Tuesday, July 10, 2018

New Cocktails: Turkey Shoot

While rye and Ramazzotti go together in any number of drinks ranging from the Brooklyn to the Black Manhattan, I've never seen them together in the mold of a Boulevardier, with the close exception of the Canon Cocktail by Jamie Boudreau, which still fancies up that basic combination. But sometimes simplicity is just as good as complexity.

Turkey Shoot

1.25 oz Wild Turkey 101 Rye
0.5 oz Ramazzotti
0.5 oz sweet vermouth

Combine all ingredients, stir with ice for fifteen seconds, then strain into a chill cocktail glass and garnish with a strip of orange peel.

The nose is balanced between rye grain, orange peel, and herbs/mint. The sip opens with sweet grape notes, then it counterbalanced by bitter notes from the rye and amaro/vermouth, with a grain and herbal fade at the back, and a rounded orange note throughout.

The herbal character of Ramazzotti goes really well with the spiciness of rye, giving a different emphasis than with Campari in the classic Boulevardier. With that said, it does take a fair amount of rye to hold up against the very strong flavors of the amaro, so if you're making this with a lower proof rye you might need to up it to 1.5 oz to keep everything in balance. Overall I'm really happy with how this turned out.


Thursday, July 5, 2018

Whisky Review: A.D. Rattray Macallan 15 Year 1995/2011

Independently bottled Macallan has grown even thinner on the ground lately as the blending casks the distillery was willing to sell before the 2000s were bottled. This particular cask was a double rarity - teenage Macallan from an ex-bourbon cask, very different from the sherry-driven style they're known for.

This whisky was distilled on October 23rd 1995, filled into an ex-bourbon cask, then bottled on April 27th 2011 at 46% without coloring or chill filtration in an outturn of 334 bottles.

Thanks to MAO for this sample.

A.D. Rattray Macallan 15 Year 1995/2011 Cask #11251

Nose: rich bourbon cask influence - caramel, vanilla, graham crackers, and mild oak - apple/pear/apricot notes, powdered lemonade, gently floral, some ethyl acetate, a little dusty/musty (but in a good way). After adding a few drops of water the vanilla and floral notes expand, the orchard fruit are joined by berries, the oak becomes honied, and the ethyl acetate is better integrated.

Taste: sweet up front balanced by some alcohol heat, bourbon cask influence of caramel and mildly tannic oak around the middle, with a vague orchard fruitiness and citric tang throughout. After dilution the alcohol heat largely disappears, leaving big sweetness up front and less tannic oak in the middle, but the slide into the finish falls a little flat.

Finish: a little savory/tannic oak, clean malt, vanillin, a little fruit residue

While far more drinkable than the Whisky Galore Macallan, the clear ethyl acetate note throughout establishes a clear lineage. I think this one is rescued from disaster by more time and a more active cask, but the flaws keep it from being an unqualified winner. I can also see how this spirit works better when augmented with sherry casks. While it doesn't quite click for me, dilution helped in a way that makes me wonder if it would have been better off at 43% to begin with.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Whisky Review: Whisky Galore Macallan 10 Year 1992/2003

If Macallan is known for one thing it is its sherry cask matured spirit. While the "Oh crap, we can't keep up with demand" Fine Oak series blended bourbon casks (probably originally intended for blends) with a smaller proportion of sherry casks, the only way to get pure bourbon cask matured Macallan has been independent bottlers. This one is from one of Duncan Taylor's lines that was eventually dropped in favor of their NC^2 line. Both offered largely younger whisky at 46% without coloring or chill filtration at fairly reasonable prices.

This whisky was distilled in 1992, filled into (probably Nth refill) ex-bourbon casks, then bottled in 2003 at 46% without coloring or chill filtration.

Whisky Galore Macallan 10 Year 1992/2003

Nose: so much ethyl acetate, clean malt, a little green/grassy, unripe apples/pears/peaches, some vanilla in the background, very little oak, orange peel. After adding a few drops of water the ethyl acetate settles down a bit and it gets maltier, the vanilla is amplified but the fruit notes fade a bit into the background.

Taste: malt sweetness with an undercurrent of ethyl acetate throughout, a pleasant thickness around the middle, and a bit of savory oak/malt going into the finish. After dilution it becomes much sweeter, the fruitiness around the middle is amplified, and the savory notes at the back are joined by some orange peel, but there's also more grassy bitterness in the middle.

Finish: surprisingly long recapitulation of the aromas - bittersweet malt, grassy, unripe apples and pears, a little vanilla, distant oak, then straight ethyl acetate lingers for minutes afterwards

This was a somewhat disappointing whisky. While there's clearly some good, fruity spirit in there, it's the strong ethyl acetate notes throughout make it hard to enjoy what it has to offer. With slightly more active cask with more porous wood I can envision this being much better, but as is I feel like it would need many more years of evaporation to settle into something good. It also seems rather similar to the Whisky Galore Glenlossie I tried a while back, which also had some prominent ethyl acetate notes. I'm more than a little surprised that these casks were chosen for bottling, even with such a famous name attached, but I've questioned the bottling decisions made at Duncan Taylor during the 2000s and this seems of a piece with them.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Whisky Review: Balblair 1978 First Release

The 1978 vintage is one of the few from Balblair that has only received a single release. It was eventually replaced in 2012 by a second release from the 1975 vintage. This at least suggests that Balblair really is going through their warehouses to find the casks that they think work best rather than simply marching forward through whatever they happen to have on hand.

This whisky was distilled in 1978, filled into second-fill ex-bourbon casks, then bottled in 2009 in an outturn of 3000 bottles at 46% without coloring or chill filtration

Thanks to Michael Kravitz for this sample.

Balblair 1978 First Release

Nose: fairly typical Balblair, but more refined and a little tired until it sits in the glass for a good while - clean honied malt, orange peel, strongly herbal, vanilla, light oak, a little tropical fruit and berry/grape/sherry. After adding a few drops of water it becomes softer and more malty with a slightly savory edge, but the structure remains largely the same.

Taste: fairly light - honied sweet malt up front, becoming herbal with vanilla and grape-y fruit around the middle, plus an undercurrent of gentle oak throughout that grows stronger around the back. After dilution it gets sweeter up front and feels more green/herbal around the middle, but stays largely the same.

Finish: very long - polished oak, clean malt, savory, herbal vanilla, orange peel

This feels like a logical extension of the 1989, but with more complexity in the aromas and finish. While it is also composed from refill ex-bourbon casks, the impact is dialed up just enough to keep it from feeling too spirit-y. I was a little disappointed by the flavors in comparison, but the way it was bracketed by the aromas and finish makes up for a lot of that. Overall it's very solid spirit aged in not overly-aggressive casks, which is the kind of thing that is getting increasingly difficult to find without spending an arm and a leg.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Whisky Review: Balblair 1989 Third Release

Balblair has done a number of releases from this vintage, beginning in 2007 and ending in 2012, signaling the end of their (almost?) exclusively ex-bourbon lineup and shifting into a lineup that featured blends of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks.

This release was distilled in 1989, filled into refill ex-bourbon casks, then bottled in 2012 without coloring or chill filtration.

I bought this sample as part of a set at The Good Spirits Co in Glasgow in 2013.

Balblair 1989 Third Release

Nose: kind of Balvenie-ish - honied malt, rich vanilla, orange peel, pineapple, beeswax, a little floral. After adding a few drops of water the wax and floral notes expand, the malt becomes drier, and some grape notes come out.

Taste: opens with sweet malt and floral honey undertones, which carry all the way through, some vanilla and vague fruit/berries around the middle, and a light oak overlay near the back. After dilution it retains more or less the same structure but in a softer mode and with some greener notes at the back plus a little pleasant mustiness.

Finish: savory malt and gentle oak tannins, waxy, vanilla, grape

While not particularly complex, this is a good, solid bourbon cask whisky. I appreciate that Balblair was willing to showcase their spirit without the crutch of sherry casks for so long and wish that they were still doing it, because I think it offered something similar to older bourbon cask Balvenie and Clynelish that can be rather difficult to find these days. I would probably buy a bottle if I could find it for under $120, but that seems pretty unlikely at this point. Definitely not at the local price of $500 a bottle.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Whisky Review: Balblair 1997 Second Release

Balblair's vintage release strategy offers a rare chance to experience spirit distilled during the same year at different ages. This was the second release of the 1997 vintage, with another five years in the casks compared to the first release.

This miniature was part of a set I purchased at the Good Spirits Co in Glasgow in 2013.

Balblair 1997 Second Release

Nose: pretty standard ex-bourbon barrel whisky - good balance of caramel, oak, vanilla, milk chocolate, and malt, greener young Balblair notes are becoming herbal, berries, orange peel, and vague fruitiness in the background. After adding a few drops of water the balance shifts towards the spirit and away from the cask - more green malt, less caramel and oak, plus a little bit of pineapple, pear, and mocha.

Taste: sweet caramel and roasted malt up front, vanilla in the middle, joined by well-integrated oak and some light green notes going into the finish. After dilution it feels more youthful, with more green malt and less oak/caramel, plus extra vague fruit around the middle.

Finish: a huge wave of espresso chocolate mousse, cinnamon, plus well-integrated oak and cedar in the fade out

This is one of those rare whiskies where the finish is the best part of the experience. The aromas and flavors are totally decent but somewhat unremarkable in comparison to the confectionary experience after the swallow. Much of that is lost with the addition of water, so I'd hold off unless you have a whole bottle and want to experiment.

There is a clear evolution from the younger 1997 vintage that I tried a while ago, with a switch from a more spirit-driven release to a more cask-driven release. In many ways this takes some of the best parts of bourbon and repackages them in a malt whisky context, amplifying the good parts (caramel, vanilla, chocolate/coffee) and smoothing out the rougher edges (overly aggressive oak) into a very tight package. It's not particularly complex, but what it does well it does very well. I wish I could have picked up a whole bottle when it was available, but such is the way of the whisky world.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Whisky Review: Balblair 2002 First Release

For the last decade or so Balblair has been releasing younger (10-12 years old) vintage single malts. I tried a couple of them (1997 and 2001) a while back and found that their character varied quite significantly despite their nominally similar composition. This whisky is part of the same lineup and was released in 2012 from what Balblair claims were first-fill ex-bourbon casks bottled at 46% without coloring or chill filtration.

This miniature is from a set I purchased at the Good Spirits Co in Glasgow in 2013.

Balblair 2002 First Release

Nose: fairly typical of younger Balblair - fresh/green malt dominates, vague fruitiness (pineapple/mango/grapefruit?), very little cask impact, a little creamy vanilla. After adding a few drops of water the green/new make notes become much stronger and more unpleasant.

Taste: sweet malt beginning up front, joined by green youthfulness all the way through, some vague fruitiness (tropical/berries) starting around the middle, more malt with a sour edge going into the finish. After dilution it becomes sweeter and the mouthfeel is thicker, but the green notes become stronger in the middle.

Finish: green malt with a touch of grainy rather than oak-y bitterness, a little sour

If you've had younger Balblair before then you probably know about what you're in for here. As with many of them if feels like this is composed entirely of whisky from second- or third-fill casks that have barely been able to round off the rougher edges of the new make spirit. The choice to bottle at 46% appears to have been necessity more than just style, since the aromas absolutely fall apart with even a little bit of water. Compared to the 2001 this was more straightforward, but also more boring. Overall, it was fine but not something that I would search out.