...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

anCnoc 24 year old

Knockdhu distillery (home of anCnoc single malt) restarted production in 1989, after a six year closure. Like Arran and their 25yo, Knockdhu rightly stashed away some of those early casks for a future well-aged release. Those casks resulted in the early batches of this 24 year old whisky.

I try to check in on anCnoc single malt every couple of years. The 18yo and Cutter are very good, and the 12yo (43%abv edition) is pretty solid. Their marketing budget seems to be on the lean side and bottle flippers tend to stay away.

With a little bit of research, one can find the 24 year old selling for only 30% more than the 18 year old (in Europe), a price point that harkens back to cheaper days of yore. I had been considering blind-buying the whisky just when Dr. Springbank brought me a sample from his bottle.

Distillery: Knockdhu
Owner: Inver House Distillers (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Region: border of Speyside and Western Highlands
Age: minimum 24 years
Maturation: sherry casks and bourbon casks
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? No
(Thank you to Dr. Springbank for the sample!)


The nose is heavy on the sherry casks, and I do mean HEAVY. There's some lumber in there with the prunes, dried cherries, chocolate and anise. It develops smaller notes of carob bark, walnuts and pecans with time, gradually getting rootier and earthier. It shifts styles once reduced to 40%abv turning into nuts, toffee and baking spices. That's it, but it's spot on.

The palate has plenty of sherry cask influence, but there's less outright oak than on the nose. More oak spice than pulp. Honey, lime, minerals and a slight pepperiness make up the rest. It gets slightly nuttier and floral at 40%abv.

The finish feels limited to heat, roots and dried berries. Once diluted to 40%abv, it matches the 40%abv palate.


In the Taste Off between the anCnoc 24 and Arran 25, the Arran showed better balance and finish, though the anCnoc may have taken dilution better. I'm on the fence about the anCnoc's palate. Part of me enjoyed its restraint, while another part of me wanted something more from it, like more fruit or nuts or earth. Perhaps oxidation would bring something else out. Though it seems like I'm giving it a slagging, the 24yo is a good whisky and fairly priced. It just doesn't rise to must-have levels for me.

Availability - Available at many whisky specialists across Europe, and a few in the US
Pricing - €120-€170 in Europe, $220-$260 in the US
Rating - 84 (when diluted)

Monday, June 28, 2021

Arran 25 year old, 2020 release

OMG, there's an Arran 25 year old! Etc., etc., etc. Apparently I have turned into that person already. I frequently get the sort of "Wow, he's graduating high school? I remember his bris," thoughts all the time. Or maybe I remember brit milahs really well. I mean I've only been to four, so maybe I'm remembering snippings I didn't even attend. And why are you insisting that I talk about circumcised penises?

For those of us who haven't been paying attention, Isle of Arran Distillery was renamed Lochranza Distillery right around the time the owners opened a second Arran Distillery, Lagg, in 2019. To mark the new distillery's arrival and older distillery's name change, the Arran Single Malt range received a reboot. All new packaging (that still says Arran Arran Arran Arran Arran) appeared, the 14yo (my favorite official bottling) was dismissed, and a whole bunch of new NAS releases (what is this, 2015?) materialized.

Lochranza (neé Arran) began distillation in August 1995, and to my geeky pleasure the producers saved some of those early casks for today's 25 year old, which was released in October 2020 with the classic Arran presentation of 46%/NC/NCF. This almost makes up for my gripes above.

Distillery: Lochranza (the distillery formerly known as Arran)
Ownership: Isle of Arran Distillers
Age: 25 years (1995-2020)
Maturation: 65% bourbon casks / 35% sherry casks
Outturn: 3,000 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(from a bottle split)


The nose begins with a mix of almonds, walnuts, honey, clay and plums, in that order. With time, it gains hints of barley(!) and guava. It has the musty heft of something even older about it, though that's statistically impossible for this distillery. Reduced to 40%abv, it keeps that same combo of almonds, walnuts, honey, clay and plums, while adding in some golden raisins.

The palate has a dry, nutty sherry style. No prunes or black raisins. Almonds, walnuts and Brazil nuts take the lead, with smaller notes of honey, oranges and salt in the background. It picks up a good fresh blueberry note with time, and keeps an oily mouthfeel throughout. Once diluted to 40%abv, it keeps a similar style, though it gets toastier. Toasty nuts, toasty oak spices and toasty barley. A few fresh cherries and dried apricots show up in the background. It's neither sweet nor bitter.

It finishes with almonds, walnuts and blueberries, with a little bit of tartness around the edges. At 40%abv, the finish matches the palate's toastiness.


The retired 14yo was my favorite Arran expression because it balanced the oak and spirit characteristics nearly perfectly. The official 16, 17, and 18, as well the 20+ year old single casks all read too oaky for my palate. What surprised me about the 25 year old is that, though it feels like a long-aged whisky, the oak never overwhelms the recipe, as if these casks had a gentler spot in the Arran warehouse. Perhaps the bourbon casks were refills or hoggies, and/or the sherry casks had a subtler toast to them. As a result, it succeeds where the others could not. I don't know if it overtakes the 14, but I'd be happy to call this my favorite fancy Arran.

Availability - Still available at a few dozen European retailers
Pricing - €300-€500 (quite a range there)
Rating - 88

Friday, June 25, 2021

Port Charlotte 16 year old 2003 for Feis Ile 2020

(Port Charlotte cluster homepage)

Islay's Feis Ile went virtual last year, but the festival's limited edition bottlings were just as prevalent in the primary and secondary markets as ever. For the drinky fest, Bruichladdich offered up 3000 bottles of a Port Charlotte constructed from three so-called "parcels":

First parcel: refill hogsheads recasked into 1st-fill bourbon barrels in 2012

Second parcel: 1st-fill bourbon barrels recasked into former Sauternes casks in 2013

Third parcel: a mix of sherry, bourbon and virgin oak casks (no further specifics)

This sounds like a post-Thanksgiving garbage plate, but the old Longrow CV demonstrated that a mishmash could actually taste good. So, what the hell, how about another 16 year old Port Charlotte?

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Brand: Port Charlotte
Ownership: Rémy Cointreau
Age: 16 years (2003 - 2020)
Maturation: see notes above
Outturn: 3,000 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 55.8%
(from a bottle split)


Bright notes fill the nose, but they're not fruity or herbal or anything spirity, but they're bright woody notes, like coconut cream and ginger. There are some new tires in the background, with mint and mossy peat (peaty moss) in the middle. Lots of white chocolate. After 20 minutes, the nose develops notes of menthol and white peaches. Once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv, it reads much closer to a southern Islay style of heavy peat smoke, but with vanilla, white chocolate and coconut cream intruding from every direction.

The palate is sweet and peppery, with a big dose of woody bitterness. Lots of oak spice as well. The smoke quickly turns bitter, overwhelming smaller notes of umami, lemons and dessert wine. The bitter smoke remains after the whisky is diluted to 46%abv. The lemons, now joined by limes, grow tarter and louder. Gradually some sweeter oranges appear.

The finish is full of vanilla pudding and bitter smoke. There's a touch of dessert wine again, but it's more of a late harvest sauvignon than a Sauternes. I hate myself. At 46%abv, the whisky finishes with bitter smoke, green bell peppers and balsamic vinegar.


This the oakiest Port Charlotte I've ever had. The casks are so loud that this comes across more like one of Ardbeg's harebrained limited editions than an actual Port Charlotte. I'm baffled by the whiskybase scores because the whisky's zany nose is the only thing keeping my score from heading to offending levels. Perhaps I didn't "get" this whisky, but I'm glad I didn't get this whisky.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - I dare not quote the secondary price because it could double by next year at this rate
Rating - 83

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Old Overholt 114 Proof Rye vs. Old Overholt 11 year old Rye

Beam Suntory executed a dramatic reboot of the Old Overholt brand last year. Before that maneuver, a 40%abv bottling marked the entirety of the Old Overholt universe. The ubiquitous bottle was both the least offensive and least memorable cheap American rye whiskey on the market. Then in 2020, three new Overholts appeared: a Bottled-In-Bond, a 4 year old 114 Proof edition, and an 11 year old. Even the 40%abv was elevated to 43%. Though most companies have been using rebranding as a vehicle for price inflation, Beam elected to keep this brand's prices relatively low.

Normally I prefer ryes over bourbons, but my palate prefers Beam's bourbons over their ryes. That didn't stop me from buying the 114 Proof last year for about $30. Though readers/viewers had recommended the 11 year old, that one sold out quickly here in Ohio. To my delight, my friend Secret Agent Man provided me with a sample.

Continuing with the two-post theme of The Olds, here are my notes on the ryes:

Old Overholt 4 year old Straight Rye Whiskey, 114 Proof (57%abv), 2020 OH Release

OO's undisclosed rye mashbill reads very low-rye in this whiskey's nose. There are cherry lollipops, citrus blossoms, red Twizzlers, Cointreau and a hint of crushed fennel seeds. It picks up a subtle band-aid note when reduced to 46%abv. It keeps the flower blossoms, while adding some pollen. Lots of vanilla and caramel as well.

As expected, there's plenty of burn in the palate. Raw almonds, cherry lollies and halvah dwell beneath the heat. It gets sweeter with time, though the mouthfeel is always a bit thin. Once diluted to 46%abv, it gets even sweeter, while taking on woody bitterness and tangy citrus, becoming more and more tannic with time.

It finishes with cherry lollies, black pepper, salt and heat. At 46%abv, the tannins take over, leaving the sugar and pepper in the background.

Most of my rye gets consumed in cocktails, with Manhattans leading that parade. This rye results in a satisfactory nutty Manhattan, which may actually require more bitters and/or Carpano Antica than my usual recipe.

Originally there was no intention to dilute the 114 proof during the tasting, but curiosity got the better of me. I regretted that decision as the stuff in my glass turned right into oak juice. When neat, this rye is certainly better than the defunct 40%abv version, which was sort of a 70-point benchmark for my palate. I was surprised by how pretty and polite the nose was. And, aside from the oak and the heat, it was an easy whiskey overall. On the other hand, I opened my bottle eight months ago, and it's still half full. It really cannot compete with Old Forester Rye, which is also 36% cheaper than Old Overholt 114 Proof here in this state.

RATING - 78 (neat only)

Old Overholt 11 year old 2009 
Straight Rye Whiskey, 46.3%abv

The nose begins with a mix of orange peel and new carpet. Then strawberry popsicles, cinnamon and mint candy. MGP-style pickles and barrel char. Its floral (and alcohol) notes are subtler than the 114's

The palate offers oranges in various forms: Cara Caras, clementines and Pixy Stix. Quieter notes of tobacco, cracked pepper and flower petals merge well with the oranges, keeping the sweetness from going overboard.

The palate's cracked pepper note moves towards chile oil in the finish. The orange notes focus on those Pixy Stix, while subtler notes of rye bread crust, salt and fennel seed make it more interesting.

No, I did not put this in a Manhattan, nor did I dilute it. It's a good sipper at full strength, more of a drinker than a thinker. Though I certainly wish there was more depth, the orange notes were a lot of fun. I appreciate the Beam folks not watering the 11yo down to 40% or 43% because it wears its poison well without burning the drinker's face. And because the market is the market, $75 is probably about as low of a price as one can find for a rye of this age. If one can find it.


Monday, June 21, 2021

Revisiting Old Taylor bourbon: three 1980s bottlings

That's kind of the big question, isn't it?

Greetings my fellow olds! And a hello to all the papas (fathers and taters) out there who may or may not have had a drink on Father's Day!

As I type, it is that very day when our children celebrate our dumb asses for about a half an hour, maybe. When you read this, that day will have passed, and we are back on whatever terms we are normally on with our families. May those terms be peaceful.

In honor of Father's Day, I sat down in a restaurant for the first time in about 16 months, and scarfed down a bowl of tonkotsu ramen. Once my body (probably) processed all that pork belly and sodium, I prepped this here tasting of National Distillers-distilled Old Taylor bourbons of the past.

These are the final bits of bottles I'd opened in 2014 and 2015. I previously reviewed the 1985 and 1987, but not the 1989 for some reason. They're all 6 year olds, but the '85 and '87 were bottled at 43%abv, while the '89 was 40%abv. The '85 and '87 were gorgeous. I was less thrilled by a '91 bottling that was, like today's '89, bottled at 40%. I'd like to know what my palate thinks of this stuff now, six or seven years after opening the bottles, with the awareness that some of these may have oxidized a bit in that time.

Old Taylor 6 year old bourbon, 43%abv, bottled in 1985

The nose begins with an aromatic mix of rye seeds, fennel seeds and orange peel. Lemon candy, molasses, hay and cream soda follow next. There's also a note, right in the middle, that's like a rum cake made with Worthy Park.

Oh dear. The palate is viscous and very fruity. Think cherries, plums and peaches in a crazy pie. Yes, the famous National Distillers butterscotch note shows up on time. After 30+ minutes, smaller notes of citrus, fresh ginger and pepper appear.

The finish is just sweet enough without going overboard. Ginger, plums and tart cherries find balance with a slight rye bite.

As lovely as I'd remembered, though with different notes than my review from seven years ago. Drinking this, I had the same reaction that I do with dusty single malt scotch; this is a very different fluid than what is put in bottles today. Different textures and characteristics result in a very different (and better, IMHO) experience.


Old Taylor 6 year old bourbon, 43%abv, bottled in 1987

Though the nose has a hint of dusty mustiness, it's mostly a riot of desserts. Pound cake, vanilla ice cream, old cognac, almond extract, fruity cinnamon, milk chocolate and white peaches. Very American and French.

The palate reads heavier than the 1985 bottling. More butterscotch, oak spice and caramel sauce. It develops a bold tart lemon note with time, as well as some smaller notes of flowers and stone fruit skins. Like the '85 bottling, it has a thick mouthfeel.

It finishes with oak spice, cassis, lemons and a hint of butterscotch.

Again, this is truly from another era. More of a dessert pour (probably outrageous with ice cream) than the '85 bottling, this '87 bottling shows its depth more on the nose than the palate. It's no longer a 93-point whiskey, but that may be due to all the years in the sample bottle.


Old Taylor 6 year old bourbon, 40%abv, bottled in 1989

The nose begins with cherry candy and sweat, then it expands after 20 minutes of air. What first appears as a pear/guava cocktail drifts towards a pear tart. A hint of butterscotch here, a whiff of cinnamon custard there. Maybe some flowers in between.

The palate holds all sorts of cherry notes: fresh dark cherries, cherry candy, cherry Sudafed. Lots of caramel. LOTS of butter. Small notes of char and clementines beneath.

It finishes with tart cherries, a gentle woodiness and sakura-flavored tea.

This one is the closest to contemporary bourbon as the oaky seams begin to show. Normally I'm not a fan of buttery notes, but this one has enough fruit to balance it out. It was likely a very good bourbon, but today's competition was unfair. I seemed to have no problem with polishing off the bottle's other 23 fluid ounces, six years ago.



Tastings like these used to ruin me for contemporary bourbon for months, but since dusty bourbon prices are out of my range, I'll just have to appreciate what I have. I encourage you to do as well. And if there is something you've hidden away, something remarkable, what are you waiting for?

Friday, June 18, 2021

Port Charlotte 16 year old 2002 Dramfool, cask 243

(Port Charlotte cluster homepage)

16 year old Port Charlotte. It's a real thing! In fact, the final three reviews for this cluster will be of 16 year old Port Charlotte. I'm starting that run by ending this Dramfool review run with a 16yo distilled in 2002. While Monday's 14yo was from a sherry hoggie, and Wednesday's 15yo was from a bourbon hoggie, today's 16 spent its time in a first-fill bourbon barrel, though somehow it had a larger outturn than the 15's hogshead. As excited as I am to try these 16s, I'm going to moderate my enthusiasm because more age often doesn't translate to better Port Charlotte...

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Brand: Port Charlotte
Ownership: Rémy Cointreau
Independent Bottler: Dramfool
Age: 16 years (June 2002 - July 2018)
Maturation: first-fill bourbon barrel
Cask #: 243
Outturn: 221 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 60.5%
(from a bottle split)


The nose starts off with big, but controlled, peat. Then pine sap, apricots, lemon juice and honey. Snickerdoodle cookies and a hint of vanilla bean. It trends towards forest and earth with time. It becomes a very different experience once it's diluted all the way down to 46%abv. Citrussy smoke swirls around mangoes, cloves, cardamom, sandalwood and blood oranges. Yeah, I'm okay with this.

Lemons, brown sugar, smoke, soil and stones make up the palate. But those lemons, nice and tart, start to merge with the smoke after a bit, and then are joined by charred peppers. At 46%abv, the palate reads smokier than the nose. But it's not one dimensional. Lemon cookies, Thai Bitters (these, FWIW) and small savory notes develop after a few minutes.

It finishes with lemons and pepper oil. Earth and smoke. Just a little bit of sweetness. Down at 46%abv, it's all lemons, smoke, and a pinch of sugar. But the lemons!


Well done, you Dramfools. Between the nose's beautiful turn at 46%abv and the palate's perfect lemons, this whisky earns its 90 points. I probably won't be able to afford 20 year old Port Charlotte, but for those of you who will, this bodes very well for 20 year old Port Charlotte, said the man who just wrote, "more age often doesn't translate to better Port Charlotte." Also, Port Charlotte. Will that get me some more hot SEO action?

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 90

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Port Charlotte 15 year old 2001 Dramfool, cask 0847

(Port Charlotte cluster homepage)

Continuing the series-within-a-series, I bring ye some more Dramfool Port Charlotte. On Monday I reviewed a 14 year old bold sherry cask Port Charlotte distilled in 2004. Today, I'll be consuming a 15 year old hoggie distilled in PC's rookie year of 2001. This time there's no booming fortified wine cask to distract from the spirit, and, judging from the color of the whisky, the oak influence could be moderate to low. Trying not to get my hopes WAY UP...

Sample posing on top of a box of venereal disease

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Brand: Port Charlotte
Ownership: Rémy Cointreau
Independent Bottler: Dramfool
Age: 15 years (2001 - 2016)
Maturation: bourbon hogshead
Cask #: 0847
Outturn: 195 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 58.3%
(from a bottle split)


Two types of notes perch side-by-side in the nose. Category 1: peat, wet sand, ocean and kiln. Category 2: Oranges, apple cider and brown sugar. The fruit drifts through the background, while kiln and ocean stay up front. The brown sugar and ocean notes do expand after 30+ minutes. Lemon candy appears after the whisky is reduced to 46%abv, joining the kiln + ocean character. Smaller notes of rope and metal develop as well.

The palate starts off hot and very nutty. Sugar and salt appear next. Smaller notes of metal and cured meat show up momentarily. It feels like a big Caol Ila. After 30+ minutes, it all simplifies to smoke and sugar. It gets saltier and bitterer (in a good way) at 46%abv. Some beachy smoke and citrus drift in. It gets sweeter, again, with time, but the bitterness keeps it in check, sort of a swirl of citrus types.

It finishes peaty, salty, slightly metallic and very sweet. At 46%abv, there's a mix of salt, sweet oranges and beachy smoke.


This Port Charlotte comes across so polite compared to Monday's fireworks. The 15yo is familiar and very good, yet also indistinguishable from other Islays (see the Caol Ila comment in the notes). On one hand that means Port Charlotte has joined its much older neighbors in style. On the other hand, it required dilution to make it more interesting, as it gains the citrus+beach note I so enjoy in Ardmore and (again) Caol Ila. For those of you who have a bottle, you may find the whisky improves with more or less water.

That was my first ever 15 year old Port Charlotte. On Friday, I'll try my first (but not last) 16 year old PC. Stay tuned...

Availability - 
Secondary market

Pricing - ???
Rating - 86 (when diluted)

Monday, June 14, 2021

Port Charlotte 14 year old 2004 Dramfool for Feis Ile 2019

(Port Charlotte cluster homepage)

I'm just going to review three Port Charlottes this week because:

#1) What the hell, why not?
#2) See #1

All three of these Port Charlottes were released by Scottish independent bottler, Dramfool. Today's whisky is 14 years old, Wednesday's is 15, Thursday's is 16. (They also released a 13 year old, but it was from a "Jim McEwan Signature Collection" and a "1st Fill Pomerol cask", so that's a double no-thanks.) Three whiskies, three ages, three vintages. The 14 year old was from a first fill sherry hoggie, and the whisky's color is very dark. Is the PC spirit up to the challenge?

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Brand: Port Charlotte
Ownership: Rémy Cointreau
Independent Bottler: Dramfool
Age: 14 years (2004 - 2019)
Maturation: first-fill sherry cask
Outturn: 299 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 53.4%
(from a bottle split)


What a nose! Tar, burning tires, musty basement and Luxardo cherries. And that's just the start. How about some diesel, spent synthetic oil, toffee pudding and walnuts? And then......new car smell. The cask overwhelms the spirit once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv. There's less smoke and industry. More nuts (of the Brazil and hazel varieties), figs and dates.

The palate does a damned good job matching that fabulous nose, especially on the tar and basement notes. Bitter chocolate and burlap fills the background, while a crazy cocktail of Campari, tart limes and blackberry juice floats in the middle. Dropping the abv to 46%, rolls the cask out, way out. I mean it's very woody. Some good salt and kiln notes hover around the edges.

The palate's crazy cocktail morphs a bit in the finish. Now it's tart citrus, black licorice and Underberg, all wrapped up in burlap and tossed onto new asphalt. Yeah that makes sense. At 46%abv, the finish becomes more tannic. A little bit of citrus, salt and kiln remains.


This is a great example of a fun, loud Port Charlotte that is not 63+%abv. The power isn't in the poison, it's from all the other curious compounds floating around in the glass. The spirit and its vessel have their best matched tussle in the nose, and the palate works best when neat. In fact, I'd say keep water out of it, since dilution seems to do little but bring out A LOT of oak. When neat, it's quite a show, perhaps too much for some palates, but if you expected subtlety from a first-fill sherried Port Charlotte then that's your own issue.

Now that the tariffs seem to be on their way out, can some distributor haul some Dramfool bottles into the US? And not charge $300 for a teenage whisky?

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 89 (neat)

Friday, June 11, 2021

Port Charlotte 14 year old Batch 7, That Boutique-y Whisky Company

(Port Charlotte cluster homepage)

I've gotten into a habit of prefacing my That Boutique-y Whisky Company single malt reviews with paragraphs about how I've yet to be thrilled by one of their products. And then there are a few snipes about full bottle prices for half-bottle sizes. And some comments about their labels, etc.

But then I went ahead and bought one of their whiskies anyway. I love the idea of smaller bottles, especially those in the 200mL - 375mL range. The price on this 14yo wasn't horrifying, and the molecular label may be their most reserved piece of graphic design. Also I applaud their shift to using actual age statements, so I decided to support it with money.

These Port Charlotte batches are a bit confusing. Batch 5 has an identical ABV to Batch 7, and the age statement is the same, but it was released in another country. So are they really different whiskies? And why is Batch 8 priced 67% higher than Batch 7, while being one year younger? Clearly, I've become an easily confused, addled old man early in life.

Anyhoo, my bottle:

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Brand: Port Charlotte
Ownership: Rémy Cointreau
Independent Bottler: That Boutique-y Whisky Company
Age: 14 years (???? - ????)
Maturation: Not listed, but there's a sherry cask involved
Outturn: 662 bottles (375mL)
Alcohol by Volume: 51.1%
(from the top third of my bottle)

The tasting will be conducted backwards this time, as I try it diluted first, full strength second.

At 46%abv

The nose reminds me of the 10-12yo sherry cask Ledaigs Signatory cranked out pre-Covid. It's full of funky sneaker peat, roasted nuts and toffee. Ocean, kiln and farm form the middle. Hints of chocolatey coffee linger in the background.

The palate is all kiln and moss at first, massively smoky. A mix of brine, chile oil and wasabi appears next. After 20-30 minutes, the salt meets up with some citrus and farmy notes, bringing depth.

It finishes as loud as the palate and nose. All salt, chile oil and kiln smoke.

At full strength (51.1%abv)

The nose feels a bit tight at first, all mossy smoke and clementines. Then, gradually, it opens up with almond pastries, walnuts, hints of dried fruit, coffee and anchovies(!). As the sherry cask wakes up, it merges very well with the peat, creating a solid core.

Hotter than expected, the palate releases a bundle of lemons to go with all the smoke. Small to moderate notes of tar, bitter chocolate, cinnamon and dried grasses fill it out.

It finishes with bitter chocolate, cinnamon, kiln smoke and just a squeeze of lemon.


This is my favorite TBWC whisky by some distance, thank goodness. It's a challenging drinker for a humid June night, but I should have expected as much from Port Charlotte. I'm thankful the whisky wasn't bottled at a higher ABV because it's very heavy for 51.1%abv. But it's not oak soup nor sherry soup nor mezcal soup because there's no awkward separation between the moving parts. It's a good cask that was bottled at the right time, as far as I can tell.

I'm going to close this one back up until December or January because I'd rather drink it while sitting on my new balcony, appreciating the quiet winter, pretending my indigestion is really a soul beginning to thaw.

Availability - I don't know, but it was a USA-only release
Pricing - around $90 for a 375mL
Rating - 88 (maybe higher in winter)

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Revisiting Macallan 17 year old Fine Oak almost a decade later

It doesn't matter what anyone writes about Macallan. That distillery could do a limited release of bottles filled with smegma, and there'd still be 400 of those things on Scotch Whisky Auctions within 24 hours of the drop date.

So let me not focus on the gleaming present, but instead on the blurry past. Once upon a time, I held the unpopular view that the Macallan Fine Oak series was indeed quite fine. And while I often tell people that Yamazaki 18yo was the first $100+ whisky I dared to buy more than once, that's damned lie. Macallan 17 year old Fine Oak was my baller bottle for a number of years, with its powdery lavender label and the relatively light-colored Mac inside the glass.

Though I enjoyed Macallan 18 year old (Sherry Oak, to the Europeans) at first, I found it less and less interesting with each subsequent try. Diminishing returns and escalating prices. (A familiar tune?) This issue started to invade my Fine Oak experience, as my final bottle of the 17yo FO had much more sherry character to it than I cared for. If there was any sort of Macallan distillery character that was spirit-related, the best official route to it was via the partial-bourbon-cask Fine Oaks. Adding more sherry casks may have appealed to some drinkers, but it silenced what made the 17 year old Fine Oak joyous to me.

It has been eight years since my last sip of Macallan 17 year old Fine Oak. I have kept samples of my beloved (94 point!) 2010 bottling and the moderately thrilling 2012 bottling. They have been saved for this very moment. Probably.

Macallan 17 year old Fine Oak, bottled in 2010, 43%abv

The nose has a dry, nutty (maybe even a little briny) sherry note, neither overbearing or overwhelming, but part of a larger picture that includes dried apricots, roses and watermelon Jolly Ranchers. There's a little bit of toasted oak, a little bit of malt, and good dose of baked apples and brown sugar after the whisky sits in the glass for more than 30 minutes.

The early palate holds a surprising amount of barley and ripe orchard fruit sweetness. It slowly picks up salt, lemons and just a hint of dried fruits. It gets sweeter with time, and is much much too drinkable.

Fresh and dried pineapple give the finish a nice twist. Small notes of salt, malt and flowers float in the background, while more oak and sugar develop with time.

This is still very good whisky all these years later, though not as mind blowing as I once judged it to be. The nose is its true highlight, bearing plenty of gentle, pretty characteristics that would offend no one. As noted above, the palate remains very comfy and well-constructed and ...... suddenly the glass is empty. It was nice while we had it.


Macallan 17 year old Fine Oak, bottled in 2012, 43%abv

Its nose is quiet at the start, requiring extra time to wake up. The sherry note appears first, reading meatier and prunier than the 2010 bottling. Golden raisins appear next, followed by tapioca pudding, peach hand lotion, grilled fish(!) and a hint of peppery sulfur. With time it tilts more towards dried fruits (raisins and berries) and dried flowers.

The palate is very spicy, a mix of cracked peppercorns and oak spices. Black raisins in molasses. Salty rocks and lemon candy. Plenty of tannins crowd the edges.

It's all black raisins, oak spice and tannins in the finish. It gets much sweeter with time, almost reading like a PX after 45 minutes.

Of the two, this one is more unique and more problematic. To dispute my impressions from 8+ years ago, the sherry isn't louder, it's just messier, which makes for a lot of fun in the nose. But then the oak comes crashing into the palate, which is a shame because it seemed as if there was something a little weirder and more adventurous in store. Not bad though. I'd drink it any time.


Final Thoughts

The quality gap between these two whiskies closed considerably. Maybe it's my palate, maybe it's the samples. They are different whiskies though. Despite Macallan's considerable efforts to keep their whiskies the same, year after year, things do change because whisky is a mischievous thing. Or perhaps the recipe for the 17 year old Fine Oak changed at the end of its existence, with the cleaner sherry casks going to the more famous 18 year old Sherry Oak.

One final final thought. Don't keep samples sitting around for 8-10 years. Even these relatively recent whiskies started taking on a soapy note around the 45-minute mark. Dustier whiskies, especially bourbons, often do the same when their samples sit in a box for a long time. Drink your whisky!

Monday, June 7, 2021

Two Glenburgies distilled in June 1995

After last Friday's Glenburgie review, I decided to extract my two other Glenburgie samples from their deep storage for today's writeup. As it turns out, these two were distilled within eight days of each other, come hogsheads, and are only a year apart in age. Each is from a well-trusted bottler, Signatory and Archives, and (due to cask numbering) I have a sneaking suspicion they both matured in Signatory's warehouses. Both samples arrived via bottle splits.

Here they go:

Glenburgie 23 year old 1995 Signatory, hogsheads 6534 + 6536, 415 bottles, 55.2%abv

The nose feels a little tight on this one. Nothing takes the fore. Apricots, barley, lemon and thyme are in the midground. A slight leafiness, some toasted oak and a few white gummy worms are in the background. When reduced to 46%abv, the nose feels even shorter and hotter. It's woody, with small notes of lemon, brine, dried herbs, apricots and wildflowers. Diluting it down to 40%abv, wakes it up! Musty fruit and dunnage notes appear. The wood recedes, while the dried herbs move forward.

The neat palate is hot, but fruity. I'm thinking lemons and limes, mildly sweet but mostly tart. Some ground pepper around the edges. Sugary bourbon cask notes arrive after 30 minutes. It's sweet and simple at 46%abv with plenty of vanilla and oak spice, as well as lemon and black pepper. 40%abv suits it well here, too. There's more tart citrus, less vanilla and mellower sweetness. Easy drinking.

Pepper and lemons and heat in the finish. It's also a bit drying, though some sweetness appears later on. More tannins and vanilla appear at 46%abv, though the lemon remains. It holds a good sweetness at 40%abv, and ginger joins the lemon.

I was about to pass this one off as big "meh", but diluting it aggressively brought out its best sides. One may still rightfully expect more of a 23 year old Speyside, especially from a solid distillery like Glenburgie. Its role in longer-aged Ballatine's blends becomes obvious here.

Availability - May actually still be available in Europe, three years later
Pricing - $125-$150 or so
Rating - 84 (with lots of dilution)

Glenburgie 24 year old 1995 Archives, hogshead 6315, 237 bottles, 55.6%abv

Oh my, what a different thing. The nose is positively packed with fruits: papaya, lemon, grapefruit and dates. There's also plenty of malt, toffee and nutmeg, with a hint of copper in the background. It combines a lovely fermented fruit note with a whiff of mizunara-like spice. The fermented note remains once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv. Oranges and fresh herbs appear, mixing with the other fruits and malt.

Those great fruits show up in the palate, too! Maybe some yuzu, floral white peaches, and ginger powder as well. An excellent overall mix of tart and sweet stuff. It also has a creamy dessert note in the background that feels more like malt than oak. At 46%abv, it has a big fruitier second gear. First it's, "Mmmmm." Then it's, "Wow!" That is all. Okay, also mango.

The nose's mizunara-esque spice note shows up in the looooong finish, as do the grapefruits, yuzus and white peaches. It has that subtle creaminess, and a drop of chili oil to give it extra zing. At 46%abv, it's a bunch of mangoes, lemons, and smiles.

These two whiskies highlight the difference a cask can make. The first one was alright. This one was Alright Alright Alright. With its fruit and richness, this 24yo is like a cousin of earlier Longmorn generations. The thought of diluting it pained me, but it flies high even with water. No wonder it has such a high score at Whiskybase. People aren't just kissing Menno's and CJ's asses (if they're still holding court). If you have a bottle of this Glenburgie, I hope you open, enjoy and share it!

Availability - All gone
Pricing - ???
Rating - 90

Friday, June 4, 2021

Glenburgie 23 year old 1989 Chester Whisky

I've found 15+ year old Glenburgie to be a very agreeable whisky, mostly because it has The Fruits. Wednesday's Irish whiskey was also fruity, but there was an oaky battle going on. Today's Glenburgie is of a similar age to that Knappogue Castle, just two years its elder. It's a single cask from the Chester Whisky & Liqueur Company, an independent bottling company that closed up shop seven years ago. As a result my first Chester whisky may also be my last, unless anyone wants to send me a free case of their '88 sherry cask Littlemill.

Distillery: Glenburgie
Region: Speyside (Moray)
Owners: Pernod Ricard
Independent Bottler: Chester Whisky & Liqueur Company
Age: 23 years (1989 - 2012)
Maturation: Bourbon barrel
Outturn: 212 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 54.8%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(thank you to My Annoying Opinions for the sample!)


The nose begins curiously. It's like huffing a bag of Wonder bread in a freshly painted kitchen. Face out of the bag, one can now smell butter, orange oil and overripe bananas. After about 30 minutes, notes of nectarines and black Twizzlers develop in the background. Its style shifts a bit once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv. Dried coriander, lemon and malt arrive first, followed by yellow bell peppers and orange oil.

Bread and butter on the palate. Lots of vibrant lemon, some savory-peppery spice. Hints of nectarines and honey around the edges. At 46%abv, there's less bread and more fruit, specifically lemon zest. Chile oil, fresh herbs and a pinch of salt as well.

It finishes saltier and tangier than the palate, with hints of nectarine and honey in the back. At 46%abv, the whisky finishes with salt, lemon and malt.


A bit of an odd duck, this whisky is difficult to score or even summarize. Unlike the younger and lighter KC21, the bourbon barrel here never intrudes. On the other hand, the bread notes were unexpected and considerable, and I struggled to see beyond them. I liked the lemon notes, and wished there were more fruits in play. Diluting the whisky solved most of those challenges.

Mr. M.A.O. had a somewhat different experience than I, preferring it neat and enjoying it more, though we did find some of the same characteristics. As usual, I'm more of an arse, which is easy because he's a sweetie pie.

Where was I? Oh yeah, more Glenburgies next week!

Availability - Gone
Pricing - I think this was about $100, eight years ago
Rating - 82

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Knappogue Castle 21 year old Irish single malt

At 46%abv, triple-distilled Knappogue Castle is my preferred contemporary version of the Bushmills single malt; if it's still being sourced from Bushmills. My nose tells me that at least TPS's excellent 12yo single cask was from The Ulster, and it reports the same about today's limited edition 21 year old.

I got pretty excited about seeing this release, as well as Tullamore Dew's 18yo, just before Covid crashed, but I paused (as always) at the prices. The TD18 is around $120 but is watered down to 41.3%abv, while this 46%abv KC21 is $200. They both had limited outturns, though KC21 comes from only first-fill bourbon barrels, while the TD18 was fashioned from five cask types.

Though I haven't sourced a sample of Tullamore Dew 18, I did get in on a wee bottle split of the Knappogue Castle.

Brand: Knappogue County
Owner: Castle Brands, Inc.
Distillery: Old Bushmills Distillery (probably)
Location: County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Type: Single Malt
Distillations: Three
Age: minimum 21 years
Maturation: first-fill bourbon barrels
Outturn: 1,200 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? Maybe?
(from a bottle split)


Well, hey, if you told me this was the 12yo single cask, I would have believed you. There's a fruit basket in the nose: apples, pears, honeydew and apricots. Confectioner's sugar, honey and vanilla bean in the midground. Brine and mint leaves in the background. At 40%abv dilution indeed dilutes. There are some flowers, peach skins, apricot skins and lots of vanilla.

The palate is where the 21 splits from the 12. There's a combination of tannin, vanilla and apricots that's reminiscent of an oaky American chardonnay. The rest of the fruits — like tart lemons, pears and nectarines — are in the background. With time the tannins recede, while vanilla, honey and a hint of malt take over. The palate does not fade away once the whiskey is reduced to 40%abv. Oak spice and vanilla are up front, while lemons, apricots and toasted cashews are in the back.

During the early sips, the oak remains calm in the finish. Pears, nectarines and flowers make up most of the show. But after 20-30 minutes, bitter oak creeps in. Diluted to 40%abv, the whiskey's finish gets tarter and fills with vanilla.


First-fill bourbon casks are at play here. Not virgin oak or teeny casks or refried barrels. First-fill berbin containers. Thus all the vanilla, moderate barrel char and honey notes. But I'm here for the fruits, and they're loudest and prettiest in the nose. They're available in the palate and finish but have to share the stage with the white oak. It's a nice experience overall, and I could sniff this stuff all day, but I liked that 12yo single cask slightly better. And that's if they were both $40...

Availability - USA and Europe
Pricing - $190-$250
Rating - 84