...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Blair Athol 12 year old Flora & Fauna (bottled 2016)

I'm not sure if it's a comfort or just a curiosity that Diageo does not ladle on the e150a to make sure all of their whiskies have the same orange tint. Here are this week's three F&Fs:

First on the left, Auchroisk came from ex-bourbon casks, or at least the refill-est of refill casks. The second two each had a large percentage of sherry casks in the mix, so they are color-coded correctly.

Today I'm reviewing the item in the middle, a single malt from the other Pitlochry distillery, Blair Athol. Most famous as the main malt ingredient in Bell's blended whisky, Blair Athol has also gained some notice for how well the spirit takes to sherry casks, thanks to countless single casks from Signatory and the Laings. Since I cursed Monday's review with the way I ended its intro, I'll just say this 12 year old sounds like it has the potential to be a decent regular release.

Distillery: Blair Athol
Region: Highlands (Pitlochry)
Ownership: Diageo
Range: Flora and Fauna
Age: at least 12 years
Maturation: at least partially made up of sherry casks
Bottling date: 2016
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? Yes
Caramel Colorant? Yes

The nose begins with nutty Oloroso, dry Marsala and a hint of flower blossoms. It gets nuttier with time and picks up bits of chocolate and prunes. The palate starts off savory and lightly sweet. Grilled or smoked peppers. Hints of grape jam and hops (not a bad combo actually). A soapy note appears at the beginning, dissipates, then returns in later sips. It all gets sweeter with time. Salt, pepper and smoked almonds in the finish. Hops (good) and cardboard (less than good).

With its classic sherried malt elements, this Blair Athol would mostly serve as a comfy, unchallenging 12-year-old whisky. Mostly. Two elements jostle it out of that category. So potent was the soap note that I changed glassware to make sure it wasn't a glencairn issue. But it wasn't the glass. As noted above, the soap character waxed and waned and waxed again. A nice crisp hoppy note pulls it the opposite direction, almost saving and elevating the whisky. It's too bad the finish flops, as it leaves us with something that is much better than the F&F Auchroisk but falls short of the Dailuaine.

Availability - Europe
Pricing - $50-$70 (ex VAT) in Europe
Rating - 78

Monday, April 27, 2020

Auchroisk 10 year old Flora & Fauna (bottled 2015)

After a week of old stuff and a week of new stuff it's time for a week of something in between. This is the kind of week when no one reads a single post. As opposed to every other week. But that's all good because these Flora & Faunas aren't going to review themselves.

I had thought the Columbus Scotch Night event with these whiskies was a few months ago. Alas it was last July. Time passes oddly on.

I'll review these in the above order, except for the Dailuaine. Before this tasting begins, I proclaim Dailuaine as my favorite F&F, the only one that I have ever bought or ever will buy. Here's my previous review of that whisky, and I still stand by it. If Diageo bottled it at 46% and made it a part of their regular rotation Dailuaine would become the new hotness.

But enough about that one. It's time for some Aw-throosk (not, Oh-Chroysk). I've reviewed seven Auchroisks before today, all of which were good to excellent. Haven't had a stinker. Yet.

Distillery: Auchroisk
Region: Speyside (Central)
Ownership: Diageo
Range: Flora and Fauna
Age: at least 10 years
Maturation: ???
Bottling date: 2015
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? Yes
Caramel Colorant? Some, but not much

The nose is a hot mess, full of butter, perfume, sweaty socks, confectioner's sugar and soap. After more than 20 minutes in the glass it gets slightly bready, but it's mostly butter and leaves. The palate is peppery, buttery and floral. Hot cereal, sugar and notebook paper.  The finish matches the palate, but swaps white vinegar for the paper.

I'll be honest, this whisky is kinda crap.

Actually I'll start over. It's admirable that Diageo bottled such an uncommercial spirit-forward single malt. But it's kinda crap. Yes, "kinda" is a qualifier. It could be worse. I appreciate the nose's quirkiness and the lack of comfy, familiar single malt notes. The aggressive buttery note irks my senses more than the vinegar and perfume, perhaps it won't do the same for you. There's a par-baked feeling to the whisky, and I'd bet the new make is better than what was bottled here.
It was a slog getting through 2 ounces of this stuff, I can't imagine what fighting through an entire bottle would be like.

Availability - Mostly in Europe, but possibly a few bottles in the US
Pricing - $50-$60 (ex VAT) in Europe, north of $75 in the US
Rating - 71

Friday, April 24, 2020

Daftmill 2006 Summer Release (2019)

Whisky distilling is an optimist's business. Not whisky branding, though. Here in the US whisky branding enterprises require a good dose of huckster's cynicism, allowing one to spin bullshit stories — with nary a blush — about historical figures, family recipes and America itself. On the other hand, building a successful distillery demands myriads as one first has to master the spirit through barley types, water sources, yeast strains, fermentation times, still shape, still temperatures and cuts. Then there's cask sourcing, warehouse building and management, maturation times and blending. All of those elements, all of that time, commands funding, especially in climates that result in slower whisky production.

The need to generate revenue for the investors, and to keep the stills running, compels distilleries such as Bimber, Ardnamurchan, Kingsbarns, Kilchoman, Wolfburn and Abhainn Dearg to release "spirit drinks" and three year old whiskies. These early funds are grasped at with the risk of tainting one's brand with incomplete products.

Daftmill Distillery seems to be a unique case. It was built on an active family farm (the primary business) with minimal outside investment. This gave the owners more flexibility with maturation times. Less demand for return, more patience.

Through 2020, Daftmill will have released at least 18 different whiskies, all of which are in the 11-13 year old range. The distillery produces only 100 casks a year (which also keeps costs down), yet when cask counting through the releases one may see only 20-40 total casks used for each vintage. So perhaps older expressions are in the works.

Having just made a stink about hype on a Wednesday, I need to be conscious about not overselling Daftmill on a Friday. Six months ago, I reviewed another Daftmill whisky and gave it an 84-point rating. Does that count as "hype" around these parts? I don't know. Though the review's final sentence, "It's actual whisky", is some hot stuff.

Today I'm trying 2019's Summer Release, distilled in 2006.

Distillery: Daftmill
Owner: Francis Cuthbert
Region: Bow of Fife, Lowlands
Age: ~12 years (2006 - 2019)
Maturation: 7 bourbon casks (067/2006, 068/2006, 069/2006, 070/2006, 071/2006, 072/2006 and 073/2006)
Outturn: 1680 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 46%abv
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant Added? No
(from a bottle split)

Tried neat and diluted to ~40%abv.

NoseIt starts with wort, witbier and canned peaches, then orange juice takes over. Make that orange juice and tangerine Emergen-C. Hints of roses and yeast. It gets more floral and toasty with time. With water, it tightens up for a while. Eventually the citrus and pineapple juices arrive. Then wildflowers and creamy pastries.

Palate: Sweet, fruity and loaded with toasted barley grist. The fruits read like in-season raspberries and blackberries, sugary and almost floral. Hints of orange juice and orange candy begin to arrive. Suddenly I'm reminded of some barley-heavy pancakes that once made up a lunch (with berry jam and matcha ice cream!) I had in Japan in 2015. Can't remember the place, just the flavors. The whisky gets very tart with water. Think limes and grapefruit. Wort, jasmine tea and maybe some toasted oak.

Finish: Berries, barley and orange juice. A good citric tartness meets subtle sweet and floral notes. With water, limes and floral teas lead the way, followed by hints of confectioner's sugar and bitterness.

Another Daftmill leads with its barley heart, revealing a bright and unique drinking experience. I'm a sucker for all those fruits, as well as the lack of pushy oak. It would make for very pleasant sipper during the coming spring and summer months, except......the price. It's $250-$300 here in the US. And we can't blame the tariffs since similar Daftmills carry nearly the same prices in Europe. What a shame. I recognize we'll have to pay a premium for such limited whisky, and the cost seems to have controlled demand since this expression hasn't totally sold through. I'm curious to see how this plays out with time, once Daftmill is no longer New. These aren't sexy immediate whiskies, rather they're modest and peaceful. It'd be nice to see prices drop by half, but perhaps I'm just priced out of this one.

Availability - Still on the shelves in the US
Pricing - $250-$300
Rating - 87

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Bimber Distillery, six test batches and one official release

Adding onto their big 21st-century cred (local barley, floor malting, direct-fired stills, etc.), Bimber's brand gained another boost in 2019 when their inaugural release, The First, received gushing reviews from Europe's online whisky taste-makers. Last year, good friend Secret Agent Man returned from the UK with a six-piece set of six test batches of the London-based Bimber output, as well as a sample of The First. He then shared these samples with Dr. Springbank, Dr. Springbank, N.O. and me.

I tried the above six products + The First side-by-side in 10-15mL pours in an attempt to gain perspective while not getting fit-shaced. I'm going to steal Randy Brandy's review structure for brevity purposes. I'm sure he won't mind.

Unpeated New Make, 60%abv, Test Batch 195
Nose - Pears, butter, cinnamon candy and green apples
Palate - Matches the nose, adding some salt. Heat isn't bad.
Finish - Eau de vie meets white vinegar.

Thoughts - You may think the rating below is harsh, but this liquid is new make, and a decent one at that. The finish is a little bit difficult, but otherwise it seems like the distillery is starting off right.
Rating - C+ 

Peated New Make, 60%abv, Test Batch 190
Nose - Pine needles, mesquite, whiffle all, mezcal and limes.
Palate - Bitter smoke and brutally sour citrus with a little bit of sweetness beneath.
Finish - Bitter and sour and very smoky.

Thoughts - Speaking of harsh, woof, this is hairy stuff, but such is the burden of unaged peated spirit. The peated Bimber style is difficult to make out here, but it will in fact be smoky.
Rating - C-

Re-charred cask, 3 years old, 51.9%abv, Test Batch 001
Nose - Gummi Bears, cardamom and bubblegum.
Palate - Bubblegum, cinnamon and mild bitterness. It's also very acidic with some flat paperiness.
Finish - Acidic bitter bubblegum (not a thing) and circus peanuts.

Thoughts - I'm going to assume this is not the batch they turned into an official release. All the candy notes are entertaining and the whisky is not oaky. But the edgy/raw notes here knock everything out of place, turning it into the weakest of the seven.
Rating - C-

Sherry cask, 3 years old, 51.9%abv, Test Batch 001
Nose - Grilled beef, mustard, cinnamon, raisins and Palo Santo smoke.
Palate - Bubblegum, again. More on dried berries than raisins. Savory and sweet. Biggest alcohol heat of the five single malts.
Finish - Dried berries, bubblegum and eau de vie. Hot.

Thoughts - The intriguing savoriness and lack of generic raisins lifts this one up. Makes me think it could be really fun at 8-10 years old.
Rating - C+ 

Bourbon cask. 3 years old, 51.2%abv, Test Batch 001
Nose - Gummi Bears, again. Rock candy, roses and buttery caramel.
Palate - Raw and sharp. Once the heat and eau de vie notes recede, one may find bubblegum and Juicy Fruit chewing gum.
Finish - Floral bubblegum, something very drying (tannins?) and gravel.

Thoughts - Another whisky that's more difficult than its new make. That's not abnormal. Yamazaki's current NAS falls far short of the distillery's new make. Actually every Suntory NAS right now is weaker than Yamazaki's new make. But anyway. This cake only just started baking.
Rating - C-

Virgin American Oak cask, 3 years old, 53.1%abv, Test Batch 001
Nose - Roses, pears and gumdrops. Hints of earth and anise. Big League Chew.
Palate - Wood spice, tart berries, peach skin. Vanilla ice cream and a hint of green woody notes.
Finish - Floral, tart and spicy, but not tannic.

Thoughts - Can't believe I'm saying this, but the new oak whisky wins. In fact, had the cask been slightly gentler I'd say, "Roll this out!"
Rating - B-

The First, 3 years old 2016-2019, PX casks, 54.2%abv
Nose - Prunes, black raisins, mint leaf, pear and fresh butter.
Palate - Black raisins, caramel and black peppercorns,
Finish - Black raisins and woody spice. Very sweet.

Thoughts - Yes, it can be sherried whisky even at three years. It's missing the goopy sweetness of PX, which I appreciate, but I don't see it separating itself from the rest of the sherry releases on the market, which would be important for a 3yo priced at £120.
Rating - C+/B-

I'm right where I was with early Kavalan and Wolfburn. These are ultra-young whiskies, no more, no less. Palates and preferences vary widely, but I'm again left wondering if some whiskies are graded on a steep curve because we want to see new distilleries succeed. We then lose our independence and turn into cheerleaders. But, ultimately, what good is that? The bar is lowered, clear-eyed standards vanish, and we (the drinkers) are left with countless single-digit aged whiskies selling for three-digits.

Or maybe these infant whiskies don't work with my palate. I would be interested in Bimber's whisky once it hits its teens, but not if its prices follow the current course. At the same time, there's a lot of cask influence in play with all of these 3yos, so maybe I don't want to try it with ten more years of extraction.

I just hope all the well-read whisky reviewers out maintain a level of self-awareness. To those who decry hype only to generate it themselves, be careful what you cheer for.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Killing Whisky History, Episode 31: Three Bushmills from the early '80s to early '90s

Here's a trio of Bushmilli from 3 to 4 decades ago (scary, right?) during the pre-Pernod and early-Pernod eras. Some of the bottlings from this era were very good. And some were not.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Luxury Product Report: Linkwood 37 year old 1978 Special Release (2016)

I've been Linkwood-curious ever since I tried one of the distillery's 1970s 12 year old bottlings, but I've yet to be wowwed by a contemporary Linkwood release. They've all been decent-to-good but also seem like they'd be better as the blend ingredient God Diageo intended. Since last March's half-month of Linkwood reviews didn't convince me otherwise, I chose to do something totally logical by getting in on a bottle split of the 37 year old official small batch issued four years ago. It's highly desired and highly scored, maybe everyone else is right about Linkwood.

Distillery: Convalmore
Ownership: Diageo
Range: Special Releases
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Age: at least 37 years old (1978-2016)
Maturation: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 50.3%
Limited Bottling: 6114
Bottling year: 2016
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(from a bottle split)

The nose develops gradually starting with a fun mix of watermelon, peach candy, charcoal smoke and wool. Then kale, kiwi and honeydew. It gains a slight phenolic skunkiness and muskier fruit after some time in the glass. Then cream soda and jasmine flowers. As with Monday's Convalmore, the palate is short on sweetness. It's tall on herbal bitterness and tart fruits. Coal smoke and earth. Gets bitterer with time. There's smoked lemon peel, soil and salt in the finish.

Just a little bit of water for this oldie...

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or ½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose gets fruitier, prettier. Think nectarines, clementines, candy corn, apple juice and malt. The smoke gets woodier on the palate, and so does the bitterness (again). But it has has kept the tart fruits, and even gained some sweet ones. Maybe a hint of dunnage. It gets more tannic with time. The finish is tart and tannic with a little bit of cigarette smoke and that woody bitterness.

The bright, angular nose meets the lean and dark palate creating two separate experiences. I like them both, but prefer the way the phenols play with the fruits in the nose. As dilution lifts the sniffer it also unearths the woody beams in the palate. So once again, keep it neat.

As with the Convalmore — the sparring partner — this long-aged malt provides a very good drinking experience, but not one that ultimately leads me to superlatives. I'm not certain this is the best Linkwood I've had, as one specific 16yo single cask from Signatory would certainly have given it a run for its money quality at 1/10th the price. While I'm glad to have had the chance to enjoy the drink, I'm not too sad I didn't save it for my birthday.

Availability - Still available on the primary market after four years
Pricing - $700-$1000 in US and Europe
Rating - 88 (neat only!)

Monday, April 13, 2020

Convalmore 32 year old 1975 Old Malt Cask, cask DL 4246

Happy Monday! I'm going to roll out a couple more unrelated oldies before (attempting to) move back to thematic reviews. Or maybe this week's duo aren't so unrelated. They're both 30+ year old 1970s Speyside single malts with high ratings on Whiskybase but did not reach Whiskyfun's lusted-after 90-point barrier.

Today's Convalmore and last month's Glen Flagler came from the same LA Scotch Club event, the annual Night of the Dead Distilleries. This will be the second (and probably last) Convalmore review on this site. Though I was slightly underwhelmed by Diageo's 36yo 1977 Special Release, I won't let that determine my expectations on this one. That official release was mixed from a batch of refill European oak, while today's Convalmore comes from a single hoggie.

Distillery: Convalmore
Ownership: Diageo (owner of the brand only)
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Bottler: Douglas Laing
Range: Old Malt Cask
Age: 32 years old (October 1975 - April 2008)
Maturation: refill hogshead
Cask #: DL 4246
Outturn: 202
Alcohol by Volume: 48.0%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

It noses like an old whisky: old leather, shoe polish, spent motor oil and musty basement. There's also black licorice, orange peel and a splash of tropical fruit punch. Devoid of sweetness, the palate begins with wood smoke, peppery warmth, earth and minerals. Bits of horseradish bitterness, fresh ginger and lemon peel follow. It gets rootier and bitterer with time. The long, warm, slightly sooty finish gradually releases notes of citrus and horseradish.

DILUTED TO ~43%abv, or ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose becomes simpler, focusing on the musty basement and motor oil notes, with metal and overripe tropical fruits drifting below. Though the palate gains a thicker mouthfeel the tartness and bitterness become very woody and creaky. The finish takes on tannins, perhaps more than it can support.

This is certainly "old school" whisky. It also can't take water worth a damn. The nose plays into exactly what I enjoy about whiskies of yore. While the taste often matches the nose, challenging and un-commercial, it completely collapses into an oaky puddle when just a little bit of water is added. Even when neat its bitterness starts to take on a woodiness. That issue aside, this is a sturdy whisky of type rarely seen today.

Availability - Secondary market, maybe
Pricing - ???
Rating - 87 (neat only!)

Friday, April 10, 2020

Balblair 1990 Second Release from 2014, 2015 and 2016

Kristen and I drank scotch whisky when we visited Fiddler's Inn in July 2016. It's a good thing to do.

That's (BORAT VOICE) my wife, a bottle of Balblair 1990 and the whisky sponge. Very nice.

We sampled a number of other whiskies that night, including a 21 year old sherry puncheon of Balblair from G&M and an 11 year old sherry puncheon from Glendronach, but the official 1990 Balblair Second Release won the day, unanimously.

Over the next year I obtained this "Second Release" in three forms:
1. Bought a mini of the 2014 release at a gift shop near Ben Nevis.
2. Bought a sample of the 2016 release from Whiskysite.
3. Was given an entire 750mL bottle of the 2015 release by Amy of Ten27 Communications, which was a very very generous thing. Thank you!

Yes, these are three different bottlings of the "Second Release", with a different bottling year listed on its label. In honor of Kristen's birthday, I am going to review all three. Right here, right now.

Distillery: Balblair
Ownership: Inver House (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Region: Northern Highlands
Maturation: "American oak, ex-bourbon barrels"+ "Spanish oak, sherry butts"
Vintage: 1990
Bottled: 2014 and 2015 and 2016
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No

2014 Bottling
The nose is very tight at first, then fades out entirely at the 40 minute mark. In between, there's medium dark chocolate, black pepper, black cherry ice cream and cherry lollipops. The palate proves to be more vibrant with cherry lollies, cigar tobacco, blueberry jam and tart acidic citrus. With time it abandons the citrus for coffee and picks up a little bit of toffee, while getting sweeter and more floral. The sweet and floral finish also includes tobacco and coffee. It includes a mix of bitterness and berry jam.

2015 Bottling
The nose delights with tobacco, mocha, dried mango slices, cloves, cocoa, toffee pudding, rosewater, old books and on and on and on with something new emerging every few minutes. The palate has good mild cigars, molasses and toffee pudding with roasted almonds. Limes, dried apricots and just a slight saltiness. The finish holds onto the molasses and limes, then adds dried cherries and tobacco and stones.

2016 Bottling
This one's nose also offers up a wide variety of characteristics, though more hectically so. Cinnamon, pineapple, Heath bar, cherry lollipops, lemons, blue scented markers. Hints of walnuts and paint VOCs. The big, vibrant palate balances sweet and tart with a good IPA-like bitterness. Its berries are more on the fresh than dried side. It picks some oranges along the way. It finishes with the IPA note, brown sugar, nutty oloroso, lots of citrus and a little bit of tobacco.

I am delighted to say this big bottle of darkness was the winner:

The 2014 registered the most straightforward sherried style, and its nose was short on length and substance. Thankfully its palate pulled it up. The 2016 bottling sat right between the 2014 and 2015 in quality and character. It tilted a bit to the strange side sometimes, but that added to the fun. With its gorgeous nose, silky dense palate and dark earthy finish, the 2015 proved damned delightful. Usually I find the first few pours from the bottle to be a bit tight and limited, but not with this one. Or perhaps it will get even better with time.

One thing I don't know is: What is this "Second Release" technically? The first release seems to have been a travel retail thing, bottled in 2008-2009. The second release had at least five bottlings, from 2013 to 2017, so how does that make it a single release? Was there one giant batch that was kept in steel over those five years, or was it really multiple batches?

There are two things I do know. There won't be a Third Release because the distillery ditched their vintage bottlings and went with age-stated whiskies in 2019. And on the organoleptic side, the contents of the 2014-2016 have similar elements and the quality of the batch(es) is/are good to great. Though the 2014 was my least favorite here, I enjoyed it immensely in Drumnadrochit. So though the naming of the whisky is confusing, the bottles' contents are often delicious. (The 2015 is the best, though.)

Availability - 
Getting scarce in Europe and the US

Pricing - $150-$200 probably
2014 Rating - 84
2015 Rating - 89 (or potentially higher)
2016 Rating - 87

Monday, April 6, 2020

Ben Nevis 27 year old 1990 Le Gus't, cask 5

When I had first heard this whisky had spent 12 years in a sherry cask then 15 years in a port pipe, I had two simultaneous thoughts:

1.) WTF?, with the "W" = "Why"
2.) Well, at least someone is having fun out there.

I wanted to try it, but its price was too prohibitive for any version of WTF. Happily I was able to get in on a bottle split a couple months ago. As you can see below, the liquid's color is......shall we say, vibrant.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Le Gus't
Series: Selection XV
Age: 27 years old (9 November 1990 - 10 June 2018
Maturation: 12 years in sherry cask(s), then 15 years in a portpipe
Cask #: 5
Outturn: 736
Alcohol by Volume: 58.9%
(from a bottle split)

It's still whisky, at least in the nose. While plenty of berry jams and candies waft up from the glass, there's still a distinct musty Ben Nevis note in the mix. There are also green grapes and honeydew. After 30+ minutes additional notes of raspberries and wet dogs appear. It's like Bruichladdich Black Art but better! *ducks flying pans* The palate is plenty hot, and actually sort of hoppy. There's also a strong peppercorn note which is something I usually associate with extra young spirit. It's not as sweet or tannic as I'd expected. There are hints pickle brine and industrial smoke. It gets port-ier with time. Lots of berry jams, again. It finishes with black pepper, brine, heat, industrial smoke and some dried berries.

DILUTED TO ~48%abv, or 1⅓ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Berries and wine in the nose, then fruity cinnamon, grape bubblegum and PX. A slight peat smoke in the background. More berries than brine in the palate. It's sweeter now, and the tannins still don't overwhelm the rest. The quirky phenolics and hoppy notes remain. It finishes sweet, peppery, hoppy and slightly metallic.

It's neither a hot mess, nor "so bad it's good". It's as if the Ben Nevis spirit is too wild to be totally submerged, so it lurches out in the form of pickles, dark smoke and beer when one least expects it. So, no, the whisky isn't a well balanced, fully formed thing.

The casketry makes one wonder. It takes more than one sherry cask to fill port pipe, maybe even three hogsheads. How strong was the whisky going into the port pipe? And what kind of warehouse was it? That's a high ABV for 27 total years, and a very high outturn for 15 years in a port pipe. The result is something quite modern, lots of fortified wine extraction sitting atop some rawness. But again, it almost succeeds despite all this because it's Ben Nevis.

I don't adore the thing as much as the Whiskybase community does, but I like it more than Sjoerd did. Though I don't know how to score it, I'm happy with having only bought 2 ounces worth.

Availability - European specialty retailers, though it's close to selling out
Pricing - €180-€210, I think
Rating - 83 (maybe?)

Friday, April 3, 2020

Yamazaki Mizunara Cask 2012 Edition

This was the one I had wanted. The Mizunara Cask. All you Fedora fu---, um, followers could chase the annual Sherry Casks for the rest of time. And whoever wanted the Bourbon Barrel could have 'em.

Then I never got a bottle. Then life went on. And now, in 2020, I have a sample.

Scheduled two months before it occurred, the highly anticipated tasting turned out to be neither deeply mystical nor solemn. Exhaustion had set in long before the girls' bedtime, as is the case with every quarantine evening. Exhaustion for Papa, that is. In order to keep our girls from blasting off every night we have to duct tape them to their beds. I'm kidding. We duct tape them to the basement floor.

The point is, to quote Lili Von Shtupp, I'm so tired. So I drank my Yamazaki Mizunara Cask casually while staring at the internets mindlessly. It was great. Actually I don't even remember that night and it was Tuesday. Living The Dream.

Distillery: Yamazaki
Ownership: Beam Suntory
Region: Oyamazaki, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan
Age: ???
Maturation: matured entirely in Mizunara oak casks (allegedly)
Annual Edition: 2012
Alcohol by Volume: 48%
Chillfiltered? No
Added colorant? ???
(Thank you to Secret Agent Man for the sample!)

The nose is very malty. Barley, pilsner, some hazelnuts. Anise candy, saline and roasted potatoes. A hint of snuffed incense. The palate has a mix of toffee and white fruit sweetness, with delicate baking spice notes lingering in the background. Candied ginger, wort and dunnage. After 30 minutes, a distinct note of a Belgian sour beer begins to develop. The beer note then drifts towards stout in the finish. Then anise, ginger and some tangy berries. The nose's maltiness returns at the end.

Less spicy and exotic than I'd anticipated; less cerebral, too. Instead, it's a just a very nice drink, and one of the most beer-y whiskies I've had. I'll bet it's a good match for any of the beers referenced in the notes, which is neat because the whisky costs only $2000-$4000. Hopefully that didn't make you spit-take your first pour from your Mizunara bottle. Kanpai!

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - Money, lots of Money
Rating - 88

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Willett Family Estate 24 year old 1984 Single Barrel Rye, barrel 637

This is one of my Apocalypse Pours. My family is safe and healthy but I know of other families that are not. So what the hell.

Here's one of the old Willett gems some American fellows speak of in whispers or flip for thousands of bones. This barrel was selected by Bonili, a Japanese distributor, during Willett's early wax top years. I've heard it referred to as 24/110. It may have been distilled at Old Bardstown Distillery, or perhaps on the surface of Ganymede. In either case, this stuff ain't bein' distilled no more.

BottlerKentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd. (a.k.a. Willett)
Range: Family Estate Single Barrel (WFE)
Distillery: Old Bardstown?
Type: Straight Rye Whiskey
Age24 years
MaturationWhite Oak
Barrel: 637
Outturn: 264
Selected by: Bonili Japan Co., Ltid.
Alcohol by Volume55%
(888 thank yous to Secret Agent Man for sharing!)

The nose begins with rye bread, Irish soda bread, fennel seed, cherry shisha and antique shop (the big furniture room). A caramel sauce-laden ice cream sundae. Old armagnac spilled on old newspapers. It reads very dusty, as if it were from the '50s or '60s rather than the '80s.

On the palate, the oak has travelled far beyond the boring bitterness of Diageo's 15-25 year old Orphan Barrels, and into a dense medicinal realm. Eucalyptus, mint and arugula leaves. Its earthiness is balanced by a Dr. Brown's cherry soda sweetness. After 45 minutes it tilts savory and picks up some curry-like spices.

The finish ditches the sweetness for medicine and earth. More eucalyptus and mint leaves. Hints of cigarette smoke in the back ground.

There's always a sparring whisky on hand for every tasting here. But this time I had nothing to compare this to. I pulled wee pours of 8 and 12 year old Willett single bourbon casks, but those knelt sheepishly in the shadow of this 24yo. As per notes above, this had such a romantic dusty edge that it felt like it was distilled one or two generations earlier than it actually was. Its syrup-thick concentrated texture may have been the rye's loveliest element. If one could hold time in a glass...

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 91