...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Randy Brandy drinks three apple brandies

When Diving for Pennies asked me, Randy Brandy, if I wanted to blind taste some brandies, I told him to go sodomize himself with a Louis XIII bottle.

Then he did.

Then he asked me if I wanted to blind taste some brandies. I said no.

I hope quarantine has been cuddly for you snowflakes. I laugh at how stupid you look in your face panties and I laugh at the idiots who don’t wear masks. Me, I wear a bandanna. Made out of backboard bacon. Some people stop me and inquire about what it is. When they hear me croak, “Human flesh,” and smell my sweat-caked MAGA hat they stop asking me stupid questions.

Charles Neal wrote the book on Calvados and named the book, Calvados. It’s a good read and also takes a .22 slug from 30 feet like a champ. Don’t look at me like that. It’s a book, I read it, what else am I going to do with it? I hoard nothing but grudges.

Many of the calvados bottles you see on American shelves, including these two, were surrendered by the French to Charles Neal. Did you catch that surrendered part?

Here are my notes:

(Baters = Brandy taters, but that should be self-explanatory)

Roger Groult Pays d'Auge 3 year old Calvados, 40%abv
Nose - Flowers, sour apple candy and (American, not Mexican) Sprite. Butter, caramel corn, maybe some apple skins.
Palate - Sugar and vanilla. Nutmeg and ground cloves in applesauce. A bit of eau de vie sprinkled in there to give it some gonads.
Finish - Warm sugary apple juice. Some lemon juice and eau de vie.

More Notes - Almost like a liqueur, a thin liqueur. Probably goes well in cocktails but I don't drink those sad things. It works well in turkey gravy, which I do drink.

Roger Groult Pays d'Auge 12 year old Calvados, 40%abv
Nose - Fewer flowers than the 3, more oak spice. Ginger candy. Honey butter on toasted oat bran bread. Something smoky.
Palate - Less sweet than the 3, thank Jesus and Charles Neal, in that order. Lemon candy, apple chutney. Riesling and oak spice.
Finish - Apple candy, Big Red gum, Riesling.

More Notes - A man can actually drink this one neatly. The oak is starting to show, so the 18yo probably gives you splinters. Some heat to it, but also more texture. Is it worth the extra $40? I don't know, it's not my money.

I will not go gently into this indigestion. It's time for a 126 proof American apple brandy.

Copper & Kings Apple Brandy, private cask for Mid-Atlantic Whisky Lovers Society, 63%abv
(provided by some guy Kravs names "Secret Agent Man", I always thought the title was "Secret Asian Man", now the song makes no sense)
Nose - Toffee, oak spice, white peaches and a caramel-covered Fuji apple.
Palate - Like C&K's other brandies this one brings it large, like Jon Dough in Rambone 2 (GOOGLE IT ON YOUR WORK COMPUTER). It's calvados for bourbon drinkers, bourbon for calvados drinkers. The thunder of American oak and the lightning of tart fruits and ginger ale. And so on.
Finish - Tart and sweet apples, honey and vanilla.

Going to turn this American brandy French by diluting the fight out of it.

Reduced to 40%abv
Nose - Milk chocolate, Cheerios, blue cheese, caramel corn, walnuts. Malty stuff.
Palate - Classic Twix. Rich and creamy. Somewhere between wheated bourbon and long-aged calvados. White rice and lemon juice.
Finish - Caramel candy, mint and plum wine.

I. Like. The. 40%abv. Version. Better. Am I French? Am I Canadian? Oh sacrament, am I French Canadian? Decriss!

There were my notes.

Though none of these is Jupiters Darling, America wins. We win so much, we get sick and tired of winning. Something something them apples.

Roger Groult Pays d'Auge 3 year old Calvados, 40%abv - C
Roger Groult Pays d'Auge 12 year old Calvados, 40%abv - B-
Copper & Kings Apple Brandy, private cask for MAWLS - B

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Lagavulin 2003 Distillers Edition (2019 Release)

Unlike the 12 year old CS and 16 year old, the annual Distillers Edition is a Lagavulin I've never loved, nor entirely got. It's always just fine. Sometimes the PX finish merges successfully, sometimes it doesn't (though not as hamfisted as most official fortified wine finishes), but it's always the least Lagavulin-ish of the Lagavulins. It's always easily consumable and never a debacle like Laphroaig's forays into PX. Here's a review of 2019's Distillers (no apostrophe) Edition, sampled alongside 2019's cask strength expression.

Distillery: Lagavulin
Owner: Diageo
Region: Islay
Maturation and Age: 15-16 years in bourbon casks, then a brief period of time in Pedro Ximenez casks
Release date: 2019
Batch: lgv 4/508
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chill-filtration? Yes
Caramel coloring? Probably
(from a purchased sample)

Bereft of Lagavulin Thunder, the nose has some ocean, ash and dried seaweed, though these notes are minor. It's mostly piney, meaty and minty with some undefinable sherried Johnnie Walker Black note. With time it picks up dark chocolate, dried cherries and mesquite chips.

The cuddly palate has some warmth, sweetness and peat, though the mouthfeel is quite thin. There are tart berries and tart stone fruits. Medicinal hints and sooty hints. It starts with lots of herbal bitterness but gradually swaps that out for more sweetness.

The finish reads gently sweet and smoky. Slightly vegetal, slightly bitter. More dried herbs and sugar with time.

The good news is that this is probably the best Lagavulin DE I've had. The double maturation shows only a light touch in the palate and finish, and though the nose is a bit light, it still has some angles. But with its low Lagavulin levels and watery texture, this one is just singing for a 46%abv non-chillfiltered bottling. It's a B-grade whisky from an A-grade distillery.

Availability - This one did make to The States (and Europe)
Pricing - $115-$135 in the US, $90-$110 in Europe (w/VAT)
Rating - 84

Monday, July 27, 2020

Lagavulin 12 year old Cask Strength (2019 release)

Whether or not it has been noticeable, there have been a lot more Lagavulin OB reviews on Diving for Pearls recently. I've come to find Lagavulin's single malt to be one of the most reliable on the planet. As opposed to what they've done with (or to) Talisker, Diageo hasn't with Laga's distillate and has avoided extensive carpentry for its maturation vessels. Yes, they've released 8, 9, 10 and 11 year old versions over the past four years, but the casks did not tilt toward new oak, wee barrels or STDs STRs, and the results have been good-to-great. Still, the 16yo and the 12yo CS rule the roost.

I'm going to review the 2019 edition of the 12 year old CS today, and the 2019 Distillers Edition on Wednesday. They were sampled side-by-side for the purpose of these reviews.

Distillery: Lagavulin
Owner: Diageo
Region: Islay
Maturation: American Hogsheads
Age: minimum 12 years
Release date: 2019
Outturn: 60,762 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 56.5%
Chill-filtration? Probably not
Caramel coloring? Probably not
(from a purchased sample)

Though oak usually registers minimally in these release, this nose reads rawer than expected, close to new make. It's a glass of sooty ocean water, scorched veg, brothy sencha, almond extract and burnt newspapers (relevant?).

The palate is simple but gorgeous, heavily peaty, salty and bitter. But it also has a sweet nuttiness that keeps it from being one-dimensional. Different smoke flavors swirl through over time: wood, barbecue, veg, etc. It also gains a slight sugar-crystal-topped sugar cookie note in the background.

Salt, smoke and hint of sugar make up most of the finish. It becomes more earthy and bitter with time, then picks up an almond note as well.

A whisky whose palate tops its nose rarely surfaces around here, certainly less than once a month. This edition's nose reminded me of all the 6-8 year old "Islay" indie bottlings I've tried, which isn't really an insult, except the official 12 always top those indies, in my opinion. Thankfully the palate was excellent as ever, not very complex but a minimalist gem. The finish fell short of greatness, so that makes this whisky's grade goofier than usual. But fans of the annual Lagavulin 12 year old will enjoy this one's Islay power as always.

Availability - Europe. It's possible this version didn't make it to the US
Pricing - $100-$150 depending on the country
Rating - 87

Friday, July 24, 2020

Heaven Hill 19 year old bourbon, bottled in 2016 by Cadenhead

This is my first Cadenhead-bottled Heaven Hill. I've tried a pair of 2001 Heaven Hills from Malts of Scotland, but I don't think I've had any other American whiskies bottled by Europeans. Per unofficial online rumors (always a safe source) this barrel spent 3 years in Kentucky before being moved to a Cadenhead Campbeltown warehouse in 1999 where it then spent another 16 years. I'm hoping, HOPING, the change of scenery softened the maturation of those last 16 years, resulting in something that does not taste like furniture. Here it goes...

Actual color
Distiller: Heaven Hill
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Bottler: Cadenhead
Range: World Whiskies
Region: Louisville, Kentucky meets Campbeltown, Scotland
Maturation: New American oak barrel
Mashbill75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malted Barley
Age: at least 19 years old (1996? - Feb 2016)
Outturn: 150 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 57.7%
(Thank you to LV33 for the sample!!)

No generic barrel char to be found in the nose. Kiwis, nectarines and dark chocolate sit in its place. Then some burlap, toffee, blossoms, a drizzle of Pedro Ximénez and just a little bit of vanilla bean. Much less wood and burn than I'd expected from the palate. One can find sea salt, stone fruits, dark chocolate and sesame oil up front. Some tangy pepper sauce in the back. It gets brinier and savorier with time. There are hints of the nose's fruits in the finish, along with cloves, cayenne pepper, umami and a minor tannic nip.

Should I just be drinking American whiskey aged in Scotland instead of American whiskey aged in America? Yes? Great. That'll be a cheap hobby.

The nose wins the day as usual, but still this bourbon drinks very well at this strength. I had a much different experience with the whiskey than did Serge. I didn't find it very oaky, and you know what a sensitive turd I am about tannins. There was a small vanilla note, no barrel char, no caramel and no puckering finish. Instead it has a good balance of salty, savory, fruity and floral characteristics. If I ever get back to Scotland, I'll keep a lookout for Heaven Hills in the Cadenhead shops.

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Booker's Little Book, Chapter 1, Straight Blended Whiskey

There's a rumor that July Fourth happened two weeks ago. Just in case that's true, I should probably continue with American whiskies this week as a late celebration.

My local friend, A.S., gave me a sample of the first Booker's Little Book more than a year ago. I did not realize at the time that this wasn't just another Booker's bourbon. In fact it's a blended whiskey, like Kessler, but (allegedly) better. Per Mr. Minnick, the whiskey is a mix of 4 year old bourbon, 13 year old corn, 5 year old 100% malt and 5 year old rye.

"Little Book" was Booker Noe's grandson's nickname, even though Little Book's actual name is Fred, like his father, and he's grownup, meanwhile they're treating the word "book" like a thing with pages so each chapter is a batch. If you follow. This whiskey is of Freddie's design, his first.

Owner: Beam Suntory
Brand: Booker's
Type: Straight Blended Whiskey
Distillery: Jim Beam Distillery
Location: Clermont, Kentucky
Blend: 4 year old bourbon, 13 year old corn, 5 year old 100% malt and 5 year old rye
Batch: "The Easy"
Alcohol by volume: 64.1% ABV
(thank you to A.S. for the sample!)

At first sniff, it noses like a first-fill bourbon barrel Speyside single malt, then it shifts paths towards something closer to America. There's barrel char, cherry lollipops, gummi bears, paint VOCs and halvah. It sounds like a mess but it works. After 30 minutes it's picked up grilled corn, multigrain pancakes, vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce notes.

The palate is neither as hot or peanutty as I'd expected. The heat reads more like chiles than ethyl. It's very salty and floral. Notes say, "A mix of young corny bourbon and oversteeped sencha." Okay then. It improves after 30 minutes, gaining fresh ginger, lemons, honey, oranges and umami notes.

It finishes salty/brothy. More of that oversteeped sencha. It also has honey, oranges and barrel char. It gets woodier with time.

Little Book batch 1 is better than most of the Booker's bourbon batches I've tried. It also doesn't cook the esophagus like Booker's bourbons do. I wouldn't call it the most coordinated or balanced whiskey but it's fun and (another terrible adjective warning) interesting. I would drink this again, though maybe not on these 95ºF days, and try to parse out how its elements work together or against each other. Though this release had a suggested retail price of $60, the Little Books now go for $125 in Ohio, so I will avoid hunting down a bottle.

Availability - Mostly sold out
Pricing - probably $100 and higher
Rating - 83

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Two terrible Knob Creek rye infusions

As mentioned yesterday, I found Knob Creek rye, barrel 8097, to be grody upon opening. Three months passed and it didn't improve so I was left with two options: Dump or Infuse. I elected to make a pair of related infusions.

Infusion One would have two Madagascar vanilla beans (whole, scored lengthwise), one dehydrated orange slice (whole), eight cloves and eight ounces of rye

Infusion Two would have two Madagascar vanilla beans, one dehydrated orange slice, eight cloves and eight ounces of rye, but the orange and vanilla beans would be chopped into tiny pieces.

Infusion One was supposed to be the less vanilla-ed of the two, but with a bigger clove hit. Infusion Two was to be more aggressive overall due to the greater exposure the ingredients would have to the whisky.

Just as important as the whisky: The Names.

Yeah, so the one on the left was supposed to say Clove Bomb. But it says Clover Bomb. Which isn't the same thing. And the one the right was supposed to say My Wee Bits. And it says My Wee Bits.

Yes, I was sober at the time. Probably. I mean, I was wielding a sharp knife. Causation, Correlation, etc.

The infusions were supposed to stew for three weeks and then I kinda forgot about them. So eight weeks later...


"Clover Bomb"
Nose - Plenty of cloves, but not too much, and almost floral in its clovery. Carob, smoked vanilla, orange bubblegum and lots of spice cake.
Palate - Oh wow, too many cloves. Maybe some mulled wine, but that's due to the cloves. Hints of limes, flowers, woody bitterness. It was worse the following day. My written note, "Fluh".
Finish - Cloves.

"My Wee Bits" (has actually wee bits of things at the bottom)
Nose - Much less vanilla than expected. Flowers, bubblegum, lemon zest, Cow Tales candy, Creamsicles, white gummi worms.
Palate - Eel. Like straight up broiled anago with sauce and a seaweed belt. After 30 minutes, the citrus appears. So it's eel and salty creamsicles. This is all getting very phallic. The eel note remained on day two, joined by cloves and sour fruit.
Finish - Eel, vanilla, oranges.


1. Don't forget about your infusions.
2. This was worse than the rye.
3. I should stop doing infusions.
4. I could really go for some sushi right now.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Knob Creek 5 year old 2013 Rye, barrel 8097 for Binny's

Knob Creek and I have an awkward relationship. I'm a big fan of their 10+ year old private picks (such as this one) and their 10+ year old limited editions (like this) of their bourbon, but I really don't like their ryes. This is the opposite of how things usually go. I usually like rye more than bourbon, and my palate does not usually warm up to 10+ year old bourbon.

This could just be an issue with Beam's ryes. With the exception of the $X,XXX priced Booker's rye, I don't think I've enjoyed a single rye produced by Beam Suntory, with the absolute nadir being Basil Hayden's Dark Rye, one of the worst American whiskies I've ever tasted (not exaggerating).

Yet, due to my positive experiences with Binny's's's's single malt cask selections, I picked up a bottle of one of their Knob Creek rye barrel selections. I was on a particularly batshit road trip to Chicago back in January, so I thought I'd bring back as many goodies as possible. That led to this post, which has aged badly.

Anyway, I opened my bottle of barrel 8097 KC rye and HATED it. Nearly undrinkable, the rye had a poisonous edge that make me concerned about continuing to drink it, in a cheap baijiu sort of way. So the bottle sat open for a few months, until I decided to try to infuse the damned thing with goodness. More about the infusions tomorrow. I tried the rye again this past week, and here are my notes.

Owner: Beam Suntory
Brand: Knob Creek
Distillery: Jim Beam Distillery
Location: Clermont, Kentucky
Mash Bill: 55% Rye / 35% Corn / 10% Malted Barley (just passing along the rumors)
Age: 5 years (7 October 2013 - 24 May 2019)
Warehouse: W-K
Floor: F-02
Rick: R-043
Alcohol by Volume: 57.5%
(from my bottle)

I get ketchup (a lot of ketchup) and orange peels on the nose. Then bacon, rock candy, cherry lollipops and barrel char. There's also an aggressive peppery white dog note. The palate is......not horrible. It's still very hot, very sweet and very peppery, but it also has some crispy pork notes and tart citrus. The hot finish has lots of sugar, tart citrus and black pepper.

MANHATTAN, 2:1 ratio
It's, ya know. I mean, the Luxardo cherry was good.

The rye improved after a half year, going from an F to a C, so that's something in its favor. But because life is short and I (claim to) value liver health, I dumped the last few ounces down the sink. This barrel is a small step above the standard Knob Creek rye, so if you like that whiskey you may love this whiskey. I heart neither. On the bright side, my infusions were so much worse than this.

Availability - Binny's stores
Pricing - $44.99
Rating - 75

Friday, July 17, 2020

Caol Ila 22 year old, Feis Ile 2019

Angus gave this a 92. Thijs said, 91 points. The Whiskybase community: 90.61 points. Mark Dermul, a 93. Anticipation! Expectation! Intoxication! Sherried CI is good, sherried CI with some age on it is usually better. So this thingy, a full-power 22 year old Caol Ila from sherry casks (er, sherry-treated American oak casks), probably earned those scores. MY TURN.

Distillery: Caol Ila
Owner: Diageo
Region: Islay
Maturation: sherry-treated American oak casks
Age: minimum 22 years
Release date: 2019
Outturn: 3,000 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 58.4%
Chill-filtration? Probably not
Caramel coloring? Maybe
(from a bottle split)

Reads like a dry sherry (fino?) on the nose. It has gentle ocean and ash notes that drift above. Nutmeg, cinnamon, shortbread and lemon custard below. The palate reads surprisingly hot and not very expressive. It's very salty and puckeringly tart. Some cherry shisha, ginger syrup, cocoa and a hint of tropical fruit punch. Some length to the finish, but it's most heat. Roasted almonds and subtle smoke. Tart citrus. A dried seaweed note comes around after a while.

Gonna dilute it...

DILUTED TO ~50%abv, or 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
More smoked meat, manure and chlorine in the nose. Then butterscotch and calvados. The palate gets simpler: limes, minerals, roses, vanilla bean and a soft sweetness. The finish has cooled off. Now it's all lime candy, menthol and wood smoke.

More water...

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1⅔ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Some classic oloroso notes show up, mixing well with the wood smoke and honey in the nose. The palate has become much more graceful. There's ginger, honey, limes, earth and leaves. The finish matches the palate and adds a pinch of good bitterness.

Either I'm going to piss off Caol Ila fans this week or they're just laughing at me. Along with everyone else. This is a very good whisky, but falls short of the excitement I'd hoped for. I like it much better at 46% than at 58.4%, so  perhaps it improves further with more dilution. When neat, it's quite tight and not nearly as expressive as last week's CIs, especially the glorious G&M cask. I do appreciate how well the spirit and cask have integrated. It's likely going to be better than 88% of what most of us will drink this year, but weep not if you missed it.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 88 (diluted)

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Caol Ila 9 year old 2009 TWE, The Magic of the Cask

I'm not entirely sure why I went in on a bottle split of this whisky, but what the hell, it's another Caol Ila week! This one is a single cask from the Elixir Distillers / The Whisky Exchange crew, released for last year's The Whisky Show. Though it was allegedly aged in an actual(!) bodega cask, it's another one of the scores of single digit indie Caol Ila casks that appear every month. It's just difficult to get excited about them. TWE/Elixir does tend to pick good stuff, so here I go...

Distillery: Caol Ila
Region: Islay
Independent Bottler: Elixir Distillers
Exclusive to: The Whisky Exchange
Age: 9 years old (2009 - 2019)
Maturation: refill Gonzáles Byass sherry cask
Cask #: 316103
Outturn: 308 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 58.7%
(from a bottle split)

A blast of classic, though generic, sherry cask hits first then quickly fades from the nose, being replaced by sneaker peat and tennis ball peat and pork chops. Then honey, cinnamon syrup, brine, carpet and lots of heat. The hot palate mixes cherry soda, mint and heavy industrial smoke. Then cotton candy, tart berries, pickled ginger and a hint of florals. Again, lots of heat in the finish, along with soot, salt, pickled ginger and cherry lollipops.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1⅔ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose reads more like a solid piece now. Like Caol Ila 12 with the volume turned up and some sherry casktion added. Lots of ocean and beach notes, barbecue peat and a hint of figs. The palate's peat has become sweet and mellow. Burnt bacon, ginger candy, salt and figs. It finishes with salty bacon, ginger candy and figs.

It quickly became apparent that this is good deal better than Monday's official bottling as I tasted them side by side. It's a bit bigger and crazier when neat, and water pulls it together; and I'm left split about which version I prefer. It's probably about as good as one can do with a 9 year old refill sherry cask, so there's no reason to delay opening an unopened bottle of this, unless it's 100ºF outside or you have 100+ whiskies open already.

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

Monday, July 13, 2020

Caol Ila Distillery Exclusive 2017

Let's keep the Caol Ila reviews going. Last week I reviewed 28 and 29 year old Caol Ilas. This week I shall drink some younger stuff, including one on Friday that may challenge the 29's quality.

Though I respect the spirit produced by the modern Caol Ila distillery, it's the last facility on Islay that I'd choose to visit. But I am thankful to have gotten an opportunity to try one of their Distillery Exclusive bottlings. The exclusives from Diageo's Clynelish and Lagavulin were good but fell short of their distilleries' excellent standard expressions. Thus, The Optimism Level is set to "This is probably not terrible."

Distillery: Caol Ila
Region: Islay
Owner: Diageo
Age: ???
Maturation: ???
Release Year: 2017
Outturn: 3000 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 58.8%
(from a bottle split)

The nose begins with nuts, fresh cut grass and smoked meat. Then peanuts, oats and slivovitz. A fermenting fruit note appears with time, alongside some sour apple candy. Ashes and stones on the palate. Its sweetness grows with time, pushing down smaller notes of ham, wheatgrass and flowers. It finishes hot and peppery with plenty of mesquite smoke. Some apples chips and wheatgrass as well.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1⅔ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Yeast, cashews, oats, smoked vanilla bean and burning leaves comprise the nose, while the palate is made up of ocean water, wood smoke, lemon juice and lots of sugar. The finish matches the palate, with some additional barley notes.

I'm posting the whiskies youngest to oldest this week, and I'd assumed Wednesday's 9 year old would have been posted today, but then I drank this Distillery Exclusive and I'd be surprised if it spent as much as eight years in oak. As with the Clynelish and Lagavulin, Diageo doesn't seem to have painted over some ultra-young whisky with aggressive casks, so they get some brownie points there. But there has been A LOT of baby CI coming from the indie bottlers over the past three years, and this official release doesn't do anything to top most of the young single casks I've had. It also falls short of Caol Ila's standard releases. It's not bad whisky, in fact a bit of water brightens it up, but there's a wealth of better Caol Ila options out there.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 82

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Caol Ila 29 year old 1990 Gordon & MacPhail, cask 19/139

While Whisky Nerds, the bottler of Monday's Caol Ila, has been in the game for about five years, today's Caol Ila comes from a company that's been releasing single malts for over a century. Like so many early whisky companies, Gordon & MacPhail, got their start in the wine and grocery business in the 19th century. John Urquhart and his family later brought the company into the whisky business and have since kept G&M at the top. The last I'd checked, they were the only, or one of the only, independent bottlers that still had filling contracts with distilleries. Thus G&M's single malts are in their possession, their warehouses, from the start.

Though I have more respect for G&M than nearly all other indie bottlers, nary a single one of their contemporary releases has WOWed me. I'm not talking about their '70s and '80s bottlings, because whisky production before 1980 was so different than today's that the results were almost a different fluid. Instead I'm referring to G&M releases from the past two decades. The pre-2018 Connoisseur's Choice range was always so-so to decent, while their single casks had few duds, yet no titans. That changed this weekend.

Distillery: Caol Ila
Region: Islay
Independent Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Age: 29 years old (1990 to 9 Sept 2019)
Maturation: refill American hogshead
Cask #: 13/139
Outturn: 148 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 48.8%
(from a bottle split)

The nose starts with a heavy, almost-Laphroaig, peat that gradually recedes into the rest of notes. Lots of fruits, think peach skins, lemon zest and plum juice. Iodine and shellfish. Dark chocolate and a crisp sauvignon blanc. I got lost in the palate for a bit, and I'm pretty sure I wrote some of these notes with my eyes closed. Roasted cashews and pumpkin seeds. Savory smoke, black walnuts, blue cheese and sea salt. Bonfire smoke, stones, lime juice, salty shellfish and hint of fresh stone fruit sweetness. The finish mirrors the palate, focusing on the savory notes, adding in some charred beef. A mix of minerals and peaches. And that morning-after-a-beach-bonfire note I've found in my favorite '90s Ardmores.

The devil on my shoulder told me not to post this review until I secured a bottle, but it's $400 and there are only 147 bottles other than the one which I'd already split with folks. So screw him. This is a brilliant whisky from a stellar, well-managed cask. It pulls the best elements of Allied Lyons-era distillery mates Laphroaig and Ardmore into a savory, coastal, grown-up Caol Ila affair that is difficult to surpass in 2020 or any other year. This is a big win for the indie grandpa.

Availability - It's out there
Pricing - €350-€400
Rating - 92

Monday, July 6, 2020

Caol Ila 28 year old 1990 Whisky Nerds, cask 13129

The Whisky Nerds bottling outfit seems to be well loved in European anorak circles. Maybe it's because the company is run by former geeks, maybe it's the romanticism of "Nerd" status, or maybe they pick good casks. I'm not sure if any that really explains why this release is $500-$600 per bottle. That's halfway to Port Ellen territory. Folks really took all those "Forget Port Ellen, we have Caol Ila!" blog articles to heart. Unlike the rest of the Nerds bottlings, this bottle has not sold out, in fact I've seen it on sale, so perhaps a (temporary) price ceiling has been found?

Normally I save my pricing complaints for a review's conclusion, but I couldn't come up with a different introduction in time.

Distillery: Caol Ila
Region: Islay
Independent Bottler: Whisky Nerds
Age: 28 years old (30 Nov 1990 - 11 Feb 2019)
Maturation: refill Oloroso sherry hogshead
Cask #: 13129
Outturn: 192 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 48%
(from a bottle split)

It's not a subtle cask, but the spirit's will is strong. The nose leads with roasted nuts, cinnamon syrup, manure and smoked salmon. A mix of candy canes and coal smoke in the background. Meanwhile, the palate registers more complexity than the nose. Milk chocolate, lemons and tangy oranges. Jalapeños, wood smoke, aged Parmesan and black walnuts. It gets sweeter with time but also holds onto those peppery and savory notes. It finishes sweet and peppery with some savory dried herbs, then almond extract, wood smoke and pickles.

This Caol Ila was bottled right in my preferred ABV range (46-50) so I didn't add water, sorry. I enjoyed the savory notes, but also wished the nose's smoked salmon and manure notes showed up as well. The cask refused to hush up with all the nuts, chocolate and sweetness though luckily it never took over. I'm nitpicking here, really. This is a very good, fully satisfying whisky which would not disappoint anyone who didn't see the price tag, but it got knocked on its ass by the Caol Ila I'm reviewing on Wednesday...

Availability - A flock of specialty retailers in continental Europe
Pricing - €450-€550
Rating - 88

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Killing Whisky History, Episode 32: Jameson Irish Whiskey, 1980s versus 2020

John Jameson was not an Irishman, he was a Scot who married into whisk(e)y money but then wound up creating the most powerful Irish whiskey brand on the planet. In Episode 32, I compare a 1980s bottling with a 2020 bottling of Jameson blended whiskey.

But first, shots.

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