...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Elijah Craig NAS Small Batch, current version

Alas, The Present. The end. For now?

A year after removing the 12 year old age statement, Heaven Hill gave Elijah Craig a whole new outfit, further distancing it from its previous forms. Gone was the dark old whisky in the bottom-heavy bottle, here was something taller, lighter, thinner and younger.

This was known as Sample B in the Taste Off, or whisky 3 in my home lineup. It finished dead last among the group, and next-to-last in my own notes. I lined it up next to the pre-fire EC12 for the tasters to see how far apart the whiskies were.

During my blind tasting, I somehow guessed the three 12 year old ECs correctly, but got the two NASes mixed up. I rated this higher than the previous NAS, while also thinking this one was that one. I wouldn't buy either again.

To recap again, I tasted this bourbon blindly, then did another tasting when I knew what was in my glass. I've listed both sets of notes below. The final rating is weighted heavily towards the blind tasting experience.

Distiller: Heaven Hill
Brand: Elijah Craig
Region: Bardstown, Kentucky
Distillery: DSP-KY-1
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Age: no age statement
Bottled: likely 2018 or 2019
Alcohol by Volume: 47%

When I didn't know what I was drinking

The flattest of the noses. Corn syrup, almonds and brown rice. Cherry candy and BBQ-flavored peanuts. “Black & White cigarettes on the casino floor.”

Halvah, black pepper and nuts start off the palate. Then it shifts to a weird gear: very earthy and very sweet, with a definite paint note.

The finish is tannic and drying on the first two sips, then gets tooth-rottingly sweet and tangy in subsequent sips.

When I DID know what I was drinking

The nose is plain and sugary. Berry jam and barrel char. Almond extract, flowers and vinegar.

The palate is bland, nutty, sweet and peppery.

The finish is nutty, sweet and acidic.

The palate was odd during the first tasting, then boring on the second tasting, but the nose was consistent. It's probably not the worst thing in the extensive Heaven Hill portfolio, but it's a damned shame that's the best thing I can say about it. Six of the tasters from the group ranked this EC first or second, so there are still folks who'd enjoy it. And its score was so close to that of the back-label-12yo that scores from one more taster might have flipped their overall rankings.

But for palates like mine, Elijah Craig Small Batch is just a cocktail bourbon now. I wish it were better. I went into this experiment hoping I'd like the whiskey. Instead, I'll hide remainder in a few old fashioneds. Not all in one night. Probably.

Availability -

Rating - 75

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Elijah Craig NAS Small Batch, bottled ca. 2016

And then Heaven Hill dropped Elijah Craig's age statement. And everyone was shocked, SHOCKED. Now 8-12 year old whiskies were in the mix per the marketing blurbs, but those numbers were worthless since they were not listed on the label, nor did this become Elijah Craig 8 year old Small Batch.

I found this bottle in Newcastle, IN, during a drive last year. The printed bottle code has a 16 on it, so it's very possible this was from the first batches of this new bourbon. Here's a look at that back label now:

This was Sample C for the 20 other participants in the Elijah Craig Taste Off, while it was the first glass in my own blind tasting. Overall, the group gave it a decent score and it tied in second, considerably ahead of the 12 year old it had replaced. Meanwhile, I ranked it dead last.

As per the previous reviews this week, I tasted this bourbon blindly, then did another tasting when I knew what was in my glass. I've listed both sets of notes below. The final rating is weighted heavily towards the blind tasting experience, unless otherwise noted.

Distiller: Heaven Hill
Brand: Elijah Craig
Region: Bardstown, Kentucky
Distillery: DSP-KY-1
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Age: no age statement
Bottled: around 2016
Alcohol by Volume: 47%

When I didn't know what I was drinking

“Aromatic woodiness” in the nose, which I think is connected to the vanilla bean and jasmine notes I’d also listed. Then cherry candy, peanut butter and brine. It all fades quickly.

The mild, warm palate leads with vanilla, tart berries and tart limes. Sawdust and dango. An all too brief moment of tropical fruit candy.

The warm finish is all sawdust and salty caramel.

When I DID know what I was drinking

The flat and cardboard-y nose has some berry fruitiness and peanuts.

The palate is very sweet, with honey, berries and citrus. Also some oats and peppery tannins.

The moderate length finish is tannic, tart and sweet, with a little bit of that oat note.

Not a fan of it either time. It isn't craft whiskey bad, but it's getting much too close, especially considering it's a bourbon brand that had produced much higher quality up to this point. I found it a considerable step down from the back label 12yo that was bottled only a year before. It had the weakest nose of the 5 ECs, but folks with sweeter palates than mine would probably like the taste of it more than I did.

Availability - It's still around, though one has to search for it.
Rating - 73

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Elijah Craig 12 year old Small Batch, 12 on back label

This final edition of Elijah Craig 12 year old was Sample D in the recent Taste Off. It just missed landing in last place by two points, though I ranked it 3rd during my own blind tasting.

I picked up this bottle just before leaving Long Beach. As you'll notice, the 12 year old age statement has vanished from the front label. Where did it go? The back label.

This was not Heaven Hill's finest hour. I've written about this before, but to recap: When the company moved the age statement off the front label, bourbon fans expressed worry that this portended the end of the age statement. Heaven Hill's brand ambassador denied it with an unwise dose of condescending sarcasm. Then the age statement was pulled seven months later.

As per the previous reviews this week, I tasted this bourbon blindly, then did another tasting when I knew what was in my glass. I've listed both sets of notes below.

Distiller: Heaven Hill
Brand: Elijah Craig
Region: Bardstown, Kentucky
Distillery: DSP-KY-1
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Age: minimum 12 years
Bottled: around 2015
Alcohol by Volume: 47%

When I didn't know what I was drinking

The nose is nutty, salty and woody. There's also some coca cola syrup, mint and a whiff of smoke. More vanilla and wood spice with time. “Twigs in the rain.” I was clearly starting to feel the bourbon at this point.

The palate is sweet and fruity, with limes, oranges and black cherries. Caramel, smoked nuts and just a little bit of woody bitterness.

The sweet and tart finish is full of oranges and tannins.

When I DID know what I was drinking

The nose is all over the place. To wit: paste, honey, lemon, oak, sugar, ground mustard seed and burnt peanuts.

The palate is mostly made up of dried grass clippings. Then there’s tart citrus, earth, an odd sweetness and a hint of eggs.

Grass clippings and tannins in the finish. Tart and not that sweet.

Unlike the previous Elijah Craigs, something definitely happened to this whiskey in the two weeks between the tastings. It was much better when I tried it blind. The palate was very strange during the retry. Even so, it's curious that I gave this edition such a high score in my review three years ago. It's another good bourbon, and I'd be happy to buy a bottle of the stuff I tried blindly, but a number of the other Heaven Hill brands (such as HH BIB, Evan Williams, Henry McKenna) often match or top this edition's quality in their own more recent versions.

Availability - Secondary market, or in some random corner liquor stores
Rating - 82 (from my blind tasting experience only)

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Elijah Craig 12 year old Small Batch, 12 on front label

Sample E for the Elijah Craig tasters, #2 for me, was this bottle of Elijah Craig 12 year old Small Batch. This is the version of Elijah Craig a lot of us remember best, I think. Not only is from the 12 year old days, but it was from when they listed that 12 right on the front label. This bottle, purchased during a dusty hunt in Buena Park, CA, is likely from 2014, the final full year of the front label red 12.

Though tied in 2nd place in the Taste Off overall rankings, it scored significantly lower than the first place EC, and without my own ranking it would have fallen to third place.

As with the other four ECs, I tasted this bourbon blindly, then did another tasting when I knew exactly what I'd poured. I've listed both sets of notes below. The final rating is weighted heavily towards the blind tasting experience, unless otherwise noted.

Distiller: Heaven Hill
Brand: Elijah Craig
Region: Bardstown, Kentucky
Distillery: DSP-KY-1
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Age: minimum 12 years
Bottled: 2014
Alcohol by Volume: 47%

The nose is a bit flat and there’s less oak than some of the others, at first. It needs time to open. Then there’s plenty of decent oak, more vanilla and caramel than lumber or sawdust. There’s also Purple Stuff, roses, paper and a hint of smoke.

The oak is “woodier” in the palate. But there’s also some tangy fruit punch and unripe melon. Bits of earth and smoke.

Melon and green herbs highlight the otherwise sweet finish.

An intense barrel char note sits right up front in the nose. There’s also a lot of dark chocolate. Then some black pepper, envelope glue and simple syrup.

The palate is minty, bright and orange-y. A good balance of sweet and tart.

The finish is sweet and tangy like orange candy.

Though I ranked it second during the blind tasting, I liked it better when I knew what I was drinking. In fact, there's a bit of difference between the two sets of notes. There wasn't a lot of time for oxygen to affect the whiskey, so perhaps there were some unconscious things going on during the second tasting. In any case, this Elijah Craig proves to be simple stuff, but very easy drinking, a good everyday bourbon.

Availability - Secondary market, or random dumb luck dusty hunting
Rating - 83

Monday, June 24, 2019

Elijah Craig 12 year old Small Batch, bottled ca. 2001

Like many of the participants in my Elijah Craig blind tasting, I chose this whisky as my favorite of the five. To the other 20 tasters it was known as Sample A. For me, it was Number 5 in the switcheroo my wife set up for me. And like most of the tasters, I'd never actually had pre-fire Elijah Craig. I'd had pre-fire Heaven Hill stuff (Heaven and Evan, if you will), but not EC.

Let me take a quick detour to talk about what I mean by "pre-fire" for those who are haven't heard of it before or have just used the term without knowing 100% what it meant. On November 7, 1997, Heaven Hill's production facility (DSP-KY-31) went up in flames, SERIOUS flames, during a violent thunderstorm. (YouTube has a bit of footage from the fire.) The conflagration, which included a river of burning whiskey and 80-foot flames, destroyed the distillery and 90,000 barrels of aged whiskey. In 1999, Heaven Hill purchased DSP-KY-1 from United Distillers (proto-Diageo) and restarted production. Heaven Hill whiskey distilled at the old distillery before the fire is often referred to as "pre-fire" whiskey.

As you may be able to tell from the above picture, I did not buy this bottle in America. Instead I found it while shopping in Shibuya, Tokyo, where cost close to its original price. The bottle bottom has a large 01 on it, which likely means the bottle was made in 2001, thus the estimated date I've listed.

As with the other four ECs, I tasted this bourbon blindly, then did another tasting when I knew exactly what I'd poured. I've listed both sets of notes below. The final rating is weighted heavily towards the blind tasting experience, unless otherwise noted.

Distiller: Heaven Hill
Brand: Elijah Craig
Region: Bardstown, Kentucky
Distillery: the late DSP-KY-31
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Age: minimum 12 years
Bottled: around 2001
Alcohol by Volume: 47%

The nose is “old school”: Basements, old toys, National Distillers-esque butterscotch. Then cherry juice, root beer barrel candy and furniture.

The palate is “oceany” and musty, with anise, cinnamon candy and root beer barrel candy.

It finishes musty, spicy and zesty.

The nose has less dustiness. Instead it leads with black cherry syrup cut with citrus peels. Caramel, cinnamon and aromatic oak notes.

Baking spices and a medium sweetness in the palate. Pepper and brine. Honey mixed into apple cider vinegar. More corn sweetness than oak sweetness.

The lightly tannic, but long finish has hints of vanilla and pepper.

The nose was the best part both times, though the palate did improve when I knew what I was drinking. It drank well, though the finish didn't WOW at any point. It never reaches the heights of Ye Olde National Distillers bourbons, but it's a very good style, a style (as you'll see) that I prefer over the recent NAS Elijah Craigs.

Availability - Secondary market, or random dumb luck dusty hunting
Rating - 86

Friday, June 21, 2019

An Elijah Craig Taste Off

This tasting was supposed to be for gits and shiggles, but as all the tasters' notes came in, I started learning things. A narrative or two — and you know there always MUST be narratives — emerged from the bourbon haze. And something remarkable happened. With eyes closed, the tasters could see.


Here the bourbons be, in order of bottling date:

From left to right:
--12 year old, bottled ca. 2001, distilled at the old distillery, before the fire.
--12 year old Small Batch with the red 12 on the front label.
--12 year old Small Batch with the age statement moved to the back label.
--Small Batch, no age statement, previous bottle/label style
--Small Batch, no age statement, current bottle/label style

Again, these are the ECs in order of bottling date. This not the order of the blind samples. Maybe.


Taking a step back and really seeing these five different Elijah Craigs clustered together in the whisky cabinet, I realized a public tasting was in order. I liked Elijah Craig Small Batch enough to gather these bottlings from three states and two countries, but when was I going to have time drinking them all? The idea was to compare them someday, but that's a lot of tempered poison to consume. And if opinions are like livers, wouldn't it better to have 21 of them?

So I recruited 20 other livers tasters. Actually I recruited 16. Five wives joined in to assist their husbands with this terrifying task. Some tasters were bourbon geeks, many were not. I would guess less than a third had tried pre-fire Elijah Craig before. Most of us were innocents before, but now we know.

Everyone received five samples marked A through E. In my case, Kristen shuffled the glasses. Without knowing which was which, we each provided notes, rankings and the occasional guess.

(thank you, Gridley's Redemption)

I'll begin with how the bourbons were ranked, then I'll cover the tasting notes and show the guesses. After that comes the REVEAL(!). With the reveal in mind, we all can go back and look at the rankings and guesswork. Onwards!


21 tasters (20 of y'all, plus me) ranked the five samples in order of preference. Most favoritest to Least Favoritest (words used in a number of replies). As I tallied these up, I assigned points similar to the NCAA Coaches Polls, since no one ever disagrees with those. 5 points for first place, 4 points for second place, down to 1 point for 5th place. That way the winner had the most points. Because America.

First Place
SAMPLE A with 81 points
Its mean was 3.86. In other words it averaged nearly a second place finish.
12 first place votes.
3 last place votes.
Two-thirds of the tasters ranked it first or second.

Second Place (tie!)
SAMPLE E with 64 points
Its mean was 3.05, almost exactly a third place average.
2 first place votes
2 last place votes
It had the smallest standard deviation overall because 80% of the tasters ranked it 2nd, 3rd or 4th.

Second Place (tie!)
SAMPLE C with 64 points
Its mean was 3.05, almost exactly a third place average.
2 first place votes
4 last place votes
Yeah, I can't believe there was a tie, either.

Fourth Place
SAMPLE D with 54 points
Its mean was 2.57.
4 first place votes
5 first place votes
Feelings were all over the place with this one.

Fifth Place
SAMPLE B with 52 points
Its mean was 2.48.
1 first place vote
7 last place votes
More than half of the tasters voted this one fourth or fifth.

Hooray for Sample A! There was quite a gap between first and second place. Even so, some people really didn't like Sample A, while others enjoyed Sample B. I'll try to capture this variety of opinion in this next section...


One of the first things one sees when compiling the notes of 20 tasters is......chaos. I've hosted a number of group tastings, and when several people share their notes aloud their experiences converge to a greater measure than when several people write their notes down secretly. When TWENTY people write their notes down, there are approximately TWENTY different experiences.

I've attempted to group some of the notes together in this section because most of the bourbons had over 100 notes. I don't want to force any similarities that aren't there, but let's see if there are any consistencies.

thank you Mystery Photographer!

SAMPLE A - 81 points, 3.86 avg
Many tasters were confident about this one from the start.

The nose generated similar declarations from 5 different tasters: old bottle effect (twice), dusty profundity, classic dusty aroma and "that nameless smell of old bourbon". Other common descriptors included:
4 mentions each for Oak and Vanilla
3 mentions of Maple (syrup and candies)
2 mentions each of Armagnac and Corn products
There was also tobacco, leather, peach cobbler, hops, iron, fuel and anise cough drops among dozens of other notes.

Seven tasters referenced Oak when describing the palate. Other popular notes were:
4 mentions each for Pepper and Heat
3 mentions for Yeast
2 mentions each for Leather, Caramel and Cloves
They also said it tasted like dill, mole sauce, cotton candy, red wine, chocolate and a dank well.

Oak received 4 mentions in the finish notes.
Good length had 2
Vanilla had 3
Also cloves, rye, maple, mint, tobacco leaf and cellar funk were referenced.

Among the comments, this was the biggest, but also the thinnest of the group. It was delightful, yet unpleasant. A quarter of the reviewers raved about its nose. Others said the whole thing was complex, unique and well-aged.

SAMPLE B - 52 points, 2.48 avg
Though this sample had much lower overall scores than A, it had a wider variety of descriptors. Some drinkers seemed to think it was younger than A as well.

The nose seemed to be about the corn (4x), including "dry corn in an old wood grain bin". Other popular notes were:
3 mentions each for Maple and Peanuts
2 mentions each for Caramel, Bananas and Sweetness
Lots of other sugary stuff including candy apple coating, cake, vanilla frosting, confectioners' sugar and toffee. There were also greener notes such as yeast, mint, vegetables, sunflower seeds and fresh cut grass. A curious lack of "oak" in the descriptions here.

Oak was mentioned 5 times in the palate notes. Other notes include:
4 mentions each for Nuts/Nut products and Cinnamon
3 mentions each for Fruit, Caramel and Bitterness
2 mentions each for Almond products (milk and extract), Sweet, Spicy, Dry and Peanuts
Those notes sound pretty, but then there were notes like: thin, astringent, hot and savory.

The finish received some tough notes like young, raw, craft whiskey, watery and short. Others included:
2 mentions each for Oak, Dry, Medium length
There were also cloves, cinnamon, maple syrup and straw.

Per the comments the whiskey was full of "raw wood, typical of young whiskey", while also having a "lovely uniqueness". It was easy to drink, while also having consistency issues. There were a number of references to its weakness, while one taster compared it to Jim Beam White Label with more age.

SAMPLE C - 64 points, 3.05 avg
This bourbon had the fewest descriptors in all the categories. A lot of oak, though.

Oak tagged 6 notes in the nose. Other notes included:
3 mentions each of Vanilla, Corn products and Quietness
2 mentions each of Citrus, Coconut and Alcohol
Also nut brittle, caramel, candy corn and lemon Pine Sol.

Oak again led the palate with 9 mentions. Sweetness had 5 mentions. Solvent/feints/polish received three. Also:
2 mentions each for Thin, Dry, Simple, Young, Bitter and Caramel
It was thick, tingly, tannic, mineral, floral and grassy.

Three tasters thought the finish was short. Three mentioned oak, and two thought it was dry. It was also watery, bitter and tannic. There was also vanilla, clove and brown sugar.

Comments were limited as well. Tasters though it was "rounded", "not complex but drinkable" and it reminded one taster of Orphan Barrel Barterhouse. There was enough enthusiasm to garner it some good scores, but not a lot of vivid descriptions.

SAMPLE D - 54 points, 2.57 avg
As mentioned above, this one really split the group.

In the nose notes, oak led again with five references. Then:
3 mentions each for Mint and Nuts
2 mentions each for Vegetal, Toasted, Butterscotch and Barn
It was also "weird" and "earthy", with corn, rye, tobacco, lavender, hay, thai curry, indoor pool, Moroccan hair oil and old-books-unopened-for-decades notes.

Leading notes in the palate were:
5 mentions: Oak
4 mentions: Bitter
3 mentions each for Dry and Sweet
2 mentions each for Honey and Heat
The other notes were spread out, like: red wine, maple, grassy, stone fruit, Juicy Fruit gum, biscuits, black tea, yeast, cola, spearmint and a cigar ashtray cleaned with Windex.

Finish notes were concise:
4 mentions: Oak
3 mentions: Short
2 mentions each for Dry, Sweet and Char
Other notes included: fresh cigar wrapper, amaretto, licorice and spice cabinet.

Comments ranged everywhere from "very good" to "horrible". It was the "most complicated" but also "eww poopoo must be NAS" ← Nominee for tasting note of the decade.

SAMPLE E - 64 points, 3.05 avg
A few tasters said they were getting weary by this point, but there were still plenty of notes for this bourbon.

With references to lumber yards and wood chips, oak/wood led the way again with 5 mentions for the nose.
3 mentions for Vanilla
2 mentions each for Honey and Sweetness
Also coconut, tobacco, caramel corn, mint, old leather chair, toffee, corn oil & husks, old grass clippings and pine needles.

NINE different tasters commented on the palate's sweetness. Also:
3 mentions each for Vanilla, Oak and Sugars
2 mentions each for Baking spices, Nuts, Flowers and Heat
Also rye, mint, caramel, wax, smoky, graham crackers, Honey Nut Cheerios and berry pie.

For the finish the notes included:
3 mentions of Oak
2 mentions each for Drying, Short and Sweet
Others included beeswax candy, vanilla, cocoa, lemon juice and heat.

Per further comments, this sweetie needed time to open up, was well-rounded like a Japanese whisky, yet was typical of Heaven Hill bourbon. It was balanced and elegant, with a silky mouthfeel.


The drinkers had the option to guess which sample was which Elijah Craig. It was sort of a dare. But as 15 of the tasters made guesses of one or more of the ECs, this lark wound up resulting in something fascinating...

10 out of 15 guesses were correct.
All 15 guesses got the age statement correct.

7 out of 14 guesses were correct
All 14 guesses got the age statement correct.

4 out of 13 guesses were correct
7 out of 13 guesses got the age statement correct.

4 out of 14 guesses were correct.
11 out of 14 guesses got the age statement correct.

4 out of 13 guesses were correct
8 out of 13 guesses got the age statement correct.

Firstly, look at the results from Samples A & B again. Drink that in.

Secondly, 42% of all guesses were correct. 80% of the guesses at least nailed the age statement.

While there were a handful of big bourbon geeks in the group, the vast majority were not. In fact some of us don't even like bourbon that much. Yet, our senses can sort out the difference between a 12yo and an NAS, to the point of perfection in Samples A & B.


Let me not tarry further.


SAMPLE A was the Pre-Fire 12 year old, bottled ca. 2001

SAMPLE B was the current NAS Small Batch

SAMPLE C was the old NAS Small Batch

SAMPLE D was the 12 year old with the age statement on the back label

SAMPLE E was the 12 year old with the age statement on the front label


First Place
Pre-Fire 12 year old, bottled ca. 2001 with 81 points
10 out of 15 guesses were correct.
All 15 guesses got the age statement correct.

Second Place (tie!)
Front label 12 year old with 64 points
4 out of 13 guesses were correct
8 out of 13 guesses got the age statement correct.

Second Place (tie!)
Old NAS Small Batch with 64 points
4 out of 13 guesses were correct
7 out of 13 guesses got the age statement correct.

Fourth Place
Back label 12 year old with 54 points
4 out of 14 guesses were correct.
11 out of 14 guesses got the age statement correct.

Fifth Place
Current NAS Small Batch with 52 points
7 out of 14 guesses were correct
All 14 guesses got the age statement correct.

While we shouldn't be totally shocked that the oldest and newest Elijah Craigs landed first and last, while also generating very accurate guesses, it's still fascinating that this really played out, almost to an extreme level.

There was also a distinct preference of the old no-age-statement Small Batch over the new one. Meanwhile the old NAS thumped the very 12 year old (back label) it replaced, even though the tasters seemed to know the lower scoring whiskey was a 12yo.

I was surprised the front label 12yo — the bottling that brought many of us to Elijah Craig in the first place — didn't fare that well. It seemed to be a considerable step down from the pre-fire 12, per the group scores.

Speaking of the pre-fire 12, its color was the darkest of the group, with a deep red tint to it. Several tasters also noted its character was different than the other four, which set it apart, which may have led to some correct guesses.

These are all generalizations to some point, since every taster had his or her own relationship with each EC. For instance, there were a few people who didn't like the pre-fire 12 even though they knew/guessed what it was.

I keep coming back to the remarkable guesswork: 42% correct, 80% correct age statement. It even breaks down evenly between the types:
12 year olds - 42.9% correct. 81.0% correct age statement
NASes - 40.7% correct. 77.8% correct age statement

The drinkers knew what they're tasting, even when they're not experts. Our instincts were correct. Even though the 12 year old whiskey doesn't always win out, we seem to know when it's in our glass.


If you haven't gotten enough of this Elijah Craig onslaught, you will be utterly pleased to know that I will be posting my tasting notes from my blind tasting throughout next week.

More importantly, please use the comment section if you have thoughts or inquiries about this taste off. Thank you to all the participants and all the readers!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Glenlivet 18 year old Nàdurra Triumph

I've wanted to try this whisky ever since I first saw it at a whisky bar nine years ago. It sat on shelves around the country for another three or four years at a high, but not unreasonable by today's standards, price. And it wound up in my cart a number of times before I declined to buy it. Though the Nàdurra Triumph always seemed interesting, blind buying has never a pleasurable experience for me.

So I didn't buy it.

And now I regret that.

Regarding the whisky itself: Glenlivet 18 year old 1991 Nàdurra Triumph is a single malt made from one barley strain, or varietal, Triumph, that is no longer used by Scottish distillers, possibly due to inefficient alcohol output. It was a single release, sort of before its time, and Glenlivet hasn't joined the "_____ Barley" release shuttle that has since launched. Instead they sell a lot of NAS mystery meat (named Alpha, Cipher and Code) for 150+ dollars.

Distillery: Glenlivet
Ownership: Pernod Ricard
Age: 18 years (1991-2010)
Maturation: American oak casks
Barley varietal: Triumph
Alcohol by Volume: 48%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(from a purchased sample)

The nose is radiantly fruity. Kristen said she could smell it from across the room. There are lots of in-season apples, pineapple, guava and limes. Yes, barley. Then anise and roasted nuts. Hints of brine and vanilla bean. The palate is creamy in texture and character, with graciously minor levels of vanilla and sugar. Key lime pie, roasted barley, pineapple and a touch of herbal bitterness. The lime note expands with time. It finishes with key lime pie and lemon bars, both with extra zest, as well as a hint of fresh peach.

What a treat this was, especially next to Glenfiddich's Fire & Cane. The 48%abv felt like the optimum strength, and I refused to add water. Refused! To reproduce this whisky would be an undertaking, and possibly not that lucrative, but it would be a hell of a lot better than the majority of the official range. And it would fit nicely with some of the fruity mega-batches of the regular 18yo.

If an opportunity to try this whisky comes along, I recommend you do not pass it up, as I regret having waited so long. (Note: I wrote "try" not "buy". Recommendations for purchases are not made on this site.) Though it's not the most complex thing, the whisky is fruity and creamy without being weighed down by sugar and vanilla, which is in itself a ...... wait for it ...... triumph!

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

Monday, June 17, 2019

Glenfiddich Fire & Cane

Can I assume this single malt's name references James Taylor's Fire and Rain, a song about depression and suicide? If so, at least Glenfiddich is being honest about the whisky.


Of Glenfiddich's Experimental Series, the IPA Cask and Project XX whiskies have been reviewed here, and I liked them both. I even bought a bottle of the IPA Cask and finished it. But no, I will not review Winter Storm. Not for that whisky's price. And not after Fire & Cane.

Let's get this over with.

Distillery: Glenfiddich
Ownership: William Grant & Sons
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Maturation: From the official site: "By marrying peated whisky and malts matured in bourbon barrels, and then finishing in Latin rum casks, we created an exquisite whisky with campfire smokiness and toffee sweetness." I have a number of issues with this sentence, but there are bigger problems in this world.
Age: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Colored? Yes
Chillfiltered? Yes
(from a purchased sample)

The nose seems fine, in fact, it's exactly what one would expect. Young peated malt meets sugar-doped rum. There's melon liqueur, vanilla, lemon and berry-scented lotion in the midground and a lingering seaside note in the background. Very candied. And then the palate. Soap. Sugar. Also soap. Hay and peanuts. Bitter oak. Oranges and mild smoke. Soap. The finish is soapy, sweet and bitter, with a hint of smoky ham.

I had trouble drinking more than three sips of this. Even though, at 43%abv, it was already watered-down, I hoped this would improve with a little more dilution.

DILUED TO ~40%abv, or ½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Straightforward peat and orange oil notes in the nose, then melon liqueur, milk chocolate and fading embers. Perhaps the palate is 10% less soapy? It's also grassier and bitterer. It's become very tangy, while the smoke a receded to a mere residue. It finishes with a citrus-scented soap, fresh ginger and a whiff of wood smoke.

I don't think I've seen the soap note prominently referenced in other reviews of this whisky. What keeps me from thinking my sample was corrupted is that the nose is perfectly reasonable. There's nothing screwy with it. But the palate is just awful. Even when digging through to the other side of the soap, one finds aggressive sweetness and brutal oaky bitterness. Dilution reduces the soap one tick, the sweetness one tick, while the bitterness goes up two ticks. Soap aside, this is what happens when ultra-sweetened oaky rum meets very young oaky whisky. Bleh.

Availability - Most whisky specialty retailers around the planet
Pricing - $40-$60 worldwide
Rating - 66 (with water, 5-10 point lower without)

Friday, June 14, 2019

BenRiach 12 year old Sherry Wood

The third Ben!

I cannot say I've enjoyed the Billy Walker-distilled Benriach single malts I've tried up to this point. But I am curious to see what happens when Walker takes a Seagram/Chivas-distilled release, then updates it with his own whisky. Of course, Brown-Forman is blending it now, but the spirit and the casks are Walker Era. At the very least this 12 year old Sherry Wood has a good presentation: 46%abv, no chill-filtration and no added colorant.

According to the official website, the whisky was matured in sherry casks and then finished in sherry casks. Yo Dawg, I heard you like sherry.

Distillery: BenRiach
Ownership: BenRiach Distillery Company (now owned by Brown-Forman)
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Age: at least 12 years
Maturation: "full sherry cask maturation, combined with Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso sherry cask finishing"
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colored? No
(from a purchased sample)

The nose begins with an amusing combination of earth, leather shoes and Fruit Loops. Then it transitions to dried cherries, grapefruit and floral perfume. The palate leads with fizzy cream soda and ginger beer notes. Then there's vanilla bean, tart citrus, almond cookies and brown sugar. With time it develops toasted oak and savory notes. Though alcohol is the longest lasting element of the sweet finish, there are small notes of tart citrus and vanilla.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose becomes fruitier at this strength. Peaches, brown sugar and cinnamon (sort of a crumble). Familiar raisin and prune sherry cask notes. Orange oil and barley. The palate's sweetness calms down, and is met by a soft bitter note. It's maltier and has a toffee note. Less vanilla, though the cream soda remains. A mineral note sneaks in, providing extra depth. The finish is less sweet and less hot. Minerals, oranges, raisins and cream soda.

I was reluctant to add water this 12yo at first. It wasn't nearly as hot as Ralfy had said in his review. But I had 2 ounces of the stuff on hand, so what the heck. And it turned out to be a good decision, because the palate and finish improve considerably at 40%abv.

This brings to mind the current Tamdhu 10yo. They're different whiskies, but they both swim very well and are good alternative options to the usual sherried malts. The liquid presentation is sexier here, but Tamdhu has the prettier bottle. Though the Tamdhu is $5-$10 more expensive, they're parked in the same price range as Macallan 12, Glendronach 12 and Glenfarclas 12.

The thing that surprised me the most about BenRiach 12 year old Sherry Wood is that its quality matched that of this week's cask strength Ben Nevis and Benromach, and actually topped them at comparable ABVs, which is comforting because I can actually find this whisky in the United States.

Availability - Many whisky retailers around the world
Pricing - $50-$65 in US, Japan and Europe
Rating - 86 (with water)

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Benromach 12 year old 2006, cask 99 for Van Wees

I just saw it's been more than a year and a half since my last Benromach review. That's too long! Since that last review was for a Van Wees-selected single cask (#333), this one will be for a Van Wees-selected single cask. Cask 333 was excellent and has set my expectations high for cask 99.

Distillery: Benromach
Ownership: Gordon & MacPhail
Region: Speyside (Findhorn)

Age: 12-ish years (2006 to 2018)
Maturation: first-fill bourbon barrel
Cask #: 99
Outturn: 193 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 59.2%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(from a purchased sample)

The nose begins with sugary peat and buckets full of citrus peels. Then quieter notes of cinnamon candy and flower blossoms. The peat gradually turns farmier. It all feels very close to new make, though good new make. The fruity, sweet palate is hotter than the nose. It's loaded with pineapple and lemon juices, cinnamon candy and big (but not farmy) peat. Then basil leaves, ginger and horseradish. It finishes with citrus and cinnamon. Moderate sweetness and heat-ness. Mossy peat.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose has become noticeably different. Pears and green apples. Mint leaves and smokier peat. The palate is all sweet and peat at first. Then a few lemons roll in, some herbal bitterness. It becomes much too sweet for my palate. The finish is sweet, smoky and bitter.

Previous to cask 99, I'd tried three other single bourbon cask Benromachs and found them all to be very hot. Thankfully that's not the case here. Otherwise the first-fill bourbon cask doesn't do a whole lot. The whisky reads very young, half its age or less. And it's very peaty. Those two aspects are why I kept thinking, "This reminds me of Kilchoman." Which is a quirky, but positive, experience with even this peated Speyside malt.

The key to this whisky is caution with dilution. At 46%abv it becomes a generic peater that's missing something to balance out all the sugar. The palate sings at full power, possibly even topping the nose. All that being said, I don't think this tops anything from Benromach's regular range. So if you missed out on this release, no worries. Just chase down an easier to find Benromach and all will be well.

Availability - The Nether Regions, though it's mostly gone by now
Pricing - $100ish w/ VAT
Rating - 84 (when neat)

Monday, June 10, 2019

Ben Nevis 10 year old 2008 Cask Strength batch 1

There is a remarkable-if-true interview by "Kolomon" with Ben Nevis Distillery's Managing Director on Whiskybase's page for Ben Nevis 10 year old 2008 Cask Strength batch 1, that I recommend you read.

What's potentially remarkable about the conversation isn't the way Nikka chooses to do business, but rather that Colin Ross would be so candid. Still the Nikka-Ben Nevis relationship is worth considering. Nikka has been using most of Ben Nevis's malt in their "Japanese" blends and blended malts for some time. Considering just the logistics of that, it seems prohibitively expensive. In fact, at some point I'd imagine that building a new distillery in Japan would save the company considerable expense in the long term. This seems even more obvious considering Ben Nevis 10yo vaporized off the shelf at $60-$80 a pop, while the Nikka whiskies using Ben Nevis malt are considerably cheaper. Yet the Ben Nevis brand gets punished by this process. Nikka clearly needs a malt source, but there has to be a wiser, more profitable solution than the current one.

I'm certain there are unknown factors involved, but the above was just my two cents.

This cask strength 10 year old was released when the regular 10 year old stock ran out. Bottled at a bruising 62.4%abv, it's a mix of bourbon, sherry and wine casks. It costs twice as much as the regular 10yo. Even Ross says in the if-true-interview that this pricing is unfortunate. Luckily for me, local Ben Nevis lover, Whiskysite was selling samples of it, so I was able to try it.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Ownership: Nikka Whisky Distilling Company (part of Asahi Group Holdings)
Region: Highlands (Western)
Age: 10 years (2008-2018)
Maturation: first fill bourbon, sherry and wine casks
Alcohol by Volume: 62.4%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(from a purchased sample)

The nose starts with prunes, black raisins, honey and soil. There's also a machine shop / hot engine note in the midground. Maybe a hint of cabernet sauvignon? The nose simplifies with time, focusing on honey, lemons and soil. The palate has a gorgeously silky texture and is very drinkable considering the enormous ABV. There's a lot of cask action here. Dried berries, berry jam and nut butters. Very little peat. Honey, orange candy, hard toffee and salt. Dark chocolate, raspberry jam, raisin bread, honey and orange candy in the finish.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or > 2 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
There's honey, hot fudge and black raisins up front in the nose. Then mint candy, lemons and dates. With time it tilts heavily towards gunpowder. The palate is all cask: wine and wood. Very sweet, jammy and loaded with raisins. An earthy note reads more like sulphur than peat. Eucalyptus. Sourness. The good texture remains. The finish is very winey and sugary, with some eucalyptus and pepper.

If scotchwhisky.com is accurate, then Ben Nevis goes into the cask at 63.4%abv. This 10 year old is 62.4%, so the angels went for water rather than alcohol. They were telling us something. And that was, "Keep water out of this whisky". Really, they said that.

So on the plus side, this is best when neat. On the other hand, it's aggressively cask driven. That's great for folks who are not fond of Ben Nevis's character. It's less sexy for those of us looking for a solid Nevis hit. The whisky's texture helps rescue the palate from being just another sherry bomb, and the nose does have the odd industrial stuff some of us enjoy. It's still a good winesky, but it isn't worth 2 bottles of the regular 10 year old.

Availability - European specialty retailers
Pricing - $120-$140
Rating - 85 (neat only)

Friday, June 7, 2019

Killing Whisky History, Episode 25: Old Grand-Dad 86 Proof Bourbon, bottled 1970

Hey look what I found. A video! Of whisky!

For all the old grand-dads out there, here's some 86 proof Old Grand-Dad bourbon from the gloriously glutty National Distillers years. This one, distilled in 1965 and bottled in 1970, appears to have had some cap tampering but, VERY luckily, the whiskey is intact. So get out yer bottle of OGD at any proof, from any year, and join me in some bourbon tasting! But always drink responsibly. Especially with bourbon.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

High West Rendezvous Rye Barrel Select for T5C, barrel 4469

And then there was the Rendezvous. Bottled for the militant mavens of T5C, this barrel selection has one of the highest ABVs of all Rendezvous releases. No quirky finishes to it, just full-powered Rye. It needs no further introduction.

Product: Rendezvous Rye
Producer: High West
Distilleries: Barton and MGP
Type: Blend of Straight Rye Whiskies
Region: Indiana (MGP) and Kentucky (Barton)
Mashbills: Barton - 80% rye 10% corn 10% malted barley
MGP - 95% rye 5% malted barley
Maturation: American white oak
Barrel #: 4469
Bottle #: 124
Alcohol by Volume: 63.5%
(Thank you to Secret Agent Man)

Remarkably, the nose needs no water. There's lots of chocolate and cookie—actually, it's Twix. I'm smelling Twix bars. Then toasted oak, saline, lemons and blossoms. Roasted almonds and berry candy. With 30+ minutes in the glass, it gains coffee and malt notes. The palate is big but not hot. Lots of oranges, peach cobbler and honey. RYE. Very little vanilla. It has a fresh herbal side, think mint, basil and thyme leaves. Tart lemons and a whiff of smoke. It sticks the landing with unending waves of rye, rye, rye, rye. Mint, saline, rye bread, sweet lemon and wood smoke. Enormous.

As handsome as the boys of T5C (*voice cracks* Hi guys!), this is the dark lord of Rendezvous Rye. Thunderous in style, but remarkably easy drinking for the abv, this barrel has more complexity than anything else I've had from High West and a finish that adheres to the senses for a very long time. There's not a single weakness to be found in this, one of my favorite ryes.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 90

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

High West Double Rye Barrel Select for Cask Strength Society, barrel 7588

Let us transition from A Midwinter Night's Dram to a single barrel of Double Rye finished for 13 months in a former Midwinter Night's Dram barrel. High West's Barrel Select whiskies are fun on an intellectual level: Take a familiar High West product, finish it in a Wine, Scotch or former cask from the same distillery, then release it at a higher strength. And keep price the price close to that of the original whiskey. In this instance, High West tones down the potential fortified wine influence while also introducing a young rye to an older rye's barrel.

Product: Rendezvous Rye
Producer: High West
Distilleries: Barton and MGP (probably)
Type: Blend of Straight Rye Whiskies
Region: Indiana (MGP) and Kentucky (Barton)
Mashbills: 16 years, 53% rye 37% corn 10% malted barley (Barton) + 2 years, 95% rye 5% malted barley (MGP)
Maturation, part 1: Barton & MGP ryes in separate new white oak barrels
Maturation, part 2: 13-month marriage together in a Midwinter Night's Dram barrel
Barrel #: 7588
Exclusively for: Cask Strength Society
Alcohol by Volume: 49.9%
(Thanks again, Jack!)

There's a mild interplay between the spirit and the barrel, in the nose. On the Double Rye side there's pickle brine, ground mustard seed, anise, a vegetal note and rye white dog (rye dog?, while the MWND barrel brings in berry lollipops. At the intersection of the two is a glazed bacon note and a curious whiff of hot canola oil. The Double Rye rumble wins out in the palate, as it is mostly sharp zippy MGP stuff with a peep of blackberry jam. Mint, peppercorns, rock candy, heat and a hint of wood smoke. It finishes simply with lime candy, mint, wood smoke, black pepper and golden raisins.

The wisely subtle secondary maturation in a former MWND barrel does result in a small improvement over the old Double Rye recipe, which usually seemed younger than its younger ingredients and bereft of its older ryes. This barrel select is less sweet than MWND and doesn't hide its rye heart. It will appeal to those for whom wine cask whiskies are heresy. And it's better than any Double Rye batch I've had. Yet, like the Double Ryes I've had, it's sorely missing something older to bump up into Rendezvous territory.

Speaking of Rendezvous...

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

Monday, June 3, 2019

High West A Midwinter Night's Dram, Act 6 Scene 2

After my Rendezvous Rye and Elijah Craig posts, some readers assumed that I still drink American whiskey -- which is technically true since summer has arrived early -- and provided me with three samples of High West ryes. Since I'm about to flood everyone with more single malt scotch reviews, now would be a good time to pause and post some rye stuff.

The first sample, donated by Jack (thank you!), is a recent batch of Midwinter Night's Dram. As you see from the post's title, High West has now flown beyond Shakespeare's usual five-act structure into the undiscovered country of a sixth act. Who knows what will happen with their new ownership, other than the nuking of their ryes, so let's enjoy the MWNDs while they're still here.

If you're new to the game, A Midwinter Night's Dram is Rendezvous Rye finished in Port casks. I've heard that recent batches have been winier than the early ones, and there seems to be combination of the old recipe and new recipe involved (see below) now. In any case, here's 2018's Act 6, Scene 2.

Producer/Blender: High West
Ownership: Constellation Brands
Type: Blend of Straight Rye Whiskies
Region: Indiana (MGP), Kentucky (Barton), Utah (High West)
Mashbill: 95% rye, 5% barley malt from MGP; 
80% rye, 20% malted rye from High West Distillery; 
53% rye, 37% corn, 10% barley malt from Barton Distillery; 
80% rye, 10% corn, 10% barley malt from Barton Distillery
Primary Maturation: charred white oak barrels
Secondary Maturation: "port and french oak barrels"
Alcohol by Volume: 49.3%

Berry-loaded tawny port arrives first in the nose, with hints of mesquite and tar in the background. Then cherries, plum wine and roasted corn. Hints of ume, rye bread, fennel seeds and celery appear occasionally. With time, there's more rye and milk chocolate. Lots of sweet citrus, plum wine, caramel apples and cayenne pepper in the palate. It reads more like bourbon than rye. Well, it reads more like fortified wine than either of those. It gets sweeter and jammier with time, while also picking up some good tartness. The finish is sweet, plummy and minty. Sawdust, raspberry jam, black pepper and tart citrus.

While it's indeed winey or porty, this batch of Midwinter Night's Dram works as a dessert whisky. I mean, I shouldn't like as much as I do. There's no balance between the port, oak and whiskey (unlike the other two batches I've reviewed); and it's as sweet as a liqueur. But it's yummy. And the yummy factor is difficult to discount. So there it is. You may take the below rating with a spoonful of sugar.

Also, My Gourd, the price?!

Availability - Probably sold out
Pricing - recent batches are going for $90-$180, some comedians are charging $300
Rating - 84