Isle of Jura (16 year)

The Isle of Jura is within spitting distance of the eastern shore of the island of Islay, off of Scotland’s southwesterly tip. The tiny island claims only a few hundred inhabitants, and exactly one whisky distillery. Perhaps this harkens back to a time in Scotland when every community of 200 people required its own distillery? Sounds like a place I’d like to live!

The Isle of Jura distillery is owned by independent bottlers Whyte and MacKay, which also owns Dalmore distillery. The whisky of each is surprisingly similar, with lots of sherry-derived flavor, and some citrus elements. Jura is a little lighter in style and much more floral, while Dalmore is darker, sweeter, and more pungent. Neither is peated, except for some peat that might be in the water used to mash and proof down the bottles.

The 16 year-old official bottling, also subtitled ‘Diurach’s Own’ after the name for the people of Jura, spends 14 years in ex-bourbon, and then is transferred for 2 years into Amaroso Oloroso sherry casks to finish.

Nose: Elegant citrus – grapefruit maybe, or bergamot. Mildly sherried, as befits the finish. If there’s any Island peat present, it’s in the form of a soft, ferny, heathery aroma in the distance. The fruit is fresh and bright, and backed up by a capable maltiness with breakfast cereal and spongecake. Soft, lovely, and floral. Very nice.

Palate: Slightly chewy texture, and quite sweet. Candied orange peels, tawny fudge, blanched almonds, and marzipan. Not an ounce of burn on the tongue. Ladylike, even.

Finish: The heather notes return, with honey and a bit of oaky tannins. A final wave of very mild citrus – just pith, maybe – and a ghost of bitterness.

With Water: Several drops of water draw out a bit more of the eccentric aspects of the sherry, namely a leather note, and some lemon peel, which continues through the palate and finish as extra tartness. Water is not needed here, but does add something interesting.

Overall: An eminently likable malt. Flawless in execution, sweet and mild on the tongue, with a moderately perfumed aroma. This would be excellent with a mild cigar. Jura has a lot of ardent admirers, and I can see why. It is not intense nor challenging, but it is complex enough to reward contemplation.

I have not been able to say this much recently, but this malt is definitely worth the $65 or so that it retails for.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

Owned, along with Dalmore distillery, by independent bottlers Whyte & Mackay, The Isle of Jura Distillery was built in 1962 and is the only distillery on the Isle of Jura, situated across a narrow strait from Islay. Process water comes from Loch a’Bhaile-Mhargaidh (the Market Loch). While the water flows through a great deal of peat, the whisky itself is not smoked and does not carry much peat character, in sharp contrast to most of its contemporaries across the strait. Jura malt, aged in bourbon and with some finished in sherry casks, is said to come into its own around the age of 16, the age of the distillery’s flagship official bottling. The distillery has only recently begun producing small amounts of peated malt for the single-cask market.

Isle of Jura (16 year)
40% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $60 - $65
Acquired: (30ml sample bottle) Master of Malt.
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Longmorn (16 year)

Longmorn has long been a sought-after component for blending. Robust and flavorful even without heavy cask treatment, it adds depth and sweetness to a blend. After several changes of hands, Longmorn is now owned by drinks giant Pernod Ricard, although they don’t bother to recognize the fact on their English website. What gives, Pernod?

Having already tried Longmorn in the form of an independently bottled single-cask exclusive to K&L, I’m coming at this one from the wrong direction. Longmorn’s 16 year-old official bottling is aged in ex-bourbon, not sherry, and is bottled at a surprising 48% ABV.

Nose: Lemon and honey, over a bed of warm cereal grains and lightly toasted nuts. A faint oiliness suggests complexity.

Palate: Rich and syrupy in body. A poignant tongue burn at 48%, which subsides into nutty malt, nougat, and a faint tartness, perhaps orange peel. Chocolate-chip cookie dough! Yes.

Finish: Medium. Warming, with remnants of freshly-baked sugar cookies, fresh cashew butter, and white chocolate. No bitterness to speak of.

With Water: Water seems to only tame the burn (and useful, at that). It cuts a little of the cohesiveness, making the malt somewhat disjointed. I’d skip the water unless the burn is too much.

Overall: I’m coming at this a little backwards, having first tasted a heavily sherried single-cask expression of Longmorn before tasting the official distillery bottling, which is not sherried at all. I do miss the heavy fruit notes, but Longmorn still delivers flavor, and not just the typical ex-bourbon vanilla notes. It has enough body to stand on its own, and plenty of malty sweetness. The raw cookie dough component is especially exciting.

I’d recommend this to lovers of whisky who think bourbon is too strong, peat is too smokey, and sherry is too sweet. This is the kind of middle road whisky where you find the caramel, cookie, nutty notes that you want without sacrificing body or intensity. HOWEVER… we’re looking at an unreasonable $95 price tag, which I simply would not pay for a flagship official bottling at 16 years. What are they thinking? Sell this at $60 and you’ve got me hooked. If you do some web searching you might find it for $78, but that’s still too high in my opinion.

Good whisky, abhorrent price. For the price ALONE, I’m marking this “Not Recommended” – give us a break, Pernod Ricard.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

This Speyside distillery was opened in 1897 by John Duff, who also built Benriach next door. Spring water flows from Mannoch Hill. Little-known among mainstream whisky drinkers, new marketing efforts have started to expose this cult malt to a larger audience. It is a principal component in many blends, and was not sold as a single malt until recently.

Longmorn (16 year)
48% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $95 - $105
Acquired: (30ml sample bottle) Master of Malt.
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Exclusive Malts: Longmorn (20 year) 1992 – 2012

Ok, so I’m super late to the party, again. I have a bad habit of buying really good bottles and then sitting on them until it’s too late to do any good to my readers. So, in the interest of saving myself some face, this post is a birthday present to myself. Why? Well, it’s my birthday, it’s a post about something that none of you can buy, and (drumroll), this particular cask was distilled ON MY BIRTHDAY when I was 10 years old! I don’t even remember being 10, so the thought of this juice splashing out of the still and into a (probably) refill sherry cask to sleep for the next 20 years gives some real perspective to the glass in front of me. Also, it makes me feel old.

Distilled at Longmorn on the 22nd of June 1992, cask 86620 was bottled at 52.8% ABV 20 years later, in 2012, exclusively for K&L Wine Merchants by independent brand The Exclusive Malts. K&L Exclusives get a lot of buzz in the whisky scene online, but don’t have much impact to the rest of the world that doesn’t happen to live in California. That’s why I try to avoid writing about them, even when I buy one. However, I have the utmost respect for David Driscoll’s ability to select and negotiate excellent casks of whisky, even if they usually come out above my ideal price point. This one I got to sample last year and I was blown away. I bought a bottle, even though $120 is significantly higher than I usually spend. My excuse? Birthday!

Nose: Sticky sherry notes of strawberry jam, apple cider vinegar, fig preserves, underlayed with oaky sap (not quite maple syrup). Powerful, and delectable. The fruit is profound, but not cloying. The oak is beautifully balanced, and while the whole smells integrated and mature, there aren’t excess rancid notes. Very fresh for 20 years old!

Palate: A powerhouse of fruit, with equal helpings of jammed, dried, and fresh. The oak is present, but not overwhelming, and the tongue burn is surprisingly minimal for something over 50% ABV. It doesn’t fully represent its age, without much balsamic-type flavors, but it is round and complete. Eyes closed, I would say it was 16 years old.

Finish: Jolly rancher candies, a touch of cinnamon, a lot of fruitcake, and some more of that maple syrup (but not quite) on the fade-out. Becomes slightly bitter, with nut skins and burned caramel on the tail.

With Water: A dash of water really opens up the fresh fruit – there are even some cherry blossom or apple blossom notes added. On the tongue, the burn is even more muted, and some chocolate notes are displayed. The malt alone is an experience, water brings it to another level.

Overall: Wow. What a birthday present to me! I have a weak spot for fruit-bomb sherried numbers, and this ticks all of the boxes (except one). The nose is phenomenal, especially with some water to open it up, and on the tongue it purrs with sherry goodness and no undue burn. Alas, the finish has more bitterness than I like. Nevertheless, this is a fantastic whisky, and a real solid reason to seek out some more Longmorn, especially if it’s sherried.

Note: K&L sold out of this a long time ago, but they still have this, which sounds similar: http://www.klwines.com/detail.asp?sku=1155020.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

This Speyside distillery was opened in 1897 by John Duff, who also built Benriach next door. Spring water flows from Mannoch Hill. Little-known among mainstream whisky drinkers, new marketing efforts have started to expose this cult malt to a larger audience. It is a principal component in many blends, and was not sold as a single malt until recently.

Exclusive Malts: Longmorn (20 year) 1992 – 2012
52.8% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $120 (Unavailable)
Acquired: (bottle), K&L Wine Merchants, paid $120.
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Maker’s Mark Bourbon

Maker’s Mark is a classic American Kentucky Straight Bourbon. There’s really not much point in my reviewing it – there are plenty of die-hard Maker’s fans that aren’t going to care what I have to say on the subject. On the other hand, appreciators of a wide range of fine bourbons will continue to think of Maker’s Mark like the Glenlivet of bourbons: decent enough in its own way, maybe worth mixing cocktails with, but something to graduate from.

I was curious about Maker’s because it’s a wheater. In a world of high-rye bourbons, a mashbill with wheat instead of rye is somewhat uncommon. The Pappys, the Wellers, Old Fitzgerald, Larceny, and Maker’s. That’s a pretty short list considering the hundreds of bourbon brands on the market. Wheated bourbons tend to be softer on the palate, with more bread-and-cake flavors and fewer spicy cinnamon-and-clove flavors. Maker’s is also distinct for making its own bourbon, not slapping a label on bourbon produced at MGP or KBD (see this post for more on that topic).

Maker’s mashes “soft red winter wheat” and barley (probably malted for enzymes to kick-start fermentation), along with its corn, and ages the bourbon for around 6 years. Unlike most other whiskies, Maker’s rotates the barrels between upper and lower floors of the warehouse to even out maturation differences. This would make a “single barrel” of Maker’s Mark less likely to be significantly different than the final bottled product. The brand has been around since 1958, when the first bottle was dipped in red wax to seal it.

In 2013, Maker’s Mark was embroiled in a little public relations nightmare when it announced that the brand would be reducing its bottling strength from the iconic 45% ABV to 42% ABV, due to production shortages. The media and consumer ****-storm that ensued resulted in the company backpedaling and resuming production of the 45% ABV bottling, thus proving that even in the whisky industry, consumers have a voice.

Nose: Classic wheater aroma – soft wheaty grain (like shredded wheat cereal), cherry syrup, and a slight band-aid plastic note.

Palate: Thin body, but lots of up-front sweetness. Oaky, with loads of vanilla and dried coconut. A bit of young grain mars the progression.

Finish: Brown sugar, corn syrup, charcoal, and a little bit of mouth-drying tannin.

With Water: A few drops of water bring a bit of vanilla to the nose, but otherwise have no appreciable effect. Water is strictly optional.

Overall: Well it’s a pretty standard mid-grade bourbon. There are no stand-out elements, and even the wheat is only halfheartedly present. I would put this a step or two under W.L. Weller in quality. When mixing a bourbon-centric cocktail, I might be inclined to use Maker’s Mark if I don’t want to shell out for something top shelf. The 45% ABV fills out the flavor and keeps it from feeling thin, which would be an added bonus in cocktails. It would make a killer julep. I’ve given this a ‘Recommended’ rating because as long as you know what you’re getting, $25 for a decent wheated bourbon is not a bad deal.

I’d like to point out that this is from a plastic miniature bottle, which does not appear to have inflicted any debilitating effect on the whisky. I’m inclined to think that the previous “bad” bourbons I’ve blamed on the plastic miniatures may themselves (or their specific batches) be to blame. Who knows.

Maker’s Mark Bourbon
45% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $23 - $28
Acquired: 50ml plastic miniature
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Counterpoint: Stereotypes are Useful

I read this sort of thing frequently in blogs and hear it from the mouths of whisky evangelists: “Blended whisky can be cheap, just like any stereotype can be true from time to time, but you can’t go around generalizing like that. Each case must be evaluated on its own merit.” (I lifted some of that from this post from awhile ago.)

While this statement is correct, I’d like to offer a counterpoint. Stereotypes in human culture aren’t an accident, a case of mass delusion, or corporate propaganda. They aren’t inherently evil. Stereotypes are one of the many strategies that human brains use to reduce our insanely complex world down into manageable and understandable units. This is the same reason that we like to categorize things (Islay, Speyside, Lowland). It’s easier to think and speak about “Islay malts” when discussing peated single malts, rather than “Lagavulin, Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Bowmore, Caol Ila, Kilchoman, Bruichladdich sometimes, Bunnahabhain like once, oh and Talisker, Highland Park, Ardmore, and some BenRiach. Oh and…” Even if it’s technically incorrect, the statement “If you want to try peated scotch, go find a single malt from Islay” is easier than convoluting the technically correct but less-helpful list of distilleries into accurate advice. If everyone went around every day speaking only exact truth in exactly specific, factually correct statements, none of us would ever get anything done. We NEED stereotypes, reductionist logic, generalizations, and inaccurate categorization or we’d go flat-out nuts.

When a newcomer to the whisky scene is directed to the dizzying array of products adorning the walls of the local liquor shop, especially these days with the whisky boom and retailers stocking more and more different expressions to meet the ever-rising level of demand, I can attest firsthand that there is a sensation of vertigo. I felt, honestly, dizzy while staring for the first time at that cornucopia of liquid goodness, with absolutely no idea what differentiates any of it. Without some voice in the back of my head saying “blends are bad” (or more accurately, its partner-in-crime, “single malts are best”), I’d have been truly lost, and I’d have likely fled the store with a bottle with a sailing ship on it. Because it’s pretty. And I think I remember the name from an advertisement in Wine Enthusiast.

Let’s take one incorrect stereotype and think about it further in this context: “Blends are cheap and bad”. Unlike a lot of stereotypes, this one clearly didn’t originate from the mass-production liquor industry. Single-malt, despite the mass hysteria, is still small change to the industry. They need to sell a lot of cheap, blended booze, and this stereotype is bad news for the makers of $15 – $20 hooch, which is most of them. My guess is that this particular stereotype evolved via word-of-mouth from freshly-minted whisky anoraks (read: snobs, a moniker that I’ve been assigned more than once) as a shortcut to direct new whisky drinkers to introductory products, and as a way to short-circuit the marketing money spent by the big blends. If a newbie walks into a liquor store and sees familiar names like Chivas, Cutty Sark, Johnnie Walker, (and for that matter, Glenlivet and Glenfiddich), do you think they’re going to gravitate towards the Balvenie, the GlenDronach, or the Highland Park? No. The stereotype, while patently wrong, is nevertheless the only thing between our newbie and a life of pouring down Cutty on the Rocks (hyperbole warning).

Are all blends bad? Of course not. Are they all cheap? Absolutely not. Like all stereotypes, this one outlives its usefulness once the user attains a certain level of knowledge about the field. I would thus contend that it’s our duty, as “in-the-know” whisky drinkers to use stereotypes judiciously, and be prepared to refute them when necessary. I, for one, am grateful for the “Blends are bad” stereotype. It’s probably responsible for driving more new drinkers to single malts than any other aspect of this market, including the proliferation of whisky blogs like this one. It may well be responsible for my first decision to try a single malt, rather than stopping after my first underwhelming experience with a mass-market blend (Johnnie Red, I think). But as consumers, we need to recognize it for what it is – a tool, not an absolute truth. We need to keep our eyes and minds open, once we no longer need the training wheels to keep us on the path. We can move from “blends are bad” to “some blends are awesome, let’s find them!”. But only once we’re ready.

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Kirkland Highland Sherry Cask Finish – 18 year

Every time Costco gets in a new Alexander Murray bottling of unnamed single malt for unbelievable prices (which seems to be about every 4 months, recently), I get a flurry of emails asking for a review. It’s no wonder – while the Kirkland-Alexander Murray duo has performed excellently in the past, with several releases with very high quality-to-price ratios, it’s still hard to believe that they can keep doing it. In an industry where filling contracts are locked down, whisky stocks are drying up like California reservoirs, and “all the good casks” have long since been bottled and sold, how does Alexander Murray put out Costco-sized allocations of 18 and 20 year-old single malt (good single malt!) for $35 a pop? I have no earthly idea. Surely they’ll be forced by market conditions to release a dud, right? Or set the price above the value of the liquid?

If you are a budget-minded single malt lover who has a local Costco that sells whisky (depending on your state), you can rest assured that the latest release is (still) worth your money. For how much longer? Who knows.

Like the previous Speyside Sherry Cask Finish at 18 years of age, this one gives no hint to the distillery source, aside from the “Highland” designation. Considering that the entirety of Speyside is technically inside the “Highlands” and that some distilleries located in Speyside routinely put “Highland” on their labels, this is less than useful information. Also like the previous release, this one was “finished” in Sherry casks, which implies that it spent most of its maturation period in ex-bourbon. Even at 40% ABV, a sherry-finished 18 year-old malt for $38 is an impressive feat.

Nose: Very Floral. Elderflower, dilute cranberry juice, a hint of candle wax. Orange-blossom honey, and a note of heather that reminds me of some of the ex-bourbon-cask Balvenies. Elegant, slightly tart, and with excellent florals. On the lighter side (for a sherried malt), but quite surprisingly nice.

Palate: Somewhat waxy. Tart, fruity notes of fresh berries. Vanilla pound cake, some blonde fudge. A bit one-dimensional, but pleasant.

Finish: The slightest peat, mossy and a little herbal. this fades into hazelnut butter and echoes of the berries from earlier. Absolutely without bitterness.

With Water: A few drops of water yield a little stonefruit and a little more maltiness. Really, this is already watered to its limit and doesn’t need any more, especially with the already-present florals on the nose.

Overall: This is a fabulous malt for $38. Tasted blind, I’d have said it was worth at least $60, and these days an age statement of 18 will net you a minimum of $100. Well done, Alexander Murray. Well done. I could wish for a little higher ABV to provide some bite, but for straight sipping, this is correctly watered.

While this is totally a shot in the dark, the waxy notes make me think this could be sherry-finished Clynelish. Again, wild conjecture – let me know what you think in the comments.

Note: The “Must Have” rating refers to my recommendation that if you have a Costco that sells liquor and they stock this product, you won’t be sorry for dropping $38 on a bottle or two. It’s certainly worth the price. That said, it’s not so spectacular that it’s worth driving across state lines or conning friends into mailing you a bottle… that effort would invalidate the point: This is good whisky for a GREAT price.

Kirkland Highland Sherry Cask Finish – 18 year
40% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $38
Acquired: (750ml bottle) Costco, San Jose, CA, $38.
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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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