Redemption Rye

Despite claims to be “redeeming” rye from its lost heritage by handcrafting a 95% rye to convince the world of rye whisky’s value, this and an embarrassing multitude of other bottled ryes are simply labels slapped on bulk rye produced at LDI (now MGP). Aside from barrel maturation differences, bottling strengths, and minor differences in age, these ryes are all basically the same thing:

Templeton Rye, Redemption Rye, Bulleit Rye, Willet Rye (until they start releasing whisky from their new KBD plant), High West (at least they blend it skillfully), George Dickel Rye (uncomfirmed), Angel’s Envy Rye (at least they finish it in rum barrels), and a host of other small-time brands that have not come clean about their origins.

Now, I like a good story as much as the next whisky drinker, but the idea of two bottles with different labels (and different prices) containing basically the same juice and with entirely different back-stories on the label just gives me an uneasy feeling. But, that’s marketing for you.

This bottle is from Batch 104 (I’m guessing that’s a Redemption batch number, not an LDI batch!), bottle #1802, bottled at a respectable 46% ABV. Like all the ryes above, this is a mash of 95% rye with 5% malted barley aged in new charred oak for less than 4 years. The “less than” is a legal definition for any straight rye whiskey aged between 2 and 4 years. The malted barley, if you’re wondering, is in there to kickstart fermentation, and is usually present in bourbons too, regardless of their mashbills.

Nose: Eucalpytus, which shows up sometimes in young rye. Deep underneath there is a small cache of mulling spices (cinnamon, clove) and something that might be caraway. Not too much nose tickle, even at 46% ABV.

Palate: Thin body. Minty. The rye grain is lively, with a little sweet maltiness. Mostly, though, it’s eucalyptus and cinnamon. Very ‘smooth’, though, with very little tongue burn.

Finish: Medium-short. Some greener vegetal notes; grassy. Caraway again, fading with a hint of fresh cherries and almond extract. Not bitter.

With Water: Water adds more nose tickle than I like. I don’t see any reason to add water to this.

Overall: While it’s an unobjectionable sip, I think the value of young LDI/MGP rye like this is to serve as the brown spirits in classic American cocktails. There are much more complex ryes for sipping (Rittenhouse 100 for one), and the green notes betray Redemption’s youth. Buy it to drink a glass straight, and then mix up some Manhattans with the rest. I’ve marked this ‘Not Recommended’, though, because you’re really better off hunting down some Rittenhouse, or springing for a clever High West blend. However, if you just want some rye to toss in cocktails, this will suffice.

Redemption Rye
46% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $25 - $30
Acquired: (bottle) Beverages & More in San Jose, CA, $27
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Old Pulteney (12 year)

What can I say about Old Pulteney that I didn’t say in my review of the 17 year? I promise not to talk about Jim Murray… oops.

Old Pulteney 12 year is aged only in ex-bourbon casks, and can be found (with a little hunting) for $32 a bottle, although recent fame caused by the attentions of the aforementioned author have driven up prices of the entire OP range. You may have to pay $42.

Nose: Everyone always says ‘salty’ when talking about OP. To me, it smells more like a heavily vegetal tequila. Seaweed, cooked cactus (nopales), lime peel, and a hint of vanilla. All of the aromas are robust – nothing light about this whisky.

Palate: Salted caramel, roasted chestnuts, a sticky, industrial grime (a little like the ‘dirty’ flavor of Springbank), like grimy pennies.

Finish: Some sweetness arrives, dry taffy, shortbread cookies. The finish gets grassy again, but without any bitterness. Ends on the woody side.

With Water: Water adds a tart note, a more distinct lime peel or even key lime pie, to the nose and makes the finish slightly sweeter. Some water can’t hurt.

Overall: Somewhat of a rollercoaster of unique flavors and aromas, paired with off-putting and off-seeming notes like grimy pennies. It’s a bit like a woodsier, grassier, more tequila-like variant of Springbank. Very little sweetness, this is almost more of an aperitif or digestif than a dessert drink, although missing the bitter herbs. I would seek out a taste of this before committing to a bottle, even if you’re a Springbank fan. It’s just not for everybody.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

Using water rising from the stone in Caithness, a barren rocky coastline in Scotland’s far Northern Highlands, Old Pulteney was built in 1827 to supply local herring fishermen with a few drams to warm them up after (or during?) their windy work. The distillery uses the town water supply, which is pumped from the Loch of Yarrows to the south. The distillery’s stills are unusual, with large boil-bulbs and lyne arms that twist as they descend sharply into worms. Old Pulteney lies at the center of the debate about salty character in whisky, as its maritime influence is undeniable. Its coastal warehouses, constantly battered by the brine-laden gusty winds of the northern Atlantic, certainly smell of the sea. Those warehouses hold a small percentage of Old Pulteney aging in sherry casks, but the majority rests in ex-bourbon. The spirit is filled into distinctive bottles with a bulb in the neck that evokes the shape of the site’s stills.

Old Pulteney (12 year)
40% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $32 - $42
Acquired: (30ml sample bottle) Master of Malt.
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Yellow Spot Irish Whiskey

Yay! Green Spot is available in the US! About time, too. The softer, sweeter, lighter cousin of Midleton’s Redbreast 12 year has been enjoying a renaissance in the UK and now in the US. Being the impatient type, I couldn’t wait, and asked my parents to bring back a bottle of Yellow Spot, the older and fortified-wine-finished sibling of Green Spot, from their trip to Ireland. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

Yellow and Green Spot are two of the few surviving “bonded” Irish whiskeys – made by the ubiquitous Irish Distillers Limited (originally at the Jameson Bow Street Distillery, and now at the larger facility in Midleton, where all IDL whiskeys are made) – but sold by the wine merchants Mitchell & Son of Dublin, Ireland. Originating sometime after Mitchell & Son began selling whiskey in 1887, the ‘Spot’ refers to the family tradition of marking barrels of maturing whisky with a daub of paint to indicate their age – originally the shop sold Green, Yellow, Red, and Blue Spot whiskeys, most aged in the shop’s excess fortified wine barrels.

Green and Yellow Spot are single pot still Irish whiskeys, meaning a combination of malted and unmalted barley is distilled together (triple-distilled, in this case) in a copper pot still, like Redbreast which is also produced at the Midleton distillery by IDL. Unlike most Irish Whiskeys, single pot still whiskies do not contain any column-still grain whiskey, making this style analogous to (but not the same as) single-malt. Yellow Spot is matured for 12 years in a combination of ex-bourbon, ex-sherry, and ex-Malaga (a sweet Spanish fortified wine) casks. The vatted result is bottled without chill-filtration at 46% ABV.

Nose: The Malaga wine cask effect is subtle but effective – soft fruits, mildly vinous, with a strong heart of butterscotch and buttery caramel. Like Green Spot, the cereal notes are in balance, and just this side of light. It bears little to no resemblance to Redbreast, despite the similar distillation. Deeper in the glass, there is an undercurrent of vanilla cake frosting.

Palate: A bit hot. Sweet, but not a body on the thin side. Hard candy, port reduction, and a ghost of sweetened coconut. Also, marshmallow.

Finish: Medium-long, with a nice carrying presence of candied- apple shell, buttery oak, and butterscotch. Ends slightly bitter, with dry wood.

With Water: Water picks up the nose tickle, and adds a bit of red grape skin. Makes the palate and finish a little tannic. Water optional here.

Overall: The Malaga effect on this whisky is very similar to the port finish on Glenmorangie’s Quinta Ruban – lots of red fruits and candy. In this case, it (or the sherry) covers up the essential grain flavors that make single pot still such a fascinating category. While Redbreast 12 (which is far cheaper) showcases the nuts and coconut, Yellow Spot (while very tasty and impeccably composed) showcases the wine. Even so, Yellow Spot does not disappoint.

Any fan of Irish Whiskey must consider Green and Yellow Spot to be mileposts on their journey to discover that country’s whiskey, making this a “Must Try” – of course, it’s a pricy dram, and thus best suited to a splurge purchase or perhaps a bottle split among a few people.

Yellow Spot Irish Whiskey
46% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $80 to $100 (not available in the US)
Acquired: 700ml bottle purchased in Ireland. Thanks Mom & Dad!
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How I Write About Whisky

While churning out blog posts in anticipation of my impending fatherhood (Yay! I’m gonna be a dad!) and thus period of not sleeping, it occurred to me that my regular readers might enjoy learning a bit about my process. The development of a good whisky review post is not a simple matter of sipping a dram and writing some notes. Here are the steps I generally follow, in more-or-less the correct order:

1. Source the whisky.

The whisky I review comes from, basically, anywhere I can get it. I buy maybe 10 bottles of whisky per year, mostly with proceeds from advertising on the site. I also buy a copious amount of Master of Malt Drinks by the Dram 30 ml sample bottles. Seriously, if you’re trying to expand your whisky horizons, there is no better way to do it than with a few dozen sample bottles from MoM. I also receive a handful of sample bottles from Distributors, Importers, and PR/Marketing firms, mostly after begging for them. I attend K&L Wednesday evening spirits tastings when they’re pouring something I haven’t had (I spend a lot of time there nosing and writing careful notes). I buy 50 ml miniatures (“minis”) whenever I find them for whiskies I haven’t reviewed yet, but this is increasingly rare. In the past I frequented two bars in my area with decent whisky selections, but I found that a busy bar is not the best place to write tasting notes, and I’ve mostly exhausted their selections anyway. Finally, I get a few samples from friends who buy bottles or by trading via mail with other bloggers or whisky fans. I should note that while I have a whisky tasting group (which splits bottles and meets at restaurant to taste them), I can’t really write notes at a dinner and I can’t bring any leftovers home. Also, while I’ve attended a few whisky conventions (WhiskyFest and Whiskies of the World), those are absolutely the worst way to get tasting notes – the few notes I record on my phone are incoherent and hugely biased by the assault of previous whiskies on my palate. I never post reviews based on tastings at events where more than three whiskies are poured.

2. Taste.

If I’m at home, I choose a clean, dry Glencairn glass (for consistent tastings, I always use the same type of glass). I pour the sample, swirl it a few times, and let it rest for at least 1 minute to avoid any volatile aromas that might be lurking in a sealed bottle. I look at the color (although I rarely write about it, since color means very little to taste or aroma, and there’s only so many ways you can recombine the words ‘amber’ and ‘golden’), and then test the aroma by starting with my nose about two inches above the glass. I slowly work my way closer, stopping for fresh air and to write down anything I encounter, including my (very valuable) first impression. I spend anywhere from three to ten minutes just nosing. Then I sip, hold the liquid in my mouth for at least 10 seconds (usually longer), while I write stream-of-consciousness style. I swallow, and continue writing about the finish, waiting until it fades completely. Then, I repeat the same process to look for notes I missed. Sometimes, if the whisky is particularly biting or sharp, I will allow the glass to rest for up to 10 minutes before trying again. Next I add a few drops of room temperature filtered water (Brita) (I use a glass eye dropper), swirl, wait 30 seconds, and repeat the process again to determine how water affects the dram. For a cask-strength whisky, I’ll generally dilute it further (to around 50%) to note any differences at that strength. Finally I’ll write my conclusions.

Fun fact: I assign a number (1 to 100) rating to each whisky, which I never, ever, divulge to anyone, ever. Read here for an explanation of why.

3. Research.

I spend an unhealthy amount of time pouring through a stack of (8 or so) whisky books and then correlating my findings with scraps of unsubstantiated info from the Web. Oddly enough, the official websites of distilleries are the absolute worst place to find information. What little info there is, is skewed by marketing nonsense and is too vague to be useful. Even basic things like ABV, age, and barrel composition are so obscured by the “fog of marketing war” that I scarcely bother trying anymore. I also spend some time averaging bottle prices from online retailers (I rely heavily on klwines.com – my local go-to shop for the best prices anywhere). When I’m reviewing a whisky from a distillery I haven’t reviewed in the past, I spend even more time writing and archiving the “About the Distillery” section. Note: I intentionally avoid reading any tasting notes about the whisky so that my review won’t be biased or altered by other reviewers.

4. Write.

Next, I take all of my notes (which are in Evernote) and create a new WordPress post, usually by cloning a similar post from another whisky from the same distillery or region. I then come up with something pithy or funny to say about the whisky, with varying levels of success, and mold all of the notes into a cohesive whole, including buying recommendations, and then proof-read the whole thing. Sometimes there is a long time lag between the tasting and the writing, if I have a large backlog of tastings (from a glut of samples, a lot of free time, or a tasting event). Often, my mom also proof-reads it. Even though she doesn’t like whisky, she loves me. Thanks, mom!

5. Sweat The Details.

I source a bottle image from Google Images, and alter it to fit the style of my site using Photoshop. This usually means removing backgrounds, resizing, adding a consistent “mirror” shadow to the bottom, and placing it on a white background. If I can get an “official” marketing image for the bottle, I always use that. I also accumulate factual information (price paid, distillery location, ABV, etc.), link anything that needs to be a link (or a cross-link within my site) and proofread the whole post again. I save this as a draft, either scheduling it for the following Monday morning, or saving it as a draft for the future. Each Monday after the post goes live, I link to it on Twitter and Facebook.

There you have it. A lot of work goes into these posts, and sometimes I just don’t feel like going through the effort, which is why it’s a good idea for me to have a backlog of drafts. Of course, sometimes I’m inspired to write an article or an opinion piece (like this one), which is usually a much simpler process of regurgitating everything in my head into Evernote, polishing and filling it out, proof-reading, and posting. Cheers!

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Kilchoman 2007 Vintage

I’ve reviewed a few Kilchoman malts before, and I’m finally starting to come around, especially after Machir Bay. For a fledgling distillery, Kilchoman has had amazing success at selling young malt for big dollars, and it’s not a fluke. Young Kilchoman is, on the whole, just so damn well made.

This bottling, the 2007 vintage at 46% ABV, is a vatting of 6 year-old barrels, all from ex-bourbon casks. Thanks go to Katia at ImpEx Beverages for the sample.

Nose: A distinct grassy, vegetal aroma – new make – greets the nose at first. Celery salt, mown grass, etc. The usual Islay smoke is subdued, but present.

Palate: Thin body, but a nice agave-like sweetness pervades. Little to no tongue burn (amazing for 46% ABV at this young age). The smoke (wood smoke, and grass) is in the background, and elements of (very good) tequila keep coming to the front, with nopales, vanilla, and slight buttery oak.

Finish: Medium-long. The smoke becomes more of a factor, and the “new make” character is gone. A little meaty, a little nutty, and something briny. Altogether light, but crisp.

With Water: If anything, the water accentuates the tequila/cactus notes. It adds a little sweetness and vanilla on the palate, and finishes with a little more nuttiness to the smoke. Still, I’d consider water optional with this one.

Overall: This release has a lot more “new make” in it than something like the 100% Islay 3rd Edition or the Machir Bay. The effect though, is of good tequila rather than bad moonshine. (Buffalo Trace new make, for example, is downright awful). The smoke is present, but subdued, and the barley shines through. It comes across, like the 100% Islay 3rd edition, as very lean and sparse, without the dizzying array of complexity usually associated with briny Islay malts like Laphroaig. Still, considering the age, this is whisky craftsmanship at its best, and adds to the growing volume of literature that says that Kilchoman at 10 years of age (or more) will be a force to be reckoned with.

I’m rating it a “Try before Buy” because $80 is a lot to drop, even on Kilchoman, and Machir Bay is (in my mind) better and cheaper.

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 2007 Vintage
46% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $76 - $80
Acquired: (Sample) Courtesy of ImpEx Beverages. Thanks, Katia!
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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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