...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Ben Nevis 23 year old 1996 Single Malts of Scotland, cask 1783

Monday's 23 year old Ben Nevis, distilled in 1996, matured in American oak and bottled by Elixir Distillers, was fabulous. Today's 23 year old Ben Nevis was also distilled in 1996, matured in American oak and bottled by Elixir Distillers. I normally don't the opportunity to compare such similar whiskies, but Ben Nevis, man.

On a related note, I'm glad to see bourbon cask Ben Nevii finally getting some reviewer love. Nevis sherry casks had been getting most of the attention over the past few years, as sherry casks often do. Of course, this will mean these single bourbon casks will also go up in price now. Yay.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Elixir Distillers
Range: Single Malts of Scotland
Age: exactly 23 years old (5 Nov 1996 to 5 Nov 2019)
Maturation: hogshead
Cask #: 1783
Outturn: 214 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 52.3%
(from a bottle split)

The nose reads heavier on this '96, when compared to Monday's '96. Less fruit, more dried leaves and brine. Some fresh eucalyptus and mint leaves as well. Some sharp cheddar, bung cloth, a few limes and lemons. Though it has a thick mouthfeel, the palate actually comes across lighter and very fruity, especially on tart berries. There's also some cocoa and salt. It intensifies with time, picking up some burnt plastic and coal smoke notes. But those are wiped away by a booming sweetness. The intensity continues on into the finish. Very tart, very sweet and just a whiff of smoke.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or > ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Ah here are some fruits from the nose, specifically white peaches. Some flower blossoms, soil and brine too. Not much change in the palate. Perhaps more on white peaches than berries now. A bit more bitterness. Otherwise it remains the same. The finish softens up, less intense, less tart. Still very sweet, though. Maybe some hints of earth and lemons.

A Ben Nevis for the sweet tooth. It's almost too sweet for me, as the sugar starts shouting down most of the other elements. Excellent mouthfeel though, and a good nose, before or after dilution. Maybe a little water does it some good overall.

Aaaaaaaand prices have already gone up, with this bottle weighing in at €220. Yeesh. It's still around if you're willing to fork over that much Euro. I'll opt out.

Availability - The usual specialty retailers in continental Europe
Pricing - €200-€230
Rating - 87

Monday, June 29, 2020

Ben Nevis 23 year old 1996 Whisky Trail Birds Series

Did you survive that week of American whiskey reviews? No? Dreadfully sorry to hear that. Well, had you lived through it you would have been rewarded with a pair of Ben Nevis reviews this week! Both from Elixir Distillers. Both from the newly famed 1996 vintage. And if you still believe in distinct differences between individual whisky vintages, despite knowing the intricacies and chemistry of single malt production, then tell The Easter Bunny I said hello. You'll have an easier time instead convincing me that the world's fate is controlled by some long bearded dude who lives above the clouds. His name is MAO. But if you want to send me some Caperdonich 1972 and Longrow 1973 samples, I won't stop you.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Elixir Distillers
Range: The Whisky Trail
Age: 23 years old (1996-2019)
Maturation: hogshead
Cask #: 892
Outturn: 258 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 51.8%
(from a bottle split)

Oh my. The nose is positively soaked with fresh lemons, grapefruits and loquats, with some mouldering stone fruits in the back. Then there's tapioca pudding, digestive biscuits, spent synthetic oil, stones and bung cloth. And the palate. There's a swirl of intensely tart fruits and bitter liqueurs and some industrial funk. It gets earthier and greasier with time, somehow also gaining a mintiness in the background. It has one of the earthiest finishes I've experienced, piles of soil and stones and diesel exhaust. Then a mix of Angostura bitters and yellow nectarines.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Yeah, it's good and stuff. But seriously, see those neat notes? It doesn't top those.

This has the WOW factor. Not a lot of distilleries can get there anymore, but......Ben Nevis, man. After twenty-three long years in a great hoggie this whisky delivers a long, gorgeous, complex and delicious experience, which has led to a rare instance of Diving for Pearls being more enthusiastic than the whiskybase crowd. I look at the unopened Ben Nevii on my shelf, knowing one has the goods, but can any of the rest reach this level?

Now, about this 1996 vintage...

Availability - Maybe a few retailers in Europe
Pricing - around €180
Rating - 91

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Russell's Reserve Single Barrel Rye (current green label)

This was the first new whisky I tried when I moved to Ohio almost four years ago. And by "new" I mean this green label version of Russell's rye is on a different plane than the old version. My first reaction was (per my notes), "dessert rye, but without going the full gooey like Angel's Envy". I'd been looking for a regular fancy-ish rye to replace Rendezvous Rye (since High West changed the recipe), which had replaced Willett (since Willett had capital "A" Arrived). This is a quality nominee.

Brand: Wild Turkey
Owner: Gruppo Campari
Range: Russell's Reserve
Distillery: Wild Turkey Distillery
Location: Lawrenceburg, Kentucky
Mash Bill: 65% rye, 23% corn, 12% barley (maybe)
Age: ???
Bottle code: LL/FC151802 B1702D0159
Alcohol by Volume: 52%
(from bottom third of my bottle)

The nose begins with a mix of spices, from baking spices to dried chiles. Then there's brown sugar, dried pineapple, sour apple candy, mint extract and anise. Some hints of salt water taffy, brine and bacon in the background as well. The palate's sweet, minty element stays balanced by tart citrus and wood smoke. Some salt, maple syrup and brown sugar in there. Just a little bit of canned pears too. The finish keeps the palate's equilibrium. Sweet (brown sugar and honey) and tart (lemons and limes) with bits of dusty ground pepper and wood smoke.

This rye manages to be both surprisingly complex and very very easy to drink. I'd given up trying to find both those qualities in an contemporary American whiskey, but maybe I shouldn't have. It also works well in a Manhattan, if you're in the habit of applying $65 whiskey to a cocktail. Whenever we empty our current open rye bottles, I'm going to pick up another bottle of this stuff. Hopefully the quality continues!

Availability - Most specialty retailers in the US
Pricing - $55-$75
Rating - 88

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Russell's Reserve Single Barrel bourbon, barrel 93 for Cleveland Bourbon Club

This is from my actual bottle, but I can't find any bottle pics. I saved this sample, then sent some out to friends around two years ago. This Russell's Reserve was CBC's second bourbon selection ever and, more importantly, a good bottle that drank fast. I drank this sample alongside Monday's Russell's 10yo and *SPOILER ALERT* the competition was over quicker than it began.

Brand: Wild Turkey
Owner: Gruppo Campari
Range: Russell's Reserve
Distillery: Wild Turkey Distillery
Location: Lawrenceburg, Kentucky
Mash Bill: around 13% rye (probably)
Age: around 8 years old
Exclusive to: Cleveland Bourbon Club
Alcohol by Volume: 55%
(from somewhere in my bottle)

One notices immediately how much calmer the nose is despite the higher ABV and shorter maturation time, when the whiskey is compared to the Russell's 10yo. There are cherries, mixed nuts, toasted sesame seeds, roses, black raisins ...... yes, I'm going to go on ...... cotton candy, vanilla bean and hints of Elmer's glue and ground mustard seed. The palate leads with lots of citrus and marasca syrup. Then sea salt, dark chocolate and mild oak notes. It gets sweeter with time. The sweet, fruity finish (think cherry syrup and clementines) has a good length to it, and no weird tannins.

Yum. The winning combo here is more fruit, less tannin. And, yes, I probably should have gotten another bottle. We all know that tune. I enjoyed this pick while it lasted, in fact it's my only bourbon bottle in the past four years whose contents never swam in a cocktail. If bourbon was usually this good, I'd buy more bourbon! It's about time I try the regular version of this stuff, and I'll attempt to keep my expectations in check.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ????
Rating - 87

Monday, June 22, 2020

Russell's Reserve 10 year old bourbon (current white label)

The 14 or 15 weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day used to mark my Bourbon Season. But over the past three years cocktails have gradually replaced bourbon during the hot weather, even though I live much closer to Bourbon Country than I used to. Russell's Reserve 10yo used to be a preferred bourbon as well, but my last bottle was forgettable at best. In fact, some friends and family finished off the bottle for me during the winter holidays. I saved two ounces for an official review, and since summer has begun....

Brand: Wild Turkey
Owner: Gruppo Campari
Range: Russell's Reserve
Distillery: Wild Turkey Distillery
Location: Lawrenceburg, Kentucky
Mash Bill: around 13% rye (probably)
Age: minimum 10 years old
Bottling code: LL/HH270507
Alcohol by Volume: 45%
(from the bottom third of my bottle)

It noses like I'm trapped inside a freshly charred barrel. That may sound heavenly to some folks, but I really can't detect anything else coming from the whiskey for a while, in fact it takes more than 20 minutes for other notes to appear. Then there's honey, orange peel, walnuts, newspaper and a hint of soap. The palate isn't as tannic as expected, instead there's some simple sweet citrus, tart blackberries, caramel and black pepper. But then it gets very very sweet, and the sawdust comes blowing in. It finishes with caramel, bitter oak, salt, tart berries and sawdust.

The last of my notes read, "Just not feeling this batch." (Curiously, the words "Small Batch" which were on the previous label-style of this expression are now absent. Is it because maintaining a straight face while calling these batches "small" became impossible?) The bourbon felt disposable, or at least interchangeable with younger, cheaper, historically-crappier stuff. It shows less bitter oak on the palate than WT101, but it's possible that 101's nose is better. The aggressive sweetness may also require extra tinkering when one uses this bourbon in cocktails. In case this is just a batch issue, I've listed the bottling code in the info section above. If it's not a batch issue, then RR10 isn't what it used to be.

Availability - United States and Japan
Pricing - $30-$50
Rating - 78

Friday, June 19, 2020

Three ol' Speyside/Highland samples from Whiskybase

Gosh, remember when Whiskybase Shop sold samples? Yeah they were tiny, but there were some gems. My three remaining Whiskybase samples are probably not gems, but they don't fit any other planned lineups and I need to consume my old samples, so here we are. They're sitting right here and I'm about to taste them side-by-side, and not in the order in the picture, instead I'll do 'em by age.

Deanston 15 year old 1997 Archives, hogshead #1959, 55.8%abv

So Deanston has become a thing. I know neither when nor why. Maybe it has something to do with Ian Macmillan's work? I dunno. If you were to go back in time 15 years and tell single malt geeks that Deanston and Edradour single casks would become popular someday, those folks would laugh in your face and exclaim, "Yeah, right after Ledaig gets overexposed."

Nose - It starts with a minty, sugary bourbon-like blast that gradually peels away baring toasted grains, dried herbs and hot cardboard. Adding water brings out more herbs, yeast and anise.

Palate - Vanilla, sugar and a hint of mint to start, again tilting towards bourbon. Some good herbal bitterness and a simple tartness adds character. It gets sweet, sour and papery once diluted.

Finish - Better than the palate. Vanilla, apples and lemon juice. Dilution turns it sour, bitter and papery.

Not one of Archives's best picks. I think the hogshead is more of a problem than the Deanston spirit. Keep water away from this one and perhaps it'll appeal to your American whiskey-drinking friends or your American whiskey-drinking self.

Rating range - C+ (77-79)

Speyside Region 18 year old 1998 Archives, butt #1034, 52.7%abv

These "Speyside Region" malts are often Glenfarclas, sometimes Glenlivet and probably not the actual Speyside distillery. That's it for the introduction.

Nose - Milk chocolate, dried cherries, black pepper and balsamic vinegar with smaller notes of vanilla and limes in the background. Not much change once water is added, it's just flatter, quieter.

Palate - Mildly sweet with dried berries, toffee, cocoa and bits of earth and woody bitterness. Dilution sweetens it up, brings in the flowers and vanilla beans.

Finish - Milk chocolate, toffee and vanilla ice cream. A little bit of woody bitterness. Once diluted it matches the palate.

A good middle-ground sherried thing, the whisky could indeed be from any Speyside production facility. I love the milk chocolate, but could do with less woody bitterness. Again, it's better when neat, and the nose proves to be the most complex element.

Rating range - B (84-86)

Cragganmore 20 year old 1991 Whiskybroker, hogshead #1146, 53.4%abv

There needs to be more Cragganmore on this blog, but there ain't much Cragganmore around. No one samples it out and I don't live near a Cadenhead shop in Europe. I don't live in Europe, period.

Nose - Aw yeah. Iodine, mango pits, fish sauce, cucumber skins. Hints of malt and industrial funk. It gets waxier and herbal with dilution and even picks up a toffee pudding note.

Palate - Lean and not sweet. Industrial, metallic and earthy. Limes and herbal liqueur. A bit of butterscotch appears after some time. Lots of soot and citrus appear once water is added.

Finish - Inky and herbal. Some dunnage. Hints of lemon and butterscotch. Stays the same after dilution.

This whisky was such weird fun. I just adore this imperfect (or is it perfect?) dingy style, and I'm always on the lookout for it. But also, THIS BOTTLE WAS 46 EUROS. Eight years ago. I'm not saying everything in the world was better eight years ago but. 

Rating range - B+ (87-89)

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

A Pair of Glen Keiths

There aren't many Glen Keith reviews to be found on this site. The same goes for Imperial. Despite limited experience with both, I've already banded them together in my mind. The single malts are perfectly fine, and probably provided excellent backbones to a great many blends. I don't seek them out, even though they're defunct and/or newly reborn. Maybe they're not weird enough for me. I might have only one more Imperial sample somewhere, but I do have these two Glen Keiths supplied to me by doggo-lover and planter-of-hostas, My Annoying Opinions. I'm trying the two Keiths side by side just to prove to my palate that not every Glen Keith tastes the same.

Labels composed in middle-Sku style

Glen Keith 21 year old 1996 Single Malts of Scotland (Elixir Distillers)
Sherry butt 135908, 56.2%abv
pic yoinked
from Whiskybase

Nose - At first it's all fabric, nutty fino, black walnuts, mushrooms and an ocean breeze. Molasses, roses and dried apricots slowly emerge later on. Adding water perks it up, bringing out baked peaches and orange Pixy Stix, with hints of stones and wood smoke.

Palate - The nose's nutty fino shows up first with some very dark chocolate as its +1. Then there's lime zest and dried blueberries, essences rather than sugars. It gets zestier and mustier with time. It gets sweeter once water is added, bringing in cherry candy, mint extract and a bit of new oak.

Finish - Salt, minerals, limes and a hint of prune. Sweeter than the palate. With water it gets a curious mix of cherry candy and tahini.

I love love the nose when neat, and probably prefer the palate the same way. Water does sugar it up, resulting in two whiskies for the price of one. Whatever that price once was. Though the palate and finish didn't rock me like the sniffer, this is still the best damned Glen Keith I've ever had (out of, like, six). Kudos to the folks, like MAO, who nabbed this bottle.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 88 (neat)


Glen Keith 22 year old 1995 Archives
Hogshead 171245, 56.0%abv

Nose - Much hotter than the 21yo. There's citronella, damp basement, something meaty/savory, brine, pilsner and nutritional yeast. More citrus and sugar emerges with time. It gets prettier with added water. Flower blossoms, citronella, vanilla and green bell peppers.

Palate - Whoa. Aqua Velva. I'm time warping back twenty-three years to a dirty-ass bathroom in Westwood, my blue bottle of AV Ice has tipped over into the bathroom sink and I'm out like $7.99 plus tax. Then I'm back in this dystopian future, and the whisky has ditched the aftershave becoming very sweet, very intense and very better. Think cantaloupe, oranges and candle wax. It gets even sweeter once I've added water, with notes of melon candy and citrus candy. Hints of florals, metal and herbal bitterness keep it from overboard.

Finish - Sweet and floral. Cantaloupe and tart oranges. A bit drying. Adding water doesn't change it much.

I have learned something today. Every Glen Keith does not taste the same. My stars. I do prefer this whisky when it is neat......once it straightens itself out. It's difficult to stir my dormant sweet tooth with anything other than Kasugai candies or butterscotch budinos, so this whisky will appeal more to sweetie pies. Like MAO. But this is certainly not a generic Speyside malt.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 82

Monday, June 15, 2020

Glen Scotia 25 year old

The private equity firm takeover of Loch Lomond Distillers in 2014 seems to have worked wonders for the subsequent quality of Glen Scotia's official single malts. It's just a damned shame they abandoned the delightfully hideous Disco Cow packaging. The Disco Cow potential was infinite, especially for the recent luxury bottlings. The $4K 45-year-old Glen Scotia would have been perfect as Cocaine Cow, complete with a complementary mirror. This 25-year-old could have been Amyl Nitrate Cow, with a popper-shaped bottle. I cannot be alone in seeing the potential here!

Truth be told, I don't know how appropriate that previous paragraph was. I just wanted to say Cocaine Cow.

Less importantly, I took part in a bottle share of the 25yo, an all-bourbon-cask release, bottled at a healthy 48.8%abv. It also comes with the required contemporary packaging of a wooden casket and a torture-device / neck brace. I don't know why this is considered normal yet Amyl Nitrate Cow is weird.

Distillery: Glen Scotia
Ownership: Loch Lomond Group (via Exponent)
Region: Campbeltown
Type: Single Malt
Age: minimum 25 years
Maturation: all bourbon casks, then married for a year in first fill bourbon barrels
Alcohol by Volume: 48.8%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? probably not
(from a bottle split)

The nose is hearty mix of (sorry for the list here) industrial smoke, ocean brine, green herbs, honey, apple pie, anise, bananas, tinned fruit cocktail, dunnage and farm. At first the palate is reminiscent of an even older Calvados, with lovely ancient oak, toasty spices, baked apples and mint. But then it switches to an old Highland style with an intense oily industrial side, tangy citrus, savory herbs and a gentle earthiness. Its long finish fills the senses with dunnage, earth, roots, menthol, umami and (eventually) fresh stone fruits.

Within the modern packing, lives an excellent whisky of a very un-modern style. As a result of the limited tinkering, the 25 year old is more of a thinker than a drinker and one that may take time to fully appreciate. It's also much better than the two versions of the recent 25-year-old Springbank I've tried, to which one can thank Glen Scotia's faith in its whisky and that lack of late term futzing. Though I'd love to complain about the Scotia's price, it's about 1/2 or 1/3 of the Springbank's and with a smaller overall outturn. So I have no complaints, but for the cows.

Availability - Limited amounts in US, Europe and Asia
Pricing - $250-$375 in Europe, $350-$400 in US and Asia
Rating - 90

Friday, June 12, 2020

Tasting the Old Tailor Rye

You've seen pictures of the killer barrel and my hairy punim (from like three years ago), you've studied the evaporation rate and bought a bottle of the tawny port, you've lost faith in all other ryes and, as a result, are now sending me your unopened bottles of MGP-era Willett. So now you await the tasting notes, like you await the presidential election, with adrenaline-triggered indigestion.

First, there was a taste off between Old Tailor Rye, the new make and Midsummer Night's Dram 6.2 (High West's port cask finished rye). As youthful as OTR is, the original spirit's notes proved to be nearly absent. HWMND is a very different whiskey, with bigger tannins and fortified wine notes sitting deeper in the palate.

I will say this, Old Tailor's color is right.

But aside from a whiskey's origin story, its color can be its most misleading attribute.

The nose honks "Youthful Rye", though not necessarily baby MGP. The dill note is nowhere to be found. Instead there's rye bread, hazelnuts and ground mustard seed. Cherry lollipops, warm caramel sauce and a hint of grape jam. A good measure of toasted oak spice as well.

The palate is hotter and sharper than the nose. There's lots of tangy citrus and salt, along with the cherry lollipops. It softens up and sweetens after 15-20 minutes in the glass.

Sweet citrus, salt, black pepper and grape jam make up the finish.

It makes for a very reasonable Manhattan (2:1 rye:Antica), one of which Kristen found very acceptable. The port element does not over-sweeten the cocktail, instead a grainy/bready note sits right in the center of the palate.

Old Tailor is a weird success, as my few successes are. Sometimes the port peeks out, sometimes it hides. The palate is simple and may even need a few drops of water. I think it may work best in cocktails and will apply it to such endeavors once we've cleared out our other half-dozen open ryes.

Is the whiskey worth the $150+ I spent on it? Ha! But it is better than I'd expected. A higher quality barrel would have been nice, but I think my mini barrel maturation days are over. It's your turn now.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Old Tailor Rye and how it came to be

Kravitz was an occupational surname in Ashkenazi Polish, Ukranian, Czech and Slovak communities. We were tailors, a trade which continued in my family right up until my grandfather's generation. But one must generously tailor the definition of "tailor" to get it to fit me, as I tailor spreadsheets, screenplays, cocktails, blog posts and terrible whisky experiments. Meanwhile, National Distillers' Old Taylor bourbons are my favorite dusty American whiskies. And "Taylor" was the Norman occupational surname for......you guessed it, cash application senior specialists. A match made in Ohio!

So I made a whiskey. And when I say "made" I do not mean I distilled the stuff. Like any self-respecting American whiskey producer, I aged rye spirit that was distilled by Midwest Grain Products. The good stuff, in the key of 95/5. America's Eau De Vie.

I seasoned a 2-liter barrel with 10 year old Tawny Port for two weeks, leaving a good drizzle of fortified wine in the cask.

Then I deposited clear spirit into the wooden vessel, bunged it up and waited.

The setting

One thing quickly became clear. The barrel was, shall I say, porous. Though I gave the staves twice the recommended time to expand, the barrel leaked from three places, three spots conveniently located so that no matter how I rotated the barrel something was always escaping. Nevertheless I persisted.

My previous barrel experiments played out in our former Long Beach apartment which would get very hot in the summer. But I'm in Ohio now. And I have a basement! A basement which stays between 62 and 69 degrees all year, and remains dry thanks to a dehumidifier. Thus the maturation environment was much stabler this time.

The details

Seasoning: 750mL of Porto Morgado 10 year old Tawny Port. Seven full days, quarter turns every 12 hours.
Spirit: Approximately 1,989 mL of Redemption White Rye batch 001, distilled by Midwest Grain Products with a 95% rye, 5% malted barley mashbill. 46%abv.
Rotation: Quarter turns once a week.

Day 7: ~1.24% evaporation so far, or 0.176%/day (August 11, 2017)
Day 14: ~2.03% evaporation, 0.145%/day
Day 22: ~3.64% evaporation, 0.165%/day
Day 28: ~4.50% evaporation, 0.160%/day - Color: Peach. Notes: Berries, cinnamon sticks, chocolate.
Day 35: ~5.67% evaporation, 0.162%/day
Day 43: ~7.02% evaporation, 0.163%/day
Day 50: ~8.20% evaporation, 0.164%/day
Day 58: ~9.61% evaporation, 0.165%/day - Color: Light gold. Notes: Rubber, fennel seed, flowers, pears ginger, cocoa, caramel.
Day 65: ~11.02% evaporation, 0.170%/day
Day 77: ~12.99% evaporation, 0.169%/day
Day 85: ~14.46% evaporation, 0.170%/day - Color: Gold. Notes: Pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon candy, mint, very bitter.
Day 91: ~15.80% evaporation, 0.174%/day
Day 96: ~18.34% evaporation, 0.191%/day
Day 114: ~22.08% evaporation, 0.194%/day - Color: Apricot. Notes: Shortbread, underripe stone fruits, pears, rye bread, pumpkin pie spice, dry red wine.
Day 126: ~24.88% evaporation, 0.197%/day
Day 168: ~36.13% evaporation, 0.215%/day - Color: Red. Notes: Pear and cinnamon tart, smoky apples, vanilla pods, pear, cherries, cinnamon.
Day 170: Now bottling. Lost nearly 1.60% in last 48 hours alone. (February 4, 2018)

Something happened right there on Day 168. Per my notes, the bung plug had completely worn out by that point so the seal was probably lost. And maybe some quicker leakage. Bottling proved clean and quick. Space was made for it in the cabinet. And there it stayed, waiting 22 months for a label and even longer for an embrace.

Further thoughts

I find this experiment more enjoyable to write about than it was to actually carry through. As you may note in the list above, my motivation to measure the thing began to evaporate (jokes!) after the third month. The barrel was poorly coopered, the experiment cost at least $150 and the process just wasn't that interesting, or at least not nearly as fascinating as my then-brand-new baby daughter. The Diving For Pearls Whisky Machine, Version 2.0 hasn't seen a second experiment, and I'll probably blow it up with fireworks like a good American.

Thanks to dumb luck, the resulting whiskey wasn't that bad. Proper examination will follow on Friday!

Monday, June 8, 2020

The Barrel

This barrel wasn't supposed to be that relevant. I ordered this inscription two-and-a-half years ago, inspired by Woody Guthrie's guitar message, which he'd crafted after he wrote "Talking Hitler's Head Off Blues". Guthrie opposed all forms of fascism, and in my naïveté I had thought the majority of Americans did too, or at least had once done so. But perhaps we've only opposed other countries' fascism while accepting our own. Or maybe we thought things were okay as long as it wasn't present in our neighborhoods, but that it was necessary to impose anti-liberalism on other people's neighborhoods. I cannot follow that logic, as it seems antithetical to our constitution and any dream to fulfill the promise of a healthy republic. One would think this is something our country needs to figure out without further delay.

This barrel is not an "antifa" barrel. And if you regularly use the word "antifa", may I encourage you to add some variety to your news sources. In truth, the above description could have been "This Machine Kills Fascists, Communists, Nihilists and Know-Nothings" but there wasn't enough room on the barrel head.

Here's the reverse side:

On Wednesday, the experiment. On Friday, the tasting!

Friday, June 5, 2020

Laphroaig Càirdeas 2018 Fino Cask Finish

No rant today, just a list of the past eight Laphroaig Càirdeas releases and their ratings, because assigning a number grade to a liquid totally makes sense.

2012 Origin - 88 points
2013 Port Wood finish - 89 points (though I scored it 87 in my review)
2015 200th Anniversary - 91 points (though I scored it 90 in my review)
2018 Fino cask finish

Are the Càirdeai better than Laphroaig's standard range or are they just fun novelties? Yes. As novelties, they top Ardbeg's annual slog, partially because Càirdeas avoids the dopey marketing, partially because they're better thought out, and partially because they taste better. And, yeah, the Càirdeas experiments often result in better whiskies than Laphroaig usually offers. This streak may be ending or pausing this year, but that was yesterday's rant.

I tried the 2016 and 2018 side-by-side this weekend. You may find the 2016's results somewhere in yesterday's post. 😙 Here are my deep feelings about the 2018.

Distillery: Laphroaig
Owner: Beam Suntory
Region: Islay
Age: ???, though probably less than 10 years
Maturation: bourbon casks first, then a fino-seasoned-hogshead finish
Batch: 2018
Alcohol by Volume: 51.8%
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? Probably
(from a bottle split)

The deeply earthy nose is anchored by lovely nutty notes — think almond extract, walnuts and black walnuts — followed by layers of charred fennel-laden sausage, dried apricots, moss and mango. The flamboyance-free palate leads with umami and nuts (mostly roasted almonds but also a hint of those black walnuts). Bits of roots, dried leaves and fresh oregano in the background. Leafy, earthy peat makes up much of the finish, along with smaller savory, salt, limes and plastic notes.

DILUTED TO ~48%abv, or ½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose holds almond extract, dried apricots, salty peat and soot. Though mostly herbal and mineral, the palate gains dimension with umami, lime juice and salty peat. The finish matches the palate, then adds Cracker Jack.

The great fino casks help deliver one of the best Càirdeas noses yet. Meanwhile, the whisky has possibly the most reserved palate of the above-mentioned eight bottlings. A bit of water stirs it up a little, though it's nice to have a peated whisky that doesn't scream in one's face. On the whole it's much better than I'd expected, something I'd considering buying a whole bottle of and in the running for the second best Càirdeas I've had. Probably the antithesis of the 2019 and 2020's Càirdeai.

Availability - Still around, here and there
Pricing - $75-$175
Rating - 89

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Laphroaig Càirdeas 2016 Madeira Cask Finish and another Laphroaig rant

Word is out about this year's Càirdeas release, and it'll be the first edition I'll avoid happily. I don't know if they're trying to imitate Bill Lumsden by way of Jim McEwan, but did anyone really ask for a Port and Wine cask Laphroaig? One must abandon any hope-filled illusion that Laphroaig is above these things, because they're actually all about taking the consumer as far away from the Laphroaig spirit as possible. Brodir, Select, Triple Wood, Four Wood, QA Cask, PX Cask all make the Quarter Cask expression look naked by comparison. I'm not sure if this calls for a shruggie or the guy-saying-WTF meme. But it seems permanent.

I've enjoyed the annual Càirdeases (Càirdeai?) because they're each one-time attempts to see "What would happen if?", and then the distillery moves on. Sometimes it's bloody brilliant, like the 2015 (eleven years old, floor malting, small still, bourbon cask only). Sometimes it seems like way too much, see the 2019 cask strength Triple Wood. They don't always work, but each release is the result of a single structured idea.

The 2020 comes across as a mushing together of dissimilar things because...
A.) ...the 2013 Port Wood shouldn't have worked but did and now we have no other ideas so let's dump some wine casks in because Ardbeg does it too.
B.) ...this was supposed to be a Travel Retail Exclusive but was even too much of a mess for Duty Free so let's raise its strength and pretend it's special.
C.) ...because.
D.) ...all of the above.

I'm not ditching future reviews of official Laphroaigs (yet) because they do sneak out some good stuff each year. But between the gruesome PX Cask experience and the distillery's branding choices I'm going to be limiting my Laphroaigs.

And now onto stuff I do want to review! There are two Càirdeai from the 2012-2019 period that don't yet have their own posts, so let The Royal Us remedy that. I'm doing a taste off between the 2016 and 2018 releases.

The 2016 Càirdeas is part of the "let's take some young Laphroaig and finish it in one type of random cask" series. Madeira-seasoned hogsheads had the "random cask" privilege this time. I tried a glass of it during the excellent Water to Whisky distillery tour, four years ago. Per my notes I liked the Lore expression better, but now it's time to divine its secrets from within my hermetically sealed whisky chamber.

Distillery: Laphroaig
Owner: Beam Suntory
Region: Islay
Age: ???, though probably less than 10 years
Maturation: bourbon casks first, then a Madeira-seasoned-hogshead finish
Batch: 2016
Alcohol by Volume: 51.6%
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? Probably
(from a bottle split)

Orange oil, eucalyptus and cherry lollipops lead the nose, followed by lavender-scented soap, a hint of toffee pudding and a mix of earthy and farmy peat. It's a weird mix, though it sorta works. There's a stronger, burnt peat in the palate, mixing with sweet lemons, pink peppercorns, mint leaves, plastic and iodine. The finish is also plasticky and medicinal with lots of moss and lemon candy.

DILUTED TO ~48%abv, or ½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose is medicinal and plummy up front, with a blur of jasmine, lavender, cut grass and cotton candy in the midground. The palate stays plasticky and sweet, adding in tangy citrus and mild wood smoke. The sugary finish has moderate wood smoke and some moments of woody bitterness.

I had expected to like this better because Madeira's fruitiness often works well with whisky (to my palate, at least) and MAO liked the stuff quite a bit. The odd nose was a fun change of pace, but the fruits, plastic and iodine never worked together and left an odd aftertaste. Adding water brought in woodier notes. It's still a better constructed whisky than most of Ardbeg's limited releases, but did not fare well when matched up with the 2018 Càirdeas...

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 84

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Laphroaig 18 year old (bottled 2014)

Yesterday I reviewed 2019's 16 year old, today I'm reporting on the last version of Laphroaig 18 year old. Like the 16 it's all bourbon casks and bottled at 48%abv. Many of my LA whisky friends loved this edition of the 18, and when they force fed it to me I was immediately taken in by its fruitiness. It was discontinued in 2014, but I found a bottle at its original price in 2015. Yes, I should have bought more than one bottle, but we all know that song too well. I saved two ounces for an occasion, and now's the time. Also I have no bottle shots of the thing, so here's a pic of the half-finished sample bottle.

Distillery: Laphroaig
Owner: Beam Suntory
Region: Islay
Maturation: bourbon casks
Age: minimum 18 years
Bottled: 2014
Alcohol by Volume: 48%
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? Yes
(from the bottom third of my bottle)

I notice immediately that the nose has half the peat and half the oak of the 16yo. Those notes are replaced by melons, lemons, pecans, new blossoms and a hint of peach candy. Smaller notes of plastic toys, cocoa powder and manure linger in the background. The palate confirms this is a delicate Laphroaig. It has a gentle minty sweetness, mild herbal bitterness and peat level close to that of Ardmore's teenage single malt. Tart apples and dark chocolate follow. It's really easy drinkin'. Ah, the fruits appear again in the finish. Cantaloupe, apricots and apple skins. Then coffee and bitter chocolate.

I found the previous version of the 18 too light, but my palate has changed in the eight(!) years since that review. This version of the 18 isn't "light", rather it's a subtler, brighter take on Laphroaig than the younger official versions. In fact it may hew closer to some teenage Yoichis, than what we're used to coming from Laphroaig. I'll also note, though this whisky comes from only bourbon casks, I don't think the distillery has ever specifically said those were first fills. Something much different was at play between the maturations of this 18 and the limited edition 16, and I prefer the 18.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 87

Monday, June 1, 2020

Laphroaig 16 year old (2019)

Since I've devoted a week to each of its South Islay brethren/sisters/cousins/factory-in-laws, Laphroaig now gets its due. This site does have some review gaps, so I'm going to fill my Laphroaig......holes.

The first two reviews this week will (hopefully) make good sparring partners. Today, it's the 16 year old, bottled in 2019. A 11,500-bottle release, it spent its time in only first-fill bourbon casks, burning in at 48%abv. Sounds promising!

Distillery: Laphroaig
Owner: Beam Suntory
Region: Islay
Maturation: first-fill bourbon casks
Age: minimum 16 years
Bottled: 2019
Outturn: 11,500 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 48%
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? Probably
(from a bottle split)

Reading exactly as advertised, the nose arrives with burnt plasticky and ocean-y peat along with a heap of bright honey butter oak notes. It's briny and ashy, with smaller notes of anise, charred pepper skin, brown sugar and new carpet. The palate is charred, ashy, salty and herbal. Then the honey butter. Bits of apples and cinnamon. It gets bitterer with time, but also very sweet. It finishes with Thai chile heat, sweet apples, salt, honey, anise and vanilla.

Aggressive and modern, this Laphroaig registers both youthful and oaky like most of the world's "craft" whiskies, though this one pulls it off better than most because the underlying spirit is so good. I'm thankful Beam Suntory gave it an age statement and didn't bury their product in alternative casks, but I'm not really sure where this fits in with the rest of their range. The annual CS brings bigger and better power, the Quarter Cask offers plenty of oak and the 43%abv version of the 10 year old more ably balances those two aspects than does the 16. It's possible that second- or third-fill casks, or at least a mix of fills, would have served the whisky better, but that's a guess and preference on my part. Let's see how this whisky matches up with a similar out of production Laphroaig tomorrow...

Availability - mostly sold out, but some US retailers may still have some
Pricing - anywhere from $90-$190
Rating - 83

Friday, May 29, 2020

Blind Tastings! Five American whiskies? Five American whiskies.

Here's a quick spoiler. I guessed these five mystery samples were American whiskies. And I was right. BOOM. Thank you very much to Matt O for sending these samples, waiting for ten months and then having kept a list of the five whiskies the whole time.

I don't have much confidence in my ability to sort out contemporary American whiskies. At best I can sort out how much oak and rye are involved, and I can often spot a dusty. But that's it. So this tasting was quite the challenge.

Nose - Mild char, cocoa and cherries. Roasted almonds, orange zest and mustard. Hints of sherry-ish raisins and a meaty note.
Palate - This is a rich, almost winey bourbon with berry jams. Plenty of cherries and black pepper, along with a savory hint.
Finish - Savory and sweet with bits of curry and chiles. A slight nuttiness as well

My guess (per my email to Matt O) - "A rich bourbon, almost winey on the palate. I'm gonna go with Four Roses OESO. It's not hella tannic, so I'd guess it's less than 10 years old."

The reveal!!!

Belle Meade Sherry Cask (#3258), a Corkdorks pick, 55%abv, between 8 and 10 years old, and likely a high-rye MGP fluid.

My consumption of too much sherried scotch served me well here. Matt O also mentioned he found the whiskey to be sulfurous, and with its savory and aggressive peppery notes I can certainly detect some of that stuff. I'm not sure I've had a sherry cask bourbon before, but I did like the fruitiness the cask brought along.

Nose - At first there's lots of vanilla, caramel and butterscotch pudding, then it switches to barrel char and a pretty floral note.
Palate - Hotter than sample A. It's sweet and a little bit tart. Cherries, lime candy, hints of bananas and lots of oak.
Finish - Acidic and tart. Lots of tannins. It's mildly sweet at first, then becomes more candied with time.

My guess (per my email to Matt O) - "I'm reading more oak on this one. Going by my somewhat readable notes, I'm going to say Four Roses OBSQ 10+ years old. My second guess is a Heaven Hill bourbon with some serious age on it, but I don't know HH much beyond Elijah Craig."

The reveal!!!

William Heavenhill 14-year, 57.5%abv

Whoa, I'm already faring much better than I did with this week's scotch tastings. That secondary guess was just a gut feeling. Maybe I should expand my gut.

Nose - Dusty and briny. Nutty and earthy. Almond extract, dried apricot and vanilla bean.
Palate - A very good mouthfeel. Its fruitiness grows with time. Lemon, berries and mint in a musty basement.
Finish - Tangy and sweet blackberries and plenty of musty oak..

My guess (per my email to Matt O) - "This has got to be a dusty thingy, and if not then someone out there has mastered dustiness. So my guess is a '70s or '80s bourbon that is neither National Distillers nor S-W, and was bottled at 100 proof or less."

The reveal!!!

Wild Turkey 8 year old 101 proof, bottled in 1984.

Firstly, yum. Love this stuff. Secondly, I'm getting creeped out by how much better I'm doing with the Americans here.

Nose - Nuts and seeds, specifically cashews, sunflower seeds and roasted pumpkin seeds. Also a dab of raspberry jam.
Palate - Those toasted seed notes again. Roses and in-season raspberries.
Finish - Brief but still seedy and nutty. Honey and berries.

My guess (per my email to Matt O) - "This is fascinating. I have no idea what this is. It's all nuts and seeds. I'm going to guess this is some young stuff, craft distillery-ish but good. I'm even going to say there's an alternate grain involved. (Please don't say this is Hudson Four Grain Bourbon.)"

The reveal!!!

George Dickel 13-year BIB!?!?!?!? The Fedora's Love Child!!!

I um what. Yeah. The whisky is so unique that I'm considering buying a bottle of it. Dickel is much more interesting than some of its Kentucky cousins.

Nose - Buttery and papery, with golden raisins and caramel sauce. A slight dustiness too.
Palate - Quirky, jammy. Butter, caramel, raisins. It gets sweeter with time, but also rawer.
Finish - Fruity, sweet and buttery.

My guess (per my email to Matt O) - "This is also a young one, though a little closer to classic bourbon notes. But it's also a style I'm not entirely familiar with. So I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's a youthful Old Forester, a bourbon I'm not entirely familiar with."

The reveal!!!

MB Roland Single Barrel, a Cork N' Bottle pick, 52.9%abv, possibly 4-5 years old

I've never had MB Roland juice (in bold for the juice haterz), and I'd be interested in trying something else from their distillery. Though I could do with less butter, the fruits and sweets were nice. Matt O was very generous in his estimation of my guess. It's clear though I didn't know what I was starting to slump by the time I got to this one.


I'm here to announce that Diving for Pearls content will be 100% blind bourbon reviews going forward.

Just kidding. That was about as nerve-wracking as a blind tasting can get. I didn't know what I was doing (more so than usual), and though I was doing only 0.5oz at a time my palate was starting to abandon analysis mode and enter Drink mode.

Thanks again to my generous whisk(e)y friends! Regular biased reviews return on Monday.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Blind Tastings! Something old school

Well, I guessed Monday's mystery sample was from a Scottish island and I was right! I also spotted plenty of first-fill American oak, which was correct. Had everything else (distillery, age and strength) wrong though. I blame the aggressive cask because I'm never ever wrong about any of my blind tasting guesses ever. Soooooo, onto Monday's sparring partner, a mystery sample from Secret Agent Man.

I forgot to take a picture of the sample bottle, so here's a large question mark:


Nose - Tropical fruits + industrial funk + dunnage + spent synthetic oil = !!!!  Hints of band-aids and yellow nectarines in the background.
Palate - Tart stone fruits, tobacco, butterscotch and aged cheese. Steel wool, herbal bitterness and that hint of band-aids again.
Finish - Limes, butterscotch and steel wool. Picks up some more minerals and sugar with time.

Clynelish, 18-21yrs, hogshead, low 50s abv. Very old school, maybe one of my favorite Clynelishes ever.

Except it's not Clynelish.

It is....


You know what part I got right? That it was delicious. It's pretty and dingy at the same time, complex yet very easy to drink very fast. Something about it felt like it was from a previous era. Having tried two of the 45.8%abv versions of Talisker 25 and one of the 45.8% 30 year olds, I can confidently say this is a different version of Talisker, a different whisky. As much as I praise Diageo's treatment of Lagavulin's single malt, I cannot do so for Talisker. One wonders what has changed other than demand.

GRADE RANGE: A-  (90-92)

Monday, May 25, 2020

Blind Tastings! A mystery sweetie

It's about that time for me to embarrass myself (more than usual), with some blind tasting results. Some whisky friends provided me with mystery samples, and this seemed like a good time to catch up on 'em. So here's a week of blind tasting results. Take comfort in knowing I guessed none of these correctly.

First off, is a mystery sample from Dr. Springbank:

Nose - Big rich bourbon cask action. Vanilla bean and salted caramels. Limes and minerals. Toffee and moss. A hint of IPA.
Palate - Rich oak, but not new oak. Vanilla bean and caramel sauce, again. Ginger beer, limes, nectarines and grapefruit.
Finish - Vanilla, pepper, lemon and ginger. Sweet but not too sweet.

Arran, 18 to 21 years old, single first fill bourbon cask, low 50s abv.

Ready for this?

I found nothing sherry-cask-related when I tried this sweetie blindly, instead it reminded me of a couple Arrans I've tried that had sat in their single bourbon barrels maybe a year too long, but were still good drinkin'. Even after the whisky's identity was revealed, I had to strain to find something that sort of resembled a sherry cask. And I found nothing before or after that called out "HP". Blind or not, I can't find the damned vikings.

GRADE RANGE: B (84-86)

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Ardbeg 23 year old (Twenty Something series)

Some overactive casks prevented the 22yo from ascending to greatness, thankfully the super 21yo avoided that issue and provided old-fashioned thrills. The 22 was distilled in 1996 and the 21 in 1994-1995. This 23 was from 1993-1994. Unlike the 21 and 22, the 23 has some sherry casks in the mix. And I haven't seen an outturn number for it. No matter what, it's a joy to have the opportunity to drink 23 year old Ardbeg. I think I've had Ardbeg older than this only a handful of times, and only twice in my own home. Engage.

Distillery: Ardbeg
Owners at time of distilling: Allied
Region: Southern Islay
Maturation: bourbon casks and oloroso sherry casks
Age: minimum 23 years
Bottling year: 2017
Alcohol by Volume: 46.3%
(from a bottle split)

It has the fruitiest nose of the trio, with nectarines and plums. Wet old books, elephant manure, steel wool and dust float in the midground. Toasted oak spice, almond extract and pound cake linger in the background. The palate's smoke and fruit arrive together: kiln, cherries, dried apricots, and fresh peaches. My favorite part — dunnage, black walnuts and Hampden-style smoky olives — appears after 30 minutes. A small dose of tannin and newspaper (paper more than print) shows up after 45 minutes. There's a mix of oceanic and leafy peat in the finish. Bits of dunnage, newspaper, anise and fresh ginger. Just a little bit of peppery tannin.

The loudest of the three Allied Ardbegs, and also the oldest-feeling (despite the age proximity), the 23 was bottled just before the oak broke. I love the nose and palate, but I do think a glass of this stuff needs to be consumed within 45 minutes. (That may sound silly to some folks, but consider the whisky's rarity and price.) The oloroso casks are present but reserved, a good thing in this instance. And as with all the Allied Ardbegs I've ever had, the peat is much subtler and nuanced than that of LVMH's Ardbeg, leaving space for every other element to arrive.

This tasting has left me much less motivated to ever review another LVMH Ardbeg. I may do a fun little comparison someday, but otherwise I'll review my remaining Allied samples in the next year or two, then that will be that for Ardbeg.

Availability - Can still be found in the primary market
Pricing - £430 w/VAT (original price), £450-£700 now
Rating - 90

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Ardbeg 22 year old 1996 (Twenty Something series)

Like the Twenty One, this 22 year old was aged solely in bourbon casks. But this one has a 1996 vintage which means it came from the very end of the Allied era, and it had a smaller outturn than the 21. I tasted these three whiskies together, and I am happy to report the 21 was wonderful. How about the 22?

Distillery: Ardbeg
Owners at time of distilling: Allied
Region: Southern Islay
Maturation: bourbon casks
Age: minimum 22 years (1996-2018)
Outturn: 2400 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 46.4%
(from a bottle split)

The quiet nose takes a bit of cajoling to awaken. It has that almost peaceful balance of ocean and smoke that the great Ardmores possess (yes, Ardmore). Earth, ground mustard seed, cucumber skin, cut grass and newspaper print. Small notes of angel food cake and pear torte in the background. The palate begins like a lighter version of the 21. More basement than farm. More fruits, but also more tannins. Almonds, walnuts, lime juice, lychee and calvados. But the tannins move in after 30 minutes pushing almost everything else out. The finish holds notes of almond cookies, salted caramels, mild smoke, lychee and very old oak. More moldy staves with time.

I'll bet there were some gorgeous casks in here. But there were also at least a few that were already past their prime. Perhaps they were used to increase the outturn and/or this offered a better return than sinking 22 year casks in other Ardbeg products. The oak doesn't kill the whisky but prevents it from reaching the heights of the Twenty One. Also, the nose was also oddly quiet compared to the other two Ardbegs. This was the last of the short-lived "Twenty Something" series, so perhaps this was it for the 1996 casks? (Though there's a 25 year old on the way, it's going to be from 1995 or earlier.) Though this is very good whisky, it could have been a stunner.

Availability - Getting scarce
Pricing - £440 w/VAT (original price), £500-£700 now
Rating - 87

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Ardbeg Twenty One

Thinking they were made with the oldest expressions of LVMH-era Ardbeg, I made sure to get in on a bottle split of the 21, 22 and 23 year old. It wasn't until after they were in my possession that I realized these whiskies were distilled by Allied! Yay!

Terrible Metaphor Time: Star Wars and Ardbeg. Allied Ardbeg is the original trilogy and LVMH is the sequel trilogy. Fans can say about the latter Ardbeg, "Hey that one part was good" and "Remember that time..." and "That was kind of funny", but when compared as a whole with the former Ardbeg, the newer stuff doesn't hold up well and has occasionally been embarrassing. The current generation of fans will experience LVMH Ardbeg first, most often, or completely without perspective. And that's where the comparison falls apart because I can always fire up Empire Strikes Back, old Ardbeg not so much. Also the prequels never happened.

Twenty One was released in 2016. Though I don't think the label offers a vintage, the single malt was birthed from 1994 or 1995 (math!) when the distillery was squeaking out occasional batches. The 10 year old distilled during that time period was great. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens with more age. On all of us.

Distillery: Ardbeg
Owners at time of distilling: Allied
Region: Southern Islay
Maturation: bourbon casks
Age: minimum 21 years
Bottling year: 2016
Outturn: 8268 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
(from a bottle split)

Steel wool, coal, bits of cinnamon and anise, and cold kiln ash register first in the nose, then never relent. Hot asphalt, hot engine and manure. Old book and ocean notes arise after 45 minutes. The palate's earth, fruit and farm arrive in unison. Cinnamon cake and a puff of pipe smoke, then hints of mothballs, old books and industrial oils. It finishes with cinnamon cake, earth, stones and lemons. Peaches, industrial oils and mothballs.

"Lovely. It's been a really long time since I've had peated whisky like this," say my written notes. So engaged by the whisky, I forgot to take notes for at least half the sips. To be honest, I didn't expect this level of quality. It's not that I had doubts about Ardbeg from this era, rather I've been conditioned to set my expectations low when seeing a contemporary Ardbeg label. Ardbeg Twenty One is so good (and the secondary market so bats) that I must say its original price was not unreasonable. Should not this be something to which Ardbeg aspires? As opposed to Blaaack?

Availability - A few bottles remain in the primary market, a lot more in the secondary market
Pricing - £310 w/VAT (original price), £400-£700 now
Rating - 92 

Monday, May 18, 2020

Ardbeg Blaaack Committee Release

The annual clamor continues for Ardbeg's Special Releases and I am baffled. But then again a large quantity of humans rushed out to witness each Transformers sequel and spinoff. And the New Housewives series continues to exist. And the Flip or Flop franchise. And what's the deal with indoor plumbing?

Now, about the whisky. It's called Blaack and there's a picture of a sheep on the front. There are two official reasons for this. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Ardbeg Committee, the whiskymakers elected to finish their whisky in (of course) New Zealand pinot noir casks, and there are more sheep than people in that fine country. Secondly, Ardbeg claims its fanbase are the black sheep of whisky fandom.

The latter is absolute nonsense. To paraphrase Han Solo, "That's not how 'black sheep' works." The Ardbeg fanbase is a massive moneyed contingent, which is why these multimillion-dollar releases continue to exist. But making a majority feel like a very special minority is the hot shit these days, so cheers.

The former is a thing.

If you're keeping score:
Ardbeg Day - Almost as good as Oogy!
Ardbeg Galileo - Someone screwed up, right?
Ardbeg Ardbog - Not bad, but $110?
Ardbeg Auriverdes - Unmemorable
Ardbeg Perpetuum - No.
Ardbeg Dark Cove - Smells good, but it still loses to Oogy
Ardbeg Kelpie - Sour, bitter and hot. Oppressively poor.
Ardbeg Artein Alligator Grooves - Somewhat groovy.
Ardbeg Drum - Shucks I missed this one.
Ardbeg Blaaack - ...

Distillery: Ardbeg
Ownership: Glenmorangie Plc (owned by LVMH)
Region: Islay
Product: Blaaack
Age: NAS
Maturation: something something something New Zealand pinot noir casks
Limited bottling: of some sort
Bottling year: 2020
Alcohol by Volume: 50.7%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(thank you to Dr. Springbank for the sample)

At first the nose shows an odd mix of Vegemite, burnt raisins, nuts and roots, but after 15 minutes it opens up, bringing in notes of lime candy, honey, maple syrup and kiln. The palate starts even more awkwardly, smushing together very sweet and very herbal characteristics. This was a very sweet pinot noir. There's bitter smoke, blackberry jam, halvah, pepper and simple syrup. It finishes peppery, bitter, ashy and sweet. Reads a lot like Pedro Ximénez.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 3mL of water per 30mL whisky
Raspberries, smoke, orange peel on the nose, backed by hints of mint and ginger. The palate has become bitterer, nuttier, along with ginger, white chocolate and Robotussin. It finishes with smoke, nuts, ginger and sour cherries.

Ardbeg released the jumbled mashup Perpetuum to celebrate the distillery's 200th birthday. They released this Murray McDavid-ism for the committee's 20th anniversary. They released Galileo, period. Aside from the absence of logic involved, these releases make one wonder if there has been any experiment Ardbeg has not sent to the market. I'm going to say no.

Now, about the whisky. Lumsden and Co. have created a really fun nose on this. It's unlike anything I've sniffed before. But the palate, as with Grooves (and most of the special releases, to honest), is a scattered clashing mess that somehow worsens with water. I've had friends' infinity bottles that presented better composed palates. Blaaack's nose is so enjoyable that one can be willing to forgive its other parts but only to a point. Whisky is for drinking.

Availability - It's still around as of the date this post was written
Pricing - $150-$400 (not a typo)
Rating - 80 (pulled up by its nose)

Friday, May 15, 2020

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

I am a troll in a house full of luminous fairies. I am a walking I Don't Know What I'm Doing meme. I am very grateful and very confused. This world of parenting and beautiful girls remains mysterious, and Queen Enigma turns six years old today.

She feels seven things at once, releasing a stream of sentences each one contradicting the previous, refusing the things she loves only to beg for them back. Her artistic sensibility far exceeds mine already. She struggled with Disney's Alice in Wonderland because Alice is such a passive protagonist. Resolutely her own person, she would still fuse into her mother at every moment if she could. She wants to be thrice her age and half her age. She wants to travel the world and always stay home. She is always brave and nervous. Or at least braver than I am. I want her to grow up to be stronger than her father, to make better choices and never relinquish her passions. Sometimes I want Mathilda to be older right now so she can tell me everything will be alright and I would believe her and only her. But she's six. And watches Frozen 2 every week.

Today's Littlemill was opened on her third birthday. Since then I've only brought it out during this one week of the year, or when I'm hosting whisky friends. I could let this bottle stretch out to the next birthday, but I won't. It's time to enjoy it and move on.

And no, I won't be comparing the whisky to her. I no longer compare whisky to women, and if you still do you may want to consider your relationship to both. My daughters teach me stuff.

Former Owner: Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouse Ltd (proto-Loch Lomond Distillery Co.)
Independent Bottler: Berry Bros. & Rudd
Region: Lowlands (close to the Highlands border)
Age: 22 years (1990-2013)
Maturation: American oak?
Cask number17
Alcohol by Volume: 54.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(from the bottle half of my bottle)

Barley roars forward in the nose with citronella, apricots and Bartlett pears in the midground. Then there are freshly roasted nuts and hints of creamy confections. It's floral but never too pretty due to the weight of the barley spirit. There's plenty of heat in the palate, but it also holds onto the nose's fruits, also adding yellow cherries, tart blackberries and zippy yuzu. Salted caramels float to the surface after 45 minutes. It finishes as fiercely as the palate starts, but adds some sweetness. There's plum wine, salted caramels, almond extract and brisk tart citrus.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1 tsp water per 30mL whisky
The nose feels fuller, more fragrant, more floral. Salty ocean air, white peaches and a lemon tart. The palate becomes puckeringly tart, lots of limes and grapefruits. Hints flowers and minerals, a pinch of sugar. Tart citrus and berries lead the finish. Not much sweetness. Jasmine and stones.

The birthday girl continues to build a remarkable palate. She scarfed down plain greek yogurt before she turned two, and now she insists on eating limes. "They're fruit." The tartness in this whisky's diluted finish almost stripped my tastebuds. It's a heck of a thing and she'd enjoy the sensory experience, except this is whisky. I'm sipping some of the whisky again, from a tumbler instead of a glencairn, but even this wide glass doesn't soften the bite.

Apparently this Littlemill mellowed out during its second and third rounds, but has since toughened up. It's not even a casual drinker at 46%abv. Still all its fruits could go well with this spring weather. I'll drop it to 43 or 40 percent just to find its best spot. And there's a lot of it left.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - $140 back in January 2015
Rating - 87