Jan 26, 2016

Talisker 25yo (2005 release)...

Talisker 25yo 2005 release (57.2%): It's been many years since this bottle found its way to my whisky cabinet. Too long for any whisky to stay uncorked in this household. So, Robert Burns Night it is... Let's pop open this beauty... Actually this is the second distillery edition Talisker 25yo release I will be reviewing on tire-bouchon.  The first one was a 2004 release. The whisky is bottled in 2005 at full cask strength. It is matured in refill casks and the batch yielded 15600 bottles. My bottle carries the bottle number 12682. Ooops, serious cork mishap... Bummer, it literally crumbled all over the place. Got to deal with this first before I start. Well, lesson learned: Don't wait too long to open your bottles folks... Color: Light amber, sage honey. Very thin legs around the glass. Nose: Moldy and musty first... Like entering a dunnage warehouse in a distillery filled with seriously old casks. It opens up later: Raw honeycomb, beeswax candles, cold ocean spray and just a hint of peat. Campfire, pineapple, guava and ripe Comice pears. Every time I sniff the glass I am getting something else, airing improves the whisky immensely... Vanilla and candied lemon zest now. A healthy portion of water lifts up citrusy and sweet aromas even more: Sweet and fresh orange slices, burnt sugar and wet soot. Cardboard boxes and bitter greens. Palate: Gosh... Stun gun shot..! A good old slap in the face with intense freshly cracked black peppercorns, salt and cigar ash burn. Hot... Water needed. Ok, a little better now: Thick woolen scarf bundled around your neck, sometimes in your mouth. Licking big rock salt crystals and toasted old oak staves. Sizzling... Still mouth numbing with black pepper and salt notes dominating. Beef stew, bonfire on the beach, wet sand, dry seaweed and old magazines. The longer you air the less peppery it gets. Finish: Very long... Black pepper, salt but also with some refreshing cold pear slices now.


Overall: A very powerful old style whisky. Muscular, bold and big. And wow, it is hot... Talisker on steroids, maybe a little too peppery for my taste. Interesting to see how those refill casks kept all the sharp and peppery notes like it is still a young Talisker but allowed the peaty notes to take the back seat throughout all those years. Well, actually you miss that peat balancing the strong the peppery notes in this case. On a different note every time I taste an old Talisker (distilled before mid-eighties) I am getting these waxy notes we usually identify with Brora or Clynelish. I don't get them in later and contemporary bottlings from the distillery whatsoever... Anyway after double-checking my old tasting notes from last spring I think it is safe to say that I would definitely prefer the 2004 release over this one but let's be real now: It is a 25yo Talisker and I have the full bottle in my cabinet. No complaints here... I will be sipping this bad boy for a long time and we better get used to each other. Speaking of keeping it around long I have to find a way to take that cork piece out of the bottle though. Bottom half of it fell into the bottle while I was trying to negotiate with the broken cork cap. Well, it looks like an impossible task now but I will need to try again pretty soon. Let me know if you know a good trick for that...

Jan 20, 2016

Chancellor's Hardscrabble Applejack...

Chancellor's Hardscrabble Applejack (40.0%): And here is the third and last post about the odd bottles we brought back from our Upstate New York distilleries tour last month. It's an applejack distilled by Hudson Valley Distillers and named after Chancellor Robert Livingston who was one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence and an entrepreneur. He once owned the land on which Hudson Valley Distillery is located now. The brandy in the bottle is distilled from apples sourced from Hudson Valley area only. Many thanks to the founders of Hudson Valley Distillers Chris Moyer and Tom Yozzo for opening the distillery on a snowy and cold Holiday morning just to show us around and to give a full tasting of their entire line-up... Much appreciated... Color: Medium amber with a healthy dose of cloudiness which actually settles when you leave the bottle untouched a few days. Nose: Sour and flat Normandian style apple cider nose in your face..! Pretty powerful. After letting the glass to air a good minute or two it gets a little sweeter: Honeycrisp apples, dill pickles and young Calvados. It is perfumy and floral with hyacinth and jonquil aromas. Irish Spring soap bars, coriander leaves and clay dust. Palate: Although we had almost none on the nose toasted oak notes cover the palate entirely right away... Followed by sweet cider, apple puree and compote notes. Some hard caramel candies, sour gummy worms and celery stalks. Still has that soapiness... More greens: Asparagus, dandelion leaves and bitter greens. Finish: Medium long with oak tannins, pickle brine and green olives. Apple butter... Overall: Well, this was such a joyful ride... Odd, interesting and unusual but definitely fun. I am so glad that I didn't pick a bottle of their rye or gin (which were also very good...) to bring back but this applejack. I always had a big soft spot for mouth pursing sour European ciders. This bottle only suggest the style but enough to make it interesting. It is incredibly young to tell the truth but I am glad that it didn't spend more time in the barrel actually. The wood influence is just right, the spirit is still vibrant. For my two cents it is hefty enough for a hot toddy in winter months but still refreshing to use it in summer cocktails. Good job guys... I wonder if they have any plans to put them in bigger barrels just to be able to age them a little longer. That would be something to look forward to...


Hudson Valley Distillers, Clermont NY
line-up

casks aging

Jan 18, 2016

Scott's Selection North of Scotland 1964 Single Grain...

Scott's Selection North of Scotland 1964 Single Grain 45yo (45.2%): Ok, before we start, think about the year 1964 for a sec: The Rolling Stones is about to release their very first album, people are not quite sure what to make out of Dr. Strangelove, scientists won't dare to do the first spacewalk for another year and football fans have to wait three more years for their first Super Bowl party... 1964 was literally more than half a century ago. And in that very same year the crew of short lived North of Scotland Distillery happened to fill this cask and rolled it into the warehouse not to be touched again till 2009. North of Scotland was originally Robert Knox's Forth Brewery and re-built as a distillery in 1957 with a plan of producing patent-still malt whisky but shortly after the distillery was converted into a grain distillery. After it got sold to DCL (now a part of Diageo) in 1980 the equipment got re-installed to different distilleries one by one in years and eventually North of Scotland got mothballed in 1993.* It is pretty amazing to look at a piece of history captured in a bottle. Color: Dark amber, chestnut honey. Nose: Maple butter, nutmeg and cinnamon. Banana chips, orange zest jam, lemon cookies and hardwood furniture. Bourbon, chalk, vintage magazines and old leather upholstery. Palate: Taste like an old wheated bourbon with way less aggressive wood influence. Gently toasted oak staves, prunes and nutmeg. Almond paste and hot toddy with buttery and smooth mouth feel. No water needed. Adding water thinned the texture and didn't improve the taste necessarily. Finish: Long and warming with some black pepper dustings, dark Muscovado sugar and cocoa. Overall: Well, it's a very old school whisky... It looks like one, noses like one and definitely tastes like one. Like I mentioned before it resembles a very high end bourbon but at the same time you can taste how the cask the whisky was sleeping in for 45 years took good care of the spirit. Just right amount of oakiness without overpowering any other qualities. I remember tasting some very old Glenlivet bottling distilled in 1960s and the wood had almost the same quality in the spirit. Amazing... Scott's Selection had also port pipe matured North of Scotland bottlings from the same era and they were superb as well. It is a good whisky but unfortunately very hard to find again. But hey, who knows? You might find one on a dusty shelf of an odd liquor shop waiting for you...




* information sourced from Scotch Missed // Scotland's Lost Distilleries by Brian Townsend

Jan 7, 2016

The One and Only Buckwheat...

The One and Only Buckwheat (42.5%): Well, whisky geeks always enjoy a healthy dose of controversy and to be honest we are not short of them... So, here is another one: Can we call a spirit distilled from Buckwheat whiskey or not? Even Catskill Distilling Company prefer to use a very cautious tagline on their own website: "A new breed of American Whiskey is born" and the term "whiskey" is nowhere to find on the actual bottle and/or label. TTB defines American Whiskey as spirits distilled from a fermented mash of "grain". So to start with, buckwheat is not a grain but a "pseudo-cereal" therefore the spirit in the bottle shouldn't be called whiskey. Hold your horses there, not that easy though... If you continue to look into it a little more you will find out that in some sources American Whiskey is defined as a distilled beverage from a fermented mash of "cereal grain". Now things take a turn here: Since pseudo-cereals are counted as cereal grains all of a sudden Buckwheat classifies as whiskey. Corsair Distillery somehow managed to label their buckwheat and quinoa based spirits as whiskey with TTB approval before. Well, that means some rules can be bent without breaking them... Let me add another level to this discussion before I move on: "grain" and "cereal" are synonymous terms in botany but not in agronomy or commerce. So, maybe there is no issue after all if we refer to botanical terms... Anyway, like I said let's move on but I might comeback and edit this post later if I ever find more info about this issue. Let's taste some "distilled spirit"... The mash the spirit is distilled from contains 80% buckwheat and 20% other grains. Color: Medium amber, orange blossom honey. Nose: Toasted staves, smoked oolong tea and crunchy French bread crust. Eucalyptus, dry clay and wet cement blocks. Honey on cornflakes, raw brown sugar. Makes me think of a hike on a rainy Fall morning in the mountains: wet green wood, damp soil and moss. Palate: More eucalyptus... Peppermint Altoids and hint of chestnut honey. Waxy, woody and chalky. Burnt sugar, dry hay and tobacco. Roasted hazelnut, blanched bitter almonds and tons and tons of wood shavings. We have a seriously bitter palate here. Finish: Long with peppermint, dry basil leaves and linseed oil. Overall: I was so prepared to fight again against the bitterness and all those tannins coming from the small barrels only but instead I got hit with the eucalyptus and peppermint craze... My tongue is still sizzling. Wood influence is still pretty dominant and bitter (very bitter) but there are strong minty and grassy notes in the spirit as well. Adding water amplifies the bitterness of the wood on the palate, so I am not sure if it is needed at all. You need those grassy notes to fight against the tannins... Yes, Actually this whole experience made me want to go back to all classic rye whiskey cocktail recipes and try them with buckwheat spirit instead. Thanks to Stacy Cohen, VP of Catskill Distilling Company for being so communicative and accommodative when I was trying to arrange my visit to the distillery in a very narrow time frame. If you find yourself in Upstate NY it's definitely worth to pay the distillery a visit, you will not be disappointed...

Catskill Distilling Company line-up

Catskill Distilling Company, Bethel NY

Jan 4, 2016

Hudson Maple Cask Rye Whiskey...

Hudson Maple Cask Rye Whiskey (46.0%): The day after Christmas we stopped by at Gable Erenzo's new project Gardiner Liquid Mercantile in Gardiner for a couple of drinks and some quick bites. Gable, as many of you know is one of the names behind the success of Tuthilltown Spirits with his father Ralph Erenzo and his place in town is serving amazing food and booze sourced only from local farms, breweries, wineries and distilleries... On our way out I had the chance to grab a bottle of the latest batch of Tuthilltown Spirits Maple Cask Rye Whiskey which I will be tasting today. Tuthilltown sends some used whiskey barrels to Woods Syrup, a maple syrup producer in Vermont who ages their syrup in those barrels. After they are done the barrels are sent back to Tuthilltown and used again this time to finish off their rye whiskey. I remember liking it very much when I tasted the first batch a couple years ago at a tasting event but since then they started to release them annually and I didn't have a chance to taste again. This bottle I have is the first batch of 2015 and is numbered as 9927. Color: Dark amber, chestnut honey. Nose: If you ever walked in an American Craft Distillery that is the smell you will get right away: A pungent toasted oak smell you cannot identify where it is coming from. Is it coming from the tiny barrels on the racks, do they have a fireplace somewhere left fuming from last night or is it simply the walls and ceiling of the wooden rustic barn the distillery is in? You can never tell but that smell fills your nostrils... That's the first and only thing you get when you bring your nose close to the glass. After letting it air for a good amount of time similar but more layered aromas evolve: vintage furniture, tung oil, chimney soot and toasted cloves. Linseed oil, cinnamon sticks and hot toddy. Very young and quite hot. Adding a few drops of water helps immensely. Still woody but way gentler: Heavily roasted coffee beans, vanilla and maple syrup aromas slowly join. Garam masala, allspice and nutmeg. Old leather jacket, cowboy boots, aged grappa and cooked zante currants. Palate: Young toasted oak and bitter tannins. Very dry... I can totally taste some of the sweet notes of maple syrup when I look for it but they are all covered by strong oaky notes. Cinnamon Altoids, cloves and vanilla. Adding water brings much needed help. Now it tastes like a very young armagnac: Buckwheat honey, coffee cake and Werther's Original caramel coffee hard candies. Dark chocolate covered orange peels and quince jam. Finish: Long and sizzling with tannins, orange zest and cracked black pepper corns. Overall: Well, this was a tougher ride than I ever thought it was going to be... Adding water helped a lot luckily, both on the nose and on the palate... I admit my expectations were way higher to begin with but on the other hand I was pretty much prepared for a typical American craft distillery product. Ok, let me make myself clearer. Here is my take on this issue: I don't see any change coming in near future. It is what it is... The distilleries will continue to use these tiny barrels and all kind of other rushed maturation techniques. We definitely don't have to get used to it, approve these gimmicks and/or consume their products of course but personally I don't want to ignore hundreds of distilleries all round the country for good either and I don't want to miss a surprisingly good product which might hit the shelves out of nowhere. I want to keep tasting... Maybe it's time to classify these whiskies as a separate category, I don't know. It might help me at least to handle the situation. But there is absolutely no scenario to justify these crazy price tags attached to those bottles. Still cannot wrap my head around that... At the end this is an incredibly expensive whiskey and none of its qualities is good enough to make its price acceptable for me.