Thursday, July 9, 2020

Whisky Review: Bowmore 21 Year (Late-90s)

Finally, the last of this series. This is also one of the older Bowmore's I've ever had the chance to try. The Prime Malt 21 Year/1982 is the same age, but drawn from a slightly later period. Assuming that this OB is actually from the late-90s, it should have been distilled somewhere in the late-70s. I guess we'll see how much of a difference that makes.

This whisky was aged in (I believe) a mixture of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, then bottled at 43%, probably with coloring and chill filtration.

I purchased this sample from the Old England Scotch House.

Bowmore 21 Year (Late-90s)

Nose: kind of closed - oak-y sherry, maple syrup/caramel, vanilla, baking spices (cinnamon), light lavender, a touch of peat. After adding a few drops of water the bourbon casks are emphasized and most of the other notes fade into the background.

Taste: surprisingly hot - moderate sherry sweetness up front, joined by some oak tannins and floral notes in the middle, maltier fade out with a touch of peat. After dilution it gets a little watery but the heat entirely disappears, the sherry up front is replaced by American oak sweetness, and the floral notes shift into the background.

Finish: lingering oak and lavender, grape/purple, sherry residue, fresh malt

This is something of an odd duck. It appears to have leapfrogged the worst of the lavender, but the result is something kind of generic. Given that the peat has faded even more, I would probably peg this as some kind of older Highland malt. The lavender is the only thing really connecting it to Bowmore, though even that is balanced enough here that I'm not sure I would automatically guess it. If it had some of the older Bowmore tropical fruit I would move it up a notch, but I couldn't really find any. So there's nothing wrong with this malt and I would drink more if offered, but I also don't get the feeling that it's something I need to search out in future.

For a slightly different take on what I think is the same whisky, see The Whiskey Jug.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Whisky Review: Bowmore 17 Year (Late-90s)

Last week's 12 Year was already deep in the lavender era. If the dating of this miniature is correct, the spirit should be drawn from the late-70s to the early-80s - the very front end of that period rather than the middle.

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

I purchased this sample at the Old England Scotch House.

Bowmore 17 Year (Late-90s)

Nose: big floral notes (lavender) with a purple/grape tinge, clean malt underneath, caramel, very light sherry, creamy vanilla, tannic oak and dry peat (more with time), and something savory. After adding a few drops of water the lavender becomes more integrated, the sherry is stronger, plus there's a little more peat and savoriness.

Taste: sweeter malt and bourbon cask notes bouncing back and forth with big floral/lavender up front, shifts towards bittersweet oak tannins from the middle back. After dilution the sweetness up front is joined by some sherry, the oak near the back is joined by some caramel, and citrus peel comes out around the middle.

Finish: lingering lavender, sweet malt and bourbon cask, polished oak tannins, very light peat, slightly sour

There are a lot of similarities with the 12 Year I just reviewed, but age had noticeably improved this one. While the lavender is still over the top, it's a little more integrated, though the even more diminished peat isn't around to help much. I do like the balance of bourbon and sherry casks, since I feel like the former often lets the spirit shine more than the latter (at least in Bowmore OBs) Unlike the 12 Year I would drink more if offered, but it's not something I need to search out. While the current 18 Year has its flaws, I honestly think it's a better whisky.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Whisky Review: Bowmore 12 Year (Late-90s)

This is a really interesting one for me since I've tried various iterations of the standard 12 Year a few times as well as the 12 Year Enigma. If my guess for the late-90s bottling date is correct, this was drawing spirit directly from the most infamous period in the late-80s/early-90s.

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

I purchased this sample from the Old England Scotch House in Ravenna.

Bowmore 12 Year (Late-90s)

Nose: thin and kind of muddled - caramel, floral, citrus peel, baked apples, savory notes, light sherry and peat, somewhat plastic-y malt, buttery. After adding a few drops of water the sherry and floral notes become stronger, some hand soap emerges, while the peat and malt almost completely disappear.

Taste: caramel and citrus sweetness up front with lavender notes, carrying through to the back where there is a little more oak and the floral notes grow stronger, somewhat vegetal in the middle. After dilution it becomes extremely watery, the malt is creamier, but the flavors remain much the same.

Finish: strongly floral (lavender, especially), hand soap (especially after dilution) clean malt, caramel, light but lingering peat

Unlike Legend, this time I need to give the nod to the modern version. The problems that Bowmore became notorious for - muddled character, big floral notes, soap, and little peat - are on full display here. Surprisingly even the higher strength isn't enough to save it. 43% is a fairly significant bump, but it still reads as rather thin. Water just wrecks it. ABV isn't everything, I guess.

It was a bit better on the second tasting when I could get more peat, which helped to balance out the other elements, but even then it didn't hit the mark. While I think it could be useful for blending to add a twist to a fruitier malt, there's nothing about it on its own that grips me. This actually helps me to appreciate modern Bowmore, even if it still has room for improvement, because I can see how they managed to rein in some of their flaws while retaining their core character.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Whisky Review: Bowmore Legend (Late-90s)

Time for some blasts from the past.

I managed to find a(n almost?) full set of Bowmore miniatures in a tiny whisky shop in Ravenna called the Old England Scotch House. Tucked away in a side street not far from San Vitale, it's the kind of specialist shop that barely exists in the States. While my lack of checked luggage prevented me from getting any of enticing bottles, I was able to find some very fun things in their selection of miniatures.

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

Bowmore Legend (Late-90s)

Nose: classic bourbon cask Bowmore - fresh malt, dusty grains, gentle caramel, berries, pleasant peat smoke, floral vanilla in the background. After adding a few drops of water it becomes rougher but more expressive - the berries expand, the malt is creamier, and the peat and oak get a bit stronger.

Taste: malt and cask sweetness up front continuing through to the back with some floral flourishes, a little tannic with some berries in the middle, plus light peat notes underneath that expand going into the swallow. After dilution it become softer and much more fruity (almost sherried), with the peat arriving earlier and more strongly, but also more oak tannins.

Finish: dry peat smoke, grape-y oak, floral, sweet malt

While nothing show-stopping, I really enjoyed it. While maybe a little less complex than the newer Small Batch I tried a while back, it is less overtly youthful and a little more full-bodied thanks to being bottled at 43%. The trademark Bowmore floral notes are present here, but much less strong than I've found in other expressions. This was probably drawn from their 90s distillate after they had solved their problems from the 80s.

I was also pleasantly surprised by how well it handled water. While it did lose a bit of body, the brighter, fruitier flavors were quite welcome. Oddly that also meant that the finish had more of an alcoholic nip, but that might have been solved by more time in the glass.

These bottles apparently can go for big money now, which is either a reflection of people liking this even more than I do or the current mania for bottles from the past, whatever their quality. But like I said above, if you can still find something like Small Batch (defunct, but not impossible to find at its original price) you'll be pretty close without breaking the bank.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Whisky Review: Glencadam 15 Year (2009)

Sort of like how the 17 Year was created when Ardbeg was revived, the first release from Glencadam after its purchase and restart by Angus Dundee was a 15 Year. This may have been because of the brief shutdown of the distillery between 2000 and 2003, leading to them trying to build up younger stock to ensure future releases, though I can't be sure.

Perhaps a bit behind the times, the 15 Year was originally bottled at 40%. When they introduced the 10 Year in 2009 they revamped the line at 46% and renamed the 15 Year "The Rather Dignified". I guess we'll see if it lives up to that.

This whisky was aged in ex-bourbon casks, then bottled at 46% without coloring or chill filtration on July 1st, 2009.

I purchased this sample from The Whisky Exchange.

Glencadam 15 Year (2009)

Nose: good balance between clean malt, gentle dusty oak, a little caramel, mixed fruit (berries, apples, pears), and light vanilla. After adding a few drops of water it gets kind of muddled, the alcohol is more overt, and the aromas shift towards the casks.

Taste: sweet malt with unripe apples and pears up front, rounded sweetness in the middle that fades out into gentle bittersweetness with some oak tannins. After dilution it gets kind of watery and hot without any development.

Finish: a little heat, clean malt, green fruit, gentle oak

While this is honestly more what I expected the 10 Year to be, it's really rather generic. While it is 50% older, I also suspect that there are some more active casks in the mix. At the same time I'm not sure this achieves much more than a competent Speysider. I appreciate that they stuck with ex-bourbon casks, which was somewhat uncommon even at the time when at least a touch of sherry was fairly standard. Something closer to the similarly aged Balblairs I've sampled could have pulled me in, but this isn't more than decent.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Whisky Review: Glencadam 10 Year (2009)

Despite having some samples in the back of my cabinet for the better part of a decade, Glencadam is one of those distilleries that I've managed to not experience yet. As usual, I will leave most of the history to Malt Madness, but there is one relevant wrinkle here.

Glencadam is one of the few remaining independent (major) distilleries in Scotland, having been purchased by the blender Angus Dundee in 2003. This was after Allied had mothballed the plant in 2000 and laid off all of the employees but one as surplus to requirements. Because the gap was relatively short, they have taken an approach more similar to Glendronach in maintaining a full age stated lineup. The 10 Year was introduced with a new label design in 2008 along with an upgrade to full craft presentation.

This whisky was aged in ex-bourbon casks (probably refill, given the lack of color), then bottled at 46% without coloring or chill filtration on June 25th, 2009.

I purchased this sample from The Whisky Exchange.

Glencadam 10 Year (2009)

Nose: straightforwardly malty - sweet, creamy malt, a touch of oak, graham crackers, mixed fruit (berries, melons), lightly floral, vanilla. After adding a few drops of water it remains largely the same, but a little bit softer.

Taste: clean malty sweetness up front, kind of green/new make-y with citrus/fruity/floral overtones and vanilla undertones in the middle, then gently bittersweet grain with more floral notes going into the finish. After dilution it becomes softer and sweeter, but the green notes in the middle largely fade.

Finish: a little heat, clean malt, fresh hay, floral, a touch of oak

This is right on the edge of being too immature for my taste. To a degree I commend them for being willing to put out a more 'naked' malt without any fussy casks, but I do wish the wood had been a bit more active. They clearly have some respectable if not remarkable spirit, so I can imagine it becoming better with more time.

As a small note, I was a bit worried when I got this miniature out because the fill level looked low, but between the picture I took immediately after purchase and on other sites selling these miniatures, it looks like that's just the fill point for Glencadam. A bit odd, but no harm done.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Whisky Review: Benromach 10 Year

Benromach is one of those distilleries that I've been hearing about for years, but never got around to trying. While its history goes back to 1898 (I'll leave the details to Malt Madness as per usual), when it was purchased by the independent bottler Gordon & Macphail in 1992 they were basically handed an empty shell with whatever old stock was left. So while the name has continued, the distillery itself is basically a new entity.

They have taken the approach of trying to resurrect an older lightly peated Speyside style. It took some time for them to get everything going again, but since then G&M has managed to build up a fairly solid core line of lightly peated whiskies along with heavily peated, organic, and triple distilled releases and a wide array of one-offs, often focusing on various kinds of casks, plus occasional and expensive releases from the old stock they acquired.

This release is aged for nine years in a combination of 80% first-fill ex-bourbon and 20% first-fill ex-sherry casks, then blended and married for at least one year in ex-sherry casks before being bottled at 43% (probably chill filtered, maybe a bit of coloring?).

I purchased this bottle in 2014, but couldn't find a bottling code.

Benromach 10 Year

Nose: a wonderful melange of sherry, creamy malt, caramel, vanilla, and gentle peat smoke, salty sea air, ripe and unripe bananas, herbal, cinnamon. After adding a few drops of water the peat becomes stronger, the sherry fades into the background, and the creamier/vanilla notes pop more.

Taste: opens with bittersweet sherry backed up by mild oak tannins, which becomes thicker around the middle, malty, apple, and floral overtones as the sherry fades a bit, then light oak, charred wood, and pleasant peat at the back. After dilution it becomes softer overall, but there's some wine-y tartness around the middle, the oak is less strong at the back, and the peat waits until the finish to show up.

Finish: sherry residue, peat smoke, moderately tannic/charred oak

This is hands down one of the best entry-level malts being made today. The middle ground between lighter unpeated malts and big, heavy peated malts has been hollowed out over the years as many distilleries that once used lightly peated floor malt have switched to unpeated commercial malt (looking at you, Glendronach and Glen Garioch), so it's good to see the few places that carry on the tradition. The closest current analog I can think of is Highland Park, especially since they are both overtly sherried, but the peat in this Benromach reads somewhere between Islay and Benriach to me, just at a lower pitch.

While this is no competition for the bigger peat/sherry combos, I really appreciate that this is just nice to drink. Anything bottled under 46% tends to catch some flack in the enthusiast community, but sometimes I really just want an easy drinking whisky with no threat of singing my taste buds. It's just plain nice whisky at a decent price (in most places).

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

10th Anniversary - You've Come a Long Way, Baby

Over the years I've periodically taken a page out of Dr. Bamboo's blog and The Pegu Blog by writing about what I've learned over the proceeding years. This is a bigger milestone than most because it's now been a full decade of writing this thing, so I have a bit more to look back on.

This all started during a very particular time in both the spirits industry and the internet. We were emerging into the full flower of the cocktail renaissance, with many of the now-classic bars and books arriving along with a steady trickle of once nearly impossible to find spirits. Scotch was also well into its return, though I wouldn't jump on that particular train for a number of years. Bourbon was also perking up, though it was still relatively quiet, and rum was beginning to bubble up alongside the tiki revival.

At the same time, blogs were also cresting in popularity. This was before social media had become all-consuming and Google Reader was still going strong, so blogs (and forums) were still major destinations for content. The community was also still fairly tight, with people linking back and forth to boost each other and learn more about their chosen topics.

Since then a lot has changed. Cocktail blogs, at least as they existed in the 2000s, mostly started to wane by the mid-2010s. While there are still some going strong (especially looking at you, CocktailVirginSlut, because Fred Yarm is a beast), many of the ones that I followed avidly back when I started had faded as folks decided that they had other demand and priorities. Some of it also comes down the professionalization of the industry - if you can get a gig working at a bar, as a brand ambassador, or writing books, why give content away for free? While I can totally understand this, it's definitely been sad to not be sharing in the kind of excitement that existed back then.

On the flip side, the 2010s saw the rise of whisky blogging as more people discovered what wonderful spirits they can be. In many ways this had a lot of the same excitement as I found in the blogging community, especially as people traded samples to expand their experiences and ran simultaneous reviews (Josh, MAO, Michael Kravtiz, and Florin have been some of my best connections). I received some really amazing boosts over the years, including from Ta-Nehisi Coates and SKU. However, as time went on, I think these spirits generated a different kind of burnout as prices shot up, competition for in-demand bottles increased, and quality slipped in many places.

We're starting to see another wave as some interest switches towards other spirits including rum (which is finally getting its moment after almost of decade of "it's going to be the next big thing" predictions) and brandy, though neither appears to be set to reach the stratospheric heights of either bourbon or scotch.

Scattered through this I've also been getting into various types of fortified wines. What started with sherry eventually morphed into madeira (largely thanks to Christine Bradburn) and vermouth. While I haven't been able to find a ton of active blogging in this field, I've still been able to learn a lot from what I've been able to read and I'm hoping to write about them more in the future. If you've seen any good blogs or folks on Twitter who I should be following, be sure to point them out.

Speaking of, a lot of the action has shifted to social media over that time, including Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and Instagram (though I still haven't participated in the last one). In many ways this has democratized participation as the barriers to entry have dropped, but that has also changed the tenor of those conversations. While I've sometimes had mixed feelings about these platforms, I've also built new relationships and met a lot of new people. It's also been incredibly validating to see some of my posts link to by people I've never even talked to before.

Which gets down to the real question that I've been asking myself over the last few years - why am I still doing this? There are plenty of other things I could be doing with myself and I don't get any money out of this or even free samples. So at the end of the day it all comes down to wanting to share with other people. The interactions and hearing that people find what I write to be useful and engaging is what keep me coming back. I don't know if this blog will make it through another decade, but I expect that I'll keep writing for the foreseeable future. Hopefully you'll keep coming back to read it as well.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Whisky Review: Provenance Benrinnes 11 Year 2004/2015

I haven't had a lot of experience with Benrinnes, but it's one of those distilleries that I've been meaning to explore more of. Their complicated partial triple distillation system up until 2007 is purported to give their spirit a unique character distinct from its other Speyside brethren.

This whisky was distilled in March 2004, filled into a refill hogshead, then bottled in November 2015 at 46% without coloring or chill filtration.

I purchased this sample from Dramtime, which still has samples as well as full bottles.

Provenance Benrinnes 11 Year 2004/2015 Cask #DL10965

Nose: lots of fresh malt, vanilla, light oak. After adding a few drops of water the nose becomes a little more expressive with some green apples and pears and a little citrus peel.

Taste: sweet malt up front with a slightly sour tang, some vague fruit and floral notes in the middle, then a fade gently into the finish. After dilution the flavors are brighter, the fruit is amplified, some vanilla comes out, and some of the notes from the finish creep forward into the middle.

Finish: oak-y incense, slightly savory, coffee beans, floral, pineapple

At full strength the only real redeeming feature I can find here is in the finish. The rest is almost a completely generic Speyside malt. The complexity and depth of the finish does make up for a lot, but I have to wonder how much better it could be if this case had been left alone for a while longer. More development in the aromas and flavors would have kicked this up several notches. Water helps bring it together and I wonder if this would have been better off bottled at 43%, but it's still not all that it could be.

What this does is make me interested in the van Wees cask strength release from the same vintage but two more years in the cask at roughly the same price. Even if that required the same level of dilution to open up, I'd at least get more to drink out of it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Whisky Review: Provenance Auchentoshan 13 Year 2002/2015

I've had very mixed experiences with IB Auchentoshan, especially ones on the younger side. They often seem to be casks that weren't maturing particularly well and diverged from the distillery profile in one way or another. But I keep looking, because when they hit the mark they really work for me.

This whisky was distilled in October 2002, filled into a refill ex-bourbon hogshead, then bottled in November 2015 at 46% without coloring or chill filtration.

I purchased this sample from Dramtime, where both the sample and the full bottle are still available.

Provenance Auchentoshan 13 Year 2002/2015 Cask #DL10969

Nose: classic bourbon cask Auchentoshan - waxy, mixed citrus peel, green apple, caramel, dusty malt, fudge-y/polished oak, vanilla, something fishy in the background. After adding a few drops of water the citrus and vanilla notes get stronger, some berries come out behind, the wax fades into the background, and it feels aromatic in an almost perfumed fashion (but without any floral notes).

Taste: sweet with a citric tartness up front, creamier caramel around the middle, clean fade out through creamy fresh malt and vanilla. After dilution the sweetness becomes more mellow, the tartness largely fades until the back, but citrus peel rides on top of everything.

Finish: very malty, pleasant oak, lingering citrus peel and herbal notes

This is just really nice. Not particularly complicated, just a very straightforward presentation of what Auchentoshan is like when its put in a decent ex-bourbon cask. I happen to be a fan of this style, even if it doesn't reach the heights of their older casks. The finish is probably the weakest link, but my expectations weren't particularly high. I would happily buy a bottle if it was closer to €50, which is what I expect for a malt of this age.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Whisky Review: Kilchoman 100% Islay 7th Edition

As with the 6th Edition, the 7th continued the climb in age while maintaining the same vintage source. Let's find out what another year in the cask does for this spirit.

This whisky was distilled in 2010 from 20 PPM floor malt, filled into fresh and refill ex-bourbon casks, then bottled in 2017 at 50% without coloring or chill filtration.

I purchased this sample from Whiskysite, but full bottles are still available from Dramtime.

Kilchoman 100% Islay 7th Edition

Nose: very subdued dry peat smoke, rather herbal, dry malt, canola with a touch of olive oil, dried flowers, dried fruits, savory, Pixie Stix. After adding a few drops of water the peat comes more into focus, the oily notes become creamier, a strong vanilla note comes in, the oak becomes baking spices, and the herbal/floral notes are joined by dried fruits.

Taste: sweet malt and oats with oak in the background up front, mixed fruit in the middle, fades into drier malt with cold peat smoke, dried herbs, and mild oak tannins. After dilution there's a savory note that rides through the palate and blends with the fruit in the middle, plus the peat becomes less smoky and more herbal.

Finish: smoky/mossy peat, dry malt, oats, mild oak, dried flowers

Wow, the peat is really mild here. I'm not sure if that's because these casks were older or just a matter of which ones were picked, but this is a radical contrast from the 5th and 6th Editions. If the 5th Edition was Bowmore, this is drifting into Kilkerran/Tobermory territory.

Water really helps, to the point where I wonder if this would have been better off bottled at 46-48%. A little dilution brings the peat out and somehow manages to increase its complexity, which is not what I usually expect. It's almost enough to make me want more, but I'm not sure I could choose this over the exuberance of the 5th Edition.

Either way, if you're coming into this, I think you'll get the most enjoyment by properly calibrating your expectations. This is a long way from being a smoke bomb like some of their PE releases, but it seems like time is finally giving instead of just taking away.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Whisky Review: Kilchoman 100% Islay 6th Edition

The 6th Edition of Kilchoman's 100% Islay series continued the upward trend in age, much like Kilkerran's WIP releases. From what I can gather it was also a true vintage release, with all of the spirit distilled in the same year, whereas the 5th and subsequent releases have been mixes of vintages as the distillery had a wider variety of stock to draw from.

This whisky was distilled from 20 PPM floor malt in 2010, aged in fresh and refill ex-bourbon casks, then bottled in 2016 at 50% ABV without coloring or chill filtration.

I purchased this sample from Dramtime, which still has the full bottle.

Kilchoman 100% Islay 6th Edition

Nose: fresh malt, new make, vegetal peat (closer in character to PE malt), plastic, mint, black pepper, wood-y baking spices. After adding a few drops of water the peat comes into focus and some floral notes come out but it becomes more youthful and a lot less complex.

Taste: malt sweetness up front, herbal and vaguely fruity around the middle, the vegetal peat with strong floral notes bursting out at the back alongside some stone fruit in the background. After dilution the flavors are generally amplified, the peat spreads out, a savory note emerges, and whatever heat there was disappears.

Finish: floral malt, fresh vegetal peat, earthy

Compared to the 5th Edition this feels both simpler and less mature. While it's reasonably competent and I got some good floral flavors, that was pretty much the only thing that caught my attention. The aromas definitely got better with time and the flavors improved with water, but they didn't have the kind of balance I was looking for. So while I wouldn't refuse a bottle of this, I also don't feel any need to seek out more.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Whisky Review: Kilchoman 100% Islay 5th Edition

Kilchoman is one of the very few distilleries releasing these kinds of hyper-local whiskies. In their case it really does mean what it says - all of the barley is grown on Islay, they malt it themselves with Islay peat, and the distillation, maturation, and bottling all happen on Islay.

I tried the 3rd Release while I was at the distillery and wasn't particularly impressed, though I was also dealing with food poisoning that day so I doubt my palate was in the best shape. The reviews I read were similarly negative, so I more or less gave the lineup a miss until I was able to find them as samples.

This whisky was distilled in 2009 from 20 PPM floor malt, filled into ex-bourbon casks, then bottled in 2015 at 50% ABV without coloring or chill filtration.

I purchased this sample from Dramtime, who still have full bottles if not samples.

Kilchoman 100% Islay 5th Edition

Nose: a very pleasant level of smoke - more on the tarry/woody end of the spectrum but also some fresh/rotting vegetation, candied malt and maize, orange creamsicle, rather floral (roses, violets), earthy/chocolate/coffee. After adding a few drops of water the peat become softer and smokier, the flowers are on fire, some caramel comes out, and the malt is fresher and drier.

Taste: fairly hot throughout, malt and maize sweetness up front, quickly joined by robust peat smoke, berry top notes and an oily/oak-y thickness in the middle that fades towards the back, lightly floral, and then a dash of oak tannins at the back to give it a bittersweet lead up to the finish. After dilution the sweetness and smoke spread out to give a more consistent profile across the sip, some caramel comes out, and there's also a bigger floral bump at the back.

Finish: fresh malt, pleasant tarry peat smoke, a nice level of oak, berry compote residue

This is honestly a rather Bowmore-ish Kilchoman. It feels like they finally managed to tame the youthfulness of their earlier releases, so the lower PPM shifts it away from the comparisons with south coast Islay distilleries of their Port Ellen malt whiskies.

In keeping with that analogy, this reminds me a lot of Bowmore Tempest. Kind of hot, not the most complex, but what's there is quite good. The price point seems justified if only because there is so much more labor going into these releases, but I would still hesitate a bit. They're fairly reasonable within the context of the Kilchoman lineup, especially compared to their single casks, but I don't know if I could pull the trigger. However, if you're a more serious Kilchoman fan than I am, I don't think you'll be disappointed by this.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Whisky Review: G&M Connoisseurs Choice Arran 8 Year 1998/2007

Not too long ago Arran seemed like the new kid on the block. With the exception of Kilchoman, it had been one of the only truly new distilleries in Scotland for quite some time until the spate of new construction during the last decade. This spirit was distilled within a few years of their founding, which also happens to be the era when many of the single casks in my cabinet were distilled. So I was pretty happy to find this bottle for what was something of a bargain price at Clearview Spirits & Wines not long after Washington privatized their liquor system. Miraculously they also offered shipping to Oregon, which saved me a fairly long drive.

This whisky was distilled in 1998, filled into 'oak casks' (probably refill ex-bourbon casks, but maybe tired sherry casks), then bottled in 2007 at 46% without coloring or chill filtration.

G&M Connoisseurs Choice Arran 8 Year 1998/2007

Nose: very malty, a little caramel/toffee, vanilla, light oak, earthy/herbal, a little new make, vague floral notes. After adding a few drops of water the floral notes are amplified and become more perfume-y, while the new make notes turn into green fruits (apples/pears).

Taste: opens with balanced malt and cask sweetness with light berries, creamy citrus peel (orange?) starting right behind, fading through some light floral malt near the middle, then very light oak tannins going into the finish. After dilution the sweetness is amplified and carries further back, the oak becomes almost sherried in the middle, and there's a sort of funky floral/herbal/malty note at the back.

Finish: a little hot, fresh malt, caramel, gently herbal

While not a stunner, I've found this to be a rather pleasant malt. The casks weren't exceptional, but the quality of the spirit still manages to shine through. If you're not already a fan of Arran I'm not sure this has a ton to offer you, but it's a pleasant reminder for me of how much I enjoy what they've been putting out.

As with many other bourbon cask Arrans, I also found it to be a solid platform for blending. A little sherry cask malt smooths out its rougher edges, while peat takes it in a more herbal direction. Or you can do both, like I've found adding Benromach 10 Year to it.

Overall it's not worth being sad if you missed out on this particular bottle. There are plenty of other ways to get your hands on younger bourbon cask Arran, though that is more challenging if you'd like to try something from their earlier years of production. But I've found Arrans to be pretty consistent, so my guess is that their current output will be as good or better.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Whisky Review: Highland Park Magnus

Over the last decade Highland Park has gone from a relatively unassuming distillery within the Edrington group (even if I remember how much people griped when they switched over to the flat bottles) to a much more high profile brand, often for not so great reasons. While they used to have a rather basic lineup, they started to release an increasingly bizarre array of NAS whiskies with fanciful names and wild price points. They also went all-in on their 'Viking' heritage, from the one-offs named after various Scandinavian deities to the current lineup where most of their core releases seem to be some variant of "Viking X".

While most of their NAS releases were aimed at the higher end of the market, they have finally succumbed to inserting it at the bottom of their list as well. This is now their entry-level single malt below their 10 and 12 Year olds.

This whisky was aged in sherry seasoned casks (ex-bourbon casks refreshed with sherry), then bottled at 40% without coloring but with chill filtration.

I purchase this sample from Raised by Wolves in 2019.

Highland Park Magnus

Nose: pleasantly creamy malt, a touch of rounded sherry, mild peat smoke, green vegetation, heathery floral notes, a bit of ripe banana, light American oak, a little bit of new make spirit. After adding a few drops of water the malt becomes fresher and less creamy, the sherry retreats into the background, the peat gets stronger, and it generally loses whatever complexity it had before.

Taste: opens with creamy malt and sherry sweetness throughout, an undercurrent of new make spirit and pine with some berries around the middle, then a creamy fade out with a touch of oak. After dilution it becomes sweeter but less mature with more pronounced green malt notes, the sherry largely fades, but the peat shows up earlier at the back

Finish: very creamy malt, vanilla, sherry residue, a touch of heathery peat and pine, lingering chocolate

As I have commented a number of entry-level OBs, this is a whisky built to a price point. It is perfectly acceptable given the current state of the market, but there's nothing here that can't be found for a bit more from their age dated expressions. It reminds me of Bowmore Small Batch, which held a similar position in that distillery's lineup and also took the distillery profile and mellowed it down. While I wouldn't say no to this if offered, it's nothing that I would reach for again.

The best I can say is that it's inoffensive and the finish is mildly pleasant. I can see how this might hold appeal for more casual drinkers and could be a gateway for JW Black drinkers into single malts, there's pretty much nothing on offer for the whisky enthusiast. It's not a bad whisky, it's just not for me.

Friday, April 24, 2020

New Cocktails: Le Dernier Mot

The Last Word is a classic for a reason - it uses a lot of ingredients with bold, complex flavors that build into something unique. It has also proved amenable to all sorts of variations, swapping out each ingredient to build a whole host of new drinks.

This comes from a simple substitution - replacing the original's gin with blanc rhum agricole. While not bitter, the grassy notes seem like a good accompaniment to the other components of the drink.

Le Dernier Mot

0.75 oz rhum agricole blanc
0.75 oz lime juice
0.75 oz green Charteuse
0.75 oz Maraschino

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice for six second, then double strain into a chilled cocktail coupe.

The nose is dominated by the Charteuse, with bits of maraschino and rhum peeking around the edges. The sip opens sweetly, gets a bump of funk from the maraschino, switches into herbal notes from the Chartreuse that bounce back and forth with the emerging notes of rhum. The finish settles into a balance between the two and fades, encouraging another sip.

Dang, that was good. I figured rhum would fit right into this mold, but I like exactly how it works here. It's less assertive than gin would be, despite the higher proof, but that subtly fits. This could also be a good place for something like clarin, as the funkiness will have plenty of play off of.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Whisky Review: The Gauldrons Small Batch #1

Douglas Laing has been putting out a series of regional blended malts for a number of years now, which entry-level NAS releases and more limited (though generally affordable) limited age dated releases. With the release of The Gauldrons they have completed their range with a blended malt from Campbeltown.

This whisky was aged in what I presume were refill ex-bourbon casks, then bottled at 46.2% without coloring or chill filtration.

I purchased this sample from WhiskySite.

The Gauldrons Small Batch #1

Nose: lots of fresh malt with a green edge (reminds me a bit of younger Auchentoshan), dry hay, hints of Campbeltown funk in the background. After adding a few drops of water the aromas are more closed off, but a bit of peat comes out.

Taste: clean malt sweetness up front that carries through to the back with hints of unripe fruit and rum-my Campbeltown funk swirling around it, rose petals going into the finish. After dilution it remains largely the same, but the sweetness is thicker and there's some fresh hay at the back.

Finish: clean malt, fresh hay, roses, vague fruitiness, very mild peat

Given that this isn't particularly peated, my best guess is that this is largely Glen Scotia with a little Springbank. I have yet to see any IB Kilkerrans, so I have to assume that all of Glengyle's production has stayed in house. My only other theory would be an inadequate cask of Hazelburn that Springbank passed on because it reads almost more like a Lowland malt than something out of Campbeltown.

Much like the Timorous Beastie 10 Year I tried, this is pretty lackluster. While it somehow reads as less overtly youthful, I'm struggling to find much that's particularly Campbeltown about it. I managed to dig out a bit of funk, but there was no peat, nothing industrial, and no leather. While this isn't bad, per se, there's nothing here that makes me want more. While I could keep trying the Laing's series, nothing so far has really drawn me in so far.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Whisky Review: Glen Garioch 12 Year

Somehow I completely forgot that I also had a miniature of Glen Garioch 12 Year when I reviewed the Vintage 1997 and neglected to taste them side by side. Hopefully my memory holds up well enough to make some sort of comparison.

This whisky was filled into ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks (though I expect much more of the former than the latter), then bottled at 48% without chill filtration.

I purchased this miniature from The Whisky Exchange in 2012.

Glen Garioch 12 Year

Nose: pleasant bourbon cask influence - caramel, moderate oak, a little vanilla, honey, orange blossom, citrus peel, somewhat savory, clean malt, fresh grapes, raisins, and berry preserves. After adding a few drops of water it gets maltier and sweeter, the cask influence diminishes, and the savoriness is amplified.

Taste: pleasant malty sweetness up front, a burst of mixed fruit in the middle, then a slide into savory but not particularly tannic oak with a touch of vanilla at the back. After dilution the flavors merge and spread out so they all arrive together, the fruit is amplified, and the oak gets stronger.

Finish: lightly tannic/savory oak, clean malt, a touch of mixed fruit

While not quite as characterful as the 1997, this is something that you can't find in many other places (Ben Nevis, maybe) - the savory character coupled with just enough fruit and a little bit of oak. While I could be happy with maybe 10-20% refill sherry casks to make it just a bit more complex, the undiluted bourbon cask character is a pleasant treat. I also wish they would bring back their lightly peated floor malt, which would also go a long way towards increasing the complexity without covering up the parts that make it so good. Those quibbles aside, I would still recommend this whisky. It's on the expensive side in my neck of the woods (~$60), but closer to the average price ($50 per Wine Searcher) and at 48% you're still getting a good deal.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Whisky Review: Bowmore 9 Year Sherry Cask Matured

Bowmore's lineup has taken more twists and turns over the last decade than any Islay distillery short of Bruichladdich. Somewhere in there they transformed from a fairly stolid and almost forgotten producer of peated whisky, frequently derided for the controversial quality of their distillate, to a powerhouse commanding top-tier prices. At the same time, they've also pushed out a number of budget options since their long-standing Legend release disappeared.

Contrary to the label, this whisky was matured in both ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks, then bottled in 2016 at 40% with coloring and chill filtration.

I purchased this sample from Dramtime.

Bowmore 9 Year Sherry Cask Matured

Nose: a hodgepodge of classic sherry notes, rotting seaweed, ocean air, a touch of peat, clean malt, oak, cheap cinnamon, floral notes, and fresh vegetation. After adding a few drops of water the peat expands and the sherry becomes fruitier, the seaweed disappears, and some fresh apple cider notes emerge.

Taste: sherry sweetness with a sour edge up up front, which dries out and is joined by an undercurrent of dry peat building gently towards the back, with a flourish of malt near the end. After dilution it gets softer, the sherry spreads out, the peat is pushed towards the back, and there's more noticeable oak.

Finish: dry peat, fresh malt, sherry residue, mineral/clay - the drier elements linger for a surprisingly long time

I wanted to like this more. It has a lot of the Bowmore hallmarks that I enjoy. The aromas are definitely the best part, even if I found them muddled. The finish had surprising staying power, though I wasn't totally sold on the profile. Even the classic Bowmore floral notes that can be off-putting kind of worked here, though more peat would have helped.

Overall I mostly wanted a bit more punch. The flavors were a little forgettable, but I could see myself enjoying this on the regular if I wanted something mildly peated that didn't expect a lot of attention. As is, it's just a little too tepid for me to recommend it.

I'm just not entirely sure what they were trying to get at here. Is this supposed to be a cheap, approachable Bowmore to draw people in? Is it trying to make money off of casks that weren't good enough for their standard releases? Or was it just trying to feed the ravening consumers demanding something new all the time? I really can't tell.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Whisky Review: Edradour 12 Year Caledonia Selection

This release came about as a collaboration with the Scottish musician Dougie MacLean, who wrote a famous song of the same name in 1977. He grew up in the same Perthshire region where Edradour is located and helped to select some of the casks that went in to the original version.

The whisky is originally aged in ex-bourbon casks, then transferred to ex-sherry casks for three years and bottled at 46% without coloring or chill filtration.

I purchased this miniature from The Whisky Exchange in 2012.

Edradour 12 Year Caledonia Selection

Nose: rich but relatively dry sherry, vaguely floral, honey, clean malt, bourbon cask influence, a little grungy funk. After adding a few drops of water it gets brighter and maltier, the sherry influence diminishes, and the floral notes become stronger.

Taste: thick, rich sherry begins up front and carries through to the back, there's a thick/oily mouthfeel, a little funk around the middle, honied malt underneath, more bittersweet and savory going in to the finish. After dilution the sherry fades a bit to reveal more malty sweetness and becomes brighter, but there's some unripe fruit tartness and peppery spice going into the finish.

Finish: some heat, strong sherry, vaguely savory, light oak tannins, clean malt, a little peat-y funk

Well... that was... sherried? Again, I'm not sure if this miniature has gone off, but there's really not much else going on here. It's surprisingly generic given all the distillery character I got out of the 10 Year, but maybe that's the heavy handed sherry casks. In some ways this reminds me of overly sherried Bruichladdich, which also suffers when the distillery character can't shine through.

Water helps push back the sherry, but it doesn't reveal much that makes the experience better. If anything it reads as more youthful. I might not say no to a fresh bottle if it was offered to me, but I'm pretty sure there are other whiskies I'd rather be drinking.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Whisky Review: Edradour 10 Year

Edradour is, to put it mildly, an odd duck. One of the smallest distilleries in Scotland (though the growth of craft distillers has changed the playing field), it is owned by the independent bottler Signatory. They produce both unpeated (Edradour) and peated (Ballechin) whisky, with fairly small core ranges supplemented by a dazzling array of limited editions and one-offs that would almost make Reynier-era Bruichladdich blush.

This whisky was aged in a mixture of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, then bottled at 40% with chill filtration and (maybe?) coloring.

I purchased this sample from The Whisky Exchange in 2012.

Edradour 10 Year

Nose: an odd mix of malt, sherry, and putty, some creamy vanilla and dunnage funk, apples/apple cider vinegar and floral notes in the background, with some bourbon barrel notes emerging after more time in the glass. After adding a few drops of water some new make notes come out, the peat become stronger, and the sherry isn't as strong.

Taste: opens with sherry sweetness and light baking spices that slowly transform into clean malt and apple cider vinegar, then light peat emerging at the back, with gentle oak tannins a constant presence in the background. After dilution the flavors are more integrated and have less evolution, but feel like a more coherent whole.

Finish: peat-y funk, green malt, a little oak and sherry residue

Given all of the very mixed reviews this malt has received in the past, I'm honestly unsure whether the mini has gone bad or if this is just what they were putting out at the time. There are bits and pieces that click for me, but taken as a whole it feels like a real mess. In that respect it reminds me a bit of Bruichladdich - some odd funk, sherry that doesn't quite fit, but a profile that I really want to like. I'd be interested in trying a sample of the 43% version from a full bottle, but I can't see myself springing for more than that right now.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Whisky Review: Dalmore 18 Year (2018)

Somehow in all of this I've neglected to say much about Dalmore's history. Founded in the late-19th century, it rapidly expanded production. There was a major hiccup when the British navy used the grounds for manufacturing mines, which led to an explosion that nearly destroyed the distillery. Another major expansion during the 1960s put Dalmore in the upper tier of malt distilleries, which laid the foundation for them to become a major player both in single malts and as a component of Whyte & Macky's blends. Their ever-flamboyant master blender Richard Patterson was instrumental in their turn towards increasingly expensive malts, leading to ever more eye-watering prices for special releases.

This whisky is part of their less exalted core lineup and was aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and Matusalem sherry butts, then bottled at 43% with coloring and chill filtration.

I purchased this sample from Whiskysite.

Dalmore 18 Year (2018)

Nose: big, rich sherry, some sour new make notes, savory, cinnamon and baking spices, graham crackers, chocolate, vanilla, citrus peel/pineapple, floral notes underneath. After adding a few drops of water it becomes maltier and creamier, some honey and caramel come out, the oak gets a bit stronger and turns towards cedar notes, the floral notes move towards the foreground, and the new make is pushed towards the background.

Taste: sweet sherry with new make overtones and mixed berries up front, red wine sourness and new make-y notes with more berries around the middle, then a creamier/maltier fade out with lightly tannic oak and a touch of something floral at the back. After dilution the sherry fades a bit up front, the new make notes are not nearly as strong, and a little savory tannic bitterness comes out around the back.

Finish: floral overtones through, slightly sour sherry at the beginning, fading into creamy malt and nougat with sour sherry residue and dank mildly bitter oak, savory, building floral notes that linger

My first pass with this sample was really not good. Like, worse than their current 12 Year by a noticeable margin. It almost feels like the samples got switched, because this one comes off as a lot younger, albeit more sherry influenced. The second tasting was significantly better, which makes me think that something happened in the process of bottling this sample. For Dalmore's sake I really hope that a full bottle would be better.

I found it rather peculiar that this has so much sherry influence but so little oak. The two generally go hand in hand these days, so I'm curious what the casks were like before they were filled. Overall this is just very strange for a standard 18 year, bucking a lot of the expectations I have for how they're constructed, especially when they're aimed at non-enthusiast buyers.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Whisky Review: Dalmore 15 Year

It turns out that Dalmore's premiumization extends all the way to their miniatures, which are definitely classier, but (at least in this case) also 40 mL as opposed to the standard 50 mL. Pay more, get less. This feels like a sign.

This whisky was aged in a combination of Matusalem, Apostales, and Amaroso sherry casks, then bottled at 40% with coloring and chill filtration.

I purchased this sample from The Whisky Exchange in 2012.

Dalmore 15 Year

Nose: big raisin notes, sugar cookies, dark brown sugar, violets, cinnamon/allspice, vanilla, fresh malt, cedar/pine resin, yogurt, mustard?, Jamaican rum funk. After adding a few drops of water the sherry fades into background, the floral notes and rum funk expand, and it gains a pleasant oak-y mustiness

Taste: opens with bittersweet sherry, creamy malt underneath in the middle, floral notes and very gentle oak at the back. After dilution the sherry and malt fully integrate to give a more consistent set of flavors across the palate, there's a nice musty oak/pine thing going on around the back, but there's an unpleasant tartness up front.

Finish: rather floral, fresh malt, pleasant oak, darker sherry

Well, that was an odd duck. When I first poured it my initial impression was that it was all raisins. Like they were trying to ape the style of Glendronach 15 Year, but don't have the spirit, casks, or skill to do it. With more time the aromas really opened up, though it feels more like a hodge-podge than a coherent profile. Don't get me wrong, I kind of like it messy, but it's an odd choice given the image Dalmore presents.

The flavors were a little more generically sherried, though I like the floral lift at the back that makes you want to come back for more of the darker sherry notes. In that respect it reminds me of sherried Bowmore. With a little more heft (46%, NCF, etc) I could see myself enjoying it enough to want a whole bottle. As is it's just not quite enough to make me want more.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Whisky Review: Dalmore 12 Year (Old Label)

After trying the current 12 Year earlier this week, I find myself in the fortunate position of being able to try the 'same' malt from almost two decades ago. This miniature was part of a haul I purchased from The Whisky Exchange way back in 2012, far enough back that the whisky world was a very different place and you could, for instance, still buy IB Port Ellen without making your wallet squeal (too much). Given the way OBs from the 90s and early-2000s have been talked up, I'm quite interested to give this one a try.

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

Dalmore 12 Year (2004)

Nose: big notes of roasted malt, toasted oak, nuts, mushrooms, caramel, peach, and orange peel, with background sherry roundness, vanilla, and something floral (rose?). After adding a few drops of water it becomes a lot creamier with more vanilla and malt, but the floral notes disappear

Taste: balanced malt and sherry up front with a somewhat unpleasant tartness on top, mixed berries and stone fruit around the middle, fading into creamy malt and mild oak at the back. After dilution the sherry and malt become much more integrated, the tartness largely disappears and becomes more yogurt-y, and it becomes a lot creamier throughout

Finish: opens with pleasantly rounded nougat, fades into sharper malt, sherry residue, citric tartness, creamy vanilla, and chocolate/coffee beans

This is one of the clearest examples I've found of just how different OB single malts used to be. I've tried some older stuff from Glenmorangie and Glenfiddich and was struck by how consistent they were. In comparison, this is practically night and day vs. the current Dalmore 12 Year. The sherry is much more subtle and integrated, plus the finish is far more complex and hangs around for ages. The one through-line is the comparative bitterness of the flavors, though in this case that provides a pleasant contrast with the creamy notes in the finish.

Some of this may be chalked up to differences in production methods - distillations would not have been rushed during the 1980s and 1990s when demand was low and many distilleries were just trying to keep themselves going. Stocks of sherry casks would have been very different compared to the hastily put together custom casks used today. But I also suspect that there was simply more old malt going into this release as the mast blender would have been sitting on a much deeper stock and could have constructed each release with a broader palette.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Whisky Review: Dalmore 12 Year (2018)

Dalmore is something of an odd duck in the industry. It was one of the earlier players to really push the 'premiumization' of their brand, heavily focusing on building a sense that it was a luxury product from top to bottom. Unfortunately this has come at the expense of their core lineup, which has been watered down and generally seems to have become an afterthought as they chase higher and higher headline prices for their one-offs.

This whisky was aged in ex-bourbon casks for nine years, half is transferred to sherry casks for three years, then blended back with the fully matured bourbon casks and bottled at 40% with coloring and chill filtration.

I purchased this sample from Dramtime.

Dalmore 12 Year (2018)

Nose: somewhat rubbery sherry initially that resolves into something more pleasant with time, raisins, raspberry/strawberry, peach, banana, orange peel, fresh creamy malt, vanilla, floral, mild oak. After adding a few drops of water the sherry gets brighter but also kind of dank (yes, that makes no sense, but whatever), something grassy/herbal emerges along with nougat/baking spices, and the fresher/maltier notes mostly fade.

Taste: bittersweet sherry starts up front, turning more bitter with mixed citrus peel around the middle, rhubarb and oak tannins at the back, clean malt underneath everything. After dilution it becomes less bitter up front with brighter sherry, there's more oak starting around the middle, but also starts to feel watery and the back end has some odd vegetal bitterness.

Finish: almost amaro bitterness, pleasant oak, cocoa powder, sherry/raisin residue, fresh creamy malt

This was significantly better than I expected. Dalmore doesn't get a lot of love in the enthusiast community, but for an entry level bottle there's a fair bit going on here. It's very much a modern dram, especially in terms of the sherry impact. I'm most surprised by the bitterness of the flavors, which was not the candied dram I thought I was in for. It's a different twist on a standard sherry-driven whisky and something of a departure from Macallan, which feels like its closest competitor.

On the downside, definitely hold the water. Most of what I liked in the aromas mostly fell through and the flavors became watery, so anything gained by dilution is swamped by the downsides. Makes me wonder what their spirit could do with craft presentation, but I'll have to wait and see what my full strength Duncan Taylor Dalmore is like.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Whisky Review: Provenance Mortlach 7 Year 2009/2016

As with Monday's cask, this is another young Mortlach, albeit of a slightly different vintage. Will it be any different?

This whisky was distilled in March 2009, filled into a refill bourbon hogshead, then bottled in May 2016 at 46% without coloring or chill filtration.

The sample was purchased from Dramtime, who still have the full bottle but not samples anymore.

Provenance Mortlach 7 Year 2009/2016 Cask #11196

Nose: ethyl acetate/acetone, fresh malt, white flour, artificial vanillin, unripe fruits (apples, pears, bananas), overripe berries. After adding a few drops of water the new make notes largely disappear, but it also becomes kind of washed out except for some sulfur emerging.

Taste: lots of malt sweetness up front, a little gentle oak underneath and citrus peel/pith on top, bittersweet fade out with some vague unripe fruitiness and a touch of sulfur. After dilution the overall structure remains similar, but the new make notes fade and the oak becomes a bit stronger and tannic.

Finish: sweet malt, plastic, mild oak, mixed fruit

While there's some more interesting things going on here compared to the Hepuburn's Choice cask, the new make is really trending towards solvent instead of malt. It may be more expressive, but I think the downsides may outweigh the upsides. Again, I'm not sure why this was bottled when it was, because there's also no clear risk of oak overtaking the spirit and it could have used some more development. We've been seeing a lot more of these sub-ten year old casks released over the last few years and with rare exceptions I think most of them have been a bad idea. While age might just be a number it's the rare cask that actually shines after just a few years and that goes double when the cask is largely inactive.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Whisky Review: Hepburn's Choice Mortlach 7 Year 2010/2017

While Mortlach is primarily known for its sherry casks, plenty of it is filled into bourbon casks. Some of those end up in the hands of independent bottlers, including Langside Distillers and their Hepburn's Choice line.

This whisky was distilled in 2010, filled into a refilled hogshead, then bottled in 2017 at 46% without coloring or chill filtration as part of an outturn of 404 bottles.

I purchased this sample from Dramtime.

Hepburn's Choice Mortlach 7 Year 2010/2017

Nose: very green with lots of new make notes, a fair bit of sulfur, clean malt, unripe fruits (pineapple, pear, apple), citrus peel. After adding a few drops of water it remains roughly the same, but with less overt new make.

Taste: thick clean malt sweetness with some green new make notes on top, a vague fruitiness around the middle, fading into fresh malt bitterness with some citrus overtones. After dilution it gets even thicker and sweeter with a bit less new make, a touch of oak comes out, and the middle gets creamier with a bit of vanilla.

Finish: fresh malt, new make, green bitterness, a little sulfur

I'm honestly a little baffled why this was released. While it's not overtly bad, it clearly hasn't had enough time in the cask. There's almost no color or oak, so it seems like there's no risk of it taking too much from the cask. With more time to burn off the new make character this might have developed into something decent, but as is it's nothing I would like to drink more of.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Negroni Social 2019

For the last five years I've been getting annual invites to Portland's Negroni Social. As someone on the more socially awkward end of the scale, at least when it comes to strangers, I've previously given it a pass. But since my partner was interesting in going last year, I decided to take the plunge.

2019 marks the centennial anniversary of the date when the Negroni is claimed to have been invented by the eponymous Count who wanted something stiffer than an Americano. Unsurprisingly Campari was very interested in making sure everyone marked the occasion to open their annual Negroni Week charity event.

The location was on Portland's inner east side, a still industrial neighborhood that folks may recognize as the home of New Deal distillery.While the space was excellent and had some nice leftover industrial equipment for atmosphere (see: right), I will admit that it felt a little off to be attending an industry party set up like a major awards show with a red carpet and photographer knowing the number of folks sleeping rough within a few hundred meters. Yes, it was for charity, but that didn't especially ease my discomfort.

With that said, the drinks were almost universally excellent. Everyone attending started off with an amphora-aged Negroni. Yes, they made up large batches of negronis, put them in clay vessels, and then buried them in the ground for two months. Because why not? While good, they were somewhat unremarkable in comparison to everything else on offer.

Rule of Three from Sarah Briggs (1 oz Campari, 1 oz verjus, 0.5 oz Nardin Acqua di Cedro, 0.25 oz Laird's Straight Apple Brandy, 0.25 oz Piscologia, 3 drops saline) - very floral nose with balanced brandy notes, sip begins sweet/sour with Campari bitterness at the end. Refreshingly tart summer drink.

Pruno Magli from Jessica Braasch (1 oz alderwood smoked Campari, 0.75 oz prune liqueur, 0.75 oz cognac, 0.5 oz dry vermouth) - fairly subdued aroma, most orange peel. Sip begins a little limply, but unfolds waves of dark fruit, smoke, and bitterness. Very suited to its month in the PNW.

Fancy Footwork from Judson Winquist (0.75 oz calvados, 0.75 oz Campari, 0.5 oz Averna, 1 oz strawberry-rhubarb syrup, 1.5 oz tonic) - orange and pepper from the garnishes with a bit of Campari on the nose. Sip begins with strong apple notes, fading into orange notes and complex bitterness with a bit of apple sweetness. Peppery finish. Another refreshing summer sipper.

Thelma Taylor from Kyle Trisler (1 oz Campari, 0.5 oz sloe gin, 0.5 oz gin, 0.75 oz sweet vermouth, 0.5 oz Amaro Abano, 1/4 tsp cocoa powder) - complex bitter nose with some fruitiness from the slow gin. Bittersweet sip with balanced gin and sloe, fades into complex bitterness from the gin, amaro, and cocoa. Moderate weight finish.

It's unsurprising that all of the drinks I tried were so good given that the event was pulling in talent from many of Portland's best cocktail bars. All showed a lot of creativity within the Negroni mold. The one part I hadn't full contended with was just how much alcohol was going to be served. Under the circumstances I feel like it might have been better for them to be making half size or smaller drinks so that guests could sample a good range without getting absolutely blitzed.

Monday, March 9, 2020

New Cocktails: the Coronado Rhum Cocktail

Imbibe posted a list of cocktails using passion fruit last summer, which was a good excuse to get new bottles of BG Reynolds passion fruit syrup. A number of these require adaptation because they call for passion fruit juice or purée, but most are amenable with a little tweaking.

In this case my partner ended up substituting rhum agricole for the tequila called for in the original because she's not fond of agave spirits.

Coronado Rhum Cocktail
1.5 oz rhum agricole
1 oz Aperol
2 oz coconut water
1 oz passion fruit syrup
0.25 oz lemon juice

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice for six seconds, then pour unstrained into a tall glass.

The aromas are almost completely suppressed by the ice. The sip opens with moderate sweetness from the rum and syrups, transitioning through Aperol fruit with some light coconut in the middle, then becoming mildly bitter with a touch of lemon at the back. The finish has balanced character from all of the components.

This is exactly what you want from a tiki drink, but with the added twist of a little bitterness from the Aperol. I was surprised that substituting passion fruit syrup for juice didn't make it overly sweet, though it probably has a thicker body than it would have otherwise. Overall I think it would make a solid base for further experimentation with the amaro to push it in different directions. Something like Ramazzotti or Bruto Americano could push it in a more herbal direction alongside an aged agricole, while something lighter such as Cocchi Americano could fit well with a blanc.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Cognac Review: Park Extra

And finally we come to the fancy decanter. Which I don't have. This is also one of the few releases in their core lineup that is entirely from one cru rather than being a blend of several.

This expression uses grapes from Grande Champagne, filled into 350 L fresh lightly toasted barrels for twelve months, transferred to used casks, then blended and bottled at 40%, probably with various adjustments and chill filtration. The L13 bottling code on the neck makes me assume that this was put together in 2013, which would be consistent with how slowly specialty bottles move in Oregon.

Cognac Park Extra

Nose: very oak-driven with a balance between fresher and more polished notes, maple syrup, grape and berries in the background, creamy vanilla, mushrooms, charred meat, floral notes, citrus peel, and a touch of tropical fruit. After adding a few drops of water the fruit is amplified and becomes stronger, pushing back on the oak.

Taste: grape sweetness up front, quickly joined by moderately tannic oak, creaminess with a tinge of vanilla, and citric top notes, followed by an oak-y bittersweet fade out with some marshmallow and chocolate. After dilution the fruit up front is brighter and more syrupy, a bit of chocolate comes out around the middle, while the oak becomes mellower and less tannic, the citrus at the back turns into pith and the oak there becomes toasted/charred.

Finish:grape residue, polished oak, lemon/grapefruit peel

This is a return to something closer to the XO Traditional with big oak-driven aromas and flavors right off the bat. With time the aromas unwind and become far more complex, but I never got that from either the flavors or the finish. Given the stratospheric price point on this expression (gotta pay for that fancy packaging!), I would give it a miss.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Cognac Review: Park XO Cigar Blend

Cigar blends are one of those slightly anachronistic features of the spirits industry that still appear from place to place. While the pairing has been around for centuries, smoking is falling out of fashion and outright banned in many public places including bars.

This expression uses grapes from Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne, filled into 350 L fresh lightly toasted barrels for twelve months, transferred to used casks, then blended and bottled at 40%, probably with various adjustments and chill filtration. The L13 bottling code on the neck makes me assume that this was put together in 2013, which would be consistent with how slowly specialty bottles move in Oregon.

Cognac Park XO Cigar Blend

Nose: delicate mixed fruit over restrained toasted oak, rich berries, almost sherried grape notes, creamy vanilla, orange peel. After adding a few drops of water it initially shifts closer to the XO Traditional with maple syrup, more overt oak, and sweet grape notes, then the vanilla and berries come back with some floral notes emerging after some time in the glass.

Taste: big grape sweetness throughout, fades into mildly tannic toasted oak with some citrus peel at the back. After dilution the up front sweetness becomes almost piercing, some mixed berries emerge around the middle, while the oak is diminished but becomes more polished and tannic.

Finish: sweet grape notes, mild oak, mixed citrus peel

Contrary to my expectations the oak in this expression is much more restrained, letting the fruitier notes shine through. It may be this is part of the design - if this is going to be complimented by the smoke of a cigar, there is less need for the bass notes of oak. The aromas are fairly engaging, though I found the flavors overly simple. While that still makes it better than the XO Traditional to me, there's absolutely no way I can see this justifying its price tag. It's entirely possible that there's a lot of older eau de vie in here, but I'm just not getting the complexity I would expect at nearly $200.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Cognac Review: Park XO Traditional Réserve

This is something of the odd one out in this lineup since it appears that the expression has been reformulated since this tasting set was released. What was a blend of multiple crus has been reworked into 100% Grande Champagne. Which is all to say that this may not be representative of what you can find now.

This expression uses grapes from four different regions - Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Fin Bois, and Borderies, filled into 400 L fresh lightly toasted barrels for twelve months, transferred to used casks, then blended and bottled at 40%, probably with various adjustments and chill filtration. The L13 bottling code on the neck makes me assume that this was put together in 2013, which would be consistent with how slowly specialty bottles move in Oregon.

Cognac Park XO Traditional Réserve

Nose: big polished oak notes, maple syrup, fresh cut grass, a little plastic, mushrooms, vanilla, grape in the background, pink bubblegum, a touch of something floral. After adding a few drops of water the oak becomes even stronger while the other aromas (except for some maple syrup and honey) are largely washed out.

Taste: big grape sweetness with oak tannins underneath, fades out into cedar, bittersweet polished oak, and grape. After dilution the oak becomes stronger but also sweeter, producing an even more uniform progression of flavors through the palate.

Finish: grape sweetness, moderately tannic oak

This is disappointing in exactly the way I would have expected. Once you get above $100, a lot of producers construct their blends around what customers believe an older, more expensive spirit should taste like rather than what it could be. This is basically sweet with a lot of oak, which could be obtained from an entry-level armagnac for a third the price. I still have two more XO expressions to go, but after this I'm not getting my hopes up since it appears they spent even more time in smaller new oak casks.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Cognac Review: Park Borderies

Maison Park has an interesting twist in the middle of their lineup - instead of Napoleon or some other fanciful name to mark the midpoint between their VSOP and XO expressions, they decided to focus on their home region of the Borderies. I find this to be a really interesting opportunity to gain some understanding of how regions influence the different styles of cognac without having to buy a specialty single cask or limited release.

As the name suggests, this is produced from 100% Borderies grapes, filled into 400 L fresh lightly toasted barrels for ten months, transferred to used casks, then blended and bottled at 40%, probably with various adjustments and chill filtration. The L13 bottling code on the neck makes me assume that this was put together in 2013, which would be consistent with how slowly specialty bottles move in Oregon.

Cognac Park Borderies

Nose: classic cognac notes of grape, a little alcohol heat, gently floral, woody baking spices, honeycomb, green apple and pear, ripe berries, citrus peel, and a touch of incense. After adding a few drops of water the honey notes become stronger, the apple and pear become fresher, the oak becomes a little more tannic, but some of the complexity is suppressed amid softer aromas.

Taste: sweet with strong fruity notes of grape, berry, apple, and pear up front, soft oak beginning in the middle and carrying through to the back where it is joined by some floral notes. After dilution the fruit up front becomes stronger but less distinct and returns right at the back, the oak becomes even softer until the very back, and the floral notes are largely quashed until the finish.

Finish: caramel, floral, bittersweet grape, mild oak

This is essentially what I expected the VSOP to be. While there's nothing stunning, it has a solid level of complexity and leans into the floral notes that are a hallmark of its origins. Water shifts it in an even sweeter direction, though I find the loss of complexity to be disappointing. It does make me wonder what this spirit could have been with a higher bottling proof and a little less caramel. With a bit of a punch up I think it could hold its own against single malts in a similar price range.

In a Sidecar the nose is very floral, almost overwhelming the orange notes. The sip opens bittersweet with Seville orange and floral top notes, becoming rather creamy with some lemo around the middle, then fading out somewhat limply. The finish is rather muted with some cognac notes and a bit of orange.

Well, that was a bit disappointing. While this definitely brings floral notes to a cocktail, it doesn't fit in the way that the VSOP did. With that said, I can see this being used alongside a more rounded cognac to bring some floral character without it being all of the base spirit.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Cognac Review: Park VSOP

As with most cognac houses, Park's VSOP expression is the next step up from their entry-level VS (though they also have an Organic Fins Bois that is comparably priced).

In keeping with the upgraded profile, the VSOP is constructed from 40% Fins bois, 40% Petite Champagne, and 20% Grande Champagne grapes, filled into 400 L fresh lightly toasted barrels for eight months, transferred to used casks, then blended and bottled at 40%, probably with various adjustments and chill filtration. The L13 bottling code on the neck makes me assume that this was put together in 2013, which would be consistent with how slowly specialty bottles move in Oregon.

Cognac Park VSOP

Nose: darker than the VS - caramel, maple syrup, a rounded creaminess, light toasted oak, cinnamon and woody baking spices, a little green grass, gently floral. After adding a few drops of water it shifts towards the oak, grass, and something a little funky (hard boiled eggs?), but it also has even less intensity.

Taste: syrupy maple sweetness up front with both grape and cask character, a little citrus peel around the middle, some grassy/hay notes in the background that grow stronger toward the back, drier but not particular tannic going into the finish. After dilution it becomes softer and sweeter, but less syrupy, with a thick layer of caramel throughout, a floral overlay around the middle, and some mixed fruit with light oak tannins coming out around the back.

Finish: slightly cardboard-y oak, flat grape notes, caramel, lingering vanilla and grapefruit

While this is a clear upgrade from the VS in terms of smoothness and richness, I was somewhat disappointed that there wasn't much of an improvement in complexity. While it's a more engineered product, I think Rémy Martin VSOP is a big upgrade over this.

In a Sidecar the nose is balanced between orange from the liqueur and floral notes from the cognac. The sip opens with grape and orange sweetness, backed up by a touch of aspirin bitterness, then fades into bittersweet orange with some oak tannins at the back. The finish continues the orange notes with some cognac roundness arriving.

That was... not bad. While not the most characterful cognac, the VSOP does manage to hold its own here and keep the weird parts of the Ferrand Curaçao in check. While it's a little expensive for mixing, I'm willing to say that this is a fairly solid pick.