Dec 28, 2014

Yamazaki 12yo...

Yamazaki 12yo (43.0%): Here is my Christmas presents from our dear friend Jay Rerrie... Actually Yamazaki 12yo is the first Japanese whisky I ever tasted years ago but I never had a chance to review it. Since the full bottle is sitting in front of me there are no excuses now... The distillery is owned by Suntory and happens to be the first single malt distillery opened outside of Scotland. Shinjiro Torii who is the founder of Kotobukiya (later to be named Suntory) had a life time ambition to make Japanese whisky for Japanese people and ended up hiring Masataka Taketsuru as the distillery executive who learned the art of whisky making in Scotland before and they opened together the distillery in 1923 in the town of Yamazaki, which is a suburb of Kyoto. Although Taketsuru left Torii to form his own company Dainipponkaju (later to be named Nikka) in 1934 and opened a distillery in Hokkaido named Yoicho it's fair to say that these both gentlemen can be named together as the founders of Japanese whisky. Nowadays there are ten distilleries working in Japan. The whisky in the bottle is the most popular expression of Yamazaki line-up and is a vat of whiskies matured in ex-bourbon American, ex-sherry Spanish and Japanese Mizunara oak barrels. Color: Straight yellow gold. Nose: This is the first time I am getting the sour nose of the fermenting wort in washbacks so strong in a whisky. If you ever took a distillery tour you will understand right away what I am trying to describe here: Wet larch or pine wood, sour malt wort, malt vinegar, CO2 and yeast. After allowing it air a good couple minutes it finally opens up: Tons of bananas now. Banana cream pie, hint of white peach, corn cereal and strawberries. Also medicinal aromas with iodine tincture, gauze pads, rubber bands and birch beer. Palate: Very smooth. Walnut extract, sweet rum and Christmas cake spices. Cinnamon, butterscotch and cheap honey. Finish: Medium long but very warming with alcohol burn and hard toffee candy notes. Overall: It is a very easy drinking whisky. Actually a little too easy... A few drops of water brought some nice peppery spices to the palate but the texture fell apart right away. But overall, in spite of its odd nose, it is a pretty good whisky, which reminded me a little The Singleton releases of Diageo. It definitely delivers a well crafted and matured whisky which is getting more and more rare at this price range with the everyday growing NAS trend. I figured out that it benefits from airing big time and wouldn't use water with it at all. You loose more than you gain I think... Thanks again to Jay for the present. It will be enjoyed immensely.


Dec 27, 2014

top ten of my 2014...

1. best dram: Redbreast 21yo


2. best brew: Abraxxxas by Freigeist Bierkultur


3. best bar: The Druid, Cambridge


4. best restaurant: Uni Sashimi Bar, Boston


5. best trip: Road trip from Nashville to New Orleans (with stops at Nashville, TN - Auburn, AL - Panama City, FL - Pensacola, FL - Bay St. Louis, MS and New Orleans, LA...)


6. best album: Still on the Leeve by Chris Smither


7. best movie/documentary: Foo Fighters Sonic Highways by Dave Grohl


8. best show: Extreme Measures by Chris Burden at New Museum New York


9. best live performance: Yann Tiersen at The Sinclair


10. best book: Midnight at the Pera Palace / The Birth of Modern Istanbul my Charles King


best experience overall in 2014: Springbank Whisky School, Campbeltown

Dec 23, 2014

Compass Box Hedonism...

Hedonism (43.0%): So, I am back to the house of Compass Box, but this time digging in the archives a little. I have an old bottling of Hedonism on my desk. I am not quite sure how old this particular release is but if I want to guess I would say from 2003 or 2004 maybe... I am pretty sure as soon as Robin Robinson reads this post he will give us the most correct info about the release date.. Anyway, Hedonism is a blended grain whisky from Compass Box's Signature Range. Created by John Glaser in 2000 it's recipe kept changing from batch to batch due to the availability of certain casks but usually kept a similar taste profile including grain whiskies sourced from Cambus, Cameronbridge, Carsebridge, Port Dundas and/or Dumbarton distilleries. Color: Oaked Chardonnay, lemon chiffon. Nose: Spearmint, vanilla and toasted coconut flakes. Aged Caribbean rum, whipped maple cream, melted and slightly burnt butter. Banana cream pie... Feels like walking in a small pastry shop in Paris on an early morning in Winter. Windows are steamed, all the tables are full and there is a long line in front of the register. Adding a few drops of water makes it even more buttery. I might have drooled on my keyboard when I am nosing this thing. Gosh... Palate: Oh yes, we are very much in that pastry shop..! I knew it... Toasted oak, rum - raisin ice cream and velvety lightly roasted coffee. Burnt creme caramel, flaky pastry with cream filling who knows what berries on top and lemon meringue pie. Finish: Medium long but warming with coconut, vanilla bean scrapings and Malteser balls. Overall: Every single batch of Hedonism I taste gives a foolish smile on my face... Cannot help it. So silky, doughy, warming and sweet... An amazing proof what a very well chosen ex-bourbon cask can do to grain whiskies. It is a must have for any whisky lover's cabinet. Thanks to Joe Howell pulling this bottle from the depths of Federal Wine and Spirits' cellars for us.

Dec 22, 2014

Glenfarclas 18yo...

Glenfarclas 18yo (46.0%): So far I know Glenfarclas 18 is the only bottling of the distillery's current line-up released exclusively for travel retail. When it was released in May 2013 the Grants family somehow managed to convince No. 12 Squadron of RAF to take two bottles of Glenfarclas 18 from the distillery and fly them in a Tornado GR4 jet to Las Vegas for the launch party. The 5634 mile journey took 17 hours and 20 minutes with stops in Lajes, St. Johns and Dayton. The bottles, which have been signed by all the crew, then made their way back to Scotland. One of them got returned to the distillery, the other one got auctioned for the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund with a signed print of the Tornado jet. And at the end this became the reason why the distillery started to market the whisky as "a well traveled dram". It comes only in 1 liter bottles and bottled at 43.0% abv. Color: Yellow gold, white port with visible legs. Nose: Very fresh: Lemon zest, orange juice, vanilla and jonquils. Lemon cookie dough, acacia honey and white peaches. A few drops of water makes it even more citrusy: Freshly squeezed lemon juice and kumquat. Palate: It has definitely a warmer feeling than the nose suggested. Honey notes are still there but more viscous this time. Milk chocolate, cappuccino, pear compote and white pepper corns. Finish: Pretty short with fresh clementine and ground pepper. Overall: It is an incredibly easy to drink whisky but also a little on the light and shy side for a Glenfarclas which spent its last eighteen years in a barrel. I wished it was bottled on a slightly higher abv. That would solve some of it and would suit much better. I admit that I might set my expectations a little too high before I started to taste. Maybe I was still under the sweet spell of Glenfarclas 15 I tasted a few weeks earlier. I wouldn't call this whisky boring but definitely not adventurous. Just straight good dram... I don't know... It sure would be a crowd pleaser at any party and would work great as an aperitif though. Thanks to Onur Sergici for the sample...

Dec 21, 2014

Son Tinh Bo Sa Pa...

Son Tinh Bo Sa Pa (38.0%): When Teresa came back from her South East Asia trip this fall and handed me this wee bottle with a suspicious smile in her face I knew I was getting pulled into a shady set up. I guess that time I subconsciously avoided the confrontation and put the bottle behind all the other sample bottles on my desk and tried to forget about it. But lately its tall neck started to keep poking out and I kind of decided to bite the bullet... Son Tinh is a Vietnamese brand with a huge line up of traditional Vietnamese liquors named Ruou. Bo Sa Pa is a herbal liquor based on rice spirit which was traditionally made by herbalists in North Vietnam in Sa Pa (Cloud City). According to their website their modern interpretation contains more than 30 herbs matured in sticky rice spirit from three to five years. They distill their own spirit in Hanoi using German stills, it is not chill filtered and does not contain any additives and flavoring. So, let's dive right in... Color: Reddish amber, cognac like. Nose: Old straw mat and wet burlap sacks. Tiger balm, Chinese medicine jars and rice paper. Not a single edible aroma is coming out of the glass... Palate: Like chewing your straw hat soaked in your own sweat. Cinnamon and dried ginseng roots. Very bitter and medicinal. It is so dry that I had to rush and grab a full glass of water in the midst of it. Finish: Short, dry, bitter and bitter. Overall: Ok... That happened... I have to admit that this experience wasn't nearly as bad as I first tasted Maotai (gosh...) but I also don't think that I will have any urge to have another sip from this bottle in near future. It is interesting for sure and possibly would be a great social adventure sharing a few shots with locals at a bar in Hanoi but definitely not my cup of tea... What was I thinking to begin with anyway? Thanks to Teresa Hartmann for the sample bottle. It was quite an experience for sure...

Dec 20, 2014

Old Rip Van Winkle 15yo...

Old Rip Van Winkle 15yo (53.5%): Now, this is a fascinating bourbon to write about... The so called "barrel bottle" sitting on my desk is an Old Rip Van Winkle 15 year old. It is a long gone expression and replaced with Pappy Van Winkle 15 year old in 2004. What makes this whiskey so special for me though is not that it disappeared from the shelves ten years ago but the fact that it is distilled in legendary Stitzel Weller Distillery... Stitzel Weller is a distillery which has the same effect (if not more) on bourbon lovers like Port Ellen has among Scotch enthusiasts. It is a lost distillery which stopped distilling in 1992 after being purchased by Diageo and since then whenever a cask leaves their warehouses for whatever reason (if there are any left...) it creates a small scale mass hysteria among collectors. I have to admit that I got incredibly lucky with this one. Our friend Dave Russo showed up with this bottle in his hand for an American Whiskey tasting we did back in September and somehow I managed to steal the last drops left in it to bring back home after. And now this weekend it is time to say "Happy Holidays to Me..!" Color: Dark amber with a dark orange hue. Nose: Creamy and viscous. Maraschino cherries, strawberry/apricot marmalade and some sweet smoke. Mexican flan and toffee. Water brought up sugar cookie dough and toasted wood aromas. This is such an incredible nose... Palate: A little hot without water. Oak, bitter cinnamon and burnt caramel. Just a few drops of water work like magic: Marzipan, honey rock candies and baklava syrup. Finish: Long(ish) with a slight turn towards salty notes: Roasted pine nuts, salted almonds and cinnamon. Overall: What can I say? It is the best bourbon I tasted this year... So light, elegant but old and complex at the same time. It is sweet, creamy, fruity and so well balanced in every sense of the word it almost feels fragile. I also love the burnt and smoky notes of bourbons from 70's and 80's. Such a unique signature. It almost noses and tastes like pie crust burnt and stuck at the bottom of the skillet. I don't remember getting so much from this dram when I first tasted it back in September after a few cask strength younger bourbons we had on the table. Now with a clean palate it tastes absolutely heavenly... I am still nosing my empty glass. Many many thanks again to Dave Russo for letting me to keep the bottle.

Dec 17, 2014

Parker's Heritage 2014 Release...

Parker's Heritage 2014 Release 13yo Wheat Whiskey (63.4%): This year Heaven Hill pump-faked all the Parker's Heritage Collection fans with their first non-bourbon release: It is a thirteen year old wheat whiskey from the very first batches of Bernheim Original dating back to 2000. The mash bill contains mostly wheat with small percentages of corn and malted barley. The casks are aged on the top floors of Heaven Hill's Rickhouse Y. $5 from each bottle go to ALS Association. It is bottled at cask strength and unfiltered. Color: Deep red-orange amber, cognac like. Nose: Pretty much muted at this abv but I can get some vanilla, thick wool scarf and allspice aromas. Very chalky and dusty. Adding water immediately helps: Chestnut honey, grape soda, salted butter and warm apple pie. Palate: Very very hot on the palate without water. It hurts... Toasted oak and burnt skillet pie crust. No need to try more. First notes after adding water are more wood, unsweetened cranberry juice and tart cherry rhubarb pie. I expected a sweeter whisky but not at all. Subtle cinnamon, black pepper and red gummy bears.  Finish: It is long even after I cut it nearly to the half of its proof. A consistent and sizzling burn with jalapeno and cherry coke notes. Overall: No surprises here. It tastes exactly like an older Bernheim Original. It's not a very adventurous release (Deep inside I might be hoping for it, but well...) and definitely not a batch which will frustrate the PHC fans who were waiting for another bourbon this year. It's as close as a wheat whiskey can get to the bourbon profile without losing its characteristics. It's hard to find around since it sells out very quick every year and it's on the very expensive side of the spectrum as far as American whiskey goes to be honest but if you see it somewhere on the shelf it's definitely worth to try. It's holiday season after all and this bottle fits perfectly well to the concept...

Dec 15, 2014

Glenfarclas 15yo...

Glenfarclas 15yo (46.0%): Another whisky from last week's sherry matured Scotch whiskies line-up Dave Russo put together for us. That night this bottle was my clear favorite among all of the drams we tasted and I saved a sample bottle to bring back home to taste for a review. Let's see how I will feel after spending a little more time with it. So far I know (sadly) 15yo Glenfarclas is not offered as a part of the distillery's portfolio here in the States but in Europe. Color: Rich amber, clear orange blossom honey. Nose: Spearmint Altoids, rose water and clover honey cookies. Light peat, sticky toffee pudding and muscovado sugar. Adding water brings up more floral notes: Honeysuckle and hyacinths. Palate: Dry sherry, allspice and shortbread cookies. Toasted oak, roasted almonds and charcoal barbecue. We lost the texture a little bit with water but it's kind of worth it: Dry black garden soil, malt, fresh walnuts and peat. Finish: Long(ish) with melted butter, sugar cookie dough, soot and crystallized ginger. Overall: Yummy dram.... Exactly how I remembered. Not soaked in sherry and not super sweet. Incredibly balanced with equal amount of fruity and floral notes. It is a doughy and malty whisky finished with hint of salt and peat sprinkles. I deeply appreciate sherry finished whiskies like this: dry, still vibrant and exciting. Highly recommended, especially to European readers who actually can find this bottle around. Thanks to Dave Russo for the sample.

Dec 14, 2014

The Macallan Cask Strength...

The Macallan Cask Strength (57.2%): This gem was one of the many amazing drams we tasted last Friday night with friends. The theme of the night was sherry matured Scotch whiskies and the extraordinary line-up was created by Dave Russo. He also sourced the whiskies by himself and apparently pulled quite a few bottles from his own collection. So, needless to say seeing an old red label The Macallan Cask Strength sitting on the table was quite an excitement. At the end of the night I shamelessly managed to steal a wee sample from the bottle. And now on this gorgeous Sunday afternoon I am planning to have some fun and spend time with it. It is the old version of The Macallan CS which is easily identifiable by its solid red color label and can be sold for an ungodly amount of money these days. Mainly after the distillery stopped bottling their cask strength expression these old red label versions became even more desirable especially among Macallan collectors. It is bottled at 57.2% abv and there is no age statement on the bottle. Color: Buckwheat honey. Dark amber with a beautiful red hue when held to the light. Nose: Struck matches, spoiled milk and sour cherry juice first. After airing and adding a few drops of water most of the sulphur notes fade out: Beef stew, cooked prunes and sultana raisins. Red turnips, green asparagus and zante currants. Rubber bands and latex gloves. Palate: Thick, heavy and syrupy goodness. Sweet dried dates and candied chestnuts. Cinnamon, garam masala and cloves on top. Baklava syrup and cherry pie. Adding a tiny amount of water works very well like it did on the nose. Warming and velvety mouthfeel. Ripe raspberries, sweetened grape and cranberry juice. Finish: Forever... You feel every drop drawing their way into your belly. Paprika, cinnamon and raisins. Cherry cola, red port wine and the sweet burn of maple syrup. Overall: Macallan at its best... If you are a fan of the distillery and/or sherry matured whiskies life cannot get better for you. Too bad that this whisky is long gone and I don't see any chance in my near future to be able to score a bottle without taking a lump sum loan from the bank. But who knows..? That's why we should take our time and walk into the small liquor shops we find in rural places now and then. There might be a few bottles like this one collecting dust on one of the high shelves. Thanks again to Dave Russo for the sample and to our host Onur Sergici for a great night of whisky...

Dec 9, 2014

Speyburn 10yo...

Speyburn 10yo (43.0%): This is not a sample bottle I received. It actually is a full size bottle I purchased a few weeks ago. I was reading and listening about Speyburn 10yo from different people for quite some time and as you know I have a soft spot for moderately priced whiskies... So I picked the bottle one day and cracked it open tonight when it is miserably pouring outside. I remember having the 25yo expression before at an SMWS event and being very impressed by. Let's see how the 10yo release tastes like. Color: Polished yellow gold. Nose: Yeasty, citrusy and doughy: Lemon cookies dough, mandarin and kumquat zest. A little sour: Young Gouda cheese and spoiled milk. Green wood, very subtle peat and hefty dose of vanilla. Airing the whisky shortly takes care of the sulphury and sour notes. Much better and floral now. Rose petals, jonquils and raw honey. A few drops of water add old newspapers and wool sweaters. Quite nice. Palate: Peat is more present than the nose but still at a distance. Soft baked oatmeal cookies, muesli, caramel filling and anise seeds. Adding water highlights the peat but cuts down the mouthfeel a lot. A little too easy to make it watery. Finish: To be honest way longer for its caliber. Not loud but lingering. Anise, soft barbecue smoke, lemon juice and malt. I think the finish was my favorite part of this dram. Very comforting and wintery. Overall: It's hands down an amazing value for the price...  It is a steal for a bottle under thirty bucks. A very old school and beautifully crafted whisky. Actually the distillery character reminded me a little of Springbank. This bottle won't last long in this household. I think I will start to look for other Speyburn expressions from independent bottlers. It made me excited...

Dec 2, 2014

Compass Box Oak Cross...

Oak Cross (43.0%): Although it is one of my go to whiskies of all time, somehow I didn't cover Oak Cross on tire-bouchon till now. Let's take care of it tonight... It is a blended malt from Compass Box's permanent signature range containing malts from Clynelish, Teaninich and Dailuaine distilleries which are already aged in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks separately. Then they got married together and 60% of the vat goes to new first fill ex-bourbon barrels and (here it gets tricky...) 40% of it goes into some special ex-bourbon barrels fitted with new French oak heads. After this final maturation period they got blended together again finally to create Oak Cross. The whisky is bottled at 43% abv, un-chill filtered and doesn't include any caramel coloring. Color: Oaked Chardonnay, light yellow gold.  Nose: Cold apple compote, underripe Bartlett pears and fresh lavender. Lemon zest, Riesling wine and vanilla extract. Shortbread cookies, bubblegum and kumquat. Soft oak aromas. A few drops of water brought some serious sweetness: Banana cream pie and lemon bars. Palate: Malt, Gala apples, Irish Spring soap bar and mild dry sherry. Cinnamon, chrysanthemum, cold sweetened chamomile tea, white pepper dusting and some young alcohol burn. Water has the same effect like at the nose: watered down maple syrup, berry wine and vanilla cake. Finish: Warming mouth feel with milk chocolate and Irish coffee notes. Overall: Exactly like I remember: A great go to whisky... When you are looking for a dram to go with your every day pint (probably light in color) at a bar counter while watching football (and I mean soccer here...) on TV, when you cannot decide what to pour after you come back from work before you start prepping your dinner or when you want to have an easygoing whisky on a summer weekend afternoon while leafing through a travel magazine and dreaming of your next vacation. The Wikipedia definition of an everyday whisky. Easy going, yummy and pretty affordable. Almost (yeah, almost...) regret-free when you end up with an empty bottle before midnight... Thanks to Robin Robinson for the official sample and hats off again to the true wizard of modern times, John Glaser.