...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Single Malt Report: Glencadam 21 year old

Yes, I'm back to the single malt reports.  And I'm going to stay with them for a looooooong time.

Glencadam gets no love.  And that's fine for those of us who know that they're often underrated and priced well (internationally, at least).  Like Ben Nevis, Glencadam is a Highland malt.  But unlike Ben Nevis, it does not have a quirky reputation, plus it sits on the exact opposite side of Scotland in the East.  I'm not sure if previous ownership released groady Glencadam bottles at some point (Jim Murray has referenced some dark Allied years), but even its Angus Dundee stablemate Tomintoul is more familiar to most geeks.  Again, that's cool.  A big run on Glencadam would only cause its range's prices to skyrocket and then I'd complain about that.

Three and a half years ago, I fell down the Signatory rabbit hole when I bought a '94 Bowmore and a '89 Glencadam at Royal Mile Whiskies in London.  Both were very good to excellent, and I've had an unwise crush on the Signatory brand ever since.  I was able to stretch the Glencadam out over eleven months and then made it my one-hundredth single malt report.  Yes, three-and-a-half years ago we could buy a very good single cask of 20 year old Highland single malt for £45.  F**k.

Where was I?  Glencadam.  I've had my eye on their official 21 year old for a while.  So I was happy to buy this sample from Master of Malt...


Distillery: Glencadam
Owner: Angus Dundee Plc
Age: minimum 21 years
Maturation: "Bourbon and Sherry casks" according to whiskybase
Type: Single Malt
Region: Eastern Highlands
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chill filtration? No
Caramel coloring? Probably not

Its color is amber, light for its age.  The nose begins with pine sap and peach nectar.  With time the pine recedes and peach ascends.  Spearmint leaves and coffee beans arrive next, followed by newly clean laundry, cherry lollipop residue, and dried leaves.  After a while, a big note of flower kiss candy appears.  The palate is creamy in texture and flavor.  There's some caramel and nougat, lots of oranges and limes, and roasted almonds.  Then toffee pudding with coffee grounds.  With air, a big floral note opens up, joined by fresh apricots.  It finishes with some sort of creamy caramelly almond pudding.  Lots of citrus and flower blossoms hang around for awhile.  Then smaller notes of menthol, coffee, and dark chocolate.  After some time in the glass, the whisky's finish actually gets longer and more tingly.

Damn.  This is good, even better than I had expected.  There isn't a hell of a lot of oak involved, nor does it seem too young or hot from crap casks.  It's also not a profoundly complex navel-gazing whisky.  It's just really solid on all levels.  It drinks exceptionally well but isn't sugary sweet.  The floral notes I referenced may make some people nervous, but perfumy or soapy it ain't.  Nor is it full of violets and lavender.  But if you're 100% anthophobic, then you won't like this as much as I.  But to me the florals are just the first flute in an orchestra.  Coffee and chocolate, the big horns and percussion.  Citrus, the smaller brass.  Apricots and peaches, the woodwinds.  Okay, the metaphor is now crumbling.  I liked this whisky a lot.

I wish this was sold in the US of A.  Angus Dundee employee, if you're reading this, please bring Glencadam 21 to The States.  And keep the price comparable to the European one.  That'd be sweet, thanks.

For other takes/notes:
--Serge liked it a lot, though found different angles to it.
--Though Master of Malt has a good price on it, their notes seem to be for a different whisky. Royal Mile's notes make more sense to me.
--A lot of variety in the public's positive notes on whiskybase.

Availability - European specialty retailers
Pricing - Around $90-$105 (w/o VAT, before shipping)
Rating - 90

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Life of a Whisky Bottle: Ben Nevis 14 year old 1998 Exclusive Casks

This is my third "life of a whisky bottle" post, and like the previous two it's a bit of an oddball, not what I'd consider a crowd pleaser.  But there's a better end to this "life of" story this time.

I bought this bottle as the result of February's big sample tasting (posted on Monday!).  My favorite of the eight Exclusive Cask samples was this 14 year old Ben Nevis.  But something seemed strange about it.  Here are those notes again:

4. Ben Nevis 14 year old 1998. 258 bottles, 53.2% ABV
Color - Light gold
Nose - Leather. Very dry sherry, but a funky moldy old school sherry.  Or, is it finally time for this blog to use the ultimate snoot word......rancio?  Then bacon, hay, burnt grains, cardamom.  Then floral soap (but good!), industrial grease, and grapefruit peel.  Yes, that bizarre.
Palate - Strange and herbal.  Cannabis meets orange peel, and it gets more candied with time.  And there has to be peat in here -- at least Bowmore levels.  Very silky texture.
Finish - More peatiness. Light toffee sweetness. Hazelnuts and walnuts. Intensely herbal.

There were a number of quirks present.  The whisky was clearly peated.  It also seemed to have been aged in an old sherry cask......but another online review said there were bourbon notes present.  The situation was fascinating enough that I started searching for a bottle.  In July I finally got my hands on it and I opened it immediately.

As a bit of background, I had enjoyed every Ben Nevis I've tried -- all of four of 'em.  Some older and newer Ben Nevis(es) have gotten the reputation of being odd.  And I doubt if you'll see many anoraks name the distillery as one of their top ten.  Well, it would be in my Top Ten if I ever actually formed one.  And not all Ben Nevises are weird.  But this one registered as odd, my kind of odd, during the sample tasting and now I'm glad to bring you this blog's first Ben Nevis review.


Distillery: Ben Nevis
Independent Bottler: The Creative Whisky Co.
Exclusive to: Total Wine & More
Age: 14 years old (Dec. 1, 1998 - ???)
Maturation: ???, probably some sort of hogshead
Limited bottling: 258
Region: Highlands (Western)
Alcohol by Volume: 53.2%

This bottle's usage:
32% - Swaps and shares
0% - Whisky experiments
24% - Graded tastings
45% - Casual drinking



TOP OF THE BOTTLE

NEAT
Color - Medium gold, apple juice
Nose - Mango, papaya, and oranges, all in caramel. Something dusty and dank remains throughout. It's somehow plasticy, oily, and old school musty all at once.  Some subtle mossiness lingers as well.
Palate - Plenty of barley and a big green herbal kick. Irish brown bread with smoked caramel and smoked almonds. Yeasty and toasty.  Some bitterness creeps in.
Finish - Long and sticky. Salt, bread, savory herbs, and a light bitterness.

WITH WATER
Nose - More citrus rind. Cumin, caramel, anise, ocean air, and vanilla. A little meaty too.
Palate - More vanilla and caramel (Cow Tales) from the oak. Bell peppers and peppercorns. Bitterer and drier. Still intense.
Finish - Herbs, bell pepper, dry, and bitter.



MID BOTTLE

NEAT
Nose - Moldy, mossy, rooty, and rosy.  Then molasses, perhaps a tropical fruit rum cocktail.  Hay, carob bark, Ceylon cinnamon, a hint of caramel.  Something between plastic and leather (pleather?).
Palate - Starts with an intense herbal hoppy bitter bite. Not quite cannabis (hops's cousin). Moldy, salty, and farmy. Dark green veggies and beef.  Then with some time orange candies and lime juice show up.  Then a hint of yeast and cereal grains. Still pretty youthful despite the moldy notes.
Finish - Meat & greens again. Limes with granulated sugar. A little smoky and then the herbal hoppy funk.  Long and sticky.

WITH WATER
Nose - More perfumy and floral.  Citrus (fresh limes and oranges) begins to open up.  A gooey sugariness, maybe gumdrops? Still some moldy mossy stink to give it depth. A hint of bar soap or baby powder?
Palate - The bracing herbal bitterness (which I like) remains. Horseradish, bitter greens, soil, and roots. Traces of sugar and caramel.
Finish - More sugar now, though still very herbal and bitter, along with a little bit of smoke.



BOTTOM THIRD OF THE BOTTLE

NEAT
Nose - At first there's carob bark with roasted grains and nuts. Then lots of wheat products: Wheat Thins, Triscuits, and Kix cereal.  A lot of caramel.  Slightly gin-like in its herbals.  A hint of moldy basement and mint toothpaste.  With lots of air, notes of yeast, white bread, and rock candy arrive.
Palate - Sweet and herbal (mint and juniper). Cow Tales (vanilla + caramel) and Heath Bar (milk chocolate + toffee). Some cayenne pepper maybe? In the far back are the fruits (mango, cherries, and plums).  With air there's more bread, florals, and lemon rind.
Finish - Chocolate and carmel with a fresh mint tingle. A slightly tarter version of the palate's fruits.  But it's mostly roasty and toasty.

WITH WATER
Nose - More sugar and mold. Sugary baked fruit, or maybe brandied fruit. Smaller notes of whipped cream, caramel, blossoms, milk chocolate, and ham.
Palate - Really strong on the herbs (green peppercorns, cilantro, and fennel seeds).  Sugar in the back, lots of malt up front. Some caramel and hops. A little of the neat palate's fruit. Mild bitterness.
Finish - Hops and yeast. Bitterer now. Herbs and caramel.



Time to answer my earlier questions.  Having a bottle which is a sample fifty times the size of that one from the tasting, has given me somewhat of a different view.  At the top of the bottle there were definite peat moss notes which faded somewhat by mid-bottle and nearly disappeared by the end.  So I was right about the peat.  But I have doubts that the whisky came from a sherry cask.  Due to the bottle count, I'm guessing this came from an American oak hogshead.  And while there aren't any full-on bourbon notes, there's a prevalence of caramel in the nose, and a lack of familiar sherry notes.  That dank moldy element seems to be coming from the spirit itself......which is cool if you like that sort of thing.  I do.  But that characteristic, combined with the peat, would have worked better in colder weather as opposed to the late hot summer we just had.

While the whisky's notes shifted around throughout the life of the bottle, the big herbalness (herbality?) remained constant.  While neat the palate was never too sweet and always brought some good bitterness.  Water never ruined it, and sometimes opened it up in different directions.  But when drinking it casually, I always had it neat.

There's something old school about this Ben Nevis, which I can't put my finger on.  Maybe it's that moldy thing.  Or perhaps it feels more old fashioned because it is so very much not sculpted.  All the seams and rough corners remain.  Because I like the roots and moss and mold and bitter herbs, this whisky appealed to me.  You probably have to like those elements too if you endeavor to chase down a bottle.

Availability - Total Wine & More, though in very few stores
Pricing - $79.99
Rating - 89

Monday, October 13, 2014

Notes from a Tasting: Exclusive Casks from Total Wine & More

In February, David Stirk's Creative Whisky Company (CWC) released a series of single casks exclusively through Total Wine & More, via CWC's Exclusive Casks label.  On February 16th, Southern California Whiskey Club held an event that allowed folks to taste eight of the dozen or so Exclusive Casks.  I was unable to attend the event but was able to arrange getting samples of the eight single malts.  (Ethics note: I paid the event fee in order to receive these samples.)

Many of these bottlings are still available at Total Wine & More's California stores.  Unlike single casks sold exclusively at other California retailers, this set received nearly no hype online.  As you'll see below, I don't think my notes count as hype, but I don't think it would hurt to get some digital ink running in case you've been eyeing these chaps.  Due to the size of the samples I'll be using a grade range (as I did for the last tasting) rather than a number rating.


I sampled these 1/2 ouncers here at my dining room table, a pair at a time, over a two hour period.  During this tasting, two mysteries arose, one I can solve and one I cannot.

1. Invergordon Single Grain Whisky, 25 year old 1988.  378 bottles, 53.9% ABV
Color - Light amber
Nose - Light, bright vanilla. A little grassy. Chicken stock, anise, and orange juice.
Palate - All coconut and caramel.  Coconut flavored rum.  Very pungent though somewhat thinly textured.
Finish - More coconut! Then crème brûlée with a little sea salt. Lengthy.

Thoughts: The nose is the best part, substantial enough to almost fool one into thinking that it was a Lowland malt. How one feels about this whisky depends how one feels about coconut, both the real and artificial flavoring versions.  It was a bit too Malibu Rum for me.
Grade range: C+

2. Auchentoshan 13 year old 2000. 488 bottles, 53.6% ABV
Color - Pale amber
Nose -  Twizzlers, cheddar cheese, and hospital disinfectant.  Yep.  Kinda fleshy, new carpet, paint, cinnamon.  After a lot of air.....candy and puss.
Palate - Goes from sweet to grainy. Candy canes without mint.  Barley and notebook paper.  Coconuts again.
Finish - Supermarket cake frosting, cherry lollipops, very sweet. Gets weirder as it goes.

Thoughts: Here was the first mystery.  I've found many indie Auchentoshans to be weird -- there's an AD Rattray one that was all roots and clay, which I adored -- but this one is not my type of weird.  Here's the catch, the LAWS guys loved it.  But I don't recognize most of their notes.  Did something weird happen to my sample?
Grade range: C-

3. Glen Spey 11 year old 2002. 186 bottles, 56.7% ABV
Color - Light amber
Nose - All kinds of American oak and (relatedly) lots of butter.  Then butterscotch, black licorice, cardamom, and flower blossoms.
Palate - Pleasant, lightly sweet, lightly creamy.  Here's the oak again: vanilla, butter, and caramel.  A little meaty savoriness and sweet spices.
Finish - Geraniums. Salty and savory. Some tartness.

Thoughts: Could have been of interest if not for all of that aggressive oak.  This is a CWC song I've sung twice before (here and here).
Grade range: C+/B-

4. Ben Nevis 14 year old 1998. 258 bottles, 53.2% ABV
Color - Light gold
Nose - Leather. Very dry sherry, but a funky moldy old school sherry.  Or, is it finally time for this blog to use the ultimate snoot word......rancio?  Then bacon, hay, burnt grains, cardamom.  Then floral soap (but good!), industrial grease, and grapefruit peel.  Yes, that bizarre.
Palate - Strange and herbal.  Cannabis meets orange peel, and it gets more candied with time.  And there has to be peat in here -- at least Bowmore levels.  Very silky texture.
Finish - More peatiness. Light toffee sweetness. Hazelnuts and walnuts. Intensely herbal.

Thoughts: Wut?  Very very strange.  There's the moldy sherry, tons of herbs, the Springbank industrial character, and peat.  There's another review of this whisky online and it lists bourbony characteristics and no peat.  So, seriously, what the f**k?  How could this be a sample issue?  Thus this is mystery #2.  I know that some Ben Nevises have noticeable peating and I've smelled the industrial and bacon thing in the other Ben Nevis I've tried.  Also, this bottling is the most difficult to find of all of these eight as it has sold out at almost every Total Wine location.  Ben Nevis selling out quickly?  I can't be the only one who found this to his liking.  So I bought a bottle.
Grade range: B+/A-

5. Arran 16 year old 1997. 595 bottles, 51.2% ABV
Color - Rosy gold
Nose - Cleaner sherry than in the Ben Nevis, sticky toffee and chocolate. Toasted barley and almonds. Pine sap and beef jerky.
Palate - Perky malt shows through the sherry. Toffee and taffy. Peach and menthol. Medium sweetness. Creamy in texture and taste.
Finish - Sherry is subtle. Sugar and pepper. Marshmallow and peach.

Thoughts: I was happy that the sherry didn't choke out the malt, but nothing really superb occurs otherwise.  I prefer the younger official sherry cask I tried this year.
Grade range: B-/B

6. Bruichladdich 22 year old 1991. 222 bottles, 50.6% ABV
Color - Medium gold
Nose - Orange glaze, dried apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, golden raisins, pears......it keeps going......vanilla ice cream, pencils, and honey.  It's purdy.
Palate - Lightly floral, lightly citric, lightly vanilla-ed, lightly tropical fruit-ed, lightly buttery. Some shisha, too.
Finish - Apricots, vanilla, mild sugars, lychee, and bubblegum.

Thoughts: Prettiest of the bunch. Probably no real flaws, but after the lovely nose, the palate was sort of vague.  Also, please see my notes in the final paragraph about a potential issue.
Grade range: B/B+

7. Glen Garioch 23 year old 1989. 198 bottles, 54.1% ABV
Color - Amber
Nose - Pencils, dried grass and grains, light caramel. White fruits emerge after some time. Sugar cookies, subtle rubber and herbs.
Palate - Tons of barley, toasty and bready. A suggestion of peat smoke. Tart, salty, gets grassier and sweeter with time.
Finish - Smoke increases here, though more like wood or cigar smoke.  Mango and sugar.

Thoughts: Everything is very delicate. The finish is the best part.  The barley forwardness makes it feel more old school than most of these other malts.
Grade range: B

8. Bowmore 11 year old 2002. 596 bottles, 56.8% ABV
Color - Five beer piss
Nose - Stinky skunky peat encased in a load of American oak (weird vanilla and slightly-off butter, almost chemically so).  Mossy, baseball card ink, cinnamon candy.
Palate - Very sugary peat. Vanilla, hay, hot cinnamon spiciness.
Finish - All peat and sugar.  Of significant length.

Thoughts: Sigh. It has the potential of being a half step better than the K&L Exclusive Malts Bowmore due to its brutish peat, but that oak again...
Grade range: C+/B-

A final ranking:
Ben Nevis 14yo**
Bruichladdich 22yo**
Glen Garioch 23yo
Arran 16yo
Bowmore 11yo
Glen Spey 11yo
Invergordon 25yo
Auchentoshan 13yo**

** -- So, mysteries sit at the top and the bottom of the rankings.  With a lot of hindsight, I'm noticing that my Bruichladdich notes are very similar to LAWS's Auchentoshan notes.  Perhaps the wrong whisky was poured into two of my sample bottles.  If that was the case, then what the heck was in my Auchentoshan?  Was that the Bruichladdich?  Meanwhile, there's the strange instance of Ben Nevis.  That was a mystery I was willing to pay to solve.  And now that my full bottle has been emptied, I'll report my findings in Wednesday's post...

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Clubbin' Canadian: The Taste Off (current edition vs 1982 vs 1986)

I laid out the introduction for this Taste Off on Tuesday.  Because I foresee this being a large enough post, I'm going to just say "click here for the intro" and move on to the tasting!


During the week preceding this tasting, I'd opened and sampled each one of these in order to make sure I would not be drinking from the top of each bottle.  In my personal experience, the first rip from a bottle never shows a whisk(e)y in its best form.  Much like wine, it can be its tightest and most austere at first blush.  Then on Taste Off Day 1, I sampled each of them neatly starting from the 2013 and working backward, then moved between them comparing and contrasting.  On Day 2, I fashioned highballs (1:2, whisky:club soda) from each, comparing and contrasting.  As you can probably gauge, I drank a lot of Canadian Club over a short period of time for the sake of this post.  You're welcome?

[Please note: The excise stamp actually represents the date of the whisky's youngest distillation. Thus some changes have been made to this post to update this information.]



Canadian Club, bottled in 2013
Code L3282
Its predecessors (even the bottles from just a couple years earlier) listed a 6-year-old age statement on their front labels.  But this most recent version removed the age statement, its official website stating that it is "aged longer than the 3 years required by law".  So......three years and one day?  Anyway, it has also picked up the name "1858" representing the distillery's first year.  And yeah, it is in a dark brown plastic bottle.

NEAT
Color - Reddish bronze
Nose - Vanilla first, then a little bit of rye spice. That's followed by black cherry syrup, orange candy, plaster, and scalp (yes, you read that correctly).  All of these notes are very distant.
Palate - Vanilla vodka, mostly.  Then some caramel, sugar, a sprinkle of cayenne pepper, and ginger. Not much else going on.
Finish - Grain and heat.  Something herbal meets paint fumes.  Bland, then off-putting.

HIGHBALL
Caramel, corn syrup, and sugar.  Aside from a strange bitter note in the finish it's inoffensive.

COMMENTS:
The other two CCs, as you'll note below, are very pale while this one was strangely dark, as if Club had taken a note from Johnnie Walker and dumped in the e150a colorant.  The nose was better than I had expected.  The palate was not terrible, though it was barely whisky.  Then everything went to hell in the finish.  Nonetheless, this was a full step better than the hideous 2004 bottling I reviewed two years ago.  Best served as a highball.



Canadian Club, DISTILLED in 1986
Like the 2013, it's a 200mL bottle but that is where the similarities end with the vessel and the liquid.  The bottle is made of sturdy brown glass with "Canadian Club" etched along each side (see pic at the top of the post).  The orange Canadian excise seal (which denotes the year the whisky's youngest ingredient) was intact before I opened the bottle.  And at the bottom of the impressively spartan front label is the statement, "This Whisky is Six Years Old".  Note: this whisky was distilled before Hiram Walker & Sons was bought by Allied.

NEAT
Color - Amber
Nose - Very dusty and spicy at first.  Herbal and floral too.  Then some armagnac, lychee, pencil shavings, and tropical fruit flavored candy.  Strawberry bubblegum notes emerge after some air.
Palate - Lots of sea salt and caramel. Lemon-lime soda. Hint of chocolate. Slightly bitter, slightly papery. Very good mouthfeel, but watered down flavor.
Finish - Some big cereal grains, followed by chocolate and caramel. Gets a little burnt at the end.

HIGHBALL
A little grainy, a little woody (tee-hee). Much of the neat palate stays intact. Mild and refreshing.

COMMENTS:
The palate and finish are decent, and it makes for a good highball.  But it's its nose that's a joy and it can take a little air.  This pour was actually from just above mid bottle.  At the top of the bottle, I thought the whisky was basically Canadian Club, but 10% better (because that's a thing).  But after directly comparing it to the current CC, I've discovered that this is a much different whisky...



Canadian Club, DISTILLED in 1982
This bottle is a full liter.  I have to say, I'm big fan of these old fashioned labels.  Aside from the Windsor crest, it's all a bunch of plain but informative script.  And, like the 1986, it's six years old, in a glass bottle, and had an intact orange excise seal before I got to it.

NEAT
Color - Light gold
Nose - At first it's orange lollipops and cherry lollipops and rock candy.  Then there are fresh peaches and lychee.  It's fruity, floral, and spicy -- like a little bit of rye mixed into a Highland malt.
Palate - If I'd tasted this blind, I would have thought this was Powers Gold Label.  Thick caramel sauce in front with vanilla trailing.  Then peppery rye, mint, and lemons.  With some air it does get slightly sour and some sawdust slips in.
Finish - Big and round.  Caramel, mint, lemon-lime soda, with a slight bitterness.

HIGHBALL
A massive vanilla bomb, as if it's carbonated vanilla extract.  Some of the rye shines through the club soda.  Nice and refreshing.

COMMENTS:
While the '86's nose was more complex, this one may have been more focused.  But the palate was its strongest point, and was the most flavorful of the three.  As a highball it's kind of outrageous, so I must test it out further.  See more of my conclusions below.



CONCLUSIONS:
While the 1982 and 1986 are very much related, they must be a very different recipe than the 2013.  There's just nothing connecting the current version to its elders other than the name.  And even though these may have changed a tiny bit after sitting in the bottle for 20-25 years, they wouldn't have transformed in such an extreme manner.  There's a little something extra in the '82's palate and it was slightly darker in color than the '86.  Since Whisk(e)y Glutsville was hitting every nation in the 1980s, I wonder if the "1982" has a little bit of older stock in the mix.  Otherwise they were including richer barrels in the blend.

I'm going to attempt to get another bottle of the '82.  While I wouldn't go as far as saying that it's an A or B+ whisky, its quality-price-ratio appeals to me during these 90+ degree Octobers and Novembers.  The '86 is good enough for me to wish that the current version kept its recipe/makeup, but I will probably have had my fill once the 200mL is emptied.  The 2013 is better than the truly awful 2004 (whose 59 point rating seems generous in hindsight), but I don't have a whole lotta interest in finishing the bottle.  Perhaps I shall blend it.

RATINGS

2013 bottling:
Availability - The new version will be more available as the previous one sells out
Pricing - 200mL: $4-$7; 750mL: $12-$18
Rating - 70

1986 bottling:
Availability - Happy hunting! Look for the orange paper seal.
Pricing - This 200mL was $4.99
Rating - 79

1982 bottling:
Availability - Happy hunting! Look for the orange paper seal.
Pricing - This 1L was $23ish
Rating - 84

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Clubbin' Canadian: An Intro

(source)
No, not him.

Nor him. Sorry.

This.

Inspired by posts from bloggers Arok (bourbonguy) and Joshie (sipology), I've decided to end this run of blend reviews with a Canadian Club Taste Off.  For much of my drinking life Canadian Club was synonymous with "Canadian Whisky".  To me it stood in for the entire category, like Jameson's does for Irish Whiskey for quite a lot of folks.  Over the last three years, I've tried a number of Canadian whiskies (all blends, I'll admit) and I can't say that any have inspired me to buy a full bottle.  But after reading the blog posts by Arok and Joshie, then happening upon a pair of interesting finds, I decided to give Canadian Club another try.

A quick history lesson:  After distilling vinegar for his grocery stores for a number of years, Hiram Walker began distilling whisky in 1854 in Detroit, not Canada.  But since Canada provided cheaper real estate and materials, he invested in building an official distillery across the river, near Windsor, Ontario, a few years later.  A number of years later, his whisky gained the "Club" moniker, since it was being slung in gentleman's clubs.  The word "Canada" made its way onto the front label in 1890, setting the product apart from the Scotches, Irishes, and bourbons on the market.  Once national prohibition hit, Walker merged with Gooderham & Worts to become Hiram Walker - Gooderham & Worts (what a name).  After that, the company became part of the acquisitions game: In 1987 HW-G&W was bought by Allied Lyons (which, itself, was the result of a merger), which later became Allied Domecq after another merger several years later.  After buying out Allied in 2005, Pernod Ricard sold off the Allied brands that conflicted with their own.  Canadian Club would have bumped heads with Seagram's, so CC was sold to Fortune Brands.  Six years later Fortune Brands was split up and Canadian Club went to Beam, Inc.

Over the past decade Canadian Club has wiggled its way back into the public sphere, thanks to the very fictional Don Draper and the occasional cheeky advertising campaign (see pic on the right).  Sadly, drinking Club will not make you look like Jon Hamm.  Hell, it won't even make you look like Harry Crane.  But for this Luddite, seeing the old bottle labels on Mad Men made me wonder what the whisky actually tasted like during (non-fiction) previous decades.

I tried a 2004 bottling two years back and found it to be an awful chemical slurry.  But why stop there, you know?  During recent dusty scouting trips, I found bottles from 1986 (200mL) and 1982 (1L) with fully intact tax seals. (In my travels I've also seen two other labels from the late-'80s-early-'90s, but I decided that a line needed to be drawn for now.) What was actually more difficult was finding a current 200mL. There are plenty of bottles from the Aughts, but rarely something from the teens around here. Luckily(?), I found one from 2013.

That 2004 I'd tried was a plastic bottle and after drinking the whisky inside, I was concerned that something from the brown plastic had leached into the drink.  So I was very happy to find that the '82 and '86 bottles were made of glass and had excellent fill levels.  The current bottle is plastic again.  So it goes.


Since this post is a long enough read as is, I will be posting the full Taste Off results tomorrow.  Tune in, click over, drink up, and enjoy!

Friday, October 3, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: Usquaebach Old-Rare blended whisky

First off I'd like to thank JLR for this sample.  We did a sample swap in May of 2013 when we were both experiencing very difficult personal circumstances.  But since then, between our two families, we've had three tremendous little blessings.  As I write this Mathilda rolls around in her crib, trying to swallow her feet.

Until today, I had no idea that this Usquaebach Old-Rare was a $130+ whisky.  Yeah, it has a curious flagon and all that, but what the crap?


The scarce amount of online information about this whisky and its company is odd in the current whisky climate.  Partially it's a good thing because most whisky producers are larding up the whisky internets with marketing, marketing, and marketing.  But it's also not a great thing because this is a $130+ blend with no official description or explanation.  Only large well established brands can sell mystery malarkey for three figures.  So why would someone want to buy this whisky?  For its flagon?  You can get a handmade flagon for less at Etsy or Flagonland (not a thing).

Go ahead, google "Cobalt brands" and/or "Usquaebach Old Rare". Cobalt Brands is a New Jersey importer who may (or may not) be getting help from Douglas Laing with the blending part of things.  The whisky had somewhat of cult-ish following back in the '70s and '80s but that was when it was owned by a different now-defunct company.  Cobalt, who bought the brand not too long ago, sent John Hansell a press release in 2009 full of weird errors which they appear to have never addressed.  Overall, the company and whisky information is all kind of jumbled and I'm still not sure why the whisky is so expensive.  Because it's "Old-Rare" and 225yearsoldohmygod!  Sorry, I'm reaching.

Brand: Usquaebach
Ownership: Cobalt Brands
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: not stated (no, it isn't 225 years old)
Blend: malt and grain whiskies (there might be 41 Highland malts involved)
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chill-filtered? ???
Caramel Coloring? ???

HIGHBALL ...... nah, I'm not going to make a highball out of a triple digit (price, not age, dude) whisky.

NEAT
The color is yellow gold.  The nose starts with anise and mothballs, then limes and lemons.  The oak seems more toasted than charred, likely American by birth.  There's an herbal twist, maybe coriander/cilantro and mint.  Cassia "cinnamon" sticks.  After some time in the glass, the whisky develops floral perfume notes and hints of papaya.  Overall it's maltier than any of the non-Green Johnnie Walkers and the caramel note is mostly under control.  But there's also a substantial chlorine note that then carries over into the palate, where it expands further.  There's some alcohol bite that follows.  A brief stone fruit sweetness gradually becomes orange candy, then there's a bit of bitterness and some spearmint.  Vanilla ice cream from the big clear plastic buckets.  But the biggest note I keep finding is a dusty moldy mothball waft reminiscent of an old lady's closet.  The medium length finish stays in the old lady's closet -- a peeping tom of a whisky?  The chlorine returns.  Vanilla and caramel emerges.

Hmm.  Again, the nose wins.  It shows off the possibility of the presence of mature Highland malt, though not that old unless the casks were eighth-fill.  But at the same time, there's a lot of super young stuff floating around (thus the lack of age statement), especially the chlorine and cinnamon.  So, while there may be old whisky in the blend there's also a definite quantity of young whisky which tosses the blend out of balance.

So why the high price?  The vessel must be the excuse.  The whisky inside is as completely unknown as the company who put it in there.  The drink isn't a complete mess; as already mentioned, the nose is good, almost great.  And there definitely seems to be a high malt content.  If they could sort out the chlorine and naphthaline issues this could be a successful mid-level blend.  But at a luxury price, I don't see it flying off the shelf.  And after someone purchases one novelty flagon, is he or she ever really going to go back for a second?  Unless Usqueabach starts releasing flagons of different colors......

Availability - Some specialty retailers
Pricing - $100-$140
Rating - 76

Thursday, October 2, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: William Lawson's Finest Blend

Yesterday, I reviewed Grand Old Parr 12 year old, a pleasant tasty alternative to Chivas, though at a higher price.  Today, I venture down down down down to a lower shelf.


William Lawson's Finest Blend is one that is not sold in The States.  Florin (a prince) brought a bottle back from his recent voyage behind the Iron Curtain to Poland.  Adjusting for exchange rates, a 700mL bottle often sells for $10-$15 in much of Europe.  So keep in mind the price territory here.

The William Lawson's brand has an XTREME-styled website, seemingly designed for adults who still crush Mountain Dews.  Their commercials are of the loud sort as well.  Aside from the (NAS) Finest Blend, there's a 13 year old which used to be a 12 year old (upwards!) and a Super Spiced flavored product sold in (and designed for?) the US market.

Master of Malt says that William Lawson's is a high-malt whisky.  Meanwhile, William Lawson's official site makes it pretty clear that Macduff is a main ingredient.  That would make sense since Macduff (known as Glen Deveron in its single malt form) distillery and Lawson's are both owned by Bacardi.

What makes this blend of greater interest to me is the gap between the opinions of Ralfy Mitchell and Serge Valentin.  Ralfy likes Lawson's a lot, giving it an 85.  Serge thinks it is poor, giving it a 56.  That's not a casual difference of opinion, even considering that Ralfy grades blends versus blends within their own category while Serge grades everything together.  Let's see whose side I'm on.

Ownership: Bacardi
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: not stated
Blend: malt and grain whiskies (Macduff is a main ingredient)
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chill-filtered? Yes
Caramel Coloring? Yes

HIGHBALL (1:2 whisky to club soda ratio)
Lots of cereal grains, yeast, and lightly ripened bananas.  No real finish but very refreshing.

NEAT
The color is light gold, much lighter than the Old Parr.  The nose is intense, rosy, full of flowers and stewed apples.  Lots of exotic overripe fruit odors, some sort of combination of citron, mango, and cantaloupe.  BUT these notes fade out after ten minutes or so, replaced by caramel and burnt raisins.  The palate has one of the thickest textures I've ever felt in a 40% ABV whisky.  The bananas from the highball have now been flambeed.  There's a hint of smoke, possibly from the barrel.  In fact it's like smoked caramel.  Some saltiness, along with cracked pepper and lime.  The weird grain notes often found in young blends are kept to a minimum here.  The finish is sorta short.  There's salt, spice, and savory stuff.  More caramel.  It can get a little cloying, but that much.

Firstly, Ralfy vs. Serge:  Ralfy, as he always does, reviews his own bottle.  In this case don't know if Serge is grading from a sample or a bottle, but I don't recognize any of his notes.  Perhaps he had a corrupted sample?  I do recognize many of Ralfy's notes, though he found even more positives than I did.

For a $10-$15 blend, this is at the head of the pack.  The nose is good if you don't allow it to oxidize.  The texture is impressive.  No turpentine, acetate, or weird crap in the nose or mouth.  If Bacardi sold this in The States, in that price range, I would keep a bottle on hand.  I'm not saying this is excellent whisky, but it's much better than its popular stablemate Dewar's White Label and at half the price.

Availability - Continental Europe and Latin America
Pricing - $10-$15
Rating - 78