...where distraction is the main attraction.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Birthday Booze! Inchgower 36 year old 1974 Master of Malt

Third review of the week!  You know what that means...  Super short introduction!

As I had for the previous two birthdays, this year I opened and consumed a sample of a whisky that was as old as I.  This time it was this Inchgower that Master of Malt bottled back in 2011.

I actually bought the sample in 2011 too, back when UK shipping was half of what it is now.  Oh, the days.

Before this sample, I'd tried a grand total of two Inchgowers; both 29 years old.  I liked them both, but now that I've downing a 36 year old Inchgower, I'm pretty sure I have no idea what their regular teenage or Flora & Fauna versions taste like.  This is a situation I normally don't find myself in since I'm unable to make a habit of drinking old whisky.

Distillery: Inchgower
Owner: Diageo
Independent Bottler: Master of Malt
Age: 36 years (September 16, 1974 - June 9, 2011)
Maturation: refill bourbon hogshead
Type: Single Malt
Region: Speyside (Banffshire)
Alcohol by Volume: 53.4%**
Limited Release: 177 bottles

** - One bit of weirdness.  The sample says it's 53.4% ABV.  The website says it's 53.4%.  But there was an identical cask distilled and bottled on the same exact days which produced same number of bottles and was labelled 41.5% ABV.  And the official photo on the website shows an ABV in the 40s, when zoomed in.  Whiskybase and whiskywhiskywhisky say it's 41.5, while Ruben from whiskynotes says his was 53.4 and Bonhams shows a bottle with the 53.4.  It could be that there were two very identical casks, but I doubt it.  Master of Malt split the cask with whiskybroker, and whiskybroker's bottles were 53.4% ABV.  So I'm going with 53.4% ABV.  Whew, that paragraph took longer to research and write than the rest of the entire post.

On to the stuff!

The color sits between light gold and amber.  The nose is a blast of fruits, candies, and creams.  Orange-mango juice, limes, fresh bananas, lemon peel meets peppercorns.  Cherry Blow Pops.  Vanilla and tapioca custard.  Hints of barrel char, but much less oaky than current "rejuvenated cask" whiskies.  Some anise and mothballs give it another boost.  On the palate, a big fruitiness at the start is reined in by a soft bitter close.  It's very zesty and spicy (yes, I know Ruben used those words in his review too, but he's a copycat with a time machine).  More creamy than buttery.  To be more specific about the fruit-to-bitter development: it goes from tropical fruit juice to lemon candies to tropical fruit Skittles to flower blossoms to dark chocolate to coffee.  A very effervescent finish, mint leaves and menthol.  Crème fraîche and mocha.  Fruity candies too.

A very pleasant nose leads to a zippy palate which leads to an enormous finish.  40+ minutes of that effervescent glow.  I like this a lot.  And now I'm 3 for 3 with old Inchgowers, with this being the best of the three.  And yes, this 36 year old single cask whisky was 75GBP (62GBP, ex-VAT) three years ago.  Seriously.  The 15 year old Balvenie is more expensive than that now.  It's unnecessary for me to say that this single cask sold out a long time ago, so my condolences if, like me, you wish you had a bottle.

Availability - Not
Pricing - £74.95 with VAT, sigh
Rating - 91

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Birthday Booze! Lemorton Domfrontais 35 year old 1978 Calvados

Calvados?  That's a funny name.  What the hell kind of whisky is that?

It's not whisky, actually.  It's a French brandy made from apples and pears which---


Where are you going?

Calvados is good!  Especially in the summer......

Well, it looks like I lost Blue Text on this one.  And probably a few readers who saw the post title and said, "F**k it."

For those of you still reading, I opened my one old bottle of Calvados for my birthday this year.  Balblair out, Lemorton in.  While Calvados isn't inexpensive, it's a hell of a lot cheaper than single malts of comparative ages.  I also did not buy this bottle blindly, since I had the pleasure of attending a brandy tasting led by Charles Neal about a year and a half ago.  The '78 Lemorton Domfrontais was my favorite of all the brandies that night.  Its price was exorbitant so I did not buy it at the time, but in a moment of craziness I bought a bottle in February of this year, for this upcoming birthday.

Some Calvados is distilled from apples, some from both apples and pears.  In the Domfrontais region of Calvados, pear trees thrive due to their affinity for the local soil.  In order for a Calvados to get the "Domfrontais" appellation, its distillate needs to be made from at least 30% pear.  And that distillate must come from a single pass through a column still.  It is then aged in enormous French oak casks.  Due to the size of the massive (sometimes reused) casks aging happens much more gradually than it does with whiskies.  The idea is to let very little oak character get into the mix, thus allowing the distillate itself mature and shine.

I like Calvados a lot, though I'm not an expert on which farms and families turn out the best stuff.  In Calvados, I like the aggression of the essence of the apples, while the palate remains not overly sweet.  It often makes for better summer drinking than most Scotches do.

All I know about Lemorton is what Neal has written about.  The family makes some young Calvados blends, but they also turn out a number of old vintages like this one.  Oh, and their distillate's pear content is 70%.

Type: Brandy
Country: France
Region: Calvados (in Lower Normandy)
Subregion/commune: Domfront, Orne
Family: Lemorton
Distillate: approximately 30% apple / 70% pear
Distillation: once through a column still
Year distilled: 1978
Year bottled: 2013
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

The color is of a dark maple syrup.  The nose has a dense apple center amongst a fluffy pear expanse (this was my third drink of the birthday evening).  The apple and pear come across as baked rather than fresh.  There's a lot of spiciness that I usually don't find in younger Calvados, so perhaps it's from the oak?  Smaller notes of roses, honey, and maple.  The palate has lots of fresh sweet apples at first taste, followed by some tannic dryness.  Ah, now it's applesauce.  Now it's sour apple gum.  Softer notes of grilled pear.  Lots of honey, though.  Hints of mint and cayenne pepper.  With time, the pear notes rise up.  The palate never gets sugary sweet.  More honey in the finish, then fresh pears, apple juice, menthol, and a sprinkle of black pepper.

For most of the experience, the apple content feels two to three times stronger (if that can be quantified) than the pears even though the pears outnumber the apples more than 2:1 in the distillate.  That speaks to the intensity of Calvados's little apples, or the subtlety of their pears.  Or both.

I'll be honest, there's not a hell of a lot of depth in this brandy.  It also feels a bit tight, and only seems to open up after a lot of air.  I'm going to chalk that up to the Top o' the Bottle Blues, since the first pour from a bottle almost always feels reserved and closed up to me.

All of that aside, this is still quite nice.  In the nose, the oak spice walks the starting-to-intrude line, but retreats in the palate in order to let all of the apples roll in.  It makes for great summer sipping, if one is looking for something lighter than Corryvreckan on a late August evening.  Quality-wise it could stand with most starter malts, though it's not going to topple many 35 year old whiskies.  I'm looking forward to finding out what it's like next year when I taste it again.

Availability - A dozen or two retailers in the US and Europe
Pricing - $140-$160
Rating - 85

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Birthday Booze! Balblair 1978, the final chapter

Alas, the last of the Balblair '78.

Distillery: Balblair
Ownership: Inver House Distillers Limited
Age: 30 years (1978-2008)
Maturation: American oak ex-bourbon barrels
Region: The Highlands (North)
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chill filtered? No.
Caramel Coloring? No.

I opened it on August 24, 2012 and then reported back.
I drank from it again on August 24, 2013 and wrote about it.
Then I finished it on August 24, 2014.

Okay, and I may have snuck sips here or there.  I'm not the sort of fella who knocks out a 1/3 of a bottle in a sitting, even on my birthday.

To reverse what I wrote in 2013, and confirm what I wrote in 2012, this whisky was bottled in 2008, not 2010.  How do I know this?  Forget any bottling code deciphering.  It's on the damned label:

In the long periods between opening, the whisky was preserved with Private Preserve and I'm pretty confident the stuff worked.  And by "worked" I mean that the whisky was still bursting with richness after a year of the bottle being much less than half full.  But I don't think its nose and palate were frozen in time...

As in 2013's post, I did not look at my previous notes before or during this tasting.

The color is light gold.  The nose has both ripe cantaloupe and under-ripe honeydew, as well as some cucumber.  There's some black licorice/anise and citronella candles.  Subtle notes of milk chocolate and lavender flowers (not soap!).  It's also much woodier than I remember it having been before.  Plenty of wood spices and caramel sauce.  The palate is also spicier than I recall it being before.  There's plenty of sweetness to be found, but it's well complimented by that spice, making it feel very rich.  Fruitwise, there's there a little bit of honeydew, some caramel-covered sour apple, and a lot of tart lemons.  Some notes of chocolate and taffy, too.  The finish gets sweeter and sweeter, and tarter and tarter at the same time, somehow. Subtle bitterness slips in here and there.  The melon and cucumber from the nose return again, along with the flowers.  And there's something smoky lurking in the distance, perhaps from the barrel.

Taking a look back at my notes from the two previous years...... Looks like I did get some oak upon opening it in 2012.  But not much oak in 2013.  In 2013, there was a TON of fruit action going on, which I remember well.  Much of that has now dissipated.  And I think the oak notes have partially replaced it.  In fact, there's something slightly bourbony about the whisky now with all the wood spice, caramel, and sweetness.

If I were to compare the three tastings, I'd say I liked the 2013 the best because the fruit barrage was awesome.  While the oak isn't too overwhelming now, it has started to shove other things out of the way.  I am going give this a lower rating by a few points (*gasp*!), but for the majority of the bottle I'd still give it the 93 point score.  It was a delightful whisky and a pleasure to treasure.

Availability - A few European retailers
Pricing - $250ish (w/shipping, w/o VAT) via UK retailers, otherwise $350ish
Rating - 89 (though the majority of the bottle was 93)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Notes from a tasting: Peatin' Meetin' Whiskies at Home, Part 2

To recap, while I did attend Peatin' Meetin' this year, I did not drink during the event.  Instead I picked up a baker's dozen samples, all of which I will be tasting in the controlled environment of my home.

Most of these samples are 0.5oz (unless otherwise noted), so I probably won't be providing numerical grades.  Instead, I'll be giving each one a letter grade range.

Last week I tasted four of the samples, this week I did three.  Here's the list:

-- Balvenie 17 year old Islay Cask (OB, 43% ABV) - Grade Range: B-/B
-- Loch Lomond Peated, green label (OB, 46% ABV) - Grade Range: D+/C-
-- Bowmore 16 year old 1990 Sherry Cask (OB, 53.8% ABV) - Grade Range: B-
-- Laphroaig 13 year old 1994 (Cadenhead, 54.7% ABV) - Grade Range: B-/B
-- Bladnoch Lightly Peated 11 year old 2002 K&L exclusive (OB, 51.5%)
-- Longrow 10 year old Sherrywood (OB, 46% ABV)
-- Laphroaig 15 year old 1998 K&L exclusive (Signatory, 61% ABV)
-- ???
-- ???
-- ???
-- ???
-- ???
-- ???

Bladnoch Lightly Peated 11 year old 2002 K&L exclusive (OB, 51.5%)
K&L picked up three single barrels of Bladnoch directly from the distillery: this one, a 4yo, and a 23yo
Nose -- Oakier than it looks, with some wood pulp and butter going on, though that part isn't too strong. The peat reads as a recently snuffed bonfire. There's a larger note of lemon peel and a hint of fresh peach.
Palate -- Lots of citrus.  A very nice bitterness, light sweetness.  A rye-ish spice meets a gentle mossiness and a peep of tropical fruit.
Finish -- Mild spice, mild bitterness.  Hot cereal and caramel.

Grade Range: B
Even though it probably would get lost at Peatin' Meetin' amongst the heavy hitters, this is actually a very solid mild peater.  For me, it's one of the rare whiskys whose palate trumps its nose.  I liked it even more than the Cadenhead Laphroaig.  If the Armstrongs had figured out how to nail this as a 46% ABVer, it would've been very nice in a regular Bladnoch range.

Longrow 10 year old Sherrywood (OB, 46% ABV)
original part of the regular range, it was discontinued sometime around 2008
Nose -- The sherry note itself is subtle as everything has merged together lushly. Tropical fruit, toffeed peat, milk chocolate, faint smoke, orange peel, maple, and a hint of oats.
Palate -- A quirky start: mint and basil and caramel sauce meet a very farmy peat.  Then there's black licorice, a little salt, and a lotta malt.  Fresh cherries in simple syrup develop over time.
Finish -- Long. Loads of malt. Peppery spice and peat residue. Cherry candy and fresh oranges.

Grade Range: B+/A-
Good god.  Springbank, please bring this back.

Laphroaig 15 year old 1998 K&L exclusive (Signatory, 61% ABV) 
I grabbed almost a full ounce of this stuff, which had been aged in a refill sherry butt
Nose -- A summer meadow, then that same meadow burned down.  Wheat bread toast and aged dry cheese.  There's some meaty sherry in the background, along with a little bit of floral stuff, farmy notes, and orange peel.  With water, it develops dog fur, pepper, bacon, and hay notes; and becomes less smoky in the process.
Palate -- Intense char, menthol, and hops. Sherry and prunes at the very edges. Some earthy notes in there too.  With water it gets hoppier and sweeter; the smoke fades and the peat moss builds.
Finish -- Charred peat and a soft floral note. Next-day cigar mouth.  With water, the smoke returns along with a spicy bite.

Grade Range: B/B+
The nose gets the B+.  Overall, pretty good, quality-wise comparable to the better official 10 year old CS batches.  I could understand paying $100 for this, but $170?  Not I.

That was a happy trio. I liked all three better than any of the four from last week.  Longrow 10 year old Sherrywood is in first place, with Loch Lomond Peated (green label) safely in last.  I won't be able to post next weekend, but I'll get the next round of Peatin' samples in as soon as I can.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Single Malt Report: Blair Athol 25 year old Van Wees cask 6918

Blair Athol!  Woo hoo!

Seriously, I'm excited to try this whisky.  It'll be my second Blair Athol in five days.  Before this weekend I had tried a grand total of zero Blair Athols.  I'm also a fan of the Dutch indie bottler, Van Wees.  They've released two casks of 1988 Blair Athol, both of which are beloved by the whiskybase community.  I think I just missed out on getting this one.  Luckily for me, My Annoying Opinions bought it and I was able to get a sample of it in return for an empty bottle of Duggan's Dew.  We'll be doing simultaneous reviews again today.  And here's the link to his review!

Distillery: Blair Athol
Independent Bottler: van Wees (The Ultimate)
Age: 25 years (October 21, 1988 - February 10, 2014)
Maturation: Refill sherry butt
Cask number6918
Limited bottling: 712
Region: Highlands (Central)
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

The color is a rosy dark gold.  The nose has some musty moldy sherry that reminds me of my '70s Johnnie Walker Black Label.  There's definitely something mossy in there too, though the distillery supposedly uses only unpeated Glen Ord malt.  There's some dry tobacco and hay.  Herbal notes range from rosemary to oregano to mint.  Something vegetal peeks up, something between green peppers and cucumber.  Maybe some smoked prunes and carob, too.  It's very intense considering the ABV.  The palate is toasty, earthy, and a little smoky.  Notes of toffee, black peppercorns, and apple juice arise as well.  Big sticky sherry and a wormwood-like bitterness grow with time.  The sweetness curls up at the end.  The long and vivid finish holds rich sherry, tobacco, black coffee, and milk chocolate.  The bitterness lessens slightly and some meyer lemon sweetness arises.

With just a few drops of water, the nose slips away, either tightening or closing or evaporating.  There's still some sherry in there.  Fresh basil and mint.  Maybe some floral notes.  The palate is still toasty and sherried.  Less sweet, more herbs.  Slightly soapy.  The finish is much shorter.  A slight sweetness meets a slighter bitterness.  Plenty of sherry.

This hit the spot.  I loved the busy nose and the bright & bitter palate is how I prefer sherried stuff.  Water did it no favors, so I recommend it neat.  I'm still convinced this was somehow lightly peated.  Maybe the refill cask spent its first Scottish life in Islay?  The quality of this whisky makes me wonder how many other good Blair Athol casks escaped Diageo's claws and are hiding inside independent warehouses?

Availability - Might be sold out
Pricing - was $90ish, ex-VAT, before shipping (not a bad price considering the age)
Rating - 89

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Single Malt Report: Caol Ila 12 year old 1999 Gordon & MacPhail

In contrast to yesterday's post, I don't have a dozen introductory paragraphs for this whisky.  There are too few Caol Ila reviews on this site and even fewer G&M reviews.  I must get to work on that.  This sample was obtained via a swap with My Annoying Opinions.  And guess what?  We're posting simultaneously on this same whisky bottle right now!  And......here's the link to his review.

MAO's bottle
Distillery: Caol Ila
Independent Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Series: Cask Strength Collection
Age: 12 years (August 17, 1999 - September 19, 2011)
Maturation: first fill sherry cask
Cask number305326
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 61.6%

The color is medium gold.  In the nose, yep, definitely some sulphur up this sherry butt.  While it's there, it's not a dealbreaker since it just provides one of many elements.  There's a Fritos note, but I'm thinking that's connected to the sulphur as well.  Then there's bacon, fresh plums, honey, and nutty sherry.  Sounds like a party.  That's followed by old sweat and urine.  Sounds like a party.  On the palate, the sulphur reads as struck matches, gunpowder, and rock salt.  Then there's soil, ham, sneaker peat, chlorine, and cotton shirt.  It goes sweet → salty.  The finish has the sulphur and peat moss, chlorine and a light sweetness.  After a while, a big sherry burst erupts.

WITH WATER (approx. 46% ABV)
The nose is actually very similar and keeps its vibrancy.  Some more sherry, anise, dirt, and hay have crept in.  The sulphur note is a lot like spent paper caps.  Still has the Fritos note, which has combined with wood smoke.  Also urine.  The palate has changed a bit.  Burnt grasses and herbs.  More moss.  Same gunpowder.  Goes tart → peppery → sweet.  Lots of hay and moss in the finish, followed by sugar and gunpowder.

With its sherry, sulphur, and peat moss this whisky reminded me of the infamous Blackadder baby Ledaig I'd opened up last August.  This Caol Ila is twice as old as that one and, while still pretty zany, feels more pulled together.  The sherry is much brighter, that's for sure.  The palate feels flat underneath the sulphur, though water helps a little; and the finish was so-so.  Overall, while the whisky's not exactly my poison, it's still very entertaining.

Availability - Might be sold out
Pricing - whiskybase says that it was 56GBP or 70euros
Rating - 82

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Single Malt Report: Bruichladdich 'The Organic' (2013 US release)

This is the first of three consecutive simul-posts with My Annoying Opinions this week!  We'll be reviewing the same whiskies (from the same bottles) at the same time.  We'll see whose opinions are really more annoying.

Here's the link to MAO's review.

For clarity purposes, this is the vintage-less US release of Laddie's organic single malt.  They had a number of smaller Europe-only organic releases previous to this, and there's a new Scottish barley version on the shelves.  This is not that.

Two years ago, I tried this whisky and LOVED it.  It was at a rep-led official tasting and The Organic was lined up with much swankier and more critically acclaimed Bruichladdich products.  But I liked The Organic best.  It had lots of cereal and grassy notes that really hit the spot and it started my fascination with nearly oakless malts.

When compared to Benromach's Organic, Bruichladdich's Organic sits at the opposite side of the oak-driven spectrum.  Benromach's version uses virgin oak from "environmentally managed forests" and results in a thick, dessert whisky full of vanilla, wood spices, and caramel sauce.  I had thought the use of new oak would be mandatory for an official organic designation, because previously used casks would still hold remnants of non-organic fluids (bourbon, sherry, etc.) -- or so Benromach seemed to infer.  But apparently Bruichladdich has been using a mix of new and used casks in their organic malts.  The lightness or near absence of oak in The Organic seemed to show an absence of new oak.

Let's zip forward to February of this year.  Florin (a prince) and I split a bottle of The Organic.  The whisky was bottled on February 8th, 2013 and in a bit of coincidence we opened it on February 8, 2014.  I noticed two things on the canister:

Thus, they did use former bourbon casks and it did pass both EU and USDA organic regulations.  Organic purists may say, "WTF?".  I just find this situation curious because the 2014 version of 'Laddie's organic whisky (not the one I'm reviewing) is specifically called "Organic Barley", it is no longer The Organic.  Purity aside, I adored the final result of the (likely) refill casks.

You may have noticed I used the past tense in that last sentence...

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Current ownership: Remy Cointreau
Age: older than 3 years, previous editions were around 6 years old
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks
Mash: Chalice barley (organic)
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

The color is a light amber.  The nose begins with pilsner and yeast.  Lots of yeasty dough, actually.  Then toasted barley, apples, followed by orange and lime peels.  Some entertaining hints of honeyed ham and Barbasol shaving cream.  The fruits grow with time as does a dusty note.  The palate is very soft.  Not a lot of there there, at first.  Gradually oats, granulated sugar, and stale soda bread develop.  Then ground black pepper and pencil wood.  It is at turns buttery and tart.  The finish has the pepper, butter, and pencil wood notes, along with a tangy tingle and mild bitterness.

The nose is immediately more pungent.  Bigger fruits, including overripe peaches and nectarines.  Hints of dust, varnish, and manure.  It's also much more perfumy and sugary.  The palate feels bolder too.  More tartness, more sweetness.  Some drying tannins meet fresh stone fruits, then a soft herbal bitterness and a peppery heat.  The finish is longer and sweeter, as well.  Lots of barley and yeast, then bitter over-steeped tea.  It can be a bit acidic and buttery at times.

When I sipped this at home six months ago, I was a little disappointed by the lack of...well...everything on the palate.  While there was some cereal-ish stuff on the nose, I had trouble finding its flavors in general.  The Organic (which had the same label) I had tried two years back was aggressively bready and grassy.  But my bottle seemed to have had the volume turned down.

What it needed, of all things, was water.  Dropping the ABV down to 40-43% turned the volume back up.  While neat, the nose is good and the palate inoffensive.  But with those drops of water added, the whisky becomes enjoyable.  As a result, I've added water to my remaining bit of this whisky, dropping the ABV down to 43%.

As I hinted above, this version of The Organic has been discontinued for a Scottish Organic Barley bottling.  Until recently, I would have said this was a damned tragedy.  Now, I don't feel strongly about it.  You don't have to hate yourself if you miss out on this, but if you find it at its original price it's not the worst thing to split amongst friends.

Availability - A couple dozen US retailers
Pricing - $55-$75
Rating - 84 with water (high 70s without)