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.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Cognac Review: Park VS

Cognac Park has something of a peculiar history. The distillery goes back to 1880 and has been in the hands of the Tessendier family ever since. However, the Park brand was developed as a collaboration between the distillery and Dominic Park, a Scotsman, in 1993. In 2008 the distillery purchased the brand and everything has been in house since then.

While the distillery is situation in the Borderies, Park gets wines from all over the Cognac region to ensure that they have a broad pallet with which to construct their expressions. With the exception of their single region releases, each will be a blend of spirits from 2-4 different regions.

The VS is built from 50% Fins Bois and 50% Petite Champagne, filled into 400 L fresh lightly toasted barrels for six 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 VS

Nose: rather faint - alcohol burn, some acetone, grape and barrel sweetness, maybe a touch of something floral and citrus. After adding a few drops of water the aromas shift significantly to vanilla, fresh apples, oak, bright caramel, and a stronger floral note.

Taste: rather sweet up front with caramel and grape carrying through to the back, some fresh apple around the middle, then a touch of oak tannins and some rounder marshmallow notes at the back. After dilution it becomes rounder up front and some more well-defined oak emerges at the back.

Finish: balanced caramel, grape, and oak plus lingering vanilla

This is honestly pretty forgettable at full strength. There's practically no complexity, even compared to stuff like Hennessy or Courvoisier. The only redeeming feature is that there are no overt flaws or off-putting flavors, though I wouldn't recommend spending too much time sniffing it. Water, oddly, pumps it up a bit and reduces the solvent notes in the aromas. Maybe a sign that this was built for mixed drinks? Unfortunately since I only have a miniature I won't be able to find out.

With that said, for the price I would still pick Hardy VS over this.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Cognac Review: Louis Royer VSOP Force 53

Louis Royer Force 53 has a very particular place in my journey in the spirits world. I first heard about it through Cocktail Chronicles singing its praises in pre-Prohibition cocktails. From there it became something of a white whale, a spirit that I could occasionally glimpse on the occasional liquor store website, but never any that would ship to me.

Lo and behold, it randomly appeared in the OLCC system, even at MSRP. I was able to snag a bottle before they disappeared, many years after I had shifted my focus primarily from cocktails to whisky and other spirits.

Louis Royer VSOP Force 53

Nose: rather intense for a cognac, but also somewhat closed - moderately sweet grapes and apples, a thicker layer of fresh French oak, toffee, floral and citrus peel notes in the background. After adding a splash of water it become softer and richer, but almost all of the complexity is lost among a wave of caramel, with just some basic grape notes in the background.

Taste: sweet up front with thick grape, caramel, and oak notes, some citrus peel (mostly orange) in the background, shifting towards more tannic oak, vanilla, and a touch of chocolate around the middle, with some heat towards the back. After dilution it becomes thick and rich with almost none of the original heat, but most of the progression and development is lost in a wash of caramel and grape sweetness.

Finish: alcohol heat, moderately tannic oak, grape

This does what it says on the label - it takes a fairly standard cognac profile and amps it up with a higher bottling proof. Compared to the Rémy Martin from earlier this week, the next most noticeable difference is how much more oak influence is in this spirit.

It seems fairly clear to me that this is built primarily for cocktails. The features that make it somewhat brash and unrefined at full strength are the same ones that help it stand up against other formidable ingredients in a mixed drink.

In a Sidecar the nose is dominated by woody and floral notes from the cognac, with backing orange peel. The sip opens with strong cognac notes, with slowly growing orange notes into the middle, then more tart lemon near the back. The finish is long with tannic notes on top of lemon and bitter orange peel, plus a touch of vanilla.

Now this is more like it. While the orange liqueur isn't perfect here, the cognac absolutely shines. The higher proof really lets it punch through the other elements, keeping itself in the fore despite the strong character of the liqueur and lemon. While Force 53 isn't cheap, it is absolutely worth the extra expense for the way it can stand up to the strongest ingredients. This will take almost any drink calling for cognac to the next level as it has a lot of what makes bonded bourbons and ryes spirits that bartenders have been reaching for all through the cocktail renaissance.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Cognac Review: Rémy Martin VSOP Revisited

Looking back, Rémy Martin VSOP was the earliest cognac I looked at as a sipping spirit. While I haven't gained a ton of experience since then, it is the kind of thing that I'd like to return to to see how my own palate has changed.

As Josh aptly put it, this is the Johnnie Walker Black Label of cognacs. While Rémy is not on the same level as Hennessy, it sits squarely among the second tier of producers along with Courvoisier and Martell. This gives it the depth of stock needed to produce something with broad appeal and consistency.

Rémy Martin VSOP

Nose: big notes of apple and pear, grapefruit, lemon, and orange, mild grape, vanilla, and oak in the background, vague floral and vegetal notes, a little caramel. After dilution it becomes a little muted and less complex, but more vanilla and grape come out, plus something soapy.

Taste: sweet caramel with some grapefruit bitterness up front, a little oak and something floral starting around the middle, then even more mixed citrus going into the finish. After dilution the grapefruit retreats, it's a little sweeter and more oak-y with some berries around the middle, but the flavors become more muddled.

Finish: grapefruit peel with a citric tang, mild oak, caramel and grape roundness, long but not particularly strong

The nose is absolutely the winner here. If you're looking for a fruit-forward cognac, Rémy Martin has you covered. The turn towards more bittersweet notes in the palate and finish gives it something of a moreish quality if you alternate between sniffing and sipping. While not overly punchy at 40%, it still manages a respectable weight throughout. Overall this is heads and tails above the VS cognacs I tried a few weeks ago and might even edge out Pierre Ferrand Ambre in my estimation. Especially if you're just getting into the category, you could do far worse than this.

With all of that said, I still feel like this is a slightly over-engineered product. While technically flaw-less, I have to wonder what it would be like if the spirit was given a little more room to shine. While I do appreciate the lack of intrusive oak in this expression, which is a pleasant change of pace in a mass-market spirit, but it's lost something of the edge that I think it could have had. The Dudognon I tried a while might be close since it also has a strong fruit and citrus profile but isn't tampered with in the way this one is.

In a Sidecar the nose is pleasantly balanced between the cognac and orange liqueur, with some floral notes and just a bit of lemon and baking spices. The sip begins with moderate sweetness, once again balanced between the cognac and the orange liqueur, rounded with some nice thickness from the lemon juice around the middle, then a sharper and more tart fade out into the finish along with some less pleasant bitterness. The finish continues, with light bitterness.

While this is pleasant enough, Rémy doesn't have quite enough heft to stand up on its own. Different proportions might do the trick, but I wanted to be more consistent about my recipe when comparing different cognacs. However, I stand by my original assessment of it that this is a fine cognac for mixing, even if it's a bit on the expensive side.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Brandy Review: Cartron Marc de Bourgogne 15 Year Hors d'Age

Odds are if you've seen a Cartron product before, it was one of the liqueurs they produce rather than their grappa. What began as a wholesale lemonade business in the 19th century was transformed into a producer of liqueurs and marc de Bourgogne during the 20th century.

This marc is produced entirely from Burgundy Pinot Noir pomace, which is aged for 15 years before being bottled at 42% (according to their website), probably without coloring or filtration.

Thanks to Florin for this sample.

Cartron Marc de Bourgogne 15 Year Hors d'Age

Nose: the rougher grappa notes have been polished into something resembling a more refined version of the original grape pomace, there are leathery and gingerbread notes that I associate with Campbeltown malts, gently floral, savory/nutty, some more rounded grape and apple, hints of oak in the background. After adding a few drops of water it becomes even smoother, the leather and oak are emphasized, and it feels more mature if less complex.

Taste: fairly restrained fruity sweetness up front, quickly joined by sharper herbal notes of grappa - not much progression. After dilution the sweetness is increased but doesn't go over the top, there's some berries right behind, the grappa notes are more well-integrated and more herbal, but there's little additional complexity.

Finish: rather floral, well-integrated grappa notes, gentle grape sweetness, leather, rounded oak and chocolate bitterness

Compared to the Labet I reviewed earlier this week, this is a much more refined marc. Some of that may simply be additional time in the cask, but the spirit itself also seems more delicate. The pale color makes me think that these were relatively inactive casks, so any polishing has primarily been about time rather than oak. With that said, it's absolutely not lacking in intensity - the aromas practically jumping out of the glass even with a lower bottling proof than the Labet.

In terms of similarities, one thing I noticed is that once again most of the action is happening in the aromas and finish. The flavors, while not bad, were not especially engaging and didn't show any development. That forces this to be something of a more contemplative spirit, since getting the most out of it requires more focused attention and nosing. While I'm not sure it's what I want to be drinking every day, it is growing on me and I think I'll be searching for more marc de Bourgogne in future.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Brandy Review: Domaine Labet Marc du Jura 2003

This is a new one for me: grappa-style pomance brandy made in France. While it sounds like Domaine Labet's focus is primarily on their unfortified wines, they also produce marc du Jura and a sherry-style vin de voile. The marc is used to fortify the latter as well as sold by itself.

This particular bottle was distilled in 2003, aged for ten years in oak casks, then bottled at 45%, I presume without coloring or chill filtration.

Thanks to Florin for this sample.

Domaine Labet Marc du Jura 2003

Nose: big notes of brandy/madeira/raisins, a rougher herbal grappa edge, some cured fish underneath, buttery, sweet oak, vanilla. After adding a few drops of water it gets richer and rounder, some brine comes out, and some of the sweetness is replaced with a fermented savoriness.

Taste: rather hot and rough up front, some round sweetness shifting into sharper, more ethereal notes, then oak and earth going into the finish. After dilution it becomes a little softer and more rounded, the grappa notes are better integrated, the earthiness spreads out under everything, and some more overt young brandy notes come out at the back.

Finish: raisins, gentle herbal notes, grappa funk, fresh oak

I'm not sure this is something I want to drink every day, but there's no question that it is a quality spirit. The nose and finish are the most engaging parts for me, though water helped bring the flavors together.

If, as Florin argued, this is the Ledaig of grappa, I think it would have to be a Ledaig sherry cask. While the spirit is big and funky, the barrel has shifted it closer to a traditional brandy with some fortified wine notes to help soften it even more. And, as with Ledaig, it's not something that I would recommend right off the bat, but if you like strong, barely restrained flavors, this might be the kind of thing you want to seek out.

You can find a similar review from Bozzy, though I think he managed to extract some more complexity from it than I was able to.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Cognac Review: Courvoisier VS

Courvoisier something like the fourth largest cognac house by sales volume, but its prominent placement in some critical hip-hop tracks of the 90s mean that you have almost certainly heard of it before. They're also known for having invented the Napoleon classification for cognac, though that doesn't get much play here in the States.

Me? I just want to know if it's any good.

Courvoisier VS

Nose: graham crackers, clover honey, creamy grape notes, apples and pears, gently floral. After adding a few drops of water the honey notes diminish, the oak becomes spicier, and the graham crackers disappear.

Taste: moderate grape and caramel sweetness throughout, vague floral and fruity notes around the middle, very gentle oak, vanillin, and cardboard bitterness at the back. After dilution it remains roughly the same, but maybe with a bit more grape sweetness.

Finish: smooth grape and cardboard, creamy vanillin, dried flowers

Much like the Hennessy, this is at best OK. There are some more interesting notes here, especially on the nose, but nothing especially engaging. Maybe a cocktail will bring out some more?

In a Sidecar the nose is dominated by the curaçao, with some apple and floral notes from the cognac. The sip opens with sweetness balanced by the lemon, some caramel and floral notes emerging around the middle, then a slightly bitter fade into the back. The finish is rather muddled with caramel, unpleasant floral notes, and cardboard-y orange notes.

This is both better and worse than the Hennessy. There are a few more redeeming features, but taken as a whole it is somewhat less pleasant. The floral notes really stand out, but become twisted and kind of gross. Busta Rhymes lied.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Cognac Review: Hennessy VS

If you've heard of cognac, you've probably heard of Hennessy. The biggest brand in terms of sales, they're part of the luxury powerhouse Louis Vuitton-Möet-Hennessy (LVMH). They sell somewhere around 50 million bottles a year, which is roughly as much as the next three big houses put together.

I will leave the history to Cognac Expert, since all that matters to me is that this is a very popular cognac. The question is why?

Hennessy VS

Nose: very fruity - fresh grapes, berries, apples, pears, artificial caramel, a hint of oak, slightly floral and minty. After adding a few drops of water the fruitiness is enhanced, but it remains largely the same.

Taste: caramel sweetness throughout, mixed fruit in the middle, becoming more bittersweet on the back end. After dilution the fruitiness expands through the palate, but the caramel color bitterness at the back increases.

Finish: fruity notes return, bittersweet caramel with an artificial edge

It feels like there's some decent eau de vie under all of that caramel, but it's not too easy to find. It's pretty OK neat, but nothing exciting. Maybe it will do better in a cocktail?

In a Sidecar the nose is dominated by the curaçao, with vague hints of fruit (pineapple?) and caramel from the cognac, plus something floral as the drink warms up. The sip begins fairly muted with what might be some caramel and vanilla, opening up into some orange in the middle, then getting lost in a muddle of caramel from the cognac. The finish is more of the same and can only be described as extremely disappointing.

Wow, that was just... bad. There may be other drinks in which this works better, but a sour is clearly the wrong choice. All of the worst parts of the cognac are on display with none of its virtues to make up for it. Unfortunately this is so bad that I'm not sure I want to explore its uses elsewhere.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Whisky Review: Duncan Taylor Glen Keith 33 Year 1971/2005

Glen Keith was practically a new distillery in 1971. What had begun as a Lowland-style distillery practicing triple distillation with three stills in 1960 had been transformed into a more typical Speyside distillery practicing double distillation with five stills in 1970. Beginning what would be a long history of experiments at the distillery, those five stills were the first gas-fired stills in Scotland, as opposed to the then-traditional coal-fired stills. A few years after that they were converted to steam coils (that sounds like a lot of money down the drain, but someone at Seagrams thought it was a good idea). Up until 1976 Glen Keith produced its own malt using a Saladin box, which is interesting but may not have been wildly different than drum or other mechanical maltings compared to floor malt.

This whisky was distilled in December 1971, filled into a sherry butt, then bottled in January 2005 at 50.8% without coloring or chill filtration.

Duncan Taylor Glen Keith 33 Year 1971/2005 Cask #8066

Nose: maple syrup, dark oak, cedar, dank sherry, incense, strawberry jam, graphite, savory/umami, clean malt, dried flowers, orange liqueur, vanilla. After adding a few drops of water it opens up a smidge and becomes softer, the oak starts to shift towards incense, plus the sherry and malt become more balanced.

Taste: syrupy sweet with a tart ethyl edge up front, dank sherry with rising oak tannins and orange liqueur starting in the middle, more floral/malty/bubblegum going into the finish. After dilution the sweetness is slightly toned down but also spreads out to bring the oak more into balance, with just a bump of sharper tannins and more savory notes at the back.

Finish: creamy, tart, and, sharp at the same time, - sherry residue, lots of polished oak tannins, cedar, fresh malt, citric sourness

Even more so than the slightly older Duncan Taylor Bruichladdich I reviewed, this is absolutely a first-fill cask judging from the almost opaque color, massive sherry influence, and overwhelming oak tannins. It's a massive whisky in almost every sense, taking well over half an hour in the glass before it unwinds enough to reveal some complexity. It's taken quite a while to very far through the bottle because I have to be in a very particular mood to enjoy what this has to offer.

Again, like the Bruichladdich I have to wonder if this cask would have been better of blended with a similarly aged inactive bourbon cask so that the sherry and oak could have been brought into balance and enhanced with some more ester-y character. While there's more going on if you're patient enough, I'm not sure the good things about this malt would have been diminished with some careful blending.

Diluted to 45%

Nose: rich cinnamon, honey and maple syrup, vanilla, restrained juicy sherry with an umami soy sauce edge, orange peel, clean malt, slightly grassy/fresh hay, new sawn oak, incense

Taste: opens with moderate honey sweetness joined by a slightly charred oak note underneath everything, juicy sherry with vanilla and citrus peel comes out around the middle, then it turns bittersweet towards the back with some oak tannins

Finish: lots of polished/charred oak tannins, cinnamon, dry creamy malt and sherry residue, a touch of citrus

While it still took a while in the glass for this malt to unfold, the aromas are the real star of the show here. Reducing the strength opens up the nose and provides a lush, evolving experience. In contrast, the flavors and finish start out relatively simple, only slowly gaining some of the complexity and subtlety of the nose.

For a different take on this malt, see Serge's review, though it took him two tastings to really warm up to it.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Whisky Review: Duncan Taylor Bruichladdich 34 Year 1969/2003

1969 was an interesting year at Bruichladdich - they had been purchased by Invergordon Distillers the year before and would go on to continue the expansion that had begun in the early-60s with the cessation of on-site malting. That means this whisky was distilled on Bruichladdich's original two stills, but it was made with industrial malt.

A more personal factoid is that this is the most expensive whisky I have ever purchased. It seems like small potatoes in this day and age since it only ran me a little over $200 when I purchased it in 2013, but I was on a grad student budget so it felt like a lot of money.

This whisky was distilled in May 1969, filled into a cask (more guesses about exactly what kind later), and bottled in June 2003 at 46.8% without coloring or chill filtration in an outturn of 147 bottles.

Duncan Taylor Bruichladdich 34 Year 1969/2003 Cask #2331

Nose: thick, rich oxidized sherry, juicy raisins, strawberry jam, fresh apples, floral malt top notes, creamy vanilla, bubblegum, dunnage/herbal/mushroom funk, mild oak. After adding a few drops of water the sherry becomes more vibrant, the jam turns into fresh berries, the balance with the floral and malt notes is better, and some oak spices come out.

Taste: bittersweet sherry up front, background oak tannins around the middle, undercurrent of malt and vanilla throughout that emerges a little more around the finish alongside some trademark Bruichladdich character. After dilution the sherry becomes a little softer and more in balance with the malt, and some surprisingly youthful green character comes out.

Finish: balanced sherry, oak, and malt, with some lingering cardboard and heat

Judging from the relatively small number of bottles and the depth of the sherry influence on this whisky, my guess is that it was a first-fill American oak sherry hogshead. While this is likely to please fans of sherry-driven malts, I'm not sure that three decades in the cask did anything for this whisky that couldn't have been found if it was bottled in its teens. While not lacking in intensity, it doesn't have a lot of the added complexity need to balance out the reduced punch that it might have had above 50% ABV.

I suspect that this would have been better off going into a small batch release where it could have been blended with a more inactive ex-bourbon cask to get some of that ester-y complexity alongside the sherry character. But since I don't have any old bourbon cask Bruichladdich, that experiment will have to be done by someone else.

Diluted to 40%

Nose: raisin-y sherry, creamy malt and vanilla, dark chocolate, dry oak

Taste: rather bitter throughout - muddled sherry, malt, and oak

Finish: bitter tannins, dank sherry residue, vegetal malt, a touch of chocolate

Wow, that was not great. While the aromas remain pleasant if soft, the palate and finish completely fall apart into a bitter mess. I was curious if this would have worked in the old G&M style, I think it's clear that this wouldn't have worked at anything less than cask strength.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Whisky Review: Hepburn's Choice Craigellachie 18 Year 1995/2014 for K&L

I reviewed this whisky once before from a sample and promptly vowed to get my hands on more of it. While that was a bit tricky due to K&L's inability to ship to Oregon (or anywhere outside California, these days), I was able to split a bottle and get a decent amount to drink.

This whisky was distilled in 1995, filled into a sherry butt, then bottled in 2014 at 54.3% for K&L Wines without coloring or chill filtration.

Hepburn's Choice Craigellachie 18 Year 1995/2014 for K&L

Nose: rich sherry, Starburst candies, vanilla, dry malt, leather, savory, mild sulphur, farm-y, American oak

Taste: sweet sherry with background malt and vanilla through the front and middle, floral top notes beginning in the middle, fading into a tangle of orange peel, gunpowder, mild oak tannins

Finish: lingering sulphur, nutty oak, sherry residue, dry malt

If I wasn't able to get ahold of a whole bottle, half will do. While my interest in sherry-driven whiskies has waxed and waned over time, this one really hits the mark for me. The dirty style isn't sexy in the same way as a cleaner Macallan or (modern) Glendronach, but it gives a counterpoint to the sherry that prevents it from becoming unidimensional. Even the sulfur has its place, though it reads as more earthy/manure than the meaty sulfur of Mortlach. If the Inchgower from K&L has some overlap with Tobermory, this leans more towards Ledaig, albeit without the peat. I will be very sad to see the end of this as I don't expect I'll be able to find anything comparable in the near future.

Diluted to 50%

Nose: dark, dank sherry, mild sulfurous funk, moderate oak, dried herbs, milk chocolate, caramel, citrus and tropical fruit, and a thread of wood smoke

Taste: sweet sherry up front that slips underneath the other flavors from the middle, a malty thickness throughout, muddled fruit and citrus starting in the middle, American oak and a bit of creamy vanilla near the back

Finish: thick, dark sherry, creamy malt, American oak, herbal

While missing a bit of complexity compared to the malt at full strength, this works really well. It has less heat, but still has good depth of flavor. It makes for a very nice middle ground between the two other strengths I tried. While I'm glad we got it at cask strength, this wouldn't have been bad as an Old Malt Cask bottling.

Diluted to 45%

Nose: pleasantly soft sulfurous sherry, ripe berries, herbal, nice oak, dark chocolate

Taste: bittersweet sherry up front, malty undertones, thicker around the middle with floral notes, fading into gentle oak tannins with some background sulfur

Finish: sherry residue, pleasant oak tannins, herbal/floral malt, gentle suflur

While it doesn't have the punch of the whisky at full strength, this is still very nice. I'd say this is comparable to something like G&M's Mortlach 15 Year. Just like with that, it becomes something of an easy-going malt, albeit with the controversial sulfurous notes. As I said above, I'm glad we got this at full strength, but it's a testament to the quality of the malt that it takes water so well.

It's become increasingly rare for me to find malts where I wish I had bought multiple bottles, but this is one of the few where I would love to have two or three more. While it's become common to bemoan the lack of complexity in 'modern' malt whiskies, this Craigellachie shows that good spirit is still being distilled and filled into quality sherry casks. As a bonus, this was far cheaper than a Mortlach of comparable provenance, highlighting the way that some distilleries manage to fly under the radar while others get all the attention. I'm hoping I'll be able to find something like it again, but we will have to wait and see.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Whisky Review: Hepburn's Choice Inchgower 20 Year 1995/2015 for K&L

Inchgower is one more of Diageo's almost countless distilleries that primarily produces for blends. While there have been a few official bottlings in the Flora & Fauna and Rare Malts lines, if you want to try Inchgower as a single malt you have to turn to independent bottlers.

This whisky was distilled in 1995, filled into a sherry butt, then bottled in 2015 for K&L Wines at 57.5% without coloring or chill filtration.

Hepburn's Choice Inchgower 20 Year 1995/2015 for K&L

Nose: richly sherried, sweet raisins, underlying malt, molasses, gentle coastal/herbal notes, cacao, dark but not strong oak, a touch of orange peel, buttery, peanuts, vanilla. After adding a few drops of water the buttery and herbal notes are amplified, the sherry is drier, and some wood spices and a little bit of balsamic vinegar come out.

Taste: a fair amount of alcohol heat throughout, moderate sweetness up front, thick layer of sherry on top of dry malt throughout, moderate oak and raspberries beginning in the middle, fresh/bitter herbs near the back. After dilution it becomes more bittersweet overall, with the sherry and oak integrating, but otherwise remaining largely unchanged in structure.

Finish: sherry residue, herbal, alcohol heat, dry malt

While there were a lot of things I enjoyed about this whisky, it's not a crowd-pleaser. This goes a way towards explaining why a 20 year old sherry cask whisky that was on sale for $100, an absolute steal on paper in this day and age, didn't sell out very quickly. In a lot of ways it reminds me of Tobermory, with its slightly bitter herbal quality and coastal notes, which also goes a way towards explaining why this one had comparatively limited appeal.

Diluted to 50%

Nose: dry sherry and malt, raspberry/strawberry overtones, gently herbal and pine-y, pink bubblegum, vanilla

Taste: sherried sweetness with some vanilla up front, quickly joined by a significant amount of oak tannins, followed by herbal flourishes near the back

Finish: sherry residue, thick oak tannins, pleasantly herbal

While not unpleasant, there was nothing about this strength that improved it over the undiluted whisky. With that said, it also didn't fall apart, which all too often happens with cask strength whiskies.

Diluted to 45%

Nose: thin and vague - indistinct sherry, malt, floral vanilla, and oak

Taste: extremely oaky and tannic throughout, sherry rides in the background but can't rescue it from the bitterness

Finish: very bitter - waves of oak tannins with sherry in the background and herbal hints

This is so far from the full strength malt that I have a feeling the sample may have gone bad. With time it got a bit more balanced and showed some of what I had found in the full strength malt, but it still felt very off. While it's possible that this was an artifact, I would be careful about how much water you add if you have a bottle of this whisky.

For some slightly different perspectives, be sure to check out MAO and Michael K's reviews.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Old Sherry vs. New

One of the long running debates within the whisky community is whether there was something about older sherry casks (roughly before 1980) that made them significantly better than what's available these days. Theories range from the use of transport casks, older oak being used to construct casks, higher quality sherry being used to season the wood, ex-bodega casks being used, or paxarette.

The debate has come to a higher pitch as more and more malts have entered the market with an increasing emphasis on their sherry character, often after less time in the casks. What kicked off with the rise of Aberlour A'Bunadh has crested in Kavalan's stratospherically expensive sherry cask malts and shows no sign of abating.

While my sample size will not be large enough for a real data set, over the next couple of weeks I'm going to compare and contrast two new school sherry cask malts from Craigellachie and Inchgower to a couple of sherry cask malts from Bruichladdich and Glen Keith from the supposed 'good old days' of the 60s and 70s. From that phrasing you can already glean that I already have some feelings on the subject, but I'm hoping that I can get some other perspectives since my own experiences have been limited.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Whisky Review: The First Editions Bunnahabhain 22 Year 1989/2012

One of the enduring mysteries when it comes to IB Bunnahabhains is why there are so many casks from 1989 and why all of them seem to have such a low proof. Reddit user Rudd1983 ran an analysis of data from WhiskyBase and found that 1989 is a serious statistical anomaly with almost 5% lower average bottling strength than surrounding years, despite similar average ages. They also pinged the distillery and determined that the filling strength that year was still the common 63.5%, eliminating one possible explanation.

This whisky was distilled in 1989, filled into what I assume was a refill hogshead, then bottled in 2012 at 45.9% without coloring or chill filtration.

The First Editions Bunnahabhain 22 Year 1989/2012 Cask ES010/10

Nose: classic bourbon cask Bunnahabhain - balanced clean malt, caramel oak, fresh vanilla, coastal influence, vague fruitiness, gently floral, lightly herbal. After adding a few drops of water it becomes softer and sweeter, but it loses some intensity.

Taste: fairly sweet up front with a good mix of malt and cask, slightly sour and gently oak-y with a bit of vague fruit from the middle back, creamy vanilla in the background throughout. After dilution it retains roughly the same structure, but the oak is a little softer and there is a pop of fruit around the middle.

Finish: a little cask and malt, gently bitter, then a long savory herbal/coastal fade out with a touch of cacao. After dilution the oak shifts up and the herbal notes fade.

While there's nothing about this cask that jumps out and makes it exciting, it's also a solid example of what time and wood can do for good spirit.  When I first opened the bottle it had some of the cardboard character that I've often found with First Editions releases, but over time it has settled down into something more clearly Bunnahabhain. While it's never going to reach the heights of their sherry cask releases, it's totally respectable and didn't cost me an arm and a leg.

With that said, the palate is something of a let-down after the moderate complexity of the nose and finish, but that can be improved with a little water or easily tweaked with a bit of blending  - sherried Craigellachie or Mortlach would work great or alternatively a bit of Linkwood could boost the floral notes. There are definite similarities to the MoM Bunnahabhain of the same vintage I tried a number of years ago, though that one had a bit more going on. Unfortunately I didn't grab a bottle of that one since I wasn't as much of a fan of this style at the time.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Whisky Review: Provenance Mannochmore 14 Year 1999/2013

Mannochmore is another one of Diageo's semi-anonymous distilleries, little known except through its Flora & Fauna release and independent bottlers. The exception comes in the form of Loch Dhu, which is rightly infamous as some of the worst whisky ever released upon the world.

This whisky was distilled in 1999, filled into what I assume was a refill ex-bourbon hogshead, then bottled in 2013 at 46% without coloring or chill filtration.

I purchased this sample from Dramtime, who have (at the time of writing) both samples and full bottles.

Provenance Mannochmore 14 Year 1999/2013 Cask #9766

Nose: pleasantly malty with honey, floral mint, licorice, lemon/orange peel, and just a touch of peat. After adding a few drops of water the aromas almost completely shut down with only some dry malt and a bit of peat left.

Taste: lots of syrupy malty sweetness up front, becomes bittersweet around the middle with floral, herbal, and very light but perceptible peat, almost no oak at all. After dilution the sweetness is initially replaced by a sort of malty tartness and a bit of oak comes out at the back.

Finish: gentle malt sweetness, long lasting herbal notes, very light oak providing some roundness

This is a pretty generic Speyside malt from an Nth fill ex-bourbon cask. Nothing to write home about, but perfectly serviceable. Unless you add water, in which case it all falls apart. I wish the peat had been a little more aggressive because that could have added some interest, but as is you have to go hunting to find it. Overall I would say this is a fine cask that could provide a solid base for further blending, but it's nothing I need to have more of.