...where distraction is the main attraction.

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.
9.
10.
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

Monday, April 5, 2021

Redbreast 12 year old Cask Strength, batch B1/11 (re-review)

I'm going to take a week-long break from Ardbeg to review Redbreast. And by that I mean full-powered Redbreast. And by that I mean four batches of the 12yo Cask Strength and one single sherry cask.

If you're a newer reader, then lemme catch you up. I adore Redbreast. Not only is it my favorite Irish whiskey, but I think it was one of the finest whiskies in the world. I say "was" because damned Scottish single malt has had me distracted for the larger part of the past decade, so I don't know what's happened with the standard Redbreast releases.

This very bottle of Cask Strength batch B1/11 was reviewed EIGHT years ago, back when I was handing out 90+-point scores to every Redbreast I'd meet. I gave this whiskey a 91-point score. And for some reason, I've been sitting on a 2oz sample from that very bottle ever since. So, I'm going to start this week with a re-review of that whiskey, and then I'll review its sparring partner tomorrow.

↑ this guy is from this guy ↓

Brand: Redbreast
Country: Ireland
Distillery: Midleton
Style
: Single Pot Still
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry casks
Batch: B1/11
Bottle Code: L120231241 10:22
Release year: 2011
Alcohol by Volume: 57.7%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? Probably

NOTES

At full power, the nose unites oranges, apricots, eucalyptus, lilac, brown sugar, roasted almonds and a tickle of brine. Lemon cake and orange scones lead the nose once the whisky is reduced to 40%abv. There's a nice float of wort in the background, and a few roses in the midground.

The warm palate reads very close to the nose with its tangy citrus and stone fruits. Smaller notes of fresh ginger and vanilla bean linger in the back. The sweetness is kept in check by a growing tartness. Metals and minerals emerge after about 20 minutes. It's all very well knit. Reduced to 40%abv, the whiskey's palate becomes sweet and lemony, with a bunch of tart dried cranberries. Hints of sea salt and pencil shavings perch in the background.

It lands the finish with lemons, brown sugar, minerals and nectarines. A near perfect balance of tart and sweet. Diluted to 40%abv, the whiskey's finish holds lemon candy, sea salt and a hint of American oak.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

I wasn't too crazy eight years ago (in fact, I was probably saner), this whisky is a joy. My notes do not match those of the old review, in fact I no longer see the two cask types battling it out. It's balanced with a precision I don't frequently find in current Scotch or Irish whiskies. Water does seem to bring out the oak a bit, so in a 8-year 180-degree turn I'd say keep it neat. When neat, it sticks the landing brilliantly. The brand began this cask strength series well.

Availability - This batch is gone
Pricing - sorry, can't remember
Rating - 90

Friday, April 2, 2021

Islay Balance 14 year old 2005 Old Particular Spiritualist Series, cask DL14031

So the waiter says, "Who ordered the medium Swedenborger with the Mesmertini"

And Douglas Laing exclaims, "I didn't mean that kind of spiritualism!"

Wocka Wocka!

(I'm only halfway through the Ardbeg reviews, people. It's all downhill from here.)

Actually, Laing's 'Spiritualist' series does reference both alcohol and something......something. Possibly theosophical-ish more than spiritualist? The official site links "mindfulness" and "ying and yang" to Laing's tempered poison.

Where do I even begin, I mean--


The actual liquid is not called "Ardbeg" but the Intertube Sayers say it's Ardbeg. And a 14 year old cask strength refill hogshead-aged Ardbeg is what we former Ardbeg fans wish LVMH would offer. But they don't, so we have to go to the indies for all the fun.

Distillery: Ardbeg (?)
Region: Islay
Bottler: Douglas Laing
Range: Old Particular
Age: 14 years (November 2005 - April 2020)
Maturation: refill hogshead
Cask #: DL14031
Outturn: 325 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 53.2%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

There's a sauté of peat, butter, cherries and apples in the nose's foreground. Fresh apricots and grapefruits somewhere in the middle, and Bugles corn snacks and cheap plastic toys in the background. It shifts a bit once reduced to 46%abv. Ocean, grass and roasted nuts take over. Hints of honeydew, anise and hay appear later one.

Seaweed, salt and sweetness appear in the palate first rather than peat, with minor notes of limes, pepper and bitter herbs in the back. It tilts towards Campari, lime and copper with time. It gets gentler at 46%abv, with mild sweetness, moderate soot and some grapefruit (IPA-style).

Again, there's less peat than expected in the finish. It's mostly salt, bitter herbs, tart citrus and copper. Once diluted to 46%abv, the whisky finishes with grapefruit, soot and salt.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

I'm glad I could end the week on a positive review. The whisky isn't complex, but it does fill an empty spot on the OB marketplace. It is a reasonable, fuss-free and (yes) balanced Ardbeg. That combination of words is so detached from contemporary Ardbeg that I wonder if this really is Ardbeg. No matter. I'm sure Madame Blavatsky would approve.

Availability - European specialty retailers
Pricing - $140-$180 (w/VAT)
Rating - 86