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.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Whisky Review: Glen Garioch Vintage 1997

Glen Garioch is one of the oldest still active distilleries in Scotland, but it has gone through a number of rough patches over the centuries when it was closed or mothballed. This happened most recently between 1995 and 1997, when the floor maltings were eliminated and the distillery switched to using unpeated commercial malt.

This whisky was distilled in 1997, filled into first- and second-fill ex-bourbon casks, then bottled in 2012 at 56.7% without coloring or chill filtration.

Glen Garioch Vintage 1997

Nose: the high proof is very clear from the initial strong alcohol heat, which eventually clears to reveal fresh malt, some vague fruit notes (melon? berries?), pleasant vanilla, pencil shavings, light dusty oak, soy sauce, and a slightly industrial savory note that reminds me a bit of Ben Nevis. After adding a few drops of water the industrial/savory notes become creamier and integrate with the vanilla, the malt becomes toasted grain, the oak turns into cinnamon and cedar, and some green/pine notes poke out around the edges.

Taste: lots of alcohol heat up front, sweet, very creamy malt throughout, light oak near the back. After dilution the alcohol heat diminishes significantly and some vague fruitiness comes out around the middle, but the overall structure remains the same.

Finish: clean malt, industrial lubricants, savory, mild oak, vague fruitiness (berries, raisins). After dilution the character of the finish largely fades and becomes hot, vague, and bitter.

At full strength this is a slightly odd whisky. While I can see why it's been described as 'modern' Glen Garioch, it's also pretty clearly spirit-driven with very minimal amounts of oak influence. The industrial/savory notes are probably the most appealing part, giving more character to what would otherwise be a fairly bog standard Highland whisky.

Though I found the initial heat somewhat off-putting, it settled down nicely in a way that makes me think a whole bottle would be rather drinkable. My biggest disappointment was how the finish just disappeared after adding even a little way, removing one of the best parts of the experience. It would be interesting to experiment and see if there's a degree of dilution that retains the finish, if you don't have much to work with I'd leave it be.

I can also see why people bemoan the loss of the older floor malt Glen Garioch as a bit of peat could really take this spirit to the next level. While I'm glad to have tried a pure bourbon cask release first, I can also see how this would take well to sherry casks, hopefully edging further in the savory direction.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Whisky Review: Bowmore 17 Year

Bowmore 17 Year preceded the now standard 18 Year, then was relegated to the travel retail section. While the 18 Year has a preponderance of sherry casks over bourbon casks, the 17 Year inverts the percentages and has a higher proportion of bourbon casks than sherry casks.

This whisky was bottled at 43% with coloring and chill filtration.

I purchased this sample as part of a gift set at the Bowmore distillery in 2013.

Bowmore 17 Year

Nose: fairly subtle - balanced sherry, malt, mossy peat, and American oak, a little savory and salty, coffee. After adding a few drops of water the oak and peat are slightly amplified, making it richer but simpler.

Taste: bourbon-y caramel up front, subtle peat and oak from the middle back, a touch of sherry with some more European oak going into the finish. After dilution the oak and peat are amplified, while the sherry spreads out underneath the other flavors alongside some floral notes.

Finish: sherry residue, oak, malt, earthy peat

While this has gotten a little tepid at full strength, it has the basic structure of the 17 Year that I tried during the distillery tasting and enjoyed quite a bit. Whether your prefer the 17 or 18 Year is mostly dependent on how much sherry you want in your Bowmore. I prefer the bourbon cask end of the spectrum, so this works for me, especially as I find the oak to be less aggressive. Sadly it is also long gone, so I'll have to make due with the cask strength 17 year old Bowmores I have waiting for me.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Whisky Review: Bowmore 15 Year Mariner (New Label)

Bowmore Mariner was another whisky that was aimed at the travel retail market during the 2000s and (I think) was discontinued around 2013.

This whisky was aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, then bottled in 2009 at 43% with coloring and chill filtration.

I purchased this miniature as part of a set at the Bowmore distillery in 2013.

Bowmore 15 Year Mariner (New Label)

Nose: classic Bowmore notes - balanced fresh malt and light herbal peat, red wine and berries in the background, seashore, a bit savory with a touch of something floral. After adding a few drops of water the wine notes mostly fade, leaving a soft bed of malt with more peat and a touch of ex-bourbon oak and caramel.

Taste: sweet wine opening, clear red wine and raspberry right behind, fading out through mild oak and a little bit of herbal peat, all on top of a base of clean malt with light violet/lavender top notes. After dilution it becomes more integrated, with less peat and a slight waxing and waning of the wine notes across the palate.

Finish: red wine residue, raspberry, a bit sour, a little oak, fresh malt, a touch of salinity

While the construction of this whisky and the Enigma are nominally very similar, the results are very different. The wine notes are far more present right off the bat, but they end up reading more like a red wine than a fortified wine finish to me. If it had hit like I expect a sherry finish to, sort of a more subtle Darkest, I could see myself drinking a lot more of this. It's nuanced but not flat, with excellent balance. I wouldn't pay over the odds for this, but if you like peat and wine finishes, this would be a good one to grab if you happen to stumble upon a bottle (WhiskyBase currently has a few at not wildly inflated prices if you're so inclined).

Monday, May 28, 2018

Whisky Review: Bowmore 12 Year Enigma

Bowmore Enigma was part of their travel retail lineup from the early-2010s. It was constructed similarly to the standard 12 Year, but with a higher proportion of sherry casks in the mix, much like the standard 18 Year.

This whisky was aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, then bottled in 2009 at 40% with coloring and chill filtration.

I purchased this miniature as part of a set at the Bowmore distillery in 2013.

Bowmore 12 Year Enigma

Nose: classic Bowmore mossy/ashy peat with a healthy dose of wood smoke, leather, cured meat, sweet sherry underneath, clean/fresh malt, vanilla, some jammy fruit. After adding a few drops of water the malt, peat, and barrel char become more clear, a little floral perfume emerges, while the oak and sherry retreat/turn into maple syrup.

Taste: opens with sweet malt and a layer of sherry, quickly overlaid with oak tannins, barrel char, and a rising wave of mossy peat smoke that crests and resolves into more oak tannins and some fruity malt going into the finish, plus a light citrus note riding over everything. After dilution the oak backs off a bit to reveal more sherry but less peat and it is generally more mellow throughout.

Finish: polished oak, tannins, dry peat smoke, a little sherry residue, background malt, tropical fruit

This is a solid Bowmore, especially considering that it's not at its best at their bottling strength and with their usual manipulations. I'd need to try them side by side, but this seems pretty close to the standard Bowmore 12 Year, albeit with a little bit more going on. The aromas and the tropical fruit notes in the finish are probably the best pieces, while the flavors are OK but unspectacular. Water helps in the sense that the oak is less assertive, but both the aromas and flavors become more simple. If you happen to stumble upon a liter bottle for, say, $50 or less it wouldn't be a bad deal if you already enjoy the 12 Year, but it's not something that I would go out of my way for.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Armagnac Review: Delord 25 Year

If you go looking for older armagnac in the States, odds are that you will end up finding something from Delord. They're one of the few nearly ubiquitous armagnacs in the U.S. and offer a large number of age-dated and vintage releases at seemingly attractive price points.

Delord was founded by one of the mobile distillers of the region in 1893. His sons turned it into a permanent operation in 1932 with an estate in the Bas Armagnac region. They distill from a mixture of ugni blanc, colombard, baco, and folle-blanche grapes that are vinified separately and then distilled using both continuous and batch stills. The continuous still distillate is primarily used for spirits destined to age for a significant amount of time while the double distilled spirit is primarily used for younger expressions.

Thanks to Florin for this sample.

Delord 25 Year

Nose: balanced between raisin and sharp oak, some creamy vanilla, herbal, musty chalk/cardboard, floral pink bubblegum, and caramel. After adding a few drops of water the oak becomes a bit softer and lets the raisins shine more, but the overall structure is largely unchanged.

Taste: bittersweet throughout, grape notes underneath up front, slowly transitioning into almost pure syrup-y oak tannins with a little bit of caramel at the back. After dilution the bitterness retreats significantly and the grape notes are more clear up front, but the overall structure is largely unchanged.

Finish: dominated by tannic oak with generic brandy notes in the background and an artificial edge that I associate with spirits that have been tinkered with

I am not a fan of this armagnac. While it is an excellent value on its face - a quarter century old from an old house - it feels like too much has been done to the spirit to make up for inadequate or over-active casks. Like too many spirits these days, it feels engineered for a price point rather than to display what Delord is capable of. Alternatively, it could be created to capture drinkers who believe that older spirits are inherently oak-driven. I'm very thankful to have seen just enough skeptical reviews to keep myself from buying a whole bottle, as it was very tempting when I saw it available locally.

With all that said, if you're a bigger fan of bourbon this might click for you. The overall flavor structure is somewhat similar, albeit with grapes instead of grain, and the density of the aromas is very strong for the strength of the spirit. Just maybe try to find it at a bar before you spring for an entire bottle.

For two slightly different takes on samples from the same bottle, check out MAO and SKU.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Eighth Anniversary - Four More Years of Booze Blogging

I've been out of habit of marking the anniversary of this blog's creation, but it seems like a good time for another retrospective.



Things have been quieter over the last few years, not necessarily because I don't have anything to write about, but because I just haven't been drinking as much. Sometime after I finished my PhD in 2016 I more or less stopped entirely. Given that it was something of a rough time mental health-wise, that was probably for the best considering the alternatives, but it's taken quite a while to get back up to speed.

Lately that's been making me ask why I still write this. I'm not getting paid. The heyday of cocktail blogs that I was in the thick of when I started has mostly faded as people either turned pro or simply found that there was too much competition for their time. While I found a second wind in the rise of whisky blogging, even that seems to be losing steam for many of the same reasons.

What it really comes down to is that I feel like I have gotten a lot out of reading other folk's blogs and I still want to contribute. While not perfect, independent voices are still deeply needed right now. Sure, that gives me mixed feelings when I review spirits that haven't been available for years or are now wildly expensive when they can be found, but there is still value in chronicling where we were to understand where we are now.

Part of this is also wanting to get back to writing about the science of spirits. If you follow me on Twitter you can probably guess what my next post will be about. It's one of the ways that I feel like I can really add to the community by translating complex concepts into something more understandable. So there will definitely be more of that in future.

You can also expect to see more non-whisky posts. I have managed to whittle down my open bottles of malt whisky to three right now and I'm hoping to get it down to zero just for a change of pace. There should be more cognac, armagnac, rhum agricole, and other spirits on the horizon as I try to expand my palate. With that said, I also ordered a giant pile of whisky samples recently, so there should still be plenty of those sprinkled throughout as well.

Overall my goal is to keep from feeling like I'm in a rut. Grinding out whisky reviews has been useful in a lot of ways, but I was starting to feel like I was drinking too many for academic purposes instead of because they were enjoyable in and of themselves.

Here's to enjoying what we drink.