...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Willett Family Estate 8 year old rye, barrel 1433

MGP's 95%-rye recipe is the best rye whiskey in the world. FIGHT ME. Actually don't fight me, I'm kinda scrawny and have no rotator cuffs to speak of. That's right, I'll never grow up to be the ambidextrous knuckleball-flinging middle reliever I dreamt of becoming. So here I am, medicating drinking booze on a school night during baseball season.

Long-long-longtime readers may remember that I absolutely adore Willett's single barrels of MGP rye. I dip into the stuff once every other year to make sure the quality remains sharp. This time, I thought I'd bring you with me. Wish I could share the whiskey with you, my one reader! Instead, here's my first Willett rye review in nearly six years.

Distillery: MGP's own Ross & Squibb Distillery
Bottler: Willett Distilling Company
Range: Family Estate Single Barrel (WFE)
RegionBardstown, Kentucky (Distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana)
Type: Straight Rye Whiskey
Age8 years
MaturationNew American Oak
Barrel: 1433
Alcohol by Volume57.4%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

Sure there's rye bread aplenty in the nose, but it's snuggled within layers of fresh apricots and plums, anise, flower blossoms, sour apple candy, brown sugar, and brine (more ocean than pickle).

It's very, very drinkable at this strength, with the palate balancing sea salt, sweet plums, tangy chiles, bitter raw cocoa, and hints of butterscotch hard candies. It gains mint, blackberry juice, and a little bit of pipe tobacco after 30+ minutes in the glass.

The finish holds onto many of the palate notes. Tangy chile peppers, tangy berries, sweet plums, and lots of salt. A little bit of wood smoke and mint leaf in the background too.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

After this tasting, I feel very reassured that my senses haven't totally collapsed into cynicism. Willett's MGP rye still works wonders on my palate. Yum.

The word "balance" gets overused on this blog, but I rarely wield it when reviewing American whiskies, as those spirits tend to be almost entirely about oak extraction. And the enormity of rye spirit doesn't really offer symmetry as one of its features. But, damn, this 8 year old rye barrel's got it, from the nose to the palate to the finish. Grand spirit and stellar cask management meet again. And to think I complained when this stuff was $80.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - *looks, sighs, shrugs*
Rating - 90

Monday, August 28, 2023

Chichibu 2017 W for Seibu Department Store

I usually commit two weeks of old spirit reviews in honor of my own age ticking up one more year, but 2023 will be different. This second week is all about stuff I like; two brands I adore and one secret beloved pour. Sorry for the rhyme, kinda.

Today: Chichibu, my favorite Japanese distillery. Yes, my favorite. Once Yamazaki and Yoichi start offering up obtainable and delicious (and preferably age-stated) whisky again, then a Taste Off will be in order. As noted in previous reviews, my palate says Chichibu is the only new distillery, anywhere in the world, whose output matches or surpasses its hype. Sadly, their primary and secondary market prices are very very very very very steep. But if you go to Japan, you may find a good number of whisky bars with Chichibu surprises awaiting your glass.

I just checked, and today's 'Bu is my last sample. ­čś┐  For now. ­čś╝  It's also a pour about which I know nearly nothing.

Seibu, Ikebukuro.
Their restaurants and food merchants look awesome. I must go there next time.
(pic source)

Each year, from 2015 to 2020, the Seibu department store(s) sold a pair of exclusive cask strength Chichibu bottlings, an "S" whisky and a "W" whisky. I can tell you that the bottles' listed year, like "2017", refers to the bottling year, not the distillation year. But I'm not sure what the "S" and "W" refer to. The Ikebukuro store carries the "W" appellation on some Japanese sites, so is there an "S" store too? Can anyone help a brother out here?

Anyway, today's baby bomber has that "W" on the label. Will that "W" = "Winner"?


Distillery: Chichibu #1
Location: Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture, Japan
Ownership: Venture Whisky
Range: Ichiro's Malt
Bottled: 2017
Age: ???
Maturation: ???
Outturn: ???
Exclusive to: Seibu
Alcohol by Volume: 61%
(from a bottle split)

NEAT

Key lime pie, ground cloves, and yuzu gelatin fill the nose's foreground. A carrot-ginger-orange juice sits in the middle. Background hints of brine and paprika offer a fun twist. Unsurprisingly the alcohol content bites back in the palate. Once the tongue recovers, one may find lots and lots of malt, followed by mint leaves and baked apples. Ultra-tart citrus and a touch of mango arrive in later sips. The key lime pie returns for the finish, as does as the mango and barley.

DILUTED to ~50%abv, or 1¼ tsp of water per 30mL whisky

It's a different whisky now. The nose has different fruits (honeydew and lemons), a hint of dessert (hazelnuts and vanilla), and a bit more edge, with bold ocean and concrete notes. The mildly sweet palate is full of creamy barley things, with a squeeze of orange in the background. The finish matches the palate, while also bringing in a hint of yeast.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

In my limited Chichibu experience (~15 bottlings), I've found their each of their whiskies fitting into one of three categories: 1.) Reads older than its age; 2.) Unreasonably beautiful youth; 3.) Close to new make. Today's 'Bu plops into the 3rd group. The nose wins (of course), but I always enjoy barley-forward palates. At the same time, the palate feels limited compared to the distillery's other offerings, and it even lost some complexity when diluted. While the whisky plays in a different league than the vast majority of the world whisky market's other ultra-young bottles, it's not the distillery at its best. I'd still drink it any day, though!

Availability - Secondary market?
Pricing - I ain't looking
Rating - 84

Friday, August 25, 2023

Birthday Booze: Speyside 45 year old 1973 TWE, Magic of the Cask

I'm 10 years old!

When attempting to source whiskies that match my actual age, I'm mostly limited to these 1970s teaspooned Glenfarclas, er, "Blended Malts". (See a 41yo here and a 43yo here.) That's what the market offers. The majority of 40+ year old whiskies ain't getting split. Hell, I don't think they're even being opened anymore. Today's "Speyside" will be the penultimate not-Glenfarclas I will review. I'll just have to get more creative as the birthday number increases.

Today's Glenfarclas Speyside is from The Whisky Exchange's Magic of the Cask range bottled for their 2019 Whisky Show. Its 549-bottle outturn and 45.1%abv has me thinking it was recasked into a sherry butt at some point towards the end of its life. Maybe from a pair of casks? Anyway, it has a good drinking strength, so I'm going to drink it.

Distillery: Glenfahrvergn├╝gen
Region: Speyside, perhaps?
Independent Bottler: The Whisky Exchange
Range: Magic of the Cask, for The Whisky Show 2019
Age: 45 years old (1973 - 2019)
Maturation: sherry butt
Cask #: 6
Outturn: 549 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 45.1%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

The nose shows off the old pretty cask, starting with dried apricots, almond extract, and old furniture. Candied ginger + baked apples, then peaches + clover honey with a metallic hint in the background. Old stamp glue and potpourri. The old wood note expands with time.

The palate begins with a blast of oak spices and toasted coconut. The subsequent sips bring tart oranges, macrons, very sweet lemon candy, and just a little bit of hot cocoa mix around the edges. It gets tarter and more tannic with every sip.

The finish sheds the tartness and goes all in on the sweets and oak. Baked apples, lemon candy, and plain ol' sugar meets eucalyptus + big peppery tannin.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

I'm going to be the party pooper here. Whiskybase has it at nearly 90 and WhiskyFun has it at 89 (twice). Those scores are very generous. And I get it. Old whisky critters inspire compassion and wistfulness. Hell, my score might be on the optimistic side as well.

This is oak juice, very good oak juice, but still oak juice. Sometimes oak juice can be lovely and moderately complex, but it frequently isn't. I'm not saying this is one dimensional 45yo stuff — a lot of bright fruity bits break through — but it's the simplest of this week's three whiskies. At times it seems like an old single grain, though it has the silky mouthfeel and texture that seem to come from only 100% malt. To end on a more positive note, this does seem to be a lot better than the 41yo Speyside from four years back. Perhaps Year 45 will be better than Year 41 for yours truly; I certainly hope so!

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 85 (probably too charitable)

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Birthday Booze: Glen Ord 25 year old 1978

I reviewed Glen Ord 30 in 2015, then the 28 year old in 2018, and now the 25 year old...

This Glen Ord Thrillogy was released as part of Diageo's annual once-actually-special Special Releases: the 28yo in 2003, the 25yo in 2004, and the 30 in 2005. It's a darned shame they stopped there. Or rather they didn't. Teenage Glen Ord Special Releases arrived in 2019 and 2022, but were aged in recharred hoggies and wine casks because......?

Enough of dwelling in the recent past! Rather, it's time to indulge in ancient times with one of the last 1978 samples in my whisky closet.

Distillery: Glen Ord
Owner: Diageo
Region: Northern Highlands
Range: Special Release
Age: 25 years (1978-2004)
Maturation: ????????????
Outturn: 3600 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 58.3%
(from a bottle split)

NEAT

Yep, fruits in the nose! These apricots, kiwis, and mangoes get riper and muskier with time. Mineral/stone notes provide support in the midground, while toffee pudding, almonds, and toasted oak fill the background. Similar to its sparring partner, the 43yo Cadenhead blend, this Glen Ord offers quite the musty dusty palate, focusing on old books and dunnage at the start. Tart guavas and lemons give it a big zing, and there's plenty of earth in the background. It finishes herbal and musty with a touch of lemon and a lllllllllot of length.

It's a bit monolithic at this strength. Time to add water...

DILUTED to 50%abv, or 1 tsp of water per 30mL of full strength whisky

The nose starts off......the same? Ah, but then blood oranges and lemonade powder appear with a hint of dunnage in the background. Much of the palate's mustiness is replaced with gentle wood smoke. The blood oranges show up here too, with some bitterer citrus in the back. The finish grows sweeter and tangier, keeping the good length.

More?

DILUTED to ~43%abv, or >2 tsp of water per 30mL of full strength whisky

A simpler nose now, with butterscotch candies, blood oranges, roses, and dunnage. The palate's elements come together well here, with citrus + nuttiness + dunnage. Toasted nuts and sharp citrus fill the finish, with a little bit of dustiness in the distance.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

I did not anticipate diluting this whisky, but I'm so glad I did. It wallops at full strength, shines at 50%abv, and balances at 43%. The grand blood oranges mix with the mustiness perfectly, and it never gets too sweet. The 30yo reigns supreme, and the 28yo is probably more complex, but this one may be the most flexible. And it's just damned good stuff, often seeming even older than its stated age. Like me!

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - I can't look
Rating - 90 (diluted)

Monday, August 21, 2023

Birthday Booze: William Cadenhead 43 year old Blended Whisky

This may be the first time my birthday has approached much too quickly for my liking. Can't I have a few more months??? 

As happens during Earth's solar years, things occurred since the last birthday. My daughters are now both in public school, not too far from my apartment. I jumped onto The Dating Train, then nine months later, I emphatically threw myself from it. It was not a soft landing. In other news, an increasingly gray beard grew on my face for several months before being removed. Travel continued: I enjoyed another two beautiful weeks in Japan in the spring, then Mathilda and I took our first long distance father-and-daughter trip in the summer. My last grandparent, my maternal grandfather, passed away at the age of 95. Ninety-five years. Three decades of cigarette smoking, nearly eight decades of beer drinking, and never a vegetable to be found on his plate. I'm doing it wrong. Happy 45th to me!

The older I get, the more challenging it is to select "Birthday Booze" that's relevant to my age. This appears to be a forever thing. Thankfully, I found a 1970s trio for this week.

In honor of the passing of Mr. Hedley Wright, the chairman of J&A Mitchell (owners of Springbank, Glengyle, and Cadenhead) for sixty years, I'm finishing up my big bottle split of Cadenhead's own 43-year-old blended whisky today. (No, I'm not 43, but I don't have a 44yo spirit other than my own!) The rumored ingredients are: 55% Invergordon and a 45% mix of Glenfarclas and Glenlivet...

pic source
Distilleries: Invergordon, Glenfarclas, and Glenlivet (allegedly)
Bottler: Cadenhead
Type: Blended Scotch
Age: 43 years (197? - 201?)
Maturation: ?????
Outturn: 624 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 44.2%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

Nuts and sugars unite in the nose: walnuts, almonds, and candied pecans meet toffee and caramel sauce. Softer notes of orange oil, mushrooms, and band-aids appear after 30 minutes, then dried apricots and nutty whole grain bread at the 50-minute mark. 

Dusty things, like old books, mild wood smoke, and cigar ash start the comfy palate, followed by sweet oranges and raw almonds. Layers of oak spices and bitterness build in the background.

The finish lingers awhile thanks to all the old oak. It's also dusty and mildly smoky like the palate, with a hint of tangy limes. Despite a big caramel note in the finale, it's not too sweet.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

It wouldn't shock any of us if at least one of the two malt elements had entered "spirit drink" territory below 40%abv, judging just by the blend's ABV. Then the whisky itself proves it. Though the casks feel exhausted, they shan't be shamed, since they've trod a 43-year marathon, at minimum. That old creaky wood produced a very good nose and an easy palate with some charming earthy hints in both. It's older and better than JW Blue Label, so good on Cadenhead for this blend's original reasonable price.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - around €200 in 2019
Rating - 85

Friday, August 18, 2023

Irish Single Malt 26 year old 1988 The Whisky Agency, The Perfect Dram

If you've followed any of the major whisky writers (online or in print) you have likely seen them sing the praises of 20+ year old Irish single malts distilled in the late '80s and early '90s. There's one reason why they do so. The whiskey is delicious. That's the reason. And why is it delicious? Frooooooooooot. Fruit. The fruitiness can be kind of outrageous. One only wonders if Bushmills (oops, I said it) can ever reach these heights, or even a suggestion of this style, again. One need only compare the '80s Bushmills blend with the current version to see that something has been lost even at 3 years and 40%abv.

This is my first review of one of those well-regarded Irish malts distilled in the late '80s, and likely my last. Sourcing something like this has gotten nearly impossible. I wonder if anyone opens these bottles anymore or just flips them while citing Whiskyfun 90+ point reviews. Well, here comes a 90+ point D4P review.

Distillery: Old Bushmills Distillery (maaaaaaybe)
Location: County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Bottler: The Whisky Agency
Range: The Perfect Dram
Age: 26 years (1988-2015)
Maturation: bourbon barrel
Outturn: 201 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 50.7%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

Oh. Oh baby, the nose. I'll list it in order. Mangoes + peaches + a little bit of guava. Watermelon + jasmine blossoms + apricots. Kiwis. Hints of dandelions and toffee! All those fruits get sugarier with time, and honeys pour in.

It's easier for me to form thoughts about the silky palate. Guava and grapefruit juices mix with honey and a pinch of sea salt. Little bits of menthol, wormwood, and bitter citrus keep things from getting too sweet. There are even herbal and grassy characteristics in the background.

The whiskey leaves behind a tart aura(?!) with a dusting of sugar in the finish. Kiwis, guavas, and bitter citrus peels sink into the tongue, and I'm not sure when the sensation ends.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

Heaven for fruit lovers. On the nose, this liquid reads like some beautifully crafted juice. How did barley, yeast, water, and wood turn into this? The palate is more whiskey-bound, complex and perfectly balanced, yet definitely......whiskey. Of course I want more More MORE, but I don't think anyone makes stuff like this anymore, anywhere. Meanwhile, my time machine is in the shop, indefinitely. As always, I encourage everyone to open their bottles and share. Please enjoy together. Cheers!

Availability - Maybe the secondary market, but...
Pricing - ...I won't look
Rating - 92

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Teeling Single Pot Still Whiskey, 09/2019 batch

Back when I raved about Irish whiskey, it wasn't regarding the young brash Cooley upstart, rather the Midleton Machine won me over. Cooley's single malts rarely appealed to my palate, which may have cost me some hipster cred.

Today there are many more Irish distillers, and I want to support them, but their prices have kept me away. For instance, I was on the Dingle peninsula for a weekend and saw a few moments of Dingle distillery's construction. I was so excited! And then their minimally-aged single malts came out with $80-$120 price tags. And then I was less enthused. Meanwhile, I've lost interest in all of Midleton's blends, and keep waiting for Bushmills to release some age-stated stuff with a reasonable ABV. Waterford's "Irish Terrior! But Also Lots of French Wine" approach seems to be an oxymoron, and it shows in the whiskey. And then there's Teeling.

I've only had Teeling's Small Batch blend, which works well enough with its rum casks. But really I've only tried versions that used sourced whiskey. Their Single Pot Still expression was the first of their releases to use only Teeling Distillery's spirit. Today's version is (I think) the fourth overall batch. Time for some baby pot still!

Distillery: Teeling
Style: Single Pot Still
Location: Dublin, Ireland
Owner: The Teeling Family
Age: 3-4 years old
Mashbill: 50% malted barley + 50% unmalted barley
Maturation: Maybe ex-bourbon, ex-wine, and virgin oak? Maybe not?
Bottling year: 2019
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

The nose starts with some very raw spirit, like a cross between new make and white dog. Essentially grain eau de vie with baker's yeast. Lots of cinnamon with smaller notes of apricot jam and apple sauce.

It's a relatively easy drinker considering its youth, though mostly one dimensional. The palate is heavy on barley, with some golden raisins, Granny Smith apples, and cinnamon. After 20+ minutes a brighter note of lemon marmalade on soda bread appears.

Honey, apples, cinnamon, and peppercorns fill the finish, with a burst of Apfelwein appearing in later sips.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

This batch reads like a work in progress, an early revenue generator. One hopes current versions would have a bit of 7-8 year old whiskey in the mix. I haven't run out to buy a bottle because this batch tastes of $30 whiskey, and the current price on this expression is at least twice that amount. The 46%/nc/ncf presentation does keep the whiskey honest, and the spirit withstands whatever casketry was employed. I will root for Teeling's success, but I'll pass on this whiskey unless someone puts it on sale someday.

Availability - specialty retailers worldwide
Pricing - $55-$85 (USA), $40-$70 (elsewhere)
Rating - 77

Monday, August 14, 2023

Gold Spot 9 year old Single Pot Still Whiskey

I still try to keep up with the the Spots even though they aren't my favorite Irish whiskey brand. It all started with Green Spot, then came Yellow Spot, Blue Spot, Red Spot, a bunch of winey Green Spots, and then the limited edition Gold Spot that I'm reviewing today.

The current version of the standard Green Spot does nothing for me, but the Yellow and Red are pretty decent, at an indecent price. Gold Spot sold for less than Yellow, Blue, and Red, while also possessing an elevated ABV, which is potentially good news, but note the past tense of "sold" from the beginning of this sentence. Because the whiskey is "limited" and everyone is trying to wring every desperate penny out of every whisk(e)y bottle, most of the American retailers on WineSearcher have doubled or tripled the SRP on Gold Spot.

I don't know, y'all. Down the hatch!

pic pilfered from
a hacker of drinks

Brand: Spot
Spot Color: Gold
Style: Single Pot Still
Country: Ireland
Distillery: Midleton
Owner: Pernod Ricard
Age: at least 9 years
Maturation: a mix of bourbon, port, sherry, and Bordeaux casks
Bottling year: 2022
Alcohol by Volume: 51.4%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? Probably
(from a bottle split)

NEAT

As anticipated (see the above list of casks), there's a lot of nose traffic. In one lane there's saline, chalk, kirsch, wet grass, and something vaguely smoky. Next lane over: unripe banana and hints of perfume and steel wool. Then, of all things, hot cotton candy waits in the turning lane. Less crowding in the palate. Pineapple, lime, and cardamom arrive first. Then some dingy fun pot still youth, wrapped up in burlap. And then there's the hot cotton candy again. It's in the finish as well, along with oak spice and sweet citrus.

DILUTED to 46%abv, or ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whiskey

Desserts everywhere! Banana pudding, Rolos candies, and circus peanuts in the nose's foreground. Saline and toasted oak in the background. Toasted oak encircles butterscotch, sweet apples, and pineapples in the palate, with hints of burlap and bitter oak. The circus peanuts return in the finish, hovering over orange peels and burlap.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

I'm not sure all the parts come together in this one, though thankfully all those seasoned casks couldn't kill off the pot still spirit. The whiskey is too sugary and oaky when diluted, but it works at full strength because the fruits provide a foothold. As odd as the cotton candy notes may sound, they were kinda fun; much better than the circus peanuts. It really is a dessert drink, one I'd choose over the Green and Blue Spots, but certainly not at its price point.

Availability - 
US, UK, and (maybe) Ireland

Pricing - all over the place: $130-$300
Rating - 83 (neat)

Friday, August 11, 2023

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Joseph Magnus Cigar Blend Bourbon, batch 58 "Darth Vader"

I tried one of these Joseph Magnus Cigar Blend batches earlier this year; though I don't remember the batch, it was finished in armagnac, cognac, and sherry casks. Spicy as hell and very sweet, it was reminiscent of a Barrell production, nearly its own unique spirit. Whether it was good or not, I couldn't tell you, but it certainly was A LOT.

Today's bourbon is my second-ever JMCB batch, apparently a well-known one since it sold at auction for $1250 last year. Thankfully, I got in on a bottle split of the stuff for a much lower (prorated) amount. Part of a parcel of Kentucky and Indiana bourbons ranging from 14 to 20 years, allegedly, batch 58 does not appear to have had any alternate cask finishes. The blenders named it, Darth Vader. Will that be the Vader from the end of Revenge of the Sith? Or the Vader from the end of Rogue One?

Brand: Joseph Magnus
Range: Cigar Blend
Source Location: Kentucky and Indiana
Type: Bourbon
Mashbill: ???
Maturation: American white oak
Age: possibly 14 years old
Batch: 58, "Darth Vader"
Alcohol by Volume66.17%
(from a bottle split)

NEAT

Who knew Darth Vader had such a big schnozz under the mask? Waves of maple syrup, Rolos candies, cinnamon sticks, and black raisins fill the nose. Vanilla bean, cut lumber, and Endust spray emerge from behind the sweets after a while. It's a palate cooker at full strength. Once the heat lifts, one may find strata of wood spices, with brown sugar, tart cherries, and Demerara-based rum far beneath. It finishes with bitter chocolate, tart cherries, and barrel char.

DILUTED to ~57%abv, or 1 tsp of water per 30mL whiskey

A bit more focus to the nose here. Maple syrup, vanilla bean, and dried cherries up front, toffee in the back. Much more approachable, the palate offers maple syrup, wood smoke, and brown sugar. Quieter notes of pipe tobacco and black raisins arrive after some time. It finishes up with wood smoke, brown sugar, raisins, and a mild unlit cigar.

DILUTED to ~50%abv, or 2 tsp of water per 30mL full strength whiskey

Almost a different whiskey here. Desserts comprise the nose, like vanilla things, caramel candies, and lemon cream pies. The palate is a mix of wood spices, cassia, tart lemons, and brown sugar. It finishes sweet and tart, with more brown sugar than before.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

This ain't no Emo Vader, though the high ABV causes most of the violence. Once diluted, it's a great, straightforward, dessert pour, with 57%abv being the money spot for my palate. There are no overwhelming bitter oak notes nor tastebud-stripping tannins present, which is a pleasant surprise for a 14+ year old bourbon. If your cigar smoking days are far behind you (like mine are for me), no worries, you will still enjoy this brawling bourbon. But don't go into it looking for complexity. Much like the Skywalker Saga, it's best consumed mindlessly.

Availability -
All gone

Pricing - ???
Rating - 86

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Knockdhu 30 year old 1990 SMWS 115.17

This weekend I matched up a youthful, punchy 10 year old Cadenhead Knockdhu, with a 30 year old from SMWS. The SMWS refill bourbon barrel had enough liquid to fill 161 bottles, but with only 43.2 points of alcohol left. Did some liquored-up angels feast on this cask, stealing the poison and leaving the water behind? Or did some fight remain in the barrel?


Distillery: Knockdhu
Owner: Inver House Distillers (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Region: Far East Speyside
Bottler: SMWS
Age: 30 years (15 Feb 1990 - 2020)
Maturation: refill bourbon barrel
Cask #: 115.17, "Flower meadows and lemon groves"
Outturn: 161 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 43.2%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

Lemons, lemongrass, dried leaves, earth, kiwi candy, and dried rose petals arrive first in the gentle nose. Clementines appear at the 30-minute mark, as do hints of ocean and Sugar Daddy candy. At 45 minutes, it's all apple blossoms and fresh apricots.

The palate is so delicate. White cake with lemon zest and roses. Chocolate donuts and orange peel. Toasty oak, toasty bread, and sweet cherries.

Lots of oranges and Ovaltine in the finish, with some mineral and sweeter notes in the background.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

With such a vivid nose, the whisky surprised me with a palate so fragile that I didn't want to disturb the glass too much. Very pretty stuff, and thankfully not too oaky, this Knockdhu might have been glorious had it been bottled 5-10 years earlier, but I won't carp too much as it's easy drinkin'. Also, kudos to SMWS for a cask name that actually works.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 86

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Knockdhu 10 year old 2006 Cadenhead Single Cask

Knockdhu, formerly a DCL distillery but now under the ownership of Inver House, lives east of the similarly named Knockando, on the edge of Speyside. Inver House helped us all keep the two distilleries straight by naming Knockdhu's single malt brand, anCnoc. I've reviewed several official anCnocs but never an independently bottled Knockdhu. And I have two! Two different bottlers, two different casks, and two very different whiskies. I tried them side-by-side this weekend. Here's the first one:

Distillery: Knockdhu
Owner: Inver House Distillers (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Region: Far East Speyside
Bottler: Cadenhead
Age: 10 years (2006 - 2017)
Maturation: bourbon hogshead
Outturn: 252 bottles
Exclusive to: USA
Alcohol by Volume: 56.8%
(from a bottle split)

NEAT

It's all new make on the nose, yeasty spirit just off the still. Nutritional yeast, rock candy, rosewater, and grapefruit ride up front, something farmy dwells in the back. A bit of heat on the palate, and lots of barley, sugar, and salt. Some digestive biscuits and nectarines develop over time. It finishes hot and sugary, with milder tangy and metallic notes.

DILUTED to ~46%abv, or < 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky

Not much change on the nose. It's less farmy, with more citrus and cake. Prettier. The palate gets slightly weirder, with fermented fruit-like notes. Plenty of yeast and barley beneath. A single citrus note finishes it off.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

This sleepy hoggie imparted not much more than some color. I would have guessed the resulting raw Knockdhu was as close to the 3 year old minimum age as possible. The whisky has its joys, like the vibrant, zippy nose, but I can't imagine how one gets through a whole bottle of this stuff. I adore new make, but I'm not sure I could get past a second pour. It's mostly an educational thing, offering us a chance to get as close to the Knockdhu/anCnoc spirit as possible, without working in the stillroom.

Availability - Probably sold out
Pricing - around $100?
Rating - 78

Friday, August 4, 2023

Barrell Craft Spirits, Part 3: Four bourbons

I don't think I've ever tried ten different American whiskies in one week before, but here I am in the middle of a intensely humid summer drinking a half score of barrel strength oak extracts. And yet I always insist I am not a masochist.

This three-parter concludes with Barrell's original product, blended bourbons. There are no wine, rum, brandy, beer, or hot sauce casks involved this time. Just oaks and whiskies. All four of these batches include bourbons distilled in Indiana (MGP), Tennessee (Dickel?), and Kentucky (up to three different recipes?). The first two are from the standard bourbon cask strength batches, the third one is of the fancy schmancy Gray Label series, and the fourth comes from the Vantage series (a mix of Mizunara, French, and toasted US oaks).

Mixing bourbons does indeed sound like a good place to start blending experiments, allowing for more focus and fewer embarrassing flubs. It's less risky than most of their other products, but does it produce better results???

Part 3: Four bourbons



Barrell Bourbon
Cask Strength
Batch 14
9 years old, 54.7%abv
Barrell Bourbon
Cask Strength
Batch 34
6 years old, 57.3%abv
Barrell Bourbon
Gray Label (NAS)
Batch 5
50.29%abv
Barrell
Vantage Bourbon,
Three oak types
57.94%abv
The nose stomps in full of corn, citrus, and bluster. It's sugary, with its Luxardo cherries, maple syrup, and corn whiskey. But it also has paint VOCs and wet cardboard in the background.Peanuts in the nose. Peanut dust and burnt peanuts. Candy corn, barrel char, and caramel also sit up front. It picks up smaller notes of dijon mustard and watermelon Jolly Ranchers with time.A surprisingly earthy nose offers soil, black walnuts, and mesquite smoke. Oats and caramel sauce, with just a hint of the peanut dust.Dried peaches, dried cherries, and a hint of cabernet sauvignon arrive first in the group's most expressive nose, followed by flowers and brine. Maple and vanilla stay in the background.
Got some boozy, honeyed barrel char going on in this nose. Lemonade, tart nectarines, and roses fill the middle, with a slight nuttiness in the back.The barrel char here reads smoky. Lots of salt and umami in the palate, as well. Moderate tartness and sweetness. Mint candy and black pepper appear after some time.The palate is all cinnamon and tart cherries at first. A piece of halvah here, a few red Twizzlers there. Some savory and tart notes stay behind.Fruits and flowers, begins the nose. Ripe cherries and plums. Cinnamon, cardamom, and just the right amount of sweetness. Pretty!
It finishes tangy and sweet, with mild tannins.Tart and sweet balance out in the finish. It's also leafy and minty, with a vanilla hint.Halvah, cherry lollipops, and red Twizzlers finish it up.It finishes with toasty wood spices rather than barrel char (duh?). It's mildly sweet with a few tart cherries as well.
DO I GET IT?
Yes
DO I GET IT?
Yes
DO I GET IT?
Yes
DO I GET IT?
I certainly do
Ah yes, getting closer to classic bourbon territory. Its palate is the least "craft" element, and the most satisfying, never reading too raw or oaky. Decent stuff but I started to forget about it with each successive bourbon here.Another one with a palate that tops the nose, though I didn't mind the peanutty side. Very satisfying and better balanced than I'd expected. It feels like a single bourbon rather than a mix, which is a success!Much different than the first two, this Gray Barrell's earthy nose was a fun surprise, and it was very very drinkable, perhaps due to a good abv as well as quality blending. I'll have more to say about this whiskey below**.My favorite Barrell whiskey yet. The mix of oaks seems to make more sense than cask seasonings; they play so well together here, offering a great swirl of fruits and spices. I may seek out a Vantage bottle of my own.
Rating: 81Rating: 83Rating: 84Rating: 85

FINAL THOUGHTS...

**From what I've read, the first four Barrell Bourbon Gray Label batches had 15 year age statements. The fifth, the very 50.29%abv batch I tried today, had no age statement and yet the price remained the same as the age-stated batches. To bourbon fans everywhere I say, "Welcome to Scotch Land!" Yes, you've all been here before with Elijah Craig and others, but when a smaller and more independent company follows suit, it just hurts a little more. Such is the marketplace. We fans of other whiskies know your pain.

Today's grouping was best of the three, probably due to what I'd mentioned in the intro. Blending bourbons without playing with barrel finishings will deliver more consistent results. Maybe it sounds boring, but the bourbon is good.

Of course, to be partially contradictory, the one real experiment here was the Vantage and its various oak types, and it bested the rest. It highlighted the pleasures of toasted (as opposed to charred) barrels, which is safer than in-cask-blending various spirits, so you'll get a bright union of fruits and spices rather than a potential Long Island Iced Tea in a bottle. 

I am certainly not saying Barrell should discontinue their blending adventures. They've wisely diversified their whiskey ranges, offering more standard bourbons for a curmudgeon like me, and wilder stuff like Seagrass for weirdos like me. From an outsider's view, they seem to be having fun. May they also find continued success.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Barrell Craft Spirits, Part 2: Two ryes

On Monday I reviewed a quartet of Barrell Craft Spirits bourbon(-ish) releases, hoping I'd understand the whiskies enough to actually ponder and opine. The attempts were mostly successful! Now onto the ryes, both in the Barrell Seagrass range.

Something struck me as I looked at the Seagrass label this weekend...


Was this whiskey named SEAGRASS because it is made from rye produced at former SEAGRAM'S distilleries??? Yes, I'm aware that Barrell has a philanthropical relationship with The Ocean Foundation. That's a great thing! But how about it? SEAGRASS = SEAGRAMS? Should I be very proud of myself, or has this theory already been plastered all over social media?

To those new to this rye curio, it's a blend of American and Canadian ryes, finished in Martinique Rhum, Madeira, and apricot brandy barrels. Yes, Barrell's blenders are once again hunching over their blending tables, squinting at their samples, and swirling their beakers, trying to create something unique and palatable at the same time.

I reviewed a different batch of Barrell Seagrass Rye last month, and enjoyed the whiskey. Not enough to run out and buy a bottle, but pretty close to it. This time, I have a different batch of the standard Seagrass AND a gray label (fancy stuff) Seagrass edition aged 16 years. The 16yo had the same barrel finish, but it's fashioned from 100% Canadian rye, so you don't have to open up a new credit card just to afford one bottle.

Here they are, side by side, as I use Monday's approach to review them:


Part 2: Two ryes

Barrell Seagrass Whiskey
American and Canadian Ryes
60.1%abv
Barrell Seagrass Whiskey
Canadian Rye
16 years old
1,861 bottles, 66.67%abv
Like its 59.92%abv sibling batch, this whiskey possesses a crazy crazy nose. It starts with a peppery rye spirit base, then spins out to apricot jam, orange zest, and a snuffed citronella candle. Then a fennel bulb, warm Sprite, maple syrup, Carpano Antica, and calamine lotion.This one's nose begins with such a strong chlorine note, that I wonder if it has anything to do with the ethyl burning my skull. Beneath the heat, one may find dark chocolate, eucalyptus, rosewater, and dry soil up front. Then milky coffee, kale, green bell peppers, and raspberries.
The palate arrives hotter than expected. Plenty of rye spirit at the center, again, but it's surrounded by bubblegum, lemon bars, honey, and bitter citrus peel. The sweetness is nearly overwhelming.Thankfully, the palate is neither too hot nor too sweet. It's like a journey through a tree. Really. First there's bark, then pulp, then bark again. Honey, cinnamon, and lime candy surround the wood, while a hint of pinot noir keeps showing up in the background.
Rye candy finish. Honey, cardamom, and lemon hard candies.It has a very similar finish to the 60.1% standard Seagrass, mostly lemons, honey, and dried herbs. No burning sensations.
DO I GET IT?
I think so!
DO I GET IT?
Yes.
This may be the sugariest rye I've ever tasted. That position used to be held by Angel's Envy, and their rummy rye. With this whiskey, I appreciate that the rye spirit shows through all the decoration, but it also exists completely separate from the finishing casks' contributions. Nothing merges, at least within the palate. The nose, the highlight, lives in its own dimension.16 year old North American whiskey is going to be oak juice no matter what, and this whiskey proves it again. Aside from that alarming chlorine experience, the nose isn't too zany; in fact, I kinda like it. Meanwhile, the palate bludgeons the drinker with a tree trunk. It doesn't matter what the finishing casks held, the wood wins, eliminating complexity. Perhaps one can give it a positive spin: the wood provides focus. It also holds the whiskey back.
Rating: 79Rating: 78


FINAL THOUGHTS...

Here's a link to that 59.92%abv batch of Seagrass. As of this morning, it remains my favorite Barrell product. The casks and the sweetness barely graced that batch, and the rye element was very solid. Today's 60.1% batch smells and tastes much younger, while also pushing the finishing barrels harder, resulting in something that feels less baked; the dreaded capital "C" Craft affliction.

It's a rough estimate, but 4-out-of-5 teenage North American whiskies are not going to work with my palate. I wonder if that has something to do with the thinness of column still spirit? Or just aggressively charred oak? Or both?

Next up, four Barrell bourbons!