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.