...where distraction is the main attraction.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Single Malt Report: Bladnoch 18 year old (OB, sheep label, 55%abv)

On Tuesday, it was a Signatory.  On Wednesday, I reviewed a Provenance.  Today, it's an official bottling of Bladnoch.  Tomorrow's will be another indie.  What all of four of these Bladnochs have in common are that they were distilled by United Distillers (proto-Diageo), rather than by the more recent ownership.

As they did with the Benromach distillery, Diageo not only sold the Bladnoch distillery but also -- out of the goodness of their black hearts -- allowed the new ownership to actually distill spirit.  In this case, perhaps in order to prevent direct competition with their own Lowland distillery, Glenkinchie, Diageo only allowed the new ownership to distill a maximum of 100,000 liters annually (as opposed to the 1,300,000 liter capacity it had before).  While 100K sounds like a lot, it's not.  As of 2013, that production put them 96th out of 97 Scotch malt distilleries.  Only Edradour was producing less.  Glenkinchie's capacity is 24 times larger.  (Note: I have also seen a 250,000/liter current capacity listed for Bladnoch via some sources.)

Nonetheless, Raymond Armstrong and Co-ordinated Development Services did start producing spirit in 2000 and squeezed out quite a number of bottlings before they shut down the shop last year.  They had also been renting out 10 of their 11 warehouses to other companies for cask storage (according to the Malt Whisky Yearbook 2013) thus bringing in a more consistent revenue stream.

Meanwhile, they were also bottling some of the whisky that had been distilled by their predecessor.  Today's whisky, an 18 year old, was distilled just before proto-Diageo mothballed the joint in the early '90s.  It was bottled at 55%abv and had an image of two proud sheep on its label.

Distillery: Bladnoch
Ownership: ???
Age: 18 years
Region: Lowlands
Maturation: Sherry cask
Alcohol by Volume: 55%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(This sample was from Florin (a prince), bottled almost 2 1/2 years ago, back in the day.)

The color is Macallan (Sienna?) dark.  The nose feels very closed at first.  Light grassy and oat notes emerge first, with more and more cereal appearing with time.  Then orange peel and dry soil.  After a while the main scent that emerges is that of cucumber skin, taking over almost entirely.  With lots of air, out come golden raisins and polyester couch cushions.  The palate feels a bit tight too.  It goes floral→sweet→bitter.  A bit of single grain simplicity.  Then with air, notes of silverware and mold suddenly appear.  Then a hint of cream sherry.  But sometimes it's just austere and bitter.  Vanilla comes out in the finish, followed by confectioner's sugar and black raisins.  Notebook paper and simple bitterness last the longest.

WITH WATER (approx. 46%abv)
The nose picks up a good figgy note.  The grass and cucumber skin notes remain.  Notes of eucalyptus and circus peanuts follow.  And, oddly, it kinda works.  Ah ha, here's the sherry in the palate, appearing as a big chocolate hit.  An herbal bitterness grows with time, as does quite a bit of green grass/chlorophyll.  The finish is all bitter chocolate, chlorophyll, and baby powder.

WITH WATER (<40%abv)
The nose is gentle, like a light fruity tea. Little bits of orange peel and aromatic bitters, followed by a dry leafy, rooty note.  The palate gets slightly soapy.  Notes of Earl Grey, sugar, cherry candy, soil, and vanilla bounce around each other.  It finishes with cherry candy, caramel, and a light bitterness.

I rarely say this about a whisky, but water is a MUST for this one.  When neat, it's closed and forgettable.  Airing it out helps a little, but it gets more enjoyable when hydrated.  Overall, it's odd, as you may be able to gather from my notes.  I find the cucumber skin note on the nose very pleasant, though others may not.  The chocolate palate note at the 46%abv point is very nice.

These official bottlings were priced nicely back when they were available.  Sadly I missed out on grabbing one.  I doubt I'd go after this particular bottling, but this quirky grassy herbal character I've found in Bladnoch appeals to my nose and mouth.  If you've had some of the sheep/cow-labelled Bladnochs, please let me know in the comments what you thought of 'em.

Availability - Somewhere in Europe...
Pricing - I think it was $70-$90 (pre-shipping) as recently as 2013
Rating - 82 (with water only, when neat it's in the mid-70s)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Single Malt Report: Bladnoch 13 year old 1991 McGibbon's Provenance (casks 1083+1447)

This is the second of four Bladnochs this week.  Yesterday's was weird but lovable (like some of us) and proved to be a good sparring partner for this whisky.

Today's helpful facts: The distillery was built alongside the river Bladnoch in Wigtownshire (real name) in 1817 by the brothers McClelland, though they didn't get the legal license to start distilling until eight years later.  An Irish company (Dunville & Co.) bought the distillery in 1911 and ran it intermittently until it was liquidated 26 years later.  After passing through the hands of six different owners (including Inver House and United Distillers), Bladnoch wound up in the hands of Co-ordinated Development Services, half of which was made up of the brothers Armstrong, also from the neighboring green isle.  Then (as mentioned yesterday) the distillery went up for sale after less than 20 years.

Distillery: Bladnoch
Ownership: ???
Bottler: McGibbon's Provenance (Douglas Laing)
Age: 13 years (July 1991 - August 2004)
Cask #s: 1083 & 1447
Region: Lowlands
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(Thank you to Mr. Cocktailchem himself for the sample!)

The color is brass.  Whiskybase says there's no added colorant and I'm inclined to believe them/it here.  First up in the nose is a combination of anise, grain, and yeast.  Mostly oak free.  Some orange oil, grapefruits.  Hot cereal and flower blossoms.  There's some grimy funk involved that may or may not be related to peat.  With time in the glass, the whisky starts picking up bright notes like confectioner's sugar, roses, peach nectar, and blueberries.  The palate is soft and creamy with a slight peppery bite.  Vanilla shows up for the first time and in quantity.  It all gets sweeter with time, but a subtle tartness keeps it in check for a while.  After some time, here comes the anise, flowers, and grapefruit.  Eventually the sweetness becomes aggressive.  More citrus comes out in the lengthy finish.  That's followed by peppercorns, vanilla, and a hint of mocha.  Again, the sweetness expands with time.

In Jordan's review of this whisky, he mentions that this bottle got better with time.  I had aired my sample out for a while because I got involved with baby-related matters, so perhaps a little bit of oxidation helped things out because I liked this one.  (Also, Jordan and I found more similar notes than we usually do.)

This isn't as zany as yesterday's Bladnoch, but the casks were very reserved, again.  As a result this whisky might feel a little young to those folks used to a lot of oak in their glass.  The sweetness gets a little bold at times and I wouldn't say this was the most complicated of malts, but it's good drinkin' after it has breathed.

Too bad the price on it is so silly.  $90?  I'm not surprised it's still on the shelves after 10 years.  At half its going rate, I would recommend it.

Availability - A few US stores still have it
Pricing - $80-$90
Rating - 83

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Single Malt Report: Bladnoch 20 year old 1993 Signatory (casks 767+773)

Bladnoch Bladnoch Bladnoch Bladnoch.  That's how this week's going to play out.  I'd noticed that I had yet to do a full report on a Bladnoch, and there were four Bladnoch samples from four different sources in my stash.  So the latter could address the former.  Because I do not have four nights of fully functioning senses and sanity in one week, I planned two nights with two whiskies each.  Comparisons often help me figure out whiskies, so hopefully this works.

Bladnoch somehow has a committed following and is often ignored completely when folks write about the Lowlands (as in a recent Whisky Magazine article about distilleries in that part of Scotland).  As of a couple years ago there were only three functioning malt distilleries there, so it's kinda hard to miss, especially with the ongoing drama with its ownership situation.

Sadly, Bladnoch was closed and went up for sale last year.  Its current fate is sort of blurry.  There were a number of posts/rumors on the internet that Vatika Group (an Indian real estate and construction company) had purchased the distillery, but I still haven't found an official public confirmation of a closed sale.  What I did find was a blurb that Vatika backed out of the sale last month.  That hyperlink will send you to the forum run by Raymond Armstrong, one of Bladnoch's former owners.  A forum member mentions Vatika backing out and Armstrong confirms it.  So......I guess the distillery's still up for sale if somebody wants it.

Okay, Bladnoch #1 this week is a 20 year old from Signatory.  It's not one of their cask strength editions, nor is it from their Unchillfiltered series.  It's one of those gold/yellow-labelled bottlings that are presented at 43%abv.  This Master of Malt sample was generously gifted to me by my buddy Tetris (thanks, Tetris!) and was studied alongside tomorrow's Bladnoch.

Distillery: Bladnoch
Ownership: ???
Age: 20 years (March 8, 1993 - April 25, 2013)
Maturation: Hogsheads
Cask #s: 767 & 773
Bottles: 798
Region: Lowlands
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? Possibly
Caramel Colorant? No

Its color is light gold.  On the nose, the first sniff brings one of the most intensely grassy notes I've yet come across.  Think wet grass and wet soil in the morning after a night rain.  That's met by a hint of pine, followed by more than a hint of wormwood.  Then cucumber, celery, and mint leaves.  A distant tire fire.  Maybe there's a little bit of lime candy and maraschino cherries brightening it up around the edges.  The palate is remarkably loud for a 43%abv.  A big burst of bitter rooty dirtiness held together by syrupy toffee.  A blast of barley and sugary sweetness arrives next.  Then, after a half hour of air, suddenly some sherry shows up.  And it's a sweet sherry, full of carob and prunes.  Meanwhile, the bitterness never leaves.  After all that pomp, the finish gets quiet.  Some the palate's residual bitterness remains along with the nose's grassy stuff.  A hint of toffee, some roasted coffee.  Then a curious puff of cigarette smoke lingers on the tongue.

This one is a strange mess, but I love it.  The nose, especially, is a hoot, as it's as far from contemporary oak tech as can be.  Its (good) greenness and earthiness remain strong throughout.  As mentioned, the palate is impressively rich.  The bitter and sweet notes are almost musical together.  The effect of the whisky's proofing down only shows in the mild finish and that's what keeps me from giving this a 90+ score.

Though the whisky came from two hogsheads, one of them probably had once been seasoned with sherry.  Or this was a result of a recasking of sherried Bladnoch.  The smoke note could be the result of some interaction with barrel char, or the barrel's former contents, or some peated residue in the still itself, because I don't think that this was from purposely peated spirit.  No matter the source of the oddities, they're entertaining.

So, this is a whisky for specific palates.  It's gotten no love from whiskybase members -- which is understandable -- but it's not easy to find any remaining bottles out there.  So somebody bought this stuff.  And it did spawn a sequel that contained casks 774 & 775.  In any case, if you have a bottle of this Siggy Bladnoch (casks 767 and 773) then at the very least you probably won't find it boring.

Availability - Happy Hunting (in Europe)!
Pricing - May have been in the $75-$85 (pre-shipping) range
Rating - 88

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Whisky #401: Willett 2 year old Family Estate Small Batch Rye (54.05%abv batch)

Well, you knew this was coming...

Kristen and I tried this two year old rye right alongside the Willett MGP 4yo that I reviewed on Tuesday.  It gave us quite a perspective on this new thing.

As mentioned on Tuesday, this 2 year old was distilled at Willett's own distillery.  The rye it is replacing in the Family Estate series had been distilled by Midwest Grain Products.  That MGP rye was much beloved in my home.  I'm a little late to the game in reviewing this 2yo.  Hell, even MAO beat me to it by a week.

BottlerKentucky Bourbon Distillers (also known as Willett Distilling Company)
Brand: Willett Family Estate Single Barrel
Type: Straight Rye Whiskey
Age2 years
RegionBardstown, Kentucky
Alcohol by Volume54.05%
(Thanks to smokeypeat for the sample!)

Once again my most special of guests, Kristen, contributes to this review.  Please see her notes in italics.

The color is similar to the MGP 4yo, though probably slightly lighter.  The nose begins like a piney cleaning fluid.  Rubber cement.  Elmer's glue.  Definitely an adhesive.  Thin, industrial.  Gradually some pear, rye seeds, and peanut brittle notes emerge.  Then comes those small sweet orange-ish lemons that gringos call Mexican lemons.  Sometimes it's kind of aquatic.  Chlorine.  It gets a little floral with a lot of air, but also gains a sharp cheese note.  The palate starts off sweet.  Sweeter than the nose lets on.  Vaguely fruity.  Red Hots candies, sort of reminiscent of The Rye Storm.  Cheddar cheese along with something green and herbal.  It's still fruity.  Just a hint of vanilla.  A simple sharp spice stab.  The finish is sweet as well.  There's a bit of lemon.  Also cinnamon, chlorine, and cheese.

Kristen's comments: Thinner than the 4 year old, and with less depth, it's okay on its own.  More alcohol in the palate and nose too.  The four year old is fuller, richer, with deeper vanilla and spice notes.

I'm not going to disagree with my wife on that.  It's a much different rye than the ol' 4.  Kristen quickly picked out which was which when trying the two blindly.

This 2yo has been reviewed by Sku, MAO, and Bourbon Truth, three heavy hitters who tell it like it is, shoot straight, and some other cliché.  If they don't like something, they state as much.  Yet, I think they all like this rye better than I do.  Though (and this may be important) they appear to have had a different (54.7%abv) batch.  Smokeypeat, also a swell whisky fellow, from whom I obtained this sample, did like this batch a lot so please see his review for another take.

To me this seems like a work in progress (WIP), an early prototype.  With American whiskey enthusiasm being what it is and the desire for companies to get something on offer while people are throwing their money around, it seems like this is another whiskey that needs some more time to bake before it's solid.  (Sorry for the mess of metaphors.)  It's not bad, but it is thin, a little flat, feels heavy on white dog, and lean on the finish.  I'm the last guy to shout for More Oak, but this needs more time in the barrel.

I really want Willett to succeed, but I just can't recommend this rye to anyone at its $50 price tag.  Had they labelled it as a WIP and priced it at $25-$30, I'd be happy to buy a bottle to support them.  But not this, not yet.

Availability - Most specialty retailers
Pricing - $40-$60
Rating - 78

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Whisky #400: R.I.P. Willett 4 year old Family Estate Single Barrel MGP Rye

The bottle! It's disappearing!
If I had to pick my favorite American whiskey right off the top of my head it would be Willett's Single Barrel MGP-distilled rye.  It was the first rye I drank neatly, and it was luff at first sight.  It's also the only whisk(e)y that my wife requests by name; it's the only one that we drink together; it's the only one that we speak of when it's not around.

The last four year old Willett MGP rye I bought was found at a good source in Los Angeles.  One bottle remained (thank you to whomever bought the previous bottle and left one behind), I bought it not realizing it would be my last.  But before I delve into my thoughts on this brand, let me deliver the review for those who clicked over here for it.


BottlerKentucky Bourbon Distillers (also known as Willett Distilling Company)
Brand: Willett Family Estate Single Barrel
Type: Straight Rye Whiskey
Age4 years
MaturationNew American Oak
RegionBardstown, Kentucky (Distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana)
Barrel: 98
Bottle: 159/204
Alcohol by Volume55%

For today's review, I have special guest.  Kristen!  As mentioned above she is also a Willett fan, so please see her notes in italics.

The color is grade A maple syrup.  The nose leads with both cassia and ceylon cinnamon sticks.  Caramel sauce on vanilla ice cream.  Cumin, black pepper.  Cloves, vanilla, holiday baking.  It's as if someone went overboard with the spices in a carrot cake.  Maybe a hint of wood smoke.  Orange peel.  Ah she beat me to it, orange peel.  The palate, mmmmm.  Atomic fireball candy.  A balance of sweets and spices.  Lots of brown sugar.  Chili powder in limoncello.  Sticky cinnamon syrup, cloves.  Grilled pear.  Pumpkin pie.  The finish is all of the warming baking spices.  Okay, I'll try to list 'em...clove, pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg.  Cinnamon, oranges.  Something reminiscent of mulled wine, perhaps its the spices.  Rich toffee.

I wouldn't say it's the most complex of the Willetts we've had, but it's really really tasty.  We didn't find any of the dill (or pickle juice) notes here; it's just all sweets and spice.  It's a whiskey winter hug.  There are other very good MGP ryes out there, but something about the Kulsveen/Willett warehouses really pulls these Family Estaters up above the rest.

Availability - Here and there, but not really here anymore
Pricing - See the shpiel below
Rating - 89


For a number of years, the Willett Distilling Company was an NDP (non-distilling producer), thus bottling and releasing bourbons and ryes that had been distilled at other distilleries.  One of their highly esteemed brands was the "Family Estate" single barrels.  Some of these Family Estate whiskies were grand oldies from Stitzel-Weller or Old Bernheim, but many were younger whiskies from the Midwest Grain Products (formerly Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana) facility.  All the while, the Willett folks were building up revenue and investment capital in order to refurbish and reopen their own distillery which had closed in the '80s.  And, as of 2012, they were again distilling their own spirit.

While the Family Estate bourbons are very good, it's the Family Estate MGP rye that I adore.  There were some 3 year old bottlings floating around several years ago, and the occasional 5 and 6 year old.  But most of the Family Estate ryes were labelled as 4 years of age.  Though they were all from different individual barrels, the ryes were always of substantial quality.  By late 2013, these ryes were becoming more difficult to find and in 2014 they were almost gone.  The same year (2014), Willett began releasing the rye they had distilled themselves, a 2 year old, under the Family Estate label.  There were secondhand and thirdhand reports that their MGP rye's popularity had put a serious drain on that particular stock in the Willett warehouses, but at the same time the company had its own product (with a different mashbill and source), didn't want to create brand confusion, and likely wanted to avoid competing with itself.

While Willett's MGP rye holds a lot of sentimental value for me, I'm not going to pretend that I've been drinking it for my whole life.  It's really only been 3+ years.  But over those 3+ years I watched the price of the 4yo go from $35 to $40 to $45 to $50.  The few remaining bottles I've spied recently were $55.  And that was at the same retailer that had it at $35 three years ago (a 57% price jump).  Because the whiskey's quality is reliably high, I had no problem paying $40-$45 for 4 year old.  Then, I paused for a moment before paying $50.  When I saw a bunch for $55, I walked away with my wallet in my pocket.  Of course all of those ryes were gone a month later when I had reconsidered.  Now the Willett-distilled 2 year old can be found everywhere at the 4yo's $50ish pricetag.  Meanwhile, now there are 6, 7, and 8 year old Willett MGP ryes hitting the shelves at $80-$140.  Clearly these are earmarked as the higher end of the brand and at the lower segment of that price range, they are flying off the shelves.

So we, the consumers, have been paying the price the market has set.  We'll scramble after the $55 4yo until it's gone, and we'll pay twice that amount for a similar rye just a little older.  I bought one 6yo and two 7s when I found them at their lowest local prices.  The price I paid for the second 7yo was the most I've ever paid for an American whiskey.  While I love the product and am sure these will be lovely bottles, that's the last time I'm blindly dishing out that sort of money for an American whiskey.  Even a Willett.  The market says that's the price, thus once again I'm priced out of the market.

I might be convinced to buy one more 4yo at the current rate, if I find a bottle after my Whisky Freeze has ended.  But that'll be it for me.  The product I sought, the 4 year old, is scarce and now replaced.  It makes sense that Willett wants to sell Willett rye; hundreds of other NDPs would kill to be in their position.  For my own needs, I'll have to go elsewhere.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

NOT Single Malt Report: Highland Queen Blended Scotch (bottled in 1964)

The Highland Queen brand was started by the McGraw/MacRae family just before US Prohibition took a chunk out of the whisky industry.  For a few decades James McGraw & Co. had a cheap blended whisky named Highland Gold.  But in 1916, during a brief trip to Ireland, James's daughter was accosted by two Irish sailors at St. John's Dock.  His daughter escaped unhurt, but the sailors weren't so lucky as she strangled them both to death with the brassiere she had just purchased in Dublin.  Her family rushed her back to Scotland before she had to face the Irish authorities.  In honor of her bravery, James McGraw renamed his brand after her.  But since Highland Biddy probably wouldn't move too many bottles, he instead named it Highland Queen.

None of what you have just read is even remotely true.  If you're interested in more information about Biddy McGraw, click here with a too-ri-oo-ri-oo-ri-yah**.

For some more accurate information about Highland Queen see this link from her owner.  Thanks to the former whiskysamples site, I have a sample of a 1964 bottling of the ol' Queen.  (For another review of this whisky online, see the The Coop's post.)

Let's drink it up.

Brand: Highland Queen
Current Ownership: Terroir Distillers (also owners of Tullibardine)
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: not stated
Bottling year: 1964
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

The color is gold, very gold, almost DiageoGold™.  Lots of very contemporary (but not necessarily in a good way) buttery oak in the nose.  A bit acrid, cheesy, and vinegary; perhaps some cream that has turned.  Mild notes of orange oil, caramel, and peat moss.  Some brighter floral notes come out after the whisky has been aired out for a long time.  The palate is less off than the nose.  It's a little gritty, softly peaty, with the occasional bite of green peppercorn.  It's otherwise pretty blendy and unexciting.  It sweetens up with time, adding in vanilla and caramel.  Not much of a finish at first.  Maybe some tingly menthol and orange candy.  Towards the end of the glass, it sweetens and spices up.

Water doesn't do anything for the nose and might even bring some of the uglier parts back in.  The palate definitely goes the wrong direction when watered down; nothing but rough immature grain spirit.  This is proof positive that there were blah bottom shelf blends back when our grandfathers were hitting the sauce after their lodge and union meetings.

**Yes, I know this is a Irish tale, but c'mon a bottle of Highland Biddy would be pretty sweet.

Availability - Maybe via an auction?
Pricing - ???
Rating - 70 (neat only, much worse with water)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

NOT Single Malt Report: Two Haig blends from the 1970s

Long before I served as David Beckham's eyebrow double for a certain perfume bottle grain whisky, Haig & Haig was known for its regular blended whisky under names like Pinch (or Dimple), Five Star, and Gold Label.  "Don't be vague / Ask for Haig" was their quippy slogan.

As per whisky lore, Robert Haig got himself in trouble back in the 17th century for distilling on the Sunday sabbath.  Two centuries later, John Haig was partly responsible for the building of the Cameron Bridge distillery (which was a bit smaller back in the 1820s than its 21st century 100-million-liter version).  In 1877, Cameron Bridge was amongst the distilleries that combined to created Distiller's Company Limited (DCL).  John Haig's own brand of blends was bought by DCL forty-two years later.  In 1986, DCL was bought out by Guinness in a series of fraudulent transactions, creating United Distillers.  United Distillers combined with Grand Metropolitan to create Diageo in 1997.  So it's fair to say that Diageo's existence is entirely the fault of the Haig family, right?

On the same dusty hunt that resulted in my '82 Canadian Club find, I discovered an old 4/5 quart (757mL) bottle of Haig Blended Whisky.  I could tell from across the counter that it was pre-1980 with its imperial volume measurement and proof alcohol measurement.  Once I brought it I spied 72 and 297 on the inside of the label.  297th day of 1972 perhaps?

It was a fun discovery, one that I thought was very unique.  But then a month later I found a store that had at least a half case of 4/5 pint (or 378.5mL) bottles.  So I bought one of those to open before getting into the 4/5 quart bottle. And interestingly, that one also had a '72' printed behind its label.  I don't have a clear pic of that number, but here's the bottle:

At the time of this whisky's bottling for the USA, Haig Gold Label was on the shelves in Europe.  Gold Label has a very similar label, except that it has the words "Gold Label" in a gold font on the label.  My bottles do not have those words.  Also around this time there was a similarly labelled Haig & Haig Five Star blended whisky.  Though my bottles have five little stars on their upper labels, they don't have the words "Five Star" anywhere on them.  Meanwhile the Five Star whisky's label had ten stars on it.  But anyway, no "Gold Label" and no "Five Star".  So my whiskies are just Haig Blended Scotch Whisky.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the midst of my flurry of questionable purchases, my whisky buddy Cobo sent me a sample of actual Haig Gold Label (from Europe) from the 1970s (thank you, Cobo!).  His whisky bottle had the correct dumpy shape, brown glass, and real "Gold Label" description on it:

Here's his sample bottle along with what remains of my 4/5 pint bottle:

I smell a Taste Off coming...

...but first one more note.

I opened my 4/5pint bottle the very night I brought it home.  My experience with dusty scotch told me to let the whisky air out before drinking, so I poured it into a flat tumbler (rather than a Glencairn) and let it sit for ten minutes.  Then I sniffed.

Garbage.  Hot garbage was all I could smell.  I sipped it cautiously (for Science and all that).  Not terrible, mostly drinkable.

I left it in the glass for another ten minutes.  Not much change.  Then another ten minutes.  At that point it had been breathing for a half an hour.  Now the nose had shed its feculent fur (shitty shell?) and the whisky could be better studied.

Okay, time to get the Taste Off on and see if things have improved over the past four months:


HAIG BLENDED WHISKY - US, 1972 - 4/5 pint bottle, 86ºproof (43%abv)
Nose - Rotten greens, expired milk, old greasy pizza box.  Roasted brussels sprouts.  After a couple moments, it gets grassier and sugarier.  Struck matches and prunes tell of some sort of sherry cask action.
Palate - Only a hint of the nose's rottenness, reading as a slight vinegar sourness.  A nice oily texture.  There's a surprising spicy nip, with pepper biting at the back of my throat.  Burnt bread, cream, and plums.
Finish - Decent length.  Pepper sauce meets sherry vinegar, followed by a bit of sweetness.

HAIG GOLD LABEL BLENDED WHISKY - Europe, 1970s - 43%abv
Nose - Clean as a whistle.  Gentle floral notes float through seaside air.  A candy shop in the summer.  Clementines, hay, and a hint of peat moss.
Palate - Oily texture on this one too.  It leads with caramel candies, sugar cookies, and brown sugar.  That's followed by a little bit of salt, peppery spice, and a hint of bitters.
Finish - Mellower than its partner.  Sugar, spice, salt, honey, and toffee.

Comments:  My Haig has an ugly nose.  :o(  Meanwhile the rich Gold Label impresses immediately.


Nose - The old dirty cardboard pizza box remains, but most of the other rotten notes have departed.  In their place is mint extract, black licorice, and orange pulp.  It's a little herbal and bready.  The prune note grows with additional time.
Palate - Instantly creamy and sweet, with orange pulp, caramel, and whipped cream.  Walnut, horseradish, and (maybe?) a whiff of peat.  The pepper note is mostly gone, replaced by something tarter.  There's also a lingering floral soap note.
Finish - A little tongue drying and tart.  The pepper returns here as a honey pepper sauce.

Nose - Peat moss and dusty furniture.  Orange lollipops, mango, and salted caramels.  It freshens up with more air, think cucumber and green grass.
Palate - Malty, sweet, and spicy.  It's a solid piece, so it takes a moment suss out its parts.  Brown sugar, toasty grains, toasty oak, citrus candies, and maybe a little bit of earthy molasses.
Finish - Still spicy and a little floral.  It's grown sweeter, think brown sugar and lemon candies.

Comments:  My Haig saves a little face, just a little.  Meanwhile, the Gold Label becomes even more drinkable.

I'll lead with the good news.  The Gold Label is one of the better blended scotches I've had.  Something about it is reminiscent of Nikka's current Whisky From the Barrel.  Both are well made with a good balance of different whiskies from different casks while remaining malty and tasty.  The Nikka is more intense and complex, but it's also 51.4%abv.  I wish today's blends could be as solid as this old Gold Label is at 43%abv.

The same can't be said about my Haig.  Its intensity happens in the wrong direction.  While it improves with lots of air, the nose always hampers it.  The palate is what kept me going with this bottle as it doesn't totally suck, functioning as a whisky I can sip and forget.

While the bottle's 42 year storage may have been responsible for the problems, the liquor store I bought it from had no windows so damage from heat is a little less likely than at most stores and damage from light nearly impossible.  It's possible that this could have been Haig's cheapest whisky at the time of its production and its lower quality elements do not fare well over time.  One thing's for certain, it bears little resemblance to their Gold Label.

Availability - Some random corner liquor store
Pricing - my 4/5pint bottle was all of $6.99
Rating - 73 (without lots of breathing time, it would be closer to a 65)

Availability - Maybe the occasional auction
Pricing - ???
Rating - 88