Feb 28, 2016

West Cork Original...

West Cork Original (%40.0): It would be nice to find another every day Irish whiskey just or a change. For the longest time I can remember I've been a Powers guy... When I needed a cheap glass of whiskey late night to accompany my pint of Guinness or when I wanted to brew a cup of Irish coffee on a Sunday morning while watching the soccer game (damn time difference...) my choice had been always Powers... But now I might have found a very promising alternative sitting on my desk. It is an Irish blend bottled by West Cork Distillery which is pretty much a new kid in the exploding Irish whiskey scene. Since their spirit is not ready yet for big volume releases they also act as an independent bottler to establish their brand and outsource their whiskey from time to time. The distillery started as a small project in 2003 but then moved in 2013 to its new location in Skibbereen, West Cork. They distill grain and malt whiskies as well as vodka and gin and also blend liquors and whiskeys. This one is the cheapest blend in their portfolio with a price tag of $25 and bottled at 40% abv. Color: White wine, pale yellow with nice oily legs around the glass. Nose: Vanilla, green bananas, fresh pineapple slices. Chalky: Clay dust, dry sand and straw bales. Bitter greens and vintage magazines. It carries all the ex-bourbon cask notes but at a minimal level. The whiskey is like a song you liked the melody of but you want to listen to it louder to judge better since you barely hear what is going on in the background. I wish I had a volume knob to reach... It also noses like a young Lowland Scotch whisky but again way at the back. Palate: Very young and kinda thin in texture... Hard to believe that it has 40% abv. Tastes like watered down more. It took me three sips and a lot of thinking to start to write down. Same problem I had at the nose: Everything is incredibly low in volume... White pepper, honeycrisp apples and Bartltett pears. Young corn whiskey, dried grass and simple syrup. Finish: Hardly any... Maybe a little mild peppery burn on either side of the tongue but that's about it. Overall: Very interesting... And I know that "interesting" is not the best adjective you can come up with to describe anything. I will be using the same metaphor again but from the nose to finish it feels like a very promising music track you cannot hear loud enough. Maybe it's the low abv, maybe it's tired casks the whiskey was aging in or maybe it is distilled at a higher proof than we are generally used to but the whiskey simply doesn't stand out. Bland, flat and kinda boring... West Cork has also a decently priced 10yo single malt in their portfolio. I might give that one a try sometime later.

Edit the morning after: We used the whiskey to mix Irish coffees a few hours ago and actually it worked pretty good... The whiskey didn't overpower the flavors of the very delicate, light roasted coffee but it was present enough to be recognized. I feel much better now to be honest...

Feb 26, 2016

Chieftain's Single Malt Single Cask tasting (Part 2)...


Continuing the notes of Chieftain's tasting hosted by Southern California Whiskey Club and moderated by Chris Uhde from where we left off (click here for Part 1) :

Mortlach 18yo 1997 (pedro ximenez cask finish) (46.0%): And now Mortlach: Yesterday's best kept secret, today's over-priced luxury product in a perfume bottle... Well, after the brand's re-launch in 2014 your best bet to get a decently priced Mortlach nowadays is scoring a bottle through independent bottlers. The whisky in this bottle is finished in a PX cask, so I am getting ready for a syrupy sweet, viscous, sherry bomb... Nose: Yep, here it comes: Oozing sweet Greek baklava syrup, honey nut crunch pie and liquid caramel. Sugar molasses, dark rum, chestnut honey and mild eucalyptus. Palate: Old leather upholstery, tobacco and beef stew. Zante currants and honey roasted pecans. Sulphur: Struck matches and raw milk. Finish: Long and sweet with caramel fudge. Overall: Well everything you would expect from a  PX finished Mortlach. Sweet, sticky and thick. A little too sweet for my taste but gosh it would be a great dram to end the night in front of a fireplace.

Glen Grant 20yo 1995 (bourbon finish) (55.1%): When I asked Chris what "bourbon finish" might mean he guessed that the whisky could be transferred to a more active bourbon cask at the end for a final kick. Sounds pretty promising... Glen Grant is the best selling single malt in Italy for almost 50 years and so far I know the only Scotch distillery owned by Campari Group. It has a massive production capacity of 6.2 million liters which makes Glen Grant the 11th largest distillery in Scotland. This time the whisky in the bottle is bottled at cask strength. Nose: Fresh spearmint leaves, wet malt and vanilla bean scrapings. Fresh pineapple slices, guava and chalk. Palate: Guava again, artificial vanilla extract, ground white pepper and extra strong old school English ginger beer. Finish: Medium long with more fresh spearmint notes and powdered cloves. Overall: Now this is my kinda whisky... Great bourbon cask notes, well matured but not tired. I wonder how much a bottle will cost. If it is not too expensive I might have the winner of the night here.

Fettercairn 19yo 1996 (oloroso sherry butt) (57.4%): Although Fettercairn has released a few official expressions  in last ten years it is extremely rare to see those bottles on the shelves especially here in US. The distillery is owned by Whyte & Mackay along with Dalmore, Isle of Jura and Tamnavulin distilleries. The whisky we are tasting comes from an Oloroso sherry butt and bottled at cask strength. Nose: Sour cream or heavy cream forgotten in the fridge for quite a long time. Raisins, vegetable stock and straight plain old good chilled Oloroso sherry. Palate: Wet cigar butt, brand new buckskin jacket and dried apricots. Subtle sweet spices: Nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon. Finish: Long with red pepper notes. Overall: A good sherried malt with a rather thin texture than I expect from a cask strength whisky.

Among these six expressions we sampled on Sunday night my personal favorite was definitely Glen Grant 20yo cask strength. I was very impressed with the simplicity of the dram. Clean, mature and absolutely delicious. But without a doubt Linkwood 17yo was the runner-up with that gorgeous finish. It seems like Linkwood will end up being the more affordable bottle most probably between two but I will definitely check the prices of both bottles.

We didn't finish though: Chris Uhde had also a little surprise for us... We had the chance to taste a rice whisky from Fukano Distillery. The spirit is distilled only once from 100% malted rice in a stainless steel pot still and then aged in new oak barrels. There are only eight single casks found their way from Japan to the States. All of them are bottled at cask strength and delivered individually to different retailers. I am not quite sure which one I tasted that night but the barrel number was 297.

Fukano Distillery Single Cask Rice Whisky (new oak cask/barrel #297) (41.6%): Nose: Incredibly bourbon-like: Caramel, sticky toffee pudding, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. Vanilla and Werther's Original hard candies. In a blind tasting I would put good money on it being a high wheat bourbon or an Irish grain whiskey. Palate: Cinnamon and cloves. Dusty and chalky. Some bitter woody notes and tannins I mostly associate with American whiskey aged in micro barrels. Finish: Sweet and syrupy. Not so thick though. Medium long. Overall: Very very interesting experience. Never in a million years I would guess that a 100% rice spirit will nose and taste like this after being matured in oak barrels and I am not totally unfamiliar with un-aged rice spirits. A must try for every whisky geek looking for a good challenge. Thank you Chris...


* distillery information sourced from Malt Whisky Yearbook edited by Ingvar Ronde


Feb 24, 2016

Chieftain's Single Malt Single Cask tasting (Part 1)...


On Sunday evening we met at Everson Royce Bar, Los Angeles to taste some selected single cask bottlings from Chieftain's current line-up. It was a great evening hosted by Southern California Whiskey Club and moderated by Chris Uhde representing Impex Beverages. Chieftain's is an independent bottling line owned by Ian Macleod Distillers who has Glengoyne and Tamdhu distilleries on their portfolio as well as very successful blends like Smokehead, Isle of Skye, Black Shield, Clan Macleod and many others. I'm usually pretty bad to write down decent tasting notes during these kind of events since I like to talk a little more than a few descriptives. But somehow this time I managed to fill quite a few pages in my notebook which I later decided to put together for a blog post. Like I said they are shorter tasting notes than I like to post but let's give them a chance:

Braeval 19yo 1996 (red wine cask finish) (46.0%): Braeval (formerly known as "Braes of Glenlivet") is a rather young Speyside distillery built in 1973, mothballed in 2002 and started to produce again in 2008. It's owned by Chivas Brothers/Pernod Ricard and fighting constantly with Dalwhinnie to claim the honor for the highest distillery in Scotland. They both sit on hills with an elevation about 355m give or take. Unfortunately it is not mentioned what kind of red wine the cask held prior the whisky or how big the cask was. Nose: Raspberry marmalade, dried strawberries and cranberry juice. Green tea, red gummi bears and lemongrass.  Palate: White pepper dusting, old newspapers and bitter greens. Powdered ginger and fennel seeds. Very dry and mineral. Almost like drinking mineral water from an aluminum can. Surprise: a slight touch of dusty peat hidden somewhere way back. Finish: Medium long. Dusty with unsweetened dried cranberries. Overall: The palate is surprisingly peppery in contrast to the sweet nose which makes it a little unbalanced and restless but it is a very nice after dinner sip nevertheless.

Glenburgie 16yo 1998 (hogshead) (46.0%): Another Speyside distillery from Chivas Brothers/Pernod Ricard portfolio which appointed the first female distillery manager in 1927. The distillery was known also back in 60s with their brand Glencraig, a whisky distilled by a pair of Lomond stills only. Nowadays the distillery produces its whisky mostly for the Pernod Ricard blends Ballantine's and Old Smuggler. The whisky in our bottle comes from an ex-bourbon hogshead. Nose: Overbrewed black tea, actually more like earl gray tea. Pink grapefruit and satsuma zest. Palate: Wet cardboard boxes. Hot with black peppercorns, paprika and crushed red pepper. Pine cones, fresh rosemary and salt. Finish: Long and peppery. Overall: It might be a little too hot on the palate for whisky lovers with a sweet tooth. I loved the black tea notes on the nose and wet cardboard notes on the palate which actually reminded me old Campbeltown whiskies. Nice and solid but a little too peppery...

Linkwood 17yo 1997 (oloroso finish) (46.0%): Linkwood is one of the important building blocks of Diageo's empire with a capacity of 5.6 million liters of alcohol per year and it is the backbone of their major blends like White Horse and Johnnie Walker. The distillery sells their product to other blenders as well. The whisky in front of us tonight is finished in an Oloroso sherry cask. Nose: Peppermint, red Altoids. Cough drops with eucalyptus, spoiled milk, cooked raisins, dried apricots and roasted hazelnuts. Palate: Big bold Oloroso sherry notes all over the palate, yummy... A lot of grape skins with a rich and velvety mouthfeel. Beef stock, prunes, Catalan flan and a healthy amount of salt. Finish: Medium long and beautifully tart with unsweetened white grape juice. Overall: So far, my favorite, hooked. Great finish... I enjoyed that sourness on the palate and at the finish immensely.

... to be continued

backyard of Everson Royce Bar

* distillery information sourced from Malt Whisky Yearbook edited by Ingvar Ronde

Feb 20, 2016

Hepburn's Choice Caol Ila 5yo...

Hepburn's Choice Caol Ila 5yo (%58.4): I always had a huge soft spot for very young peaty Scotch whiskies matured in ex-bourbon barrels. I know it's not everybody's cup of tea but the nose of those young whiskies resembles always entering still rooms of distilleries and brings back so many happy memories. When I figured out that K&L Wine Merchants carry this five year old Caol Ila (They also have a 5yo Talisker from the same label by the way) I didn't think even think twice and managed to get one bottle right away. It is a single cask expression bottled exclusively for K&L by Langside Distillers under the label of Hepburn's Choice. Hepburn's Choice line is named after William Hepburn, the grandfather of Langside Distiller's director and it's actually a part of the Hunter Laing. The whisky is distilled in 2009 and bottled in 2015 from a refill hogshead. The cask yielded 305 bottles at cask strength. It is not chill filtered and not colored. Color: Just a hint of pale straw... Almost clear, barely got some color from the cask. Nose: A big first impression of new make spirit... Pungent, spirity and restless. Soot, freshly squeezed lemon juice and band aid. Beach ball, garden hose, inner tube and iodine tincture. Wet hemp ropes soaked in gasoline and grease left under the sun on the deck of a fishing boat to dry. Lemon rind, vanilla extract, wet gardening soil and box of matches. Adding water shifts it to a peatier but less citrusy side: bonfire you visit the morning after, dried sea salt on skin and wet clay. Palate: It's very hot without water addition: Massive burn on the palate like chewing a mouthful of black peppercorns and charcoal. Numbing... After adding a healthy amount of water and waiting for quite some time for the whisky to air I kinda start slowly to detect more stuff: Ashes, dandelion leaves and rubber band ball. Still extremely peppery... Vine charcoal sticks and carbonized asparagus sticks forgotten on the grill. After third time of dropping more water finally some fruit notes surface: Granny Smith apples, salted quince slices and yellow grapefruit gratin. Finish: Sizzling long but mostly with black pepper burn on the tip of the tongue. Overall: Well, this was a challenging ride, even for me... It is extremely young and spirity... I hate to say but in general there isn't much going on on the palate in terms of complexity and depth. It is a fun and straightforward dram but definitely not an exciting nor interesting one. The nose is sweeter and more layered than the palate and makes it slightly more playful but the palate is pretty tough to deal with. It is mostly flat, one dimensional and hot. It is a malt which makes you wish for something else to support it or play with it. In other words this malt is looking desperately for its grain counterpart to create a simple but potentially interesting young blend. At the end I have to admit that it tastes exactly what you would think a five year old cask strength Caol Ila would taste like, nothing less and nothing more. For what it's worth I plan to have more fun with it in coming weeks by trying it in high balls and in some house made blends but you are warned: It is for adventurous and restless whisky enthusiasts and mad peat lovers only... If you are not up for it, you better skip this one...




Caol Ila Distillery, November 2009

Feb 15, 2016

Crown Royal Maple Finished...

Crown Royal Maple Finished (%40.0): First things first: I think naming this product as "Crown Royal Maple Finished" aims nothing but purposefully trying to mislead the customer, to trick so to speak. It is not a "finished" whisky as we know in the industry... In other words, the whisky didn't get transferred to a cask which once held maple syrup (like Hudson Maple Cask Rye) or to a cask made by maple staves (like Woodford Reserve Master's Collection). Maybe it is "finished in maple-toasted oak" indeed (whatever that means) like it is written in the press release but this doesn't change the fact that the blend is simply a flavored alcoholic beverage created by adding maple syrup flavoring to Crown Royal whisky. I have to say that it is kinda worrisome that Diageo deliberately trying to blur the truth about what the liquid in the bottle is. Anyways, enough talk for now. Let's pour it and taste... Color: Medium amber, maple syrup (duh...) with nice visible legs around the glass. Nose: Gosh, I don't even have to bring my nose anywhere near to the glass. I can smell it from four feet away... The room is filled right away with intense Aunt Jemima maple syrup aromas. I better wait for the first burst of aromas to fade out and settle a little... After allowing it to air quite some time it lets me to bring my nose closer: Some burnt sugar (in an unpleasant way), fudge&brittle and oozing caramel pudding. Palate: Incredibly sweet... Like a cheap maple syrup forgotten in front of the kitchen window under the sun for the entire summer. Artificial sweetener, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pipe tobacco, fudge and caramel toffee drops. It is so sweet, that it dried out everything in my mouth. Finish: The real finish is pretty quick but that artificial sweet taste would last till next morning if I didn't drink a glass of water right after. Overall: Well, I did it again... Every time I try to taste a flavored product I swear to God not to do it ever again but after a few months somehow miraculously I forget what it feels like and here we go... Sorry but definitely not my cup of tea, very very very sweet... The way my fingers got sticky with a few drops spilled is kinda scary actually. Maybe in the hands of a very talented bartender or a baker it can be used for a better purpose but I have to admit it is not possible to drink neat, with ice cubes or with water for me. I couldn't even finish the half of this 5cl bottle.

Feb 12, 2016

Blend Project #20 Faultline...

Faultline (50.0%): "Our goal when creating the Faultline Blend was to provide the very best whisky at the lowest possible price." That's a pretty good start as far as I am concerned... The quote is taken from the back label of K&L Wine Merchants' very own Faultline Blended Scotch Whisky which I will be pouring today. With a price tag of only $25 attached to its neck and a bottling strength at %50.0 abv this whisky makes a perfect contestant for my ongoing Blend Project without a question. It is blended by Douglas Laing & Co. exclusively for the Californian wines and spirits merchants K&L with a recipe involving a very high malt whisky content mainly sourced from the Islands (spoiler alert...). Color: As light as a whisky at legal age possibly can be: Very light straw, like an Aligote. Nose: New make spirit, iodine tincture, rubber bands and dry grass. Asparagus, bitter greens and salted butter. Dried apple rings, wet sand and bonfire on the beach. Very promising start, my kinda young and peaty nose. Adding water made it way more approachable but thinned out the nose a little: Less peat more first aid cabinet, less fruity more grassy now... Palate: Black pepper, hot butter and charcoal. Dandelion greens, lemon juice and garden soil. Sweet soot and graphite pencil. Dry, peaty and grassy. Water makes the texture creamier. Brioche dough, rock salt and double cream brie cheese. A little Eau de Vie, maybe unaged Slivovitz notes, probably coming from young grain whiskies. Cannot wrap my head around how young but at the same time how tasty and enjoyable it is. Finish: Medium long with bitter greens, new make spirit and white pepper. Overall: I know, I know... This is all my soft spots bundled in a single bottle: cheap, contains extremely young peaty malt whiskies, doesn't consist caramel coloring, didn't go through chill filtration, bottled at %50 abv, etc... But I think it doesn't change the fact that Douglas Laing & Co. made an extremely good job with this blend. I have to warn that this is not a blend for everyone though. Wouldn't recommend it to people who can be easily thrown off by new make notes. I know a few friends like that and they would absolutely hate it. It's young, peaty and grassy. For my two cents, it's a no brainer, loved it... If I had to guess I would name Ledaig as its backbone malt especially after the hint given away with the press release mentioning the whiskies sourced from "Islands". Well, at the end I feel lucky that I live in SoCal now and that I have access to this whisky for a while. It looks like I found my everyday dram here for this spring...

P.S. After writing this review I tried this blend in different highballs with ginger ale, club soda, etc. and all work great... Just in case you are wondering.

Feb 6, 2016

Glenmorangie Milsean...

Glenmorangie Milsean (46.0%): So, here is the seventh release of Glenmorangie's Private Edition range. This time Dr. Bill Lumsden took the idea from his childhood memories of sweetshops, and confectioneries. He wanted to create a Glenmorangie which will bring back the sweetness of pear drops, parma violets and candy floss of 1960s and 70s. He started to think how to create that flavor profile, sat down also with Jim Swan to share ideas and to pow wow so to say. After a while he wanted to give a try by giving the whisky which was initially aged in ex-bourbon casks an extra amount of maturation by putting them for two and a half years in red wine casks previously held red wine from Douro Valley, Portugal. But the key trick here was re-toasting these Portuguese red wine casks without scraping off the inside of the barrels and allowing the residue of the wine and all the sugar to caramelize into the wood. Gosh, it sounds so mouth watering already... Let's pour some into the glass and taste it. Milsean is Gaelic for "sweet things". The whisky is non chill-filtered and bottled at 46% abv. Color: Light amber, crystal clear with very distinct and persistent legs. Nose: Well, it noses like a candy shop indeed: Rock candies, candy canes, hard candies and cotton candy. Burnt sugar, caramel fudge, fresh mint leaves and fresh malt. White peaches, dried apricots, Granny Smith apples and pomegranate. After airing a little it gets grassy: dried grass, hay and wet clay. Light, perfumy and sweet. Adding water erased all the grassy aromas though and shifted the nose to an even more sweet side. Palate: Nice beautiful Glenmorangie backbone topped with tons of red fruits: Pomegranate, dried cranberries, dried strawberries and red plums. Some spiciness, mostly as cinnamon, ground ginger and peppermint. Tart red fruit sorbet, candied lemon peels and again Granny Smith apples. Despite the loss of aromas at the nose adding water works actually pretty good at the palate. It highlights the citrusy and spicy notes: Pink grapefruit, kumquat and nutmeg. Finish: Short... Sweet with ginger, ground cloves and cake batter. Overall: Looks like Dr. nailed it... He wanted to create the candy shop whisky and here it is. I don't know maybe because of the whole backstory and the press release it was almost impossible to think anything else but this is the most candy notes you can get from a non-flavored whisky I believe. Actually I was prepared for something way sweeter and viscous but all the caramelized sugar and candy notes are pretty well balanced with citrusy and grassy notes throughout the ride. I wish the finish was a little longer so it could linger a little more though... Anyway a special whisky for people with sweet tooth and a great dram to finish the night with your dessert. I don't think this bottle will last too long in this household since we actually already made a big dent on the bottle...