Monday, December 29, 2014

Rum Review: Renegade Monymusk 5 Year Tempranillo Cask Finish

Renegade was the rum arm of Murray McDavid, Mark Reynier's independent bottling company that was run out of Bruichladdich distillery for many years. As with many of MMD's bottlings, most of the rums were finished in various sorts of wine casks.

This rum comes from the Monymusk distillery of Jamaica, which is one of the oldest distilleries on the island, having been built in the 18th century. The name appears to come from the Monymusk estate in Aberdeenshire (where there used to be a Monymusk malt distillery in the mid-19th century), which is somewhat unsurprising as many of the distilleries on Jamaica are named after Scottish sites, having been settled by Scots and English after driving away the Spanish in the 17th century.

The distillery is now known primarily as the main source of Myers's rum. However, a few casks do make their way into the hands of independent bottlers. This particular one was bottled at 46% without chill filtration or coloring. I was able to get a sample through Master of Malt's Drinks by the Dram, as bottles of this rum sold out long ago.

Renegade Monymusk 5 Year Tempranillo Finish

Nose: huge wave of Jamaican dusty/earthy/smoky esters with a burnt sugar edge - almost industrial, seashore, wine cask/berries hang in the background, vanilla and fresh wood underneath, creamy honey, green apples, floral perfume. After adding a few drops of water, the wood becomes more prominent, shoving the esters aside and integrating with them, plum/raspberry notes become more clear, and it gets sweeter overall

Taste: mild sugarcane and berry sweetness up front, quickly subsumed by a bump of oak tannins and esters, which do a slow fade out to reveal the sugarcane and toffee sweetness, with the wine cask notes finally making an appearance at the back - over time the esters settle down to reveal more wine cask influence throughout. After dilution, it becomes much sweeter throughout, with the sugarcane notes gaining a lot of ground, the wine cask influence really comes out to play, with the rum's esters being relegated to the back, while wood and wine dominate the rest of the palate, with somewhat sour vinous notes become much more prominent and there is an earthy quality throughout.

Finish: sugarcane, mingled oak tannins and dunder esters, wine cask overtones, burnt sugar

In many ways, I find this rum analogous to the peated Bunnahabhain from Murray McDavid that I had last year. Both are red wine finishes of very flavorful spirits where the wine cask plays a supporting rather than a leading role in the undiluted spirit, then becomes more dominant after adding some water. Given that MMD finishes were often derided for overwhelming the spirit, it is probably for the best that this rum was bottled when it was. I also think that this would appeal to fans of peated single malts, because the Jamaican esters give it an earthy quality similar to that of peat.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Whisky Review: Master of Malt Bunnahabhain 23 Year/1989

This is a sample from the UK retailer Master of Malt, who have been doing their own bottlings for a number of years.

The whisky was distilled in 1989, then filled into an ex-bourbon cask and aged for 23 years, before being proofed down to 46% and bottled without chill filtration or coloring.

Master of Malt Bunnahabhain 23 Year/1989

Nose: very rich - gobs of honied malt, seashore/seaweed, a hint of bacon, herbal/grassy/hay, light floral perfume, soft green fruits (apple, pear, grape), light berries, light vanilla, orange creamsicle, nutty charred oak. After dilution, it becomes more integrated, but loses a lot of punch, with the creamy floral element dominating, bubblegum pops out, with salty seashore notes remaining in the background,

Taste: rather sweet with an almost sherried thickness up front, with clean malt slowly giving way to moderate oak, seaweed, fresh cut grass, floral perfume. After dilution, the sweetness up front becomes pure sugarcane, rounded out by a solid backbone of caramelized oak, which slips into fruit and bubblegum esters in the middle, then a big burst of creamy bittersweet herbal/floral flavors near the back

Finish: very herbal/grassy, floral perfume, fresh malt, a whisper of oak

This is an interesting example of a bourbon cask Bunnahabhain, getting significantly better with time in the glass. It reminds me a lot of the grassy/herbal Arran Bourbon Single Cask I had a while back, but inflected with the island character Bunnahabhain is known for.

If nothing else, I feel like this would have benefited from bottling at a slightly higher proof. While the nose had plenty of power, the palate felt weak and watery in comparison. Something in the 48-50% range probably would have given it a helpful boost.

Given its age, I'm guessing this was a rather inactive cask as the malt still tastes very fresh and the oak impact is quite minimal. If you like your whisky 'naked', this is probably a nice one, though I do wonder if it would have been better with a slightly more active cask as it feels a tad immature, with some edges left to round off. If I was tasting this blind, I would probably peg it at somewhere around ten to twelve years old, which makes the price that MoM wanted for it a bit hard to swallow. I'd stick to younger indies Bunnahabhains if you want a similar experience at a more tolerable price.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Whisky Review: Aldephi Liddesdale 21 Year

This is the second sherry cask whisky this week from Bunnahabhain, though this one is significantly older. The name refers to a hill near Adelphi's recently opened Ardnamurchan distillery and is used for their small batch releases of Bunnahabhain. I believe this was from Batch 6, which was assembled from 4 European oak ex-sherry casks, proofed down to 46%, then bottled without coloring or chill filtration.

Thanks to Ian of PDXWhisky for letting me sample this one.

Adelphi Liddesdale 21 Year

Nose: toasted malt, dry sherry, seashore/seashells, vanilla, pineapple, a thread of wood smoke, fresh grapes, baked apples, a hint of vegetal peat, herbal, caramel/toffee, burnt sugar, unsweetened chocolate, something savory. After adding a few drops of water, it becomes softer and more integrated without losing too much intensity, the sherry becomes more savory and the malt comes out more strongly, with some nuttiness emerging.

Taste: a sour top note (almost vinegary) runs throughout, big malty/vanilla/berry sweetness up front segues into oak tannins, unsweetened chocolate in the middle, which then turns into seashore/uncooked shellfish notes with a touch of peat and somewhat plastic-y sweetness near the back. After dilution, it becomes more balanced and less sour, the sweetness is cleaner, and the seashore notes become earthy and almost peated.

Finish: plastic-y sweetness, earthy sour peat, slightly creamy sherry, malt, burnt sugar, oak tannins, vanilla,

While there are good qualities to this whisky, especially the nose, it never quite reaches a point where I feel like it justifies its price tag. Most of what it has to offer can be had from Glenfarclas without some of the off notes that I found in this one. So I think I'll pass on a full bottle.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Whisky Review: Prime Malt Bunnahabhain 10 Year/1999

Prime Malt is a series of single cask releases from Gordon Bonding, which I can find basically no info about. They were usually reduced to a relatively low strength (40-43%), but also tended to be at bargain-basement prices.

The bottle states that particular whisky comes from a refill sherry cask that held heavily peated Bunnahabhain spirit. However, to my knowledge, Bunnahabhain was not distilling peated malt between its earlier 1997 experimental run and the sale of the distillery to Burn Stewart in 2003. This makes me wonder if this was actually unpeated spirit that was aged in a cask that used to hold peated whisky. Either way, the spirit was proofed down to 43% before bottling - I suspect that it was chill filtered, but the color makes me think that no caramel was added.

Thanks to Florin for the sample.

Prime Malt Bunnahabhain 10 Year/1999

Nose: clean malt, fresh hay, herbal/floral, sherry with a sour tang, berry sweetness, ink, graphite, cigarette ash, light earthy peat, bubblegum, vanilla, honey, pencil shavings. After adding a few drops of water, there isn't any drop in intensity, but it becomes more malt-focused, with the sherry (top note) and grassy/herbal peat (bottom note) sliding into the background a bit, with the vanilla and perfume notes growing stronger.

Taste: opens with malt and wood sugars overlaid with a thin veneer of sherry sweetness, segues through malty vanilla into mild oak tannins with a faint peat back, with the earthy/ashy peat coming into focus at the back, while there are orange peels overtones throughout. After dilution it becomes a little watery up front, with the malt fading a bit while the sherry becomes a stronger top note, while the oak tannins and peat becomes more pronounced at the back.

Finish: vanilla malt, light oak, earthy peat, whispers of sherry

This is, in my opinion, a very good whisky at a very good price. It pulls off a similar trick to Highland Park 12, opening sweetly, then switching to a more bittersweet peaty mode.

The only place I've ever seen it for sale is The Party Source and I'm still kicking myself for not grabbing a bottle when they still shipped spirits. At least I got to enjoy this little bit of it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Whiskey Review: Four Roses OESO Private Single Barrel for Rose City Liquor

This bourbon was bottled as part of Four Roses' Private Barrel Program, which allows retailers to select barrels from any of the ten recipes the distillery produces, which are then bottled at full strength without chill filtration. Barrel 89-1I was made from the 20% rye mashbill with the E strain yeast (red berries, medium richness), aged for 10 years and 9 months in warehouse SN, then bottled for Rose City Liquor in Portland around 2012.

Four Roses OESO Private Single Barrel for Rose City Liquor 55.3%

Nose: lots of berries (raspberries and blackberries, especially), solid but not aggressive oak, underlying corn sweetness, vanilla cake frosting, dry rye grain, light caramel, Cinnamon Toast Crunch

Taste: lots of corn and caramel sweetness throughout, tempered by oak tannins, berry and ripe fruit ride on top, rye grain spice in the background, something lightly floral starting in the middle

Finish: rye grain, residual corn, mild oak, berry compote

At full strength this is a big, bold bourbon. Everything comes in spades - berries, oak, corn sweetness. It usually needs some time in the glass to breath and let a bit of alcohol burn off, but eventually transforms into a magnificent experience. Unsurprisingly for an older bourbon, this is right on the edge of being over-oaked, but that helps to counterbalance the sweeter flavors from the corn and yeast. The only thing that is relatively subdued is the rye, which, while this is the 'low rye' recipe for Four Roses, is still higher than most other rye recipe bourbons out there (Jim Beam's OGD recipe and a handful from MGP are the only other recipes from from major distillers with a higher rye content that I can think of).

As I usually do with barrel proof whiskeys, I proofed down a couple of samples to see how the whiskey changed.

Four Roses SB OESO at 50%

Nose: more oak-dominated, with berry compote notes integrating with the wood, giving it a polished quality, with creamy grain (barley and corn) and sawdust in the not-too-distant background, while some apple peaks around the edges

Taste: instead of an evolving experience, corn sweetness, oak tannins, berries, and mint all hit at once, intertwining and carrying through the palate, which gives it a great richness

Finish: minty grain, mild oak, berry compote residue

This is the strength at which the age of the bourbon is most readily apparent, with the barrel casting a strong shadow over the spirit. It's not bad, but as I tend to prefer my bourbons on the less oak-y side, it is less appealing to me. On the upside, the alcohol is quite subdued for being at 50% and only a bit less than the full strength.

Four Roses SB OESO at 45%

Nose: jammy berry and dry grain notes become softer, but are highlighted by the slightly reduced oak, which becomes younger and sawdust-y, rye comes out as mint/juniper, with caramel acting as a bass note

Taste: brief corn sweetness up front, which is quickly swallowed by the oak tannins, which dominate the back 2/3 and produce a bitter to bittersweet effect overall, with strong mint and berry overtones throughout

Finish: berries take center stage, with softer oak tannins

While less brash and bold than the whiskey at full strength, this is still very drinkable and doesn't lack  much in intensity. I like a whiskey that can take a lot of water without drowning. I also enjoyed how much more apparent the rye was at this strength, where the mint provided a certain coolness in counterpoint to the warmed berry and oak elements. I can see how this would fit well into the Small Batch recipe (which is bottled at 45%), providing the red berries that are touted in the official tasting notes.

At just about any strength, this is a fabulous bourbon. Rose City hit one out of the park with this pick. It's a perfect example of what Four Roses can do at a respectable price in this day and age (I want to say that it was under $50 when I bought it). Prices for Private Single Barrels have gone up and ages are down (Four Roses doesn't usually let go of anything above nine years old now), but I will definitely be exploring more of what's available now as they still seem like excellent values.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Whiskey Review: Four Roses Single Barrel

Four Roses has been one of the bourbon geek darlings over the last dozen years or so. There's the heartwarming story about how the distillery was a powerhouse for most of its life, was then neglected for decades while the name was used to sell terrible blended whiskey in the United States, then returned to glory when it was purchased by a Japanese company (which is the country where most of the good stuff had been going in the meantime).

One of Four Roses' claims to fame is that they produce whiskey from ten different recipes, which are the intersection of two different mashbills (20% rye and 35% rye, with the balance made up with corn and malted barley) and five different yeast strains. Only one of these recipes, OBSV (35% rye, delicately fruity yeast) is used for their Single Barrel. Each barrel is picked, then proofed down to 50% ABV, and bottled without coloring or chill filtration.

Four Roses Single Barrel

Nose: fairly closed at first, opens to nutty caramel, simple syrup, vanilla beans, solid slab of oak, milk chocolate/cocoa powder, pears, musky fruit, vinous notes, and berry overtones. After adding a few drops of water, the nutty caramel dominates the nose, the oak is more sawdust-y, the fruit/berry/vinous notes are tighter and less bright, while the corn fades to reveal more rye.

Taste: corn and caramel sweetness sweetness throughout, tempered by rich polished oak with a vinegar edge in the middle, with berries, floral notes, and rye spice in the background throughout. After dilution, the sweetness is significantly diminished as the oak tannins gain ground, though there is a big burst of berries at the beginning, and some apple and vanilla notes around the middle, fading into more pronounced tannic bitterness at the back.

Finish: moderate oak and grain, fresh apples and berries, rye spice

The standard release single barrel has clearly been chosen for mass appeal. This is a very classic bourbon, with strong elements of corn sweetness and oak, adorned with rye spice and berries. Everything you would expect is here, but the flip side of that coin is that it doesn't offer any flashes of brilliance either. It's very enjoyable and very solid, but it doesn't quite hit the high notes that some of their other recipes hit. I would put it in a similar category to Blanton's, another single barrel bourbon that has very classic notes.