Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Longrow 18 is a delicate and floral confection

Longrow is Springbank's peated expression.  The 18 year old expression made a couple of appearances in the 90s and then disappeared, apparently gone for good.  John Hansell reported the fitful return of the 18 OB expression in 2008 which was received with fanfare.  Sadly I didn't get a chance to taste it.  The next release after 2008 was the 2011 release reviewed here.  The next one isn't until 2013 and regular releases will not begin until 2015.  Such is the difficulties in ramping up production runs of very old whiskies.

Longrow 18 is double distilled and peated to 50ppm like an Islay malt.  Campbelltown is a maritime location not too far from Islay and Longrow famously uses traditional malting, mashing, and distilling methods.  This could be very Islay-like indeed.  It is aged in refill sherry casks.  Based on these descriptive parameters I was expecting something in the vein of Lagavulin DE or maybe Bowmore Darkest.  That is not at all what showed up in the box of samples from

Pale like pinot grigio

Longrow 18 46% OB 2011

Color: straw yellow - pale like white wine.  Pinot Grigio, maybe.  This is shocking color for a whisky from a sherry cask of this mature age.  Obviously they chose a set of well used multiply refilled casks - deliberately.

Nose: Very closed at first with indistinct sweet spirity aromas but with 10-15 minutes of air a flower garden blooms: dusky rose, lilies, honeysuckle, and white pear. Perfumer's notes of lanolin and faint ambergris, butter and salt (but a clean mineral salt - not ocean spray) follow and then a clear and pervasive backdrop of chalk mineral. With much extended time some sour wine aromas begin to show so 10-45 minutes is the sweet spot.  During this window the nose is absolutely glorious.  As close to perfume as any malt in my experience.  That the window closes and sourness intrudes makes this seem even more like a delicate hothouse flower that must be enjoyed while fresh.

Entry picks up the perfumed Highland/Spey fruit basket with a delicate off-dry entry that turns sweet with vividly floral honeysuckle flavors and green apple, and white pear fruits at midpalate. The sweetness doesn't seem like actual tongue hit of wood sugars - but more of an olfactory effect of the perfume floral sweetness interacting with more slight sweetness on the tongue.  The mouth feel is light as a feather, but not watery or thin. Gentle heat shows up at the turn to the finish - a slight peppery glow.  The finish is remarkably long for such a finely dressed slender pale white lady with honeyed grain mash and subtle furniture oak and gentle musk. There is very little tannin influence for a dram of this age. 

A few drops of water releases musky notes in the nose and puts a bit of citrus in with the pear aromas. On the tongue there's a bit more honey sweet and some malt and grain flavors and a bit more spicy heat but the focused floral quality has become less distinct. I'd skip the water on this one unless you have extra time for integration. (The focus returns over hours of marrying time). More than a few drops threatens to turn "delicate" into "thin and weak".

So where is all that peat?  50ppm is close to Port Charlotte range.  This could be a fire breather - but instead it's a great delicate lady in pearls and perfume in a magnificent white size 00 gown.  Where is the sherry?  Tasted blind I would guess this might be a great Speyside or Northern Highland malt.  This is a brilliant deceiver - a deft act of distillitory legerdemain.  As such I'm puzzled, mystified, and delighted.  It's certainly delicious, but risks being a bit too delicate for my tastes - particularly at this price.  Longrow 18 is a rarity that commands between $170-$200.  That being said I'm very glad I had the opportunity to taste it.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Amrut Cask Strength Peated is a volcanic hot mess of fierce heat, tropic sweet, and reeky peat.

 Some Amrut is made with Scottish malt, some with Indian malt, and some with both.  According to the label, this version is made with "the finest imported peated Scottish barley".  Mashed, distilled, and matured 3000 feet up in the hills of Bangalore, Amrut Peated Cask Strength is a mix of East and West.  As a man who loves big peated whiskies, and having loved the Amrut Single Malt Cask Strength last night, I was pretty sure I was going to love this right off the bat.  Funny, it didn't turn out that way, at least at first...

Amrut Single Malt Cask Strength Peated 62.8% abv Batch No. 4 Jan. 2010
Light amber with olive tints

(50ml miniature from Ledger's Liquor in Berkeley, CA)

Color:  Light Amber with olive tints

Nose: iodine, putty, seaweed, salt air and solvent clashes with bitter citrus, vanilla sweetness, and rich damp loam.  It's rich and sweet at the same time it's industrial and maritime.  This is an unfamiliar combination and it's both off-putting (at least initially), but also fascinating; growing on me more and more with each glass.

Entry is honeyed rich with toffee.  But phenol and peat reek kick in at the turn to the mid-palate and explode with spicy heat and tangy citrus bite.  As the mid-palate expands burning earthy peat, redolent of soil joins the lush sweetness and evolves into dense tar and ash.  As this fades into the finish astringency develops, merging with the ashy bitterness of the peat.  It's like richly honeyed lemon tea hovering above burning earth with road tar, cigar ash, and complicated tropical herbs and spices.  At the end oak and peat combine into a burnt sandalwood perfumed bittersweet complexity.

My first reaction was close to revulsion.  The rich and fruity sweetness combined in an unfamiliar way with the fierce intensity of the peat and I found the combination odd and unpleasant.  However, sip after sip as I worked my way into the glass it gradually won me over.  The complexity and richness are nothing to be afraid of.  The sweetness - the honey combine with the rich wood tannins into tea flavors.  The earthy peat into tar, smoke and ash in much the way of peated Scotches (yet this combination of rich tropical sweet and rich peat is unlike any Scotch).  The combination is beguiling once you allow yourself to be seduced, like slipping into an initially too hot tub, first pain, then blissful submission.

This is a big, fierce dram.  It needs extensive air to fully open up.  I found close to an hour was necessary.  It likes a few drops of water, and can tolerate more than a few drops.  The heat is intensified.  Spicy mid-palate heat become fierce cayenne level heat - but the sweetness and floral qualities are amplified too and the peat is rendered better integrated into the sweet.  I honestly can't tell which I prefer (with water or without).  Citrus, earth, floral aromas, harsh industrial peaty garage aromas, seaweed, salt and sea airs, sweet tea, sandalwood incense, on and on different facets unfold and vie for dominance.  What a donnybrook!  What a wild mess of a dram.  People are going to love or hate this one with violent passions.  Where will you fall?  I don't know, I straddled both sides of the fence, initially hating it and then ending up loving it.  What a wild ride!


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Amrut Cask Strength brings sweet fire to tropical heat

Gold with olive tints

Located in Bangalore, deep in the South of India - a tropical location on the coast of the Indian Ocean, Amrut's location is hot and humid. Maturation is rapid in the tropical heat.  More importantly, Armut has upped the quality of their offerings over recent years with phenomenal results, crafting a house style with a flavor signature that is (as reported in Dominic Roskrow's excellent distillery visit piece in Connosr): "rich, dripping in vanilla, citrus, and honey".  They have since added a range of expressions that include a range of fascinating wood finishes, peated malts, malts from multiple continents, and various strengths.  Amrut Single Malt Cask Strength is a cask strength example of the base expression.

On a quick visit to my Father, I visited Ledger's Liquors in Berkeley, California. Among their astounding collection of whiskies from all over the world I found some lovely Amrut 50ml miniatures.  I also had a great conversation about whisky and spirits with Ed.  It's the most fantastic liquor store I've seen a while and an unexpected treasure down in the Berkeley flats.

Amrut Single Malt Cask Strength 61.8% Batch 2 January, 2010

Color: Gold with olive tints - almost light amber.

Nose: A spirity nose rich in vanilla, spices (turmeric, fenugreek), melon, musk, leather, fresh sawn oak, and mint

A big whisky like this needs extensive air time.  I gave a full 30 minutes of airing before beginning the critical tasting as it kept opening up over time.  On entry: Wham!  A massive and sweet explosion of the Amrut signature flavors of dust, richly honeyed toffee, and overripe banana. There is a subtle but pervasive orange rind aspect, rich freshly sawn oak, and hints of mint at the close of the mid-palate. The finish is long but easy, malty and gentle with oak and caramel.  The lingering aftertaste is similar to the distant echoes of having finished a butterscotch sucking candy.

Adding a few drops of water is an obvious thing to do with whisky of this enormous strength and power. The effects on the nose are slight: some mint notes emerge and the banana and toffee loosen, enlarge, and smear a bit. On the tongue, however, the water turns the toffee sugars and bananas into a rich bananas foster experience. Spicy heat is amped up into the explosive cayenne levels at mid-palate. As the sweetness of the opening and the fiery heat of the mid-palate merge there are sweet spices like cloves and nutmeg. The finish remains long and full of gentle herbal bitters and a cleansing astringency from wood tannins.

A tour de force of flavor density and richness. Amrut has achieved a superb balance in the midst of an effusive flavor balance that threatens to go over the top.  Amrut has rightfully put India among the great whisky producing regions of the world.


Hakushu 12 is delicate and fruity, but also spicy with a whiff of smoke.

Hakushu is a fairly new distillery in a spectacular high altitude location, as the Suntory web site explains:

"Half a century after the Yamazaki distillery was founded, Keizo Saji inherited his father's vision, and in his quest for innovation, constructed Suntory's second distillery in 1973.
Built amidst the deepest forests of Mt. Kaikomagatake in the Japanese Southern Alps, the Hakushu distillery is without question one of the highest in the world." 

As the photos on the web site make clear, the distillery itself is magnificent and the location is a scenic wonder, full of natural beauty:

Keizo Saji & the Hakushu distillery (from Suntory's web site

Hakushu's many buildings, located in a scenic mountain area
The flavor signature, according to Suntory is: "Straight from the untouched forests, mountains, and pure waters of the Southern Japanese Alps, it is no wonder that Hakushu is a "green and fresh" whisky..."

"Green and fresh", what does that mean?

 Hakushu 12 43% abv

Color: Full Gold - 24 carat

Nose: honey, honeysuckle flowers, green pear, phenol, orchid, oatmeal cookies baking. Pointedly, intensely, sweet and floral and full of the classic Speyside and Highland fruit basket aromas. Less lushly vanilla and citrus heavy than Yamazaki; lighter and more floral than fruit.

Entry is sweet and lushly floral and honeyed. Mouthfeel is light but still silky - not thin. The mid-palate comes on with some peppery heat and is malty, firm & rich with pineapple, butter, cream, honeyed oats, a musky hint of peat and some jujubes and juicyfruit gum Finish has a gentle bitter note, and faint sweetness like faint flavor memories of a finished butterscotch candy.

A few drops of water reduces the fruit basket nose and ups the musky and almost smoky aspects. It also makes the sweetness up front more pointed, unleashes some spicy heat at mid-palate, and emphasizes the oak flavor note in the finish.

The spicy mid-palate seems to be a constant feature of these Suntory malts.  I imagine that this is the influence of the Japanese oak, and I like it.  Yamazaki and Hakushu are clearly kin, reflected in the Highland-like fruitbasket notes they both share.  However Hakushu wears its high altitude on its sleeve in its comparative lightness and delicacy.  Colder high altitude sites have slower maturation leading whisky to have a lighter more delicate character that whisky aged for the same amount of time in a warmer climate.  This explains the "fresh".  I'm not so sure what is meant by "green".  Perhaps the smoky notes remind of woodland fires?  Or maybe the green flavor notes of the pear and the phenol?  I don't know and I don't really care.  Hakushu is another delicious success.  It's less effusive and obvious than either Hibiki or Yamazaki; less tropical and lush.  Instead it has more delicacy - with gentle and complex flavors that take a bit more introspection and time to explore but just as much rewarding detail and complexity to find when you do.


On a celebratory note today, Saturday May 26, 2012, The Coopered Tot passed the 10,000 hit mark. A big thanks to the whisky dedicated from around the world who have taken the time to visit this blog and put up with the verbose and long winded verbiage that spew forth from the sparks and friction of my travel along my whisky journey.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Yamazaki 12 rises like a phoenix with heat and citrus floral beauty

Yamazaki 12 is a another delicious dram from Suntory that surprised and delighted me. Surprised, particularly because I had a bottle of Yamazaki 12 back in the early 90s that wasn't very impressive. That one suffered from a lack of density of flavor and a very shy nose. Yet from the very first sniff of the current stuff I knew that two decades had been too long a wait to give this one another try.

Suntory's cut sheet says:

"Yamazaki whisky is the first Japanese single malt whisky. Handcrafted at Japan’s oldest distillery, built in 1923, Yamazaki is made from barley imported from Scotland, distilled and matured in Japan. Yamazaki’s secret lies in the harmonious marriage of a single malt matured in three different types of oak – Spanish Oak, American
White Oak, and Japanese “Mizunara”– which gives the whisky its complex taste and unique flavor."

Let's see if that's true...

Yamazaki 12 43% abv

(sampled a 50ml miniature provided by Danielle of Exposure)

Color: full gold with a slight amber tint.

Nose: Lush floral vanilla perfume over banana and caramelized overripe pineapple. I also get bee's wax, honey, sweet butter, cooking pancakes, and some bit of citrus and almond like orgeat syrup. Wonderful

Entry is sweet with treacle syrup but then immediately spicy. The mouth feel is light but silky. Mid-palate bites with a bit of heat and a lemon-tangerine citrus burst that fades a bit with extended air - replaced by a smooth sweet creaminess. The floral vanilla of the nose arcs over the whole shebang. Then honeyed malt and oak take over at the turn to the finish. Oak tannins show gently at the finish along with baking dinner rolls and a gentle herbal tang. It's agile and youthful feeling - very sweet. Yet it also has balance, poise, and some complexity.

A few drops of water heightens the citrus and almond notes in the nose (banishing the banana). A bit of classic juicy Scotch Highland fruit basket nose emerges (stonefruit, pear, salted butter marzipan). It keeps evolving in the glass and I keep getting more.

On the palate a few drops of water ups the sweetness and helps it to carry through the peppery heat of the expansion into the mid-palate which still pops with citrus burst, but more softly. Theres a mellow glow of tropical fruits in the fade of the spicy citrus burst. Bees wax, butter, toffee and malt waft around. The finish is gentle and softly malty-fruity like the aftermath of chewing juicyfruit gum.

Given that the nose and entry and mid-palate spice hit are all much bigger than the finish, I'm anxious to try older expressions. I imagine an august presence develops and more wood and flavor in the finish would enhance the balance overall.

Still, what's here is glorious. The nose is lovely, complex and involving. The entry seductive and the mid-palate spicy, rich and sweet. The gentle soothing finish is a salve after the mid-palate heat. Just a lovely and involving whisky overall. What happened in the past 20 years? How did they do it? A sea change. Yamazaki 12 transformed itself from a forgettable 2 star to a vibrant and delectable 4 star treat.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Hibiki 12 succeeds brilliantly

Hibiki 12's rich full gold color
I wasn't prepared for the Hibiki 12. I hadn't read the rave reviews or seen the awards and accolades. I had been sent review samples of the 12 year old expressions of the portion of the Suntory line that is distributed in the USA: Yamazaki, Hakushu, and Hibiki (thanks Danielle from Exposure). I started with the latter because it's a blend and blends are never as good as single malts, right?  If you don't know the full story, here are my tasting notes first so you can experience my surprise with me, then the story afterwards:

Hibiki 12 43% abv

Color: rich full gold

Nose: Oh my my. Rich honeyed beehive. Clover honey, baking biscuits or maybe pecan pie, magnolia blossom, ripe cassava melon, mango and some strawberry component. A rich sweet appetizing nose with some complexity and evolution over time to hold you nosing a while.

Entry is sweet with honeyed crumpets and a silky slightly viscous mouth feel. There's a nice mid-palate expansion with white pepper, malt, green melon, sweet butter, and some warm musk and floral perfume. The finish is moderately brief, gentle, and mild with little wood, but a clean and malty afterglow and a gentle flavor of toasted seeds.

With extended air it becomes lushly, tropically, floral. Hibiscus, jasmine and more in a loud and riotous profusion over the juicy fruity malt. Puts me in the mind of Balvenie, but more juicy and effusively floral.

A drop of water amps the sweetness up into pure whole cane sugar territory. It doesn't need it, but is vibrantly and effusively sweet if you add a drop or two.  It's so lush that I highly recommend a bit of experimenting in this regard.

Smooth and easy going but also rich and full of character. Luscious. Youthful, sweet, intensely feminine. Just lovely. High four star - almost five.



Hibiki 12 in the glass
So how does Suntory achieve this amazing flavor profile?  According to the .pdf fact sheet I received from Exposure, "Hibiki is created from a selection of pure single malt whiskies, aged in various types of casks, including Mizunara, a very rare Japanese oak"  elsewhere it says "Hibiki’s soft yet complex taste profile is created from unique bamboo charcoal filtering and plum liqueur cask maturation."  Charcoal filtering is pretty unusual - but anyone who has tasted Jack Daniels Tennessee whiskey knows it produces a softness.  However it's not usually associated with such density of flavor.  Presumably the component whiskies are Yamazaki and Hakushu, Suntory's two distilleries.  I'll be tasting 12 year old expressions from those two next - with great anticipation.  Plum liqueur cask maturation is also unusual in my experience.  No doubt it has a significant impact on the tropical fruits and floral aromas and feeling that bless this excellent whisky.  Bravo, Suntory.  A home run.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

"Whisky Is A Time Traveler" appears on

Rachel MacNeill, Islay native, whisky maven, leader of Wild & Magic Islay tours and publisher of a number of web sites including has published an introspective and philosophical article by yours truly called "Whisky Is A Time Traveler".  Check it out at:

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Glenfiddich 15 Solera - a rich seductive slice of classic well aged fruit basket

Old gold with a hint of amber

I have a complex relationship with Glenfiddich, but I recently had several experiences that helped me understand and appreciate the beauty and iconic nature of Glenfiddich's floral fruity Speyside flavor profile.  The first was at Whisky Live NY 2012 when Glenfiddich brand ambassador David Allardice poured me a dram of the 15 Solera and very congenially explained the flavor profile to me (and let me take a 50ml sample used in this review).  The second, more convincing, happened when I was trying to figure out what the "yellow" whisky was in the Dramming Scotch blind tasting.  I detected an aroma that I described as "green pear, green apple, banana, green melon, butter, mineral, honey, honeysuckle".  I tasted a number of options including: Ben Nevis 1974/2000 56.4%,  Glen Elgin 1975/2011 46.8% and a Dailuaine 39 1971/2010 46.6%.  Those are some pretty special and august drams.

I decided:  "This (the yellow sample - which ended up being a 1966 Loch Lomond) is most likely a 35 year old Glen Elgin at 45%.  But, wait, the Glen Elgin 1975 in my glass is a bit more honeyed, and a bit less mineral. Mineral - that sounds like Glenfiddich. Vs. Glenfiddich 15 Solera 40%: similar green pear, green apple, honey and honeysuckle and mineral, but more mellow and less phenolic and dynamic. Tasting the Yellow one, the Glenfiddich 15 Solera, the Glen Elgin 1975/2011 Malts of Scotland "Angel's Choice", and the Dailuaine 1971/2010 Perfect Dram head to head is a dizzying experience. They are all so close. Green pear, honeydew melon, butter, honeysuckle and some mineral in each and every one."

The Glenfiddich 15 Solera wasn't quite the equal of the Loch Lomond 1966 or the Glen Elgin 1975 - but it was strikingly close.  Suddenly I understood that this floral fruit basket flavor profile is a classic old style Highland and Speyside flavor profile of mature august whiskies.  Solera 15 has a mature and august aspect.  I wonder how much of this emerges from the Solera method - where a marrying cask is perpetually kept at least half full and new whiskies are added from a series of aging casks.  That means that some portion of the cask is very old whisky - some tiny bit going back to the very first whiskies that were ever put in there.  You might not want to spring for a 35-40 year old Highland classic for everyday sipping, but you certainly might for Glenfiddich Solera 15, which runs from the $40s to the $50s ($55.99 at Shopper's Vineyard, $39.99 at K&L).  If you love this particular classic flavor profile, Glenfiddich 15 Solera is the most cost effective way to get it.

Glenfiddich 15 Solera 40%abv

Color: old gold with a hint of light amber

Nose: green pear, honeysuckle or cherry blossom, honeydew melon, chalk mineral, Jucyfruit gum. A wonderfully rich characteristically Spey aroma profile.

Entry is rich and sweet after extended air with honeyed fruits and green melon, green pear, sweet butter and a profuse floral filigree. Meadow grass with wildflowers. Mid-palate expansion brings spirit and a light breezy malt and a jazzy medley of juicyfruit flavors. The mouth feel is light and a bit thin - I suspect chill filtering.  The turn to the finish is marked by a lovely lean and drying sensation and marked by the hand off from the sweet malt fruity and floral to the mineral and wood end of the spectrum.  Finish is medium long with gentle mineral notes, light oak tannins and a hint of oak.  You're left with a clean slightly sweet malty fruity glow, as if you had just finished chewing juicyfruit gum.

This is leaps and bounds ahead of the Glenfiddich 12 expression for a pretty modest additional outlay of funds.  Glenfiddich 15 Solera gets within shouting distance of very high end single malt for a bargain price.


Friday, May 18, 2012

Beginner's Luck: Winning the Blind Tasting of Scottish Single Malts

Yellow, Red, Green, Blue, and Black
I recently participated in a blind tasting held by Malt Maniac Oliver Klimek's The blind tasting consisted of five color coded samples of single malt whisky. We were to identify the expression, distillery, age and alcohol by volume (abv) %.  This was my first ever blind tasting.  What a fantastic experience.  I agonized over the samples.  I attempted to banish preconceptions and just taste.  I tasted a wide variety of whiskies in a series of mammoth tasting sessions in a bid to get my bearings and learned a ton in the process.  I had a blast doing it and would recommend the process to anyone.  Yesterday Oliver posted the results.  I got every single expression identification wrong.  I also got every distillery identification wrong.  Yet, somehow, I won - solely because I did a good job estimating abv% and ages.  Nobody was more surprised than I was.  In Oliver's final analysis he noted that no one was able to identify more than a single distillery.  He questioned the idea of a clear distillery character.  He also admonished the idea of regions being useful:

"Another observation I made was that some of the tasters worked with regions in mind when guessing the distilleries. “Classic Speyside, coastal, Highland, Campbeltown”. More often than not, these conclusions turned out to be wrong. It really is time to say goodbye to this outdated regions concept for anything beyond mere grouping purposes."

I am completely guilty of that, as is clear when you look at my notes.  Here, for anyone's interest, are my final tasting notes and guesses as submitted - and the actual results.

(FYI - all the bottle shots of the actual results are borrowed from the article cited above) 

Some mammoth tasting sessions ensued.


Color pale gold

Nose: green pear, green apple, banana, green melon, butter, mineral, honey, honeysuckle - with a potent estery solvent phenol aspect that amps up the mineral note.
Big, classic Speyside

Entry is semi-sweet with Lychee, grapefruit, and a gentle expansion of peppery heat.
45%-46% alcohol. Finish is gentle with echoes of waxy tropical fruit and some estery solvent / polish notes.

Some candidates tasted:
Ben Nevis 1974/2000 56.4% – green pear, melon and butter and honey – but no honeysuckle and less mineral - and too strong.
Glen Elgin 1975/2011 46.8% – pinepple, green melon, banana, butter and mineral, but missing the green apple and honeysuckle – but very close.
Dailuaine 39 1971/2010 46.6% – green apple, green melon, butter, mineral, and honeysuckle, and also a hint of ham meaty quality very very very close On the tongue there is the some grapefruit and much the same gentle expansion of peppery heat, waxy tropical fruit and estery solvent. But there are differences too. More malty and meaty notes and sometimes a tiny whiff of smoke.
Linkwood (too orange)

Some candidates I've not tasted:
Glen Elgin 25 (1984 Daily Dram) 43.8%
Glen Elgin 1984/2009 (Whisky Cask) 49%
Glen Elgin 35 yo 1975/2011 (41.8%, The Nectar of the Daily Drams)

This is most likely a 35 year old Glen Elgin at 45%
But, wait, the Glen Elgin 1975 in my glass is a bit more honeyed, and a bit less mineral. Mineral - that sounds like Glenfiddich. Vs. Glenfiddich 15 Solera 40%: similar green pear, green apple, honey and honeysuckle and mineral, but more mellow and less phenolic and dynamic. Tasting the Yellow one, the Glenfiddich 15 Solera, the Glen Elgin 1975/2011 Malts of Scotland "Angel's Choice", and the Dailuaine 1971/2010 Perfect Dram head to head is a dizzying experience. They are all so close. Green pear, honeydew melon, butter, honeysuckle and some mineral in each and every one. Significantly the Yellow is more vivid and brighter, honeyed, and phenolic than any of the others; the clear winner in the group. The nose is a bit bigger than the palate, but what a nose! There is less oak than the Dailuaine 39 or the Glen Elgin 35, but not by much. There's less pepper on the expansion, but more melon and lychee. Delicious. The Glenfiddich at 40% is noticeably weaker than the others, but there are other Glenfiddich expressions such as the 18 year excellence with higher proof and similar flavor profiles. I'm agonized I can't pinpoint the distillery - but the flavor profiles are all within a hair's breadth.

Bottom line. I'm going with Glen Elgin - but a bit younger, because of the fresher bolder palate and less oak. How about:

Glen Elgin 32 year old 42.3% OB

Actual result:  Loch Lomond 1966/2011 – 40%

This was listed as my second favorite of the tasting.  What a delicious dram!



Color Light Amber

Nose: Iodine, sherry, green apple esters, toffee, some spices like curry, fenugreek. A slight meaty note. Fairly dry overall.
43%-46% alcohol – first guess.

Entry is richly sherried, complex, sweet. Figs and black cherry, with old oak leather and tobacco. Midpalate expansion is bold – maybe 50% or above, or maybe just 46%. Nice oak influence. Clearly a sherry aged or finished malt. Mix of spice and sherry immediately makes me think of Glendronach. Too dry for a PX – this is olorosso. The finish is oak, leather, cocoa, and hatbox woods like bass wood.

Clynelish 1993 Oloroso Sherry Distiller's Edition 46%

Glenfarclas Premium Edition Oloroso Sherry Casks 1993/2011 – 46%

My least favorite of the tasting, but still lovely.


Color dark amber

Nose: Iodine, curry, rancio, spice, green apple, melon, honeysuckle. Oh my my. This is a sherry cask aged or finished version of a Scottish highland with some maritime influence, but also some speyside-like fruit basket aromas. A big complex and rich nose. Me likey.

Taste: Huge opening with figs, plums, demerara sugars peppery expansion yields some leather and balsamic notes. 56%+ cask strength. I'm getting Glendronach again in a big way, but the Spey-like fruits and curry flavors are also bringing to mind Clynelish: elegant fruity melon, pear, furniture polish esters. Glendronach 18-22 years old cask strength – call it 55%.
Final guess: Glendronach OB 20 yrs 1990 57.9%. 


Blue – Benrinnes 23 yo Friends Of Classic Malts – 58.8%

My favorite of the tasting.  A superb sherry bomb.


color: pale gold

Nose: Phenol then earthy peat w/sweetness: toffee, melon. The peat abates soon, leaving green pear, honeysuckle, honey and a hint of sherry, mint, and the sweetness mixing with the smoke: bacon.

On the tongue: Sweetness, grassy honeysuckle, phenol (polish), marshmallows. There is a kiss of mint, but more fruit basket ester flavors of honeydew melon, green pear and apple. Good heat - high abv 50-52% moderately short finish leaves malt and hint of vegetal flavor (asparagus or spinach). This is big richly flavored lightly peated Spey. It's noble and probably old (ha ha - my final guess is less than 10 years old!).

Peated Spey? Higher proof? How about BALLANTRUAN Peated 50% from Tomintoul? Other candidates? Benromach Peat Smoke 46% (possible) - too smoky, Balvenie 17 Peated, Caperdonich young peated from Jean Boyer.

Benromach Cask Strength 2001 OB 59.9% - final guess.


Caol Ila Unpeated 12 yo – 57.6%

Listed as my second to last favorite, but I loved it and would drink it any time.  It's near five star territory.


Color light medium amber

Nose: Phenol sherry or port vinous aromas, plus iodine, slight curry, and a savory or meaty note. Some sandalwood too. There is putty, clay, and mineral notes. Further nosing reveals orchid notes. Dusty. A tiny bit of sulphur. Possibly quite old.

46%-50% Candy sweet entry. A floral burst (roses) and spicy midpalate with red fruits (raspberry / strawberry) melon, apple, nougat sugars mixed with oak and hatbox wood. There's a big drying finish with plenty of oak tannins Glendronach again? Could be a trick. Maybe a port finish? BenRiach? Some tawny port finish BenRiachs or sherry finish BenRiach's of the mid-70s or early 80s? But not peated.
Let's look at their web site:
Here are the candidates for unpeated port wood finished:
1975 cask 4450 aged 33YO, Peated Tawny Port Finish 52.2%
1992 cask 972, aged 19yo, Tawny Port Hogshead / Tawny Port Finish 55.6% - a bit too strong.

I'll say BenRiach 1975 cask 4450 aged 33YO, Peated Tawny Port Finish 52.2% - final answer.


Black – Auchentoshan 1999 11 yo Bordeaux Matured – 58% 
Boy - I got THAT one totally wrong!

My third favorite of the tasting - a superb dram.

Bottom line - what a great time.  I'm glad I won but I didn't win any real crowing rights.  I remain humbled and anxious to learn more.  One thing I do know for sure, opening a package like the one below is an exciting pleasure.
The joy of a delicious mystery

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Pendleton 1910 100% Canadian rye - an Oregon Canadian with rich flavor and astounding creaminess.

The "Round Up" Cowboy logo
Pendleton is a town in Oregon near Mt. Hood (a massive Cascade range volcano) famous for a rodeo. The rodeo, called The Pendleton Round Up has been held since 1910 - thus the name of this whisky. The bottle is decorated with cowboy motifs like a cowboy boot - with the bucking bronco symbol of the rodeo inside a lariat. On the Hood River Distillery web site is a press release explaining "Pendleton Whisky is imported, bottled and marketed by Hood River Distillers of Hood River, Ore., and is available nationwide. The oak barrel-aged whisky uses glacier-fed spring water from Oregon’s Mt. Hood". Nowhere is there a mention of where the whisky was originally distilled - other than the nation of Canada. It's a bit of a mystery. If anyone knows, please enlighten me. Meanwhile, it's what's in the glass that counts.

FYI - I selected this because as I read "Canadian Whisky: The Portable Expert" by Davin de Kergommeaux I felt keenly that in the 3 months this blog has been in operation I have only reviewed one Canadian whisky.  I chose this one because Davin's description was so colorful.

Pendleton 1910 12 year old 40% abv 100% Canadian rye. Hood River Distillers

Color: intense coppery amber. A pure metallic copper color with golden highlights. Stunning!

Nose: sweet toffee, gentle citrus, soft heather, graphite, leather and distant cedar. A gentle yet oddly appetizing scent. Not one you'd nose all night - but really nice and inviting.

Entry is clean and off-dry with subdued treacle herbal sugars and a kiss of sweet oak. The mouthfeel is rich with silky viscosity. Mid-palate blooms with rye's sweet herbal peppery heat and a lovely creamy sensation. Black pepper, anise, chalk mineral and rich sweet cream dominate the mid-palate and much of the finish with its medium in length and incredibly smooth and gentle. There are whispers of cedars and pines as the sweet cream and herbal pepper fade. At the end there is creamy mouth coating with a hint of cherry malted milk glow. Tannin bite and oak presence are virtually absent at the end.

Repeated sips and extended air reinforce the drill. Bold herbal rye in a velvet tuxedo holding a White Russian. The signature of rye is unmistakable, but the smooth creaminess and ultra easy finish is unlike anything I've tasted - even the smooth and creamy Russell's Reserve 6. This is unmistakably Canadian whisky, yet more polished and less spirity than most. Delicious. Compulsively drinkable.

Perhaps gratuitously I added a drop of water. It amps up the herbal heather in the nose and ups the creamy sweetness into cream soda territory. I like it - but it's unnecessary. It risks taking softness and gentleness into the territory of "flabby".

Bottom line - cowboy whisky is my new whisky crush. I'll be looking at Canadian whisky with a new eye.  This is only missing a bit of august refinement for five stars


Retails for $39.95.  Shopper's Vineyard has it for $31.95.  An excellent value at the price.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Two expressions of Springbank Cask Strength: One Coopered in Sherry, One in Bourbon Cask. Which is Better?

It's often an interesting topic when it comes to the distiller's decision to barrel age or finish a whisky in various flavored woods, or not.  A big topic in Scotch is aging in sherry casks.  There are many who love the hint of sherry flavor, or the big wallop of the sherry bomb.  Others, more purist, don't want their Scotch to faithfully taste of sherry and prefer more neutral wood aging, such as ex-bourbon American oak casks - famous for their large pore size and excellent flavor characteristics.  You come across aspects of this topic in many venues.  Last year I came across it in a review in Whisky Advocate magazine's Blog which profiled 4 interesting 14 year old sherry finished expressions of Springbank's excellent cask strength offering:

8/1/11 Post John Hansell:
"Here’s a round of single cask Springers matured completely (not finished) in various wine casks for the U.S. market. All four are solid efforts—it’s really a matter of personal preference. (Try to taste them before you buy.) A general comment: most of the single cask releases are matured in some sort of wine or rum cask. While this is nice, I would love to see several single cask, cask strength, and fully-matured ex-bourbon barrel bottlings offered for a change. — John Hansell"

(emphasis is my own)  The comments below carry this theme onward: 
two-bit cowboy says:
“While this is nice, I would love to see several single cask, cask strength, and fully-matured ex-bourbon barrel bottlings offered for a change.” — John Hansell  I’m with you on that one!

I didn't think too much about it, but this year I came across a bourbon cask version of Springbank Cask Strength (this one aged 13 years) on
This got me to thinking: "I wonder if John Hansell and Two-Bit Cowboy are right?  Is a bourbon cask expression going to be better than a sherry cask version of essentially the same Springbank?" 
I looked around and, sure enough, Park Avenue Liquors still had one of the four sherry cask finished versions: the Manzanilla.  It looked dark and lush and despite the Blog post's seeming consensus that the paler bourbon aged example might be better I was pretty certain in my bones that the sherry finished one was going to be more succulent and lush.  It was a year older, right?  It was darker and prettier, right?

FYI-I'm not going to discuss the magnificent Springbank distillery in this review, or its storied Campbelltown location.  I have discussed these things elsewhere on this blog and others have done it much better - for example:

FYI - Here's what the Whisky Advocate blog had to say about this particular one of the four:

Springbank, 14 year old, Manzanilla Cask (#259), 54.8%, $100

"Complex citrus (orange, tangerine, lime, and a hint of lemon), honeyed malt kissed by maple syrup, caramelized pineapple, cinnamon, and a dusting of nutmeg. Nutty toffee on the finish."
Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 86"
- John Hansell

Here are my tasting notes on this expression:

Color: rich coppery amber

Nose: rich nutty sherry with a slightly tangy acidic note, Like toffee hazelnut dessert wine lemon-lime with dusky oak perfume. Underneath is a faint salty maritime low-tide note which sits uneasily with the sherry sweet.

Entry is dry and elegantly lean. There's a big expansion of dry raisin, spicy heat and a juicy citrus sherry mid-palate bloom. Toffee and nutty brown-wine notes follow. At the turn to the finish is a sour note - lemon or a twist of lemon in balsamic. Maritime airs float around with salt and sea. The finish is medium-short with tannin bite but comparatively little oak flavor.

It's richly flavored, yet lean and elegant and distinctive but has some off notes in the nose and the finish. It's vinous in exactly the way Manzanilla would be - but the fit with the eclectic Springbank flavor profile is a bit strained.  The sea salt and sour finish clash a bit with the nutty vinous sweetness.  More time in the glass and more air make the entry honeyed and lush enough to help carry the finish.


Here are my tasting notes on the bourbon cask aged expression:

Springbank 13 year old Single Cask - Cask 189 - 186 bottles 56.9% - for the Belgian market 

from Belgium's WhiskySamples:

Color: Gold
Nose: bee's wax and honey. Salted porridge, butter, floral meadow, faint sherry. Further nosing baked sweets with red bean paste deep in behind the honey and sherry vine and salt. It's a rich and lovely nose - redolent of comfort foods and floral beauty.

Entry is honeyed and rich with beehive flavors of honey, bee's wax, and oatmeal. Midpalate bites with authority as you'd expect with a cask strength offering. There is august malt sugars and a faint hint of violets. There is also salt air and maritime influence. The turn to the finish brings out a slight dank bitterness like the after taste of drinking beer. The finish is long and lingering with a distinctive mix of honey mead, salty air, sour oak and the lingering flavors of sea air. How can the nose, entry and midpalate be so beautiful and the finish so, well, odd? More air helps allay the bitter sour notes. After half an hour or so of nursing I'm getting some lingering sweetness in the finish that help carry the day. The issue is the interplay of salty maritime influences with the lowland fruity honeyed flavors.


Conclusion:  Both are delicious in their own way - with lovely entries and mid-palates; both are flawed in similar ways: sour notes towards the finish.  While this similarity shows the clear kinship of the crafting of the new make, the striking differences in nose and flavor signature show the marked effects of barrel aging.  While both clearly have their charms, I ended up going with John and Two-Bit.  The bourbon aged example was sweeter, richer, more true to the Springbank flavor profile DNA and ultimately the more inviting dram in the end.  And bottom line on both: good but not among the really greats from this great distillery.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Wild Turkey 101 Rye is a solid value and a tasty dram neat or mixed -but fails to take down Russells Reserve 6

My oh my. Wild Turkey Rye 101 was recently simultaneously and excellently reviewed by the three amigos of American Whiskey blogging: Sku's Recent Eats, Sour Mash Manifesto, and Scotch and Ice Cream. All three found it to be a solid value and a fine example of an American rye whiskey - if not a candidate for top honors. A big part of the topic, however, was the impact of Wild Turkey's release of a new lower proof version of this rye and the expectation of scarcity of this version - as initially reported by Chuck Cowdery in his March 19th post "Wild Turkey Is Introducing A New Rye." Never having tried it, I found myself in a discussion with Sku in the comments section of his blog post baselessly arguing for the superiority of Wild Turkey's Russell's Reserve Rye 6 (which I reviewed back in February). Here's how the exchange went:

JF: "Excellent depiction of the WT101 rye flavor profe. I'm a huge fan of the WT line and the Russell family's distilling work. A rye that they do which is superb for drinking neat is Russell Reserve Rye 6. I gave it five stars. Have you tried it?"

Sku: "Josh, I reviewed Russell's Rye back when it first came out. My thoughts then was that it was nice enough but a bit soft for my taste. Overall, I prefer the 101."

Color me mystified and impressed. WT 101 Rye runs just over half the price of Russell's Reserve 6. If it was better it was a serious bargain. Certainly the term "bargain" often attaches well to Wild Turkey's affordable and excellent whiskies. I had to try it. Despite the reports of scarcity I located WT 101 Rye at several NYC liquor stores including Shopper's Vineyard ($22) and Park Avenue Liquors.

Wild Turkey Rye 101 50.5% abv

Color: light amber

Nose: Hot spirity Bourbony with a big slap of sharp varnish and acetone. Rich with floral peach, toffee, leather and oak.

The entry is intensely sweet and minty with a gentle but firm expansion at mid-palate of peppery herbal kick. The mid-palate ranges over the familiar rye flavor elements: big alfalfa sweetness with a roundness that eloquently speaks to a good measure of corn in the mash bill, effervescent spicy fizz buzz, and herbal parsley and ivy flavors which hand off to assertive char and oak at the finish which ends on a bittersweet and herbal bitters flavored note. The bitterness is a tad much - my primary issue with WT Rye 101. But it's a quibble. This is a lovely rye - well situated between the gentle mineral, floral and lanolin of the Russell's Reserve Rye 6 and the bigger kick of the sherry-cherry salt bang of Rittenhouse Rye 100 and the intense herbal pow of Old Potrero Single Malt Rye.

This is a big sweet farm harvest of a rye: bold, spicy, herbal, and sugared. Another inexpensive classic from the Russell team at Wild Turkey.


Bottom line, however, I still find that Russell's Reserve Rye 6 strikes the best balance between peppery kick, and herbal floral sweetness. It has a lush beauty in its gentle aspect that seduces me completely. Maybe my recent bottle is an improved version over the 2009 first edition Sku reviewed - or maybe just a difference in taste. In recent experiments with what I consider the king of American cocktails, the Manhattan, I find that each of these excellent ryes makes great Manhattans, but with strikingly different flavor profiles. Russell's Reserve Rye is particularly synergistic with orange bitters and sweet vermouth. WT 101 Rye is a versatile player that mated excellently with all bitters and both sweet and dry. Easy to recommend, easy to afford, and, for the moment at least, still fairly easy to find.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Bowmore Tempest swirls rich sweet fruit and nut flavors with peat and tidal flats bitter tang.

I confess that I haven't been a huge fan of Bowmore over the decades. My feeling was that big rich expressions were expensive while the affordable entry models lacked intensity. Bowmores have a distinctive flavor profile that dials down Islay's usual big peat and sea air and dials up a nutty fruity aspect more typical of the Highlands. Bowmore Tempest is a cask strength expression aged in first fill bourbon casks for 10 years and served up without chill filtering or coloring. Batch one was lauded in 2009. The sample I'm drinking today is from 2010's Batch 2 (a sample from 2011's Batch 3 is the current offering. I've been anxious to try Tempest to see if they really achieved an affordable Bowmore that really nails their flavor profile in big bold strokes.

Bowmore Tempest 10 56% abv

OB first fill bourbon Batch 2 2010
Non-chill filtered no coloring added.

Color: rich golden amber

Nose: Sweet with toffee, and brazil nuts. Further nosing reveals almost Speyside-like fruity notes of honeysuckle, pear, and melon. There is spirit heat and some maritime salty airs and warm peaty smoky tinges. In the back there are some mineral notes of gypsum and granite. Complex, big, appetizing. Scrumptious.

Entry is huge with honey, toffee candy and then a big spicy expansion of prickly heat, oak, peat, and bitters. The bitters have herbal and also peat (tar and ash) flavor elements. At the finish the bitter fades to oak tannins and salty sea flats at low tide. Nutty, toffee, fruity, spicy, herbal peaty bitter oaky and salty maritime - these wildly divergent flavor elements kaleidoscope across the palate with each sip. Big, powerful, yet sweet and clearly sporting the Bowmore flavor signature DNA.

A wee drop of water amps up the honeyed aspect of the entry and raises the bitter of the peaty end of the mid-palate in higher relief. The putty notes of peat become clear in the nose among the nutty sweetness.

A wonderful richly flavored Bowmore. A sweeter more Highland style of Islay - yet clearly Islay to the core. It was 4 stars until I added a few drops of water. That just tipped it into 5. Succeeded they have. This is a big gutty richly flavored Bowmore that satisfies and then some.


Monday, May 7, 2012

Octomore 4.2 Comus puts a honeyed glory on the blaze and the ashes.

Château d'Yquem is the highest end Sauternes, the only Premier Cru Supérieur. If you like the rich sweet yellow dessert wine Sauternes, you'll want to have it at least once in your life. It is famous for balancing sweetness and acidity with a big tropical fruit and floral nature. In the wine finish craze that has gripped the Scotch whisky world (and, beginning, the bourbon world too now) it was inevitable that Sauternes casks would be used. Probably the most famous such expression is Glenmorangie's excellent Nectar D'Or which amps up Glenmorangie's honeyed floral nature with the honeyed floral nature of Sauternes to produce the laciest most floral expression of Scotch whisky around. Whiskies finished in the casks from the regal and expensive Château d'Yquem are harder to find. A notable example is the kilobuck crystal decanter top of the line Glenmorangie Pride which I had the opportunity to taste at a Glenmorangie flight in 2010 at Keen's hosted by Paul Pacult and Bill Lumsden. Pride is intensely honeyed and regally floral with tons of figs and dates and honeysuckle flower. Pride is composed mostly of 18 year old Glenmorangie which then rested in Château d'Yquem casks for a full 10 additional years. Glenmorangie is a natural to pair with this delicate wine influence because its high stills, the highest stills in Scotland, emphasize the delicate and floral esters which whisky can possess.

Today I'll be tasting the latest expression of Octomore from Bruichladdich: 4.2 Comus. The name comes from Greek mythology. The "dot two" designation, so far, indicates a wine secondary finish. The previous wine finished Octomore was 2.2 "Orpheus" - sporting a Château Petrus finish. It was universally lauded as a big step forward for the Octomore flavor profile. The reception for the Comus expression has been more tepid, perhaps not surprisingly. It's an odd pairing - Octomore, the highest peated whisky in the world - and the sweet and floral wine influence of Château d'Yquem. Peat is a powerful and assertive flavor. It might be expected to stomp all over the more delicate d'Yquem. However, experience has taught me that Octomore has a dual nature born of Bruichladdich's extremely tall stills, the highest stills in Islay: a beautiful light sweetness up front - married to the big and assertive peat that shows up, seemingly out of nowhere, at mid-palate. So, maybe it's not so crazy after all. Bruichladdich plays this aspect of the pairing up with the white tube and the story about Comus.  Here it is from Bruichladdich's web site:





Octomore 4.2 Comus is a lovely light gold color.

Octomore 4.2 Comus 61% abv 167 ppm

Non chill filtered.  No artificial colors.  3cl samples from

Color: pale gold - a slightly richer color than the light straw of the non-wine finished Octomores.

Nose: the putty and library paste notes of big peat come first. Then the maritime salt spray notes share time with an odd vegetal note which initially had a lemon pith quality but, with more nosing, began to seem more like dry hay. There is also a little meat broth aroma behind everything a a slight mineral note like chalk. This is, frankly, an odd complex of flavor notes. Adding a drop of water amps up the putty and broth and hay at the expense of the sea spray and mineral.  I think the admixture of powerful peat aroma, sweet, and broth savory is the origin of some reviewer's sense of "rotting plant matter" - (see the April 11 post of Sku's Recent Eats).  I don't get that sense - but I do acknowledge that some of these aromas are at odds with each other.  Frankly, it hardly matters; once you start sipping something bigger trumps them all...

Entry is sweet and honeyed with a much richer mouth feel than other Octomores in my experience. The flavor signature of Sauternes is immediately apparent as a softening and richening overlay on top of the usual razor sharp sugars of Octomore's opening. This opening is lush, but with a drop of water the sugars explode and the whole fore palate becomes much more richly honeyed yet: viscous, and rich with a Sauternes like sweetness.   (The enhancement wrought by the addition of a few drops of water (only) is so profound that I consider it mandatory for this dram.)  At mid-palate where the floral aspect of d'Yquem emerges, however, the smoldering peat attack owns everything and overshadows the Yquem flavors. As in all the other Octomores the peat builds huge and smoldering in the mid-palate and turns to ash in the finish; a huge dominating flavor aspect.  This is the "Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde" aspect of Octomores:  the ethereal sweetness up front which gives way to a dramatic mid-palate expansion dominated by a huge wall of peat reek.  Somehow this transition, which thrilled and delighted me in other Octomore expressions, induced some regret in me here.  The Yquem glory up front is eclipsed by the massive peat attack and doesn't show up again until the palate progresses through fiery peat, road tar, and then the long finish of smoldering ash and then lingering herbal notes and a wistful final post echo of sweetness and then finally the decks are cleared for the next sip.  Is this new regret a shortcoming of this dram, or is it a testament to the beauty wrought by the lovely Yquem Sauternes finish; a beauty so lovely that I cannot bear to see it so roughly treated by the peat monster's massive shaggy bulk?  I don't know - but I pondered this with a knit brow.

The Sauternes finish has softened the "usual" Octomore initial razor sharp sugar opening and tempered and thickened it. The rich d'Yquem flavor profile luxuriates the intense sugar sting and makes it softer.  That's the bottom line here.  This is a softer, more plush and luxurious Octomore.  I don't know if I prefer it to the un-wine-finished style I've tried in the 1.1, 2.1 and 4.1 expressions.  It's different and new.  If you found the initial intense razor sharp sugar attack of these other Octomore expressions too intense, this 4.2 Comus expression will be a revelation.  Personally I'm inclined to find it an incremental improvement.  Something is most definitely gained, but something is lost too.  Softer and richer isn't unambiguously better in my opinion.  However, Octomore remains the most intense flavor profiles I've experienced and 4.2 Comus doesn't disappoint in this regard.  4.2 Comus goes new places and stretches to new extremes.  I remain quite bewitched by the whole crazy series.