Thursday, November 15, 2018

Cognac Review: François Giboin 22 Year 1995/2017 Borderies

Giboin is a small cognac house with vines located in the Fins Bois and Bordaries regions. It has been family owned since 1830 and produces no more than 4000 cases a year. They use different amounts of lees (the solids remaining after fermentation) depending on how long the spirit will be aged for - younger cognacs are distilled without lees to give a cleaner product, while more lees are used for cognacs destined to age for longer periods of time to give a more complex product.

This particular cognac is a single cask distilled from 100% ugni-blanc grapes in 1995 and bottled in 2017 at 44% without coloring or chill filtration for Astor Wines.

François Giboin 22 Year 1995/2017 Borderies

Nose: marshmallow, vanilla, whipped cream, cotton candy, caramel, fresh and baked apples, banana, baking spices, uncooked pie crust, floral. After adding a few drops of water it shifts into a slightly drier mode with more oak, some citrus (lemon), and subdued sweet notes

Taste: rather sweet and thick up front, maple syrup, berries, grapes, floral background, mild oak underneath, not a lot of development. After dilution it becomes creamier with a little more oak

Finish: a little distant, cognac grape-iness, dried flowers, slightly drying oak

Much like the Dudognon, the bulk of the action here is in the aromas. If you're content to sit and sniff, this has quite a bit to offer. While a lot of the descriptors I gave are very sweet, I didn't find it cloying. The flavors are good if simple and this could be a pleasant sipper to enjoy with a book, but you would miss most of the action that way. Also like the Dudognon, the lack of adjustments is clear. While this is a sweeter cognac, it's cleaner than the thicker sweetness you're likely to find in more mainstream releases. Overall, while I think it could offer a bit more complexity for the money, this was a solid cask pick by Astor.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Cognac Review: Dudognon Vieille Reserve Grande Champagne

The Dudognon family have been growing grapes in the Grande Champagne region since 1776. While they sell some of their limited (~200 barrels per year) production to larger houses such as Hine and Remy Martin, they save some of the best to be labeled under their own name. The eau de vie is first distilled to 28%, then redistilled to ~70%. The new spirit is generally put in new oak barrels, then reracked into used casks for further maturation. Contrary to standard practice among cognac producers, their brandies have no additives.

I have seen claims that this cognac has an average age anywhere from 20 to 25 years. It is bottled at 40% without coloring, but possibly with chill filtration.

Dudognon Vieille Reserve Grande Champagne

Nose: dry cognac grape-iness, vanilla extract, maple syrup, honey, grapefruit peel, floral/herbal undertones, sunflower seed oil. After adding a few drops of water the sweeter elements come to the fore and a bit of gentle oak is added to the mix.

Taste: sweet grapes up front, apple/pear/grapefruit right behind, moderate tired oak from the middle back, berry overtones. After dilution it becomes noticeably sweeter up front, the oak becomes a bit brighter, there is a touch of tropical fruit in the background, and the berry notes are stronger.

Finish: light oak tannins, grapes, savory, more grapefruit, pear/tropical fruit, lingering dried flowers

This is something of an odd duck for me. The quality is clearly there, especially in the aromas, but it took a while for me to find this cognac very engaging. It's a little too dry without further dilution to be an easygoing sipper, but the flavors and finish don't quite have the complexity to reward studied engagement. While it's not flabby at 40%, I do wonder what the spirit would be like at a higher strength.

With all that said, I'm not sure if it really comes down to the spirit itself or my inability to tease apart its structure. I'm still relatively new to brandy as a category, so I'm not sure I have the experience to break it down in the way that I do with whisky.

I will give them a nod for the lack of boise and other 'adjustments' that are so common in the industry. It doesn't have the syrupy quality I've found in many other cognacs and that alone is a pleasant surprise. I'd like to try more from this producer, though I think I'll want to try before I buy next time.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Whisky Review: Craigellachie 13 Year

Until recently most of the distilleries in Bacardi's portfolio flew below the radar, primarily going to blends with some casks escaping into the hands of independent bottlers. With the rising profile of single malts in general the management decided to raise their profile and released a series of single malts from each of their distilleries. Most interesting among the bunch is Craigellachie, which has a number of features in common with fan-favorite Mortlach in the Diageo stable.

This whisky was aged in refill American oak casks (both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry) then bottled at 46% without chill filtration but possibly with caramel color.

I tasted this whisky from a purchased sample from WhiskySite.

Craigellachie 13 Year

Nose: fairly immature green malt, dirty Craigellachie funk, a layer of cleaner sherry, vanilla. After adding a few drops of water it has more alcohol heat that covers up the other aromas, leaving it with little beyond cleaner malt and vanilla.

Taste: sweet malt with a somewhat immature overlay throughout, sherry in the background, sliding into bitter but not tannic oak and some dirtier notes at the back. After dilution the immature character is pushed back, but doesn't entirely disappear, while the overall structure remains the same.

Finish: green malt, savory, sherry residue, cacao/coffee, a little dirty/earthy, cardboard-y oak

In this day and age, this is a deeply strange OB single malt. I'm honestly not sure what audience this is targeting, because it's just so far outside the norm. With slightly more active casks I think this would be a winner for me because I like the dirtier elements of the malt. As is, I find it too raw in a way that covers up some of the potential complexity.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Whisky Review: Wemyss Cragganmore 1999/2014 Heather Moorland

Independently bottled Cragganmore is something of a rare beast. Not as rare as, say, IB Oban, but rare considering that the distillery produces at least 1.6 million liters of spirit every year. One way or another Wemyss managed to get their hands on this particular cask. Given that I recently commented to MAO that the OB 12 Year Cragganmore made me want to try it from an IB, this is good timing.

This whisky was distillery in 1999, filled into a hogshead, then bottled in 2014 at 46% without coloring or chill filtration.

Wemyss Cragganmore 1999/2014 Heather Moorland

Nose: lots of fresh malt, very floral (lavender), grass/herbs/peat without any smoke, salty, berries (raspberry), creamy vanilla. After adding a few drops of water it becomes softer and sweeter with caramel coming out, but the original notes all remain.

Taste: semi-sweet malt with berries in the background up front, becomes drier from the middle back, another flash of berries and some citrus going into the finish, very little oak. After dilution it becomes sweeter throughout and a pleasant citric sourness (lemon) begins around the middle.

Finish: very floral (dried lavender), dry malt, citrus, a little mint, savory oak but not particularly tannic

This is a bit of an odd beast. Initially it came off as extremely youthful, without enough cask impact to smooth off any of the spirit's rough edges. Dilution handily tamed those faults and gives a much more pleasant and rounded experience. My second tasting had a much more rounded character to start with notes that I associate with Islay and other peated malts, but without any overt peat or smoke. Overall quite interesting, though I feel like the big floral notes in the finish might be off-putting for some. While I ultimately enjoyed this whisky quite a bit, I would only buy it at a fraction of its current price.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Whisky Review: Aberfeldy 12 Year

Aberfeldy was founded by the eponymous John Dewar during the first serious whisky boom at the end of the 19th-century. It remained a member of the DLC - proto-Diageo - conglomerate until it was divested in 1998 and sold back to Dewars, now a part of the Bacardi conglomerate. Since then it has been the home of the "Dewar's World of Whisky".

This whisky was aged primarily in ex-bourbon casks, then bottled at 40% with coloring and chill-filtration.

Aberfeldy 12 Year

Nose: good balance - caramel, fresh malt, vanilla, a touch of sherry, ripe berries, apples/pears, gently floral, peat/wood smoke/cinnamon in the background. After adding a few drops of water it becomes comparatively flat, but reveals some citrus peel and pineapple.

Taste: sweet malt and caramel up front with a thread of bitterness that weaves across the palate, apple/pear in the background around the middle, becomes thicker near the back with mild oak. After dilution it becomes less sweet and reveals some sherry around the middle plus more oak with a more tannic character, giving it a touch of charred wood or wood smoke, near the back.

Finish: bittersweet - caramel, burnt sugar, fresh malt, a touch of oak and sherry

I was pleasantly surprised by this whisky. For being bottled at 40% the aromas have more density that you would expect and present a nicely balanced character. The palate is comparatively a bit of a letdown as it lacks complexity, but it is also without significant flaws. With that said, it doesn't handle water well and loses much of what made it pleasant at full strength. While this is nothing that will wow a seasoned malt drinker, it seems like a solid step up from basic blends and would probably be my preference when faced with only the standards Glens as an alternative. With that said, there are other entry-level malts from Old Pulteney, AnCnoc, Glenmorangie, and Glenfarclas that I would recommend over this for the money.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Whisky Review: The Exclusive Blend 1991 21 Year

While primarily known for their single casks, the Creative Whisky Company has been releasing a series of vintage blended whiskies. There have been roughly a half-dozen different expressions ranging from 6 to 40 years old.

This version was constructed from malt and grain whiskies distilled in 1991 aged in refill sherry casks and bottled in 2013 at 46% without coloring or chill filtration.

The Exclusive Blend 1991 21 Year

Nose: good balance between sherry and malt, pleasant grain, fresh grass and herbal notes, gently floral, a touch of wood spices. After adding a drops of water more vanilla comes out, the sherry largely fades, and the grain and floral components are more prominent.

Taste: sweet grain with a slightly sour edge up front, green apples/pears around the middle, sliding into sherry, dark chocolate, floral notes, and bittersweet oak near the back. After dilution it becomes grainier with most of the sherry fading into the background.

Finish: balanced grain and oak, slightly sour savory note, dried orange peel, floral, fresh grass and herbs, light apple/pear

I have mixed feelings about this blend. There's no question that it's well-constructed and the quality matches or exceeds plenty of other blends and single malts at the same price point. But it also feels like it didn't entirely reach its potential - for being 80% malt, I found that the grain component was still fairly clear, but this may be a stylistic choice. I'm also a little disappointed that it lost so much of the sherry with even a little dilution, which makes me wonder if this would have been better at 50%. If you enjoy older sherry influenced blends I think this is a solid example of the style and can still be purchased from some retailers, but this sample isn't enough to make me want more.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Rum Review: Denizen Merchant's Reserve

One of the great debates over the past decade or so has been which rums make the best Mai Tai. This comes out of research by Jeff "Beachbum" Berry that when the supply of Jamaican 17 year old Dagger rum that had been the original choice for Trader Vic's Mai Tai, first turned to a 15 year old Jamaican, then when that ran out he reformulate the drink with a blend of aged Jamaican and Martinique rums to create a profile that was more sustainable. For many years it was supposed that the Martinique rum meant a rhum agricole, the grassy cane juice based rums of that island.

There is a competing theory from Martin Cate of Smuggler's Cove that the Martinique component was a Grand Arôme rather than an agricole. Rhum grand arôme is a high-ester molasses-based rum - much like Jamaican rums that use dunder, grand arôme rums are made from 'vinasse', the leftovers in the pot after a distillation, and molasses that is allowed to ferment for a very long time before it is distilled. This creates a very high ester rum that has primarily been used for baking or as a flavoring agent in other rums.

By sourcing Jamaican and grand arôme rums through E.A. Scheer in the Netherlands, Denizen Merchant's Reserve sought to create an all-in-one blend built specifically for Mai Tais.

60% of the rums in this blend are aged for at least 8 years, 20% are aged for four years in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels, and 20% is unaged rum. After blending it is bottled at 43% ABV, probably with chill filtration and possibly with coloring.

Denizen Merchant's Reserve

Nose: strong but not overwhelming dry esters, black pepper, overripe fruit (pineapple), plastic, matchsticks, slightly sharp oak and softer cedar in the background. After adding a few drops of water it becomes a bit more mellow with a less dry/assertive character and the earthy notes become stronger, but the overall structure remains the same.

Taste: sugar cane/molasses sweetness throughout, a little hollow/thin up front, vague/ethereal fruitiness in the background, sliding into dry esters with an oak backbone. After dilution the body becomes a bit thicker and the sweetness dominates throughout, with the esters and oak pushed a bit into the background.

Finish: layered sweetness, dry esters, and oak

While not a world-beater, this is an extremely competent rum. It doesn't have the brash intensity of something like Smith & Cross, but it has far more hogo than Appleton V/X. For me its major deficiency is that the spirit doesn't have the body I want, though there's only so much one can hope for at this price point. So while it gets the job done, I'm not sure it's what I would reach for again.

As this is a rum designed for Mai Tais, I feel obligated to give it a go in that form.

Mai Tai (1944)

2 oz rum
0.5 oz orange liqueur
0.75 oz lime juice
0.25 oz orgeat
0.25 oz simple syrup

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice, then pour unstrained into a chilled rocks glass. Garnish with mint.

There's a decent amount of hogo on the nose, even going so far as something I would liken to smoked salmon. The sip opens with a perfect balance between the rum's hogo with just a touch of bitterness, the lime, orange, and almond. However it all seems to quickly fade, leaving an almost clean palate after the swallow.

While this is a perfectly competent Mai Tai, I feel like it's lacking a solid core. Admittedly, my ideal Mai Tai is made with a mix of Smith & Cross and St. James Ambre, which are both very deeply flavored, funky rums, so something at 43% isn't likely to hold my attention. At the same time, I feel like even an Appleton V/X and Clément split would give me a drink with more body than this. I think it would make for a solid choice at a bar that doesn't traditionally do tiki drinks and wants to ease their customers into the field as this is a very approachable version that ticks all the boxes. But at more established spots, I'm just not sure it has everything that the dedicated tiki drinker expects.