Angel’s Envy: Toast the Trees (UPDATE)

Update: 1/20/2015 Angel’s Envy is happy to announce they’ve donated $10,000 to the Arbor Day Foundation to plant 2,500 white oak trees in the US! Click here for more. Cheers!

[Original Post below]

I don’t normally post PR press releases, but this one from Angel’s Envy Bourbon tickled me. Also, they send me whisky to review, and I like that. The TL;DR version is: order a drink with Angel’s Envy in it during September 2014, snap a picture, and post it on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter with the #AE4THETREES hashtag, and they’ll plant an oak tree. The gimmick? Providing future oak barrels for the next generation of bourbon drinkers (and, by extension, scotch drinkers). Woo!


Louisville, Kentucky (September 1, 2014) – Louisville Distilling Co. LLC, producers of the highly celebrated Angel’s Envy super-premium bourbon, will Toast the Trees this September (aka National Bourbon Heritage Month), in an effort to fight back against the current bourbon barrel shortage.

With a sharp increase of new bourbon enthusiasts over the past several years, demand is higher than ever. Angel’s Envy is committed to helping make sure that there is always enough American white oak for the cooperages and bourbon distilleries of tomorrow to continue to age in new charred oak barrels. Angel’s Envy goes the extra step in finishing in port barrels.

This September, the World’s Highest Rated Bourbon is partnering with the Arbor Day Foundation to plant new white oak trees across North America for every picture bourbon enthusiasts take of an Angel’s Envy cocktail – neat, on-the-rocks or in a cocktail. Participants simply post their picture to Facebook, Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #AE4THETREES. Angel’s Envy will plant a white oak tree for every picture posted this September bearing the hashtag.[1]

“We wanted to create a charitable initiative to engage our fans in a fun and meaningful way via social media where they’re already active,” said Samira Seiller, Managing Director of Louisville Distilling Company. “As Angel’s Envy grows, we realize it’s important to give back. Toast the Trees helps us to preserve the future of bourbon through planning and sustainability.”

About Angel’s Envy
The small batch artisan bourbon is the culmination of the late Master Distiller Lincoln Henderson’s storied career. One of the original pioneers of the premium bourbon and whiskey categories in the U.S., Lincoln came out of retirement to create the world’s finest bourbon on his own terms – with a simple desire to enjoy the art of making whiskey. The Master Distiller, who was an inaugural member of the Bourbon Hall of Fame also spent 40 years of working on world-class brands, such as Woodford Reserve and Jack Daniels.

In addition to the flagship bourbon port cask finish, the Company offers Angel’s Envy Cask Strength and Angel’s Envy Rye. Each Expression exhibits Lincoln’s passion for experimenting outside of conventional norms and producing unique whiskey steeped in tradition, but finished with a twist.

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Exclusive Malts: The Dalmore (13 year) 2000 – 2013

First, let’s establish something. I get sent samples, sometimes, and my first thought is “Yay! A new whisky to try!” and my second thought is “Yay! Another week’s blog post that I don’t have to buy whisky for!” Advertising on the blog pays for my whisky, yes, but what it does not pay for is a new bottle every week. Far from it. So once in awhile you, dear reader, get to put up with a review of something you’re never likely to see on a shelf. Them’s the breaks.

So here’s a weirdo. Dalmore, in my mind, means two things: Heavy sherry, and orange-peel notes. This independently-bottled Dalmore from The Exclusive Malts was distilled in 2000 as cask #6952 and bottled in 2013 at 53.5% ABV. And it’s peated. What?!

The color is super pale – nearly clear – which implies a refill bourbon cask. It’s possible this was a cask that previously held peated whisky, but I can’t find any details online. Some way or some how, a good whollop of peat found its way into this distinctly un-sherried Dalmore.

Nose: Peat, but integrated well with vanilla and saltwater taffy. Hot-smoked salmon, bitter herbs, white pepper. Lavender.

Palate: Somewhat thin body. Barbeque coal smoke, fresh-cracked pepper, blackened salmon. Very low tongue-burn for something at 53.5% ABV.

Finish: Long. Herbal and smoky, lavender especially. Mildly bitter, but ends on a sweet vanilla note.

With Water: A few drops of water mute the nose, or supplant the usual aromas with alcohol fumes. The palate might be softer, and carries more tart notes – white vinegar? I would avoid the water here, unless you feel you need to dilute it to bottle-strength (I don’t think it needs dilution).

Overall: There’s a lot going on in this one. It seems that Dalmore’s house characteristics are solely derived from its sherry aging, because I would not be able to identify this as Dalmore if it weren’t for the label. It does have a Highland drift to the peat; instead of piquant smoke and overt seaweed, the peat is herbal and reminds me of cooking aromas. A truly unusual take on both Dalmore malt AND Highland peated whisky. Well done.

I won’t personally be buying a bottle of this, but I can see how a fan of The Dalmore (who wants to see a new side of the distillery), or someone who appreciates alternative styles of peated malt would really enjoy this malt, even at the hefty price of $99. This is a cautious “Recommended”, if only for the education.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

Founded in 1839, The Dalmore sits on the eastern coast of the Scottish Northern Highlands, north of Inverness, at sea level. Its waters run from Loch Morie, in the hills above the distillery, and is diverted from the Alness river which flows over heather-covered peat. As The Dalmore’s whiskies age very well, older bottlings are prevalent on the auction scene. Several recent record-setting auction sales have been old bottles of The Dalmore. The distillery’s characteristic dark orange flavor is said to be present across the range. The two pairs of stills at Dalmore are of differing shapes and sizes, and some are cooled by water jackets, a modern innovation. This combination produces a complex, eccletic mix of distillates which contribute to both the house ‘citrus’ character, and its ability to age for a long time in oak; Bottlings in excess of 50 years old have been released. The majority of the whisky is aged in ex-bourbon casks, but some in ex-sherry. It is all married in ex-sherry casks. The distillery is owned, along with Isle of Jura, by independent bottlers Whyte and Mackay.

Exclusive Malts: The Dalmore (13 year) 2000 – 2013
53.5% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $99 - $109
Acquired: (Sample) Courtesy of ImpEx Beverages. Thanks, Katia!
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Review: Whiskey Elements

On the face of it, it sounds silly. A $6 chunk of wood that promises to make your $20 whisky taste like $50 whisky? Yeah, OK, whatever. There is, however, some solid precedent behind the idea. Compass Box’s John Glaser got in trouble with the SWA for doing basically the same thing – only he was using French oak staves inserted into an aging barrel of whisky for Spice Tree. Rick Wasmund’s Copper Fox distillery uses charred wood chips (some from fruitwood like apple) to achieve a similar effect. Even Laphroaig’s venerable Quarter Cask is based on the principal of a higher surface area (of oak) to volume of whisky by using tiny barrels.

So when Time & Oak co-founders Tony Peniche, David Jackson, and Josh Ringle got the idea of selling small sticks of milled, charred oak with a high surface area (achieved by cutting many slits against the grain to shorten the capillaries through which aging whisky travels) and brought it to Kickstarter, they were indeed standing on the shoulders of giants. The Kickstarter succeeded by raking in $195,00 in startup capital (exceeding the target of $18,000 by more than a factor of 10) and my first pair of Whiskey Elements arrived in the mail just before Christmas 2014.

While I may be a skeptic (especially when it comes to flavoring whisky with syrup), I like to think I keep an open mind. In that spirit, I snapped each Element in half and poured 4 half-bottles of various liquids to try out this revolutionary product. A single Element is intended to filter and flavor a 750ml bottle of whisky over the course of 24 hours or up to three weeks. An Element can be broken in half and used with a 375ml bottle for the same timeframe. In an attempt to test the Elements against a reasonable array of products, I chose Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Great King Street: Artist’s Blend, Speyburn 10, and Buffalo Trace Wheated White Dog. My hope was to amp up the apparent age of the bourbon, fill up and round out the oak flavor in Great King Street, give some body and flavor to the Speyburn, and turn the White Dog into some semblance of bourbon. I figured a mid-range bourbon, a low-end single malt scotch, a mid-range blended scotch, and a white whisky would give me a good idea of the versatility of the Element approach.

Time & Oak claims the effect is most pronounced after 24-48 hours, drops off during the next few days, and then is completely inert by 3 weeks. So, I tasted each bottle daily, starting at the 24-hour mark, for six days and then tasted each against the original at the 10-day mark and performed a final individual tasting at 3 weeks. Rather than bore you with my badly-transcribed notes, I’ll summarize each:

Buffalo Trace White Dog
After a single day, the White Dog took on a light golden color similar to young scotch, and proceeded to darken to the level of a young bourbon after a few days. While some additional vanilla and cake frosting flavors developed over the 5-day period, the White Dog never became anything but brown white dog, and still smells and tastes grassy, antiseptic, and reprehensible. I think I was expecting a little too much here. Conclusion: Maybe it needs more time, but more likely it needs a whole barrel and about three years.

Great King Street: Artist’s Blend
I had high hopes for adding a little oak to the subtle GKS. A day in, the whisky smelled more like an American single malt aged in new oak like Cut Spike than blended scotch. It also took on some green banana and coconut. By day two a weird gin-like aroma appeared, and by day three the entire bottle smelled and tasted like pine sap from start to finish. Yuck. This is wholly and irretrievably ruined. Conclusion: I could have stopped after 24 hours for an interesting but not improved whisky, but FOR THE LOVE OF GOD don’t leave it in longer than that with this whisky.

Buffalo Trace Bourbon
I’m not sure what I was expecting here, as any bourbon already has gone through extensive conversation with charred new oak. What’s an extra couple of square inches of surface area going to accomplish? Not surprisingly, the bourbon became slightly more rounded and had some of the rough edges removed, but in the process became very slightly blander. In a blind taste test I might not have even been able to tell that there was a difference. Conclusion: Not worth the effort.

Speyburn 10
The color deepened to the level of bourbon over the course of 5 days, and the flavor acquired a fantastic nutty quality that reminded me forcefully of the older Glenrothes malts. The effect was so thorough that I began thinking of the bottle as “fake Glenrothes” and even went back to the bottle a few times outside of my testing. In a way, a $6 piece of wood turned the $25 Speyburn 10 into a much older-tasting and much more thoroughly enjoyable $50+ malt. I intend to purchase another Element and a full bottle of Speyburn 10 and repeat this for my cabinet. Conclusion: <Borat Voice>Great success!</Borat Voice>

So what’s the final word on Whiskey Elements? I’d say that it isn’t worth trying to turn vodka, gin, or any other unaged spirit into whisky. Maybe with a handful of Elements, but it would hardly be worth the price. I’m also not sure it’s worth using on bourbon. Josh Ringle from Time & Oak said in response to my questions that the CEO swears an Element will turn a bottle of Jack Daniels into Gentleman Jack, and that may be worth pursuing, especially with the “rougher” (cheaper) bourbons, where the Element can serve mostly to round off the rough edges and filter out some impurities. I was shocked by the effect on the GKS, and can’t fully explain it. I may try again with a cheaper blended scotch like Cutty Sark in the future to see if the GKS was an anomaly. Finally, it seems that the Element was wholly successful in turning the $25 Speyburn 10 into an apparently much older, more flavorful malt. I wouldn’t risk this with a mid-range malt like Balvenie, but it might be worth trying with Glenlivet or one of the other sub-$40 malts. It might even be able to sand down the rough edges off of Finlaggan.

I’d say that if you’re interested in Elements, purchase a pair of the Signature (charred oak) Elements ($12), snap them in half, and repeat my experiment with four half-bottles of your own choosing. Just pick whiskies that you can afford to waste, and make sure to fully clean out any empty bottles that you use for the purpose. While the website says to leave them in for no more than 3 weeks, Josh assures me that leaving them in the bottle indefinitely is fine. If you decide to remove the Element (perhaps if you reach a target flavor within less time), you’ll need to decant the bottle into another empty bottle or decanter to retrieve the Element. While you can re-use the Elements, the effect the second time around is likely to be minimal or even nonexistent.

Other ideas from Josh’s testing include Crown Royal, Jameson, and Bulleit bourbon.

Elements has already released new Smoked and Wine-flavored products (available for pre-order now). I’m hoping they expand to sherry, port, and other traditional finishing woods.

Lastly, some words from Time & Oak, and as a thanks for reading this far, a coupon code!

“Our product, which is perfect for tailgating and also makes a fine gift for groomsmen, is for anyone hoping to explore the world of whiskey and find what works best for them. We at Time & Oak believe there is nothing better than finding that perfect bottle of whiskey that comforts you after a long day of work. We hope that this will allow whiskey drinkers to broaden their horizons and present a more personal relationship with their whiskey.

If your readers go to our site they can enter the code: SCOTCHNOOB to get a discount (5%) on our products.

Note: I have not received nor will ever receive any considerations, payments, affiliate fees, commissions, or free products from Time & Oak or any other entity for the purpose of writing this review, nor have I been asked to modify the wording of my review in any way.

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Buffalo Trace Bourbon

Any long-term reader of this blog will know that I’m always on the hunt for bourbon that brings truth to the “bourbon is good value” adage. So far, I’ve mostly found that bourbon is cheaper than single-malt scotch and tastes like it. It’s usually too sweet, too rough, or too plastic-tasting for me – often conjuring what I call “High-Fructose Corn Syrup” flavors, or more accurately, the flavor of cheap synthetic candy. When I do find a good bourbon, it’s impossible to acquire, just as expensive as single-malt, or not available in my state.

Buffalo Trace, a stalwart in the big bourbon game, has also become known as the purveyor of the best limited-edition bourbon in the country. The Buffalo Trace Antique Collection or BTAC is an annual Easter Egg hunt for allocated bottles that mostly end up selling via raffle, just like Pappy Van Winkle bourbon, which is also now made by Buffalo Trace.

Buffalo Trace’s parent company, Sazerac, is the largest distilling company in the United States, and makes a dizzying array of liquor including the Barton brand of bourbons, Sazerac Rye (duh), Eagle Rare, Blanton’s Bourbon, E.H. Taylor, Stagg, A. Smith Bowman, Regan’s Orange Bitters, Peychaud’s Bitters, Caribou Crossing, Fireball “Whisky”, 99 Bananas, Rain Vodka, Corazon Tequila, Highland Mist, and a slew of other liquor products.

Buffalo Trace’s namesake bourbon is bottled at 45% ABV and comes from a low-rye mash bill (probably only 10% rye to 90% corn), which is also used to make the Eagle Rare and Stagg bourbons. Despite its low rye content, Buffalo Trace is pretty close to my ideal flavor profile. It’s slightly spicy, slightly woody, and not too sweet. This makes it good for sipping, on the rocks, or in cocktails. However, I should point out that the bourbon-based cocktails that have really made me sit up and pay attention are usually made with higher-proof bourbon, of at least 50% ABV. That relegates Buffalo Trace (despite its sip-ability) to the everyday cocktail ingredient shelf. Its price and flavor profile, however, make it my current house bourbon and unlikely to be supplanted any time soon. It’s pretty hard to beat the combination of bottom-shelf price, mid-shelf quality, and top-shelf balance.

Nose: Compared to some bourbons, the nose is wood-forward and tannic – almost vinegary – with sweet caramel notes in the background. Hazelnuts and almonds, turning to vanilla after a few moments of rest in the glass. Dusty spices, mild charcoal, dry cornmeal.

Palate: Slightly tart, soon turning malty with marshmallow and cocoa nibs. Not cloyingly sweet, but with a fine balance of wood, sugar, and tartness.

Finish: Warming and of medium length. A reprise of the aroma, predominantly nut skins and smoldering charcoal. Fading with vanilla bean and cinnamon.

With Water: A few drops of water awaken a familiar “candy corn” note that luckily isn’t too plastic/fake/corn syrupy. On the palate, it retains its flavor but pops a little more. I highly recommend a little water with this one, and you shouldn’t feel bad about dropping in an ice cube once in awhile, either.

Overall: I like a bourbon that doesn’t make your eyes water with sweetness, but also doesn’t go fully grassy (like Jim Beam). Buffalo Trace is probably the most well-balanced bourbon I’ve had in this price range, and happens to strike my personal preferences in bourbon. It makes a mean Old Fashioned too, of course. This will continue to be my house bourbon for the forseeable future.

As much as a bourbon Old Fashioned had been bypassed by the craft cocktail scene of late (and then suddenly became wildly popular again but now… you know… it’s “craft”), something about sitting back with an inoffensive… Ok, I’ll say it… smooth bourbon over ice with bitters and sugar makes me feel like a Southern gentleman in a white suit, rocking away the afternoon on my front porch. Somehow I look like the KFC Colonel in this vignette… but you get the idea. Also, there’s nothing simpler than assembling an Old Fashioned when you can’t be bothered to break out the shaker or strainer.

Buffalo Trace Bourbon
45% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $22 - $26
Acquired: (750ml bottle) Beverages & More, San Jose, CA $26
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Bowmore Legend

Bowmore’s a tough one. One on hand, you have one of the mildest of the Islay peaters, often paling in comparison to the smokey, salty powerhouses from the rest of the island. On the other, you have a well-respected distillery producing highly-rated and critically-acclaimed whiskies. So far almost every Bowmore I’ve tried has resulted in basically the same review: “Yeah, it’s good… I guess.” Hardly thrilling prose. Thus, it was with some trepidation that I approached this entry-level NAS bottling. Young (and cheap) peated malt tends to be rough and acrid, and some people find such whisky undrinkable.

There’s not much info available on Legend, which tends to be the case with these low-end NAS expressions. It’s probably younger than 10 years on average, bottled at the basement 40% ABV after spending time in ex-bourbon casks (no sherry, unlike the 15-year “Darkest” and recent hit 10-year “Devil’s Cask”). That probably makes it a younger sibling to the slightly more expensive Small Batch… a Bowmore “Large Batch”, if you will.

Nose: Well-balanced maritime smoke. Slightly citrusy (lemon), with a caramel malt core, and medium levels of peat.

Palate: Soft, mildly sweet malt. Mineral-flecked seawater, and woodfire smoke.

Finish: Medium-long. Some charcoal, and quickly-fading peat.

With Water: A few drops of water increase the apparent peat level, and also bring more lemon oil and something floral – like lavender. The lemon repeats on the palate. Try a few drops of water, but don’t dilute it too much.

Overall: This is not a malt for peat-freaks. This is a very well-balanced, mildly peated dram for a very respectable price. Often younger, cheaper Islay malts come across as brash, acrid, and bitter. Legend is the opposite of all of these: gentle, sweet, and mildly smoky. It won’t win any awards for potency or complexity, but it scratches the peat itch for under $30 a bottle, and can also serve as a gentle introduction for peat newbies.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

Despite its location on the banks of Loch Indaal in central Islay, Bowmore’s water is derived from the river Laggan, the source of which rises from the hills on the east coast of the island, overlooking the Sound of Islay. The water is diverted from the river and forms The Bowmore Lade. This water is notable for its cross-island trip, picking up heather in the hills, minerals from the sandstone and limestone rocks from which it rises, and peat from the lowland bogs on its trip to the distillery. This yields a light and subtle spirit with a balance of mineral and vegetal. Bowmore still malts 40% of its own barley in its floor maltings. The malt is peated for less time than the more intense malts from the southern Islay distilleries, which contributes to its reputation as a ‘tamer’ cousin, and reputably more ‘smoky’ than peaty.

Bowmore Legend
40% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $24 - $32
Acquired: (750ml bottle), K&L Wine and Spirits $24
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1792 Ridgemont Reserve Bourbon

I’m on a quest, you see. Like Don Quixote, I am on a mission to make the world a better place by pitting my “impressive” (insert sarcasm) tasting skills against a sea of bottom-shelf booze to deliver quality to beleaguered peasants (that’s you) whose pockets have been picked by $200 Macallan 18 and $120 limited edition bourbon. To that end, I tilt windmills like Old Fitz and Old Forester (why are bourbon brands always old?) to bring you gems like this one.

1792 Ridgemont Reserve is the highfalutin’ name (in a similarly highfalutin’ bottle) for the West Coast US’s version of the acclaimed value brand Very Old Barton: Bottled-in-Bond, affectionately known as “VOB BIB” and only available on the vaguely Eastern half of the US. 1792 Ridgemont Reserve is the same mashbill as VOB, but aged 2 extra years and bottled at a slightly lower proof (VOB is 100 proof). Since I cannot get and have never tasted VOB, this will have to do.

This bottling from the Barton distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky is named after the year Kentucky became a state. The Barton distillery is owned by Sazerac (Buffalo Trace) but only produces a few brands, most of which stays out East. It’s around eight years old (it used to have an age statement, which was dropped in 2013) and comes from a high-rye recipe.

Bottle note: despite the awkward shape of the bottle, I really like the woven “scarf” around the neck – it makes it so easy to pour.

Nose: Salted caramels. Nougat. Mild oak, lightly sweet. Hint of acetone. Not exactly a “study it over the course of an evening” type of aroma, but simple and sweet.

Palate: Silky, medium-bodied. Oaky up front, and a bit hot at first. Then, nougat-y taffy and rich corn. The corn here is syrupy and round, and not plastic or industrial.

Finish: Medium-long. Nut skins, light caramel, fading with a bit of charcoal. Not bitter.

With Water: A splash of water adds a vegetal note to the nose – like raw green split firewood. It utterly removes the tongue burn, but at the expense of some flavor. Water (or ice) is optional with this one, when drinking straight up.

Overall: I wouldn’t exactly buy a bottle of this for exclusive sipping. However, it makes a graceful, easygoing dram AND a top-notch cocktail, which makes it the golden intersection of value bourbon for me. It has none of the aspects of cheap bourbon that always put me off – the over-oaked bitterness, the rough, high-octane grainy alcohol, the acetone (well maybe a bit), or the fake-candy high-fructose corn syrup flavor. It’s just straightforward, sweet, silky, and mixes flawlessly into an Old Fashioned or a bourbon Manhattan. Alas, it’s more expensive than VOB so it doesn’t win any “value” awards. If you can get VOB, leave this one in the dust. If you can’t, 1792 Ridgemont Reserve is an acceptable substitute.

1792 Ridgemont Reserve Bourbon
46.85% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $25 - $30
Acquired: (750ml bottle) K&L Wines and Spirits, Redwood City, CA $25
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Ardbeg Uigeadail

So… for awhile everyone I talked to seemed to love the unpronounceable NAS Ardbeg which launched back before both NAS and unpronounceable names were common in the industry. When I began discovering malts, Uigeadail was often spoken of in the same hushed tones as the original Supernova (which is coming back, by the way). I have a confession to make. As much as I love the peaty power of Ardbeg, and as much as I respect its parent company, LVMH, Uigeadail and I have never seen eye-to-eye. After three or four negative notes from tasting events in my book (none of them long enough for a blog post), I decided to jump on a sale at K&L and get a full bottle. Surely if everyone else loves this stuff, I should be able to figure out what’s so good about it. My bottle has a batch code of L13 245 15:18 6ML – so it was bottled on day 245 of 2013, or September 2nd.

Uigeadail (pronounced, believe it or not, “Oo-geh-doll”) is named after the loch from which Ardbeg sources its water. The whisky is a vatting of standard Ardbeg from ex-bourbon casks (supposedly the 10-year) with some quantity of sherry-aged Ardbeg. The result is bottled at cask strength. Originally, Uigeadail was conceived of to find a home for some old (1970s) sherry casks of Ardbeg left in the warehouse when new owners LVMH rehabbed the distillery after purchasing it from Hiram Walker. By vatting the long-in-the-tooth sherry casks (which would have lost a lot of peat character and become somewhat overly woody) with bright, smoky 10 year-old Ardbeg from bourbon casks, the whisky would become a peaty powerhouse with lots of resiny, old-oak goodness. It worked, and Uigeadail was a big success. Until recently, when they must have run out of vintage sherried Ardbeg and switched to much younger sherry-aged whisky, probably put down after the distillery reopened in 1998, or as late as 2003 when Uigeadail was first released. Internet gossip maintains that the whisky has decreased markedly in quality since those first editions. (Thanks for the info, Jordan!) It should be noted that the price has also decreased.

Nose: Ardbeg woodsmoke with a smattering of sherry influence: raisin, fig, etc. The effect, while wholly integrated, is two-dimensional. There is little to the peat character besides woodsmoke, and little to the sherry character beyond raisin. Deep as I dig (and get a snoot-full of alcohol fumes for my trouble), I can’t find anything else.

Palate: Mildly creamy body, and an expected amount of tongue-burn. A slight citrus note, but not as obvious as Corryvreckan.

Finish: Long. Sherry-tinged woodsmoke, fading without bitterness.

With Water: A few drops of water highlight some of the citrus notes in the nose, and somewhat tame the tongue burn. The water also adds a welcome orange-peel character to the finish. Diluting down to 46% yields an easily drinkable dram with some sweet citrus, but very tame peat. I suggest experimenting with water to find the right sweet spot for your tastes.

Overall: Alas, I’m not a fan. Despite several tastings from my bottle over several weeks (and a few over the last couple of years), I do not see anything redeeming about this malt. For my tastes, Ardbeg 10 delivers all the peaty complexity you could want for less money. For more money, Corryvreckan is better in every way and is very much worth the extra price. That’s not something I say every day.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

East of Lagavulin and Laphroaig on the southern coast of Islay, Ardbeg is known for being among the most heavily-peated single malts made. Their Uigeadail and Supernova (>100 ppm) bottlings push the envelope on palatable levels of peat (measured in Phenol parts-per-million, or ppm). Ardbeg’s water travels a long journey, first from Loch Uigeadail, which is the highest loch (~250m) in the quartzite hills of Islay. The water flows over hard quartzite, via the Ardilistry River, into the man-made Loch Iarnan. Finally, the soft water flows over heavy peat bogs to the distillery via the Ardbeg Burn. Like most [all?] of the other Islay distilleries, its malted barley comes, by specification, from the maltings at Port Ellen. Ardbeg used to have its own kiln-fired maltings, which were unusual due to a lack of a fan in the roof. This caused a heavy, tar-like influence of the peat smoke, which added to the inherent peat character in the Islay water. The maltings was closed in 1977, so Ardbegs casked before the late 1970s should still exhibit that old characteristic tar and smoke.

Ardbeg Uigeadail
54.2% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $55 - $65
Acquired: (750ml bottle) K&L Wine and Spirits $50
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Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye (13 year)

First, I should start by apologizing. This blog post is entirely self-serving. It allows me to get a weekly post done even though I know few of you will ever have an opportunity to buy (or even try) any Van Winkle product due to its extreme scarcity and insane cult following. It also, coincidentally, allows me to brag that I secured myself a bottle. So take that! And… I’m sorry.

Oh, Pappy. What’s there to say about Pappy and company that hasn’t already been said a thousand times? The cult favorite of the American whiskey scene that got so popular that it’s now popular to NOT like it. Seriously, I now frequently hear people dismissing Pappy bourbon to show that they’re past the hype. They’ve risen above it.

Well, I may have given up trying to track it down when it comes out twice a year, but that doesn’t stop me from appreciating how damn good this stuff is. The rye (there’s only one bottling, at 13 years of age) is apparently a Kentucky straight rye composed of a 50/50 combination of Medley rye from the long-closed Owensboro distillery, and Cream of Kentucky rye whiskey from the Old Bernheim distillery in Louisville which closed in 1988. This vatting has been kept in stainless steel tanks since reaching 13 years (or possibly 18-19 years), to keep it from aging further and taking on more oak. Each biannual release is drawn from these dwindling reserves, which means when it’s gone — it’s really gone. As with the Van Winkle bourbons, Buffalo Trace is currently aging stocks of rye to replace Family Reserve 13, but it may be awhile. Note that the Medley distillery is slated for renovation and reopening, so we may see Medley rye once again. Bernheim and its brands are owned by Heaven Hill and the old distillery remains silent.

I have never seen the Van Winkle rye on shelves in California, so I had to get an East Coast friend to track a bottle down for me last year. It’s marked as number B0604. I hoard its contents like liquid diamonds.

Nose: Concentrated wood extract, fresh orange peel soaked in orange and cherry bitters. Ancient cracking shellac on cherrywood furniture. Any minty character or fresh spices contributed by the rye have been long dissolved by communication with white oak, but they are replaced by deep, complex wood extractives. Orange oil, spice cake, and something unnameable that makes you roll your eyes back in ecstasy. Honestly, if I could bottle and wear this scent, I would be happy to spend the rest of my days smelling like Van Winkle rye.

Palate: Orange oil again, with dark brown sugar and a drying astringency similar to old red wine. Maple sugar candies, melted vanilla bean ice cream, and worn leather. The tongue burn is muted, considering its proof, inviting one to savor a mouthful for minutes at a time.

Finish: Medium-long. A hint of Douglas fir, and a continuance of the orange/cherry/maple flavors from the nose. No bitterness, but a lingering tannin causes the mouth to dry and pucker as the last sweetness fades.

Overall: To me, this tastes like the Van Winkle bourbon, but with the heavier (and sweeter) syrupy notes replaced with orange peel, cherry bitters, and a more apparent conversation with oak. Thankfully, whether at 13 or 18 years of aging, it stops short of being over-oaked. It is said that this particular rye has been resting, unchanging, in stainless steel tanks for decades in order to prevent it from aging further while limited amounts were siphoned off for yearly bottling. This is indeed at its apex of age, and it will be a sad day when those tanks run dry and the last bottle of Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye sees the light of its final day.

I’m rating this a sadistic “Must Have” because if you ever see a bottle at retail ($70), don’t hesitate. Buy it. Even if you don’t like rye, you can always re-sell it at auction for a lot more. Still, I wouldn’t pay $400 at auction for it. I wouldn’t pay $400 for any bottle of whisky, even the best damn rye on the planet.

Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye (13 year)
47.8% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $70 retail, $400+ at auction
Acquired: (750ml bottle) - Thanks Mike!
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Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey

I’m all for independents in the whisky industry. I think the fresh perspectives and propensity towards innovation are healthy for the whole sector. I may have even teared up a little when I heard that independent Irish distilling company Cooley had sold out with all of its brands to liquor giant Beam Inc. (which later was acquired by the even-more-giant Suntory to form Beam-Suntory). Jack Teeling, son of Cooley founder John Teeling, has struck out on his own and formed the Teeling Whisky Company, with an eye towards replicating his father’s success. The company will build the first new whiskey distillery in Dublin, Ireland in 125 years. It is slated to open in 2015.

Until then the company is selling sourced and finished whiskies such as this one, a rum-finished Irish whiskey of unknown origin. It is a blend, with 35% malt and 65% grain aged somewhere between 4 and 7 years. The vatted blend is then finished for 4 to 6 months in Flor de Caña rum casks, an unusual touch. The whole is not chill-filtered and is packaged in a very attractive bottle at 46% ABV for under $40. The bottle I bought was filled in January 2014.

Nose: Rum for sure. Raw cane juice and golden rum dominate the aroma. Underneath, there is a very, very light Irish whiskey – passive and apologetic in nature. One could even be forgiven for guessing this was gold rum in a blind tasting.

Palate: Now the grain steps forward. Hay and oatmeal, lightly sweet. The burn is a bit intense for this low ABV. After, some coconut and vanilla emerge, and the cane juice reasserts itself.

Finish: Medium long. Caramel hard candies. Vanilla bean, and rum cake. Not bitter.

With Water: A few drops of water reveal something lightly floral. The tongue burn on the palate is lessened, and the body is a bit thicker. A few drops of water aren’t a bad idea with this one.

Overall: Huh. The nose is a disappointing takeover of rum, leaving little trace of whiskey. The palate is more in line with what I expected, but the lightness in flavor leads me to believe that the malt component of the blend is small, and the rum is meant to understudy in the role of flavor. The overall effect is of one of those flavored whiskeys hitting the market, where the transparent marketing leads us to believe that taking sub-par whiskey and flavoring it with something sugary is an acceptable business practice. This is a few steps above that, but I would have much preferred something with real Irish character. Here’s hoping that the Teeling Whiskey Company can stay afloat until it begins distilling something it can be proud of.

Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey
46% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $37 - $40
Acquired: (750ml bottle) K&L Wines and Spirits, Redwood City, CA, $37
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Willett Family Reserve Estate Bottled Rye (2 year)

Kentucky Bourbon Distillers is a big name behind the scenes in the recent renaissance of American bourbon and rye. KBD, once the Willett Distillery Company, hasn’t actually distilled anything since the 1980s. Until now, that is. KBD bottles several brands using whiskey distilled at (probably) Heaven Hill Distillery and LDI including Noah’s Mill, Rowan’s Creek, Old Bardstown, Johnny Drum, and their premium and single-barrel label, Willett. Now after more than 30 years of bottling other peoples’ juice, Willett under the ownership of the Kulsveen family has bottled the first whiskey – a 2 year-old cask-strength rye – distilled at its refurbished distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky.

This particular rye underwent its first distillation on a column still and a second distillation on a copper pot still, from a combination of two mashbills (74% rye, 11% corn, 15% malted barley and 51% rye, 35% corn, 15% malted barley, with more of the first mashbill used). The distillate went into American white oak charred barrels for two years at the Willett property, and was bottled without chill-filtration.

Did I mention this is 2 years old? In this era of mediocre NAS bottles championed by the cause of the “age doesn’t matter” marketers, it’s refreshing to see a young whiskey advertised with its stated age and despite its youth. If more people taste young whiskey this good, then more people will be willing to accept young whisky on the shelf. Then, we can finally stop pretending that NAS is the solution to marketing ‘young’ whiskey. Less deception in bottle labeling makes me a happy customer. I say don’t pretend that age doesn’t matter by removing the age statement on the bottle, but instead show people that even minimum-aged spirits can be phenomenal when carefully crafted. Nothing will kill the Older is Better myth faster than amazing rye with a big, bold “2 years” on the label. Good on ‘ya, Willett.

Now, I have a particular fondness for young rye that actually tastes like rye. I want big eucalyptus, wintergreen, or pine, and I want spicy ‘sharp’ notes of cinnamon, cardamom, and anise. Occasionally, some caraway (think rye bread) is nice too. Let’s see how Willett’s new rye shapes up…

Nose: Pine! Showers of sappy pine needles. The nose tickle is prominent, but not excessive. Deeper in, I can get a full, round sweetness, a smattering of star anise and cardamom, and a palpable sense that this is carefully made, genuine rye whiskey.

Palate: Thin body. At full cask strength, the burn is (as expected) eye-watering. Then, there are waves of minty wintergreen Tic-Tacs, sweet cereal grains, and malted milk balls (minus the chocolate).

Finish: Medium-long. A baseline of caramel malt syrup underlies more pine and wintergreen. As the sweetness fades, a little caraway and the remnants of anise linger, with a slight astringent tannin. No bitterness to speak of.

With Water: A much-needed splash of water reveals a dusty spice-bin, redolent with clove and nutmeg. On the palate, the burn is much reduced – a relief – and one is able to focus on the sweet grains and sharp spices of true rye whiskey. The finish is also somewhat spicier – with powdered cinnamon finally making an appearance.

Overall: A case-study in rye whiskey. Rye is (in my opinion) best serviced by brief aging (two year is perfect) and at cask strength. This is the holy convergence of eclectic, robust, sippable whiskey and perfection for period cocktail mixing. When you use a “real” rye whiskey like this, the rye elements shine through the cocktail, marrying perfectly with bitters, and the high proof gives the drink body and substance. This type of rye makes for a snappy, poignant cocktail instead of a muddy sweet one. I’m very happy that Willett is finally able to distill their own juice, and doubly happy that the juice is SO GOOD.

Willett Family Reserve Estate Bottled Rye (2 year)
54.7% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $44
Acquired: (bottle) K&L Wines and Spirits, Redwood City, CA, $44
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