Mar 17, 2015

Longrow 14yo...

Longrow 14yo (46.0%): I have another sample saved from our peaty whiskies tasting two weeks ago. It is a 14 year old Longrow..! So, maybe it's finally the right time to dig out all the notes from Springbank Whisky School to show off folks..! (Believe or not some of these came up in the final exam...) All of the distillery's expressions use the same kind of barley (except the special release of Springbank Local Barley) which is a mix of Optic and Concerto varieties. The difference between them starts in the kilning process. Longrow malt is dried using peat smoke only, unlike the others, and requires a period of kilning up to 48 hours to reach a phenol level of 48ppm - 50ppm. Another major difference in production of Longrow shows up at the distilling process. Longrow is distilled only twice where Hazelburn is distilled three times and Springbank two and a half times. The initial strength of the distillate collected in Longrow distillation is around 69% - 72% and it is collected until the strength drops down to 58% at 20°C which brings the average strength in the spirit receiver to 68% abv. At the end of the distillation 1,020 liters of spirit is collected for a charge of 21,500 liters. This particular expression of Longrow is a vat of whiskies matured both in ex-sherry and ex-bourbon barrels. Color: Medium amber, honey. Nose: Sherry is upfront on the nose: Orange zest jam, prunes, dates and passion fruit. Peat is subtle and at the background: sweet soot, effervescent tablets, smoked kippers and latex gloves. Hardwood furniture, salted butter and feta cheese brine. Maybe some old fashioned yoghurt, clementine soda and tart apple cider. Very faint summer breeze at the beach. What a calm and soothing nose... Palate: Don't know where to start with... Candied citrus fruits, wet garden soil and cigar butt. Sweet white wine vinegar, dry sherry and passion fruit. Peppermint leaves, sweet paprika and pine needles. This palate don't want me to stop listing notes: Tweed flat cap hat soaked in rain, wind sweeping the meadows and fresh cut grass. Finish: Warming with bonfire barbecue and dry-cured fish. Seaweed, samphire and thick Irish beef stew. Overall: Another great dram with amazingly well balanced sherry and peat notes from Springbank. I know that I was a little carried away with the tasting notes but this dram totally brought me back to a gloomy, rainy and cold Campbeltown afternoon. I couldn't help myself... I don't know any other distillery that mirrors its geography so good. Hey, I am fan anyhow... What did you expect? I tried to be objective but I don't know how successful I was. I simply like what they do and how they do. This is a hard to find expression, especially here in the States but it's definitely worth to keep your eyes open and look for a bottle. Who knows, you might get lucky.

Springbank Distillery // Warehouses, June 2014
Springbank Distillery // Spirit Safe, June 2014

Mar 14, 2015

Peat Monster...

Peat Monster (46.0%): I never quite understood people watching a magic show and constantly trying to figure out how the illusion works on stage and to reveal the secrets: "I bet there are strings attached to the girl!", "Did you see the mirror behind the box?" or "If I watch it again I will definitely catch what he is doing between those two scenes." What is the point? Just chill... Relax and enjoy the show, enjoy the illusion, that's the whole point. I think John Glaser is one of the greatest performers of the contemporary whisky world, a magician so to speak and he creates non-stop magic potions for us. But sometimes I feel like people are more interested in how and what he blends instead of the whisky he puts in the bottle at the end. What difference does it make? Are you planning to decipher the secret recipe and blend it at home? Could you paint like Gerhard Richter if he gave you all his paints and additives he used? Or could you write another 7th Symphony? We know all the notes Beethoven used to write it... I personally don't care too much whether the recipe has Laphroaig or Ledaig, Ardmore or Clynelish... I am more interested in what Glaser comes up with them. And today I have a wee sample of the latest Peat Monster release I cannot wait to pour some in my glass. All the malts in the blend are aged in refill American oak casks and not chill-filtered. Color: Lemon chiffon, straw. Actually as pale as a whisky gets I think. Nose: Rubber garden hose, freshly laid warm asphalt and nylon shopping bags. Sea salt, wet black soil after a heavy summer rain and eucalyptus drops. Sweet, damp and green peat mixed with sea breeze. A few drops of water added tons of strawberries (I didn't see that one coming) with spearmint, green tobacco leaves and also samphire. Palate: Sea salt covering the mouth... Capers, dry-salt cured green olives and cigarette ash. Copper pennies and guava. Water takes out some from the texture. But it is definitely less salty but incredibly easy going and actually sweeter and creamier right now. Finish: Gets very vegetal at the finish: Bitter greens, dandelion greens and Belgian endives. It fades out with white pepper and mint leaves. Overall: I always enjoyed how Peat Monster changes slightly with every edition and this one is not an exception. I like the way Glaser is trying to give the best balance with the available casks instead of trying to keep the expression consistent. I personally preferred this one without adding water. By the way this sample was saved from one of the bottles we tasted a little more than a week ago as a part of our peaty whiskies tasting put together by me and Dave Russo and hosted by Onur Sergici. You can check out the line-up below... It was a tasty evening needless to say and I will be posting occasionally tasting notes from that night when I have time. Slainte..!

Mar 13, 2015

Old Malt Cask Aultmore 21yo...

late night blurry bottle picture: classic..!
Old Malt Cask Aultmore 21yo (50.0%): Today I have another sample from International Spirits & Wines line-up we tasted last week together with Brad Jarvis and Charles Tower at The Last Hurrah. It is a single cask from Aultmore bottled by Old Malt Cask. Do you recall the hexagonal green boxes occasionally catching your eye on the spirits shelves? Yep, they are all Old Malt Cask bottlings... This particular barrel is actually selected by Brad Jarvis himself (how cool is that?) and bottled exclusively for the US market. Only 150 bottles have been made available. Like Craigellachie, The Deveron and Royal Brackla, Aultmore is one of the distilleries John Dewar & Sons is having big plans about. It looks like soon enough we will start to see the official releases of 12yo, 21yo and 25yo expressions from the distillery with fancy packaging and pretty labels on the shelves more often. And yes, exactly: God knows how expensive they would go for. That means this bottle with a price tag a little above $150 looked like a pretty good steal to me even before I tasted it. It is distilled in September 1991, aged in a refill hogshead and bottled in July 2013. Color: Very light for a 21yo whisky. Straw like, Pinot Grigio. Nose: Fresh lemon zest and vanilla lemon cookie dough. Watching your dying lawn under the sun and not doing anything about it but it smells in a certain way and breaks your heart. Table saw shavings not vacuumed for a week and unripened Bartlett pears. A few drops of water shifted the whole nose to a way greener place: Bitter greens, green malt and fresh mint leaves. Palate: Old school... Warming and dry mouthfeel. Pencil shavings, first time you take your old wool sweaters out of your closet when it starts to get cold and coarse rock salt. Shepherd's pie, green asparagus and black pepper corns. Water smoothens the salty edges a little. Green and yellow gummi bears and yellow grapefruit. Finish: Long and still warming its way down... Black pepper, more pears and (hard to believe but) more salt. Overall: Well this guy definitely doesn't behave like a 21 year old adult... It is matured and settled on one side but very uneasy and fidgety on the other. It reminded me some old Glentauchers bottlings I tasted a few years ago. I really like and appreciate these old style, not overcomplicated whiskies, but I also know that some people are more adventurous when in it comes to older drams. I understand it but I don't think you can beat a solid, simple ex-bourbon barrel finish with that citrusy warming mouthfeel. If I had to complain about anything I would do it for the abv. This whisky would be a great treat if bottled at cask strength instead of traditional Old Malt Cask strength at 50%. Thanks again to Brad Jarvis a.k.a The Whisky Professor for the sample.

Mar 11, 2015

Caol Ila 12yo...

Caol Ila 12 yo (43.0%): I don't know why I am talking about hipster culture for two posts in a row but while staring at this bottle sitting on my desk I couldn't help but entertain myself with some possible near future predictions. Do you remember a few years ago how hipsters got bored all of a sudden with the craft beer movement and switched to PBR and Miller High Life? Next thing we knew all the bars in Brooklyn were filled with tall boys from mega beer factories. That was a little awkward, wasn't it? Years after I still don't have any logical explanation for it. If that thing ever happens to the whisky industry (which I think that it's very likely actually considering the prices going up every day...) Caol Ila 12yo will definitely be one of the choices of the new bohemian generation after that. It has been a consistent and reliable whisky for years and years with a bold yet approachable flavor profile. It's not cheap but pretty affordable, has a great plain, unstylish and simple look and (thanks to Diegeo) their distribution net is unbelievable. Almost every bar all around the world carries a bottle. But at the end of the day we have to face that we are talking about a mega distillery, a death star, so to speak. Caol Ila is one of the biggest Scotch malt distilleries in capacity (9th) and certainly the biggest on Islay. It works non-stop 49 weeks in a year to supply the incredible demand of Johnnie Walker blends and Bell's. It has been one of my favorite three distilleries from the beginning and still is. Color: Light yellow gold. Pinot Grigio. Nose: Close your eyes and try to visualize the lonely and awkward wait on the dentist chair when he is prepping his tools, the smell of iodine tincture soaked gauze rolls, a newly opened pack of band aids and the medicine cabinet you forgot its door open. Now push back all of these images to to early eighties, late seventies... Gosh, this nose brings me back to my childhood: Bicycle inner tubes, seaweed washed off to the beach, rubber masks and snorkels (before silicon age) and diesel fuel. Wet hemp rope, green peat, soccer game on the beach and sweat... Palate: Thin engine oil, peppermint Altoids (red tins) and sticky and oily soot. Green olives, dirty martini and sea salt-milk chocolate. Cracked black pepper corns, Mediterranean salt, burnt vegetable oil and linseed oil. Finish: Not so long. Roasted hazelnuts, crunchy malted barley and sweetened lemon juice. Overall: After so many years this dram still rocks! So, solid and dependable, a classic... It is pronounced but delicate at the same time. You know what? This might be my desert island dram... Maybe it should... Good for every season and occasion. It is a must have for everybody's whisky cabinet. Good to know that we will never run out of this dram...

Caol Ila Distillery, November 2009

Mar 9, 2015

Douglas of Drumlanrig Craigellachie 9yo...

Douglas of Drumlanrig Craigellachie 9yo (46.0%): Am I the only one who is creeped out a little by the new Craigellachie releases? From the 1800's medical cabinet inspired bottle to the uber-stylish label (designed by Stranger & Stranger of course, who else..?), from the super animated and hyper complex website (after half an hour I still don't know where their contact info is) to the Byron-esque tasting notes everything looks a little bit too hipstery... (there I said it, what?) I almost feel like I am not dressed well enough to be seen with one of those bottles, forget about sipping them. I definitely loved the whisky (especially the 13 year old one) but I am pretty sure that I don't represent the target audience here. Anyway last Thursday when we got together with my good friends Brad Jarvis and Charles Tower at The Last Hurrah in Boston to taste some of the new releases from International Spirits & Wines portfolio I spotted this nine year old Craigellachie from Douglas of Drumlanrig on the table right away and got pretty excited actually about how accessible and inviting it was looking... That's me in the photo holding the bottle in full confidence while not worrying about the lack of my clothing or facial hair style. Craigelalchie produces app. 4 million liters of alcohol per year for John Dewar & Sons blends. The whisky is distilled in June 2005, spent its entire life in a sherry butt and bottled in July 2014. It is a single cask release and bottled at 46% abv. Here we go..! Color: Bright yellow gold. Only the slow legs on the glass give a hint of the sherry butt. Nose: Eucalyptus drops, slightly burnt savory scones and dried strawberries. Latex gloves, dill and green tomatoes. After a while a thick beef stew takes over the whole nose: shallots, celery, carrots and rosemary. A pint of Smithwicks and dried mop head. Palate: Now the sherry butt starts to speak out loud: Red plums, Zante currants and golden raisins. Shortbread cookies, pipe tobacco and Oloroso sherry at its best. Finish: Long but gentle with remnants of tobacco leaves in your mouth and rock salt. Overall: Well, the nose didn't give away any distinct sherry notes but the palate came full force. It only spent nine years in the sherry butt but they surely made those years count I have to admit. After we tasted the new line of Craigellachie last Fall I remember how we were surprised about the meatiness of the whisky and this cask definitely brings out this unique character of the distillery very well. It is a good cask and might be a great side by side comparison to the 13 year old official expression. Thank you very much to Brad Jarvis a.k.a The Whisky Professor for the sample.

Mar 2, 2015

The Balvenie 12yo Triple Cask...

The Balvenie 12yo Triple Cask (40.0%): In spite of its little artisanal distillery fame (an amazing PR job I have to say...) The Balvenie is actually not a small distillery at all in terms of their volume of production. It annually produces a whopping 6.8 million liters (8th among all Scotch Single Malt distilleries) of alcohol for William Grant and Sons and it's also the 8th biggest selling single malt whisky in the world in terms of market share. What I have here tonight on my desk is a rather limited release though; their Triple Cask 12yo expression. Triple Cask is a travel retail only line launched in 2013 by. They are bottled at 12, 16 and 25 years and the whisky in the bottles is a vat of spirits matured in three different kinds of casks: first-fill ex-bourbon barrels, refill bourbon barrels and first-fill Oloroso sherry butts. After being married by David Stewart the whisky spends an additional six months in the marrying tun before it gets bottled. Color: Light amber, gold. Nose: Green Anjou pears, jonquils, peaches and lemon pound cake. Birch shavings, fresh pine nuts, apricots and banana cream pie. A little spring morning walk in the woods, honey comb, wet grass and candle wax. Palate: Salted whipped butter, brioche and allspice. Rosemary, cinnamon sticks and vanilla. Milk chocolate, spearmint drops and wax. Finish: Not loud, not long: White pepper dusting, hot chocolate with chili peppers, poached apples, candied orange zest and bitter lemon soda. Overall: I have to say that I enjoyed to see a Balvenie expression with less sherry influence and those refill bourbon barrels really made a difference. It's a fresh and vibrant whisky with an uneasy younger feeling but it is expensive. Way too expensive... Why is it that expensive? If you want to give a shot quite a few airports carry the 5cl bottles.

Mar 1, 2015

Bowmore 12yo...

Bowmore 12yo (40.0%): We had a fantastic time at Go! Whisk(e)y hosted by Julio's Liquor this week. I had the chance to see so many old friends and meet a bunch of new whisky people throughout the weekend. But I have to say that the seminars on Saturday were absolutely the highlights of the whole marathon. Later in the afternoon that day Gardner Dunn and Simon Brooking led a fantastic event called "Japan vs. Scotland". We blind tasted almost all the 12yo products of Beam Suntory line-up and Bowmore 12yo was one of them. At the end of the day when I was driving back home I found myself thinking how much I actually like and appreciate the classic Bowmore 12yo. When I arrived home I dug the wee bottle I had for a while and placed it on my desk before I went to sleep. Today I will enjoy sipping it, write a few lines about it and share them with you. Bowmore is the oldest distillery on Islay dating back to 1779 and produces 2 million liters of spirit per year. Color: Medium amber, orange blossom honey with visible legs on the glass. Nose: Ocean spray, wet beach sand and fresh lemon slices. Sun dried hay, coal dust and diesel fuel. Salted butter, glossy photo paper and unstruck matches. Funny, I remember the distillery smelling exactly the same. Palate: Thin heather honey, vanilla and green asparagus. Peat stays at the background. Thick magazine covers and tea towels (no idea how that image appeared in front of my eyes, but...). Sweet soot and some young grain whisky notes. Finish: Medium long and dry with green banana peppers, lemon zest, char and olive brine. Overall: I would be a regular if they had a cask strength version of this expression or if it was bottled at least at 46%. Balanced, easy to drink, not edgy, very pleasant but lacks in texture to be honest. Perfect every day dram and definitely a classic to visit back over and over again... Always a good idea to keep a bottle at home.

Bowmore Distillery, November 2009