillation processes (which led to SWA issue), even though I haven't always enjoyed their whiskies.

Here are three official Loch Lomond whiskies bottled within the past year or so.

Loch Lomond 12 year old single malt, official bottling, 46%abv

I'm sure there were many in Scotland who were worried when a private equity group bought the Loch Lomond Distilling Company, but occasionally, occasionally, a PE firm can sort out a company's issues and gradually redirect the ship. I have more confidence in Loch Lomond's future than Bladnoch's at this point, FWIW. Anyway, I listed "single malt" up there because there's a Loch Lomond single grain on the market, and I will not be reviewing that today or ever. Thanks to MAO for this sample!


The nose is......shockingly clean and fruity. I'm thinkin' pears, apple, apricots and oranges. Then there's ginger powder, barley and black pepper. Gradually, vanilla and sticky candy notes develop with time. Barley, pears and marshmallows lead in the palate. Then black pepper, eau de vie, limes, guava and canned fruit cocktail juice. It grows more floral with time. The finish has the palate's fruits, but with a spicy zing. Hints of vanilla and flowers float in the background.

DILUTED TO ~43%abv, or ⅓ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose becomes much simpler, basically barley, coconut cream and vanilla. Similarly the palate narrows. Peaches in tomatillo sauce, vanilla bean and a little bit of sugar. It finishes tart, peppery and mildly sweet.

So this is what Loch Lomond has been blending out or selling to blenders all these years?! Leave Loch Lomond neat and it will kick Glenfiddich 12's and Glenlivet 12's asses all around the block. Bottled at a good strength, Loch Lomond 12 has a successful balance of oak and spirt, not to mention all those fruits. I'm more stunned by this one than the 12yo G&M Ledaig. And the price.

Availability - Many whisky retailers in Europe and North America (including Ohio)
Pricing - USA $28-$38; Europe: €40-€55 (w/VAT)
Rating - 86 (neat only)

Inchmoan 12 year old single malt, official bottling, 46%abv

The most, um, intimately named of Loch Lomond's whiskies, Inchmoan is a mix of distillate from the distillery's pot still and trouble-making hybrid still. It's also heavily (40-50ppm) peated. The only other Inchmoan I've consumed was one of the five most gruesome whiskies ever. I still have sense memories of that one, so I'm approaching this one with caution.


The nose does have its weird side: wet dogs and plastics factory exhaust. Then there's the candy corner: cotton candy, marshmallows, rock candy and cherry lollipops. Also cinnamon and flowers. It doesn't come together at any point. The palate is less odd. It's ashy, earthy and tart. Vanilla, fresh ginger and a mild herbal bitterness. Toasted oak and toasted barley with honey. Vanilla, honey and tart fruit in the finish. Pepper and smoke in the aftertaste.

DILUTED TO ~43%abv, or ⅓ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose is still kooky. Burnt hair, burnt plastic, rocks and cracked pepper. The palate has a heavily ashy, almost woody, peat smoke. Salt, pepper and sourness. The finish matches the palate.

Though the neat palate was drinkable, I couldn't finish the sample. While it certainly isn't boring, nor flat out disgusting like the other Inchmoan I had, Inchmoan 12 is a strange mess. It's as if someone closed his eyes and mixed a bunch of random fluids together. Perhaps this stems from the fact that they took a difficult spirit from two different stills and stuck it in recharred barrels. I do recognize there's a significant portion of the scotch community who think peaty = good, always. Perhaps this is for them. It's not for me.

Availability - Some whisky retailers in Europe
Pricing - Europe: €45-€75 (w/VAT)
Rating - 71

Croftengea 9 year old 2008, cask 272 for The Whisky Exchange, 54.8%abv

Croftengea's malt is also peated at 40-50ppm, but I believe it's all hybrid straight-neck still spirit. Yet I like Croftengea, a lot. It's Fun Weird, which is my favorite whisky genre. And yes, I did actually buy a bottle of the Croftengea I raved about last autumn. I was also looking forward to today's sample because its supplier, MAO (thank you!), already gave it a 💖.


The nose begins with a luminous creamy dessert note, like toffee pudding with toasted coconut and orange zest. Orange-cranberry scones. Peaches and flowers. A gentle but rich peat of a much older whisky. That same peat note shows up in the palate, along with pear and peach nectars, lime juice and cayenne pepper. Also some tart berries and a slight Campari-like bitterness.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or >1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Mangoes, oranges and toasted coconut in the nose. Hints of herbal peat and ocean in the background. Same peat and pepper in the palate, but now there are tart lemons, limes and grapefruit. The finish has the same tart fruit notes, as well as a light sweetness and bitterness.

Well, damn. Another great Croftengea. I'm not sure if I'm more surprised by its fruitiness or the peat style. It feels older than its 9 years. I was waffling about giving it the Big 90, but because it was one of the most delightful drinks I've had this year boosted the number to that magical spot. Sorry that it's out of stock, you should have read MAO's review last summer and bought four bottles then. I did the former but not the latter. I learn nothing, folks.

Availability - Loch Lomond sells out!
Pricing - ???
Rating - 90

Monday, April 15, 2019

Ledaig Ledaig Ledaig

Though Ledaig is one of my favorite single malts, I haven't reviewed many bottlings since the brand became hip. Its popularity blossomed right about the time, around five years ago, when a certain influential whisky blogger declared that Ledaig was the new old Ardbeg (which really makes about as much sense as when I declared Mike Trout to be the new young Willie Mays, seven years ago; it's enthusiasm-powered goofy shorthand by both of us).

If you're looking for reviews of Ledaig's lovely sherry casks, sorry, you may abandon ship here. I'm digging into three relatively current Ledaigs, all of which come from former bourbon casks. I tasted these three together in order of ABV, which was also in order of oldest to youngest.

Ledaig 12 year old Gordon & MacPhail, Discovery range, 43%abv

I had minimal expectations for this whisky, a first for Ledaig and I. Other than the Highland Park 8yo, low abv G&Ms are thin and bland on my palate. A boring Ledaig would be a waste of Tobermory's peated distillate and a darned shame. So here goes the oldest and lightest of the trio:

Cardamom, cinnamon and chives season a bright vegetal peat in the nose. The peat gets feistier with time, bringing in a whiff of elephant manure and lemon peels. It reads much bigger than 43%abv. The palate is gently peppery and sweet, but has a peatier smoke (or smokier peat) than the nose. Lime juice, apricots, sweet bell peppers, fresh herbs and arugula. A smoky hot pepper sauce stays the longest in the finish, followed by notes of arugula and sweet oranges. Good length to it all.

Surprise! Thanks to low oak levels and no bludgeoning peat, this makes for a good whisky. The nose is great, and though the finish is simple I enjoyed it. If one could design a casual sippin' Ledaig, this would be it. Would it have been better bottled at the OB's 46.3% strength? Probably, though it would also likely be a different experience at that strength. If only G&M would bring this to The States and price it at $49.99 then perhaps I'd buy this for the autumn.

Availability - A few dozen European whisky retailers
Pricing - Europe: €50-€65 (w/VAT)
Rating - 84

Ledaig 10 year old, Official Bottling, 46.3%abv

This baby was the real motivation behind today's tasting. I reviewed it 6½ years ago (holy crap!) and was less enthused by it than most folks whose palates I respect. Since life and whisky batches (no matter the size) change despite all resistance, it is time to take in a larger sample of the official Ledaig 10.

The nose is somehow even greener than the G&M 12yo, with bundles of fresh herbs. Yes, there's peat, but also a steady waft of ocean air, met with cheerful(!?) lemon peels and citronella, then hints of eucalyptus and toasted marshmallows. A peat richer and more complex than the 12's radiates across the palate, with salty ocean notes, charred meat and veg. Lemons and limes that start tart then turn sweet. Hints of herbal bitterness and vanilla pudding actually work together. Honey, limes, smoke, chili oil and dried herbs load up the enormous finish.

Yeah, I like this a lot. In fact, this would knock something off "My 25 favorite single malts under $80" list. It's great, complex, delicious whisky at just 10 years old. In fact, with Ledaig, Springbank, Benromach, Ardmore and peated Benriach on the market, official Islays aren't faring so well in the OB peated whisky world anymore. Back to this whisky. Ledaig 10 year old is so much better than I'd remembered, and cheaper than the 12yo G&M.

Availability - Most whisky retailers
Pricing - Europe: €35-€55 (w/VAT), USA $50-$70
Rating - 88

Ledaig 7 year old 2010 van Wees The Ultimate, cask 700411, 59.7%abv

I had to have one full-powered humdinger in the group. And though I frequently criticize the indie bottlers who pile <8yo single casks upon European whisky retailers, I did like a 6yo Caol Ila last December, so I was willing to risk annihilating my senses for the possibility of a good baby Ledaig.


The nose begins with salty grilled shellfish, hot tar and scallions.  toasted barley note arises miraculously from the peat fog. It's also not nearly as hot as the ABV would lead one to expect. Hints of vanilla and melon rind mix with all the kiln notes. Manure and lemon peel show up after 20+ minutes of air. The peat is more green than smoky on the palate. Ocean water, limes, fresh herbs and cinnamon candy. It gets sweeter with time, almost minty actually. The warm, but not hot, finish is herbal and peppery, with just a little bit of sweetness and a lot of ocean water.

DILUTED TO ~46.3%abv, or 1¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Massively farmy, the nose holds onto its ocean notes, but is otherwise much different than when neat. There's cocoa powder, rock candy, yeast and onions. Yep. The palate is loaded with green herbs and wood smoke, as well as very tart limes and salt. It finishes with peppery smoke, herbal bitterness and a little bit of brown sugar.

This is neither crap nor a palate wrecker. Success! It's more aggressive than the previous two, but that was to be expected. Youthful but not punishing. I like the quirky (Ledaig!) nose and find the palate very approachable. Still didn't van Wees give it another 3-5 years in the cask. The race isn't fully run, the cake ain't baking, the bread is par baked, the whisky has barely matured past new make. Not only that, but at 10-12 years old van Wees could've charged 50-100% more. I dunno. Good whisky, but what might have been...

Availability - A few European retailers
Pricing - Europe: €50-€65 (w/VAT)
Rating - 82

Friday, April 12, 2019

Randy Brandy drinks 3 Copper & Kings brandies

What a great Friday to be Randy Brandy in this glorious glorious country. Kravitz interrupted me while I was taking a perfectly good crap to tell me this post was due today. So I'm writing this from the toilet. I was also instructed to not make fun of Sku this time.

Look, everyone wants to be loved. Physically. And no one in the whiskey community, save Allison Asterisk of Brenne, has more lusty groupies than Sku. Though it's become a near toss-up since Allison got engaged. Kravitz tracks this stuff. And by "stuff" I mean Allison's Instagram.

Sku's writing style, before he was K&L'ed, was the key to his popularity. He never asked anyone to read much. He would unburden himself of a one sentence post and he got 4000 clicks. Kravitz writes Cloud Atlas and he gets 4 views including his 4-year-old daughter who accidentally clicked the bookmark when playing with her father's phone. Then she somehow found his Incognito Tab and she's been in therapy ever since.

The next day the 4-year-old got into an argument with her preschool teachers, insisting that a horse can ride a man. They thought she had it backwards. No, but someone definitely had it backwards. If you know what I mean. Look, I'd explain it to you but I'm supposed to be reviewing, uh, what I am reviewing? What is this, bourbon?

No, it's American brandy, allegedly. I did some research. And by research I mean I read some whiskey blogs, which was horrifying, how do you people do it?

Copper & Kings was created by the South African American (gotta watch the hyphens there) Heron family who create with drinks that they then sell to conglomerates. Gosh, I wonder what the fate of Copper & Kings is going to be. That's not a dig. That's some good American entrepreneurship. Howzit, Herons? I'm glad the Herons are making brandy, not bourbon. I hope their brandy doesn't taste like bourbon.

(sample from Florin, a man who shares)

Copper & Kings American Brandy, 45%abv

Nose - Apples and bourbon. Um. Sawdust, vanilla, corn syrup and white grape juice. Mint extract, cardamom. Much better now.
Palate - Not bourbon. More like a spicy sweet young cognac. Ginger, apples, horseradish, vanilla. Creamy. Gains taffy and peach candy notes after a while.
Finish - Sweet stuff. Vanilla, bubblegum, taffy.

I was asked by Kravs to add water to these next two because that is what is done. It's a good thing I always bring an eyedropper and beaker of spring water to the can with me.

(another sample from Florin, clearly a socialist)

Copper & Kings Cr&ftwerk Brandy finished in Oskar Blues Imperial IPA barrels, 55.5%abv

Nose w/o water - Grapefruit, anise, rubber, horseradish. Mint and hops. Pine sap.
Nose with water - Mint, pineapple, orange peel, pine sap, less grapefruit

Palate w/o water - Ginger, grapefruit, hops. Also known as IPA. But very sweet. Vanilla, pepper, and mint gum.
Palate with water - Sweet IPA and pine sap, apple cider, brown sugar.

Finish w/o water - Heat, lime juice and mint gum, vanilla. Bitter.
Finish with water - Much sweeter. Ginger and brown sugar.

(sample from Sku)
I don't understand art

Copper & Kings Butchertown Brandy, 62%abv

Nose w/o water - Grapes, blackberries, pears, potpourri, vanilla, cream soda. No burn.
Nose with water - Orange sherbet, cream soda, pine sap, more vanilla.

Palate w/o water - Here's the burn. Hot and sweet. Honey and pineapple juice. Tart cherries, ginger and cream soda.
Palate with water - Peppercorns, oranges, vanilla, tart lemons, very tannic.

Finish w/o water - Tart cherries and caramel, heat, oak spice and tannins, raisins.
Finish with water - Tart lemons, ginger, vanilla, mint leaves.

It's not bourbon. Good.

Do I need to write more?

Okay, I like the American Brandy the best. It's the most brandy of the three brandies. It's oaky, but I expected worse. It's straightforward. It has curves and edges. Wow, that was poetic and unnecessary and I repeat myself. I. Might. Buy. A. Bottle?

There's a lot of IPA in the Cr&ftwerk, which will appeal to IPA drinkers. It is difficult to find the brandy part. It does seem like a new thing, though. And I don't hate new things, unlike a certain blogger whose name is K*****z.

Butchertown is big. America Big. It tastes like oak and fire. It smelles good, but I wanted more of the American Brandy every time I drank Butchertown. Good name though.

Adding water did nothing useful. Shocker. I need to end this post now because my legs are numb and the seat has embedded itself into my ass. So I'm going to give these grades even less thought than usual.

Copper & Kings American Brandy - B
Copper & Kings Cr&ftwerk IPA - C+/B-
Copper & Kings Butchertown Brandy - C+/B-

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Braeval 18 year old 1994 Exclusive Malts, cask 159162

Yesterday's two Inchgowers did not spar alone. They had a third partner, today's Braeval. Unlike the Inchgowers, I had tried this whisky before, and I'd liked it. That's why I thought it was going to be a super triple tasting. But it wasn't super. Those Inchgowers could not compete. Bring on the Braeval, baby.

Distillery: Braeval
Ownership: Pernod Ricard
Region: Speyside (Banffshire)
Bottler: Creative Whisky Company
Range: Exclusive Malts
Age: 18 years old (December 1994 - January 2013)
Maturation: "Oak cask", probably a bourbon barrel
Outturn: 228 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 52.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(thanks to Brett for the sample!)

The nose delivers a spot on mix of malt, peaches, lemons and honey. Hints of roses, clementines and low-rye dusty bourbon rest beneath. At first the palate has citrus and toasted oak spice, then a rush of malt, limes and cara cara oranges takes over. Then almonds and apricots with a gentle ripple of chili oil. The rich long finish holds onto those nuts and fresh citrus notes, as well as the nose's malt.

I don't want to add water to this but for the sake of science:

DILUTED TO ~46% abv, or ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Ah gorgeous. Whew. Peach skins, roses, lemon cookies and orange peel on the nose. The palate hasn't changed much. Maybe a little sweeter, maltier. The finish matches the palate closely too with just little more of a spicy zip.

Flawless teenage bourbon cask whisky, with or without dilution. It's been a long time since I had something like this, and I hope dearly the next bottle I open from my stash is near this quality. I did have two opportunities to buy this in early 2013, and I turned them both down because spending $100 on a single bottle was CRAZY back then. Damn it.

See, a nice surprise this week! And a second 90-point whisky. Wut?

Availability - All gone
Pricing - It was around $100-$120 six years ago
Rating - 90

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Two sherry cask 1995 Inchgowers from the Laings

Sherry cask Inchgowers are somewhat scarce. The Laing companies seem to have 90% of the casks, which I don't entirely understand. That they would be enthusiastic about the stuff is reasonable; yet almost no other indie bottler is. Inchgower can be a quirky spirit, but it seems to do very well in a vibrant cask.

All three sherry cask Inchgowers that I have previously tried were great. So great that I went ahead bought a bottle of another sherry cask Inchgower. Blindly. 😱. One could say I was pretty excited about this Taste Off.

Inchgower 19 year old 1995 Old Malt Cask (Hunter Laing), sherry butt 11402, 50%abv

Right up front, the nose is strange. Wet wool, mold, raw alcohol. But also plum wine and apricots. After 20 minutes there's caramel sauce and fermenting apples. After 30 minutes, dark chocolate, prunes and more caramel. The palate is quirky, though it's a bit filthy and earthy, almost peaty. But also bursting with citrus and blackberries, with a subtle grassy undertone. There's a soy sauce and sesame oil combo happening in the background, and it kinda works. At the 30 minute mark there's some manuka honey and burnt raisins. It finishes with the palate's fruit and nose's fustiness. Then some raisins, vanilla and a hint of tannin.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or ½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose's oddities have calmed. Now it's dunnage and a tiny bit of peat. Prunes and chocolate make up the rest. The palate is sweeter, with more generic sherry cask notes (raisins, prunes). But there's also a savory note that meets up with orange candy. It gets very very sweet, and that sugariness goes right into the finish. Vanilla, golden raisins and lemons. The savory note lingers here.

Inchgower 20 year old 1995 Old Particular (Douglas Laing), refill sherry butt 10880, 51.5%abv

Oats on the nose. Oats and barley and lemons. Feels very raw and young. Roses and rock candy. The whole thing gets grainier with time. No sign of sherry cask to be found. Except, maybe, rubber. The palate leads with barley, burlap and cardboard. Sand, plastic and ethyl heat. A little bit tanginess and cayenne pepper, which also carries over into the finish, as does the sand, heat and plastic. Like a polluted beach.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose perks up a little. Barley, honey and oranges. But also fabric and alcohol. Barley, dried herbs and something meaty linger about in the palate, as does cardboard and plastic. The finish is papery, grainy and herbal.

The 19 year old is weird, but has its charms. I like the earthy, musty, phenolic notes. And there's a good spot somewhere between 10- and 30-minute mark after the whisky is poured. Its character is constantly on the move, which is entertaining but also slightly annoying. Diluting it to 46% straightens it out and declutters, but also risks turning it into just another generic sherry cask Speysider. It gets points for amusement but falls short of my previous experiences with sherry cask Inchgowers.

The 20 year old comes from one dead ass cask. Possibly a dead ass cask in a warm warehouse corner. Sometimes it's reminiscent of the tragic Dewar Rattray Auchentoshan (also 20yo and from a sherry cask) I reviewed last year. Sometimes it's almost recommendable for nosing purposes. The good news is it's devoid of vanilla and tannin. And there's plenty of barley rolling around the nose and palate. I'm hard-pressed to say anything else positive about it.

The two main takeaways today: I will not be buying another sherry cask Inchgower blindly anytime soon, and I'm beginning to understand the reluctance of all the other indie bottling companies.

Inchgower 19 year old 1995 Old Malt Cask (Hunter Laing)
Rating - 82

Inchgower 20 year old 1995 Old Particular (Douglas Laing)
Rating - 72

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Balvenie 14 year old 2003 Peat Week

There have been a number of recent tastings that did not go according to plan. Some were positive, most were not. Luckily I don't own any bottles of the disappointments, so the surprises weren't so heartbreaking. Here's one that was a surprise.

I haven't reviewed a Balvenie since February of last year. Though I find Balvenie's single malts to be consistently pleasing and well made, I don't have a single Balvenie bottle in my collection. This situation would be different had they priced the 15yo single sherry cask like its predecessor, the 15yo single bourbon barrel, but they didn't. The 15yo sherry cask is good, but not $120 good. The reliable 12yo Doublewood is priced north of $50 here in Ohio, and I don't value it at that level either.

In Europe, the Peat Week releases have been priced about 20% lower than the much more prevalent sherry cask bottlings. Yes, I realize those are "single" sherry casks, but there are hundreds (or thousands, or at least a constant supply) of them. Anyway, enough about those damned sherry casks. That Balvenie review posted 14 months ago was of Peat Week 2002. Today I'm reviewing Peat Week 2003. To quote last year's review with some edits:
For each of the past 17 years Balvenie distillery has devoted one week to heavily peated still runs. The malt used for this distillation is peated to around 30ppm with Highland peat. In 2018, they bottled this whisky with an actual two-digit age statement, no chill filtration and a respectable ABV — an almost revolutionary act by an official producer.
I stand by that last statement, though peated Speyside single malts are no longer unique. The good news is that malt dried with Highland peat produces different characteristics than malt dried with Islay peat. So different peaty experiences have been coming to the market during this past decade. That can be good. Let's see how this particular whisky panned out.

Distillery: Balvenie
Ownership: William Grant & Sons
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Age: 14 years old (2003-2018)
Maturation: American oak
Limited bottling: ???????? bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 48.3%
Chillfiltered: No
Colorant added: Probably
(from a purchased sample)

An aggressive Islay-style band-aid peat bursts forth from the nose at first. Beneath that is a very milky vanilla note. Then cut grass, apple peels, wet snuffed cigarettes and lumber. The palate is also mostly peat and smoke at the start. It transitions to an aggressive sweetness loaded with lime candy, ginger ale and vanilla. And, just, sugar. A hint of manure floats around in there. The finish is very sweet and tart with salty smoke, ginger ale and chlorine.

DILUTED TO ~43%abv, or ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose becomes farmier, but also picks up more vanilla and an apple cider vinegar note. The palate gets bitterer and bitterer. Then comes some sulphur, limes and sugar. LOTS of sugar. And sheep shit. It finishes with smoke, sugar and limes.

With its loud peat, louder sweetness and blankets of vanilla, this comes across as an aggressively engineered whisky. It could have used some more sheep shit.

Sad Cynic says, "The market doesn't need any more of this sort of whisky."
Happy Cynic says, "Balvenie has been spending big bucks to market themselves as a craft whisky, when all they really needed to do was make a craft whisky."

The whisky also doesn't work on the rocks, nor as hot whisky, in case you're curious. I was. Now I'm not. If you are ever given the choice between Balvenie 2002 Peat Week and Balvenie 2003 Peat Week, I'd recommend you choose Benromach 10.

Availability - Europe and USA
Pricing - Europe: $65-$85, US: $90-$120
Rating - 76