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.

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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Great King Street: Glasgow Blend

Anyone who reads this blog frequently will already be familiar with my love for Artist’s Blend from Great King Street (aka Compass Box). Imagine then my scrambling to request a sample when the new permanent addition to the Great King Street lineup was announced. Where Artist’s Blend is nuanced and light, Glasgow Blend is intended to be robust and flavorful as befits the reputed taste of the residents of Glasgow, Scotland. The flavor profile is built around both sherry and peat, making it truly the polar opposite of its sister blend. This is an homage to blended scotch styles of the 19th century, when nearly all malt whisky was peated (peat being the primary heat source for floor maltings at the time) and most of the available used cooperage was from sherry butts.

The Glasgow Blend is formulated with (the specs are freely available online – I love Compass Box!) 33% Lowland grain whisky from the Cameronbridge distillery, 20% single malt from a “south-shore Islay distllery”, and the rest Clynelish, a sherried malt from the Benrinnes distillery, and a small proportion of other malts from Speyside and the Highlands. The Islay distillery is apparently Laphroaig according to a few Internet sources. Oh, and some of that malt (probably some Clynelish) carries John Glaser’s signature new French oak finishing. Now that’s a spec sheet.

The whisky is bottled at 43% ABV, is not chill-filtered nor colored, and retails for $45. 375ml half-bottles are also available. Thanks to Debbie and Chris at The Collective PR for the sample!

Nose: A whiff of peat greets the nose first – there’s no shying away from the peat in this blend. The peat is a little smoky and airily herbal, but I can’t place it as Laphroaig, Lagavulin, or Ardbeg. Underlying the peat are wisps of fruit in the form of crushed berries and unripe figs. While it has more presence than Artist’s Blend, I wouldn’t call the aroma robust. A rest in the glass brings out the vanilla buttercream that fans of Artist’s Blend will be looking for.

Palate: Deep, earthy notes of tobacco and fruitwood smoke. A pleasantly creamy body without tongue burn, and more wisps of fruit. Subtle but artful. The fruit is present, but weaves into the peat effortlessly. Well played Mr. Glaser.

Finish: Medium length. The peat earthiness continues, growing a little more smoky and allowing the fruit to drop away. As it fades, there are hints of oak tannins and then the whole becomes mineral and dry.

With Water: A few drops of water tame the smoke, and bring out a few soft cereal notes on the tongue. They also seem to chase away the fruit from the sherry. I don’t see the need for water with this one.

Overall: John Glaser continues to do what scotch blending companies have been advertising that they do for decades. He takes a components that are worth drinking on their own and crafts something with them that is truly impressive for under $50 a bottle. If you’ve ever tasted blended scotch and thought it needed more flavor, or wished for some real peat presence in Johnnie Walker Black Label or sherry character and more drinkability in Black Bottle, this is your blend. I believe I still prefer Artist’s Blend for its universal appeal and softer notes, but the Glasglow Blend would definitely do a better job of heating up a highball. I’m particularly impressed with the interplay of sherry notes (which are fleeting) with peat notes (which are understated but dominant), without the two ever conflicting. I’ve had $80 peated malts finished in sherry casks that didn’t integrate half as well.

Great King Street: Glasgow Blend
43% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $45
Acquired: (50ml sample) Courtesy of The Collective PR. Thanks Debbie and Chris!
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Compass Box – The Lost Blend

Compass Box discontinued the popular Eleuthera in 2004, citing lack of availability of one of the blended malt’s key components. John Glaser, ever the romantic, has been trawling the secondary cask market in Scotland looking for the perfect replacement. He found it in the form of an “extraordinary” cask of 19 year-old Allt-A-Bhainne in ex-bourbon wood. Alas, there was only one such barrel and his re-creation of Eleuthera was fated to be a limited edition, yielding 12,018 bottles.

Utilizing a similar recipe to Eleuthera, The Lost Blend is composed of Clynelish (a John Glaser staple), Caol Ila, and the aforementioned Allt-A-Bhainne. Eleuthera was intended to provide an easy-drinking alternative to the fiery peated whiskies that dominate the single malt scene. Although the picture above is too small to tell, each of the three randomized labels is adorned with “lost” things such as the RMS Lusitania and the Dodo. Cute.

The whisky is bottled at 46% ABV, is not chill-filtered nor colored, and retails for $120. Thanks to Debbie and Chris at The Collective PR for the sample!

Nose: A tangy dose of Caol Ila peat meets the nose, accompanied by the clear, sweet aroma of peach. Yum. Waxy Clynelish underscores both, with its uncanny combination of candlewax and vanilla. The two are playful, and thankfully not overly smoky or earthy. The combination is ethereal.

Palate: Waxy body, and the charry smoke of Caol Ila cuts through immediately. There is a light, chardonnay-like fruitiness underscored by buttery toasted oak. Again, the smoke and fruit take turns at the forefront, neither washing the other out or becoming muddied.

Finish: Medium-long and warming. The peat continues to smoulder as it goes to charcoal. The fruit fades quickly, leaving no bitterness.

With Water: A few drops of water punch up the peat smoke and also reveal something floral, like lavender. Certainly try this with a few drops.

Overall: This is (if memory serves) much more successful than Eleuthera was at both taming Islay smoke and marrying it to fruit. The clean, crisp notes of peach and white grapes carry through from nose to finish, never allowing the peat to dominate. Masterfully blended – a truly excellent example of skilled blending and what it can accomplish.

Compass Box – The Lost Blend
46% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $120
Acquired: (50ml sample) Courtesy of The Collective PR. Thanks Debbie and Chris!
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Auchentoshan American Oak

Another permanent change in lineup, this time from Auchentoshan. Gone is the bland-ish Auchentoshan Classic, and in its place another NAS triple-distilled release, this time matured exclusively in first-fill ex-bourbon American Oak. At a retail place of around $35, this is definitely a worthwhile upgrade. According to the press release, Auchentoshan selects casks from both the top and bottom of their warehouse and marries them together to create American Oak. Thanks again to Manuela at Savona Communications for the sample.

Nose: Vanilla and raw barley. Notes are very similar to Irish blended whisky. Light brown sugar and freshly-cut hardwood. A slight overripe banana note underlies the rest, and becomes more prominent as the dram rests. Clean, crisp, and light, like the Auchentoshan Classic, but with more apparent oak character and a little extra malty sweetness – a nice upgrade.

Palate: Light bodied, but with a slight “simple syrup” texture. Melted vanilla ice cream, some oaky tannins, and mild toasted barley.

Finish: Short. Very slightly bitter, but with pleasant notes of kettle corn as it fades.

With Water: A few drops of water accentuate (unfortunately) the banana notes, adding green banana to the mix. Stay away from water with this one – it certainly doesn’t need it at 40% ABV.

Overall: As a value malt, this has a few ticks in its favor over the Classic, which it is replacing in the permanent Auchentoshan portfolio. The Classic suffered from anemia and definitely is bolstered by the added oak character, which is well executed, and doesn’t come across as an afterthought or cover-up. My one issue, which might be a personal taste thing, is that I cannot abide the “rotten banana” note that so often creeps into scotch aged in first-fill ex-bourbon wood. I have it on good authority, however, that many people find this particular banana note to be pleasant. If you’re one of those people, then $35 is not an unfair price for this light, straightforward NAS malt.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

Auchentoshan (a toughie to pronounce: Aw-ken/tosh-an) is one of the few remaining Lowlander distilleries in Scotland. It’s also notable for its use of “triple distillation” to make its spirit. This means rather than using two stills to distill the beer-like wash twice, like most Scottish distilleries, Auchentoshan processes the new-make spirit in three stills (three times). This creates a higher-proof final distillate (around 82% ABV) which is lighter and sweeter in flavor than most Scotch. I wonder if they ever release a cask-strength bottling! Wowza! [update: They do, but as the whisky is diluted to typical ‘cask-strength’ of around 63% ABV, it’s not much stronger than other whiskies. What I really want to try is the new-make spirit. :) ] Note that many Irish distillers also triple-distill their whiskey.

Auchentoshan American Oak
40% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $35-$40
Acquired: (100ml sample) Courtesy of Savona Communications. Thanks, Manuela!
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Bowmore Small Batch

I keep being impressed by Bowmore. While it certainly sits on the “mild” end of the peat spectrum among its peers on Islay, Bowmore continues to release solid, subtle, well-rounded and expertly-crafted releases with very reasonable price points (Devil’s Cask excepted). The new permanent addition to the range, Small Batch, is positioned in between the NAS “Legend” (review upcoming) and the standard 12-year. Aged only in first- and second-fill ex-bourbon casks and bottled at the slightly disappointing 40% ABV, Small Batch scratches an itch at the $40 price point. When you want a little more subtlety than Laphroaig 10, a little more quality than Bowmore Legend, and a little less sticker-shock than Ardbeg 10 or Lagavulin 16, Bowmore Small Batch is not a bad choice.

I’m also happy to see another permanent addition to a core range during a time when $75 and up NAS limited editions seem to be all the rage.

Nose: Gentle peat, flecked with refined honey and sweet cream. Banana cream pie, toasted coconut, and vanilla salt-water taffy. Light, sweet, but artfully presented and without any rough edges.

Palate: More of the same. Vanishing tongue burn, followed by more coconut, vanilla, and lightly salty peat in turns. Elegant, but light.

Finish: Of medium length, with a bit more toasty oak, roasted nuts, and soft peat smoke. Ends with a touch of malt syrup.

With Water: A few drops of water seem to only add a caustic edge to the nose tickle and introduce a hint of wet hay. Unnecessary, especially at 40% ABV.

Overall: While I could have done with a bit more robustness at 46% or so, I applaud both the craftsmanship of this whisky, and its sane price point. Clearly more well-rounded and well-integrated than the cheaper Legend, it trades peat intensity for sweetness and subtlety. This would be an excellent “shallow end of the pool” introduction to peated whisky for scotch newbies (where Laphroaig 10, my first, would be more like a slip and fall into the deep end).

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 Small Batch
40% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $40
Acquired: (100ml sample) Courtesy of Savona Communications. Thanks, Manuela!
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Exclusive Malts: North Highland (17 year) 1996-2014

Now that I’m an established *cough* “Whisky Reviewer” aka Imposter-Journalist-with-a-Whisky-Blog, I get a decent number of samples mailed to me by distributors and importers. Some of them I ask for (Ok, Ok, BEG for) and some just arrive. The good people at ImpEx (Thanks Katia!) seem to like me, and have sent me another batch of little bottles to try. One of my favorite things about whisky in general (and scotch in particular) is that there are SO MANY whiskies to try that I’ve never had before. Even within a single distillery like Glenmorangie, the products of which I’ve tasted extensively, there is always another surprise bottle around the corner from an errant cask or special edition. This time, it takes the form of a 17 year-old independent bottling from Exclusive Malts (distilled 1996, bottled 2014 at 56.1% ABV) with the vague moniker “North Highland”. A quick Google excursion tells me that it’s pretty much uncontested that this bottle is from a Glenmorangie refill sherry hogshead. The label likely obscures this with the “North Highland” designation for legal and/or marketing and/or “building a mystery” reasons. Queue the Sarah McLachlan.

Alas, as is often the case these days with cask-strength independent bottlings with any kind of age to them, the price is astronomical. Let’s see if this is really worth $130 retail…

Nose: A sour tang, like fino sherry but fruitier – unripe figs? Stewed peaches, pits and all. Vanilla ice cream, which does remind me of Glenmorangie. After a rest in the glass, I can detect something like peach cobbler and buttery shortbread cookies, but that sharp “fino” note pervades all.

Palate: Hot, of course. Thin bodied. The sherry creeps in as a layer of fig and lemon, still on the sour side. There is a nice body of malt, with characteristic Glenmorangie shortbread and vanilla.

Finish: Medium-long and warming. Devoid of bitterness. The fruits become more subdued, and are suggestive of fruit pies and jams. Roasted chestnuts fade to the end.

With Water: A sizable splash of water brings out an astoundingly clear note of bubblegum. The nose takes on a waxy aspect, and the sour notes are reduced. The palate, which is far milder, retains the bubblegum and becomes a little blander. The finish acquires a slight menthol note. Definitely try this neat, then add a few drops of water, and then dilute it to around 50% for the full experience.

Overall: The “sharp” sour note on the nose definitely feels unbalanced. This is possibly an experimental cask that didn’t make it into one of the Glenmorangie special editions and was sold on the independent market. It reminds me somewhat of Artein, but only as a single component. While like most Exclusive Malts it’s overpriced, I can definitely see the appeal. This is a heady, individualistic whisky, and is exactly the kind of thing that people bored with the status quo of official bottlings are seeking, especially fans of Glenmorangie. I still think the cask was refill fino sherry, although that’s a stab in the dark.

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).

Exclusive Malts: North Highland (17 year) 1996-2014
56.1% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $110 - $130
Acquired: (Sample) Courtesy of ImpEx Beverages. Thanks, Katia!
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Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Bourbon

A big thanks to Aaron at Ro-Bro who kindly sent me a review sample of the new cask-strength bourbon from Angel’s Envy. First off, this is not your usual cask-strength release of a flagship product where they simply leave out the water. This limited release (6500 bottles) comes from cherry-picked barrels aged up to 7 years, and thus functions like the “Limited Edition Small Batch” from Four Roses. As with the regular Angel’s Envy, this bourbon is finished in port casks. The price, a whopping $169 suggested retail, shows just how far controversial upstart Angel’s Envy has come since its first release in 2010, and also how crazily inflated the whisky market has become. If you had told anyone in the liquor business four years ago that an under-seven-year-old bourbon would sell (and certainly sell out) for $169 a bottle, they’d have laughed at you.

Nose: Hot (strong alcohol fumes). Ruby port, grapefruit, honeycomb, and a deep, round woodiness. Under the blanket of alcohol, there’s roasted chestnuts, cherry cordial, and charcoal. There actually isn’t as much fruit on the nose as I expected. After a few minutes of rest in the glass, it develops an awesome, heady vanilla buttercream frosting aroma. Really – wow.

Palate: Moderate tongue-burn. Barrel tannins are immediately apparent, and then blackberry jam, butterscotch, and cherry ice cream.

Finish: Long and warming. A nice, tart wave of mixed berries fades into spun sugar, which becomes burnt caramel and then charcoal. Never bitter.

With Water: A few drops of water increase the vanilla frosting note in the aroma, and might be making the flavor and finish nuttier. A more aggressive watering (to around 40% ABV) yields unripe berries and kiwi on the nose. Seriously, kiwi. However, this makes it slightly anemic (at least in comparison to full strength) on the tongue. I’d shoot for around 50% ABV if you want to tame the fire.

Overall: I definitely suggest letting this open up in the glass for a few minutes – you want that initial nuclear mushroom-cloud of alcohol to dissipate and that head of vanilla frosting to develop before nosing. As with other Angel’s Envy releases, you can count on the bourbon component to complement (not overwhelm) the port finish. However, the high proof of this release amps both up, so that intense berry/fruit flavors compete with concentrated oak and corn syrup flavors. While the flagship Angel’s Envy pairs easy-sipping, soft, subtle bourbon with port wood, at cask strength the mixture is much denser and loses some of that subtlety. You’re best off tasting this at full proof (after the rest), and then watering it down to around 50% to get the best of both worlds. I think it’s an excellent whisky, and really shows what Angel’s Envy is capable of. I can’t love the price point, however, no matter how carefully hand-picked the casks are.

Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Bourbon
59.65% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $149 - $169 (Estimated)
Acquired: (100ml review sample) Thanks Aaron!
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