Kilchoman 100% Islay 3rd Edition

Kilchoman, as a distillery project, has continuously focused on what ‘craft’ really means in the production of whisky. With careful attention to every step of the process and every ingredient in the mix, Kilchoman manages to produce exceptionally high-quality malt at a very young age. It very well may be that attention to detail that permits them to sell (and sell out of) 5 year-old malt for $90 a bottle. For the third time, Kilchoman has released a bottling of whisky made 100% from barley grown, malted, distilled, and bottled on the distillery property. That’s huge! Talk about “farm to table” – this is “farm to bottle”, and it really shines.

Bottled at a hefty 50% ABV (100 proof), the 3rd edition consists of a vatting of four and five year-old malts from ex-bourbon barrels.

Nose: Elegantly smoky, elements of brushfire and straight wood smoke. A hint of roasting meats, but otherwise very clean, lean and smoke-centric. There’s also a stark minerality, like the smell of sparkling mineral water.

Palate: Soft. Even at 100 proof, the tongue burn is only moderate. Delicate strands of oatmeal, sea brine, and fresh, ripe barley. The grain (normally a bad word) element is pure and is only the second time I’ve ever thought of barley in terms of terroir (the other was Bruichladdich Bere Barley).

Finish: Long. A surprisingly sweet wave of barley. Still exceedingly clean and lithe. Finishes with vanilla-tinged woodsmoke, and no bitterness.

With Water: A splash of water gives the nose more sweetness, which pairs well with the woodsmoke. The palate is a little washed out, but the finish is unchanged. I think I prefer this with the water.

Overall: While this lacks some of the depth and roundness of the Machir Bay, the strength of Kilchoman is the pure expression of smoke and barley, without many distractions. The nose is pure wood smoke, and the palate laser-focused barley. Only on the finish does the malt get a little playful and introduce sweetness and vanilla. A study in purity, but not complex enough to warrant heavy contemplation.

For $85, this is a “Recommended”, but with reservations. Kilchoman is still not quite “there” for me yet, at least not $85 “there”. However, the terroir of the grain that comes through here is something truly special, and arguably justifies the price.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

Kilchoman is the first new distillery on Islay in 124 years. Construction finished in 2005 and the distillery began producing spirit for an Islay-craving world. Unfortunately as is the case with any Scotch distillery, that whisky won’t be able to compete with its peers until it has aged sufficiently. In order to stay in business, Kilchoman began producing very young “preview” bottlings to attract interest, showcase distillery potential, and raise funds. The first, in 2009, was aged 3 years and 3 months. Producing only 100,000 liters annually, the small distillery is attempting to stick to its “craft” roots – growing barley on its own farm (the upcoming “100% Islay” release will contain whisky made exclusively from this barley), using its own floor maltings, and eschewing chill-filtration and the addition of coloring agents. Kilchoman promises to be one of the best craft single malt Scotches when it reaches a competitive age.

Kilchoman 100% Islay 3rd Edition
50% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $85 - $90
Acquired: (Sample) Courtesy of ImpEx Beverages. Thanks, Katia!
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Lost Spirits Umami

For background on this distillery, see this post about my visit.

Lost Spirits, the brainchild of “mad chemist” Bryan Davis, is churning out some new releases after the tragic planned demolition of his eccentric wooden still. Thanks to the kindness of Bryan and Joanne, I was able to sample one of the new efforts: Umami.

Umami is the Japanese term for the ‘fifth’ flavor detectable by human taste receptors (the others being sweet, salty, sour, and bitter). It specifically refers to a class of chemicals known as glutamates, which includes the semi-infamous food additive monosodium glutamate or MSG. These compounds which are prevalent in foods such as soy sauce, tomatoes, seaweed, aged cheeses, and fish, are often described as ‘savory’ or ‘meaty’.

Lost Spirits’ Umami is one of several projects that has resulted from Bryan experimenting with the use of Pacific Ocean water in fermentation. He says (and I don’t even pretend to understand the biochemical interactions at play here) that “…salt changes cell wall structures in yeast, changes the life cycle, changes the budding. Also changes all boiling points, completely alters the entire process.” I can just picture Bryan rubbing his hands together and yelling “It’s Alive!” If you’re curious about salt’s effects on distillation, here’s a good explanation, and also a good read on Umami.

Despite the use of Pacific Ocean seawater in early trials, the actual retail production of Umami uses a sea-salt-and-water brine, not actual (read: teeming with unpredictable life) seawater. Umami is distilled from a mash of domestic malted barley, which Bryan smoked in his homemade smoker with Canadian peat, and fermented with the aforementioned brine. The distillate is then aged in refill French Oak casks that Bryan seasoned with sherry (something he’s done before with previous releases) for “under 4 years” (legalese for he’s not telling how long), and bottled at 59% ABV without coloration or chill filtration.

Note that this malt whisky is a small-batch combination of distillate from both Lost Spirits’ ill-fated wooden pot still, and their new tiny copper pot still.

Nose: Maybe it’s the octopus on the label, but my senses are screaming ‘ocean’ – particularly brine and a dense, meaty seaweed. This isn’t just crispy nori, this is dripping, seawater-soaked seaweed with little pods hanging off of it. While the primary sensation is of tidepools and the feeling of ocean water in your sinuses, there are other layers – a figgy, raspberry jam element, salted caramel, smoked roe, and a core of white miso. This isn’t named Umami for nothing.

Palate: After a delayed (and intense) tongue burn, the peat really shines through. Driftwood bonfires and clambakes, with a lot of hay and bracken.

Finish: Long. Really long. Some of the sweet notes from the nose return here, along with jalapeno jelly, nutmeg, smoked salt, and a mouth-drying dose of oak tannin. There is, mercifully, no bitterness to speak of. Fades (after a good long while) with dusty dry spices and a touch of creosote.

With Water: A generous dose of water reveals much more peat smoke in the aroma, but seems to smash together all of the ‘layers’ into a bit of a muddle. It makes the tongue burn far easier to handle, though, and brings out a little more caramel sweetness, and maybe some taffy. I suggest giving this a good deep contemplation with your nose before proofing it down.

Overall: This certainly has the hallmarks of Bryan Davis’s work – funky and offbeat, its flavor pairings are just as unlikely (and just as successful) as salt with caramel and bacon with maple syrup. There’s also a bit more refinement here – a step back and an attention to detail that makes Umami, while still challenging, not nearly as wild-eyed and eccentric as previous releases.

You might wonder about the ‘Recommended’ score, below. Lost Spirits is not widely-distributed, so I can’t really call it a “Must Try” – but if you’ve become bored with single-cask peated scotch and want to experience something truly new and different in whisky, this (or any Lost Spirits malt whisky) is a ‘Must Try’ for you. Also, a craft cask-strength whisky with this much depth for $60 is a steal.

I would be remiss if I didn’t emphasize that all of Lost Spirits’ whiskies (and this one is no exception) are very challenging, and not for the unadventurous drinker. If you aren’t fully familiar with cask-strength peated whiskies (such as Laphroaig or Ardbeg), you should really start there before taking these on. Even then, you may need to spend several sessions figuring out all of the craziness within.

Lost Spirits Umami
59% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $55 - $60
Acquired: (sample bottle) Thanks Bryan and Joanne!
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Glenmorangie Companta

Glenmorangie keeps cranking out the special editions. This one I bought as a special treat for myself, since I rarely spend $99 on a single bottle. Companta has the distinction of being the first whisky I’ve tried to successfully marry single-malt scotch with red wine casks. Every previous attempt I’ve tasted, including Glenmorangie’s own Artein, have been abject astringent failures for me.

Companta is a convoluted vatting of standard 9 year-old ex-bourbon Glenmorangie that is finished for 5 years in red Grand Cru Burgundy wine casks from Clos de Tart (from Pinot Noir grapes), with a similar 10 year-old Glenmorangie finished for 8 years in “a lusciously sweet fortified wine from Cotes du Rhone” called Rasteau, made from Grenache grapes. The vatting contains 60% of the first, and 40% of the second. Now that’s a whisky spec I can get behind!

The resulting marriage is bottled at 46% ABV without chill-filtration, just like I like it.

Nose: First a waft of dense red grape juice and a raisin-y syrup note that is very similar to sherried Glenmorangie. From there, it diverges quickly into nutty nougat, milk chocolate, fresh (really fresh!) juicy red grapes. Well-layered, and of impeccable quality.

Palate: Thin to medium bodied. Tart red wine, dark chocolate-covered cherries, roasted mixed nuts. The tart notes are in no way astringent or tannic. The impression, overall, is of bright, fresh, red grapes, nuts, and chocolate. Delicious, especially as a dessert.

Finish: Medium-long. Echoes of the original aromas, nuts, chocolate, fruit, and some taffy. As it fades, the chocolate note becomes more like bittersweet chocolate or cocoa nib.

With Water: At 46%, it certainly doesn’t need intervention with water. A few drops do a little to heighten the fresh fruit, but at the expense of the chocolate. Mildly sweeter – caramel – on the palate, but with a bit more tongue burn. Really, I’d skip the water, it doesn’t need it.

Overall: A truly impressive dram. Glenmorangie malt has always been a canvas for barrel-induced flavor, but I haven’t always totally appreciated the paint. In this case, Glenmorangie’s Dr. Bill Lumsden pulls off two feats in one: an eminently enjoyable, rich, desserty, chocolatey confection, AND the first single-malt I’ve ever enjoyed that contains liquid aged in any kind of unfortified red wine cask. The red wine here, rather than being its typical astringent, seedy, grappa-like self, is decadent and blends flawlessly with the nutty and chocolatey notes. Instead of sour wine plus whisky, this is an integrated whole – fresh grapes dipped in dark chocolate-hazelnut fondue. Yum.
Is it worth $100? It was for me, but as a splurge. If you love sherried malt, wine-finished malt, or Glenmorangie in general and have $100 to spend on whisky, this will not disappoint. If you were on the fence, grab a bottle before it’s gone.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

Glenmorangie has been an innovator in the industry for years, pioneering cask expressions and experimental bottlings of their exceptional Highland whisky. Often cited as the biggest-selling whisky in Scotland, Glenmorangie is also attracting a lot of international attention, winning awards left and right. Among their cask-aged expressions are the Nectar D’Or (matured in French Sauternes casks after 10 years minimum in bourbon barrels), Quinta Ruban (matured in port barrels), Lasanta (matured in oloroso sherry casks), and more. Glenmorangie sources its oak casks in the Ozark mountains and loans them for four years to the Jack Daniels distillery before using them for Scotch. Glenmorangie’s water flows from the Tarlogie Springs in the hills above the distillery, over sandstone (yielding hard water) and picks up flavor components from the clover and heather in the hills before entering the distillery, where 24 very long-necked stills called the “giraffes” make Glenmorangie’s classic Highland malt. Glenmorangie, like Ardbeg, is owned by luxury giant LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy).

Glenmorangie Companta
46% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $99
Acquired: (bottle) purchased from K&L Wine Merchants, Redwood City, CA, $99
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Whiskies of the World Expo – San Jose – 2014 Wrap-up

This week I had the pleasure of attending my first Whiskies of the World expo, at the auxiliary location in downtown San Jose (at the new San Pedro Square Market). This was my first Whiskies of the World event, and my second-ever whisky show. The ticket was $65, and I paid extra to attend a seminar given by David Perkins of High West Distillers. This was the auxiliary (read: overflow) event for the main San Francisco Whiskies of the World, which is both larger and more expensive. However, this one was a 20-minute VTA ride from my house, so… sold.

I consider the night to be a success. Registration was smooth, and there were no delays or embarrassing omissions on the part of the show staff. My seminar ended just before the main tasting even (8 to 10 pm, the second session), so I didn’t lose any tasting time by attending the seminar. David Perkins was funny and informative, although he’s a little scattered and talks fast enough that he skims over details or forgets to explain some things. He did a quick chocolate-and-whisky pairing that was awesome, I got to try a sample of heads and tails from the stills at High West – very cool! Also – squee! – David Perkins said he’s seen my blog. *gush*

The show was attended by some standard names – Diageo, Laphroaig, Glenmorangie, Ardbeg, Marker’s Mark, Jim Beam, Aberlour, etc. There were also some big names in craft – High West, Corsair, a few independents – Gordon and MacPhail, small craft producers, and smaller single-malt scotches like Benromach, Ardmore, Longmorn, and Scapa. There were also a few bottom-shelf blends and some flavored whiskies that I strenuously avoided.

The tasting glass was a miniature snifter. I would have far preferred a copita or Glencairn, but it sufficed. The food was quite excellent – a really nice array of finger-foods carefully chosen to not conflict with whisky. Chicken sausages, goat cheese tartlets, salmon nigiri sushi, hand-tossed cheese pizzas, veggie spring rolls, etc. They did not provide a bag to carry loot, unfortunately, but there was ample bottled water to stave off dehydration and rinse out the glass between pours.

Only one table ran out of whisky to pour (at least that I noticed): Isle of Arran had only the 10 year left at the end of the night. Here are some highlights from my barely-intelligible audio notes from the show, stream-of-consciousness style. Read them at your own risk.

Corsair Quinoa Whisky was interesting – herbal and nutty and distinctly different. Nothing else tastes quite like quinoa whisky, for better or for worse. Corsair Triple Smoke was a little like the California peat that Lost Spirits uses, even though Corsair sources its peated malt from Scotland. Low Gap 2 year-old is nice, fruity, fresh, and not overly young-tasting. Aberlour abunadh batch 46 – Spicy, caramel, less fruity than previous batches, not as much red fruit. Sweet. Strong butterscotch – almost cloying. Distinctly less red fruits than previous batches. A little more like oxidized/marsala wine. I wouldn’t buy it over previous batches. Brenne French malt whisky – really interesting, aged in wet cognac casks. Intense grape quality. Light body, but really nice fruit – distinct grape. Gordon and MacPhail Mortlach 15 year was Awesome, and my favorite pour of the night – Mortlach has great sherried malt. I need to find more! Benromach Organic – 9 year – straightforward virgin oak – cinnamon, vanilla, – nice but light. High West BouRye – nice blend, right balance of sweetness/spice without overwhelming rye character. I really need to get some High West reviews on this site. A new blended Irish whisky called “2 Gingers” didn’t have much nose. They were showing it mixed in cocktails, which says something. Some hay on the nose, some vanilla. Very “smooth” I suppose, easy to drink. I wouldn’t buy a bottle to sip, but might be worth it for mixing. Laphroaig 18 year – Not a big nose. Nice undercurrent of fresh hay and fresh baked bread. Muted on the palate. Some sweetness on the finish. I wouldn’t compare it to other 18 year old malts – tastes more like a 14 y/o. Basil Hayden Bourbon – Thin, light, no bourbon body whatsoever. I can’t think of a reason to drink it… maybe for mixing. Maybe. Jim Bean 12 year signature craft – surprisingly good for $33, Good fruit on the nose, nice follow-through. Knob Creek Single Barrel – good, quintessential Knob Creek, lots of cherry. Knob Creek Rye – Good, eucalyptus note that you don’t usually get from mainstream rye. Glenmorangie 18 – Lots of nice – fresh – banana, freshly peeled. Good, standard ex-bourbon. Nice and complete. Some tropical fruit – kiwi, coconut flesh. Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition – Really nice, PX sherry compliments the Lagavulin peat well. Dalwhinnie 15 – surprisingly nice, lots of citrus, lemon peel. Better than last time I tried it. Worth another look. Dalwhinnie Distiller’s Edition – Sherry totally overwhelmed it. I wouldn’t buy it.

Phew! That’s it for this year. Look for an upcoming blog post on whether you should consider going to a whisky show, yourself. Cheers!

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Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon

I keep getting recommendations for Four Roses bourbon. After now trying the Yellow Label, Small Batch, and now Single Barrel, I can see what the fuss is about. Four Roses excels not at making “the best” bourbon, but at making an affordable range of solid, consistent (actually consistent), and widely-available bourbon. This is the kind of bourbon that you can settle down with, start a life, and stop window shopping for the next big bourbon craze. If you really only have room in your cabinet for one sipping bourbon, you couldn’t go far wrong with something from Four Roses.

I have yet to try either of the Limited Edition bourbons, largely because they’re among the priciest of the current flock of premium American whiskies, and I can’t bring myself to plonk down $80 to $100 for untasted bourbon… even if I could find a bottle on a shelf somewhere before it sells out. I do keep hearing that it’s excellent, however.

The Single Barrel Bourbon from Four Roses is Kentucky Straight Bourbon, and an OBSV recipe, which means 60% corn, 35% rye, and 5% malted barley. This is their “high rye” recipe. The ‘V’ letter indicates one of their five strains of yeast, which is responsible for a lot of the fruity notes. Four Roses is amazingly upfront about the content of their whisky, and I heartily encourage you to explore their website. The Single Barrel is bottled at an impressive 50% ABV – not quite cask strength, but still able to cause a whopping sizzle on the taste buds. There is no age statement, but the 2004 press release announced that it was “at least” 7 years old.

Also – this is adorable – the 50ml glass miniature that I’m tasting has its own tiny little cork. Aww!

Nose: Hot! High rye spices, crushed mint (oh wow I want a julep right now), wood char (which I can’t usually smell), black pepper. There’s a LOT going on in this nose, but the high ABV makes it a challenge to contemplate.

Palate: Light brown sugar. Already I can taste barrel tannin, slightly acerbic. Hot on the tongue, but carries waves of cinnamon red hots, brown sugar cookies, freshly-grated ginger, and white pepper.

Finish: Long. A reprise of the spices from the aroma, along with some cherry lozenge. Fades on the cherry note.

With Water: Water, if possible, makes the nose more spicy, with nuances of nutmeg and allspice. Finishes slightly sweeter. Water definitely helps with the intense burn.

Overall: A big bourbon with a lot to offer. High rye mashbill, and the resulting “spice cabinet” really permeates the experience. If you like baking spices in your whisky, you will LOVE this. Definitely try it with a slug of water, if only to get it down around 46%.

Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon
50% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $40 - $46
Acquired: 50ml glass miniature sample bottle
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Glenmorangie Lasanta (12 year)

Somehow I keep bypassing Glenmorangie products… perhaps because there are so damn many. The Lasanta, at 12 years of age, is in the same “Extra Matured” Series as Quinta Ruban and Nectar d’Or. This one, after the same initial 10 years in ex-bourbon, spent 2 years in Oloroso sherry casks. This makes it “sherry finished”, as opposed to “sherry matured”, which means it isn’t really apt to compare it to Macallan or GlenDronach or other whiskies aged fully (or predominantly) in ex-sherry. Of course, the whole idea of the “Extra Matured” Series is to showcase Glenmorangie whisky as a canvas for other flavors, and Lasanta delivers. It also helps that Glenmorangie products have remained (almost) immune to the run-up in whisky prices endemic through the industry. The fact that you can still get 12 year-old sherry-finished Glenmorangie for under $45 is both remarkable, AND a reason to buy it… especially if your favorite sherried Speysider has priced itself out of your reach.

Lasanta is bottled at 46% ABV and is not chill-filtered.

Nose: Evident sherry – dried fruits and dusty caramel. As this is finished in sherry, not matured in it, the effect is milder and the fruit less robust than Macallan or GlenDronach.

Palate: Alternating sweet and tart fruit. Good integration between fruit jam and the layers of caramel, and soft cereals. Good amount of flavor for a $45 single malt.

Finish: Medium-long. A little on the hot side, but with some nice concentrated dried mixed fruit. Ends slightly bitter, with a touch of nuttiness.

With Water: Reveals a burst of raspberry coulis, but the alcohol vapor gets a little hot. Slightly sweeter – brown sugar – on the palate, and more fruit on the finish. Definitely give some water a shot.

Overall: This is a respectable sherry-tinged malt that is very definitely worth $45 of your money. It’s regularly available, consistent in quality, and can be absentmindedly enjoyed, or analyzed in turn. For a desert island, I prefer its pricier sibling, the Nectar d’Or, but the two are in no way similar – you could easily find room on your shelf for both.

Note: I’ve marked this as ‘Must Try’ because it’s a quintessential part of any whisky lover’s journey, as is Quinta Ruban. It may not find a permanent spot on your shelf (especially if you’ve ‘graduated’ to pricier malts), but it’s a case study in the effects of sherry finishing and the adaptability of Glenmorangie’s malt.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

Glenmorangie has been an innovator in the industry for years, pioneering cask expressions and experimental bottlings of their exceptional Highland whisky. Often cited as the biggest-selling whisky in Scotland, Glenmorangie is also attracting a lot of international attention, winning awards left and right. Among their cask-aged expressions are the Nectar D’Or (matured in French Sauternes casks after 10 years minimum in bourbon barrels), Quinta Ruban (matured in port barrels), Lasanta (matured in oloroso sherry casks), and more. Glenmorangie sources its oak casks in the Ozark mountains and loans them for four years to the Jack Daniels distillery before using them for Scotch. Glenmorangie’s water flows from the Tarlogie Springs in the hills above the distillery, over sandstone (yielding hard water) and picks up flavor components from the clover and heather in the hills before entering the distillery, where 24 very long-necked stills called the “giraffes” make Glenmorangie’s classic Highland malt. Glenmorangie, like Ardbeg, is owned by luxury giant LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy).

Glenmorangie Lasanta (12 year)
46% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $43 - $48
Acquired: Sample from... uhh, I don't remember. Somebody's bottle. Oops!
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Pricing Me Out Of the Market

David Driscoll (yeah, yeah, I get about 90% of my inspiration for these articles from things he discusses on his blog, so sue me) posted recently about the global drop in the quality (and value) of single-malt scotch that has occurred over the last few years (and is still occurring). His case-in-point, Lagavulin 16 which used to be a “better deal” than young Kilchoman, but is now inferior, thus making the pricey Kilchoman a lot more reasonable.

He also notes “I’d rather pay a little more for better quality, wouldn’t you?” which ordinarily I’d agree with. A large percentage of the opinions I post here on this blog are related to the value of whisky – finding better quality for a reasonable price. I’d far rather pay $45 for Great King Street: Artist’s Blend than anything comparable (and cheaper) from any of the major scotch blenders. On the other hand, I’d rather pay for Lagavulin 16 than the slightly better (and far rarer and more expensive) Lagavulin 12. My sweet spot for whisky falls between $40 and $75. If a malt is good and falls in that price range, I’m sold and willing to recommend it. If it falls in the $80 to $100 range, it better be excellent for me to recommend it, and I probably won’t buy it frequently. If it’s above $100 and isn’t the most sensational liquid to pass my lips, ever, then I’m not on board. That just happens to be where my budget and sensibilities lie on the spectrum. In contrast, there are plenty of people who would consider $40 for scotch a ludicrous waste of money, and plenty of other people who wouldn’t dream of wasting their hard-earned trust fund money on anything under $150. (I kid.)

The problem comes when the whisky market shifts upwards until my “sweet spot” covers relatively few choices. If Lagavulin 16 isn’t worth my money anymore due to a drop in quality (and, truly, who wants to spend more money on an incrementally worse product?) and concurrent increase in price, then I (apparently) have to turn to single-cask Kilchoman for $110. I love David D., I do, but I simply can’t swing that. I’m sure the stuff is excellent (as all Kilchoman that I’ve tried has been), but it can’t be $110 excellent, at least not for my wallet.

So where does that leave you and me, assuming you’re on board with me thus far? We have a few choices:

1. Other Booze. David has been pushing the alternative spirits lately – Mezcal and Tequila, Rum and Rhum Agricole, Cognac, Armagnac, and Calvados, among others. I’ve found a few gems but ultimately find myself either vaguely disappointed with the products I’ve tried, or wishing for the specific flavor profile of single-malt scotch. Perhaps it’s the curse of being a “scotch man”, but I find it a lot harder to find a bottle of those spirits that meets all my criteria for cabinet regular. Still, replacing scotch with a more cost-effective alternative spirit one or two nights a week is one way to reduce one’s dependency on foreign scotch. *cough* You know what I mean.

2. Find the remaining gems. I still have a few winners in my cabinet that both continue to satisfy and continue to be light on my wallet. Unfortunately, digging these out of the market is a lot of work; work that is continually undone as stocks dry up, formulations change, and prices creep ever upwards. Bank Note Blended Scotch is high on my list. Speyburn 10 is light, refreshing, and awesomely cheap, Redbreast 12 is still $45, Glenmorangie’s regular line-up still satisfies, and… er, well, that’s it for the moment.

3. Bourbon. As long as you aren’t chasing Pappy, BTAC, and are staying away from unproven craft distillates, there’s still plenty of value to be found in the American whiskey sector. For example, WL Weller 12 and Rittenhouse Rye 100 Proof when you can find them. Alas, the cat has long escaped the bag on this one, and demand is quickly outpacing supply.

4. Be Creative. Have a bottle of some overpriced pap that turned out to be watery and listless or simply not as good as last time? Try your hand at home blending! You might be surprised at how you can perk up a glass of disappointing slop with a few splashes of something else. You may even learn something! This works especially well with mediocre blends – up the malt quotient with something sherried, peated, or cask-strength and you might end up with a winner.

5. Cocktails. I’ve been playing around with cocktails lately, even though I’m not much of a bar-goer. I’ve mostly been trying to discover recipes that aren’t too sweet (I despise a sugary cocktail) and showcase the flavors of wood-aged spirits. While I haven’t found a “go-to” drink yet, I have managed to turn some $20 bottles of bourbon into Old Fashioneds, Manhattans, and Behind the Timeses (wow, pluralizing cocktail names is harder than I expected… Sexes on the Beach? What?) that I wouldn’t be ashamed to serve to friends.

6. Bunker. As much as I hate that word (and the smug attitude that usually goes with it), there’s a time-honored tradition among whisky aficionados of buying more bottles than you need when you discover a gem. This isn’t great advice now, however, as it would be like buying at the top of the stock market, but it does still apply to the remaining gems. Bank Note might be the first spirit that I purchase by the case, because the quality/value ratio of that blend can’t possibly last much longer.

7. …? Give me your ideas in the comments, below, because I’m out of steam.

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Lot 40 Canadian Rye Whisky 2012 Release

I wish I could say that after tasting through all that blended Canadian whisky, that I personally discovered this gem. That would be dishonest, though, and if you can’t trust something you read on the Internet, then what can you trust? Seriously, though, I had it on good authority from David Driscoll at K&L that Lot 40 was worth a close look, so I bought a bottle blind. It’s also significantly more expensive than any other Canadian whisky I’ve reviewed, and it’s not a blend, so it’s not fair to compare to the cheapo blends below. Still, THIS is what I wanted – really good Canadian whisky available in the US. It’s happening!

This guy was Whisky Advocate’s 2013 Canadian Whisky of the year. Apparently available (even in the States) previously, it disappeared from production for over a decade and sparked a global bottle hunt among Canadian whisky drinkers in the know. Bottler Corby Distilleries has re-launched Lot 40 with its 2012 Release. The whisky is distilled at the Hiram Walker plant from a mashbill of 90% rye and 10% malted rye using a copper pot still. This is the real deal. This is what Canadian whisky (should be) all about, and thank goodness it’s available in the US!

Nose: Oh my God. Delicate cherry blossoms, crushed eucalyptus, sticky dried golden delicious apples. No dusty spice cabinet. Instead, the “rye spices” smell like freshly-opened seed pods of clove and allspice. I now know what rye whisky is supposed to smell like. This is -amazing-.

Palate: Soft. The spices are slightly more predominant on the tongue, with clear cinnamon and clove. Gingersnap cookies. Soft rye grain with a touch of oakiness and some vanilla-flecked caramel. Nice, but not as earth-shattering as the aroma.

Finish: Mild, medium-length. The eucalyptus returns, with a ghost of fresh mint leaves. Finishes totally devoid of bitterness.

With Water: Oddly, a few drops of water dulls the aroma. The palate is sweeter, with some nice fleshy stone fruit. I’d avoid the water here, just because of the disservice it does to that lovely aroma.

Overall: This isn’t saying much, but this is the best Canadian whisky I’ve ever had. It’s also the best nose I’ve ever smelled on anything with rye in it. Hell, I’ll say it, it’s even better (on the nose) than any bourbon I’ve tried, including those from Van Winkle. The palate doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the nose (what can?), but is soft and subtle in its own right. The finish is sedate and unobtrusive. Really, though, I could sit here and smell this all night.

If you like bourbon, rye, Canadian whisky, or American craft whisky, then you now have a mission. You must smell this whisky. Find a bar that carries it, a friend with a bottle, a retailer who will pour you a sample under the table, or a public tasting event. Buy a bottle if you have to. You must smell this whisky.

Lot 40 Canadian Rye Whisky 2012 Release
43% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $50 - $60
Acquired: (bottle) K&L Wine Merchants, Redwood City, CA. $60.
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8 Seconds (Sec8nds) Canadian Whisky

Glutton for punishment that I am, I continued down the unforgiving road of blended Canadian whisky with another product aimed at the apparently whisky-starved rodeo market. “8 Seconds” (although the bottle label had me trying to pronounce “Sec8nds” for longer than I’m comfortable admitting) is the younger sibling of the 8 year-old “8 Seconds Black”. Like Pendleton, the website is rife with scenes from cowboy bars, rodeo imagery, and cowboy hats. The whisky? Apparently it’s aged in oak barrels, blended in “small batches” and has developed “elegant nuances”, of what, they don’t specify. But never mind that, we have pictures of hot girls on mechanical bulls!

Also, the bottle is very pretty.

Nose: Sweet. Soft, melty, buttery caramel. And… yeah that’s it.

Palate: Soft texture. Thankfully not ultra-sweet, although the overall impression is of cake-y baked goods. German chocolate cake frosting?

Finish: Short. Brown sugar melting away to reveal a core of pretty young, grassy grain whisky. Ends with straight vodka notes.

With Water: Dampens the aroma. No effect on the palate, maybe turns up the vegetal notes on the finish.

Overall: This is the first “blended Canadian whisky” that I’ve had (ever) that doesn’t make me want to wash my mouth out. That said, it desperately calls for ice and a bitter or acidic ingredient to balance the inherent sweetness. I would wager that if you wanted to make a cocktail that called for Crown Royal, you’d be slightly better off using this. I wouldn’t bother to drink it straight, though, especially with that vodka finish. Even so, it’s better than direct competitor Pendleton, in my book. I’m now curious about the “Black” label from 8 Seconds.

8 Seconds (Sec8nds) Canadian Whisky
40% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $20 - $27
Acquired: 50ml miniature glass sample bottle
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Pendleton Canadian Whisky

As whisky consumers in the United States, we are at a serious Canadian whisky disadvantage, and most of us don’t know it. The largest proportion of Canadian whisky available for purchase in the United States (both by volume, and by number of brands) is adulterated slop imported via tanker truck and bottled for sale in plants in the US. Think of it this way: Imagine if the only scotch available to you in bars or liquor stores was Johnnie Walker Red Label and Cutty Sark. Want a single-malt or a well-crafted blend? Better go to Europe to buy it. That’s the situation with Canadian whisky. The few quality spirits that emigrate from Canada (such as Forty Creek products) are relatively hard to find in stores, especially the limited edition whiskies.

The reason I bring this up is not to criticize the Canadian Whisky industry, but rather to highlight the reason that whisky drinkers in the US have a hard bias against Canadian whisky, and thus have a strong misconception that all Canadian whisky is both “light” in flavor and low in quality.

Is Pendleton Blended Canadian Whisky, imported and bottled by Hood River Distillers in Oregon, here to save US drinkers from a fate of tepid grain-heavy adulterated brown vodka? (Note that Hood River Distillers recently purchased craft spirits hero Clear Creek Distillery, makers of McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Whisky). Alas, no. Pendleton, like Canadian whisky “8 Seconds”, is riding a curious wave of Canadian whisky popularity among rodeo fans. Their marketing materials, website, and bottle iconography are rife with references to cowboys, bucking broncos, and “life on the trail.” Why is Canadian whisky filling the apparent void in Western-appropriate whisky? I have no earthly clue.

As befits a product that puts demographic over quality, the whisky is a largely undisclosed blend of bulk Canadian whisky, brought to bottling proof (40% ABV) using “glacier-fed” spring water from Mt. Hood in Oregon. Under “facts” on the companies web page, you can find out that the whisky was aged in oak (really?) and “Each bottle prominently features the rodeo’s famous bucking horse symbol and Let’er Buck slogan.” Oh. Well, now I’m sold!

Nose: A lot of rye spice, almost too much. Heavy caramel, slightly chemical.

Palate: Very thick, creamy. Indeed, syrupy. Maple syrup (Seriously? Way to stereotype, Noob), a veneer of cinnamon and clove, and a dose of high-fructose corn syrup.

Finish: Medium length. Sweet and syrupy again, like allspice-infused corn syrup. Unfortunate chemical twist at the end, like aerosol.

With Water: Water adds some vanilla, but the nose becomes cloying. Thins the body somewhat. Makes the rye spices clearer on the finish.

Overall: Well. This is about 200% better than Ellington Reserve 8 year, but it’s still very sweet, and has a chemical aftertaste that I’m not fond of. Of course, it’s intended for mixing, but wouldn’t you prefer to mix your cocktails with something that tastes good on its own? I wouldn’t buy it. It’s not as wholly bad as many of the other bulk Canadian whisky products sold in the US, but it’s not a reason to warm to the market segment.

Pendleton Canadian Whisky
40% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $21 - $27
Acquired: 50ml miniature glass sample bottle
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