...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Mathilda Malt: Littlemill 25 year old 1988 for K&L

As mentioned in Friday's post, my older daughter, Mathilda, just turned seven. To celebrate each of her previous birthdays on the blog, I've lavished praise upon her and then reviewed a Littlemill. At some point soon, I'll run out of Littlemill samples, which will be a beautiful thing because that will mean I have enjoyed a lot of Littlemills.

But I don't feel comfortable writing extensively about my family right now. This would still be the case if I knew all of you personally. I used to freely and publicly write about personal matters, sometimes right here on this blog, but things are not as they once were. I feel very protective of the Rube Goldberg machine that is my internal life, and even more protective of my remarkable daughters.

In high school I had a habit of calling one of my best buddies on the phone to tell him when I couldn't hang out. This is the same. Hello, I can't talk right now, though I am thinking of you.

But I can write about this whisky I tasted. So in honor of the seventh birthday of the most fascinating and complex person I have ever met, here's a Littlemill!


Distillery: Littlemill
Region: Lowlands
Independent Bottler: Creative Whisky Company
Range: Exclusive Malts
Age: 25 years (7 November 1988 - 2014)
Maturation: ???
Cask #: 8
Outturn: 298 bottles
Exclusive to: K&L Wine Merchants
Alcohol by Volume: 54.9%
(Thanks again to Brett for the sample!)

NOTES

White peaches, roses, pears and tangerines fill the nose's foreground, while honey and damp moss drift through the background. The nose shifts once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv, as notes of toffee, oak spice and malt move to the fore. Jasmine, peach ice cream and lychee gummies sneak in around the edges.

The palate starts with a lovely combination of hay, honeycomb, roasted cashews and shortbread biscuits, then slowly develops notes of lychee, bitter citrus peel and peach skins. A little more herbal bitterness appears once the whisky is diluted to 46%abv, as does some more heat and sweetness, with minerals and melon rind in the background.

It finishes with honey, shortbread and lychee, though with only tiny bit of sweetness. The bitter citrus peel gives it a nice zing. At 46%abv, it picks up roses, orange juice and a hint of minerals.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

Continuous fruit and countryside (no manure) notes result in another excellent Littlemill experience. It's a late spring / early summer whisky to enjoy outside, maybe with some early Miles calling out from a Bluetooth speaker. Yes, I wish I'd pre-ordered this whisky back when it was priced the same as a single cask bottle of six-year-old Kilchoman. But having tried this Littlemill fills me with a grateful feeling that far outweighs the regret.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - $140 at pre-order, then $160
Rating - 90

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Port Charlotte Taste Off -- PC8 and PC10 and PC12

(Port Charlotte cluster homepage)

I reviewed PC5, 6 and 7 last Friday, survived the experience and will now resume the Port Charlotte cluster with three more members of the PC series. The PC6 and PC7 were excellent, and now I'll see if they'll be matched or bettered by their older siblings, the PC8, PC10 and PC12.

Like its predecessors, Port Charlotte 8 year old PC8 Ar Dùthchas was distilled in 2001, Bruichladdich's first year of running the Port Charlotte malt. Released from 2009 to 2011, PC8 had the largest of the PC outturns, 30,000 bottles. It seems to have been matured only in American oak, and was bottled at skinny-for-PC 60.5%abv. This sample was from a bottle split.

Port Charlotte 10 year old PC10 Tro Na Linntean was distilled in 2002 rather than 2001 (did they run low on inaugural vintage casks?), and bottled in 2012. It also had one of the smallest of the PC outturns, only 6,000 bottles. It weighs in at 59.8%abv and, like the 8, it was matured in American oak (per the Internet). This sample was donated to me by St. Brett of Riverside. Thank you, sir.

The final member of the series, Port Charlotte 12 year old PC12 Oileanach Furachail made its debut in Travel Retail shops in 2014, then later found its way to European retailers. 12,000 bottles were released across at least three batches (2014, 2015 and 2016). I don't know anything about its maturation vessels since that was again kept curiously quiet by the producers. Serge tried a dud from 2015, and thinks some wine casks were in that mix. Using math skillz, I'm going to guess the whisky was distilled in 2002. Using reading skillz, I'll state the abv was 58.7%. This sample was purchased.

A toast to spring, wherever it is!

Port Charlotte 8 year old PC8 Ar Dùthchas, 60.5%abv

The nose has malt, seaweed, anise and cantaloupe in the midground, but wasabi and smoked miso (a thing?) are right up front. It's the wasabiest whisky I've ever smelled. It picks up more peat, farm and stone fruit with time. Reducing the whisky to 50%abv simplifies the nose, keeping it focused on nuts, stones, miso and mesquite smoke.

The very earthy palate is loaded with soil, stones and cut grass. Charred meat and black walnuts fill the middle. Limes and a few drops of peach juice give it a little bit of tartness and sweetness. Somehow the palate intensifies at 50%abv. More smoke, minerals and heat. No fruit, less earthiness. Maybe a hint of soap.

Like the earlier PCs, this whisky is sootiest in its finish. Soot soot soot and salt, with moments of tart apples and limes. Things don't change much when the whisky is diluted to 50%abv. It's tart, salty and sooty.

PC8 approaches the monolithic style of some Octomores, but the fruity moments and great nose lift it up. Despite the whisky's massive nature, I don't recommend diluting it. It must be taken head on. It's very good, but (and I know this sounds like heresy, again) maybe a fortified wine cask or two could have elevated it further?

RATING - 88



Port Charlotte 10 year old PC10 Tro Na Linntean, 59.8%abv

At first the nose is identical to PC8's, and requires 10-15 minutes for it to go off on its own. Then it gets chalkier and hotter, with more classic peat smoke. It also picks up notes of white chocolate, yuzu, brine and new sneakers. Diluting it to 50%abv adds flowers and apples, reducing the smoke. Some chalk and white chocolate remain in the background.

The palate begins with an odd mixture of red wine and low-ester Hampden rum. It's quite acidic and the smoke drifts from a mineral style to bitterness with time. Maybe some milk chocolate in the back. At 50%abv it's salty and rummy. Some mild sweetness and woody bitterness. A little weird, honestly.

Back to the Jamaican rum and mineral smoke in the finish. Acidic and hot. Reducing the whisky to 50%abv adds limes and band-aids but also turns it bitterer.

What was in that "American oak" before Port Charlotte was applied? PC10 gets points for being different than the rest, but it's also chaotic in a way that's not always forgivable. This is certainly not the strongest of the bunch. Love the nose, though!

RATING - 83



Port Charlotte 12 year old PC12 Oileanach Furachail, 58.7%abv

Ah the nose shows the great seaweed and miso combo again. A mineral, earthy smoke sneaks in. Smaller notes of Twix bars, cherries, limes, yuzu and salty potato chips add angles and corners. The nose gains focus at 50%abv, with seaweed, miso, pine, limes and a farmy whiff.

Starting to see some more mature peated whisky now, especially in the palate. Not much heat, moderate smoke, a slight inkiness. Lemons and black walnuts. Berries, grapefruits and nectarines. Despite all that fruit, the whisky never gets too sweet. Reduced to 50%abv, the palate takes on more minerals, as well as hints of kiln and earth. Just a touch of the tart fruits in the background.

It finishes with black walnuts, cocoa powder, wood smoke, a little bit of tart fruit and the nose's salty potato chips. When diluted to 50%abv, the finish matches the palate, adding a little more tartness.

Next to PC7, this is the most complex of the bunch. There may be a variety of casks at work here, but they come together very well, resulting the least wild PC of the six I've tried. The extra age doesn't hurt either. It has me wishing I hadn't waited so long to try it, so that I could have bought a bottle at its original price. Oh well. If you have a bottle of PC12, I hope it's more like this whisky than the one Serge had tried.

RATING - 89




As I had hoped, this was an impressive range of whiskies from 5 to 12 years old. It's too bad Remy Cointreau killed off the series after PC12. At least they could have later offered up a regular 12yo Cask Strength as an upscale counterpart to the excellent standard 10 year old. Seriously, they should consider trying out a non-winey full-powered Port Charlotte in the regular range. It could be some of the best stuff on the island.

Next week, I'll assess the cluster at its halfway point, then continue on.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Writers' Tears Copper Pot Irish whiskey

Many things make writers cry. "Receiving a good paycheck" would probably top the list. "A broken heart" would be second. And "a career ruined by substance abuse" would be third. A Steve Harvey-hosted Authors' Family Feud episode just writes itself!Those italicized words would be a close fourth.

I'm not suggesting Walsh Whiskey references #3 in the name of their 60% single malt / 40% single pot still blended whiskey (possibly from Midleton distillery), but it's difficult for a writing enthusiast to ignore it. Writers' Tears seems like a high-end blend as it ditches the cheaper column still filler for two heavier-hitting whiskey types, but the fact that they chose to dilute the whiskey to the legal limit may also inspire tears. Sláinte!


Brand: Writers' Tears
Bottler: Walsh Whiskey
Country: Ireland
Style: Blended Whiskey
Contents: 60% Single Malt / 40% Single Pot Still (undisclosed distilleries)
Age: NAS
Maturation: American oak
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
(thank you to Slugger for the sample!)

NOTES


Its super-fruity nose stars with canned pears, peach hard candies and this blood orange sidecar. Small notes of Twizzlers, cardamom and cut grass develop with time. The palate is lightly floral with hints of ginger candy, malt and cardboard. It also has an IPA-like bitter + grapefruit note right up front. The brief finish is mostly pears and paper with a dusting of ginger powder and cayenne pepper.

WORDS WORDS WORDS


The nose is quite lovely and sets expectations that the palate cannot meet; in fact the significant gulf between those two is damned shame. They're sunshine and a shrug. Bottling the whiskey at an 40%abv doesn't do anyone other than the bean counters any favors, leaving the blend reading just slightly more interesting than other Irish whiskies at half its price. Despite this issue, I'm left intrigued about Writers' Tears potential, wondering if its other 46+%abv expressions are more successful.

Availability - Most whisk(e)y specialists
Pricing - $35 - $50
Rating - 79

Friday, May 7, 2021

Port Charlotte Taste Off -- PC5, PC6, PC7

(Port Charlotte cluster homepage)

Back to the Port Charlotte cluster!

Port Charlotte kicked off their fierce cask-strength PC series in 2006 with a five-year-old full-powered whisky distilled in the malt's rookie year of 2001, and ended it with the 12-year-old PC12 in 2014. Some of the PCs were all bourbon cask, while others had a few fortified wine casks tossed in. 

My first Port Charlottes were a few SMWS releases that were nearly unpalatable at the 65-66%abv range. The "funny" SMWS names for those creatures should have been Pain Shartlotte, Who Needs an Esophagus Anyway, and I Can't Feel My Legs Keyser.

Thankfully PC7 and I met up just a few months later on a frigid 70ºF Costa Mesa winter evening, and I've been a fan of that series ever since. So it is my great pleasure to hold today's Taste Off, while hydrating appropriately.

As mentioned above, Port Charlotte PC5 Evolution was the first PC, distilled in 2001 and bottled 2006. Aged entirely in former bourbon casks, PC5 had a limited outturn of 6,038 bottles. It weighs in at 63.5%abv, so I'm stupidly letting it bat leadoff. My sample is from a bottle split.

Port Charlotte PC6 Cuairt-Beatha ("Walk of Life") enjoyed six years of maturation in a mix of bourbon and Madeira casks. Bruichladdich gave it a much bigger release, turning out 18,000 bottles in 2007. PC6 tiptoes in at 61.6%abv. This sample was also from a bottle split.

Port Charlote PC7 Sin An Doigh Ileach ("Brothers in Arms"; Ha! Just kidding. "It's the Islay Way" is probably more accurate.) spent its seven years in bourbon and oloroso casks, and had a 24000 bottle release in 2008. This pour was saved from my own bottle that I reviewed more than five years ago.

LET'S GET CHAR-LIT!


Port Charlotte 5 year old PC5 Evolution, 63.5%abv

While there is indeed plenty of heat in the nose, there's also a good mix of seaweed and smoke stack. Then a combo of saline, bacon, walnuts and apples. Those walnuts slowly develop into roasted almonds. Metal notes sneak in over time, as does some more classic peat smoke. Reducing the whisky to 50%abv brings on more manure, hay and earth, but also some white fruits and honey. Some almond butter and moss drift through the background.

Regarding the palate, here are my first notes: "Startling in its violence" and "Ashes of the dead". I can offer more words, like "salt" and "burnt peat". "Stones and metal". It takes more than a half hour before the dried apricots, dried mango and tangy lemons show up. At 50%abv, the whisky reads smokier than Octomore, though it's not monolithic. It has some sweet citrus, raw walnuts, black pepper and plenty of salt.

It finishes with soil, dried fruits, dried grass, tangy lemons and loads of soot. Diluted to 50%abv, the whisky ends with pepper, salt, wood smoke and a touch of sweetness.

While certainly bracing, PC5 isn't debilitating like those aforementioned SMWS casks. This is the most naked of the PCs, showing itself to be a work in progress, though a very good one. PC5 came out more than a decade before the newest crop of distilleries started dropping their barely legal raw whiskies onto the market, so one can imagine the excitement and dreams about the future this stirred up in 2006. Though I'd love to drink this again someday, I think it's too brutal for more than 0.5-1.0 ounce at a time.

RATING - 85



Port Charlotte 6 year old PC6 Cuairt-Beatha, 61.6%abv

The nose begins with more ocean and more(!) smoke than the PC5, but then gains walnuts, pears, nectarines and honey. It gets a little fusty and farmy with time. Oh, and a note of cuddly warm dog fur. Diluted to 50%abv, the whisky becomes comfier, though plenty strong with vivid ocean notes and a hint of manure. Cardamom, cloves and white peaches roll beneath.

The palate is gorgeously bitter and tart, with grapefruits and limes and herbs, covered by mineral- and moss-laced smoke. After 30 minutes it evolves into good green grapes and honey in a cigar lounge. That great herbal bitterness continues when the whisky is reduced to 50%abv. Lots of lemons and limes. Hints of mint candy and pink peppercorns. Hulking kiln smoke.

It finishes with a layer of dark smoke on top, sea salt and tart citrus in the middle, and a balance of sweet and bitter on the bottom. At 50%abv, it finishes with dried herbs, kiln, limes and mint candy.

What difference between years five and six! I'm not sure if the casks came from a different part of the warehouse or the Madeira casks helped pull the elements together, but this is no longer just a work in progress, it's a complete whisky. I'm not sure there was a single whisky (whether six years or fourteen) in the Kilchoman cluster that could match the PC6.

RATING - 89



Port Charlotte 7 year old PC7 Sin An Doigh Ileach, 61.0%abv

You're going to get lists for this nose. First there's ocean water, pears, pecans and molasses. Twenty minutes later: beach smoke, golden syrup and chalk dust. Thirty minutes in: pineapples, oranges and a hint of eau de vie. Down at 50%abv, it leads with grilled fruit and roasted nuts. Seaweed and miso. Bits of brown sugar and anise.

The palate leads with tart berries, dried currants, cigarette smoke, salty savory miso broth, dried herbs, zippy chiles. It balances sweet, tart, bitter, smoke, savory and salt. All things shining. Everything stays locked in when the whisky is reduced to 50%abv. A little less sugar, a little more salt. A sturdy savoriness. Herbal smoke, lime juice and a little bit of basement.

Dark chocolate appears in the finish, along with salt, stones, chiles, roasted nuts and a hint of dried herbs. It gets savorier at 50%abv, and gains limes, chiles and mint leaves.

To me, this can stand up with the best Laphroaig 10yo CS and Lagavulin 12yo CS batches. The balance, complexity and delivery are remarkable. The oloroso casks do their duty well because they stay back, highlighting and framing the great bourbon cask elements. Though I dearly hope this wasn't peak Port Charlotte, I'm not sure how it can be topped.

RATING - 91



It was with this Taste Off in mind that I put together the Port Charlotte cluster, lining up whiskies I adore to see if perspective broadens my experience. Mark it a success! That was a lot of alcohol, but I’ve lived to tell another tale. If my body naively forgives me, I'll test it again with another PC lineup next week. Stay tuned! 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Heaven Hill Bottled-In-Bond Taste Off: 6 year old vs 7 year old

My WT101 naïveté did not extend to Heaven Hill 6yo BIB. I think we all knew it was going to be discontinued, especially in its $10-$15 price point. Then Heaven Hill Distillery fulfilled all cynical expectations by going Full Coke Dealer by adding one year to the expression and tripling the price on its customers. Retailers were only happy to pile on further.

One could certainly argue the 6yo whiskey was underpriced, and I would have been comfortable paying $25-$30 for the same whiskey, but now the 7yo averages $68 at retail stores (per Winesearcher). Yes, you read that correctly. You may indeed find yourself in an American liquor store that charges more for a 7 year old Heaven Hill product than a 12 year old single malt scotch. This why I don't indulge in American whiskey much beyond good cocktail ingredients.

Heaven Hill 6 year old Bottled-in-Bond was excellent in cocktails, and pretty decent on its own. Just before that expression vaporized, I bought four bottles (for $11.99 each!) from its home state of Kentucky. Now I'm down to two. Today's sample comes from about the halfway point of the bottle I finished a few months ago.

Despite my gripes about everyone connected to the 7 year old expression, I really do want to try the stuff. So I am thankful to have participated in a bottle split.

Heaven Hill 6 year old BIB, 50%abv, from my bottle

The nose balances dried berries, oak spice and barrel char up front, with vanilla bean, leather and cherry candy in the background. Hints of tangerines and pine sap gradually emerge.

Though less complex than the nose, the palate has a good tart citrus note to go with the sweet cherries and black pepper. A spot of savory tea floats in the background.

It finishes with cherries, bananas, caramel and black pepper.

It brightens up when served on one big ice cube, turning into honey and oranges with a dash of salt.

A relic from another time, Heaven Hill 6 year old BIB was one of life's little joys. I wish I'd known about it years earlier so I wouldn't have had to wince down a parliament of declining $25 scotch blends in the search for a tasty deal. Though this is my third review of this bourbon, it's the first time I've really appreciated how well it worked on ice. (Yes this is really me.) So I'm going to give it a couple more points this time.

RATING - 84



Heaven Hill 7 year old BIB, 50%abv, from a bottle split

The nose begins with sherry-like dried fruits and chocolate. The wood is so much heavier here than in the 6yo, and comes close to overwhelming the rest of the elements. Hints of oranges, peach skin and armagnac boost it slightly.

Mostly woody, peppery and savory, the palate does allow in the occasional apricot and plum. Quite tannic, though.

Luckily those stone fruits stick around into the finish because the tannins and peppercorns are very aggressive.

It's dry and woody when served on one big ice cube, with occasional hints of bananas and black pepper.

Though it certainly has heft and age, the 7 year old does nothing for me. It smells good, as do a lot of oak juices, but the palate seems dimensionless next to the 6 year old. All that oak reads generic, as if this could be one of the many faceless bourbons on the market. Drinking the bourbon has changed my mind; I wouldn't spend $25-$30 on this, let alone the current asking price.

RATING - 76



Though I don't like the 7's price, I understand it from a financial perspective since the market bears it. But I do not understand why Heaven Hill changed the bourbon's style. Did they do it so drinkers wouldn't complain about paying quintuple the price for the same bourbon? Because, IMO, people are paying quintuple the price for a lesser bourbon, a bourbon that doesn't even surpass Heaven Hill's cheaper products. For instance, it's of a similar quality to Elijah Craig Small Batch, but at twice the price. I'm sure Heaven Hill is weeping into their platinum tissues over my post, but it didn't have to be this way.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Wild Turkey 101 Rye Taste Off: 2011 bottling versus 2018 bottling

In 2012, Wild Turkey 101 Rye was great and it was $20. I remember one of Bacardi's distributors telling me that demand had exceeded supply, and that 101 Rye would soon disappear from shelves. In my 2012 naïveté I thought, "Huh, that sounds kinda concerning." The rye was gone that very month.

Three years later it returned with a 50%-100% price jump and a 33% larger bottle (750mL to 1000mL). It was another four years before I bought a bottle of the new stuff. And it took me another two years to do this comparison.

And only now am I appreciating how much more useful this review would have been SIX YEARS AGO. Nothing if not timely around here.

I could have taken a worse picture too,
but that would've just been showing off.

The sample of the old label 2011 bottling on the left was from the bottle I reviewed 105 moons ago. The sample on the right is from the 2018 bottling I bought and finished in 2019-2020. Both ryes performed very well in Manhattans and Old Fashioneds, here's a look at the two served neatly:

Wild Turkey 101 Rye, 50.5%abv, bottled 2011

In the nose, apples and pears stew slowly with cinnamon and cloves. Smaller notes of thyme, blossoms and creamsicles float in and out. Gentle barrel char mixes with cherry bubblegum.

Fresh cherries and cherry lollipops meet in the palate, followed by ginger beer, sweet red plums, cassis and applesauce. The char moves from the rear to the fore with time, though the fruits always remain.

The cherries, plums and ginger remain in the finish, with a pinch of pepper in the background.

Wow, this was great! I'd even keep it away from the cocktails and just sip it neatly. Between this, the earlier Rittenhouse BIBs and Willett's LDI single barrels, we were spoiled ten years ago. I should have bought more etc., etc., etc. Damn.

RATING - 88



Wild Turkey 101 Rye, 50.5%abv, bottled 2018

The nose begins simpler. Plenty of cherries, some split lumber, more citrus and cardamom. More pepper, more ethyl. Mint, flowers and something beefy in the background.

The palate feels rougher, slightly hotter. I find more char and peppercorns, reminding me of the 101 Bourbon. Moderate notes of soil, salt and savory roll through the midground. Cherry lollies and apricots highlight the background.

Barrel char leads the finish, with cherries and salt appearing later.

Compared to the 2011, this one has more aggressive oak and youthful jagged edges. It's fine and sturdy on its own but works much better when giving Manhattans more heft. And if you dare to pour it over one large ice cube, you may find it does its job as a summer sipper.

RATING - 82



Though the 2011 wins outright with its fruits and gentler maturation, it's not like one can just choose between these two ryes in a store. The latter bottling is what's on the shelf, and the former is priced high on the secondary market. No, the current edition isn't $20, but at $34 for one liter, it's one of the better options in that price range in most states. (Though I'd give Old Forester Rye the edge.)

Friday, April 30, 2021

Port Charlotte Taste Off -- CC:01, MRC: 01, OCL:01

(Port Charlotte cluster homepage)

The Port Charlotte Cluster continues! Today, it's a taste-off between three members of the distillery's Cask Exploration Series.

8 year old 2007 CC:01 was originally a Travel Retail release, before it trickled out to European retailers. Today's bottle comes from Haneda Airport Duty Free, at the end of my 2017 trip. Yes indeed, this review pour will be from an actual bottle of mine, a bottle of which I have no pictures but this of the tin:


The "CC" part I believe stands for Cognac Cask, though the official description gets a bit precious about the casks as "[t]hey previously held one of the greatest Eau de Vie, from the western Cognac region." There seemed to have been one dozen bottlings of this whisky. My bottle was sealed up on the 5th of August 2016.

While CC:01 had its entire maturation in French oak casks, 7 year old 2010 MRC:01 had a few things going on. It married whisky from 1st fill American whiskey casks and 2nd fill French wine casks for one year "in the finest French oak from the Bordeaux left bank". At least some portion of those casks come from Mouton Rothschild, thus the MRC. Today's sample comes from a bottle split.

We go from 1 element (CC:01) to 3 elements (MRC:01) to 5 elements with 9 year old 2010 OLC:01. Here's how it was built:

30% had its initial maturation in 1st fill American whiskey casks
40% had its initial maturation in 2nd fill American whiskey casks
25% had its initial maturation in Vin Doux Naturel (sweeties from the South of France) casks
5% had its initial maturation in 2nd fill Syrah casks
Then it's all vatted and finished in 1st fill Oloroso hoggies for 18 months.

I can't say I'm particularly excited about this goulash, and probably wouldn't have gone in on a bottle split if I knew it was this Black FArt-ish.

How about a Taste Off?


Port Charlotte 8 year old 2007 CC:01, 57.8%abv

The nose is very yeasty and slightly rubbery. A curious mix of band-aids, eau-de-vie and sugary hard candy follows. Saline, carrot cake and cherry blossoms rest on top of old newspaper print in the background. Reducing it to 46%abv brings out that odd Bruichladdich note that PCs usually avoid (for me). Here it's baby spit-up, specifically rejected oatmeal and applesauce. Sooooo much oatmeal. Then there's peated newmake, saline and a hint of cruciferous veg.

The palate begins with nutmeg, cinnamon and raw walnuts. Plenty of mossy peat. Its brown sugar sweetness builds with time, as do the baking spices. An intense raw heat runs throughout. Once diluted to 46%abv, it reads like tangy gingery peated newmake. Just a hint of the yeast and oatmeal linger behind.

It finishes hot, salty and smoky. All sweetness has vanished. At 46%abv, it gets sweeter and tangier, while its smoke becomes peppery

It took years to get through this bottle since I was never terribly excited about its contents. It's one of the hotter whiskies I've tried recently, reading considerably north of 60%abv, and it feels like 3 or 4 years old on the palate. This was the first time I noticed the butyric element that MAO found prominently in the whisky. It's not terrible stuff, it's just very raw. I should have bought a sample rather than a whole bottle.

RATING - 82



Port Charlotte 7 year old 2010 MRC:01, 59.2%abv

The nose has its fruity side — melon, pear juice and fruit cocktail — and an Islay Barley-style peatiness. There's also the same saline note found in the CC:01. It gets sootier and ashier with time, and then picks up a berry-ful Petite Sirah note. Once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv, the nose changes course, getting beefier and a bit sulfurous. There's sneaker peat, tennis ball peat, dijon mustard and miso. Iodine-laced Luxardo cherries.

The palate leads with lots of red wine and big ashy salty peat. Lemon juice and gravel sit in the middle. Candied ginger and cherry syrup in the back. At 46%abv, the palate picks up more flowers and berries, as well as shisha smoke and extinguished matches.

Big wine and big peat in the finish as well. It's tangy and slightly acidic, getting ashier with time. With the whisky at 46%abv, the finish matches the palate.

Even though this very large whisky was produced by Remy Cointreau, it follows Murray McDavid's lead by illustrating subtraction via addition. All of the whisky's Big parts remain Big separately, and one wonders if this could have been improved had its final year (or more) been spent in refill American oak, letting all the parts marry, rather than bombarding it with more wine. There was a path to make this single malt great, instead it is just loud.

RATING - 83



Port Charlotte 9 year old 2020 OLC:01, 55.1%abv

Candy shop notes flow through the nose. Toasted marshmallow, toasted coconut, circus peanuts and a bag of gummy worms. Cut grass and orange zest, too. That saline note pops up again, linking these three whiskies in a minor way. It's also the least peaty of the three, with its gentle beachy smoke. Reducing the whisky to 46%abv gives the nose some focus. Consider, if you will, an iced cinnamon roll topped with toasted coconut, with some orange zest and saline in the distance.

Its palate is also the mildest of the three, lightly sweet and citric, with a mix of mossy and woody smoke. It gets sweeter with time as a mix of ginger and orange hard candy pushes to the front. At 46%abv, the palate is floral and sweet, with toasted marshmallows and orange candy. There's more pepper than peat present.

It finishes with mint candy and orange candy. Cayenne pepper and ash. At 46%abv, it's all pepper and citrus.

This is the least "Port Charlotte" of any Port Charlotte I've tried. In fact it seems more like a Doc Lumsden creation than a PC. It's very friendly, and much better organized than the MRC:01. Perhaps this is a Port Charlotte for people who don't like Port Charlotte? It's probably the best built of the three (and my favorite in the moment), and I would certainly drink it again. 

RATING - 85



That could have gone better or worse. None of these tops the Islay Barley releases nor the current 10 year old, but none were real failures. The CC:01 and MRC:01 were problematic, the former half-cooked, the latter wine-soaked. The OLC:01 was nearly neutered, but an easy, pretty drink. I can confidently state there will be no further "cask exploration" during the remainder of this cluster. There are many many better PCs to drink. I think.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Teeling 24 year old Vintage Reserve Irish Single Malt (bottled 2016)

Compared to the rest of whiskydom, I've never been too excited about Cooley distillery's output, nor do I find Bourdeaux's Sauternes to be a particularly thrilling match for whisky. But (SPOILER ALERT) this whiskey screwed all of that right up. I was informed that I had to try this, I tried it, and I am glad I did.


Distillery: Cooley
Bottler: Teeling
Series: Vintage Reserve
Country: Ireland
Style: Single Malt Whiskey
Age: at least 24 years (though no vintage for the Vintage Reserve?)
Bottling date: August 2016
Maturation: Bourbon casks and Sauternes casks
Outturn: 5,000 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
(thank you to Secret Agent Man for sharing!)

NOTES

Mangoes and peaches and mangoes and peaches and mangoes and peaches on the nose. Cherry lollipops, grapefruit and yuzu fill in the midground. A balance of industry, farm, mint and cucumber hold the background.

Here comes the palate's list. Lychee, loquat, mango, roses and honey. Something sturdy, earthy and herbal keeps it from getting much too pretty. After 30ish minutes, the mango and flowers subside and are replaced by Cara Cara oranges.

Sweet mangoes meet tart yuzu and lime in the finish. That slight earthy notes gives it some balance, even when the Cara Caras roll in.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

You may note the paucity of verbiage in this review, compared to that of Monday's Springbank. I tried the two whiskies side-by-side, gradually getting lost in this Teeling, while becoming more critical of the Springbank. The Springbank was indeed good. This Teeling is awesome. The palate and finish are merely great, while the nose remains stunning for well over an hour in the glass.

There is a through line between this and TWE's 26yo Green Spot, the fruit, the flowers, the hint of something darker, the casks that I didn't think would work. Though both of these lovely Irish whiskies are out of my price range, I do appreciate their existence.

Availability - It's still around?!
Pricing - all over the place, from $400 to $1000
Rating - 91

Monday, April 26, 2021

Springbank 17 year old 2002 Madeira Cask Matured

I was going to call this week, W(h)ine Week! But I'll go a little commercial and call it Cask Exploration Week instead. There will be three Port Charlottes and two not-Port Charlottes.

To begin with, a Springbank. A semi-relevant Springbank at that. Bottled only six months ago, this Springer has a misleading name, "Madeira Cask Matured". One supposes they needed to call it something, and Cask Fuckery 2020 would be too all-encompassing of a title in this marketplace. It's a mix of of bourbon cask and rum cask Springbank that had a three-year secondary maturation in fresh Madeira hogsheads.

I've reviewed a few of these annual cask-y releases, like the Burgundy and Rum, finding them all falling short of the standard bottlings, but still pretty good. How about this one...?

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Owner: Springbank Distillers Ltd.
Region: Campbeltown, on Well Close, just off of Longrow
Age: 17 years (November 2002 - October 2020)
Maturation: bourbon casks + rum casks for 14 years, fresh Madeira hogsheads for 3 years
Outturn: 9200 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 47.8%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

There's a swirl of fruity cask things going on at the start of the nose: tangerines, raspberry jam, anise and sugary rum. These elements team up to mute the peat. Hints of steel wool and dried thyme sneak out. Then there's a combination of wet concrete and bus fumes that triggers a sense memory of London, fourteen years ago. The anise note grows with time. The whisky is less fruity, more Campbeltown, once reduced to 43%abv. There's dirt, metal and engine grease. Just little bit of peach candy, apricots and molasses in the background.

The palate hits warmer than expected. It has some of the nose's fruit, but more industrial smoke. There's a little bit of butterscotch, cayenne and Hampden-style olives. It makes for very casual drinking, until it develops more ash and bitterness after 30 minutes. Reducing the whisky to 43%abv doesn't do it any favors. It's earthier but also bitterer, a woody bitterness that doesn't mix well with the lemon candy and fennel notes.

It finishes with sweet and tart oranges, cayenne pepper, copper and a touch of bitterness. Once reduced to 43%abv, the finish shows more tannins, while keeping the sweet citrus.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

I didn't realize I took so many notes on this one. It's an expressive whisky, but though it delivers a few unique notes, I can't say it tops any of the standard range, which is inexcusable considering its price. Perhaps Springbank has cursed itself with its excellent single malt. It can't top itself, especially by adding more casks. This isn't as grim of a situation as Ardbeg, since the annual Springbank limited releases have been consistently good. Again, this one continues the quality, but for the price of 3 or 4 10yos, or 2 or 3 12yo CSes, this should deliver more pyrotechnics.

Availability - Not sold out, yet
Pricing - $280-$400
Rating - 86

Friday, April 23, 2021

Port Charlotte Islay Barley 2008 versus Port Charlotte Islay Barley 2011

(Port Charlotte cluster homepage)

I've always preferred Port Charlotte's Islay Barley over their Scottish Barley whiskies. While the Scottish Barley release was in a standard rotation and is now extinct, the Islays had limited outturns, specific vintages and are still around, with the newest release, the 2012, appearing last year.

Islay Barley 2008, the version I know the best, had a number bottlings, from 2014 to 2016. Because the bottle lists no age, I'm not sure if that means this expression was released at multiple ages, or if it was put in steel to allow for a consistent gradual rollout. It seems as if its contents, distilled from the barley of six Islay farms, were aged solely or mostly in bourbon casks.

Islay Barley 2011 was released only in 2019 and has a six-year age statement. Its barley (Oxbridge and Publican) was harvested from three Islay farms, and its maturation was 75% first-fill bourbon casks and 25% second-fill Syrah and Figero wine casks. That wine is possibly not from Islay, but I digress.

I opened my second bottle of the 2008 last week and knocked the whisky line down about one-third of the way in the days leading up to this Taste Off. The 2008 always smells like an Islay kiln to me. This tasting will allow me to dig deeper than that.

Instead of buying a bottle of the 2011 blindly, I purchased a sample to try first. As you can see by the pic below, I chose to examine half of the sample before this Taste Off, such was my anticipation.

Engage.

NOTES


Port Charlotte 2008 Islay Barley, bottled 22.09.2016, 50%abv
(my bottle, one-third of the way down)


Compared to the Scottish Barley this is almost a different peat, not just a different grain source. There's a commingling of the outdoors and the industrial in the nose; herbs and leaves and moss and factory smokestack. Beneath the peat are green grapes and anise. Beneath that, hints of blueberry jam and butterscotch. Once the whisky is reduced to 43%abv, the nose shifts to stones, golden raisins and peated cookie dough.

Plumes of kiln smoke lead the palate, followed by sweet citrus and metal spoons. Bitter herbs and pickled ginger nip at the edges. Reducing the whisky to 43%abv turns the palate fruitier and sweeter. Pears and white peaches meet hay and lightly sooty smoke

The palate's kiln smoke rolls through the finish, where those small notes of ginger and bitter herbs ascend, and the sweet citrus regresses. At 43% the whisky finishes sooty with little bits of caramel sauce and dried herbs.


Port Charlotte 2011 Islay Barley, 2018 European release, 50%abv
(from a purchase sample)


The
nose leads with sautéed dried herbs and lemon zest. Ginger juice, hot concrete and freshly cut grass. A befouled hay note starts at the rear (har har), and gradually moves forward with time. It remains grassy and farmy, once the whisky is diluted to 43%abv, while picking up a briny salty air note, a hint of watermelon Jolly Rancher in the background.

The palate's smoke carries a raspberry essence, then meets with bitter herbs and orange marmalade. It gets sootier with time. It's a nice mix, picking up a red wine-like tobacco note after a while. It actually gets tighter and harsher once the whisky is reduced to 43%abv. Fewer fruits, though there's a touch of grape jam. More bitter smoke.

Surprising activity in the finish: soot, cigarettes, sweet berries and cabernet sauvignon. Dilution to 43%abv doesn't help the finish, instead shining a spotlight on bitterness.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

I like 'em both! The 2008 reads heavier, while the 2011 has a bit of a smile to it. That may be due to the lack, and presence, of the wine casks. Where the current 10 year old's spirit blasts through the wine casks, the 2011 Islay wears its wine a little louder, but not too much. The 2008 is a hardy winter pour that can also stand up to some water. A proper time and place for the 2011 is more flexible, but dilution did it no good, much like Wednesday's two whiskies. I almost gave the 2011's verve the nod, but the 2008 is so stout and vivid that I'm just going to call it a tie.

SCORES SCORES SCORES

Port Charlotte 2008 Islay Barley - 87

Port Charlotte 2011 Islay Barley - 87 (neat only)

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Port Charlotte An Turas Mor versus Port Charlotte Scottish Barley

(Port Charlotte cluster homepage)

An Turas Mor ("The Great Journey") was an official NAS Port Charlotte release from 2010 and 2012. It was replaced by the NAS Scottish Barley expression once Remy Cointreau bought Bruichladdich Distillery and its brands in 2013. Scottish Barley was itself replaced by the full-time 10 year old in 2018.

Today I'll compare these two former Port Charlotte standard NAS whiskies. To be honest, I've always preferred the flavor of the limited Islay Barley releases over these standards, but it's been many years since I've tried them. So I'll start the cluster here.

NOTES


Port Charlotte An Turas Mor, US release ca. 2012, 46%abv
(Thank you to JLR for the sample!)

The nose begins with grain, hay and Ardbeggy soot. A few minutes later, cinnamon, green bananas, burnt flour and burnt tires appear. Then comes kale and warm oregano. Okay, weed. Reducing the whisky to 40%abv tames the nose, resulting in notes of wood smoke, brown sugar, vanilla bean and pear.

Aromatic peat smoke and tangy oranges make up most of the simple palate. Grass, cinnamon and burnt plastic linger around the edges. Only bitter smoke, peppercorns and an aggressive sugariness remains once the whisky is diluted to 40%abv.

It finishes bitter and tangy, with smaller notes of pepper and plastic. When reduced to 40%abv, the whisky finishes bitterly and grassy with a little bit of salt.

Port Charlotte Scottish Barley, Europe release ca. 2017, 50%abv
(from a purchased sample)

Dried apricot and madeira meet cloves and moderate peat smoke in the nose. Notes of almond extract, confectioner's sugar and pound cake stay in the background. Diluting the whisky to 40%abv brings out mint extract and ocean notes. Circus peanuts, too. The smoke becomes simpler, muted.

The palate is lightly sweet and savory, with more of those tangy oranges. In fact the smoke itself reads tangy. A grassy bitterness grows with time. Reducing the whisky to 40%abv and......I think I killed it. It's just bitter smoke and peppercorns. Maybe some limes?

The finish's zing is more like chiles than peppercorns. Small bits of oranges, peat and bitterness here and there. Down at 40%abv there's only peat, heat and peppercorns in the finish.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

These are the politest Port Charlottes I've ever had, with nothing setting them apart from most other peated whiskies. Yes, they're accessible, as standard releases usually are, but they are also forgettable. If either of these is your first PC, you'll likely wonder what the big deal is.

An Turas Mor reads VERY young, even for a Port Charlotte. I believe it has all ex-bourbon cask components, which can be a good thing. In this case, it's left feeling like a work in progress (though not of Kilkerran quality). I can't believe I'm saying this but I wish some wine casks were involved.

I do believe wine casks, or some sort of non-bourbon cask elements, are at play in the Scottish Barley. Or at least the nose shouts as much. There's more going on in its palate, compared to An Turas Mor, but it still feels thinnish even at 50%abv.

These are fine. I expect more than "fine" from Port Charlotte.

SCORES SCORES SCORES

Port Charlotte An Turas Mor - 79

Port Charlotte Scottish Barley - 82

Monday, April 19, 2021

The Port Charlotte Cluster

My friend, Secret Agent Man, says Port Charlotte single malt "smells like a lobster fisherman's sweaty ass crack." And I say, "Yes. That is why I love it so."

How much do I love it? 24 new reviews worth. But not all at once this time. More on that later.

MOSTLY FACTS

Port Charlotte is an actual place, a port town on Loch Indaal, near the Rhinns of Islay on the western side of the island. A distillery, first called Port Charlotte, later Lochindaal, produced malt there for 100 years until DCL (a.k.a. Proto-Diageo; a.k.a Distillery-Destroyer and Occasional Whisky-Maker) closed it in 1929.

map source

Bruichladdich distillery, built two miles down the road in 1881, was shuttered in 1995 only to be bought and reopened by Murray McDavid five years later. The 40ppm-peated Port Charlotte malt had its first still run at Bruichladdich distillery in 2001. PC5, a 5 year old 63.5%abv fire-starter, arrived in 2006, starting off the official Port Charlotte releases. Independent bottlings began in 2007, and the first official ten year old appeared in 2012. Remy Cointreau bought Bruichladdich and its three whisky brands — Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte and Octomore — in 2013.

MOSTLY OPINIONS

Bruichladdich's Octomore has the record-breaking peat levels and distinct bottle design. It's a graceful behemoth when done well; e.g. the early .1s, the .3s, and the first 10 year old. Port Charlotte's single malt has one-fifth to one-third of the peat levels of Octomore, yet it is the more brutalist malt. It can be strange, jagged and stark, conjuring images of concrete and steel. Or maybe that's just happens inside my brain.

Bruichladdich's unpeated malt can be a bit wonky, sometimes cheesy and milky in a way that doesn't seem quite right. Adding a generous helping of peaty PPMs to the mix creates something different than most (or all) Islay malts, and improves upon the standard Bruichladdich style, in my opinion.

SWEETHEARTS

Much like Kilchoman (the previous cluster malt), Port Charlotte is part of that distinctive batch of new whiskies (which also include Kilkerran and Arran) that first appeared on the market when many of us were new to single malt mania. As a result, those four malts have had a special place in my whisky heart for over a decade. My preferred Arrans are in the 10-14 year old range, while the Work in Progress series has produced my favorite Kilkerrans. Kilchoman's progression is a mixed bag, as I discovered in the Kilchoman cluster, which I will link to again right here. Their current sherry cask releases can be very good, the 100% Islays seem to be improving, but I've found the standard bourbon cask bottlings to be slipping considerably.

THE CLUSTER SHAPE

Now I plan to complete 24 Port Charlotte whisky reviews for your very eyes. That's a lot of Port Charlotte to subject you to. And a lot for me drink.

A few of the Kilchoman Cluster weeks turned out to be less fun than I'd anticipated because the whisky's style was occasionally not varied or interesting enough, which put my Whisky Attention Deficit Disorder to the test. Rather than blanketing this space with nothing but PC for at least two months, there are a few other interesting whiskies I'd like to share with you. So I'm going to change the structure of this cluster:

The first and last weeks of this series will be 100% Port Charlotte. All the weeks in between will have non-Port Charlotte content of some sort. Also, the Taste Offs will be single posts rather than stretching them out across multiple days. AND, I may blow up this whole approach if it doesn't work. But don't worry, we'll make it.

from Barnard's The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom


THE PORT CHARLOTTES

1. Port Charlotte An Turas Mor - "...a work in progress......I can't believe I'm saying this but I wish some wine casks were involved."
2. Port Charlotte Scottish Barley - "...accessible, as standard releases usually are, but......also forgettable."
3. Port Charlotte 2008 Islay Barley - "...a hardy winter pour that can also stand up to some water."
4. Port Charlotte 2011 Islay Barley - "...has a bit of a smile to it......wears its wine a little louder, but not too much."
5. Port Charlotte 8 year old 2007 CC:01 - "It's not terrible stuff, it's just very raw."
6. Port Charlotte 7 year old 2010 MRC:01 - "There was a path to make this single malt great, instead it is just loud."
7. Port Charlotte 9 year old 2020 OLC:01 - "Perhaps this is a Port Charlotte for people who don't like Port Charlotte?"
8. Port Charlotte 5 year old PC5 Evolution - "Startling in its violence"
9. Port Charlotte 6 year old PC6 Cuairt-Beatha - "..this is no longer just a work in progress, it's a complete whisky."
10. Port Charlotte 7 year old PC7 Sin An Doigh Ileach - "...this can stand up with the best Laphroaig 10yo CS and Lagavulin 12yo CS batches."
11.
12.
13.
Assessing the cluster at the halfway-ish point
14.
15.
16.
17.
18.
19.
20.
21.
22.
23.
24.
Concluding the Cluster

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Ardbeg 17 year old 1994 Murray McDavid Mission Gold

Hey, another Murray McSerious! How about that? I won't tell you how long this sample was burning a hole in its box, but those who remember the original whiskysamples.eu know well enough. I tried this one next to Wednesday's terrific MMcD Ardbeg.

Distillery: Ardbeg
Owners at time of distilling: Allied Lyons
Region: Southern Islay
Bottler: Murray McDavid
Brand: Mission Gold
Maturation: bourbon cask (hoggie?)
Age: 17 years (1994 - 2011)
Outturn: 305 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 56.5%
(from a purchased sample)

NOTES

The nose has a machine shop note, full of hot metals and synthetic oils. It's youthful without being raw. There are cardamom pods, basil leaves, brown sugar and a zippy chile note. The peat reads much gentler than that of the LVMH Ardbeg spirit. It opens further after 45 minutes, with roses and Fig Newtons. Diluted down to 46%abv, it goes toasty, floral, yeasty and slightly peachy. Some basil and honey in the background.

Similar but slightly different than the 18yo, a distinct blueberry pie note appears early in the palate. It's peatier and mintier than the nose, and there's some mildly bitter molasses. At 46%abv the whisky reads simple and focused, with toasted grains and toasted nuts, soot and a hint of bitterness.

Soot and cigar smoke make up much of the finish, with quieter tangy and herbal notes in the distance. When reduced to 46%abv, the finish matches the palate.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

That's one looooooong year of difference between the two MMcD Ardbegs. And, yes, a completely different cask. This is still a great whisky, and some folks may even enjoy it more than the 18yo. But the pirouette the 18yo pulls with dilution puts it over the top. This 17yo feels of a similar age to the Allied-distilled 10 year olds (one of which I tried with this as well), but this malt reads more industrial and herbal, which is a big plus for me. A good week indeed.

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 88

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Ardbeg 18 year old 1993 Murray McDavid Mission Gold

I have said unkind things about Murray McDavid in the past. But I come here hoping to praise MMcD, not to bury it. When they don't play drunken games with their wine casks, instead of letting a whisky just be, the results can be great. The results can also be disappointing but we're not going to talk about that.

Here's an 18 year old Ardbeg, distilled by Allied Lyons and aged entirely in a bourbon cask (likely a hogshead). Good elements here.

Distillery: Ardbeg
Owners at time of distilling: Allied Lyons
Region: Southern Islay
Bottler: Murray McDavid
Brand: Mission Gold
Maturation: bourbon cask
Age: 18 years (1993 - 2011)
Outturn: 245 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 56.9%
(from a purchased sample)

NOTES

The nose begins with chalk and earth, and hints of mangoes and smoked fish. The rich peat reads more toasted than burnt. Notes of mint leaves, baked apples and figs(!) gradually appear. It gains an iodine note after 45 minutes. Something fascinated happens once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv, it turns into Hampden rum, full of olives and diesel. Smaller notes of rosemary, pine and fermenting apples fill out the background.

Heavy salty and medicinal notes meet berry pie filling in the palate, and it works. Bitter orange peels and lemon juice arrive as the whisky opens with time. The palate goes Hampden when diluted to 46%abv as well. Olives, diesel and butterscotch.

It finishes with salt, chiles and limes. Quite some length to it. The reduced-to-46%abv version matches the diluted nose and palate.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

When you hear much-experienced whisky drinkers make the "X is the new Ardbeg" comparison, I'm pretty sure this Ardbeg hints at what they're talking about. It's a reductive statement, and there are now a few whisky generations who haven't had higher-tier Ardbeg, but I can see how it works and can understand the comparison. As noted above, this single malt goes Ardbeg → Hampden. And it's excellent on both sides of the arrow. It must have been a great pleasure to consume a bottle of this.

Speaking of reductive:

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 90

Monday, April 12, 2021

Ardbeg 21 year old 1992 Sovereign, cask HL 9995 for K&L Wine Merchants

Back to Ardbeg! This week I'm reviewing three bourbon cask indie bottlings distilled during the Allied Lyons years, specifically 1992, 1993 and 1994. If you get an opportunity to try pre-LVMH Ardbeg, TAKE IT. You may find it's usually a subtler, yet thicker and more angular whisky than the current stuff. Or maybe you'll think it's boring, and the joke is on all those people paying four-figures for those bottles.

This 21 year old single cask comes from K&L's David&David Epoch. It was quite a feat for them to nab an Ardbeg cask of this age, since no regular release coming from the distillery had been older than ten years for, well, ten years at that point. Had I been in on more bottle splits back in 2013, I would have taken part just to try the old liquid. But I missed out. So I am very grateful to Saint Brett of Riverside for letting me steal a sample of this stuff.

Distillery: Ardbeg
Owners at time of distilling: Allied Lyons
Region: Southern Islay
Bottler: Hunter Laing
Brand: The Sovereign
Maturation: bourbon cask
Age: 21 years (1992 - September 2013)
Cask #: HL 9995
Outturn: 150 bottles
Exclusive to: K&L Wine Merchants
Alcohol by Volume: 49.6%

NOTES

What a nose. It's big on seaweed, briny shellfish and cinnamon-and-cocoa-tinged smoke, while apple peels, pineapples and limes float through the background, with clementines joining in after 30 minutes. The coast and smoke are pushed back once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv, with fruit (apples and cherries) and cinnamon being pulled to the fore.

My notes label the palate "ungussied", which is not a word, apparently. In other words, it's spirit-forward, with lots of Talisker-style salt and pepper on one plane, and tart limes, grapefruits, minerals and a subtle sweetness on another. Reducing it to 46%abv, doesn't change much. Maybe more minerals and metals.

Its finish reads heavier and smokier than the palate, with some lime candy in the background. The peat sits somewhere between the LVMH-Ardbeg soot and Talisker pepper. Diluted to 46%abv, it finishes with pepper, tart citrus and soot.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

K&L released this Sovereign cask within about 12 months of the 32 year old Caol Ila and 18 year old Caperdonich. That's some good work right there. This Ardbeg is definitely among my top five favorite K&L single casks, though some of you readers have had more of their stuff than I. As with the Caol Ila, the palate falls just short of a dreamy nose. But this nose, though. Not only does current owner LVMH not make 'em this way, I can't think of another Islay distillery that does. Perhaps I need to try more 21 year old Lagavulin. (Don't we all.)

The other two Ardbegs have some serious competition here. If they can keep up, it'll be a good week.

Availability - Sold out years ago
Pricing - $349 back in the day
Rating - 89

Friday, April 9, 2021

Redbreast 2001 cask 17126, for The Celtic Whiskey Shop

There are several of these single sherry cask Redbreasts floating around the (secondary) market. I thought it was a fun idea when the first of these dropped, considering the lack of official single cask official Irish whiskies. The prices were less fun, but the casks tended to sell out, so the market spoke. Despite my love for Redbreast, paying $300+ for a teenage Redbreast didn't compute. So they all passed me by.

It was nice to get in on a bottle split of a single cask that was exclusive to an actual Irish retailer, but it will be my one-and-done review of single sherry cask Redbreast. 

Brand: Redbreast
Country: Ireland
Distillery: Midleton
Style
: Single Pot Still
Age: 15 or 16 years
Distillation date: March 2001
Release year: 2017?
Maturation: first-fill sherry butt
Cask #: 17126
Outturn: 600 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 58.6%
Exclusive to: The Celtic Whiskey Shop
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
(from a bottle split)

THE NOSE...

...at full strength: A sherry titan, leading with beef fat and cherries. Then mint leaf and pine sap. Hints of figs and Manuka honey. Cheesy nutritional yeast occasionally drifts through the background. 

...at 46%abv: Not much change, other than a shift away towards nuts, and away from beef. Some Raisinets too.

...at 40%abv: It's 75% oak spice, 15% toffee and 10% milk chocolate. 

THE PALATE...

...at full strength: There's more dried fruit here than in the nose. PLENTY of tannins too. Carob, dates, prunes and black raisins sit in the foreground. Salt and savory in the background.

...at 46%abv: It gets leafier, subtly herbal. More baking chocolate and salt, less savoriness. Even more tannins come to the surface.

...at 40%abv: Oloroso Oloroso Oloroso. Tannins, black raisins and raw nuts.

THE FINISH...

...at full strength: A bright Oloroso note arrives first, with meaty and peppery notes in the background. A moment or two of tannins and mint.

...at 46%abv: Bitter oak and peppercorns. Tannic AF.

...at 40%abv: Oloroso, salt and tannins.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

The folks at Whiskybase love this stuff, and there is certainly a wide audience to whom it would appeal. I am not part of that audience, and thus my opinion will probably prove unpopular. This is just hyperactive cask juice to me. It's a ketchup sandwich.

I didn't dump it down the sink because there's something fascinating about this sort of faceless, nameless whiskey. It could be from anywhere. It's probably the future. B-minus whiskey 24/7.

But I'm going to knock it down a few more points because they ruined 600 bottles of Redbreast.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - probably north of $300
Rating - 78

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Redbreast 12 year old Cask Strength, batch B1/20 (my bottle)

 So here's the 2020 batch, with its new label style and bespoke chair.

Honestly, I had not sipped a drop of Redbreast 12yo Cask Strength since I moved to Ohio. So I decided to schedule this 4-part series, ending it with the most current version I could find. It's rare for me to buy a whisk(e)y blind, but I figured since this is Redbreast, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, my first three pours (not in the same night) were kinda boring. That bothered me. The previous two bottles I'd opened, the Kilchomans Machir Bay (2018) and Vintage 2007, are/were good but I've never been excited about drinking from either. Is it me or the whisky? This Redbreast had me thinking that I'm the problem. But of course, that would force me to think a little deeper about my choices.

And why do that? I'll just have a Redbreast Taste Off instead!

Brand: Redbreast
Country: Ireland
Distillery: Midleton
Style
: Single Pot Still
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry casks
Batch: B1/20
Release year: 2020
Alcohol by Volume: 57.6%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? Probably
(the fourth pour from my bottle)

NOTES

It's weird, I'm not getting much from the nose. First comes the American oak, bark and sawdust. Vanilla. Yesterday's 12yo CS was scotchy, will this be bourbonish? Then there's a hint of copper, some cranberry juice, cloves and sour apple candy. Diluting it to 40%abv and......yep, there it is. Cherry juice, menthol, toasted coconut and apricot hamantaschen.

The palate is more expressive but quite hot. Orange bitters shifts to orange candy. Almonds. A hint of mango juice. A bit of tannin. It's much gentler at 40%abv (surprise!). There's apricot jam, honey, limes and nectarines. The tannins are still there but remain in the background.

The finish may be more interesting than the palate, with dried mango, tart apples, orange juice and cayenne pepper. Once reduced to 40%abv, the finish keeps the palate's (and the neat finish's) fruits without taking on too much sweetness, while the pepper starts to lean towards the tannins.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

Water saved this for me. It's fine but almost exhausting when neat. What we used to pass off as a "craft whiskey" trend of big heat and heavy casks, is now a contemporary style across the whisky world. And it's alive in this one. But bringing it down to 40%abv really draws out the fruits, which is something I look forward to in a daily drinker. Or any whisk(e)y, for that matter.

For a moment, I considered replacing the bottle's ~120mL of open space with water. Then I realized I shouldn't make that sort of decision after drinking. Or should I???

Availability - This batch still exists as of this moment of typing
Pricing - $65(!) to $100(!!)
Rating - 86 (diluted)

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Redbreast 12 year old Cask Strength, batch B1/14

Compared to the other three batches being reviewed this week, B1/14 has by far the darkest hue. Of course, this whole series likely had e150a added. But this one wasn't orange-y or bland brown like many colorant-abused whiskies. It had the sort of color that drives some people to overpay for sherry cask whiskies.

I skipped over B1/13 because I don't even remember its existence, and also I didn’t have a sample of it. Thanks to an old friend, JLR, I did have a B1/14. I even remember swapping samples that day, more than six years ago, when we were both new fathers. That was another life entirely.

Brand: Redbreast
Country: Ireland
Distillery: Midleton
Style
: Single Pot Still
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry casks
Batch: B1/14
Release year: 2014
Alcohol by Volume: 58.2%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? Probably
(many thank yous to JLR for the sample!)

NOTES

The nose begins with, yes, a big sherry cask note reminiscent of Macallan circa 2014. Dried berries, toasted nuts and carob. Cardamom pods, vanilla bean and toffee. Once reduced to 40%abv, the whiskey's nose takes on a surprising medicinal/iodine character, which matches well with the pipe tobacco, dark chocolate, raspberry jam and Luxardo syrup.

The palate's a bit tighter than the nose at full strength. Less overt sherry cask action as well. There are lemons, brown sugar and cinnamon. Then cayenne pepper, honey and almonds. Dilution to 40%abv opens the palate up as well. Brown sugar + pineapple + pie crust, but nowhere near as sugary as it sounds. Herbal bitterness and grapefruits glow in the background

Heat and honey in the finish, with small notes of black pepper, almonds and lemons. Reducing the whisky to 40%abv sweetens up the finish, while also adding some tart limes and grapefruits.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

Ah ha, I was waiting for one of these batches to shine brighter at the regular 12yo strength of 40%abv. I wouldn't say the sherry casks and bourbon casks and spirit are fighting it out, rather it's kind of a cold war. They're not voluntarily commingling, but they're not fouling everything up either. The result is something that is more reminiscent of single malt scotch, than of Irish pot still. Will this whiskey's Taste Off partner follow the same path......?

Availability - This batch is gone
Pricing - ???
Rating - 85 (diluted)

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Redbreast 12 year old Cask Strength, batch B1/12

It's an old tale, the rock 'n roll band releases such a brilliant first album that the second album is often destined to suffer under the weight of expectations. But also the band had much more time to work through the first album's material, while a time limit often rushes the second one. Meanwhile all the sex and drugs delay proper songwriting focus. I say this knowing absolutely nothing about the subject matter.

With that in mind, I tasted Redbreast 12yo Cask Strength batch 1 (aka B1/11) alongside batch 2 (aka B1/12). There's a very good chance I had a bottle of B1/12 in 2013-2014 and consumed it briskly. Because I left myself not a drop of that theoretical bottle, I had to source a sample. Batch B1/12 had similar cask types, age and resulting ABV as its predecessor. Cask strength Irish pot still whiskey was in its infancy at the time, so could they assemble another hit?

Brand: Redbreast
Country: Ireland
Distillery: Midleton
Style
: Single Pot Still
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry casks
Batch: B1/12
Release year: 2012
Alcohol by Volume: 58.6%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? Probably
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

White peaches, dried apricots and peach gummies lead the nose. Flower blossoms, citronella candles and fresh laundry are in the middle, with a rumble of industrial metal/grease underneath. The nose brightens up further when diluted to 40%abv, with notes of jasmine, sugar cookies and molasses.

Compared to B1/11, the palate has less heat, but more pepperiness. Less fruit, more minerals, though gradually a few lemons do arrive. The pot still heart peeks out as a bit of the nose's industrial note shows up late. It gets tarter with time, but remains quite lean. Somehow reducing it to 40%abv makes it even leaner. Very little sweetness, maybe a few hints of lemon. A slight bitter bite meets meets a metallic note. Again, its tartness expends after a while.

It finishes with tart oranges, tangy pepper sauce, machine shop and a hint of sweetness. Once reduced to 40%abv, vanilla and lemons take over. Hints of bitterness and metal remain in the background.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

The nose is pretty but I couldn't unlock the palate. Had the palate brought in some of the nose's characteristics, this would have been another big winner. Due to the absence of depth and fruit, I found the whiskey’s darker spirity note the most interesting aspect of this batch. I also appreciate the lack of aggressive oak. Though possibly a very good whisky when tried on its own, B1/12 proved to be a couple steps weaker than B1/11. And again, I prefer it served neatly.

Availability - This batch is gone
Pricing - sorry, can't remember
Rating - 84