Review: Black Bottle Blended Scotch Whisky (2016)

blackbottle

Back in the day (at least in the late 20th century), Black Bottle was the go-to blended whisky for peat freaks. In fact, at the time it was said to be made from stock sourced from almost every Islay-based distillery. But Black Bottle has a lengthy history — the brand actually dates back to 1879, when it was originated by a tea blender named Gordon Graham.

Black Bottle faded away in the last decade (the recipe reportedly changed considerably)… until 2013, when the brand was relaunched.

The new Black Bottle is made from just four single malts (plus presumably a grain whisky or two, as this is not a blended malt), and I’d be surprised if more than one of them is from anywhere close to Islay.

The deep amber color of the whisky is quite inviting, as is the nose, which features attractive, if muted, notes of green apple, unripe banana, sherried orange peel, and roasted nuts. Some wisps of chimney smoke emerge here, but they aren’t the focus of the spirit.

The palate is surprisingly full bodied, but mostly typical of blended Scotch. Citrus melds with almond and nougat notes up front, melding into a pleasantly dessert-like character. As the palate builds, chocolate and vanilla notes emerge, with curiously exotic spice notes coming on as the finish starts to build. Those smoky elements finally make a comeback here, but they’re cut with sweetness to the point where I think even a total peat hater would find it palatable. It’s a real jack of all trades, master of none.

Let’s be absolutely clear that this Black Bottle has virtually nothing in common (except, well, a black bottle) with the Black Bottle of yesteryear, so don’t come crying to me that “it’s just not like it used to be.” No, it’s not. It’s a totally different whisky. If you want a peaty blend, you can find those, too. But for what the new Black Bottle aspires to be — a very affordable blend that is easy to sip on, mix with, or otherwise keep around the house — it gets the job done.

80 proof.

B+ / $20 / blackbottle.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Glenmorangie Milsean

Glenmorangie Milsean - Bottle shot transparent backgroundThe latest expression in the increasingly convoluted and difficult-to-pronounce Glenmorangie line of Highland single malts is this one: Milsean, Scots Gaelic for “sweet things.” (Pronunciation: meel-shawn.) This is the seventh release in the company’s annually updated Private Release line.

Glenmorangie has long been a massive proponent of wine barrel finishing, and Milsean is no exception. After an initial stint in bourbon barrels, the twist here is that the wine casks (reportedly Portuguese red wine casks) used for finishing the whisky are re-toasted with flames before the spirit goes into them for round two. (Typical finishing casks are left as-is in order to let the wine or other spirit that was once inside mingle with the whisky.) Re-toasting essentially re-caramelizes the wood, along with whatever was once inside.

Milsean’s name is a hint that sweetness is the focus, and the name seems wholly appropriate to this reviewer. The nose is a beaut, featuring pungent florals — the hallmark of Glenmo — mixed with candied fruits, a touch of alcoholic punch, and cinnamon-driven spice. The aroma alone is enchanting and offers plenty to like — but of course there’s more ahead.

On the tongue, Milsean is equally delightful, offering a host of flavors that develop over time. Watch for golden raisins and clementine oranges up front, followed by the essence of creamy creme brulee mixed in with a melange of cinnamon and nutmeg notes. The finish tends to run back to those florals — I get bright white flowers in my mind as the whisky fades — as it evaporates on the palate, leaving behind a crisp brown sugar character — the sweetest moment in this whisky’s life.

Glenmorangie special release expressions can be hit and miss — and often gimmicky — but Milsean is a magic trick that works wonderfully. I don’t hesitate to say that it’s the best expression from this distillery in years. I’d stock up on it.

92 proof.

A / $130 / glenmorangie.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Casks 39.99 and 95.19

Every year our friends at the SMWS send us a couple of recent releases to sample and enjoy. Some quick thoughts on a couple of nice little indie releases follow.

Scotch Malt Whisky Society Cask 39.99 – Linkwood from Speyside, 23 years in refill (bourbon) hogsheads. Distilled in April 1990. Curious and atypical iodine and seaweed notes hit the nose up front, very strange notes for Speyside whisky. These are backed by notes of grains, cinnamon rolls, mixed nuts, some citrus, and light vanilla. On the palate, this cask strength spirit is surprisingly easy to sip on, offering notes of marzipan, ripe banana, spiced nuts, and a lengthy finish that pours on the flamed citrus oil notes. It’s here where things finally start to get a little racy, the alcohol kicked up a notch as it warms and soothes. It’s not a whisky that feels like it’s got 23 years under its belt, but it’s a very capable sipper nonetheless. 117.8 proof. B+ / $185

Scotch Malt Whisky Society Cask 95.19 – Auchroisk from Speyside, 17 years in refill hogsheads. Distilled in August 1997. Pale straw in color, it seems set up to be mild and youthful. That’s not the case here, as this whisky cuts a shockingly powerful profile. The nose is a bit astringent and hot — though this is hardly a blazer of a spirit. Light medicinal character, savory herbs, incense, and some green bell pepper get things started. I know, that hardly sounds like a recipe for excitement, but stick with me for a bit and take a sip or two. On the palate, the whisky explodes with flavor — caramel collides with spearmint, burnt honey runs with gently fruity notes, including raspberry and hints of strawberry. The finish is hot but offers a denouement of roasted grains and a bit of citrus peel… all of which leaves one with a big question: How is so much flavor packed into such a mild-looking spirit that offers no hints of it on its nose? Answers are far from forthcoming. 106.4 proof. A- / $150

smwsa.com

Review: The Famous Grouse Blended Scotch Whisky

famous grouseThe Famous Grouse — a blended whiskey made by the same folks that produce Highland Park and The Macallan, including a significant sherry cask regimen — is a major player in the blended world. (It is the best-selling whisky in Scotland, so that’s saying something.) Somehow it’s escaped our review (though the more recent Black Grouse did get a writeup in 2010) — until now.

It’s easy to see why the Famous Grouse is so well-liked — it’s a baby Macallan at a fraction of the price.

The sherry doesn’t take long to make its presence known — big, sharp, and juicy, it’s got a powerful punch of citrus peels and a squirt of clementine juice that hits the senses right away. Toasted brioche notes are sizeable underneath all that citrus, but the overall aroma is altogether gentle and inviting.

On the palate, the juicy rush is palpable, offering notes of both grapefruit and satsumas, amply sherried with some winey/oxidized notes. As this fades, a stronger grain character hits; what is restrained on the nose is more palpable on the tongue, and as the sherry washes away, the toasty/bready character dominates the palate in full. Secondary characteristics include touches of heather, honey, and a hint of nutmeg — but none of this is overwhelming or particularly pushy.

The finish is more astringent than I’d like, with a slightly chewy mushroom quality and some more raw alcohol character that is a bit at odds with what’s come before, but given the price of the whisky and the pedigree of its makeup, it’s hard to complain too vociferously.

80 proof.

B+ / $20 / thefamousgrouse.com

Review: Old Pulteney Single Malt Whisky 35 Years Old

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A rare treat of an old Highland malt, at 35 years old this expression of Old Pulteney is showing just beautifully, with notes of figs and plum pudding, raisiny Port, citrus peel, green banana, and a touch of cinnamon-spiced oatmeal on the back side. Slight salt-sea notes emerge from time to time, but only as hints of its maritime ancestry. The body is perfectly balanced between sweet and savory notes, with ample but well-integrated sherry influence bringing everything into focus.

As the finish fades, the malt tends to fall back to its barley roots, a gentle respite from what has come before. Elegant and refined, it showcases how truly beautiful these sometimes rough-hewn Highland whiskies can be.

85 proof.

A / $700 / oldpulteney.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Macallan Amber and Gold

amberThe Macallan has never been a distillery to do things in a straightforward way. Case in point: the 1824 collection. There’s not just one. There are many.

There’s an 1824 Master Series (which Rare Cask is part of). And there’s an 1824 Collection Travel Retail (which these whiskies are part of).

Amber and Gold are part of neither of those. They are from the 1824 Series, which is a European-only line of NAS expressions delineated by color alone. (In the UK, all the Master Series whiskies are dumped into the 1824 Series as a big group.)

OK, so what’s the deal with the color names? The 1824 Series is, per Macallan, the only malt whisky line ever produced with barrels selected by the color of the spirit. Four versions are in release: Gold, Amber, Sienna, and Ruby, from least expensive to most. Again, there are no age statements in this line, but as color is generally tied to time spent in cask — all of these are drawn from sherry casks to keep the playing field at least somewhat level — you can at least get a sense of the age of the whisky just by looking at it. Or at least that’s the idea.

On my recent trip to Scotland I picked up samples of both Gold and Amber — and will have to leave the luxe other two for my next trip. Should you find yourself across the pond, well, here’s what you can expect from these drams.

Both are 80 proof.

The Macallan Gold – The whisky is immediately youthful, with ample cereal notes, but also quite charming. The nose balances cereal with spice and gentle brown sugar notes. Lots of cinnamon here along with flamed orange peel. On the palate, ginger emerges along with more citrus — orange and lemon — though again it is backed by some sweetened breakfast cereal character folding in both sugar and grain. The finish is modest and very easygoing, a gentle conclusion to a relatively straightforward — but never unenjoyable — little whisky. B / $47 [BUY IT NOW FROM MASTER OF MALT]

The Macallan Amber – Stepping up on the color wheel brings you to this whisky, which is just barely a shade darker than the Gold expression. Similar color or not, Amber really does kick things up in the flavor department. Much stronger sherry notes emerge right from the start, with a nose of spiced nuts and more citrus — plus lots of vanilla and some menthol. On the palate, it’s surprisingly bold — well sherried grains, candied ginger, more nuts (hazelnut?), and a fruity finish. All in all, there’s simply more going on here — and that’s generally a good thing. B+ / $56 [BUY IT NOW FROM MASTER OF MALT]

themacallan.com

Review: Kilchoman 2008 Vintage and PX Finish 2010

kilcohman 2008 Vintage 2015 (2)

Kilchoman may be just a kid on the distilling scene, but that doesn’t mean it’s taking its time. Here’s a look at two new expressions from this up-and-coming Islay distiller.

Kilchoman 2008 Vintage – This is a vatting of exclusively bourbon-cask-aged barrels of Kilchoman distilled in July 2008 and bottled in August 2015, making this, at 7 years old, the longest-aged expression to date to come from this now 10-year-old distillery. The nose is quite a surprise, loaded with apple and pear notes, with smoke taking a secondary (though plenty strong) role. The body is smokier, though far from overwhelming, but here more of an orange character comes into focus alongside the apple notes. On the finish, it’s quite gentle, with stronger vanilla custard notes, some almond and walnut notes, and an echo of smoke on the back end. A very strong showing for this vintage, and something that even a peat novice might be able to enjoy. 92 proof. A- / $100

Kilchoman Single Cask Release PX Finish (2010) – This is an ImpEx exclusive, a single-cask of Kilchoman aged for four years in bourbon barrels, then finished for four months in Pedro Ximinez sherry casks and bottled at cask strength. (Last year Kilchoman released a 2009 vintage version of basically the same expression, so feel free to compare.) The very light smoke on the nose is almost surprising — this is perhaps the most gentle of any Kilchoman expression I’ve tried to date. Sea spray, some coal fire, and standard peat fill out the aroma profile. On the palate the whisky is lightly sweet and touched with burnt citrus, darker baking spices, and again a modest smoke profile. The finish is moderately drying and short. Good effort, but it’s surpassed by the 2009 release. 114.4 proof. Cask #680/2010. B+ / $140

kilchomandistillery.com