...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Three Talisker 18s: A tasting

On Monday, I posted an introduction to today's tasting. Now, just a little more bottle background before I begin:

I opened the 2012 bottling several months ago for a fundraiser, though I did save one ounce for today's purposes. Its bottling code was L2352CM000, likely one of the first three runs of the new-label 18.

For reasons unknown, the 2011 bottle's code went unrecorded, even though I've written down much less useful bottle code information before and since. I do know that the bottle was bought in September 2011. So it's either of the L1244CM000 coding or the batch before. Either way it was one of the last three bottling runs of the old-label 18.

I opened the third bottle for this tasting. Its code is L6172CR000.

Surprise, surprise, this is what happened to its cork:

But not a single nub of cork fell in the bottle.

To the drinking!

TALISKER 18-YEAR-OLD, 45.8%abv, L2352CM000, bottled 2012

Nose - Good 'n Plenty candies, limes and grapefruits. A merging of gentle ocean-y and mossy peat notes. Hints of white stone fruit skins. The anise candy and limes ramp up over time, and are joined by a slight rosy note.

Palate - Lots of fruity sweetness at the start. More peat than on the nose. Tangy pepper sauce, dates, lemon peel and a bit of minerals. It gets more peppery with time and white fruity with time.

Finish - Fiery chile peppers, mild sweetness, a stony minerality (mineralness?), ashy smoke. The pepper and smoke last the longest.

Comments - It's good stuff, though not as gorgeous as I'd remembered the 18 used to be......a circumstance that will be confirmed in a moment. The palate dearly needs some of the nose's complexity, and the Talisker character doesn't come through until late. Still, it's well balanced, the oak stays out of the way and there's plenty of youth to be found. Were it still $80, I'd be enthusiastic. At twice that price, I'd find it disappointing.


TALISKER 18-YEAR-OLD, 45.8%abv, bottled 2011

Nose - A peatier thing than the 2012. There's menthol and dark industrial smoke. Yellow peaches and yellow plums, then a splash of plum wine. A combination of lemon juice and freshly cut grass. A bit of dunnage. Citrus and floral fruit skins last the longest.

Palate - Salt and sweet and tart, perfectly balanced. A charred-bell-pepper smoke. Oranges and citrons and fig. Then the second gear kicks in: a zap of minerals mixed with lime zest.

Finish - Tangy fruits and cigarette smoke. Salt, stones, barley and figs.

Comments - I used to think of Talisker 18 as one of the titans of single malt, and this reminds me why. It sits perfectly between the Drinky single malt and Thinky single malt categories. I've seen people use the word "effortless" to describe the whisky, but I won't do so because I don't know what that actually means. BUT this whisky's complexity is accessible to any nose, while on the palate every element merges into one and then shifts into a second gear. Though the rating is lower than the one I'd listed seven years ago, know that this is an excellent whisky.


TALISKER 18-YEAR-OLD, 45.8%abv, L6172CR000, bottled in 2006

Nose - Lots of dunnage and dark chocolate and grapefruits. Jalapeño oil, wet sand, citronella, peaches, a few old sherry casks thrown into the mix. I could keep going on but that would serve only the ego.

Palate - Here comes another list! Dunnage, lime zest, minerals, hay, dark chocolate, toffee, a pepper-oil smoke, then swirls of salty smoke with sweet lemons around the edges. It's the biggest and boldest of the three, yet also the most mature.

Finish - Lemons, stones, salty/peppery smoke, white peaches, musty staves and a hint of Thai chiles.

Comments - Gorgeous and grandiose, dark and delicious. I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of this one. It's of a remarkable quality that's difficult to compare to anything other than maybe old Springbanks and other old Taliskers. I can't really discuss this further without referring to the other two, so let's go...



The 2012 was a very different whisky than the 2011. Meanwhile the 2011 and the 2006 feel much more akin. There's a curious thread running through these three, though. Each one reads older than the previous, with the 2006 bottling seeming like it's a good decade older than its age statement. And I think that's the key here.

Until 2011, Talisker's 25-year-old was bottled at cask strength. And those 25s were big whiskies, bottled between 54%-60%abv. Then in 2011, the 25 was bottled at the diluted strength of 45.8%abv. What if low-strength 25+ year old casks were added to the 18yo, once upon a time? Older casks that wouldn't fit the flavor profile of the 25 or were of low proof could have been used by the blenders to boost the profile of the 18 year old. This isn't a revolutionary idea because blenders have used this approach, historically.

There's a depth/complexity/dimensionality (sorry) missing from the 2012 bottling that is present in the two earlier bottles. I think there was a change in the recipe, and thus I wonder if the missing element was older Talisker. Its absence is a loss for Talisker fans.

Five and a half years ago, I found the 2012 bottling of the 25 year old suffering from a similar decline in quality. I believe the 10 year old has also seen a dropoff, though perhaps not as extreme. I look forward to putting that to the test in 2021...

Monday, January 27, 2020

Three Talisker 18s: An introduction

Diageo doubled the breadth of the Talisker range, from two to four, in 2004, by adding an 18 year old and a 25 year old to a line that had only included a 10 year old and the Distillers Edition. While the 25 year old was aimed for the ultra-luxury market, the 18 offered Talisker enthusiasts a way to ascend the consumer's ladder for a smaller premium. The 10 year old was about $40, while the 18 year old cost $80. That opportunity ended abruptly when Diageo hoisted the 18's price to $150 in 2012. This increase met with widespread grievance from customers and some retailers, as one of the best deals in the single market was gone.

New packaging, from boxes to labels, came with this price increase, so the whisky itself was not only more expensive but it looked different. I had been a very vocal devotee of the 18 year old in its previous livery, so I was curious when three whisky friends from different parts of the world told me, separately, that the "new" 18 year old was not nearly as good as the "old" one. And I wondered, "Had a change in recipe been partnered with the new visuals?

I dare say, 2012 is now a long time ago. And I'd been waiting to do a comparison of Talisker 18s since then, but I didn't know how.

My cupboard included one bottle of the 18 in its new packing, purchased for me by my wife. That was probably the last whisky bottle she bought for me because we both later agreed that more whisky bottles is not what our household needs.

Two years ago,  I discovered to my great surprise that I had saved a sample from my last old-label 18. It wasn't even in my whisky spreadsheet, so I had discovered a secret I was trying to keep from myself.

That then inspired me to scour the European auctions for an older bottling of the 18, specifically a 20cL bottle (one of the great bottles sizes, if not the best), and found just the one.

So there were three. One bottled in 2006, during the 18 year old's early years. One from 2011, just before the pivot, and one from 2012, just after.

The comparison was scheduled for late February 2020 but I could no longer fend off the anticipation. The tasting was moved to the day I write this introduction. In two days, I will post the results.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

All The Baby Laing Taliskers, including this Talisker 6 year old 2009 Old Malt Cask for K&L

Independent Talisker releases by vintage:

2012 - 0
2011 - 7 (all by Laing companies, all 5 to 7 years old)
2010 - 11 (all by Laing companies, all 6 to 8 years old)
2009 - 16 (all by Laing companies, all 5 to 8 years old)
2008 - 31 (mostly or all by Laing companies, one was 9 years old, the rest were 5 to 8 years)
2007 - 0

At some point, the Laing family of independent companies obtained a sizable collection of Talisker casks that had been barreled between 2008 and 2011. And they've released 99% of them at 8 years of age or younger. If 10 or 11 year old Laing Talisker was going to make an appearance, 2019 would have been the year for it. But nothing yet.

Why is this happening?

(If anyone from the Douglas Laing side of things is reading this, please share!)

I've experienced four of these baby Taliskers (including today's), and owned one bottle. The first time a drinker tries one of these wee Talis it's kind of neat, in a raw mezcal sort of way. But no one with tastebuds in his face would say the whisky is anywhere within sight of Talisker at its best.

Meanwhile, on the financial side of things, imagine the whisky geek excitement of 11+ year old indie Talisker. Imagine the prices! Can be I an optimist and hope there are 200 more Talisker casks sitting in a non-Diageo warehouse, destined to provide the whisky world with a journey of Talisker through the ages?

I can understand why a retailer would scoop up one of these casks. It's Talisker, a known name, something that will sell faster than a six year old Tullibardine. And maybe that's the engine behind it all.

In any case, today's whisky doesn't appear to be among one of the above listed 65, so we can call it the 66th baby Laing Talisker. It's a single cask exclusive to US retailer K&L Wine Merchants, and the sample comes from My Annoying Opinions. How those two must love sharing space in the same sentence!

Distillery: Talisker
Independent Bottler: Douglas Laing
Range: Old Malt Cask
Age: 6 years
Distillation year: 2009
Maturation: refill sherry hogshead
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Exclusive to: K&L Wine Merchants
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: No

The nose starts out farmy, yeasty and raw. Slightly briny. Lots of cinnamon syrup, a few Glenfiddich-like pears. It gets cheesier with time, and very sugary. The palate is hot and acidic, vaguely grainy and peaty on the first two sips. Then comes the yeast and cheese. Then a grape candy sweetness that nearly takes over. Some dusty smoke lingers in the background. It has a drying, yeasty, cheesy finish with bursts of refined sugar and smoky mezcal.

DILUTED TO ~43%abv, or 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose has shifted to peated simple syrup, sharp cheddar and limes. The palate and finish are both very sweet and very yeasty.

I think disliked this less than MAO. We both found the yeast and mezcal bits. He experienced lots of plastic while I tasted lots of sugar. But we came to similar conclusions as you may see in the score below.

Farmy and yeasty notes aren't dealbreakers for me, in fact Tobermory often finds a way to weave them right. But they don't work well here as they crash into the piles of cheese(!) and sugar. I have to think doubling the maturation time would have helped it all out.

Is this (and Macallan M) the future of single malts? Or are 5-6 year old whiskies an aberration, something we will have forgotten about in 5-6 years? If not, that'll keep my spending down.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - $40
Rating - 74

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Talisker 15 year old 2002, Special Release 2019

🥳🎉🥳🎉👻 It's new whisky! New. Ish. Newish. Let's just say it's recent. 🎉🎂🍥🎸🥳

Diageo's 2019 Special Releases came and went and mostly avoided these United States. There was no Caol Ila, peated or un. There was 14 year old Cardhu and 12 year old Cragganmore, which is so unhip that it's almost hip. In fact it's one of the least sexy batches (no Brora! No Port Ellen! No thousand-dollar grain whisky!) yet.

I missed out on last year's allegedly awesome 8-year-old Talisker, so I was happy to get in on a bottle split of this year's 15-year-old Talisker. That was before I realized this 15 was entirely from "freshly charred American oak hogsheads" (per the press releases). Being that there are more than 42,000 bottles in this release, Diageo either did a whole lotta rejuvenating or went deep on new oak (~200 casks) in 2002.

May this whisky succeed despite the great effort to smother the Talisker spirit!

No Tauntauns were harmed in the production of this photo.
Distillery: Talisker
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Isle of Skye
Age: at least 15 years old (2002 - 2018?)
Maturation: "freshly charred American oak hogsheads"
Outturn: 42,222!
Alcohol by Volume: 57.3%
Chill-filtration? ???
Caramel colored? ???
(from a bottle split)

The nose is quite the candy shop: cinnamon, mint, Big Red gum, Juicy Fruit gum, Haribo bears, toasted marshmallows and cotton candy. Limes + coconut cream = piña colada. And a little bit of ocean-y peat. Meanwhile, the palate is much less sweet than the nose leads on. Ginger, toasted oak, toasted coconut and mellow peat smoke are right up front. A mocha-like note (similar to Westland's malt of all things) and sweet lemons are in the background. The finish is similar to the palate, albeit a little tangier and sootier.

DILUTED TO ~45.8%abv, or 1½ tsp per 30mL whisky
Limes, cinnamon, flower blossoms and some mild vanilla on the nose. It's a little smokier and Talisker-ish at this strength. The palate is better balanced. More cayenne pepper, less sugar. More limes, more moss, more salty peat. A little bit of pickled ginger. Again, the finish matches the palate, with a little more sweetness.

Though this is indeed a unique Talisker expression, was anyone actually asking for such a creature. The neat nose is quite, uh, quite. Sort of like one of William Lumsden's noodlings, I suppose. It's all MUCH preferable when reduced to classic Talisker strength (45.8%abv / 80 UK proof) as the coconuts and sugar jump ship.

Not a lot of Talisker in this Talisker for Talisker enthusiasts. But overall the whisky is better than I'd expected (especially when diluted), topping the Skye, Storm and Port Ruighe bottlings, while falling short of all the age-stated regular releases. But never fear, Thursday brings an even less vital Talisker...

Availability - Europe, whatever that may be as you read this
Pricing - €110-€140
Rating - 84 (diluted only)

Friday, January 17, 2020

Edradour 13 year old 2005, cask 145

On Wednesday I reviewed a heavily-peated bourbon cask NAS single malt from Edradour. Today it's a non-peated single sherry cask 13 year old malt from the same distillery.

I knew this one was going to be a hellion. It is bottled at 65.9%abv. Single malts north of 60%abv tend to require a lot of tinkering before their palates reveal their best sides. That's just my experience of course. Yours may differ. Though how on Earth is a 13yo whisky still flexing a nearly 66%abv? A hot warehouse? A higher barreling strength? A wonky cask?

Distillery: Edradour
Ownership: Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Co., Ltd.
Region: Highlands (Central)
Age: 13 years old (28 June 2005 - 14 November 2018)
Maturation: sherry butt
Cask #: 145
Outturn: 532
Alcohol by Volume: 65.9%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from a bottle split)

The nose is plenty poisonous, almost all ethyl and glue, for the first 15 minutes. Gradually notes of almond butter, urine and fish oil slip out. It takes 45 minutes to open up: prunes, dried cranberries, mixed berry jam and dirty hay. Compared to the nose, the palate is not that hot. It's still a bit gluey. It's also spicy, with sweet shisha and dry sherry. The hot, acidic finish is nothing but aggressive tartness, earth and dry sherry.

I'm going to attempt to bring it down to a more approachable level: 100 UK Proof.

DILUTED TO ~57.1%abv, or < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose becomes less gluey. More candy notes: Good 'n Plenty and cherry lollipops. The calmer palate gains fruity notes, like raspberry jam and tart lemons. There's a definite woody smoke to it, which carries through to the finish, which also brings a hit of tart berries and limes.

Is it all that it can be? Perhaps not.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or > 2½ tsp of water per 30mL of the original whisky
The nose is earthy, grungy, metallic and yeasty, but also candied. Fruit cake and a little bit of smoke. The palate is sweet and tangy, but doesn't let go of the heat. Smaller notes of wood smoke and metal. It finishes farmy, metallic, sweet and tangy.

This cask's ABV does it no favors. It's violent stuff until it airs for 45-60 minutes, but even then it feels tight. Bringing it down to 46%abv reveals a quirky, challenging creature, interesting but difficult. Though "Edradour" is the distillery's unpeated malt there is definitely something smoky running throughout this particular whisky, unless that's my palate burning down. That note is welcome. The metallic side, not so much. This Edradour gets points for being nonconformist, but that's about it.

Looking at its whiskybase scores, I see I'm probably alone in my opinion of the stuff. I've set aside one ounce of the whisky, reduced to 46%abv. It'll sit for a bit, maybe a month. If the whisky changes at that point, I'll update this post. But right now, the Ballechin wins by a good measure.

Availability - might still be around in Continental Europe
Pricing - around €100?
Rating - 79

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Ballechin Batch 6, Bourbon Cask Matured

Before the 200+ single cask Ballechins swarmed the market, Edradour had released eight small batches of their young peated single malt (Ballechin), each with its own maturation scheme. Batch 3, aged in port-seasoned hogsheads, was pretty great per my palate. I also had a chance to try today's batch (number 6) at the distillery and was again impressed, especially with its unique coffee note. So far I like these baby Ballechins more than their current, older sibs.

This past weekend I enjoyed comparing this NAS 46%abv peater with a cask strength non-peated Edradour. They bore little resemblance, but more about that on Friday. On to the Ballechin review!

Distillery: Edradour
Malt: Ballechin
Ownership: Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Co., Ltd.
Region: Highlands (Central)
Age: ???
Bottling year: 2011
Maturation: Bourbon Barrels
Limited Bottling: 6000
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from a purchased sample)

The peat does indeed have a coffee grounds character to it in the nose. The mint extract and anise. Small notes of a sugar glaze, cigarettes and smoked fish. The palate balances light sweetness, gentle citrus and moderate peat. It also has an OBE-like note of glass and metal. Bitter smoke builds with time. There's a tiny bit of vanilla but there's much more apricot and white peach. It finishes with limes, cigarettes and seaweed. Just a little bit of sweetness.

This very solid peated whisky reminds me of the early Kilchoman Machir Bay release with more maturity and maybe a few drops of Laphroaig thrown in. Like Batch 3, it reads even larger than its 46%abv, while also being dangerously drinkable. Though it's not the most complex peated whisky, the little bits of fruit in the palate and the coffee grounds in the nose give it some very cool angles. Yeah, I'd choose this over the 10-year-old.

On Friday, a sherried Edradour. But for now...

Availability - Maybe the secondary market?
Pricing - ???
Rating - 87

Monday, January 13, 2020

Knob Creek 14 year old 2004 Brown Sweetness Vol. 1

I went to see a guy about a bottle. I wanted a bourbon. And for my sins he gave me one.

"He" is MAO, a renaissance blogger, person pisser-offer and high priest of The Northfield Whisk(e)y Tendency. N.W.T. selected a private barrel of bourbon and MAO documented the process very well back in September.

I don't always buy bourbon, but when I do it's a private bottling. And though, yes, even those bottles hold mass-produced tempered poison, there's something slightly more human about them. Sometimes one knows the person who selected the barrel, or at least knows a person who knows the person who did it. And, like single cask single malts, private barrels are often a little off brand, a little better, a little worse, a little crazier, a little different than the massive batches pumped out by large distilleries.

As much as some of us would hate to admit it, Beam McDonalds Microsoft Starbucks Suntory has been known to make a good bottle of bourbon. And when their Knob Creeks are on, they are ON. So I was happy to see N.W.T. went with a Knob Creek, a 14 year old (positively ancient these days) at that.

Here's a tasteful photo of the bottle:

Here's a tasteless photo of the bottle:


And here's the very cool N.W.T. label, designed by Doug:

Owner: Beam Suntory
Brand: Knob Creek
Distillery: Jim Beam Distillery
Location: Clermont, Kentucky
Mash Bill: 77% Corn, 13% Rye, 10% Malted Barley (maybe?)
Age: 14 years (14 October 2004 - 9 May 2019)
Warehouse: W-I
Floor: F-04
Rick: R-018
ABV: 60% ABV

This review of this 60%abv whiskey began about one-third of the way down the bottle. It ended in the emergency room. I kid, kid. Sort of.

The nose has that romantic woodiness that only American whiskey can pull off, and Scotch cannot, no matter how hard those companies try. Think cooperage + antique furniture + a whiff of maple syrup. And the vanilla isn't, well, vanilla. There's citrus and smoke to it. There are also dried cherries, dried apricots, a hint of root beer and a sprinkle of Beam's peanut dust. The palate lands a hot peppery punch at first sip. So it does need some air. Then comes honey, lemons, halva, banana and maybe some stone fruits. No woody bitterness, and more caramel sauce than vanilla. The finish mostly matches the palate. It's warm and peppery with lemons, bananas and a moderate sweetness.

I am of the sensitive sort, so I'm going to add water...

DILUTED TO ~50%abv, < 1¼ tsp per 30mL whiskey
The nose's vanilla has gone straight to the bean and is joined by almond extract. The oak reads more toasty than charred, with a little bit of wood spice coming through. Also some lemon zest and pineapple. More fruit than vanilla in the palate. Dried apricots, dried peaches and lemons. Ginger beer and candy canes. The finish seems longer at this strength; sweeter and more complex too. Lemon sorbet, fresh ginger, candy canes and a pinch of salt.

Normally bourbons older than 12 years read too bitter and lopsided to my palate, but not this one. It's the fruits! The palate lifts right off at 50%abv, while the nose does more than fine at either strength. Reducing it to 50%abv also works well for old fashioneds and Manhattans. This is the only bottle of bourbon I have open right now and I'm glad of it. Great selection, MAO! Thank you for letting me relieve N.W.T. of a bottle. I hope there will be a second volume!

Rating - I'm happier than a cow drinking her own barrel-aged milk!

Friday, January 10, 2020

Auchroisk 24 year old 1989 Cadenhead Small Batch

I had heard good things about this bottling, but by the time I got around to searching for a bottle, it had sold out. Yes, an Auchroisk had sold out. Why? Sherry casks. Luckily I was able to buy a sample from Master of Malt just before their company sold and their doors were closed to Americans.

This sample was sipped side-by-side with yesterday's Auchroisk, another sherry butt-ed 24 year old. They were very different whiskies.

Distillery: Auchroisk
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Speyside (Central)
Independent Bottler: Cadenhead
Range: Small Batch
Age: 24 years old (1989 - Marc 2014)
Maturation: "Butts"
Outturn: 1140
Alcohol by Volume: 57.5%
(from a purchased sample)

Rich, hefty sherry in the nose. It's almost smoky. Coffee and Luxardo cherries. There are roses and clementines but a sharp lime nip keeps things from getting too pretty. The palate is indeed that of a sherry bomb. Think: well-aged Glenfarclas meets the better Kavalan sherry casks. And while notes of prunes and dried apricots can be found, dates (and lots of 'em) lead the way. Then mint, nutmeg, cloves, toffee pudding and peach candy go the rest of the way. Dates, cloves and mint make up most of the finish. A hint of peach candy. A savory note appears later on.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Water brings out a beefy note in the nose, which goes well with the mint and cherries. Then some citrus, spun sugar and new leather. More bitter chocolate and black coffee in the palate. Hints of dried cherries and cranberries. Just a little bit more sweetness. The finish mirrors the palate, with more weight on the fruit.

Ardmore got whupped by Aultmore and Auchroisk this week! I would not have thought it possible. This Auchroisk was my favorite whisky of the week, but it's so close between that the scores are ignorable, as they always are. The cask strength was the difference because this whisky did very well with and without the dilution. It also demonstrates (once again) that a single malt doesn't have to be a Glen or a Mac to merge well with sherry casks. I love the intense date notes, and I hope to find them in other whiskies someday soon.

Availability - Perhaps Cadenhead shops still have bottles? Otherwise, it's gone.
Pricing - €120-€140
Rating - 89

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Auchroisk 24 year old 1990 van Wees The Ultimate, cask 13829

I was going to do one "Three Speyside As" post, but each one of the three As was its own beast. So here we go, continuing the five-post week...

Two and a half years ago, I encouraged Columbus Scotch Night to include one twenty-something Auchroisk in an upcoming tasting. They did. The whisky was not loved. And skepticism of my choices began.

Anyway, I like 20+ year old Auchroisk. It's a quirky malt in its youth, but takes to age very well. The van Wees folks have bottled four well-aged 1990 casks of Auchroisk in their The Ultimate range. Three were hoggies, the fourth (this one) was from a refill sherry butt.

Distillery: Auchroisk
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Speyside (Central)
Bottler: van Wees (The Ultimate series)
Age: 24 years (15 August 1990 - 23 July 2015)
Maturation: refill sherry butt
Cask number13829
Limited bottling: 630
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

The nose starts with a big farmy whooof. It's kinda Ben Nevish. There's moss, dunnage and yeast, yet there are also flowers and citrus zests. Some dried berry notes (from the cask?) appear after 30 minutes. Moss and musty dunnage funk lead off the palate as well, followed by citrons, oranges and rosewater. Hints of toffee and earth, horseradish and metal. Though there's plenty of citrus essence in the finish, there's no sugar. There's also salt, black coffee and kiln smoke.

As per my notes, this whisky is for a specific palate. Mine! It's odd, unrefined and entertaining. There's no alcohol heat left in it, so it drinks quickly if one likes the flavors. And I'm happy to report that no generic raisiny notes appear. But there is something quite phenolic in the mix. Auchroisk's malt is allegedly unpeated, so perhaps this cask's previous inhabitant was a smoky thing. Or it's just a weird cask. Or both. In any case, this is another Speyside that's not just another Speyside.

Availability - A few retailers on the continent
Pricing - €90-€100
Rating - 88

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Aultmore 18 year old

I had the chance to try Aultmore 12 year old last January and found it to be a refreshingly malty malt. In fact, it is part of the most grimly titled whisky series yet: The Last Great Malts. I'm rather pessimistic about scotch whisky's future, but "The Last Great Malts"? Bacardi, that is some cold shit.

The time has come to try the official Aultmore 18 year old. It has more cask work involved in its production, compared to its younger sibling. Will that mean it has succumbed to the scotch industry's modern oak love?

Distillery: Aultmore
Ownership: Bacardi Limited (via John Dewar & Sons)
Region: Speyside (Moray)
Age: minimum 18 years
Maturation: bourbon casks and refill sherry casks
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(from a purchased sample)

The nose begins with a bold burst of fermenting fruits (apples, plums and grapes), which is soon joined by roasted barley and fragrant cinnamon. Smaller notes of spearmint gum, orange pixy stix and white peach skins arise later on. The palate balances a sweet fruity note with an edgier mineral side. Salt and pepper. Hint of nutty sherry. A citrus juice note builds with time, but never takes over as its joined by an autumnal leafy note. No vanilla and no tough tannins in the finish. Sweet notes of nectarines and orange pix stix, meet with salt, nuts and butterscotch.

I like this. A lot. Enough "like" for me to consider buying a bottle. It reminds me of AnCnoc 18, but with less heat and less sherry. It also beats both of this week's Ardmores. All of its elements feel aligned, though it has enough fight in it to keep it from being a simple crowd pleaser. These Last Great Malts are, in fact, pretty good so far.

Availability - USA and Europe
Pricing - $100-$140 USA, €80-€125 Europe
Rating - 88

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Bottle Revisited: Ardmore 1991-2013 Malts of Scotland, Rum Barrel

It was time to put an end to this bottle after fifteen months. There are two reasons why an Ardmore would stay open in my home for fifteen months. Either A.) it was so glorious that I needed to stretch out the goodness as long possible or B.) everything else was more tempting to pour. For this bottle, the answer was not A.).

Hold on a moment, I need to address my expectations. Expectations, how could you be so influenced by other people's reviews? We've had many talks about this. Let's just assume that every Ardmore bottle going forward will be bad, like Cutty bad. You hear me? Stay small.

Sorry, I had to do that. I was led to believe this Ardmore's rum cask influence was very minor. I was misinformed. Rum can be great. Ardmore can be great. Now leave Ardmore the fuck alone already. The end. Here's my final pour.

Distillery: Ardmore
Region: Highlands (Eastern)
Independent Bottler: Malts of Scotland
Age: ~22 years old (March 1991 - March 2013)
Maturation: Rum barrel
Casks: 13018
Alcohol by Volume: 53.8%
(from the bottom of my bottle)

Ashy peat, apples, limes and mint leaf start the nose. Then comes the sugary rum and olive juice. Then flowers and metals. The palate is very very ashy, with olive juice, lime juice and an ashy sweet rum. Something doughy is going on in the midground, and it's all getting increasingly tangy. It finishes with hot sauce heat and ash. Lemon sour candy. Kind of a light-style Hampden.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1⅔ tsp water per 30mL whisky
The ashy peat recedes slightly in the nose, leaving olives, limes, dijon mustard, saline and floral perfume. The palate's still ashy, though less sweet. Pickled ume, black pepper and limes. More pepper, less ash in the finish. More sour fruits and a little bit of sweetness.

The rum cask is as subtle as a shavasana fart, without half the thrill. It took a lot of effort not to write notes like, "Rum nose. Rum palate. Rum finish." Also, I don't mind an ash note, though it's one of the least pleasing characteristics peating provides. But I blame the cask for highlighting it and kicking it forward. Dilution improves matters both rummy and ashy, and I wish I had explored that further, earlier. It's not a bad whisky, but it's not what I thought I was buying. Thus ends the complaint. The next review will be *SPOILER ALERT* happier.

Availability - sold out
Pricing - €99 in 2013
Rating - 81 (diluted)

Monday, January 6, 2020

Bottle Review: Ardmore 20 year old 1996

My aim has been to open up one Ardmore bottle each year, and that has been somewhat successful:

  • In early 2016, it was a 13 year old 1990 from G&M which was lean, youthful and good.
  • Early 2017, I opened a 14 year old 2002 sherry cask release from G&M. It was louder and more cask-driven than the 13yo, which was fine.
  • I chose to dig back a little further and open up a 1991 rum cask from Malts of Scotland in late 2018, a whisky beloved by reviewers more famous than yours truly. It was not beloved by me. In fact it was a lot of work to get through. More on this in my next post.
  • Soon after that (still in 2018), I freed my bottle of the official 12 year old Port Wood and found that one more pleasurable than the 1991 from MoS.
  • I did not open an Ardmore in 2019, until the very last week of the year.
I've whined plenty about the lack of age-stated official Ardmores. The 12 year old Port Wood, released in 2015, was a good start, but the 20 year old 1996 was a more impressive step. Also its price was oddly reasonable and was often on sale (!) at various European online retailers.

Yet, the producers couldn't leave well enough alone. Rather than just making it a bourbon cask release, they chose to introduce ex-Islay casks to the mix. Or from what I glean from the online descriptions, the whisky was first aged in 1st fill bourbon barrels, then finished in ex-Islay casks. This practice has also recently started showing up in numerous indie (specifically Signatory) single cask Ardmore releases. Can't say I'm crazy about that idea, but it could be worse. Yes?

Don't you wish someone looked at you the way Anna looks at this whisky?


Distillery: Ardmore
Ownership: Beam Suntory
Region: Highlands (Eastern)
Age: minimum 20 years (1996-2017)
Maturation: 1st fill bourbon barrels, then finished in ex-Islay casks
Alcohol by Volume: 49.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(upper third of my bottle)

The ex-Islay cask influence is very minimal. A good thing. Not that the whisky flaunts much in the way of other character, but I didn't buy the bottle to taste Laphroaig residue.

The nose begins with a mix of plaster, barley, cinnamon and "polyester peat" (no relation to Polythene Pam). After 20+ minutes, there's a mix of wood smoke, machine shop grease and candy shop sugar. Minor notes of honey mustard and ground cumin remain in the background. The palate starts off hotter than one would expect from the ABV, but it does cool down by the third sip. That's followed by a balance of tart citrus, sour candies, cigarette ash and hints of seaweed and brine. There's plastic, ash, citric acid, wood smoke and mint leaf in the hot finish.

DILUTED TO ~43%abv, or ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Barley, dark chocolate, smoked vanilla bean and aromatic wood (almost sandalwood) smoke make up most of the nose, along with mild notes of lemon zest and Frosted Flakes. Less ash in the palate, more band-aid-tinged smoke and burnt plastic. A decent bitter liqueur note floats up as well. The smoke gets woodier in the finish, while the plastic note vanishes. Also some gentle bitterness and sweetness.

While the palate is a bit austere, the Islay casks don't intrude, which is great! The nose can get wild when neat; dilution tames and focuses it. On the other hand, I prefer the neat flavors because I haven't yet been able to warm up to the burnt plastic note. Despite the 20 years and seemingly aggressive cask work, the whisky remains youthful and edgy. It leans closer to the 13yo 1990 G&M than any of the other Ardmores I've opened, which is also a good thing. Due to its reserved nature and limited character, I don't think it's going to wow even we Ardmore geeks, but it's a full step better than the cask I'm going to revisit next...

Availability - still easy to find at European retailers 2+ years after its release
Pricing - €80-€120 w/VAT
Rating - 86

Friday, January 3, 2020

Bottle Review: Amrut Naarangi, batch 05

Yes, this is my bottle. Ta da!

This batch of Amrut Naraangi was on the table at five recent local events, and it proved to be a hit every time. Drinkers seem to like the whisky as much as its story.

Amrut deposits a few pounds of small local oranges into each of a number of sherry-filled casks, then lets them macerate, integrate, infiltrate, disseminate, inculcate, annunciate, inseminate and disintegrate in the Bangalore heat for three years before the casks are emptied. Amrut's unpeated spirit is then added to the casks to mature for an unknown amount of time (my guess is 3-6 years).

Distillery: Amrut
Region: Bangalore, India
Expression: Naarangi
Age: ???
Maturation: see notes above
Batch: 05, August 2018
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfiltered? probably not
Color added? ???
(approximately the midway point on my bottle)

Citrus does feature in the nose, but it's much milder than a liqueur. It's also zippier than navel orange zest, smelling of kabosu, yuzu and citron. This blends with notes of chocolate, toffee, rosemary, fruity cinnamon, malt and brown rice. It even picks up a musty old sherry cask note after 30 minutes. The palate has more classic sherry cask notes of nuts and dried fruit. The midground citrons and limes mix with subtler notes of sweet paprika, serrano pepper and pineapple. A happy lack of sweetness in the finish makes way for tangy citrus and chiles, some paprika and a salty pickled bite.

I'm going to pour myself another glass of this very satisfying batch of Naarangi right now. There isn't much complexity in the palate, instead one finds the fireworks in the nose. But the palate is not syrupy sweet, it is spicy and tangy and — exotic is too loaded of a word — enthusiastically not scotch.

I wish Amrut could find a way to price this in the $60-$70 range. Its current price keeps me from running after a second bottle. $$$ aside, this is a fun whisky experience, and I look forward to other international producers giving an experiment like Amrut Naraangi a try.

Availability - Specialty retailers in the US and Europe
Pricing - $120-$160 in the US, €90-€140 in Europe
Rating - 86

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Glenisla 37 year old 1977 Signatory cask 19604

It is my pleasure to begin 2020 with a review of the only Glenisla I'll likely ever try.

A very short-lived experimental single malt distilled at Glen Keith distillery in the mid- to late-1970s, Glenisla. Allegedly, the distillers added peated water to the wash charge rather than just peating the malt. (I use italics because of that genuinely odd idea.) Not much peat character made it into the spirit itself as a result, then the whisky sat around to be used in blends, including Chivas Bros' Century of Malts vatting where the teenage Glenisla vanished under 99 other malts.

The only time the single malt saw the light of day was via nine single casks released by Signatory, all distilled on 7/7/77. The cask I'm reviewing today made to the USA thanks to Stoller Imports.

Whisky still in the sample bottle! And data included! Amazing!
The nose's main note puzzles me. I have no idea what it is. It's sort of oily and waxy, yet organic. Luckily there are more familiar notes to be found. Ocean, hemp, seared pear. Peach skins, peach candy, peach-colored roses in the sun (per my notebook). It gets mustier with time, while also gaining a mango yogurt note.

The palate has fruits: apricots, kiwi, and some sort of mango cream or puree. Some florals and fruity tobacco. Tapioca pudding and a hint of the nose's mystery note. After 45 minutes the whisky picks up a simple lime-like tartness along with hints of dried cheese and floral tea.

It finishes with apricots, mangoes, roses and tapioca pudding, with a tanginess holding on the longest.

This was so delicate I didn't dare dilute (sorry). Judging by the outturn and ABV (240 bottles, 43.5%), the angels had elected to steal the alcohol rather than the water over the 37 years. Though the nose may have some phenolic-ish notes, there's no peat in the palate. The cask itself has also, thankfully, remained very quiet. Old barley spirit remains. This Glenisla isn't just interesting for historical purposes, it's also good unique whisky. It's a little quirky and very pretty with its fruits and flowers. May everyone open and/or share their bottles!

Thank you to Signatory for salvaging these casks from Seagram's claws. And THANK YOU to LV33 for this sample!

Availability - maybe Binny's?
Pricing - $350
Rating - 88