...where hedonism has burrowed in like a deer tick.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Single Malt Report: Aberlour 22 year old 1990 Exclusive Malts

Welcome to the fourth Friday of simultaneous whisky reviews between Diving for Pearls and My Annoying Opinions.  The first three Fridays reviews were of bottles we had split.  Today's whisky is from a bottle that MAO owns and shared with me in a sample swap.  Thanks, MAO!  (And here's the direct link to his review.)

It's a first-fill bourbon barrel Aberlour from Exclusive Malts.  If you're a fan of Aberlour's official sherried releases, I encourage you to seek out a taste of an indie ex-bourbon release of their malt.  They're usually very honeyed.  Before this one, I'd had three ex-bourbon Aberlours.  I loved two, the other (reviewed here) was so-so.  So this is my fourth, the first of which is confirmed to be from a first fill cask.

Information and reviews on this bottling are difficult to find online.  The crowd-sourced Whiskybase folks love it, but that's all I've really been able to glean.  With a mere 129 bottles from this barrel (probably having lost half the original contents to the angels), there might not have been much to go around.  In any case, hopefully MAO and I can contribute a little more to the Internetwhiskysphere.

Distillery: Aberlour
Independent Bottler: The Creative Whisky Co. Ltd.
Series: Exclusive Malts
Age: 22 years (distilled on October 30, 1990)
Maturation: First Fill Bourbon (probably) Barrel
Region: Speyside (Banffshire)
Cask #: 16972
Bottles: 129
Alcohol by Volume: 51.5%

The color is a deep, almost brownish, gold.  The nose is a bakery.  Vanilla extract, lemon peel, butter cookies, and angel food cake first.  It's still a bit hot at its age.  With some more air, the whisky releases notes of fresh flowers, cookie batter, orange peel, and cream of wheat.  There's also a bourbony woodiness, think barrel char and hot spices.  The palate is very creamy in texture and flavor.  A dark brown paste made of brown sugar and honey.  A lime tartness and some cracked pepper to go with the barley.  After some air, subtle peach notes develop, as does a pinch of cinnamon and cardamom.  That little bit of peach continues into the finish, along with the pepper and tartness.  Some vanilla from the oak.  Still there's a lot of barley singing through it.

Now there's peach yogurt, orange Pixie Stix, hay, and a minerally champagne in the nose.  The palate is much saltier.  The sweetness picks up after a moment.  More citrus now too.  The finish gets milder.  Tangy oranges and a hint of wood smoke.

The nose is gorgeous.  The palate is fine, but let's get back to the nose.  It is at turns pretty, comforting, and makes one want cake ahora mismo.  The whole package still has a youthful nip to it which isn't necessarily bad, it just needs to be aired out.  With water, the nose changes but remains entertaining.  The palate thins out.  So, I recommend it neat.  Sometimes it seems like the perfect single malt for bourbon fans with its big American oak notes, but at other times the malt spirit stands in front.

Even though the palate doesn't knock me out the way the nose does, this proves to be another fun ex-bourbon Aberlour.  The folks who rated it on Whiskybase think it's the bee's knees, with my score being the lowest, so this was definitely a beloved barrel.

Availability - Here, and that's about it
Pricing - At least $120, with shipping
Rating - 86 (but the nose is super!)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

'Fiddich Fever: Glenfiddich 15 year old Distillery Edition

Monday was the 14 year old Rich Oak.  Tuesday was the regular 15 year old (formerly known as the Solera Reserve).  Today: Glenfiddich 15 year old Distillery Edition.

The Distillery Edition (DE) used to be sold in The States, but has since been pulled from the shelves.  I'm going to assume it was due to supply issues and not for low sales.  And it still appears to be for sale in Canada and Europe.  Unlike the regular official 15, the DE never spent time in a solera vat, instead it's a combo of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks mixed and bottled at 51% ABV without chill filtration.

I've been looking forward to this one since I bought the sample two years ago.  So, whisky first, comments second.

Brand: Glenfiddich
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks
Age: at least 15 years old
Alcohol by Volume: 51%
Colored? Maybe
Chillfiltered? No

The color is dark gold, though lighter than the regular 15.  So perhaps the industrial colorant was kept to a minimum?  The nose starts with a bundle of pine, peaches, pineapple, and pork (er, ham).  Then cardamom in clover honey.  Vanilla ice cream, limes, lots of toffee and caramel, and raisins.  The pears are in the waaaaay back.  It's very active and opens well with 10+ minutes in the glass.  The palate is grassy, fudgy, and toffee-y.  Then dried fruits in caramel.  The sherry notes grow with time.  Something almost peated but not, sort of like spicy roasted lawn.  It's never too big or out of control, but remains thick and substantial.  That dried fruit in caramel note is the biggest part of the finish.  Lots of chocolate and oloroso sherry too.

Green fresh herbs now show up in the nose.  Then toffee and more vanilla.  The palate is more sherried.  Leather, black pepper, black coffee, and honey.  The finish is drier, leaner, more grain than dried fruits.

Finally, an adult whisky from Glenfiddich.  Seriously, it's almost shocking to experience a Glenfiddich that can easily compete with other upper echelon Speyside/Highland malts.  It's good to know what the word-of-mouth buzz was about.  It's a bummer the stuff has become so scarce in the US.

It swims decently, probably the only 'Fiddich to do so, but I really recommend it neat because that's where its richness shines.  I'm not sure I even see much resemblance to its younger (or same aged) brethren.  Older Glenfiddichs can be good too, but they are all considerably watered down, so you'd probably have to go to some of the super fancy ones to find another with this richness.

I'm not saying this is 90+-point whisky (though it's close).  But it's a real whisky and it's good to know what Glenfiddich can do.  Now how about you bring this one back to us, William Grant & Sons?

(The LAWS guys don't fully agree, but Oliver Klimek does.  Oliver is right.)

Availability - Europe & Canada only (Boo.)
Pricing - If you can find an old bottle in the US it'll probably be $60-$70, getting one from Europe or Canada (with shipping) will run $75-$100
Rating - 88

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

'Fiddich Fever: Glenfiddich 15 year old

Yesterday I reviewed the Rich Oak 14 year old Glenfiddich.  Today, it's the 15 year old, formerly known as the Solera Reserve.  Inspired by a Spanish sherry producing technique, Glenfiddich began vatting some of its whisky in a solera system.  Here's an explanation of the process, from Roskrow's 1001 Whiskies volume:
The vat is filled with a mix of 70 percent refill bourbon casks, 20 percent European oak, and 10 percent virgin oak.  The liquid is then left to marry in the huge 700 [liter?] solera vat for three to six months, before half is emptied out and bottled.  The vat is then refilled to start the marrying process once more.
So, for the 15 year old Solera Reserve, which was first released in 1998, that's 15 year old whisky being dumped into the vat, joining a lot of older  earlier-distilled whisky from countless previous vattings, possibly some of which was distilled in 1983.

They also use a similar solera technique for their small batch 40 year old, but since I dumped all of my Glenfiddich 40 into a can of Sprite last Thursday, all I have available to review is the 15.

Brand: Glenfiddich
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation/Age: a 70/20/10 combination of refill bourbon / ex-sherry / virgin oak 15-year-old whiskies is vatted with earlier-distilled 15-year-old whiskies in a solera vat for 3 to 6 months; after that it is married further in a Portuguese oak tun 
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Colored? Yes
Chillfiltered? Yes
(Many thanks to Florin for the sample!)

The color is a dark gold, the darkest of this week's Glenfiddichs.  At first blush, in the nose there's a very nutty oloroso, but then it vanishes quickly.  The familiar 'Fiddich pears are more reserved, but still present.  There are toasty grains, a rubber note, and a lot of toffee.  It smells woodier than the 14yo Rich Oak.  Like the 14, the 15's palate is not too sweet.  Mild dried fruit notes from the sherry meet some milk chocolate and black tea.  Then vanilla extract, dry grass, and cracked pepper.  The texture is a little thin.  The grasses and pepper hang around into the finish.  There's also caramel, some dry sherry, and a hint of tartness.

Artistically, it's a shame that they water this one down to 40% after all of that effort with the solera vat.  Some very nice notes show up, then vaporize.  (On a personal note, I was happy to realize that the sherry notes were not a turn off, and that I was actually searching for more.)  The whole thing oxidizes VERY quickly in the glass.  So you'd be best off not letting it sit alone for too long.

I like it about the same as the 14, though they are different whiskies.  Had the 15 had any stamina then I'd be happy to holler with glee about it.  But it doesn't, so I can't.  It's an easy drinker and, since it is available in the US, it's one of the best priced 15yos out here.  It is a step up from the 12, but not a leap.

Availability - Most liquor retailers
Pricing - $40-$45 West Coast; $50-$55 East Coast; was $33.99 at Trader Joe's a year ago but no longer :(
Rating - 84

Monday, April 14, 2014

'Fiddich Fever: Glenfiddich 14 year old Rich Oak

The first of the three 'Fiddich friends: the 14 year old Rich Oak.

The words "Rich Oak" often bring to mind thoughts of craft whiskies that have been aggressively overoaked in small barrels.  My hope was that this wasn't a failed-experiment-type of release by Glenfiddich.  You know, something they screwed up but made so much of it that they had to release it (such as this more expensive whisky).  Their Rich Oak hasn't yet made it to the US, where big oak is often appreciated more by bourbon fans than single malt fanatics, but I was able to buy a sample of it through Master of Malt.

To find out what Glenfiddich meant by "Rich Oak", I went to their official UK site that has a page dedicated to it.  You can go there if you like; there are moody photos and a gauzy video.  You'll discover that the whisky spent its first fourteen years in a mix of previously used American and Spanish oak casks and then is finished in a different mix of new, virgin American and Spanish oak casks for twelve weeks.  There are also a bunch of vague tasting notes about vanilla, "fruit", "oak", and "spice".  Let's see if I can whip up something more specific.

Brand: Glenfiddich
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation/Age: 14 years in ex-bourbon American and ex-oloroso sherry Spanish oak casks, then another 12 weeks in a mix of virgin American and and Spanish oak casks
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Colored? Yes
Chillfiltered? Yes

The color is a medium gold.  On the nose, that "oak" is more toasty smelling than charred.  The "fruits" are fresh white fruits, specifically golden delicious apples, pears, and green grapes.  But mostly pears.  In fact there's also a strong note of baked pear in caramel sauce.  Also, floral perfume, oats, and hints of menthol.  The palate is surprisingly malty and drier than I had expected.  There's some subtle vanilla, a hint of tree bark, dry grass, toasted almonds, and a pleasant bitterness.  It's all very mellow.  There's some plain caramel and vanilla notes in the finish.  Some fresh apricot, along with the floral note from the nose.  Some nuts and grains in the mix.

I only tried it neatly because at 40%ABV, it's already so watered down.  The whisky would be much more interesting if Glenfiddich did more of a crafty presentation of it, bottling it at 46%, un-colored and un-chillfiltered.  It seemed like there were more cereal notes and possibly some farmy ones hidden beneath the water, but we'll never know.

As it is, it's not bad.  It's a tiny step above the 12 year.  That pear note seems to show up in every Glenfiddich I've had, which I always like as a sort of signature characteristic.  The 14 year isn't as sweet as the official tasting notes would lead one to believe and it's actually almost spice-free when comparing it to bourbons and ryes which spend their entire lives in new oak.  Those are not criticisms at all.  To me, those are good things.  The malt hasn't been suffocated away.

If you're trying to buy it from Europe it can get prohibitively expensive thanks to shipping.  A cheaper option may be a Duty Free store if you're traveling internationally.  For those folks living in Europe, the 14 is priced about the same as the 15, about a 30% markup over the 12.  I wouldn't say it's 30% better, but it's unique enough to provide a different experience.

Availability - Europe and Travel Retail only
Pricing - If in Europe: $50-$60; For US folks (w/international shipping): $65-$75
Rating - 84

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Some Single Malt Ramblings for the weekend

Just a few items that were floating around my head:

1.  Last Monday, Jordan at Chemistry of the Cocktail had a killer post about the importance of long fermentation in whisky production.  Science is one of Jordan's fortes, so yes the post is science-y.  But it underscores a mutual concern: the speeding up of whisky production does have an effect on the final product.  Denying it only serves the purpose of protecting the brand through misdirection or naïveté.  Maturation has changed, barley varieties have changed, yeast has likely changed, and barrels are getting dumped earlier and earlier.  These changes to the product are not being done in the name of progress, they're being done for revenue.  Anyway, that's my hot air.  Jordan's post has actual fact-based observations and studies about fermentation effects.

2.  My Annoying Opinions unleashed his latest opinion piece last Wednesday.  As he is apt to do, MAO ventures out into delicate territory.  This time he explores the blurry lines between whisky blogging and brand marketing.  As usual, he is right on.  The resulting comment section is quite something.  Some big names in the whisky blogging community respond to MAO's questions.  Sometimes the comments are very thought-provoking, and sometimes the comments are very disappointing.  Good stuff.

3.  A little update on that weird Suntory Royal SR blend I'd found.  In my post I said that making a mizuwari out of it was okay.  I was wrong, it's really not okay.  The sink drank the drink.

4.  Two weeks ago, I posted a rave review of two Old Taylor bourbons that had been bottled in the 1980s.  I'd noted then that the 1985 bottling had oxidized very quickly.  Well, the 1987 bottling (which I'd given the higher grade) has now oxidized very quickly as well, nearly silencing the palate and adding a subtle soapiness to the finish.  I'm beginning to wonder if this quick oxidation is something that happens often to dusty bourbons once they're opened.  Dusty scotch whisky doesn't thin out like this.

5.  I added a Diving for Pearls Facebook Page follow button on the right side of the blog.  If you're reading this (and thank you for doing so!), then you already have your method of getting here -- by boat, train, Twitter, Google+, Feedly, blogger links, searches, etc.  Facebook is another method.  If I find fun stuff to share on FB then that will join my links to the posts.

6.  I've got a fever and the only prescription is more 'Fiddich.  'Fiddich Fever burns hot this week.  All of three bottlings worth.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Single Malt Report: Bowmore 15 year old 1990 James MacArthur

Welcome to the third of five consecutive single malty Fridays of coinciding reviews between Diving for Pearls and My Annoying Opinions.  Week 1 brought a sherried Longmorn.  Week 2 was a youthful Caol Ila.  This week it's a 15 year old Bowmore, distilled in 1990, bottled in 2005 by James MacArthur & Company for their Old Masters series.  (Here's the link to MAO's review!)

I really like independently bottled Bowmores.  I've had the pleasure of trying fifteen of them over the last two-and-a-half years, and found only one of them less than very good.  A bottle of this James MacArthur Bowmore was split between MAO, a Mystery Malt Mensch, and me.  Because it was distilled in 1990, we were running the slight risk of FWP.  But I'm a man who lives on the edge, man, so I rolled the dice, spun the chamber, ordered the fugu, and laid my money down.

Distillery: Bowmore
Independent Bottler: James MacArthur & Co.
Series: Old Masters
Age: 15 years (1990-2005)
Maturation: probably re-fill bourbon barrels
Cask number1168
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 51.1%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: Probably not

The color is a medium amber.  The nose starts with burnt manure.  Mmm, lots of it.  Then lemon zest, anise, layers of rotting vegetation, and fresh garlic.  Now plastic toys are melting and tire rubber burning.  And, unless I'm just imagining things, perhaps there's a note of cannabis?  There's a load of moss in the palate, along with coffee grounds and dirt (which is redundant to some of us).  Also plenty of sweeter peat smoke, peppery arugula, lemon sour candies, and cayenne peppery.  Some Laphroaigy cigarettes in the finish, followed by lemoned peat moss.  Behind a wall of kiln smoke alternates peeps of tart, bitter, and sweet.  It's huge.

The peat moss recedes a little in the nose.  More barley and vanilla come up front.  There's still the burnt rubber, lemon zest, and weed.  It's spicier, with a little bit of the farmy note.  Some sort of fruity Belgian ale too.  The palate is herbal and mossy with moments of mild sweetness.  Cardamom cookies served on a nest (an actual nest).  Bright spices are more apparent in the finish.  A little lemon, less smoke.  Fresh herbs amongst the moss.

This is wonderfully dirty Bowmore.  Nothing artsy or subtle about it.  No flowers or soap.  The peat is so much more aggressive here than in Bowmore's official stuff.  It'll sock you in the nose first and when you're on your heels it'll punch your mouth.  The smoke and fire isn't due to it being too young, instead it's courtesy of a very good spirit and a decent refill cask.

This one's my favorite of the three MacArthurs we'd split.  None were bad, but the Bowmore is really my style.  I'm going have another glass of it right now.

Availability - Sparse
Pricing - probably $100-$120
Rating - 89

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Taste Off! Glenmorangie 10 (old label) versus Glenmorangie Original

Do you need much more of an intro than that?

Well, of course you're going to get one.  The older labelled Glenmorangies (back when they were distributed by Brown Forman) were the amongst the whiskies that really hooked me on single malts, especially the 10 year old and "Sherry Wood".  They were simple but flavorful and relatively affordable.  Perfect for a starter drug.

I've seen the Sherry Wood selling here and there for amounts a bit too steep for me to chase, but I have lucked into a bottle or two of the 10 for a decent price.  This bottle (on the left in the picture above) is from 2005.

In 2007, Moet Hennessey started distributing Glenmorangie (which it had also owned since 2004) and gave the packaging a full makeover.  Gone were the old school bottles, tubes, and labels, now replaced by new names, new font, and curvy bottles.  The "Sixteen Men of Tain" went from center stage to somewhere off in smaller print.  Glenmorangie was now a luxury brand, it couldn't look stogy, it had to dress the part.

But did they change the whisky?  It takes considerable effort to "change" a whisky.  Thousands of casks are dumped and mixed each year, and a BRAND like Glenmorangie has to be reliable enough in nature for its fans to return for more bottles.  But if a BRAND is trying to expand, could the producers tilt the whisky a little sweeter, smoother, or softer?

My memory says that the old Sherry Wood kicks the crap out of its current Lasanta iteration, but that's for a future Taste Off to challenge or confirm.  This year, I had in front of me the old 10 year and the new 10 year "Original".  I actually like the Original, so this seemed like a win-win for me.

Here's were things take a little bit of a turn.  This was a different bottle of Original than the one from my 2012 review and it's different than the one sampled by MAO in his review.  In fact, this one was an L7, as in from 2007.  When I first planned this review, I had intended to compare the oldie with something absolutely current.  I was pissed that I didn't look at the bottle code before buying (I'm a nerd like that), but then I realized that now I could actually compare Glenmorangies at the point of switchover from old to new, in 2007.


Distillery: Glenmorangie
Ownership: Louis Vuitton Moet-Hennessy (accents and umlauts not included)
Age: minimum 10 years
Maturation: first fill and refill ex-Bourbon American oak casks
Region: Highlands (Northern)
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

Older Label (2005, L5 237) 
The color is light gold.  When I first opened the bottle, scents of melon and tangerine poured forth after being closed up for eight and half lonely years.  But now, with the whisky in the glass and a little bit of breathing time, the nose holds more peaches, toasted barley, and lemon-scented soap.  It also vacillates between jasmine, grape drink, and mild cheese.  Gradually citronella and cotton candy come forth.  Give it more air, then vanilla and cucumber notes develop.  The palate starts with lemon peel tartness and cocoa (or perhaps brown butter to some).  Lots of barley, then peach, and orange pulp.  The tartness progresses to tanginess.  The barley note grows with time and continues on into the finish.  It's joined by lemons and talcum powder.  It's of decent length, the citrus staying the longest.

New Label, "Original" (2007, L7 306)
Its color is identical to the older version.  Lots of rosy perfume on the nose.  The grape drink has become Concord Manischewitz (also known as kosher grape drink).  A hint of peach in there, but much more orange Jolly Rancher and cotton candy.  Toasted grains and grapefruit round it out.  As for the palate, it's pretty simple.  Peaches, sweet cream, tangerines, and limes.  There's also a slight bitterness and greenness that feels sort of young.  The citrus grows in the finish.  There's a green veg note alongside rubbing alcohol.  And it's brief.

Let's walk backwards.  The L7 is much less oaky than more recent bottlings of the Original.  But it's also less complex.  And there's also less barley character than there is in the L5.  The nose of the L7 Original is much more perfumed, bright, and focused than the L5.  The palate seems younger than the L5's and feels a little thin.  The L5 has a big lemony finish, while the L7 has almost no finish at all.

Did the Master Blender/Distiller/LVMH try to change the whisky?  The peach, citrus, and cotton candy notes show the L5 and L7 are very much related.  And neither have much barrel influence showing up.  The L5's nose is more fun, but it's also wilder.  The makers of the L7 seemed to have reined in that jazz and replaced it with pop prettiness.  But that process has taken something out of the palate.  The L7 seems more readily accessible at the start, but provides much less excitement at the finish.  Could the latter have been due to heavier filtration?  The former can be from cask selection.  Or am I reading too much into something that could be a bottle-to-bottle issue?  Even so, I'm much more sold on the 2005 version.

If you can find a bottle of the older label, I don't recommend airing it out too much.  Usually I do encourage folks to allow a whisky some time to open up, but not in this instance.  This whisky has been best at the top of the bottle or at the start of the glass.  It seems to kinda slow down with air.  Though if you find a really old bottle you can ignore this whole paragraph.

If you go to buy the Original, check the code printed faintly somewhere on the lower-half of the back of the bottle.  The 2012s and 2013s (L12 and L13, I think), while more oaky (possibly due to Astar-style casks), have more character and zip.  While the L7 isn't bad, it seems like something intended to be poured over ice and forgotten.  There are plenty of blends available to serve that purpose.

If you've had similar or different experiences with the old 10, let me know.  I may seek out another bottle if the price is right.

Availability - Happy hunting!
Pricing - I've seen everything from $35 to $70
Rating - 85

Availability - Most liquor stores, though it's usually a more recent bottling
Pricing - $30-$40
Rating - 80