...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Three Port Charlotte casks from Malts of Scotland

(Port Charlotte cluster homepage)

Whew. I'm back. I don't recommend moving. I've done it twenty-two times, so just take my word for it.

I'm returning to the Port Charlotte cluster today, as I type up this recap of a tasting I did before the Rosebank tasting at the old house. We're now fully into indie territory with a trio of single casks issued by the German bottler, Malts of Scotland. MoS has released 20+ Port Charlotte casks from the 2001-2004 vintages, with most of them enjoying cask comfort for a decade or more before dumping. Here are three examples:


Port Charlotte 10 year old 2001 Malts of Scotland, sherry hogshead #12039, 63.3%abv

The giant enormous thunderous big nose offers note after note after note. Plum skins, walnuts, very dark chocolate, dunnage, barley(!), Benedictine liqueur, milk chocolate, toffee and ocean water meet, merge, swirl, separate and then meet again. The whisky seems to find my attempt to reduce it to 50%abv comical, as it changes directions but doesn't calm down, spilling Underberg, orange peels, raspberry jam and butterscotch into a leaf fire. And still, the dunnage note persists.

The hot but navigable palate issues forth dark smoke, dunnage, industrial grease. The barn's on fire, again. This may be the tarriest whisky I've ever tasted. It's still a WOW at 50%abv, keeping most of the same notes, especially the dunnage, industry and tar. It's gained oranges and an herbal bitterness.

The extensive finish is herbal, earthy, tarry, farmy and bitter. After the whisky is diluted to 50%abv the finish doesn't change much, other than taking on more citrus and dunnage.

Bigger and better than any of the Octomores I've tried, this fabulous whisky has a power, complexity and unique style that triggers my old feelings about the early Corryvreckans. You may enjoy this whisky with water, without water, with me, without me. Whatever. Congrats to you lucky stinkers who got your hands on this lovely stinker eight years ago.

RATING - 91



Port Charlotte 11 year old 2001 Malts of Scotland, sherry hogshead #13052, 58.2%abv

This is a much different creature than the 10yo 2001. The nose is calmer, focused more on nuts, iodine and smoked fish. Some earth and stones in there as well. Hints of tahini and copper. A peach skin note develops over time. Reducing the whisky to 50%abv brings out more toasted nuts (pecans and almonds), and a hint of cannabis. Less fish, more dried herbs. Hints of brine and barley.

Walnuts, raw pecans, chickpeas, gravel and hay on the palate. It gets nuttier with time, while also taking on bitter herbs, salt and kiln. Dropping the abv to 50% gives it a good balance of bitter, sweet and salt, with a mix of chiles, nuts and mellow smoke in the background.

Early sips result in a finish full of kiln, hay and menthol. Bitter herbs and salted almonds appear in later sips. It takes on more citrus, bitterness and smoke once the whisky is reduced to 50%abv.

Perhaps suffering in the matchup, this whisky is a wee kitten compared to the 10yo 2001. It does have a solid nutty sherry side to it, and a good balance. There's something very Islay about the nose, which is never a bad thing, and the palate has some fight to it. It's a very good early winter pour, though Serge thinks more highly of it than I do.

RATING - 88



Port Charlotte 13 year old 2002 Malts of Scotland, bourbon barrel #15011, 55.4%abv

The nose begins with a mix of cold kiln and mossy smoke, then toasted barley and a hint of eau de vie. Mint leaves, cucumber skins and cotton candy fill out the background. After 20 minutes, the drinker is greeted by cow patties (freshly issued!). Once the whisky is diluted to 50%abv, the nose is all ocean and farm, with orange peel in the background.

The spirit-driven palate offers graceful peat, dried herbs, dried flowers and grapefruits. There's bitter chocolate, soot, metal and lemons in the midground, a subtle sweetness in the background. Reducing the abv to 50% brings out a lot more fresh stone and orchard fruits, keeping only bitter chocolate and peat moss in the midground.

It finishes with soot, kiln, serrano pepper, lemons and a creamy sweetness. At 50%abv, there's mossy, leafy smoke. Then limes and cannabis (hello again).

Though the oldest of the three, this whisky reads the youngest, perhaps due to a quieter cask. Though it's more complex when neat, I prefer its simplicity and focus at 50%abv. I like it quite a bit, but again it's in some tough company today. Ruben was more hot to trot for this one than I was.

RATING - 88



It was fun, and a little exhausting, to try three different Port Charlotte styles from one bottler. The 10yo 2001 is right up with the PC7 as my favorite pours from this cluster so far. I'm going to review some softer whiskies (I can hear you booing from here) before returning to older Port Charlottes next week. Stay tuned!

Monday, May 24, 2021

Goodbye Rosebank

Two months after returning from our Scotland trip, Kristen and I named our new house, Rosebank (because Ladyburn sounded like a shaving mishap). Our eyes had gone wide upon learning we could pay less for triple the square footage in central Ohio compared to Long Beach, CA, so the house was always going to be too big. There were rooms for which we never found a consistent use over five years, and we quickly discovered that having more space and more things was more of a problem than a solution to anything.

The silence and darkness across large houses like Rosebank make them feel haunted at times. My parents had a cold, dark house for over decade, and while I'm sure one can conjure all sorts or figurative things out of that, there was something palpably heavy and unwelcoming about that space. Kristen and I never wanted our home to be like that.

Rosebank was full of character. My home office had great acoustics, but less-than-great airflow. The sunroom was the prettiest room in any home I've lived. Much of the last few years were spent at the kitchen's island, as it made for an office (despite the actual one nearby), living room (despite the actual one nearby), dining room (despite the actual one nearby) and playroom (despite the actual one nearby). Deer, groundhogs, skunks and more bird species than I've ever seen passed through our backyard. 

But it is time to depart Rosebank. The boxes that have surrounded me for two weeks have only underscored my discomfort with constant accumulation. So it can difficult to see the whisky bottles as anything but overwhelming right now. There will be more words on that issue in 2022, when I'll be much wiser about the universe and more confident about the future.

Moving on from the sort of content I'd just announced I was uncomfortable about, how about a whisky review? For my final tasting at Rosebank, I am going pour my final sample of Rosebank single malt. Thank you to St. Brett who shared a bit from his bottle of the 2011 Special Release, a 21 year old, distilled in 1990.

Distillery: Rosebank
Ownership: Diageo
Range: Special Releases
Region: Lowlands
Age: at least 21 years old (1990-2011)
Maturation: refill American and European Oak Casks
Outturn: 5,886 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 53.8%

NOTES

It has a springtime nose. Limes, honey, wildflowers, jasmine. Nectarine skins and cantaloupe juice. And, yes, roses. It also has a dash of an industrial oil, similar to Midleton's Powers pot still style. The nose gets more aggressive once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv. There's a mix of lemon and grass (but not lemongrass), then peaches and fresh thyme, on top. But there's a distinct artificial floral note, like that of dryer sheets, in the background.

Simpler than the nose, the palate is full of honey, orange candy and tart apples, with hints of malt, vanilla bean, jasmine and herbs in the back. Diluting it to 46%abv turns the palate very very tart and slightly tannic, with some moderate sweetness and vanilla in the mix.

It finishes with tart apples, honey and clementines. Moderately sweet, with a touch of American oak. Reducing the whisky to 46%abv, matches the finish to the palate.

WORDS WORDS WORDS


Very pretty when neat, edgier with water, the whisky is at its best on the nose. It's casual and friendly on the palate, but doesn't register the same glee as the nose. Though it would lose in a matchup with last week's Littlemill, this Rosebank would be another great May afternoon sipper. And that is all. The Rosebank experience doesn't end in a song.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - $260 was the 2011 SRP, it's quadrupled or quintupled in price in the decade since then
Rating - 86 (neat)

Friday, May 21, 2021

Two Port Charlotte private casks

(Port Charlotte cluster homepage)

Once upon a time, Bruichladdich distillery offered up private casks for all, right on their website. Those of you who went ahead and bought your own are some lucky sons of bi......rhting people (yeah, birthing people, that's the ticket). Those of you who bought your own casks of Port Charlotte, um, can we be friends?

I was very lucky to get in on bottle splits from two private Port Charlotte casks, both distilled in 2003, both from sherry hogsheads. It's the closest I'll ever get to the glory.


Port Charlotte 12 year old 2003, sherry hogshead #863, bottled by the distillery, 50%abv


The nose's two elements merge well. Peat, smoked fish, beach air and rotting kelp on one side. Plums, fruity cinnamon and cherry jam on the other. Hints of gunpowder and charred veg dot the background. Reducing it a little to 46%abv slightly calms the cask influence. More kiln and dried herb notes. Some mint and anise. Strawberry bubblegum!

The palate is SALTY, then smoky. Slightly meaty. Ah, cherry cola (complete with a fizziness). It gets much sweeter with time, developing notes of dried cherries and berries, as the cask moves to the front. It's much bitterer when diluted to 46%abv. It has a sharp raw bite and lots of soot, sort of Ardbeggish. Hints of almond extract and burnt raisins appear after a while.

It finishes sweet and smoky, and hotter than expected. Dried cranberries floating in Cherry Coke. Again, reducing it to 46%abv toughens it up. Burnt raisins, rooty bitterness and salty smoke remain.

I love how the cask and spirit play together in the nose, though it's more chaotic in the palate. In fact the palate's massive transition brought about with minimal dilution is a bit startling. The cask disappears and the whisky's age seems to get cut in half, if not a third. It's a bit wild overall, and one wonders if it was bottled at this age out of fear of a dropping abv, rather than the whisky being fully ready. It's still pretty good but it has a tough sparring partner.

RATING - 85 (neat only)



Port Charlotte 14 year old 2003, refill sherry hogshead #857, bottled by the Whiskybroker, 60%abv


The nose has at least three different gears. First, there's heavy smoke, seaweed, spun sugar and cherry jam. Next, it shifts to dried cherries and dried blueberries, almond butter and dark chocolate. Then, 30+ minutes in, the smoke eases off leaving behind a kind of toffee brittle. Reducing the whisky to 50% brings focus. Less cask, more spirit. Diesel, seaweed, smoked almonds and iodine.

There's less smoke in the palate than the nose. Rather it's grounded in earth and minerals, with hints of ginger ale and lemon juice, all wrapped in a gentle orchard fruit sweetness. It's very approachable for 60%abv. Dropping the ABV to 50% brings out wood smoke, brine and a touch of herbal bitterness. The sweetness remains mild, and picks up a slight metallic side.

The finish is magically less hot than its 12yo 50%abv sibling. It has a great balance of earth, minerals, nuts, citrus and sweetness. Diluting the whisky to 50%abv results in a finish that matches the palate, with little more savoriness.

A great cask. Though the nose is more complex, the palate is probably flawless. I adore the way its elements work together, and how welcoming it is despite its high strength. I cannot imagine having an entire freaking cask of whisky like this. Kudos to all involved.

RATING - 90



There must be some of you out there who've tried (or owned!) a Port Charlotte private cask. What was your experience? Has anyone tried the bloodtubs of ancient lore? Please comment below because I would like to live vicariously through you.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Assessing the Port Charlotte cluster at the halfway point

(Port Charlotte cluster homepage)

I'm enjoying this Port Charlotte cluster a lot more than the Kilchoman cluster. It's not just because the whiskies are better so far, but I like the once-a-week pacing. Though someone did suggest I speed up the Port Charlotte reviews, spacing out the tastings has kept me from getting burned out on these cask strength hammers. Sorry about that, Anonymous!

Port Charlotte single malt is not as "brutalist" as I'd remembered it to be. Only one of the whiskies has been "jagged and stark" (my words from the intro), specifically the PC5, understandably a bruiser at 63.5%abv and 5 years of age. Instead, there has been a variety of styles, with different mixes of fruits and nuts and complex phenolics appearing in each whisky. I'm quite smitten with a seaweed + miso note that keeps appearing, especially when it's countered by bright fruits.

The high quality of the PC series was no surprise, and I'm disappointed that Rémy Cointreau ended it. There would have been an audience for a PC or two made with the excellent Islay Barley malt, once the warehouses had enough stock. I don't mind enjoying the great Islay Barley vintages at their 50%abv release strength, but the "what ifs" won't go away.

Sadly, I cannot provide any consistency with my Port Charlotte + Wine Cask takes. Sometimes I want more cask variety, sometimes less. That's why I cannot be against all wine (or non-sherry fortified wine) cask releases. Sometimes, when a good blending team has the right casks and the right recipe, a balance is struck and a new complex whisky is born. Without those elements, the whisky results in one of those gruesome indie Murray McDavid single cask products.

Speaking of Murray McDavid (segue!), I'm hesitant to opine on who did Port Charlotte better: Mark Reynier's MMcD or Big Rémy. All of this cluster's whisky was distilled by Murray McDavid, while all but one of the non-PCs were bottled by Rémy, and all but one of the PCs were bottled by Murray McDavid. So there's a lot of crossover.

One thing has been consistent about these 13 whiskies; they were all official bottlings. It's time go older and off-road with the next 11 Port Charlottes. There will be indies, unique officials and a lot of teenage(!) single malt. I'm even opening up two of......hold on I'm getting the vapors......my bottles for the final week. 

<10yo Port Charlotte was great, will >10yo be even better?

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Pair 'a Mhors, or Two Glen Mhors

Yes, I know it's pronounced "Vor", you party poopers.

These two samples of Glen Mhor were obtained from Los Angeles Scotch Club events several years ago., and they've been staring up at me from the stash ever since. So, in continuing honor of Mathilda's seventh birthday the whiskies are being consumed.

I didn't like my sample photos, so I cobbled the above image from
these two Whiskybase sites:
here and here.

Glen Mhor 1965-1997 Gordon & MacPhail, 40%abv

The nose starts with whole wheat bread and Sambuca. Toffee and sesame oil follow next, then hints of smoke and mothballs. With time, the anise note switches to Good 'n Plenty candies .

Massive oaky bitterness weighs upon the entire palate. Somewhere in the middle there' s a spicy cigar's tobacco leaf wrapper. Hints of anise, eucalyptus and fig stay far beneath.

The small notes of cigar wrapper, eucalyptus and fig linger in to the finish, but tannins remain on top, and a mild sweetness sits in the middle.

This whisky was much darker than the other, which I thought was due to sherry casks or e150a. But perhaps it's from all that damned oak. Usually I criticize under-baked whiskies, but this one is over-baked to the point that it reminds me of Diageo's Orphan Barrel bourbons. Luckily, this one's intriguing nose and slight figginess lift it above, say, Forged Oak.

RATING - 80



Glen Mhor 28 year old 1976 Rare Malts, 51.9%abv


Candy shop, Sauvignon blanc, grilled pears and apple cider fill the nose, with softer notes of citrussy honey and saltwater taffy peeking out from the background.

Heather, stony minerals and lime lead the crisp palate. Subtle notes of croissant(!) and chile oil develop with time. Zero sweetness here.

It finishes with minerals, chile oil, flower petals and lime. Maybe a hint of smoke.

This is what happens when the casks don't overpower the spirit. It's bright but lean, reading like a cousin of yesterday's Littlemill, which is good company to keep. This Rare Malts series continues to live up to its reputation. I really did get into whisky a couple years too late.

RATING - 88



This illustrates how cask selection and warehouse management, rather than distillery "style", can determine a whisky's characteristics. In this case, it's difficult to believe these two whiskies came from the same distillery. One is all tannins and tobacco, while the other is crisply citrus and minerals. I'll always favor the latter.

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.)