Review: Port Dundas Single Grain Whisky 12 Years Old and 18 Years Old

Port Dundas 12

While the history of the distillery is complex, Diageo-owned Port Dundas has been producing single grain spirit since the mid-1800s, making it one of the oldest grain distilleries in Scotland. At least until 2010, when it was shuttered. The whisky that flowed from these Glasgow-based stills was used far and wide in blends like Johnnie Walker, J&B, and more. To honor this storied but now silent still, Diageo is releasing two single grain expressions that bear the Port Dundas name, drawn from now restricted stock.

Let’s look at these two limited release expressions, a 12 year old and an 18 year old bottling.

Port Dundas Single Grain Whisky 12 Years Old – No surprises on the nose, which offers heavy cereal notes and some astringent hospital character, alongside some root vegetable character. On the palate, things brighten up, the grains offering up some notes of lemongrass and dark brown sugar — but counterbalanced by notes of mushroom and wet earth. On the whole it drinks like a very light style of blended Scotch, which isn’t a slight, but which isn’t the biggest compliment I have in my pocket, either. 80 proof. B / $50

Port Dundas Single Grain Whisky 18 Years Old – A clear step up from the 12, this is single grain firing on all cylinders. The nose is much more dense, with aromas of nuts, toffee, flamed orange oil, and a wisp of smoke. On the palate, the slightly higher alcohol level makes all the difference, rounding out the mouthfeel with some welcome oiliness and punching up the body with notes of spiced nuts, more toffee, vanilla custard, cinnamon toast, and some menthol, particularly on the finish. Unlike the simplistic 12, this expression drinks closer to a quality single malt, offering both complexity and boldness, elegance and power. Definitely worth seeking out. 86 proof. A- / $100

malts.com

Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World Expo San Francisco 2016

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The 17th annual Whiskies of the World event wrapped this March in San Francisco, and it was as fun and chaotic as ever to wander three stories of the San Francisco Belle paddleboat, moored in the San Francisco Bay.

This year I focused my attention primarily on independent bottlers of Scotch whiskies, with Alexander Murray and Gordon & MacPhail both in attendance, along with veterans like the Exclusive Malts and Chieftain’s collections. Also highly worthwhile: A new distillery, Mosswood, which ages light whiskey in a variety of oddball barrels to produce the most exotic and interesting “flavored” whiskey you’ve ever tried. As for my favorite spirit of the night? Arran’s delightful “Smugglers’ Illicit Stills” offering, which comes complete in a fake book (see photo).

Thoughts on everything sampled follow.

Scotch

Alexander Murray Bladnoch 25 Years Old – Notes of roasted nuts, grains, a touch of lychee / B
Alexander Murray Monumental Blended Scotch 30 Years Old – Very grainy — a surprise — notes of hay / B
Alexander Murray Speyside 40 Years Old – Quite gentle, malty, quiet citrus; surprising that this is 40 years old / A
The Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso – A bit overblown, with big toffee notes / B+
Aberlour Scapa Skiren – Simple; easygoing, with gentle grain structure / B+
Gordon & MacPhail Linkwood 15 Years Old – Big molasses notes, scorched caramel, nice stuff / A-
Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 25 Years Old – Ginger is fun, but granary notes surprise / B+
Gordon & MacPhail Old Pulteney 21 Years Old – Quite maritime, gentle peat and salt spray / A-
Lagavulin 12 Years Old – The classic; nothing new to report / B+
Lagavulin Distillers Edition Double Matured – Gorgeous, big mouthfeel and better balanced than the standard Lag 12 / A-
Glenmorangie Signet – Sweet chocolate notes, coffee, almost overblown with dessert notes / A-
The Balvenie 17 Years Old DoubleWood – Classic; light sherry, nougat, well balanced / A-
Macallan Rare Cask / Rounded and well sherried; still drinking lovely / A-
Chieftain’s Glen Grant 20 Years Old – Slightly racy, with heavy cereal notes / B
Chieftain’s Linkwood 17 Years Old – Chewy, with cherry notes, gentle finish / A-
Exclusive Malts Glenrothes 2002 – A big crowd pleaser, but it didn’t resonate with me; big cereal notes, yeasty, slightly astringent / B
Exclusive Malts Girvan 1988 Single Grain – Butterfinger candies, buttery body, surprising for a single grain / B+
Arran Amarone Finish – Starts off hot; leads to raisin and chocolate notes, a bit scattered / B+
Arran Smugglers’ Illicit Stills – Quietly spicy, with tons of malt, honey, and a touch of smoke; really compelling / A

022Bourbon

PlumpJack Wine & Spirits Eagle Rare – The first of five single barrel releases on tap from SF’s PlumpJack; big butterscotch notes, but quite woody / B
PlumpJack Wine & Spirits Four Roses Single Barrel OBSV 8 years, 8 months – Lovely, with some pepper to it / A-
PlumpJack Wine & Spirits Four Roses Single Barrel OBSO 10 years, 6 months – Lots of heat; a bit astringent; peppermint notes / B+
PlumpJack Wine & Spirits Four Roses Single Barrel OBSF 11 years, 7 months – Honeyed with baking spices and cinnamon / A-
PlumpJack Wine & Spirits Four Roses Single Barrel OESQ 10 years, 5 months – Popcorn and malt, rather plain / B
Healthy Spirits Old Scout 9 Years Old – Another private bottling; big caramel, chocolate, cinnamon… but a touch grainy / B+

Other

Brenne 10 Years Old – The 10 year old expression of this French malt; enduring grain, notes of gingersnaps / B+
J. Seeds Apple Cider Whiskey – Unpalatable, incredible bite / C-
Clyde May’s Alabama Style Whiskey Special Reserve 110 Proof – Lovely apple and caramel, with a drying finish / A-
Mosswood Apple Brandy Barrel Aged – Mosswood makes light whiskey and ages it in different barrels, giving it a really unique structure; this one has beautiful fruit, with gentle, cider-like character / A-
Mosswood Espresso Barrel Aged – Slightly smoky, earthy, and nutty – not the heavy coffee bomb you might expect / A-
Mosswood Umeshu Single Barrel Aged – An Asian plum wine barrel gives this a curious notes; on the palate the fruit really emerges alongside spice and a sweet backbone; quite a revelation in “flavored” whiskey / A
Germain-Robin Old Havana Brandy – A touch of tobacco, lingering raisin, very soft / A-
Germain-Robin Single Barrel Brandy – Bigger body, heavy raisin and spice elements / B+
Low Gap Wheat Whiskey 4 Years Old – Heavy pear notes, very fruity / B+
Roundstone Rye – 100% rye; youthful, earthy, mouth-filling / B-
Roundstone Rye 92 Proof – More rounded; heavy cloves / B+
Roundstone Rye Cask Proof – Aged in maple syrup casks and it shows; a bit cloying / B
Seven Stills of San Francisco Whipnose – 7 Stills makes whiskey from different styles of beer; this one’s an IPA base. Classic IPA notes add density and ample hops / B+
Seven Stills of San Francisco Fluxuate – Coffee porter base with a touch of espresso added on the back end; clear coffee notes, slight caramel; lingering coffee finish / A-
Seven Stills of San Francisco Dogpatch – Sour beer based, finished in a sour beer barrel. Some funk, a little cherry and raisin character; a bit crazy as whiskey goes. Need to spend more time with this one / B+

Review: Barrell Bourbon Batch 6 and 7

barrell 6

Two new releases from our friends at Kentucky’s Barrell Bourbon, which take a variety of sourced whiskeys and release them at cask strength, one (often wildly different) batch at a time.

Batch 6 and 7 are here, as are our thoughts.

Barrell Bourbon Batch 006 – A close sibling to Batch 5, this is 70% corn, 26% rye, 4% malted barley, distilled in Tennessee, aged 8 years, 6 months — “low in the rickhouse.” Big and blazing up front, it’s got an overload of baking spices, and plenty of barrel char influence. Big rye notes attack the body, which is heavily herbal but also showcases scorched caramel notes. As with its predecessor, water helps a lot, which helps to coax out fruit while taking all that wood in the direction of buttered popcorn. Racy and spicy through and through, it’s a classic rye-forward bourbon that fans of big whiskeys will enjoy, though it never quite cuts all the way through the hefty wood character. Compare to the more well-rounded Batch 5 if you can. Reviewed: Bottle #1864. 122.9 proof. B+ / $80

Barrell Bourbon Batch 007 – This bourbon is made in Tennessee from 70% corn, 25% rye, and 5% malted barley, and is aged just 5 years in #4 char oak barrels — putting this batch alongside the almost identical Bourbon Batch 1. I was promised ahead of time that this bourbon was “wise beyond its years,” and the nose comes across as a bold, relatively well-aged expression, with notes of butterscotch and heavy wood char. The body is more youthful than that would indicate, fairly heavy with popcorn and mushroom notes on the body. Water offers some improvements by coaxing out ample sweetness and balancing the affair, but it’s ultimately a bit short on nuance. Reviewed: Bottle #5446. 122.4 proof. B / $80  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

barrellbourbon.com

Review: Bulleit Bourbon Barrel Strength

bulleit barrel strength

It’s probably long overdue, but one of the biggest success stories in bourbon is finally coming out with a barrel strength release.

Bulleit Barrel Strength is made from the same high-rye mashbill as its primary expression (roughly 1/3 rye), with no age statement provided. Batches will vary in alcohol content, but will hover around 60% abv.

We got a first look at the new edition. Thoughts follow.

As with any cask strength offering, this is initially a bit of a blazer on the nose and tongue. When the alcohol blows off, notes of butterscotch, honey, and cinnamon emerge — all classic components showcased here with impressive balance. On the tongue, give it time to settle down a bit to reveal red pepper, some barrel char notes, more cinnamon, and a sweet but spicy finish. This is a big bourbon, full of fire to be sure but approachable enough for anyone with any level of experience with cask strength bourbons.

Tempering with water brings more of the wood components to the forefront — which takes it closer to the classic, somewhat rustic Bulleit “frontier” character. At full strength, the whiskey is a bit sweeter and more dessert-like than the standard bottling, which is a bit of a surprise. That aside, I like the new release quite a bit — both at the full force of cask strength and in its tempered form with some water added.

119.2 proof as reviewed.

A- / $50 / bulleit.com

Review: Collingwood Canadian Whisky (2016)

Collingwood_6hAfter a recent rebranding, we felt it was time to take a fresh look at the standard bottling of Collingwood Canadian Whisky, which we last reviewed on its original release in 2011. While the decanter has been updated to look a bit less like a perfume bottle (namely through the ditching of the plastic cover that went up top), Collingwood still looks the part of an exotic spirit. The recipe and aging regimen, which includes time in maplewood casks, haven’t changed.

That said, here’s some fresh commentary.

Much in line with my overall comments from 2011, this whisky is exotic to the extreme. The nose is heavy with maple syrup notes, alongside a smattering of vanilla and caramel notes. Notes of rum raisin and some chocolate emerge with time — the overall impression being akin to a flavored whisky.

The body is less overpowering, but plenty sweet with maple and vanilla sugar notes. Soothing and gentle, it offers a lemon honey character that’s enticing as it develops on the palate, with baking spices developing on the back end. This is a quiet whisky — much more so than my earlier review would lead you to believe — which wears its maple character on its sleeve.

Still, curious stuff — though I find I like it much less now than I did back in ’11.

80 proof.

B / $25 / collingwoodwhisky.com

Review: Jameson Crested Irish Whiskey

Jameson has long made a rare and special bottling called Jameson Crested Ten, which includes a lot of pure pot still whiskey along with some sherry cask-aged stock. While the distillery calls this “a little known minor classic,” the rest of the world is about to get to know it a bit better — or, at least, it’s newborn little brother, Jameson Crested.

As Jameson puts it, “Jameson Crested is a celebration of the first drops of whiskey that were bottled, sealed and labelled at the Bow Street Distillery in Dublin, marking the moment in time in 1963 when Jameson took full control of the whiskey making process, from grain to glass.” (Until that point, Jameson was bottled by others who then sold it to consumers.)

Jameson Crested is a triple-distilled whiskey, mixing pure pot still and grain whiskey, and it is matured in both sherry casks and bourbon casks. I haven’t had Crested Ten, but Crested’s recipe clearly sounds like it was inspired by it.

Let’s give it a taste, shall we?

On the nose, the whiskey is rich and dense. It’s a little hot, but approachable thanks to a complex melange of aromas — roasted nuts, cloves, ginger, oxidized wine notes, orange marmalade, and a thick slathering of honey. On the palate, the pure pot still component comes through clearly, offering a malty character balanced by notes of citrus peel, coconut, and spiced nuts. Big and bold, the sherry influence lingers on the finish, which offers up notes of caramel and some light chocolate notes over time.

A complex yet soothing and well-balanced whiskey, Jameson Crested lies somewhere between the brooding intensity of Redbreast and the simple drinkability of standard Jameson. The more I think about it, the more I realize that a middle ground is surprisingly lacking in Irish whiskey today, and Crested fills it with impressive aplomb. I am sure I could (and will) drink this with regularity.

Also of note: Jameson is revamping its labels, and this is the first one out of the gate. Looks nice.

80 proof.

A- / $43 / jamesonwhiskey.com

Review: Popcorn Sutton Barrel Finished Moonshine

Popcorn Barrel Finished - TransparentPopcorn Sutton fans take note: A limited edition, barrel-finished version of the company’s moonshine is now arriving. This expression ages Popcorn’s white whiskey in a new oak barrel with a #3 char. No length of aging is stated, but the company does note that it includes no caramel color or grain neutral spirit added. You might expect otherwise, though, given the intense brown color of the resulting whiskey.

On the nose, Popcorn Sutton Barrel Finished Moonshine offers the traditional notes of a very young bourbon or other American whiskey — heavy wood influence, modest vanilla, and a touch of charred popcorn. Sweetness persists beneath all of this, more molasses than the cane sugar of straight Popcorn Sutton.

The body is in line with expectations, a mix of dusky charcoal notes, pure sugar, vanilla cream, and buttered popcorn. This all comes together more effectively than you’d expect, though the finish has a lot of that chalky, soot-laden character, indicating youth. At the same time, Popcorn Sutton Barrel Finished isn’t particularly rustic, its sweetness managing to smooth out the experience enough to at least make the spirit wholly approachable, if not exactly elevated.

Remember, of course, this is still moonshine — just moonshine that’s been given a taste of the “real” whiskey lifestyle.

92 proof.

B / $50 / popcornsutton.com