Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Macallan 12 - the archetype of a sherried malt still delivers - and how.

Before I understood what single malt was; how it differed from blended scotch, I owned a bottle of Macallan 12. Top shelf at every liquor store in the City, it was "the fancy scotch" pure and simple. Later on, when my whiskey snob persona was developing I knew it was sherried and a single malt. I called it "toffee walnut ice cream" and tried the 18 but stayed with the 12 as a value proposition. I always had a bottle.

Somehow over the last decade, as I have wandered far afield I left Macallan alone and it's been years since my last dram. To reconnect I came by the prettiest miniature I've ever seen: thick glass, proper shape, and a real cork. Now that I've been drinking a lot of top shelf hooch would the ubiquitous Macallan 12 stand up? If you drink it you already know the answer.

Color: rich honey-brown amber

Nose: Sweet with sherry. Somehow doesn't do it justice...wait - SHERRY! That's more like it. With time there's more: nutmeg, sweetmeats, toffee, baking sweets and baking spices. Under all is a bedrock aroma of rich elegant malt whiskey. This is a first rate nose.

Entry is toffee sweet with an immediate burst of citrus. Creamy sherry blooms in mid-palate in full vinous detail with rancio, wood, spice and grape must. There's rich malt too, and spirit heat. Creaminess ushers in the finish which is all about emerging wood tannins which bring a crisp oak bite that doesn't dislodge the sherry. The sherry hangs on. The finish is of medium length - par for 43% abv. At the fade out there's a lovely hint of smoked fish. With extensive air the rich sweet of the toffee sherry combines with the citrus opening and oak tannin finish to form lovely dark chocolate flavors too.

This is so satisfying on so many levels, but I'm hard pressed to separate my liking for this dram from my deep sense memory connecting this flavor with malt whiskey's DNA at the deepest level. Recommended? A staple; more like an archetype. Conclusion? Same as it ever was - toffee walnut ice cream on steroids with refined wood and malt to boot. Those jaded years didn't make me look down on this classic dram. Quite the contrary, actually. I have a new found respect and admiration for it. It's the real deal.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Springbank 12 - the complex oddball

The Kintyre peninsula a century ago was the biggest whiskey producing region in Scotland with over 30 distilleries. When Prohibition hit that all changed and now there are really only two: Glen Scotia and Springbank (although Springbank is starting up subsidiary brands at a good clip - up to four now: (the other three are Longrow, Hazelburn, and the just formed Kilkerran)). This story fascinated me when I first got into single malts and Springbank became a staple in my cabinet. The complex mix of sweet, spice, and maritime aspects seduced me. I found the 12 heavily overshadowed by the older expressions, however. Time to revisit this assessment.

Color - pale gold, almost straw.

Nose - raisins, dried figs, rancio (brandy rot), butter and a twist of citrus.

Elegant sweet entry with honey, fresh grapes, and honeysuckle flowers. Light heathery lacy mouth feel. Midpalate hits with white pepper, malt (like fresh powdered malt), some acid like white balsam and some sea brine and distant iodine. There are also citrus and conifer notes. The finish is moderately short with lingering flowers and vines but also a bit of cardboard and then a bitter sap note at the end.

It's very complex but lacks the depth and the richness of the black fruits that grace the older expressions. This is particularly noticeable in the short snap of the finish. The upside is the delightful floral nature of the opening.

I'm a bit conflicted. This is a light heathery floral dram with some Dalwhinny or Royal Lochnagar mountain meadows and flowers and also a hint of sea air and brine - as advertised. However this whiskey feels awfully young for a 12 year old. It seems Springbank benefits from more time in the wood. I recommend you save up for the 15 or the 18 unless you have an academic interest in how the younger expression enhances the floral opening.

3 and 3/4 stars ***+. I long to go 4 because of the honey floral glory of the opening. If you keep sipping pretty quickly you can keep that glory up most of a glass - but the parting view is less pretty. The 12 is like a maiden with a gloriously beautiful face and gleaming golden hair but an unattractive derrière. You have to think twice. (Lord, forgive me for that metaphor).

Monday, February 27, 2012

Rittenhouse Rye 100: a rich sweet salty slice of rye goodness at a dirtcheap price.

Rittenhouse rye 100 proof $22/750ml in NYC. Rittenhouse rye is a "Pennsylvania style" rye (according to the back label) made in Kentucky by Heaven Hill. Recently Sku's Eats has had a couple of posts on the Old Monongahela rye style: robust and full flavored. I imagine this is what they are talking about.

Color: rich amber with olive tints

Nose: rich sweet grassy herbal bourbony nose with some turpentine, honey, salt,

Entry is sweet with treacle sugars. There's a broad creamy expansion at mid-palate where the sweetness turns spicy all around the periphery of your tongue. There's an abundance of cereal and baked goods flavors in the mid-palate: Irish soda bread, rye crackers, johnny cake, all mingled with the warm honeyed treacle of the opening. There are also some vinous sherry or madeira-like notes... Harvey's Bristol Cream? The usual description of this flavor aspect is "cherry", but that doesn't capture the the elegant spirit nature of the fruit. Those cherry or grape spirit notes are underneath the cereal flavors. The transition to the finish starts with herbal and meaty flavors like ivy and prosciutto (or just old fashioned salt pork) and ends with a salty aftertaste like you had been eating too many pretzels or too much bacon. The salty finish demands a palate clearing sip... maybe water... or the glass of rye in hand. It's a self suggesting finish - like cocaine or crack. I found the finish a thirsty feeling; readily remedied by a re-ignition of treacle heat by another sip... and another. Suck in air a few minutes after a sip dies away and you get that sweet rye crisp, ivy herb, and salt flavor. This isn't one of those shy ryes. It's a big robust fully flavored rye that will please you - if you don't mind the very salty finish.

I've had a salty peanut of a tot recently: Wild Turkey 101. It, too, was an inexpensive Kentucky whiskey that felt like it was knocking on the door of the high end in terms of quality. Both are almost the same proof too (nice and high). Rittenhouse is a bit more impressive in my book - a tad more yummy, a tad more unique and unusual (maybe just because it's a rye).

Rittenhouse is quite different from the other two ryes I have open at the moment: Old Potrero, and Russel's Reserve 6. Old Potrero is much more herbal with a much stronger peppery effervescence. Russel's Reserve 6 is very creamy and floral and also has that effervescence. Rittenhouse lacks the effervescence and just has peppery heat instead. It's less herbal than Potrero and not really floral. It has some creaminess, however. Indeed, all the ryes seem to share some version of herbal note, peppery heat, and creaminess to some extent. But, only the Rittenhouse has the meaty salty finish, though.

Rittenhouse rye is a nice robust slice of rye whiskey flavor at a price that lets you use it heedlessly. Bless Heaven Hill for that. Unlike cheap blended Scotch or Vodka there is zero distilled grain spirit taste. Every drop of Rittenhouse tastes real - no fillers. This is a monster of a value at the price.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Port Ellen 23 Provenance Douglas McGibbon - peat, lemon, and ash under a big sherry blanket served with a big dose of ego and second guessing

Research has found that a large number of faces averaged using digital imaging algorithms appear more attractive to a broad range of people than most of the individual faces that made up the composite.  This is the essence of the barrel averaging in whiskey production.  Variations in different barrels can sometimes be better than average, sometimes worse - and sometimes just different.  If you average 50 barrels then the results coalesce around a mean that is more broadly appealing that many of those casks were individually and bottle after bottle people have that consistent appealing experience.

Barrel averaging has become a bit of a dirty word.  Liquor stores are full of expressions where single barrel offerings are the more expensive upgrades to barrel averaged offerings and justly so.  Barrel averaged offerings have the "warts and all" barrels mixed in.  The single barrel offerings have been selected for decent flavor profiles by the distiller.

But what if there are no other barrels to select from?  No other barrels to average?  That's the case of rare casks from closed distilleries and other private cask offerings.   In that case you have to search long and hard for the really good casks.

I ran headlong into this issue in my quest to sample some whiskey from the legendary long closed Islay distillery Port Ellen.  It's not like I used to drink Port Ellen back in the day and now am jonesing for that long lost experience.  I admit freely that my desire to drink it comes purely from absorbing the excitement I read in the whiskey blogs such as on Malt Madness.  I kept nagging at the idea that Port Ellens are still around, but in a while they won't be and everyone thinks so highly of them... I just gotta... I just GOTTA!

My local fancy store, Park Avenue Liquors offers 3 examples of Port Ellen to try.  The distillery's own 9th edition 1979, universally lauded; the Douglas Liang 1983, and the Douglas McGibbon Provenance Port Ellen 1982-2005 23 year old expression.  I purchased the latter because it was i) extremely dark in the bottle, ii) the lowest in cost (still $$$$ but a bit less than the others), and iii) it got a mostly decent B+ (and one A-) on the LA Whiskey Society site. 

So I started sipping and then got to thinking.  First of all, here are the tasting notes:

Color: brewed black tea

Nose: Wow - an incredibly complex and not unpleasant melange of, first, peat, then sherry, smoke, kippers, toffee, lemon, and tobacco. There's also a clear phenol aspect, like mentholatum or maybe furniture polish.

- whew - it's actually Port Ellen.  Those are the aromas I've been reading so much about...

Entry is complex with sherry sweetness but also lemon tartness.  Sweetness builds in midpalate which starts with sherry, then more sherry and even more sherry.   Then I catch smoked fish, road tar, ash, and lemon.  The phenol-menthol note shows up towards the finish.  I guess it's not surprise that the finish is fairly long, if not particularly strong.  It's bottled at 46% - I don't know if it's because the cask is down to that strength or if they dilute it (I suspect the latter).  Nonetheless there's plenty of peat, and sherry wood tannins to drive the finish... and that phenol note...  What the heck is that phenol note? 

All in all, I'm impressed - if not in love.  It's clearly an Islay, but it has that interesting lemon flavor.  My main issue is that sherry is such a dominant flavor note here.  There are two circular medallions on the label that trumpet "Matured in Sherry Cask".  No kidding.  I'm kinda wishing it were just a regular bourbon cask because after nearly a quarter century the sherry cask has come to overshadow the Port Ellen qualities I was looking for.  They are still there - but under a big wallop of sherry.  On the other hand it was good sherry - and good Port Ellen flavors so I'm not really complaining.  B+ it is.  I do a 5 star rating system - so 4 stars.

Update 10/24/12 (8 months later almost to the day): with air and time this bottle lost some of its furniture polish phenol and opened beautifully.  It has become a staple shared dram for when serious whisky people visit and recently paired beautifully with chocolate.  I have no hesitation giving this five stars now.  It needed a few weeks of bottle oxidation to reach full lemon chamois glory. 


The ruined tot

The following is a cautionary tale about oxidation and open bottles.  I visit my father in law in England most every year.  He is a wonderful and very intimidating man - brilliant thinker, international chess master, competitive athlete, and a knowledgeable oenophile.  I'm not much for wine, but I always eagerly look through his wonderful cave.  (If I visit your house I'll be poking around your liquor cabinet too - just warning you.  That's how I roll).  One year I found this rare single cask bottle of Springbank 28 in the far way back.  It had been opened, but was over 3/4 full.  The date on the label said distilled April 3, 1965 and the bottling age "28 years" meant that it had been bottled in 1993.  The year at the time was 2008.  I expressed interest and my father in law generously said "take the whole bottle" - that he wasn't interested in it.  I couldn't believe my luck.  The first dram I had was utterly first rate.  Like my beloved Springbank 21 reviewed earlier this week it was redolent of black fruits, spicy wood, deep rich malt flavors and also a bit of the sea.  It was magic.  The fact that it was a specialty private bottling of an expression not normally sold only added to the enjoyment.  Over the next year or so it featured in a few extraordinary tasting sessions.  
As is characteristic for me, I couldn't bring myself to finish the bottle.  However I also neglected to decant the remaining dram into a small bottle to preserve it.  Now here it is a couple of years later and I'm blogging about whiskeys and I think "I should pull out that last dram of Springbank 28.  I bet that would make a great blog post".  Sadly, as you might anticipate the final tot - nicely distributed around the bottle's central punt - was a terrible disappointment.  The nose had gone flat - like flat cola mixed with a lot of bourbon.  There was still toffee and black raisin in the nose, but also a dead dusty flatness with that tired soda and an odd rubbery aroma like old rubber bands.  The taste was a devastating failure.  It was still strong alcohol - but all the magic was gone.  The flavors were dusty dead and flat.  I'm a little too upset right now to transcribe the exact tasting notes.   For academic purposes I'll update this post later...


Ok - it's later.  I just finished my Port Ellen post so I'm ready to face this music.

Color:  dark amber with lots of old gold orange.

Nose:  Faint bourbon, waxed old wooden table, flat cola and raisin.

Entry is sweet. Dusty cloying sweetness.  Midpalate broadens into wax and then sourness that combines with the sweetness to meld into a rancid note.  This is unpleasant.  Finish has a bit of vinyl - almost the "new car smell".  There are echoes of dates and wood in the finish that are a sinister reminder of what was lost.

I can't go on.  This is a disaster because this stuff used to be one of the finest scotches I had ever had the pleasure of drinking.  Not a drop should have been wasted.  Instead I wasted a solid 50ml tot.  I should have decanted into a miniature bottle or, better yet, I should have just drank it straight away.  Let this be a lesson to us all.  ---Leave no dram behind---

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Springbank 21 - black raisin, fig, date, green apple, Fino, and woodspice. An elegant and polished monster.

Springbank is famously the principle surviving of two distilleries of the century-ago thriving region of Campbelltown in the Southwest. Springbank is famously independent, and also famously clings to old ways, such as malting their own barley and bottling their own whisky. They also produce Longrow. The Springbank flavor profile is, generally, sweet with raisins but also has some pepper and traces of maritime airs. No colorings are used and they tend to be rather light in color. Not this one.

The following bottle of Springbank 21 was purchased in the late 90s. This expression is no longer sold - a great loss to the world although, apparently the current 18 is excellent and in the same vein.

Color - rich golden yellow with amber tints

Nose - spicy sweet with white grape, sultanas, sherry, cognac rancio, pine sap, and demara sugars

Sweet and wine-like on entry - sautern without the syrup with a touch of tart acid like a chenin blanc or green apple. Black fruits: black raisin, fig and date notes dominate the transition to midpalate, which soon buzzes with wood spices, grapevine sap, sherry and oak. Finish is achingly long and sweet with vinous wood tannins, green apple tartness, and finally a sharp herbal bitter bite that has some pine and some angostura bitters quality. With extended air the fig and date sweetness waxes into a thicker mouthfeel and melts with the wood spice to form an austere and elegant form of grapey butterscotch and some lacy floral notes that whip me into flights of ecstasy.

It's an elegant, refined, and totally unique flavor profile that is clear kin to the Springbank 12 and 15 expressions - but amped up into something far more lush and filigreed. Wow. Sweet, tart, sour, and spicy all at the same time. What a monster.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cragganmore 1992 Distillers edition brings perfumed tropical fruit complexity to a classic Speyside with delicious results

Cragganmore is a delicious Speyside malt from Diageo's Classic Malt collection. The stills at Cragganmore are short and flat, lacking the high swan's neck at the top of the still more commonly seen. The height of the still matters in that heavier volatiles will not clear a high still neck (as much, in theory). The distillery with the highest stills, Glenmorangie, certainly has a flavor profile dominated by the lightest volatiles: delicate, floral, and lacey. Distilleries with short stills like Macallan and Cragganmore should have a more robust mouthfeel and more of the high molecular weight volatiles like fruity esters. Cragganmore even more than Macallan with its short flat topped stills. Indeed, in the bottles of Cragganmore I have enjoyed previously I have found more fruitiness going on than the usual Speyside malt.

The Distiller's edition of Cragganmore adds a port wood finish (instead of the Sherry finish used on the other Classic Malts Diatiller's editions). Presumably the more robust grape of port was felt to be a better mesh with Cragganmore's tropical fruit essences.

Color: rich amber with copper and reddish tints. Extremely appetizing.

Nose: Sandalwood perfume, passion fruit, papaya, candy with some distant echoes of old hardwoods.

Entry is intensely honeyed with butterscotch, and hard candy. Mid-palate is lushly floral (honeysuckle and orchid) with a rich mouth feel. Gentle finish with melon sweetness. The finish is short, gentle and sweet. At the end there is the faintest whisper of smoke.

This is sweeter than I usually like my scotch, but the whole package is so appetizing and appealing that I am completely won over.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Frapin VSOP cognac delivers floral, citrus, and oaky glory - a small slice of the high end you can rationalize any time.

Frapin VSOP Cognac is a great story: a giant estate in the heart of the Cognac region with a castle that has housed the family that owns this spirit making operation since the 13th century. The estate is large
enough that all the grapes for their cognac are grown on the estate - unusual if not unique for the region. The house of Frapin is obsessed with quality, emphasizing dry cellaring over the more common damp cellaring. Dry is more costly as it increases the loss of the angel's share - but concentrates flavors because water is lost in proportion with spirit over time unlike damp cellaring which adds smoothness but sacrifices intensity by keeping the water proportion higher. How does all this trickle down to the mid-priced VSOP product (their second to the bottom of the line?)

Color - orangy amber - a rich and pretty color but certainly not the rich henna tones of the serious stuff.

Nose: crystallized orange, citrus flowers, cognac spirit, sultanas, distant oak

Entry is sweet with white raisin grapey syrup. There is glory and rich mouthfeel in the sweet thrill of this opening. Midpalate blooms quickly with jammy citrus notes of orange and lemon, spirit heat as peppery boldness, and also a confectionery candy quality with somewhat faint floral overtones of honeysuckle and jasmine. In the transition to the finish things rapidly darken as floral oak turns to tannin bite. This emerging bitter note meshes well with the crystalized orange as an candy orange rind feeling. Finish is moderately long with a cilantro note in the back of the throat at the fade out and lingering vinous sap.

This is a delicious and classically cognac flavor profile. It shows
its lack of age in the absence of cheese (rancio) notes and relative lack of floral complexity - but these are not missed in the drinking; sins of omission; not commission. Frapin VSOP makes no mis-steps. What's here is all good. About as tasty a mid-tier cognac ever is. Frapin is pricey for a VSOP. You might be tempted to go for a lesser XO. Don't underestimate the sprightly youthful quality's upside: floral and fruity and somewhat light hearted, Frapin VSOP succeeds.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Edradour 10 is candy, wood, and spice.

Edradour 10 late 90s distillery bottling abv. 43%

Edradour is said to be the smallest distillery in Scotland. The buildings look like a hobbit village and the stills are supposedly the smallest allowed by law (any smaller and they would be deemed portable). The distillery used to be worked by three men. Currently it is down to two. The whiskeys of Edradour are sweet and easy with a nice characteristic vinous character. The bottle today is a pretty late 1990s dusty.

Color: gold

Nose: Red wine (burgundy), gorse, gingerale and cream soda... and some swamp-like dankness

Entry is sweet with cola and vinous (concord) notes. Mid palate expansion is soft and gentle with red fruit, white raisins, hard candy, and light sherry notes. After extended time this hard candy aspect becomes downright addictive.

The heat in this spirit shows up late with a lacy peppery quality at the finish and a warm throat glow (maybe because it's so soft up front I take bigger sips). The lacy heat expands at the surprisingly long finish into old wood with spice, resin, and tannin bite.

Smooth and tasty, but with a nice character.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Old Potrero Single Malt Rye: a powerful jolt of rye - sweet, peppery, and herbal all the way home.

The brewers of Anchor Steam Ale helped launch the microbrewery revolution in the 1960s with their attempt to recreate a 19th century style of ale. The decade old effort at a distillery started with attempts at 18th and 19th century style whiskeys. The current offering is a 100 malted rye. Recently Whistlepig and Willets have gone down this road - but Anchor Distillery has been doing 100% malted rye for a while. There have been some good reviews. Most folks agree that the various Old Potrero offerings are all very unusual; different from all other whiskeys.

Old Potrero Single Malt Rye 45% abv

Essay 10-SRW-ARM1 No Age Statement

Color: rich amber

Nose: warm sweet malt with a prickly herbal note that smells a lot like hops. The initial impression is warm buttered honeyed beer. Maybe Anchor Steam Ale in particular, or is that just my imagination?
There's a richness to the nose that is seductive. It smells like buttered hot corn in toffee caramel with some nice hopsy ale.

Entry is smooth and dazzlingly sweet. There is an immediate peppery explosion that dazzles the tongue like a densely carbonated beverage. Then a ton of herbal flavors: cilantro, caraway, and hops absolutely dominate the palate. The transition to the finish is marked by deep toffee sweetness and a dank quality like humid paper, parchment... old skins. Fade out is long and slow with a bitter herbal note (I swear it is hops) hanging on for minutes... just like Anchor Porter. Did they seek to make a whiskey that tastes like high end beer? Am I just making it up - suggested by the "Anchor"name in the middle of the label? Repeated drinking sessions show that this herbal hops note is really, honestly there.

So is this good? It's certainly different. Rye is usually a minority player because of it's spicy herbal nature. That nature is on full display here. Rich and sweet with a powerful and aggressive spicy aspect and tons of pungent bitter herbs. I say it again: cilantro, caraway, and hops. It's strong meat.

**** (** if it's not your thing, ***** if it is. I give it four because each time I drink it I'm impressed. However, I often find myself choosing not to drink it.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Caol Ila 15 Gordon & MacPhail 1981-1997: Iodine, honey, sea salt, flowers and smoke.

Caol Ila was one of the less well known Islay malts back in the late 90s when I bought this bottle. The distillery's own label wasn't distributed in NY at the time. Caol Ila has since had a major Renaissance. This 15 year old bottle of 15 year old whiskey is a look back. I find little has changed.

Color: old gold (deep yellow with rosy orange glints)

Nose: honeyed sherry, malt, iodine, band aids, peat reek (smoke, oil, and damp fen), brine, seaweed, and a bit of old books

Semi sweet entry with immediate iodine brine, pepper and damp wood. After significant air there's a honey sherry glory lurking in the entry but it forms a backdrop for the sea flavors that take center stage. The midpalate expansion is abuzz with pepper, fire smoke, floral sherry honey and a fairly rich viscous mouth feel. Finish is fairly long with fine restrained peat smoke, old dry wood, dank meadow, and distant floral and incense perfume. The finale ends on a slightly bitter and medicinal note that is fitting.

This is a pure expression of the spirit of Islay, but a fairly restrained and deceptively complex one. Lovely, if not a real boomer.

How does it compare to the new Caol Ila 12?  The new one is sweeter and more sunny.  It also has a cleaner and more direct peat note.  However it's less complex and interesting.  Bottom line, however, the new distillery product simply tastes a little bit better in my book.  Maybe that's just its youth.   It's a happy debate; both are very nice to drink.


Monday, February 13, 2012

Dallas Dhu - a whisper of a memory of a summer meadow long ago.

Dallas Dhu has been a museum for more than 20 years. Its pagoda roof dates from the 19th century - one of the oldest in Scotland. It closed in 1983 as part of the great closings of the era (probably much to do with the trend for vodka and white spirits in the 70s and 80s). I've had a "dusty" Dallas Dhu 12 - from Gordon and Macphail mid 90s bottlings since 1998. I bought it to remember my bachelor's party at Keens where we had some lovely pours including this one.

Color: Golden yellows
Nose: Heather, flax, honeyed sherry, vanilla oak notes. There's a distant herbal vegetal note like milkweed sap that is bracing. To sum it up I would characterize it as wildflowers in lush grass near some oak woods on a dry hot summer's day. Given the context (that the distillery closed in 1983 and that I bought the bottle in 1998 on the eve of my wedding) this is an echo of summer's day from a time far off, when I was young... when things were different.

Entry is sweet with mild honey and malt. Mid palate has breakfast cereal grains, malt sugars, a broad peppery expansion with peppermint overtones. Oak tannins and floral vanilla notes bloom in the finish which isn't terribly long but longer than expected with an old wood quality at the finish. There's a surprisingly substantial texture for such light floral heathery fare. It's a tasty and easy drinking dram.

Dallas Dhu: Heathery like Royal Lochnagar, but mint scented like an Irish whiskey. Nice.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Talisker Distillers Edition - a superb marriage of Arctic desolation and Mediterranean sunny splendor

Over the past decade the Diageo Classic Malts have each offered a "Distiller's Edition" where the primary malt receives additional aging in a second fill cask that once held a vinous product. In Talisker's case they use big grape Oloroso sherry butts. They have a release each year. Reviewed today is the 2005 vintage.

Color: rich orangey amber

Nose: candied orange peel, white raisins, sherry, brine, band aids, and the characteristic Talisker old hatbox wood.

Intense vinous sherry sweetness that builds into midpalate with toffee, citrus and Turkish delight and hard candy flavors. At midpalate the citrus explodes into juicy intensity. At the turn to the finish there's a burst of floral essences - confused and humid like a quick tuck into a steamy raucous flower shop. Then the finish brings the cavalcade of classic maritime flavors up: salt sea air, mineral rock, old attic hatbox wood and a final bitter medicinal iodine note. Wow. I'm dizzy just writing it down. This is a tour de force of delicious flavors melded with maritime weird ones. It's totally recognizable as Talisker - the terroir of Skye is all over it. But the second fill coopering in oloroso sherry casks marries in rich sweet fruits that elevate, not detract. Wonderful!


Kings County Bourbon is bourbon made in Brooklyn

Local craft made corn whiskey out of the vast Brooklyn "maker" craft renaissance. Is King's county any good? They also have a nice white moonshine and a "chocolate moonshine". The following review is for the bourbon product only.  All three are sold in flasks with screw tops and a quickie label that looks typed.  A paper bag to drink out of is optional.  The product is clearly meant to look like a bathtub back alley production - like something from prohibition.  There are a number of Appalachia mountain products like this (typically sold in mason jars).  This is the real New York City deal.

This sample is hand labeled as from barrel 34.  The back label proudly trumpets "aged less than 4 years".  Color is a nice dark amber bronze.

It has a big sherry nose sweet with red fruits with an underlying base of rich bourbon caramel corn, leather tobacco aromas.

First sip is sweet with corn and stewed prunes. Corn likker sweetness barrels into the midpalate where juicy bitter citrus makes your saliva squirt. There's cheese flavored grape rancio in the finish and the nice bite of wood tannins. There's also an odd solvent note - a bit like oil paint - but it's subtle and doesn't ruin the show. Good hefty mouthfeel; nice density of flavor. This is a New York City (Brooklyn) craft distillery product? Color me impressed.

Superficially this resembles the big sweet dankness of Elijah Craig 12. That's high praise. The Craig totally skins it on price, however (and on a bunch of small flavor points to boot). The main point here is that this is credible - even good - bourbon, made right here in Noo Yawk Citty!


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Talisker 18 - a darker, more serious expression of Skye.

Talisker 18, 45.8% abv,  is the older sibling of the wildly popular Talisker 10 expression - which has serious "terroir" fidelity to the rugged forlorn isle of Skye with it's maritime location and barren rocky mountainous terrain.  Color - old gold (deep amber yellow with orange glints).  Similar to the 10 but slightly deeper.  Nose: sweeter and more fruited than the 10, everything from the 10 is still there: salt, iodine, mineral, band-aids and toffee malt.  But now the sweetness isn't shy and lurking.  Butterscotch and black fruit notes (fig and prune) are right up front. As a result the maritime airs have receded towards the rear.Entry is sweet.  The quick complication of sea salt and dry hatbox wood quickly arrives - but there's more salt. There's a white pepper buzz at the turn of midpalate.  Then turkish delight, oak vanilla, and floral notes fill the mouth at midpalate too.  Oak tannins bring a citrus rind bitterness at the finish.  This is a very similar flavor profile to the 10 - so I'll focus on the differences: less honeyed and less floral up front compensated by a greater density of flavors - in particular more citrus through the end of the midpalate and more bitterness at the finish.  The finish is a bit longer too.  Excellent stuff.  The flavor profile is extraordinary.  It's saltier, darker, and more wooded than the 10, as you'd expect. Something is lost and something is gained.  All in all I prefer the 10 to the 18, however - extremely close though it is. The clearer sense of peat, mineral, and maritime scents and flavors combined with the lighter honeyed sweetness and more floral qualities with the 10 are a bit more pleasing.  I prefer the distiller's edition to both the 10 and the 18, however - but that's another story.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Talisker 10 is the coopered spirit of a wild and barren maritime land

Talisker is my favorite of Diageo's excellent "Classic Malts" series. It comes from the desolate craggy island at the end of Earth known as Skye. Geographically half way between the dense oceanic peaty malts of Islay and the ethereal heather and wood glow of Highland Park, Talisker manages to split the difference from a flavor and style perspective as well. More easy going that the big Islay malts it still manages to have an unmistakable character that is classically of the maritime West and yet has some of the heather and delicacy of the extreme North.

In the glass Talisker 10 is rich old gold (dark yellow with amber and orange glints).

The nose is the smell of the sea coopered in an old dry box. Brine, iodine, mineral and faint seaweed notes combine with old dry oak or even basswood aromas. There's a tiny whiff of band-aids here too. With added time sweet notes come from below: butterscotch, caramel, and a hint of mint. It's a superb and complex aroma that is instantly recognizable as Talisker once you've tried it.

Entry is sweet but complicated by the sudden appearance of sea flavors of brine and sea moss. Midpalate begins with a peppery tingle and broadens into oak tannins, honey, floral essence, a kiss of mint, turkish delight candy flavors and a peculiar mineral (rock) aspect. Finish is long with old wood and a bitter citrus rind. It's a complex and delicious clinic on "terroir" - sense of place. It smells just like what the barren rocky promontory by the sea where Talisker is made and barrel aged for a forlorn and windswept decade.

Talisker is closest to Oban of all the malts but ultimately it is something unique and wonderful all its own. The ten is a brilliant achievement and a fine selection. Compared to the two other Talisker expressions (the 18 and Distiller's Edition) - the 10 equals the 18 in my opinion and is edged by the distiller's edition but not by much. The 10 stands very well on it's own and is a lovely and distinctive experience each time I drink it.


Glenfarclas 25 is the sweet floral sherried heart of Speyside pushed to the limit in the wood

When most people picture "scotch whiskey" as an archetype they are thinking of a malt sweet spirit with a floral sherried nose, a golden yellow color, and some oak in the finish. Blends such as Johnny Walker and Chivas mix many malts (and varying amounts of spirit fillers to get at this ideal with clock-like consistency. There are a number of pure single malts that embody this ideal, from Macallan to Glenlivet. Most tend to be Speyside malts. The limpid marble waters and sweet grain of the region exemplify scotch whiskey. None, however nails the archetype's lightness, floral sweetness, and consistent mix of attributes more or more consistently than Glenfarclas. Glenfarclas has an extensive line from moderately young to extremely old that are all clear kin and utterly archetypical Speyside scotch - every single one. The sweet heart of the line are the 17 (perfect) and 21 (just a kiss older and richer than perfect) year old expressions. Today I'm drinking the 25 year expression. Is it gilding the lilly? Does the extra age ruin the magic with too much wood or is it even a scooch better yet?
Color: Light amber gold. Just like "scotch" looks in the dictionary picture.

Nose is Sweet vanilla sherry - simple "Scotch" - increasingly rich with time. Toffee malt richness turns the aroma ambrosial with time (lots of time) in the glass.

Light mouthfeel. The entry is mostly sweet with straight malt sugars. Expansion is broad but light and floral with vanilla from oak tannins which bring a pepperiness and a dryness in the texture. Sherry and nougat and cake frosting flavors round into red fruits (cherry and red plum) as the midpalate blooms into honeyed splendor. Finish is sweet turning tannin dry with a long tail of vanilla and honeysuckle and citrus (tangerine) that ends on a slightly bitter note.

This is clearly kissing cousins with the 21 but there is a little more of everything... including that bitterness at the end. Personally I'd stand pat with the 21, but I can see why the distiller pushed it. There is definitely a perspective that the 25 delivers that is valid and delicious - just I feel the balance of attributes is best with the 21. You might feel differently. None of these Glenfarclases are big intense flavors. All are gentle, sweet, and polite. It's what Chivas dreams of when it dreams of scotch.


Caol Ila 12 is big peat married to a lush floral honeyed flavor and a soft gentle manner

Caol Ila (kaal ee-lah) was always the last word in iodiney in my previous tastings of the 1991 Cadenhead 15 year single cask bottling. This current 12 year expression impressed the heck out of me with its sweeter flowery side and gentle nature. I usually dock points for being less assertive - but this is a real winner.
Pale gold/straw color in the glass.

The nose up front is peat smoke and iodine. With time rubber and medicinal notes and a hint of sweetness and richness come underneath that opens into toffee and nougat. It's a complex and lovely aroma.

Entry is toffee and vanilla sweet with immediate vanilla floral notes and a nicely moderate peat smoke presentation that turns intensely honeyed and floral at midpalate after extensive time in the glass. At the finish the smoke and medicinal iodine reasserts itself and a bitter edge adds a citrus quality. As the afterglow fades the medicinal note lingers and becomes herbal - eucalyptus? Finish is long but gentle. Mouthfeel is silky and light. There is a deft and nimble quality here that is absent from most Islay malts with this much peat smoke in evidence.

Big honeyed peat, but with a gentle edge (for an Islay, anyway). Caol Ila 12 is a vibrant strong peat and sea air voyage with a lovely honey sweet floral quality. The whole ensemble of disparate elements is remarkably well balanced and, frankly, delicious. This is a must for Islay enthusiasts of peat and ocean, but with it's flowery sweetness and lighter texture, weight, and proof, it's also a bridge into this flavor profile for drinkers of "regular" scotch. Highly recommended.


An unexpected treasure: Russells Reserve Rye 6 is a diamond in the rough

A moderately inexpensive, relatively young, rye whiskey from a mainstream American mass market distiller... But I was extremely impressed by a smooth, creamy, floral, and beguiling rye with an unusually gentle character.

Russell's Reserve Rye 6 45% abv.

A lovely rich golden amber in the glass. The nose, after extended air (10-20 minutes) is delicate yet rich with honeysuckle, vanilla, lanolin, mineral and some sweetness with a vegetal components - alfalfa treacle? It's a light and lovely smell that is soothing and yet appetizing.

Entry is off-dry (slightly sweet) with dry cereal and a peppery quality that almost feels like the effervescence of soda. Midpapalate expansion is sweet with rich cereal sugars, oak vanilla floral essences, some sherry toffee notes, and a big dose of cream. The creaminess carries into the long and elegant finish with more peppery notes balanced by that sweet floral cream, fading into light wood tannins.

Lithe, fruity, floral, sweet and kissed with clean oak; Russels 6 takes rye into a sweeter, lighter, more feminine place than I usually experience rye. I like it... Wait, I LOVE it. A quiet and unassuming knock out.

(FYI - the mainstream American mass market distiller is Wild Turkey.  The name "Russell" refers to the father and son master distilling team behind Wild Turkey's success).  Find a good distiller and enjoy their talents - that's good advice I try to live by.  I have been quite impressed with the Russell family's work.


Wild Turkey 101 is a brawny but complex bourbon at a good price.

I love Wild Turkey. The Russel father-son team are talented distillers. Turkey 101 is fairly inexpensive mass market hooch and I've been tasting top drawer stuff lately. How would it hold up? Quite well, as you will see:
Color in the glass: medium bronze-amber.

Toffee fruity sherry nose w/ salted roasted peanut note. With more time the fruit takes on a meaty quality - bacon. There's more grape sherry or Madeira notes too. There's also a solvent note that carries burnt rubber. With even more time I get a bit more burnt rubber to go with the roast peanut, bacon, and Madeira cocktail. I like that it's distinctive and unique. I could learn to love it, but it's not the aroma profile I would have said I wanted in advance.

Entry is toffee sweet and richly honeyed with an immediate drying midpalate. Peppery with a beer-like tang of herbs with a bitter edge like hops and a whiff of smoke (that is oddly absent in the finish). Theres a kiss of vanilla after extra airing and some of that nice sherry flavor too. Sweet then off dry with herbal notes. I've been seeing that lately with fancier offerings like Woodford and 4 Roses single barrel. I suspect its a higher rye balance in the mashbill.

Finish is long and spare with spirit heat beer malt and hops echo. Elegant, lean, surprisingly drinkable with an interesting and varied flavor profile. Gives up a little to the best in the areas of flavor intensity, and wood notes but holds it's own as an interesting robust and varied bourbon. Excellent value.


Four Roses Single Barrel is an extraordinary voyage. Among the very finest bourbons

Four Roses distillery is currently producing some of the best and most exciting bourbons in America, which may be news to you because that's a relatively recent development. Four Roses was a venerable 19th century brand and a top seller in the US until mid-century when then current owner Seagrams decided to export the good stuff to Europe and Asia and debase the brand by only selling low end blends in the US. That's how it was for almost 50 years. It wasn't until 1995 when master distiller Jim Rutledge came (and ownership changed a couple of times) that the brand became something good again. And not just good; extraordinary.

Four Roses makes a range of special limited releases as well as their standing specialties. Like a lot of high end bourbon distillers, they also make a single barrel version that varies from cask to cask. But Four Roses takes it a monumental level further by actually varying the recipe used to produce the bourbon - with startling different results. The ten different recipes Four Roses uses are described as followed on their web site:
From the Four Roses web site: "Four Roses is the only Bourbon distillery that combines five proprietary yeast strains with two separate mashbills to produce 10 distinct and handcrafted Bourbon recipes, each with its own unique character, spiciness and rich fruity flavors."
"What the letter designations mean for the 10 recipes:

O = Designates produced at the Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, KY.
E = The mashbill that is 75% corn, 20% rye, 5% malted barley.
B = The mashbill that is 60% corn, 35% rye, 5% malted barley.
S = Designates straight whiskey distillation.
V/K/O/Q/F = Yeast strain used to create flavor characteristics.

And here are the 10 recipes - along with the descriptions of flavor (and some have listings of the releases that featured that recipe:

OBSV - Delicate Fruit, Spicy, Creamy - Four Roses Single Barrel - 100, The Mariage Collection 2008 Release, Limited Edition 2010 Barrel Strength Bourbon
OBSK - Rich in Spiciness, Full Body - Small Batch, 120th Anniversary
OBSO - Slightly Fruity, Spicy, Medium Body - Four Roses Small Batch
OBSQ - Floral (Rose Petal), Spicy, Medium Body - Limited Edition 2011 Barrel Strength
OBSF - Mint, Fruity, Spicy, Full Body
OESV - Delicate Fruit, Fresh, Creamy
OESK - Spicy, Full Body - Four Roses Small Batch, The Mariage Collection 2008 Release
OESO - Fruity (Red Berries), Medium Body - 40th Anniversary Barrel Strength Bourbon, Four Roses Small Batch
OESQ - Floral, Banana, Fresh, Medium Body - 2009 Limited Edition Barrel Strength Bourbon
OESF - Mint, Fruity, Full Body

In this review I'm tasting a single barrel bottle from barrel 22-1B, warehouse BN, bottled at 53.6% using recipe OBSQ.  It's a "Private Selection" bottle - not the regular lower cost expression.  The regular expression is also excellent, but was somewhat different in flavor profile.  The private selection has a label that says "Private Selection" on the neck.  The regular version has a leather looking tag around the neck.

In the glass it's orangy copper new penny amber colored. The nose is sweet with honey, clover flower and the tang of grape noble rot (rancio in the cognac world). With more time more classicly bourbon notes of toffee and leather creep in

First entry is sugar beets with a rush of vinous rancio, white raisins, sherry notes. Mouth feel is silky with good but not thick syrup factor. Spicy around edge of tongue - 107.2 proof showing up. Herbal notes proliferate in the transition to the finish: cilantro and parsley... Maybe some ivy. As the glow fades the oak tannins join the medicinal herbal edge of bitterness and the honey and the sherry-cognac rancio ends up feeling almost dry. This is a sophisticated and elegant flavor profile that feels almost more like a wood aged European eau de vie than a Kentucky bourbon but inhaling as the long finish fades brings up echoes of burnt sugar, leather and tobacco conjured out the fading viney and herbal flavors so I know this is Kentucky Straight bourbon whiskey. Just bourbon of a higher and more refined sort.

This bourbon is so good, so different, so unique, I can't wait to try other single barrel expressions. I'll be looking out for them.


Wild Turkey American Honey loses track of the taste of both the bourbon AND the honey

I love Wild Turkey bourbon, so I was rooting for American Honey to be a honey. It wasn't. A lovely straw yellow gold in the glass, the mouthfeel was thick as syrup. The initial taste was simple syrup. By midpalate we had a medicinal lemony sweetness that didn't taste like either bourbon or honey at all. Aftertaste was all citrusy sweetness. It wasn't undrinkable. I could see putting it into cola (particularly Pepsi, which has a lemon aromatic). However the lack of bourbon taste and the failure to capture the taste of honey disappointed me. Something with the "Wild Turkey" name should taste like Wild Turkey bourbon.


Bookers bourbon is a massive flavor bomb of cask strength bourbon richness

The top of the line of Jim Beam's Small Batch Collection, Bookers is a 127.9 proof monster (at least my current bottle). Booker's is a small batch offering (a vatting of a relatively small number of casks), bottled at full cask strength which varies in proof and age from 121 to 127 proof (according to the web site, because the distiller chooses casks for each batch by flavor and the strength of each cask is unique) and from 6-8 years in the barrel (for the same reason). I guess my 127.9 proof example is "pushing the envelope" for Bookers. I'm not complaining. Alcohol is a flavor carrier and Bookers is a big flavor bomb.
The dark tea orange color speaks of a heavy char in the barrels and you can smell it. The toffee caramel aromas mix with the char to produce dark chocolate / cocoa notes. There's also vanilla and tobacco and leather in there. As Master Series reviewer Paul Pacult notes - there a "paraffin" note.

Take a sip and pure sweetness hits first. An intense sugar hit like maple syrup right on the tip of your tongue. The midpalate mammoth wallop of orange fruit (citrus / apricot), toffee, and caramel corn hit a nanosecond later followed by spirit heat, wood tannins, oiled leather and vanilla aromatics from oak. That paraffin note I own to Paul Pacult shows up here as well. The high proof makes itself known in the huge midpalate hit and in a big spicy burn which hangs on for minutes as this bourbon finishes long and simple with a wood smoke, sugar glow, sourmash twang, and burnt orange throat bitterness.

Wow! I'm after another sip right away, but at this high a proof I must take my time. The first big question is "can I use water"? You always can, but sometimes it robs a whiskey of its heart. The answer here is "yes you can". You can put quite a bit of water into Bookers and it still tastes clearly of Bookers (i.e. delicious). It loses some intensity (particularly the aroma and midpalate explosion) but might gain something in the fruit esters department. It certainly is easier to drink with some water.

Bookers is clearly the most powerful bourbon flavor experience I've had so far. The flavor profile is first rate too: distinctive, complex, and luscious. Excellent stuff!


Knob Creek Small Batch is a big dense chewy bourbon with tons of character

The anchor of the Jim Beam small batch collection (the lowest price, shortest bottle, longest posted age in the barrel and the biggest sales of any small batch bourbon) Knob Creek is a big substantial bourbon that oozes class and quality. It begs to be sipped neat and slow. It stands up to the best bourbons without embarrassing itself.
In the glass it's a rich spessarite garnet reddish orange with a tinge of henna. The redness is coming from the #4 char oak barrels. That's the darkest level of char. This char level shows up all over Knob creek - from the color to the nose to the last notes of the finish. Knob Creek's extensive time in the wood is a big part of its character and the fact that the wood was darkly charred is a big part of the wood's character.

The nose brings up toffee, leather, and bitter orange. Further nosing brings out vanilla, cream, and some earth mustiness - like forest floor leaves and loam. It's a complex, appetizing, and pretty sophisticated nose for a bourbon that some folks don't respect enough, in my opinion, because it's so universally available.

The initial taste on first sip is sweet with brown sugar and moassess. That's followed up by a big midpalate expansion spicy on the edges of the tongue with 100 proof and full of a sophisticated sherry quality. The finish is redolent with oak wood and a bitter orange note in the back of the tongue. There's char in the finish, vanilla, sandalwood perfume and a distant and pervasive backdrop of charcoal and creosote. You don't notice it at first but it builds up as you devour your glass. There's also a sour tang that shows up slowly over time that I have come to associate with Jim Beam. It's very subtle but it's the thread that binds the disparate Jim Beam stable together.

This is a big, rough, very masculine bourbon. It's a frontier cabin with leather, musket, and wood fire raging. It's also elegant and refined - to a point. I have no trouble recommending it - but have to point out that Elija Craig 12 has a lot of the same flavor profile (but more sweet and less char) for substantially less money. In any case, you'll have no trouble finding Knob Creek and once you start sipping I sincerely doubt anyone would regret any part of it even for a minute.


BenRiach 15 Tawny Port Finish is a rich and tasty success

BenRiach is a wonderful story. Founded in the late 19th century it produced malts for decades that were blended into other products. Owned by Chivas Bros., Benriach labored in obscurity until it was closed in the 90s. Reopened with a new consortium, BenRiach has become innovative and interesting - producing peated Speyside malts, interesting secondary cask agings, and other creative experiments. BenRiach 15 Tawny Port wood finished was in the 2006 group of releases. It is a success. Amber gold in the glass, aroma is restrained at first - with only faint iodine showing in the nose. With extended air notes of apricot, citrus, vanilla, and wood rise up. Entry on the palate is honeyed sweet with a big mid palate expansion of oak vanilla, vinuous resin, and nutmeg. Finish is long with wood tannins producing a bitter orange or dark chocolate like sensation at the back of the throat and fading apricot spice perfume. This is rich yummy malt with a light silky mouthfeel.

Benriach 15 Dark Rum finished is as light as a feather - perhaps too light

BenRiach 15 Dark Rum Finished 15 46% abv.

Part of the November 2006 "Wood Finish" series (the ones with the crazy colors on the labels and tubes).  I have a hard time believing Benriach 15 Dark Rum cask finished single malt whiskey is really aged 15 years. It's tow-headed pale yellow: among the lightest colored whiskies I've ever seen. The aroma is nice - marshmallow, cake batter and butterscotch. With extended time a clear pineapple note comes to dominate the aroma. The pineapple and butterscotch aroma (pineapple upside down cake?) is yummy. On the tongue it is filigreed and lacy. Cerial honey, cake batter up front. There are some fruit esters at midpalate (apricot and sugar cane and white raisin) and distant wood notes at the finish which is moderately short. My issue here is that there is too little oomph. What flavor there is here is nice - but there's a bit too little for my taste.  The flavors and aromas are lovely, but shy.  The whole presentation is light in body, and too light in flavor density.  Looking, smelling, and drinking this I would guess it has 8 years in the wood - not 15.  That being said, it's sins are of omission.  The flavors that are here are lovely.


Update 11/6/12:  Subtle nose with pineapple, and estery florals.  A rather lovely Speyside nose augmented by the tropical fruits of the rum finish.

On the palate I pretty much agree with my previous assessment except that I'm picking up whiffs of distant peat.  It lacks intensity of flavor, but has sweetness with that sugar cane, rum raisin, and cake batter.  Also, I'm so charmed by the lovely floral speyside estery nose that I'm distinctly entertained and enjoying it.  On the balance I feel I was a tad harsh on this one.  Today I would rate this a 4 star dram. 


What happened?  Bottle oxidation may have helped this one out.  6 months at less than half fill allows the air ample avenues to influence the nose and palate of a whisky.  Sometimes it robs a dram of intensity.  Other times things relax and open up and begin to sing better.   At 46% abv this one has some strength to give.

Ardbeg Uigeadail marries explosive fiery peat with seductive sherry sweetness for a massive flavor bomb

Ardbeg whiskeys are big big big peat bombs. Thank goodness they are back in business (after a closure in the 80s and limited production in most of the 90s) for the stout of hearts who feel that Laphroig, Lagavulin, and Caol Ila are just too wimpy. Ardbegs like Supernova, Corryvreckan, and Crocodile are massive dark smokey maritime affairs. People who seek more light in their palate might be tempted to give Ardbeg a bye. Uigeadail (pronounced OOO-guh-dahl) is the luscious sweet red haired sherry maiden married to the dark peat monster with famous finesse. It is a reason for everyone who likes single malt to find a reason to kiss the monster that lives in the depths of the black pond. (Uigeadail is the name of the black pond where Ardbeg gets their water. It's black from the peat). Thus concludes my attempt at humor. Here's the tasting:
In the glass Uigeadail is a stunning amber gold with some olive tints. Nose is huge and peat smokey with iodine and fresh sea air. First sip wallops with rich honeyed sweetness and warm peat burn exploding through a rich oily texture. By midpalate red fruits, sherry come on strong and the peat smoke has widened. Maritime airs abound, with salt spray, green olives, kippers and oysters. There's oak and vanilla bean at the start of the finish. Finish is huge and long and unfolding with wood resin, char, smoke, and honeyed sherry all the way home. It's a mammoth flavor profile that makes your head swim. It's the kind of dram you can smell 20 feet away in a room where a single glass has aired for 10 minutes. My kids know when I've been drinking Uigeadail without getting closer than 5 feet away - if you catch my drift. There's nothing subtle about this. If you long for density of flavor and want a rich sweet dessert aspect to your peat bomb - this is it. This is a landmark malt. All the reviews are glowing and I hope they are making a ton of this stuff because it deserves a permanent place in the canon.


Bruichladdich Rocks - A young vigorous Islay with a huge flavor profile but also a sweet and wooded side

Jim McEwan has really shaken up the whiskey world in his decade or so at Bruichladdich. Rocks is one of his new products, along with Peat, and Waves. Peat is smokey peat monster. Waves is buttery fat and sweet. Rocks strides between and manages to be something unique and something, in my opinion, very true to the original aspect of Bruichladdich: a sweeter, fruitier, more harmonious take on briny iodiny smokey Islay malt.
In the glass, Rocks is golden with a lovely peachy rosy glow. Rocks is aged for several months in French red wine casks which McEwan says accounts for the color. Aroma is delicate and dry with iodine, pork rind, dry oats, maritime brine, and a mineral tang. It smells like rocks on the sea shore. First sip shows a huge and unexpected (from the nose) explosion of honeyed cereal sugars with a midpalate expansion of oak vanilla, blackberry, and red fruits. The finish is long with smoky notes and anthracite char joining the honeyed cereal sugar red fruit medley with some oak resin tannins unfolding at the very end. It's a beguiling flavor profile, reminiscent of the Port Charlotte PC6-8 monsters, but less intense (and minus the peat), less proof, and far less expensive. It captures a measure of their intensity of flavor and maritime brine meets honeyed malt splendor. There's no age on Rocks' label. McEwan says its a blend of young single malts ranging from 6-9 years old. That's another way it's like the Port Charlotte offerings.


Oban Distillers Edition 1995 - Secondary aging in Montilla Fino adds vinous finess to Obans coastal flavor

Oban is, along with Talisker, my favorites of Diageo's "Classic Malts Collection". It is a small urban distiller in a small west coastal town on the Scottish mainland at the apex of the triangle formed the where the Scotch whiskey holy grail islands of Islay, Jura, and Mull meet the mainland. It has some of the iodine and brine of these coastal drams, but also some of the grainy sweetness, less peat, and softer water of the Highland drams. There's also a special "old wood in the attic" feel that is uniquely Oban - and it's something I always enjoyed very much. It's an aroma or flavor that I sometimes associate with bones - as in medical specimens. Odd - but such is memory. In the "Distiller's Editions" there's always secondary wood finish and in Oban's case the distiller chose Montilla Fino casks. This is a dry and subtle wine; less of the big grape usually chosen for second fill aging. I suspect they wanted to leave the more subtle aspects of Oban intact and preserve more of its dryer aspects. I used the 1995 edition for this tasting.
In the glass Oban is normally a straw golden yellow. The distiller's edition's secondary aging adds a lovely orangey coppery glow. Aromas of black cherry and vinuous resin join the subtle iodine, brine and oats aromas of Oban. I get my "bones in a box" quality at the edges. After extensive air the entry on the palate is sweet grain, which rapidly expands into cake batter, sea brine, white raisins, and turkish delight. Finish is long with hard candy fading into old hatbox wood and a kiss of distant smoke. This is sweet, complex, sophisticated stuff. The more I taste it the more I find in it. There's chocolate in the finish, and nutmeg and apricots in the initial sweetness. It's a rich complex of flavor notes that's hard to pin down. The sweetness and sea brine combo is pure Oban - and this distiller's edition version amps up those strengths.

Often with good spirits I find that my first glass is somewhat closed or muted in flavor compared with the middle of the bottle. It's something to do with how the air interacts with the liquor over time. This was especially true of this bottle. The first few glasses seemed excessively dry. I put it on the shelf for a month or so and when I came back it had magically bloomed into something sweet and wonderful. Remember that when a new bottle disappoints you. More air... Sometimes a poor initial showing ends up becoming a favorite selection after the bottle blooms. Remember, this can be a dual edge sword towards the end of the bottle as oxidation robs the final drams of intensity if you wait too long!


Crown Royal Cask 16 is a more evolved Canadian Whiskey

Spiced plum pudding in a glass: Crown Royal Cask No. 16 takes the normally sweet and simple genre of Canadian whiskey somewhere new and more sophisticated.
Cask No. 16 is a stunningly beautiful dark bronze hazelnut color. I've never seen a darker more lovely dram. The aroma is sweet and rich with figs and prunes (sweet dried black fruits). There is a subtle floral and woody aroma too - with extended time in the glass. Entry is sweet and light, but expands beautifully on the tongue with figs, both fresh and dried, more floral perfume, nutmeg and allspice and toasted pecans. Finish is long and adds complexity with the wood showing up to add tannins' dryness to counter all the fig honey. Just lovely and yummy.

I'm not a big fan of Canadian whiskey in general. I find it too sweet and too simple and the spirit flavor inadequately integrated with the grain sweetness (unlike sweet examples from Scotland, Ireland, and the USA which put the spirit better in the mix in my opinion). Crown Royal Cask No. 16 is an exception. It's sweet, sure, and there's spirit heat, indeed; but Cask No. 16 brings a wooded sophistication and mixes the figgy fruits with floral perfume and oaky vanilla in a way that is inescapably seductive. I didn't think I'd love this one - but I do. I LOVE it. Bravo, Crown Royal. They have elevated Canadian whiskey and produced something that can stand with the great spirits of the world.


Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit is Kentucky bourbon at a higher level

Wild Turkey is good Kentucky bourbon whiskey and Kentucky Spirit is Wild Turkey's top of the line expression in regular production: Master distiller Jimmy Russel's statement product. It's a single barrel selection with the barrel and rick numbers on each neck label served up at 101 proof to keep most of the cask goodness intact. I was expecting it to be good. It exceeded my expectations.
In the glass it's a dark coppery bronze color. The nose is rich and complex and evolves strikingly through time. Time is a big factor here. This stuff is 101 proof and has a lot of alcohol to disperse. Initially, the aroma of butter - as in brown butter and buttered corn is striking. As it opens up, sweeter sherry, treacle, pecan pie, citrus and floral notes join in. It's a positively delicious aroma. First sip shows a toffee sweetness that explodes across the palate with apple flower, toffee frosting, maple candy, citrus spritz and vanilla oak. It's a paradise of plant esters in a distilled spirit. Finish is long and complex with unfolding layers of aged sawn wood, perfumed sweetness, bitter orange/dark chocolate fudgy notes and spicy spirit. The glow in my mouth lingers for many long minutes, decaying into oak and toffee coffee bittersweet. It's what bourbon is all about - yet it's quite rare at this price point.

This is among the finest bourbons I've ever tried. It's right up there with rare limited editions in sophistication and distinction. Yet it treads a careful line through its disparate flavor elements, staying balanced among sweet and dry, floral and woody, bitter and sweet. What a masterful performance. I could drink it every day. Comparable quality in Scotch whiskey or French Cognac would cost multiples of what you get for less than a U.S. Grant note here in the US. Beyond the bargain aspect, the richness of flavor and complexity and balance of presentation shows that American distillery at the high end gives nothing up to the masters of the old world. This is a first rate distillate - right up there with the world's best in refinement and sheer yumminess. Jimmy Russel, I take my hat off to you.


Glenmorange Astar - a cask strength expression of the great distillery- aged solely in oak

Glenmorangie's Bill Lumsden is famous for introducing secondary wood finishing to the Scotch whiskey marketplace. With Astar, however, the focus is purely on first fill American ex-bourbon oak casks and the base whiskey distillate - there are no other sources of flavor going on. But like a great artist who can express much with a single line, Lumsden coaxes an incredible complexity of delightful flavors from these two ingredients. Glenmorangie's two base products, the 10 and the 18 are aged only in American ex-bourbon white oak casks too, so it's tempting to say that Astar is just a cask strength version of these - but that is incorrect. Astar is aged in custom made casks specifically crafted from white oaks grown on North facing slopes, then toasted in a special way Lumsden specified and then aged for 4 years with bourbon in the traditional manner. Lumsden says the North slope oak grows slower and has a larger pore structure in the wood - allowing for more interaction with the spirit. I don't know if that's true - but having tasted the whole Glenmorangie line I can attest that he's a genius, so I don't quibble. Astar doesn't list an age, which means it is either young or they are blending different casks of different ages to ensure consistency and to achieve a particular flavor profile that combines newer and older wood notes; I don't know which and don't really care. The proof is in the glass.
In the glass Astar is a "straw into gold" brilliant yellow. The aroma is brilliant with sweetly acidic fruit notes (lychee, citrus, apricot) and peppery spirit. There's creaminess and spice too. Creme broulee? Time in the glass opens and richens this bouquet which becomes almost floral. At first sip the taste explodes with honeyed sweetness, honeysuckle, and lemony notes. By midpalate vanilla comes to dominate. The finish is incredibly long and complex with the grain and floral vanilla taking on a more perfumed jasmine aspect and wood resins and a faint whisper of smoke.

Light, agile, incredibly iterated: brilliant. World class. One of my absolute favorites.


Elijah Craig 12 is mature, sophisticated, and excellent: the greatest bargain in all the spirit world

If you're looking for absolutely the best distilled spirit you can buy for the money (an issue that used to come up every Friday night in my younger days) you simply cannot do better than Elijah Craig 12. It's an under-appreciated classic of American bourbon crafting. You simply cannot buy a distilled spirit of any kind from any country remotely close to this refinement and quality for anywhere close to the bargain basement low price of Elijah Craig 12. It's a stone. cold. bargain. Have I said that enough?

In the glass it's dark burnished bronze with a molten luminescent core: beautiful and rich. The aroma blooms with lots of time, like a good whiskey should: corn on the cob, black fruits (prune / fig) sawn oak, and old tanned leather. First sip and I'm amazed at how dry and sophisticated this is for bourbon. There's burnt caramel and corn fruitiness - but muted below the rich oak tannins and wood resin. You can taste the years this whiskey has laid in the rich wood. Mid palate has big red fruit notes married to the wood, a sophisticated sherry-like presentation. Finish is long and complex with faint drifts of sandalwood and distant smoke weaving in among the buttered corn, hot spirit, sherry and tanned leather. The dark fudgy edge curbing the fruit sweetness reminds me of bitter orange or very dark chocolate. This is a top flight bourbon flavor extravaganza that feels lean and sinewy while at the same time as it manages to be sweet and rich. The red fruit speaks of sunlight and sugar while the dark wood and bitter notes speak of age and darkness. This is excellent depth of flavor and character.

This bourbon would be impressive regardless of price. At this price (the same as any ordinary mass market bottle of hooch) it's astounding. This bourbon is of a piece with fine single malts or vsop/xo cognac. Sip it slow and neat in a small glass. I pray they never come to their senses.