Thursday, April 26, 2012

Octomore 01.1 Fierce or lovely; Doctor Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?

Jim McEwan of Bruichladdich has dazzled and influenced the whisky world with many of his exciting and innovative directions since taking over at the turn of the millenium.  Perhaps his boldest and most iconic direction is to make peated whiskies and bottle them young, at young hot cask strength, when the peat is fresh and fierce.  The excellent and popular Port Charlotte line exemplify this direction, but the ultimate expression of this style are the Octomores - the most highly peated whiskies in the world.  Octomore 01.1 was the first of the Octomore line and many reviews (such as this excellent one by Ruben at WhiskyNotes) identify it as the beefy brawny one.  Subsequent expressions have slightly higher phenol (peat) levels, but none were reputed to exceed it in intensity.  I didn't hesitate when an opportunity came to try it. 
Darth Vader is in the house.
Read it and weep: 5yrs 131ppm

Bruichladdich Octomore 01.1 Aged 5 years, 63.5% abv, peated at 131 ppm

Color:  pale chardonnay - a cliché, I know, but well warranted here.  Rich pale gold.

Nose:  putty, library paste, mineral clay, a hint of garage (motor oil, diesel, and petrol) and some maritime ocean air with notes of salt, iodine, and sea spray.  Further nosing reveals straw, dry malt, and some cut grass.  There is a hint of cereal sugars, but the nose is for the most part dry, mineral and industrial in feeling.
Chardonnay colored in the glass
All whisky progresses across the palate, but Octomore 01.1 divides the three phases of tasting (entry, mid-palate, and finish) into totally divergent personalities like Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  Entry on the palate opens with a razor sharp burst of fresh clean vegetable sugars like treacle.  This sweetness is big - carried on the wings of a ton of alcohol intensity.  This sweetness is more than big; it is huge - and unexpected from the dry nose.  The sweetness steps aside 15-20 seconds into the sip and then the mid-palate explodes with rich peat.  Earthy, smoldering, notes of tar, clean hot burning anthracite coal, tire rubber, and oil coat the tongue and mouth.  Then 20-30 seconds later, at the turn to the finish, the big tar and fiery earth turns to ash, dense and with an almost bitter cast.  Over the next few minutes the ashes fade to a wistful echo of the piercing sweetness of the opening.  There are herbal notes in the sweetness of the long long finish.  A few minutes after the sip your palate is like a motorcyclist who has tumbled on the roadway and skidded many yards to a halt through the grassy margin and emerged scraped but unscathed: a bit raw but exhilarated (and perhaps a little freaked out).  There is char and herbs and a raw feeling on the gums, cheeks and tongue - the burn of 63.5% abv.  Better have another sip.  There's the putty, clay mineral and petrol nose.  Then WHAM, the huge razor sharp and extremely intense pointed sweetness of the opening and then the rich creeping triumph of huge mouth coating tar, anthracite coal and burning smoldering earthy peat fading gradually to ash and then wistful echo.  It's like the emotional progression of the Great War, from resolve to the wings of hope to the immolation of destruction to a melancholy burning rawness after the conclusion.  Ok, granted it's not an ordeal on that scale - but it is a wildly divergent set of fairly intense experiences. 
Samples bottled for the open shelf life experiment

Yes, drinking Octomore 01.1 is like a big journey from the heights of the most intense sweetness like angel's wings to the depths of fiery hell with the most char I've every had imprinted on my tongue by any whisky. 

How about a drop of water?  Water loosens the putty note in the nose and adds a distant bit of citrus and also some larger hint of the sugars.  Sweeter, fruiter, and a bit piquant; but still with that bit of garage and petrol.  The water does nothing to restructure that stately progression from intense sweet to intense fire to intense ash.  So I try adding even more water - about 10 drops total.  Now the nose is losing it, getting noticeably weaker but floral notes and sea moss have joined the citrus and clay and petrol.  But on the tongue the sweetness is less razor sharp and more lusciously honeyed.  The transition to the peat attack of the mid-palate is more gentle and gradual, and the peat attack itself is a bit softer with the vegetal notes and wistful sweetness showing up almost at the start of the finish so that the honeyed sweet entry almost seems to hand directly off to the ashy herbal sweetness of the finish.  Water makes it less intense, but no less lovely - perhaps even more so.  This is one of the very few drams I might actually prefer with a good drop of H2O.  

Comparing this to the Octomore 04.1 I'm struck more by the family resemblance than the differences.  Both are pale, powerful, razor sharp, and intensely sweet up from with huge earthy peat in the middle and huge coal ash at the end.  The 01.1 is has more motor oil, petrol, and mineral in the nose and midpalate.  04.1 is more earth and a more restrained refined aspect.  However they are clearly kin.  Both are exceptional experiences.  Both are extreme experiences.

Highly recommended, if you think you can handle it.  And if you can find it.  Try Park Avenue Liquors in NYC.


This bottle will be part on an ongoing series of open shelf life experiments inspired by the fascinating series of experiments on the effects of oxidation and evaporation on whiskey left in open bottles performed by Ryan of Value Whisky Reviews / Value Bourbon Reviews.  Follow the link above to read his 3 posts on the topic.  The experimental methodology is to fill samples when the bottle is first opened and then compare them with the bottle over time as its contents oxidize.  I'll be performing these experiments on an ongoing basis.  Thus, when I opened this bottle I filled 5 two oz. sample bottles and will compare them with the remains of the bottle over time.  I'll be looking at mouth feel, aromatics, nose, and flavor and will use Ryan's five point scale of discernible affects.  I'll try to do comparison tastings at 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, and a year. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Four Roses Single Barrel 100 proof "standard edition" lives up to its kin

Some of the finest bourbons I have ever had the pleasure to taste were examples of Four Roses Single Barrel.  Paul Pacult poured a Four Roses single barrel selection at an event called "The 10 Greatest Spirits in the World" back in 2008. It was, specifically Warehouse CS, barrel #48-SP.  To say it was a highlight experience would be putting it mildly.   Later I acquired a single barrel bottle from barrel 22-1B, warehouse BN, bottled at 53.6% using recipe OBSQ which was a single barrel limited edition selection for Park Avenue Liquors.  I gave it 5 stars in my review and called it "cognac-like".   A couple of weeks ago at Whiskey Live NY I had the opportunity to try the Limited Edition 2012 Single Cask, recipe OESK, 52.5% abv. (briefly mentioned in this post).  This one might be the best of all of them.  However, when you look in most liquor stores, the Four Roses Single Barrel offering you'll find is a much less expensive lower proof (50% abv) version with a bottle that has a less shiny label and a leather-looking strap at the neck.  This version costs a lot less; $31.99 at Shopper's Vineyard currently.  The others cost more - often multiples of that.  Is this "standard edition" of a piece with the amazing ones?  They all have the pyramidal trapezoid bottle; but do they share the ability to wow? 

To see I got one of those Shopper's Vineyard bottles, specifically Warehouse QN Barrel 60-1E 50% abv.  I e-mailed Four Roses and asked "what recipe mash bill and yeast this barrel used. OBSV?"
Brent Elliott of Four Roses replied: "By your mention of the product being 50% alc./vol., I was 99% sure it was our standard SB recipe (because that is always bottled at 100 proof), but to be sure I checked our records and indeed it is our SB recipe OBSV. That is the high rye mashbill with our “delicate fruit” yeast."  (I describe the Four Roses mash bill and yeast variety code in this post.)  Remember that this is a single barrel offering and there will be differences between barrels.  What we're looking for is a pattern of excellence.  Here are the tasting notes:

Color: light copper bronze reddish color

Nose: first and foremost sandalwood perfume, then bitter citrus, peach, caramel and some spicy green herbal notes like thyme flowers or oregano blooms. There is also some rich sweet bacon deep in the back. This is a big perfumed fragrant and appetizing nose. I could sniff this for hours... (in fact, that's exactly what I'm doing).

Entry is sweet like powdered demerara. The expansion is peppery, bold, herbal, juicy with orange marmalade and canned peaches and effusively wooded in the best and most fragrant way. The sandalwood essence carries directly from the nose, through the sweet entry into the powerfully wooded midpalate and out into the long glorious and drying finish with gentle tannins and echoes of charred oak. The signature of the high rye mash bill is all over, from the vibrancy and sweetness in the nose to the effervescent fizzy spice and big kick in the midpalate and the sweet herbal notes all over.

This is a triumphant American sipping bourbon.


I know it seems like I've been giving every bourbon five stars lately.  Am I just easy on bourbon, or am I just very choosy in selecting which bourbons to review?  My last review was for Rock Hill Farms, another high rye mash bill bourbon.  Rock Hill is more dry and austere - a bit more refined and noble.  Four Roses 100 proof Single Barrel is more juicy, fruity and full - but no less satisfying.  So, given that the Four Roses is 1/3 less expensive is Rock Hill worth it?  Yes.  What about those more expensive limited edition Four Roses single barrel selections?  Are they worth the extra money?  Yes.  Each of these items has its own unique mix of attributes.  They all provide tremendous enjoyment all offer excellent value - especially compared to other spirits such as Scotch, Irish, Canadian, and Cognac.  Is the "standard edition" Four Roses Single Barrel 100 proof an awesome value - absolutely.  It is a landmark product in my opinion in the value for the money equation.  The other standout value in bourbons is Elijah Craig 12.  EC12 is almost 1/3rd again less expensive than Four Roses Single Barrel 100 proof.  It's a different animal, however, with it's high corn mash bill and longer barrel aging.  It's softer, fruitier, more dank and dark, and more densely wooded.  The Four Roses Single Barrel has more punch and zest and more herbal notes because of the rye.  They share the wonderful sandalwood perfume.  Do what I did and get both.  They are both permanent additions to my cabinet and a great gift to bring to others.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Rock Hill Farms - high rye mashbill hits the perfect balance of elegance and fierce heat.

Today I'm drinking Rock Hill Farms - a single barrel bourbon bottled at 50% abv, by the fine people at Buffalo Trace.  Rock Hill Farms sports no age statement, and enjoys, apparently, the high rye "mashbill #2"used in such Buffalo Trace bourbons as Hancock President's Reserve, Blantons, Elmer T Lee, Ancient Age, and Virginia Gentleman.  I say "apparently" because there is very little information about this brand on the Internet.  On the topic of "mashbill #2", Jason Pyle's Sour Mash Manifesto says so.  So does  However there's no primary source that I can find.  There's also a dearth of information about the brand.  Why, "Rock Hills Farms"?  A clue to the name is found on the Lexington, Kentucky tourist site"": "As you enter Buffalo Trace you’ll notice the stone Rock Hill Mansion where Albert Blanton lived".   In the absence of firm information I'll just let the whiskey do the talking.  In the end that's all that matters anyway.

I believe the reports about the high rye mashbill #2.  The high rye mashbill really shows in the nose and on the tongue. 

Color: in the glass: new copper penny orange-red.  You can see it in the bottle too.  A lovely reddish bronze.

Rock Hill Farms bourbon is a lovely copper red color.
Nose: August and lean.  Acetone, honey, bitter orange and tropical fruits, herbal spice (cardamom?), pipe tobacco, plus a musty meaty note - black forest ham.  The nose is nuanced and opens over time, gaining depth, sweetness, and additional notes.

Entry is off dry with both corn and rye sugars gently showing at the end of the entry, which is quite reserved.  The texture is silky with a full mouth feel.  The midpalate expansion is rich with peppery herbal rye, honeyed sugar maple, sandalwood, black pepper, and plant sap.  This is a big flavor.  There's a tropical fruit aspect in this midpalate sugar and rye-spice medley.  I've seen it called "papaya".  It think it is more of a pineapple upside down cake with some banana and tobacco mixed in.  Sure enough, smokey savory notes join the black pepper and a cognac-like rancio in the turn to the finish.  Elegant, complex, and filigreed at the end.  There is oak, char, and sandalwood incense in the finish which is long and drying (but not unpleasantly so).  There are wood tannins which show up more as a feeling than a flavor.

Cool label is a plastic sticker.
There is a big round corn whiskey sweetness perfectly wedded to the heat, zing, and herbal notes of rye.  Unlike Wild Turkey's high rye mashbill offerings (which I love) which are more fruity and full, Rock Hill Farms is more lean and dry - an elegant balance that comes off as just right.  Hot and yet full of corn and rye sweetness; clean and yet wooded with all the little details of the flavors of the oak clearly delineated.  This is a complex and rich flavor profile that likes a lot of air time to open up.  I found the flavor required a full half an hour of airing in a Glencairn glass before it fully bloomed. 

This is a strong assertive whiskey.  For folks who love the richness of the bourbon flavor profile this will be treasured dram.  Folks who find bourbon a bit hot and strident will find this a bit much.  I'm definitely in the former camp.  This is in my top 10 regular issue bourbons.


Value notes:  Rock Hill Farms is $44.99 at Shopper's Vineyard at the time of writing.  I've seen it as low as $38 down South.  It's 65 pounds in the UK.  This puts it at the higher end of the price scale for bourbons (For example 4 Roses Single Barrel is $32 at Shopper's Vineyard).  I'll state right now that this particular refined flavor profile is worth it in my book.  It has tough competition from the aforementioned Four Roses Single Barrel, as well as other fine bourbons in this price range such as Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit, Eagle Rare 17, Elijah Craig 18, and others.  However I find that Rock Hill Farms brings something different and valid to the table in its clean, elegant, semi-dry rye forward balance.  It stands its ground well at this price point in my opinion.

notice the cork on the decanter top, at left
Sealing 5 samples for the experiement

Carrying on the Value Whisky Reviews Open Bottle Shelf Life experiment.   

Ryan of Value Whisky Reviews / Value Bourbon Reviews started a fascinating series of experiments on the effects of oxidation and evaporation on whiskey left in open bottles.  Follow the link above to read his 3 posts on the topic.  The experimental methodology is to fill samples when the bottle is first opened and then compare them with the bottle over time as its contents oxidize.  I'll be performing these experiments on an ongoing basis.  Thus, when I opened this bottle I filled 5 two oz. sample bottles and will compare them with the remains of the bottle over time.  I'll be looking at mouth feel, aromatics, nose, and flavor and will use Ryan's five point scale of discernible affects.  I'll try to do comparison tastings at 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, and a year.  However, I must tell you right now that this bottle of Rock Hill Farms is never going to last a year.  At the current rate of consumption it will be lucky to last a week.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Whisky Live New York 4/11/12

My first Whisky Live. Sadly I had to work late and arrived, frazzled, after 8. I was immediately soothed. Even though I was barely able to cover 1/3 of the floor I had peak experiences, fascinating conversations and drank plenty of amazing and exciting whisky and cognac. Here are the highlights:
Killer Frapin Cognacs

Larry Neuringer of Palm Bay
Frapin Cognac. My first sight on walking into the room was Frapin Cognac. All my favorites were on display and then two high end offerings, the VIP XO, and the Extra Grand Champagne, that I had been dreaming of trying - but never would have dreamed would be there. The VIP XO amped up the strengths of the Chateau Fontpinot XO with an even more effusive floral nose, august noble midpalate bursting with crystalized bitter orange, jasmine blooms, leather and rancio, and a long killer finish with walnut skins, luxury oak and bliss. The Extra Grand Champagne (top of the line except for the crazy kilobuck crystal decanter job) has been a dream tasting of mine ever since Paul Pacult put it in the 2011 hall of fame - see #5 on the page: Well - blow me down, Larry Neuringer of Frapin's US distributer, Palm Bay International generously poured me one.  It was sublime - taking the VIP XO's flavor profile even further into the stratosphere.  I took a 3cl sample so I'll be doing a full review in the weeks to come.  5cl samples are going for $80 on Ebay, so this actually just about paid for the event cost right there in the first 10 minutes!  I was LOVING IT.

Bastille 1789 Cognac Malt Whisky
Palm Bay also distributes an exciting new barley malt and wheat whisky from Cognac called Bastille 1789.  Distilled in alembic stills in the Cognac fashion and then aged in casks made from French Limousine oak, cherry and acacia woods, the flavor profile is startling different.  The nose is spiced with South Asian notes of curry, paprika, maybe some ginger.  The entry is unexpectedly sweet, then followed by a lean and drying midpalate that is elegant and refined and an unexpected sweet and herbal effusion of woods on the finish.  I took a sample of this as well and am excited to write a full critical review of this as well in the weeks to come.

Al Young + Four Roses 2012 Single Cask
Four Roses' Al Young was there pouring the astonishing new Four Roses 2012 Single Cask.  This is the higher corn mashbill recipe OESK, 52.5% abv.  The nose was rich and huge and refined with a profusion of floral notes and big fruits.  The entry big and round and glorious.  The midpalate elegant, strong, refined and richly cognac-like with citrus and herbs.  Lovely drying tannins on the finish.  This is clearly one for the ages.  Jim Rutledge shows that Four Roses is still pushing the art form of Bourbon to new heights.  This is a bourbon that, tasted immediately after the Frapin Extra Grand Champagne shows that American Bourbon is a spirit that, at its highest levels, clearly rivals the very best of the world's spirits.  Hats off to Rutledge and the Four Roses crew.  I'm seriously buying this one.

Balcones' Chip Tate
Balcones - Having tasted and reviewed Balcones Brimstone I was intrigued by the clearly high level of crafting, but wasn't totally convinced.  Brimstone is bold and original - but it is out there as a flavor profile.  I wasted no time in parking myself in front of master distiller Chip Tate and tasting the whole line.  It was, literally, a conversion experience.  Chip poured and explained and guided me through the line.

Texas Whiskey - a malt whisky - had eucalyptus scents in the rich wooded nose; rich sweet malt honeyed entry and a lovely dusty oak finish with a feel of the Texas terroir.  I was, frankly wonderfully surprised and pleased by the refined and delicious presentation.  This is the best US craft malt whiskey I've yet tried.

Rumble  - a fascinating distilled product made from sugar and figs (so it's part rum and park eau de vie).  Blackberries, wine, and meade.  Lovely.

"Magical" Rumble Cask Reserve
Rumble cask reserve (cask strength).  OK - here is where the wheels of my resistance fell off.  This is an astounding product with the grace, refinement, and sheer deliciousness of the best rums I've tried - but it's not a rum.  This is one of those magical spirits that rival the top spirits in a range of categories - rum, cognac, eau de vie etc... I must get a sample for review.  (out of bottles)

Baby Blue and True Blue - blue corn 100% corn mashbill corn whiskeys.  Baby Blue is rich and sweet with a young vigor.  True Blue, the cask strength expression is another of those refined landmark products that rivals the great spirits of the world.  I took a sample of this for a full formal review in the next few weeks.  True Blue was astounding.  I begin to fall head over heels.  But Chip wasn't finished yet.  He poured me a parting shot of a rare limited edition of  Balcones Brimstone called Barrel 1200, or "the burned barrel".  It was huge.  The nose took Brimstone's sweet mequite brushfire notes to another level of high resolution fidelity and enormous terroir.  On the palate it was titanic, and yet elegant and refined.  Ultimately astounding.

There were other highlights too and many more drams: Old Pulteney, Glenfiddich.  I met David Allardice of William Grant & Sons.  We had a dram of Glenfiddich 15 Solera.  I took a sample for future review.  The healing continues and I'm beginning to understand and come to grips with the Glenfiddich floral honeysuckle honeydew melon Speyside flavor profile.  I had a wonderful interlude with Amrut, including tasting most of the line including Intermediate Sherry and the new release, Kadhambam - aged sequentially in bourbon, sherry, brandy, and rum casks.  Gal wrote a detailed review of it in Whisky Israel.

An important mention.  George Manska was evangelizing and selling The NEAT glass.  The Scotch Noob reviewed the NEAT glass last week.  I picked one up and plan to corroborate his work (and add the Reidel scotch glass into the mix) in a review in the near future.

My biggest regrets were that I missed the following tables because of short time:
Glenmorangie / Ardbeg
Smooth Ambler

All in all, a night to remember and treasure.  I can't wait for the next one.  I learned a lot.  Come early, stay light, carry lots of empties!  A magical room where everyone is happy and everyone you see is pouring for you!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Connemara Turf Mor shatters boundaries. A massive bull in the Irish china shop.

Connemara Turf Mor 58.2% abv 2010 OB

Connemara (now a division of Beam, but at the time independently Irish owned) makes peated twice distilled Irish whiskey with a ton of character and terroir.  Turf Mor as a limited (20,000 bottle - released in 2010 and already hard to find) run of cask strength highly peated extremely young Irish whiskey. As such it shatters a host of traditions: It is double distilled, not triple like virtually all other Irish whiskey. It is highly peated at "over 50ppm" according to their web site. It is bottled extremely young (3 years). It is bottled at cask strength. In these attributes it more closely resembles Port Charlotte PC5, Octomore, or Ardbeg Very Young (or Still Young).

How this mix came about was the subject of a post on Irish Whiskey Notes:

"To recap the story of Turf Mór, a few years ago Cooley had trouble sourcing its usual amount of 20ppm peated malt from Scotland (malt made in Ireland is not peated). To keep the stills going, they bought a higher 58ppm malt and mixed it with the unpeated variety to moderate the intensity."

"As an experiment, however, they distilled some of the highly-peated malt on its own and that is what has appeared today as Connemara Turf Mór."

Another confirming take on the facts comes from Gal's excellent review on Connosr:

"As it seems, Cooley had a rough time getting lightly peated malts from Scotland, so they chose to simply mix peated and none peated malts for their regular Connemaras. In addition they experimented with using only the higher 58 ppm barley and the outcome is this “small batch” highly peated expression (20,000 bottles to be released ). The whisky iteself is very young (3 years old), and will be bottled at Cask strength."

None of these attributes is typical of Irish whiskey, even of Connemara's excellent peated Irish whiskeys - and the result is a dram that is very different from anything else out there.  

For this tasting I obtained a sample from

Color: Pale gold.

Nose: Earthy peat, rubber, farmy loam, farm animals, touch of wine sweetness.  The sweetness hides red fruit. Hint of sherry?  The mix of farmy notes and sweetness combine to remind me of manure on a farm; earthy and sweet.  That might sound off-putting but it isn't.  There are also some herbal notes.  This is a big big complicated and rich nose.

Entry is hot and bright with the intense sweetness of new make: white cane and rice sugars. The opening also has earthy notes of yeast.  This took me for a loop and reminded me of Corsair Triple Smoke which also is extremely young and opened with a yeasty sweetness.  The midpalate hits with a big slam of earthy peat - as you would expect from a dram with 58ppm.  That note of farm animal manure sweetness comes at the end, integrated into organic protein congeners. There's a glaze of honey soy - raw malt. So, there's one entry sweet note of rice up front and another of manure organics at the end of the midpalate and in between is sandwiched a broad expansion of malt cereal and big earthy peat. That sweetness sandwich bewitched me again and again as each sip progressed across my palate.  Finish is long and chewy with peat reek dominating. Earth peat raw burns slowly to an earthy non-smoky fade. There is none of the tar and ash of Islay. There's no smoke at all really.  It's earth.  It's more like Ardmore's glow of peat, warming into a gentleness of a fade out. Tail end sweetness has vinous red fruit essences - sherry, and plum that elegantly twine within the big peat reek glow.

Big.  No, HUGE flavors. Austere yet exuberant. Octomore meets Corsair Triple Smoke meets Ardbeg Uigeadail meets Brora meets something totally new. What a bold, complicated, oddly compelling weird dram.  The extreme youth of Turf Mor is a mixed blessing.  The peat is at its biggest and boldest and the sweetness of new make is vivid and intense, but the rawness lends yeasty and soy notes that are odd.  The vinous notes in the tail end sweetness makes me think they used sherry cask.  I wonder if a bit more time in those sherry casks would have made this dram over the moon good.  Ultimately a quibble.  Turf Mor is thought provoking, intense, different, and almost really delicious.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Compass Box Hedonism Review - Coconut cream vanilla perfume eau de vie.

I've had the opportunity to taste Hedonism several times recently - particularly paired with Pacari Lemongrass chocolate.   When I attended the event at the St. Giles I took the opportunity to pour myself a 50ml sample from Compass Box brand ambassador Robin Robinson's own bottle of Hedonism and I finally got around to pouring it for critical review.  That's why I have no bottle pictures - just lots of pics of my dram of Hedonism in the lovely fading light.

Hedonism is, quite famously, a blend of grain whiskies - not malt whisky.  That's part of the iconoclastic fun of Compass Box.  They turn a lot of things on their heads.  Peat Monster is a blend of 3 malts - but only one is from Islay.  Orangerie is *gasp* flavored.  Spice Tree and Oak Cross use a unique and spicy kind of oak in the barrel finishing.  They slaughter sacred cows ruthlessly.  Having their highest priced semi-regular expression be a blend of grain whiskies is iconclastic because we've all come to believe grain whisky is cheap - and is what's wrong in cheap blended whisky.  We say of a lower quality blend that it tastes "grainy".  We praise better blends for their higher percentage of malt (and thus lower percentage of grain).  However, as The Scotch Noob pointed out in a recent post called "What does Grain Whisky Taste Like":  the problem with cheap blends is CHEAP grain whisky.  Good grain whisky is a whole different ballgame. 

There are actually a whole bunch of grain whiskies where nicely aged examples can be had that have nice flavors: Invergordon (check out Ralfy video log #256), Carsebridge (Ralfy #255), Cambus, Port Dundas, North British, and Cameronbridge come to mind.  However, the business of vatting - blending - them is almost unknown in the current marketplace.  Other than Hedonism, only Famous Grouse's Snow Grouse expression is a blended grain whisky - to the best of my knowledge. 

So, what's in Hedonism?  The contents, according to the Compass Box cut sheet for Hedonism says:  "Will vary according to batch but typically whiskies from the following distilleries: Cameron Bridge,
Carsebridge, Cambus, Port Dundas or Dumbarton".  That "vary according to batch" part is important.  Unlike the other regular issue Compass Box offerings, each bottling run of Hedonism is a one off.  When the batch is gone the next batch will be a different blend.  FYI - there are two fancier expressions of Hedonism in the Compass Box lineup too:  Hedonism 10th Anniversary (120 bottles made worldwide) , and Hedonism Maximus (1500 bottles made worldwide).  Good luck finding them.  Park Ave Liquors has the Maximus - but it will set you back three benjamins.  Let's get on with the tasting:

Hedonism 43% abv

First fill American oak.  Non chill filtered.  No colors added.

Color: Pale Gold

Nose: Cocoa butter, white chocolate, unsalted butter/Devonshire cream, oak vanilla, medicinal alcohol, faint citrus (tangerine). Subtle, yet rich and dessert like.

Creamy bright opening with sweetened whipped cream. Then the expansion begins with toasted coconut. A bright brassy note that is hard to put words to: citrus or acid without the acidity. The mouth feel is light but has some oil thickness - it's silky. Then more creamy notes with a big floral bouquet of oak vanilla.  Pepper heat arrives late with some warm almost prosciutto fat flavors for a moment, but they disappear as the finish begins. The finish lingers nicely and exceedingly gently: egg custard and birch wood and then finally gentle oak at the fade out.

The dominant impressions here are subtle, off dry, elegant, and tasty. Coconut cream pie eau de vie.  This isn't a big booming dram.  It's more like a 1000 thread count silk pillow.  Silky, rich, buttery, and sweet like a cloud.

Adding a couple of drops of water releases spirit heat in the nose which clears in a moment and amps up the coconut and a slightly meaty and also a slightly herbal note in the nose. The water increases the sense of sweetness as well as the floral and herbal flavors.  I'd definitely recommend experimenting and adding 2-3 drops.  But be careful - Hedonism is very light and subtle.  Only add a little bit of water.  Over dilution is just around the corner.

Conclusions:  Tasty.  Surprising.  Eye Opening.  Excellent.  A whole new world.


Hedonism is $90 at Shopper's Vineyard.  It's between $80 and $110 in general.  That's pretty expensive.  I'm not sure where Hedonism fits on a the value scale.  It's a very unusual item.  I suggest you try it.  If it's your thing, you'll definitely know it.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Glenfiddich 12 On Demand Re-Review: A Recent Bottling. Has It Changed?

The new stuff at Gurinder's generous table.
A month ago I wrote a negative review of Glenfiddich 12. I tarred it with my bad memories of a previous no-age-statement version called "Glenfiddich Pure Malt Special Reserve".  Then I wrote up  tasting notes from  a 50ml bottle (which I had purchased for $10 at a local midtown Manhattan store in order to do a full review).  UK Brand Ambassador for Glenfiddich Jamie Milne surprised the heck out of me (primarily because I was shocked that anyone was actually reading this blog at that time) when he wrote:

" should also seek out another sample of the 12yo. Why? Because the miniature in your picture was bottled (I'd guess) around 5-10 years ago. The label has changed at least twice since then (check our website for the current labelling, so you know what you're looking for) and the whisky itself has been on a gradual journey since that no-age-statement bottle you remember so vividly."
The old edition 50ml

In other words, 'try the new stuff because Glenfiddich 12 has changed'.  I wasted no time lambasting Glenfiddich some more for having disappointed me in the past.  But, really, shouldn't a product be permitted to change - if the change is for the better?  Better educated whisky drinkers will choose better whisky to drink and the marketplace will adapt with better whisky.  Savvy distillers should be praised for getting ahead of the game and coming up with better whisky.  Why not upgrade the flavor profile of the top sellers?  The problem is that big brands acquire an inertia.  No one liked New Coke.  "Don't mess with success" and all that.  I didn't, in my heart, believe that Glenfiddich really had changed its flavor profile.   "Gradual journeys" for top marks like Glenfiddich 12 seemed a bit too much to be believed.  But, as always, the proof is in the glass.

My friend Gurinder (who had poured me a dram of Glenfiddich 12 at a lovely soire back in February - the original inspiration to write about Glendfiddich 12) was nice enough to pour me a generous dram yesterday and allow me the antisocial splendor of a slow meditative critical tasting session.

Glenfiddich 12 bottle from the 2011 holiday gift set 40% abv, 750ml.

(The gift set included a Glencairn glass etched with the Glenfiddich logo) - glass is visible in photo at top left holding a dram).

Color: gold
Nose: green pears, honeydew melon, honeysuckle floral notes, and clover honey.  The nose is really nice and gets better with time.  After 30 minutes it had achieved full bloom.  Fresh, floral, and fruity in the Speyside manner.

Entry is clean and light with malt cereal oats and honey.  The midpalate rest on a decent light malt body foundation.  There are flavors of oatmeal, a hint of mint, green apple, and grassy spring meadow notes.  It's not big - but there are no mis-steps.  The finish is gentle and brief and fades to mineral note (chalk like the cliffs of Dover) with slight bitter edge.

Bottom line, better than inoffensive - pretty good actually, for a single malt at this price level ($41 at Shopper's Vineyard, and $35 on line).  My most significant criticism is that the nose is bigger and more delicious than the flavor.


Three stars.  I have no problem recommending this as a gentle Spey.  

So, has the flavor profile changed?  That is certainly my experience.  Am I a huge fan of Glenfiddich?  Not yet - but I'm willing to admit that things have gotten better.  I'll continue to seek out the other Glenfiddich expressions to try and will keep an open mind.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Gordon & MacPhail tasting at Park Ave Liquors with Chris Riesbeck

One of the nice things about working on Murray Hill in Midtown Manhattan is Park Avenue Liquors (located anti-eponymously on Madison Ave between 42-43rd ). Park Avenue Liquors (PAL) is a relatively small store, but inside is a mad jumble where the greatest spirit treasures can be found - usually jammed amongst a fantastic variety of everything else. For example, what's that just left of the Glendronach 15? It's every release of Octomore - including the first. Just to the right is the OB 9th release of Port Ellen. Behind the counter are most Scotches and Bourbons available anywhere in the City. On the back wall are heaped the world of grape spirits including monstrously priced crystal trophy Cognac bottles and century old Armagnac rarities. One of the things I love most about PAL is that spirits come first. They do sell wine - but it's clearly number two.

Another great thing about PAL is that they regularly offer free spirit tastings usually after 3 on Thursdays or Fridays. The best place to find out about these events is

These events are held at the end of the sales counter - jammed in tight among the narrow aisles and heaped shelves of bottles. It's a totally NY scene.

Chris Riesbeck
Pouring today was Chris Riesbeck, US brand ambassador for Gordon & MacPhail. He's a jovial and spirited whisky geek of high order, full of the loving specifics of G&M's excellent barrel management, the expressions, spirit markets, and lore. He was pouring G&M bottlings of Glenrothes 8, Glenturret 11, Bunnahabhain 8, and the OB 10 expression of the G&M owned Benromach. The common thread here was a period of time in Sherry hogsheads. The Glenrothes had a stunning richly floral vanilla herbal nose and an exuberant, fruity flavor - a winner at the reasonable $37 price. The Glenturret was drier, silky and rich with wooded and brooding aspect. The Bunnahabhain was subtle with dry malt and a kiss of iodine, but seemed a little thin (as Bunnahabhains often do, to me). The Benromach was, as Chris explained, a classic old style Spey in that it was fruity, lightly sherried (kissed with a stint in olorosso hogsheads) and is lightly peated. Benromach 10 comes on sweet and fruity, turns august and vinous at midpalate and the smoky whiff of peat emerges at the end as a drying and sophisticated turn at the finish. The Benromach flavor profile is extraordinary - with its far ranging tour of disparate flavor elements as each sip progresses through the palate. I wanted a bit more depth, so I'll be especially anxious to try the more mature expressions.

What a lovely way to spend 15 minutes in the crushed and frenzied Manhattan hubbub!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Bushmills Malt 10 - soft as new milk (and about as exciting)

Bushmills Single Malt Double Wood 10. 40%abv Diageo

Bushmills puts this in a bottle with a fancy green label bearing the motto "Matured In Two woods" - by which they mean bourbon and sherry cask. I'm all over secondary wood finishing (although apparently Bushmills does this "backwards" with a short sherry initial aging and then a long period in the ex bourbon cask (Woodford, i've heard). All this sounds wonderful. It's Diageo, so they'll chill filter and maybe add some color (not much - this stuff is pale) - but how can this go wrong, really?

Color: pale gold

Nose: It's very shy and retiring. It takes quite a bit of air and time to come out of it's shell - but is nice when it does, with notes of malt, vanilla, sherry, some old cloves and a hint of mint.

Entry is sweet and light with a malt mint and pink fruit medley (airs of grapefruit - without the citric acid). Midplate is gentle as milk with a thin grain body and the characteristic minty Bushmills flavor signature - just like you'll taste it in White and Black Bush - but without the grain alcohol. Indeed, in this young single malt expression I feel like we are at the root of this flavor profile. The mint turns a tad bitter at the finish - which is exceptionally brief. There's a hint of sherry sweetness at the end to offset it - but just a hint. The dominant word here is "gentle". Indeed, "meek" may be a better term. It's exactly the flavor signature of gentle Old Bushmills White, but with more malt in the midpalate - more malt grain foundation - and a richer mouth feel because it's free of the grain. It's perfectly pleasant. There's nothing wrong here. If you like the base Bushmills expressions you will feel right at home.

Ultimately, a snooze. Get the 16 - which has more vinous influence and wood or stick to White or Black and save a few bucks. The 10 hews too close to the blends; splitting hairs.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Adulterated Bourbon: Red Stag Honey Tea and Jack Daniels Honey

I enjoy the taste of bourbon, but am not so snooty that I don't enjoy sweet mixed drinks from time to time - and even liqueurs.  Early on in this blog I gave Jim Beam's cherry flavored bourbon liqueur Red Stag four stars because I felt that the sweetness augmented, rather than obscured the taste of the bourbon - a rarity among whiskey liqueurs in my experience.  Tonight's tastings underscore that conclusion.  Both items are "honey" adulterations.  Honeys are the new rage - perhaps a descendent of the beloved toddy.  Every brand seems to have one out.  The idea is pretty simple.  Bourbon is often sweet with corn sugars and tree sugars from the oak wood - giving a toffee or caramel or brown sugar flavor profile.  The addition of honey amps this up and harmonizes and produces a whiskey that, in theory, is sweet and satisfying and mixes well into a variety of beverages.  Theory has a tough time living up to reality - especially when you're talking about messing with America's national beverage.

First up - Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey.  Jack Daniel's Old Number 7 is a familiar entity for me - like most Americans.  It is soft and gentle with a muted flavor profile that has some caramel up front and licorice in the back.  The softness and lack of a big corn midpalate is the supposedly the signature of the Tennessee "Lincoln County Process" of dripping the new make through a massive pile of maple charcoal.  The philosophy of charcoal filtering raw rough whiskey to soften it makes more sense when you're just going to drink it right away.  The practice of barrel aging whiskey adds a lot of mellowing, so the business of barrel aging charcoal filtered whiskey ends up with a product that is sometimes too mellow in my opinion - missing too much of what I love in bourbon.  But might this mellow softness be just the ticket for a honey?  The muted flavor profile might get out of the way and let the honey shine...

Jack Daniels Honey

Color: Gold

Nose: honey, brown sugar, treacle, nutmeg. Rather nice in a heavy handed dessert kind of way.

Entry is syrupy and thick and moderately sweet. Midpalate expansion is soft and gentle with honey, spirit heat that gives a medicinal feel, and the soft candy corn meets licorice and wood notes of Jack. The Tennessee light charcoal and honey corn flavor swell with a big sweet honey and mint midpalate bloom. There is a bitter note in the finish - but it's almost welcome after all the sweetness. This is almost good enough to drink neat - but not quite. In coke and sprite it's ok - but its gentle nature makes it get lost a bit in the mix. This is the most successful of the "honey" bourbon adulterations in my experience so far (see my earlier pan of Wild Turkey American Honey). You can actually taste the bourbon and you can really taste honey here. However it still isn't quite good enough to recommend.  Close - actually very close - but the texture is too thick and the medicinal note combines to read a bit like cough syrup.  What works is the honey flavor.  If only the bourbon flavor were a little richer and the texture a little thinner.


In my earlier review of the cherry flavor of Red Stag I gave four stars.   It was just flat out delicious.  Sales of Red Stag have been stellar and Jim Beam has followed up by releasing two new flavors, "Spiced" and "Honey Tea".  Going with the honey theme I'm drinking the latter:

Red Stag - Honey Tea


Color - light yellow amber
Nose Jim Beam bourbon, lemon, and simple syrup.

Entry is syrup thick and sweet. Expansion has that good Jim Beam bourbon flavor but is dominated by a bright but not fruity lemon note, a medicinal spirit heat, honey and some vague sense of tea. In the turn the classic beam sour barn flavor signature shows, among fake melon notes, some tannin that might be from wood, or from the hint of tea. This is a mess. The syrup thickness and excessive sweetness is cloying, and the tea traces seem out of place and lost in action. The finish is loaded with ersatz flavor notes.  I don't buy the tea flavor or the honey flavor here.  Only the bourbon flavor is good - and it's not good enough to correct the sins.  This works better in Ginger Ale or Sprite (but only just OK there), but it's not drinkable neat. After the success of the regular cherry Red Stag I was expecting better.  This experience doesn't give me much hope for the Spiced expression either - but I'll try to have an open mind. 


Bottom line - I still haven't met a honey I like well enough to recommend.  Red Stag original is a cherry flavor.  The fact that it works is beginning to seem like a rare aberration among adulterated whiskeys.  So far my advice is to make your own toddy to your own taste.  The gist is as follows:

  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • a shot and a half of bourbon
  • a quarter cup more or less of boiling, or very hot, water - to taste.  Lots of folks use a whole cup.

  • You can get fancy with a cinnamon stick if you want, and a twist of lemon, if you must.   Dissolve the honey in the water and mix in the bourbon.  Consume warm.

    ...unless Evan Williams Honey is the one...