Thursday, April 11, 2019

Whisky Review: Old Particular Auchentoshan 18 Year 1997/2016

Auchentoshan doesn't get a lot of love, even when it's older. Some exceptions can be made when it's matured in sherry casks, but the bourbon casks usually retain too much of the polarizing distillery character.

This particular whisky was distilled in December 1997, filled into a virgin oak hogshead, then bottled in June 2016 at 48.4% without coloring or chill filtration.

I purchased this sample from Dramtime.nl

Old Particular Auchentoshan 18 Year 1997/2016 Cask #DL11203

Nose: creamy Auchentoshan malt with some maize character, sweet bourbon cask notes of caramel and vanilla, berries. After adding a few drops of water it is similar, but some grassy/floral character comes out.

Taste: sweet with berry notes up front, fades slowly into creamy malt and a touch of oak at the back. After dilution the sweetness becomes thicker and more syrupy, but the oak tannins spread out and become stronger to maintain balance.

Finish: balanced sweet malt, savory character, mild oak tannins, berries in the background

While there are parallels between this cask and the Scott's Selection I reviewed earlier, this is much more clearly a modern whisky. Much of the funkier medicinal notes and grassiness in the 1983 have disappeared leaving a much more straightforwardly pleasant product. I might even go so far as to say that if you actively dislike Auchentoshan, you'll probably still like this. There's absolutely nothing objectionable about it and I would have a bit of a tough time pegging it as a Lowland spirit rather than a generic Speysider. Some of this may be attributable to the virgin oak hogshead it was aged in, though I find it surprising that such an active cask left left a relatively light mark on the spirit.

At the time of writing this appears to still be available, though I find the price rather steep for what you're getting. While I'm glad to have sampled it, I don't find myself needing more. It's a pleasant drink and I wouldn't turn down more if offered, but I suspect there are more engaging choices out there.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Whisky Review: Scott's Selection Auchentoshan 21 Year 1983/2004

Scott's Selection occupies an interesting niche in the American malt enthusiast's psyche. Given relatively short shrift when they were originally released, they have since gained a stronger reputation as overlooked gems, especially since many survived on liquor store shelves into the whisky blogging era. However, some were real shelf turds, such as this Auchentoshan that was finally put on deep discount at Binny's after a decade or more. In this case it may have as much to do with the distillery's lackluster reputation among enthusiasts, especially when it comes from a bourbon cask rather than sherry. Luckily for me, older bourbon cask Auchentoshan is my jam, so let's see how this one did.

This whisky was distilled in 1983, filled into what was probably a refill ex-bourbon hogshead, then bottled in 2004 at 52.4% without coloring or chill filtration.

Thanks to Michael Kravitz for organizing this bottle split.

Scott's Selection Auchentoshan 21 Year 1983/2004

Nose: classic Auchentoshan style - fairly light, good malt/wood balance, wood shavings vanilla, hints of overripe fruit, light floral/grassy notes, faintly medicinal. After adding a few drops of water the malt becomes stronger, while the other notes retreat.

Taste: sweet malt throughout, grassy notes growing stronger and more vegetal towards the back, an acidic edge, floral and bubblegum top notes, citrus peel in the background (lemon, orange, grapefruit), bittersweet malt and oak at the back. After dilution the up front sweetness and the savoriness at the back are amplified, while the structure remains largely the same.

Finish: a little fizzy, long lightly sweet malt, vaguely medicinal, savory/grassy fade-out

This isn't a complex malt, just a solid example of a good ex-bourbon cask that's been left to sit for a decent amount of time. While not as aggressively grassy as the similarly aged Archives sample I tried a while back, it has everything I would expect from an unpeated Lowland whisky. Surprisingly the strength never makes itself apparent - if you had given this to me blind I might have guessed it was at 46%.

For a different perspective on this whisky, check out MAO's review from the same bottle.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

New Cocktails: the Fogerty Cocktail

This drink caught my eye when it was posted by Imbibe. It was originally made by Ryan Fitzgerald of ABV in San Francisco. The set of ingredients and proportions reminded me of the La Bicyclette I posted about earlier this week, albeit it taking them in a rather different direction.

The drink called for a high proof rye and lots of it, but I was curious how the balance of the drink could shift depending on how it was constructed.

Fogerty Cocktail

1.5-2 oz high proof rye whiskey
0.5 oz Campari
0.25 oz crême de cacao
2 dashes orange bitters

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

The 2 oz whiskey version has a slightly unbalanced nose with the whiskey and Campari notes clashing, with cacao and a little funk behind them. The sip opens with moderate sweetness, then unfolds rye whiskey and cacao bitterness, backed up by the Campari. The finish is pleasantly bitter balanced between the cacao and Campari.

The 1.5 oz whiskey version has a nose dominated by chocolate, with the whiskey and Campari in the background. The sip begins with moderate sweetness, with dark chocolate throughout undergirded by rye and Campari. The finish is bittersweet, again dominated by the chocolate.

This really demonstrates what a potent ingredient crême de cacao can be. Even a half ounce shift in the amount of whiskey is enough to completely alter the balance of the drink. My personal preference is probably somewhere between the two because I find the 2 oz version to be too far towards the rye while the 1.5 oz version lets the cacao dominate. I'd also be curious to try this with another amaro like Bruto Americano with its herbal quality, though a lighter product like Aperol would just get lost in the more strongly flavored ingredients.

Monday, March 25, 2019

New Cocktails: La Bicyclette

One of the most important things you can learn about cocktails is that they have an internal consistency. Ingredients balance each other in fairly predictable proportions, even if they have to be tweaked for the particular character of individual expressions and personal tastes.

That's how, when asked to make a cocktail using St. Germain, I was able to cobble together almost this exact recipe despite the fact that I had never seen it before, with the exception that I used orange instead of peach bitters.

This cocktail comes from a time when St. Germain was the new kid on the block and bartenders were figuring out how to use it. Jaime Boudreau of Canon in Seattle posted a couple of drinks with it, including this one.

La Bicyclette

1.5 oz gin (1:1 Tanqueray/Beefeater)
0.75 oz sweet vermouth (Punt e Mes)
0.25 oz elderflower liqueur (St. Germain)
2 dashes peach bitters (Bitter Truth)

Combine all ingredients, stir with ice for fifteen seconds, then strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with a strip of lemon peel.

The nose is balanced between the gin and vermouth, brightened by the lemon peel. The sip opens with liqueur and vermouth sweetness, passes through elderflower and citrus notes, then fades into complex bitterness from the vermouth, gin, and bitters.

This kind of drink is how St. Germain acquired the term 'bartender's catsup'. It does exactly what it is supposed to do, providing a subtle twist on an otherwise classic profile and adding a bit of extra body from the sugar. While it's since slipped out of favor from overuse, it's still a great ingredient to slip into your lineup from time to time.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Whisky Review: Game of Thrones House Greyjoy Talisker Select Reserve

I do not have a good history with Talisker's NAS releases. While some of them such as 57º North or their 175th Anniversary Edition have been fêted within the community, their more recent attempts such as Dark Storm were practically undrinkable. So it was with some trepidation that I bought this whisky, saved only by the fact that it wasn't wildly expensive, so it seemed worth the risk on the off chance that I would get another drinkable Talisker.

This whisky is aged in indeterminate casks (though I'd put some money on recharred hogsheads being in the mix), then bottled at 45.8% probably with coloring and possibly with chill filtration.

Game of Thrones House Greyjoy Talisker Select Reserve

Nose: strong but not unpleasant rounded oak, mossy/herbal peat smoke, incense, gently floral, caramel/butterscotch, a little chocolate. After adding a few drops of water the oak expands, the peat becomes more herbal, and the floral character mostly disappears.

Taste: barrel and malt sweetness beginning up front and continuing all the way through, vague berry fruitiness with floral overtones in the middle. After dilution the oak becomes more tannic and the profile is bittersweet overall.

Finish: bittersweet oak, a touch of peat, sweet berries

While this is a more modern Talisker than I would prefer, it's honestly pretty good. The oak is the defining feature, but it doesn't have the unpleasant character of Dark Storm. I liked that some of the floral character that Talisker can have came out and it had a decent amount of peat without being too sharp.

I won't tell you that this is a must-buy bottle, but if you're a Talisker fan and happen to find it at MSRP, I do think it's worth the price. Just don't pay collector's prices unless you're dead set on having a full set.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Whisky Review: Old Malt Cask Talisker 6 Year 2009/2016

Talisker is one of those distilleries that is not exactly easy to find from indie bottlers. Not as impossible as Oban, but not exactly easy. The exception to the rule has been sub 10 year old single casks, which have been trickling out over the last handful of years. Does Diageo require any bottlers who get ahold of their casks to put it on the market it before it becomes competition for their own 10 Year? Or is it just an attempt to cater to the market for youthful, fiery peated malts?

This whisky was distilled in November 2009, filled into a sherry hogshead, then bottled in November 2016 at 50% without coloring or chill filtration for K&L Wines.

Thanks to Florin for splitting this bottle with me.

Old Malt Cask Talisker 6 Year 2009/2016 Cask HL 12934 for K&L

Nose: thick savory sherry, dry peat smoke, herbal, vanilla, balsamic vinegar, pineapple, clean malt in the background. After adding a few drops of water it takes on a more youthful cast with the herbal/grassy elements amplified, the sherry pushed into the background, and the peat taking on a fresher/less smoky mode.

Taste: youthful sharpness up front, unfolding into moderately sweet sherry, some heat around the middle, then fading into malt and savory peat with oak in the background at the back. After dilution the sherry becomes more balanced between sweetness and savoriness, the oak spreads out and gives it a bittersweet profile overall,

Finish: savory, dry peat smoke, sherry residue, clean malt, moderate oak - rounded but not particularly sweet

While I've been confused by all these young Taliskers hitting the market over the last few years, but I have to admit that this one works. The cask is active enough to round off some of the edges, without completely demolishing the spirit and turning it into just another sherry bomb. Reducing this cask to 50% was a good choice as it gives enough intensity to be interesting without the heat being overwhelming.

At the same time, I can imagine putting this together with a bourbon cask or two after another couple of years and coming out with something even better when they've had some more time to develop. Will we see any of those in future? I suspect not given the current trends, but we can hope.

For a very different take on this whisky, see MAO's less than positive review.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Whisky Review: Game of Thrones House Lannister Lagavulin 9 Year

Right off the bat, I know essentially nothing about Game of Thrones. I tried to read the books, but quickly gave up and have never seen anything from the show beyond GIFs. So my only interest here is in the whisky itself.

This particular Lagavulin is an interesting choice in a number of ways. First, like the 8 Year released for the distillery's 200th anniversary, it has an age statement under ten years old. Lagavulin has traditionally put out a line about their spirit needing a significant amount of time to mature, which makes sense given their squat stills and wide cuts. The wild popularity of their annual 12 Year batch strength release has given something of a lie to that assertion, but it's still somewhat surprising that they have chosen to represent themselves with even younger releases over the last few years.

This whisky is bottled at 46%, possibly without chill filtration but probably with coloring.

Game of Thrones House Lannister Lagavulin 9 Year

Nose: rich but not overwhelming peat smoke, incense, caramel, moderate oak, barbecue sauce, bubblegum, vanilla frosting, fruity ester top notes, curing plastic and generic soap (in a good way?). After adding a few drops of water the malt moves forward, the peat becomes more mossy, and a lot of the sweeter overtones move into the background.

Taste: malt and cask sweetness up front, balanced with a moderate amount of oak tannins and some vaguely fruity overtones, fading into bittersweet oak with rising dry peat smoke beginning in the middle and flowing into the back end. After dilution the malty sweetness is amplified and pushes the oak tannins towards the back without becoming cloying, while the peat smoke becomes more incense-like at the back.

Finish: thick dry peat smoke, moderate oak tannins, background malt sweetness, vague fruitiness

It's hard to understate how much this whisky has been a pleasant surprise. My mixed experience with the 8 Year made me a little bit wary, but how often do we get new Lagavulins? So I took the plunge and have been richly rewarded. Unlike its more rough hewn younger sibling, this straddles the line between it and the more refined 16 Year, albeit without the alcoholic strength of the 12 Year. But whatever, because this is half the price of the bruiser and less than the 16 Year in most markets.

While the nose is the star of this show, the flavors and finish are nothing to sniff at either. I've been skeptical about Diageo's ability to not screw up their own whiskies and this goes some way towards restoring my faith. Heck, I might even buy a second bottles, which almost never happens these days.