...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, September 4, 2015

WTF Is This? Glenforres 12 year old All Highland Malt (1980s bottling)

WTF is this?  It's Edradour!  Mostly.  Or entirely.  Probably.  Edradour, the smallest distillery in the Highlands, was called Glenforres a couple times during its existence.  I've seen this particular whisky listed as both a Vatted Malt and a Single Malt online.  At first I thought it was the former, now I'm leaning towards the latter.  Note the back label:
Okay, that's not really legible.  To summarize, it says that Glenforres is the "smallest" distillery in Scotland -- as Edradour was for decades.  It says that it was built in Pitlochry -- as Edradour was.  And at the bottom, the label says "Established 1825" -- again Edradour.  And according to Dominic Roskrow's Whisky Opus, former owner William Whiteley renamed Edradour as Glenforres-Glenlivet during his ownership.  Thus, Edradour.  But why list "All Highland Malt" on the front label rather than "Single Malt"?  If anyone knows the answer, please share in the comments!
I think this is a pic of the bottle
my sample came from.
Distillery: Edradour
Ownership at the time: probably William Whiteley & Co. Inc.
Region: Highlands (Central)
Age: minimum 12 years old
Bottling year: Probably in the early 1980s
Maturation: Plastic dispensers?
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? Unknown
Colorant added? Not much if any
(From a sample purchased from LA Scotch Club)

The color is amber.  The nose starts with malt and lots of limes.  Then out-of-season cherries, a little bit of wood polish, and a subtle moss note.  Some lychee candies and fresh grapefruit as well.  The whisky hits the palate sweetly in the first moment, but then soap soap soap soap soap soap soap soap soap.  Grapefruit soap.  Dove liquid soap.  Some of the fruits from the nose linger behind.  The finish keeps the grapefruits, but sheds all of the soap, at first.  In later sips, the soap returns.  There are also lemon candies and white gummi bears.  It's pretty salty and bitter throughout.

Well, that was an experience.  This must be the first time I've had a whisky with a nose that would score in the high-80s and palate that would score in the low-50s.  Had I looked at its whiskybase page, I wouldn't have gotten such a surprise, as the community lists it as the 73rd worst whisky of all time (out of nearly 66,000 competitors).  The fruity nose does pull it up out of Failure Land, but I cannot recommend this whisky to anyone outside of malt masochists or people who recreationally drink hand soap.

Availability - Why? You really don't want this anyway.
Pricing - ???
Rating - 67

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Single Malt Report: Edradour 9 year old 2003 Ruby Port Cask, batch 2

As mentioned on Monday, my Edradour experience is minimal.  I have had four unpeated Edradours made by the current ownership, two whiskies that were decent and two that were not.  The better ones were from emphatic sherry casks, the lesser ones were from shy bourbon casks.  Let's see where this one fits...

Distillery: Edradour
Ownership: Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Co., Ltd.
Region: Highlands (Central)
Age: minimum 9 years old
Bottling year: 2013
Maturation: Ruby Port Hogsheads
Limited Bottling: 3100
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(Thanks to Tetris who donated this MoM sample!)

The color is a rosy dark gold.  There is A LOT of sulphur in the nose, the most I've ever experienced from port cask maturation.  Just a wall of struck matches for the first ten minutes.  Behind the wall awaits some grapey port.  Eventually all of the other notes sneak through one by one.  Hay, marzipan, chocolate, and strawberry candy.  Smaller notes of agave nectar, violets, and honey.  The palate is sulphur free at first.  The port feels dry rather than sweet.  Almonds, salt, pepper, oats, and black raisins.  About 20 minutes in, things go a little weird with a sulphur & soap note.  But that vanishes 5 minutes later.  Then the raisins come back in with a salty pepper sauce and bitter chocolate.  A hot ethyl note runs throughout.  The finish has no weird notes.  Raisins, dry red wine, apple juice, the pepper sauce thing, and bitter coffee.

I didn't add water to this whisky because I became fascinated tracking the way it changed in the glass.  Thank goodness the sulphur faded out of the nose because there were good things trapped behind it.  The palate was free of sweets, but it was a bit bland (aside from its gross hiccup midway through).  The finish was the least flawed element.  While it's far from the worst Edradour I've had and is totally drinkable, it is crap compared to yesterday's Ballechin (peated Edradour) that was also aged in Port hogsheads.

Though there aren't many other online reviews of this whisky, I seem to be the only one who was hit by the sulphur note.  That's sort of weird because it's so freaking huge.  Sulphur aside, I'm still not crazy about this one by any means.  I'm not sure why it was bottled at this age, other than to satisfy a need for revenue.  Batch 1 has much lower ratings than Batch 2 in whiskybase, so I won't be too disappointed if I never try that one.  If you've tried either of these batches, let me know in the comments below.  I'd be curious to hear your thoughts.  I'm still not really sold on unpeated Edradour, though their ownership continues to be one of the industry's most reliable bottlers of other distilleries' malts.

Availability - Some specialty retailers in Europe
Pricing - €50-€60 (with VAT)
Rating - 77

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Single Malt Report: Ballechin Batch 3, Port Cask Matured

Before the 10 year old, Ballechin was released as "The Discovery Series", without age statements and in a different sort of cask each year.  They were as follows:

Ballechin batch 1 - First-fill Burgundy Wine Casks (2006)
Ballechin batch 2 - Madeira Puncheons (2007)
Ballechin batch 3 - Port Hogsheads (2008)
Ballechin batch 4 - Oloroso Sherry Butts (2009)
Ballechin batch 5 - Marsala Hogsheads (2010)
Ballechin batch 6 - Bourbon Barrels (2011)
Ballechin batch 7 - Bordeaux Hogsheads (2012)
Ballechin batch 8 - Sauternes Hogsheads (2013)

Thanks to Florin (the local Ballechin fan), I have a sample of batch 3 to report on...

Distillery: Edradour
Malt: Ballechin
Ownership: Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Co., Ltd.
Region: Highlands (Central)
Bottling year: 2008
Maturation: Port Hogsheads
Limited Bottling: 6000
Peat level at time of malting: ~50ppm
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(Thanks to Florin for the sample!)

Its color is light gold with a slight pink-orange hue.  The first big note in the nose is chocolate tangerine peat.  The port level is mild at first but strengthens with time.  Blackberry popsicle.  Hint of menthol.  The peat gets greener with time.  Then suddenly, its a whole pan of raspberry bars!  The palate is much ashier than that of the 10 year old.  Thickly textured, it feels much larger than 46%abv.  Chocolate, toffee, and sweet grapes at first.  Then the 10's chili oil note leaps forth.  And lots of dark berries in peat syrup (or vice versa?).  A little more wine in the finish.  Limeade, salt, and dry peat smoke.  Medium levels of sugar and (peppery) spice.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose becomes milder and softer.  The port and peat become floral.  Lemon zest, vanilla, and maybe a hint of honey develop.  The palate becomes ashier and bitterer.  Less fruit, more straight up sugar.  Acidic, too.   The finish is sweet and ashy.  Floral and acidic.  Maybe some bitter chocolate?  Decent length.

For an non-Islay wine-cask-aged NAS peated whisky, this is hard to top -- though I'm not sure how much competition it actually has.  I'd even say it's better than many age statemented Islay peaters.  The nose, palate, and finish are equally solid, though I don't recommend adding water.  The peat and port not only play well together but also compliment each other.  Good stuff this porty peaty Edradour.

Though this has become difficult to find, I still think its current US prices (floating around $100) are goofy.  Its original US price of $80ish is little more reasonable and, unlike the Ballechin 10, I'd be willing to pay $70-$80 for this Batch 3 because the quality is present in the bottle.

Availability - Scarce in the US and Europe
Pricing - $100 or so in the US; $85-110 in Europe
Rating - 88

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Single Malt Report: Ballechin 10 year old

I will be reviewing a few Edradour products this week.  I know, you're leaping from your windows (with excitement).  My experience with the Highlands' tiniest distillery's single malts is limited but mixed.  The three I've tried that were distilled prior to Andrew Symington's (Mr. Signatory!) 2002 takeover were aggressively soapy.  In fact the old 30 year old is in the running for the single worst whisky I've ever tried.  It was horrifying and worrisome.  To get an idea of the experience see Andy's review from the LAWS site.  My luck with the whiskies distilled since 2002 has been more positive.  And my experience with their peated brand, Ballechin, has been even better.

The malt used for Ballechin is peated at Ardbeg/Kilchoman levels, near 50ppm.  Symington and his distillery manager, Ian Henderson (formerly of Laphroaig fame) began distilling this peated spirit almost as soon as they moved in.  Starting 2006 and ending in 2013, a limited batch of Ballechin was released annually.  Each batch of "The Discovery Series" was aged in a different cask type, from Port to Sauternes to Oloroso sherry and more.  And then in 2014 the first age-stated release came out...

Distillery: Edradour
Malt: Ballechin
Ownership: Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Co., Ltd.
Region: Highlands (Central)
Age: minimum 10 years old
Bottling year: 2014
Maturation: from the back label: "predominantly ex Bourbon casks with a generous top dressing of ex Oloroso Sherry casks"
Peat level at time of malting: ~50ppm
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(Thanks to Florin for the sample!)

Its color appears to be apple juice gold.  The nose has big rich peat, though it's not ashy.  A plate of pork with honey-citrus glaze and grilled corn on the cob.  Serious grilled corn on the cob.  Then there are red (not red delicious which smell like emptiness) apples, orange peel, and ginger powder.  It gets nuttier with time, sort of pistachio-ish.  After about 20 minutes, it gets a little more coastal/beachy.  The palate feels more charred, with dirtier peat.  Slightly vegetal peat notes as well.  Quite sweet, with plenty of vanilla and sugar.  A chili oil bite and some roasted malt.  After 20 minutes, a good rich oak note appears, perhaps from the "generous top dressing of ex Oloroso Sherry casks".  Some sweet baking spices as well.  The finish, though not complex, is extensive.  Sweet and peat.  More Kilchoman than Ardbeg.  The malty element picks up after a few sips, as does a hint of salt.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose is milder and delivers more hay notes.  The peat reads more mossy than smoky now.  Salty/briney.  Something sugared in the far back.  The palate is nearly neutered.  Hints of sweet, salt, and bitter.  Smokier than the nose.  Almost a wood smoke.  The finish is much lighter too.  Briney, smoky, malty.

This is a solid whisky that could easily play in the Islay League.  It can't be accused of complexity and it doesn't swim well, but it smells great and tastes good.  The finish is impressive as well.  I used the Kilchoman and Ardbeg reference in the tasting notes because of their similar peating levels (or possibly the same Port Ellen maltings specs?), and also due to the fact that the Ballechin 10 would be a respectable alternative to the Ardbeg 10 and Kilchoman Machir Bay.  I'd still go with those two first, especially since they're cheaper (it is about $20 cheaper in Europe than in the US, though that's before shipping) and a half step better.  But again this is good stuff if you're looking for a new peated whisky (with an age statement) and don't mind paying the price.

Availability - Many specialty retailers in US and Europe
Pricing - $70-$80 in US; $55-70 in Europe
Rating - 84 86 (apologies for the score change, I was supposed update it before posting in the AM but didn't due to fatherhood forgetfulness)

Friday, August 28, 2015

WTF Is This? Birthday Edition: Old Ren B.I.B. Bourbon 1936-1944

A deep cut for the Birthday Edition..

If you're a frequenter of whisky blogs, you may have heard of this bourbon.  If so then that is due to one Joshua Feldman, a certain Coopered Tot.

Josh posted twice about Old Ren.  The first post was an extensive historical tour of the whiskey, the distillery, and Ren Clark.  It's a hell of an article and I highly recommend it.  Four months later, Josh posted a followup piece about a certain aspect of the whiskey's style.  Let's see if I can recap 3000 words in about 300...

The Bourbon!
Distilled in Fall 1936, Bottled in 1944 at 100 Proof (50%abv). 4/5 quart bottle. It was bottled by W.P. Squibb Distilling Co. Inc. of Vincennes, Indiana, as a one-time order for Ren Clark, the man with the hat and rabbit on the front label.  Brought to the twenty-first century via the always reliable The Coopered Time Machine™.
The Distillery!
Graham Distillery Company, Illinois Distillery No. 6.  No, not a NDP.  Yes, a real bourbon distillery in Illinois.  Located in Rockford, it seems to have operated before and after Prohibition, but is now in Bourbon Distillery Heaven.  The Graham family had a spiffy house, the distillery, and a cotton mill all in the same part of town.  (Here's a link to a Straight Bourbon discussion about Graham.)

The Bottler!
W.P. Squibb Distilling Co. Inc. had its own distillery in Indiana, for a while.  They named it Old Quaker Distillery and ran it until Schenley bought it during Prohibition.  Old Quaker's motto: "You don't have to be rich to enjoy rich whiskey." Yeah, that's nice. Tell that to the Scots. Anyway, Old Ren was bottled at their planet (formerly Eagle Brewery) in Vincennes, Indiana.

The Magician?!
A. Renerick Clark was indeed a magician, president of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, and co-founder of the Texas Association of Magicians.  He also was a banker and an executive for multiple oil companies, which is how he obtained the big bucks to leisurely peddle the magic arts.  He also opened a tiki bar, Polynesian Village, in Forth Worth, Texas, with his business partner Desi Arnaz.  (Yes, Mr. Lucy.)  He also thought it would be great to buy a large parcel of well-aged bourbon and have it bottled in bond.

For more information, I recommend Josh's post and all of the great links he provides.  Now, about the whiskey.  Is it any good?

The Review!
It has a cherry wood color with some maroon highlights.  In the nose a pretty floral layer lingers beneath dusty old sturdy furniture in the attic (old oak, lacquer, must, and dust).  Rock candy.  Dense caramel sauce and vanilla beans.  Hints of dried oregano and thyme in the background.  After 20 minutes it's lime→cream soda→vanilla→caramel.  After 30 minutes it's white chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies and maple syrup.  The palate is whisky candy.  Loads of rich vanilla.  Mint gelato and oranges at the edges.  Chocolatey rye.  A malty sweetness.  Its spiciness increases with time.  And it still has a heck of a bite to it after all these years.  Intensely aromatic vanilla leads in the finish.  Vanilla extract.  Also vanilla beans.  Vanilla.  Gentle oak spice.  Has that malty sweetness again, but a peep of bitterness keeps it from going overboard.  Maybe some black pepper.

¡The Vanilla! 
Vanilla was the first note Kristen found as well.  And wouldn't ya know it, that was what Josh's second Old Ren post was about.  In it, he and two lawyer/geeks delve into the laws behind the "Straight" designation for American whiskies.  Why the "Straight" issue?  Because of this:
The bottle labels were originally produced with the "Straight" designation.  And then it was covered up by those printed red boxes.  One could ponder, "Was this because a vanilla flavoring was added, thus challenging the Straight nomenclature?"  But because the bourbon was designated Bottled-In-Bond by the government, it legally couldn't have any flavor additives anyway.  Or did Ol' Ren pull a fast one in order to make sure...
...there's magic in its taste?

Or was it a super vanilla-y batch of bourbon that developed more vanilla notes after 70 years in the bottle?  This is the option we're left with because as of now no one has been able to prove otherwise.

I'm giving this a high score because I loved the intensity of that vanilla character.  The finish went on for twenty minutes.  Overall, it wasn't massively nuanced or sophisticated.  Instead it was a whiskey that puts a smile on a face and that was needed the night before my birthday.  Thank you, Josh!

Availability - In a magical place
Price of admission - Whatever is asked
Rating - Vanilla, er, 90

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Birthday Booze! Glen Grant 37 year old 1974 Berry Brothers & Rudd (cask 7643)

For my birthday this year, I thought it best that as a stay-at-home father I should celebrate by remaining completely sober all night.

HA HA! HA HA! Ha Ha! Ha. ha. ha. ha.


I'll move on.

So, I drank some things on my birthday, including a 1978 Calvados (reviewed here) and a 1978 Benriach single cask (reviewed here).  I ended the night with a 37 year old whisky.  A single sherry cask of Glen Grant, bottled by Berry Brothers & Rudd.  Old Glen Grant tends to be reliably excellent, which makes one wonder why new Glen Grant isn't reliably excellent.  But then again, none of us are as good as we used to be while the mind, the body, and humanity at large decays into the fetid garbage heap that is the future.

I've been reading too many Nihilist Arby's tweets.

So much to say about this whisky in this introduc--

Distillery: Glen Grant
Ownership: Campari
Bottler: Berry Brothers & Rudd
Range: Berrys'
Age: 37 years (1974 - 2012)
Maturation: some sort of ex-sherry cask
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Alcohol by Volume: 47.8%
Chill filtered? No
Caramel Coloring? No

Its color is very dark gold, maybe some maroon highlights.  In the nose, the sherry starts out dry almost smoky.  More nuts than dried fruits.  There are small notes of dried herbs and menthol.  With time, the fruits do come out to play.  Then dark chocolate and mint leaves.  On the palate, dry nutty sherry splashes up against a wall of malt.  Again, with time, the grapes emerge.  Unlike yesterday's Benriach, the bitterness is more herbal/wormwood than oak-related.  Then bits of cigar and toffee.  Pretty rich without being very sweet.  Orange peel and dark cherries meet roasted malt in the finish.  Then lime, toffee, a soft bitterness, and a hint of smoke.

WITH WATER (~46%abv, just a few drops)
The nose becomes maltier.  A little bit of toffee.  More dried berries than grapes.  Never a hint of sulphur.  Meanwhile, there's less malt in the palate.  It's sweeter, with raisins and dried blueberries.  No more smoke or bitterness in the finish.  But there are more berries and overall sweetness.

A couple years ago, someone was nice enough to share with me an official Macallan 18yo that had been distilled in 1984.  Not being a fan of the current version of Mac 18, I tried the '84 with doubts.  But, thanks to more malt, drier sherry, and a touch of smoke, I declared, "Now, this is good."  This Glen Grant reminds me of that particular Macallan.

Nothing about the whisky propels it into the Excellent realm.  Instead, it's a very solid, very full, graceful sherried whisky without major flaws.  Serge V. came to a similar conclusion, though with a few different notes.  Meanwhile, one of the other Maniacs found it sweeter than I did.  In any case, good stuff.

Availability - Secondary market?
Pricing - Used to be around $170!?!? (Sheesh, Berrys' has a 23yo non-sherried Bunna going for $220 nowadays.)
Rating - 88

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Birthday Booze! BenRiach 32 year old 1978 cask 4387 Virgin Oak Finish

BenRiach Distillery Company acquired a large quantity of casks when they purchased the actual BenRiach distillery.  There are/were casks from The Glenlivet Distillers Ltd. containing whisky distilled between 1965 and 1978.  And there were even more casks from Seagram Distillers with whisky from 1978 to 2002.  Thus because Billy Walker & Co. bought the place in 2004, the vast majority of their bottled whisky was distilled by another company.  That includes both their regular range (outside of Heart of Speyside and the new 10 year old) and their nearly 400 individual single casks.

Some of these single casks include peated spirit that Seagrams started distilling in 1983 (according to the Malt Whisky Yearbook).  Many of them contained unpeated spirit.  Some casks were released as is.  Some were recasked or finished in new or different casks.  The sample I purchased from whiskysamples.eu almost two years ago was of an unpeated single malt distilled in 1978, originally casked in what was likely a former bourbon barrel-turned-hogshead, then finished in a Virgin Oak hogshead.  I bought the sample because it was from 1978 and also because I was curious as to the impact a new oak cask would have on long-aged whisky...

Distillery: Benriach
Ownership: BenRiach Distillery Company Ltd
Age: 32 years old (late 1978 - July 2011)
Maturation: Primary - refill ex-bourbon cask (a guess). Secondary - virgin oak hogshead (listed). Length of time for each unknown.
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Alcohol by Volume: 50.9%
Cask #: 4387
Bottle count: 354
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Coloring? No
(Sample purchased from the old whiskysamples.eu)

The color is dark gold, like a young bourbon.  The nose begins with mild notes of white peaches and yellow nectarines, creamy vanilla, milk chocolate, and shredded wheat cereal.  But with time, the oak takes over.  Lots of worn out wood and tree bark.  The palate starts with tobacco, caramel, orange zest, and black pepper.  There's a medium level of bitterness.  A little bit of ethyl.  A small note of papery cardboard shows up late, along with a lot more oranges.  It finishes with the tobacco, pepper, and mild bitter notes.  Some more pleasant things then show up, like dried fruit (apricot and pineapple), wheat bread, and a curious hint of smoke.

Strangely, the nose gets tighter.  More of that tree bark note.  Green leaves and tomato plants.  Caramel and maybe some pears.  Lots of wood spice and wood bitterness in the palate.  Vanilla beans and caramel.  More oddness, in that the finale is now the most complex part.  White fruits, caramel, sugar, butter, black pepper, and wood bitters.

What an odd duck.  If I'd tasted this blindly, I would have no idea what its age was.  I'd certainly never guess it was 20+, let alone 30+.  Part of the reason is due to the original cask and the new cask being in conflict with each other.  There's both bland oak and big oak happening at the same time.  It's better neat and best before it breathes too much.  If it could just drop the woody bitterness, the finish would be very good.

I'm going to guess the obvious: the new ownership came upon a limp cask and decided to spruce it up with fresh new oak.  To me, that didn't work.  In fact, the whisky might have been better before it was futzed with.  Normally I'm a big fan of BenRiach's official products (and they tend to be one of the better exotic cask finishers), but I'm not sure why they didn't bury this whisky in the 25yo or 30yo (or even the 20yo) or sell it to a blender rather than releasing it as a single cask.  While it has its issues, it is drinkable, but I expect more from a 32 year old single cask from a good distillery.

If you're looking for another take, whiskybase voters totally disagree with me.

Availability - A few European retailers
Pricing - it was about €200 three years ago, now it's around €330-€500
Rating - 81