Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World Expo San Francisco 2014

Wet weather didn’t stop the masses from crowding onto the San Francisco Belle this year, a rite of passage for Bay Area whisky lovers attending the annual Whiskies of the World Expo. Lots of great stuff on tap this year, particularly from independent Scotch bottlers. Without further ado…

Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World San Francisco 2014

Bourbon and American Whiskey

Balcones Brimstone / B+ / made from smoked corn; intriguing but a lot like sitting porchside in Santa Fe
Balcones Texas Single Malt / B / rough and tumble, fiery, with big grain character
Black Saddle 12 Years Old Bourbon / B+ / long black and blueberry notes; unusually fruity
Calumet Farm Bourbon / B / straightforward; tough to get into
Corsair Old Punk Whiskey / B+ / a pumpkin spice-flavored whiskey; curious; tastes like Thanksgiving, of course
High West A Midwinter Night’s Dram / B+ / Rendezvous Rye finished in Port barrels; a bit heave with the fruity, Port-laden finish
High West The Barreled Boulevardier  / B / a barrel-aged cocktail from HW; a little heavy on the Gran Classico for my tastes
High West “mystery whiskey” 12 Years Old / A / a hush-hush grain whiskey, aged 12; surprisingly good stuff, watch this space…
Lexington Finest Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey / B+ / heavy with sweetness, but drinkable
Lost Spirits Seascape II / B+ / second round with this peated whiskey finished in white wine barrels; brooding but restrained
Lost Spirits Umami / A- / a crazy concoction made with 100ppm peat and salty seawater; difficult to describe in just a few sips… review hopefully forthcoming

Scotch

Arran Bourbon Premium Single Cask 1996 / A- / lush and rounded, malty with good fruit
Balblair 1975 Vintage / A / a standout; big, silky, and malty; soothing finish
Blackadder Bruichladdich 21 Years Old Raw Cask / A / a top pick of the show; unfiltered Bruichladdich aged in a first-use charred cask, very unusual for Scotch (you can even see chunks of charred wood floating in the bottle); intense, chewy fruit and nuts; a marvel
Duncan Taylor Octave MacDuff 1998 14 Years Old / A- / great balance
Duncan Taylor Octave Miltonduff 2005 7 Years Old / A- / lots of sherry and nougat, with huge floral notes; another surprisingly good, young spirit
Duncan Taylor Black Bull Kyloe / B+ / not bad for a five year old blended whisky; nice mouthfeel, cherry fruit, plums on the back
Duncan Taylor Dimensions North British 1978 34 Years Old / A- / a single-grain whisky; still has its grainy funk showing a bit; caramel up front with a biting finish
Duncan Taylor Bunnahabhain 1991 21 Years Old / A / gorgeous honey and spice on this
Exclusive Malts Bowmore 2001 12 Years Old / B+ / big peat, rush of Madeira notes
Exclusive Malts Glencadam 1991 21 Years Old / B+ / smoldering, hay and heather
Exclusive Malts North Highland 1996 17 Years Old / A- / chew and rich, with raisins and plums
Glenmorangie Companta / B / Glenmorangie’s latest, finished in Burgundy and fortified Cote du Rhone casks; sounds like a lot of work for a pretty boring spirit that doesn’t have much balance
Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban / B- / finished in ruby port casks; snoozer, missing the port altogether this time around
Gordan & MacPhail Mortlach 16 Years Old / A- / chewy malt and cookies
Gordan & MacPhail Scapa 10 Years Old / A- / good balance of nougat and cereal
Highland Park 18 Years Old / A / for old time’s sake… still got it
Old Pulteney 30 Years Old / A – / solid, a sunny dram
Silver Seal 16 Years Old Speyside / B+ / straightforward, lots of nougat
Silver Seal 20 Years Old Speyside / A- / an improvement, sedate with a little cereal to balance things

World Whiskies 

Amrut Fusion / B+ / barley from Scotland and India; a little minty, smoky too; shortish finish
Amrut Intermediate Sherry / A- / lots of spice, some menthol; for those who like their whiskeys huge
Canadian Club Small Batch Classic 12 Years Old / B / why not? some spice, lots of wood
Kavalan Solist Ex-Bourbon Cask Single Malt Whisky / A- / chewy, great balance
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky / A- / lovely but strong with citrus notes
Sullivan’s Cove Double Cask / A- / muted on the nose, lots of malt
Sulivan’s Cove French Cask / A / a top pick, worthy of the praise being heaped on it; quite fruity and sweet, but gorgeous

Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World Expo San Francisco 2012

Kudos to Douglas Smith for putting together this event, easily the best installment of the Whiskies of the World show that I’ve experienced since I started this blog six years ago.

Loaded with whiskies you rarely see in the U.S. or even at whisky shows, WotW 2012 also had plenty of long-time favorites on hand to re-experience, as well. Interested in world whiskies from Australia, India, and other far-off places, like Utah? WotW had plenty of them to encounter here, along with plenty of food, a good-sized (but not overwhelming) crowd, and, mercifully, fewer bagpipes than ever (at least while I was in attendance). Lots of independent bottlers here too, some of whom (like Blackadder) I’ve never seen at a whisky show to date.

As for the whisky, there was plenty to enjoy, but of course there were some whiskys offering more enjoyment than others. Thoughts follow.

Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World San Francisco 2012

Scotland

Bruichladdich Black Art 2 21 Years Old / B+ / the most unique whisky of the night; dark, mushroomy, massive, with a Play-doh finish
Bruichladdich The Laddie Ten / A / great little caramel charmer; already winning awards left and right; full review to come next week
Bruichladdich Octomore 4.1 / A- / still winning, a smoke monster that doesn’t kill you
Blackadder Smoking Islay 11 Year Old Raw Cask / B+ / mild peat, oddly sweet finish
Chieftain’s Glenturret 21 Year Old Cask Strength / A / great body
Chieftain’s Mortlach 16 Year Old Sherry Cask Strength / A-
Balblair 1991 / B / rich and bittersweet, heavy peat, fudge finish
Balblair 1997 / B+ / better balance, sweeter
Douglas of Drumlanrig Breaval 11 Year Old / B / tastes young
Douglas of Drumlanrig Macallan 21 Year Old / B
Douglas of Drumlanrig Arran 13 Year Old / B-
GlenDronach 15 Year Old / A-
Glenglassaugh 26 Year Old / A- / better balance than the 37 Year Old
Glenglassaugh 37 Year Old / B+ / really malty, tannic edge; too long in wood
Glenglassaugh Revival / B- / heavy wood on this four year old whisky
Glenmorangie Artein / A- / this distillery’s latest, finished in Supertuscan wine casks; wine character is there, but lightly so
Isle of Arran Amarone Finish / A- / intense and powerful
Isle of Arran Sauternes Finish / B+ / edgy, light sweet on the finish
Kilchoman Sherry Cask Exclusive / A- / really rounded out thanks to that sherry finish
Kilchoman Vintage 2006 / B+ / punchy
Laphroaig Quarter Cask / B+ / always a standby
Muirhead’s Silver Seal Speyside 12 Years Old / B / malty
Muirhead’s Silver Seal Speyside 16 Years Old / B+
Muirhead’s Silver Seal Speyside 1987 25 Years Old / A- / nougat, mellow sweetness, good rounded whisky
Old Pulteney 17 Year Old / A- / edgy and deep; miles away from OP 12 Year Old (which I think is out of balance)
Old Pulteney 21 Year Old / A- / very similar, but better balance
Old Pulteney 30 Year Old / A / lovely, a rich cookie dough character
Samaroli Caol Ila 1980 / A- / mellowed peat
Samaroli Evolution 2011 / A / one of my favorite whiskys ever; still solid and delicious (though not quite the A+ I’ve previously rated it)
Samaroli Glenburgie 1989 / A-
Samaroli Glenlivet 1977 / A
Samaroli Highland Park 1989 / B+ / doesn’t feel its age
Samaroli Linkwood 1983 / B+ / very fruity
Samaroli Tomintoul 1967 / A / another winner, with massive depth, a knockout
Speyburn Bradan Orach Edition / B / a younger (no age statement) version of Speyburn 10, tastes that way; limited character
Tomatin 30 Year Old / B+ / really clunky, malt and citrus not quite in balance
Tomintoul 31 Year Old Reserve Limited Edition / A / bit of spice, nutmeg and ginger, beautiful

Other Whiskies

High West Whiskey Son of Bourye / A- / lovely body
Pendleton 1910 Canadian Rye Whisky / A- / 10 year old rye (100%); big cherry notes
Amrut Sherry Intermediate Cask Strength Limited Edition / A- / great slug of sherry on the finish of this Indian dram
Amrut Kadhambam Single Malt / A- / aged in five different types of casks; lots of body, big finish
Sullivan’s Cove Single Malt 46% / B+ / an 11 year old Australian malt, super sweet

Other Spirits

Amrut Old Port Rum / B/ very sweet, lots of apple notes
Craft Distillers Maison Surrenne Cognac Distillerie Galtaud Unblended Borderies / A- / light fruit, long sweet finish
Craft Distillers Germain-Robin Small Blend no. 1 Brandy / A / great balance, a blend of brandies from a range of west coast wines dating back to 1983

Review: Lark Single Malt Australian Whisky

Folks are making whiskey all over the world, even in far-flung places like Tasmania, Australia, where Lark Whiskey hails from.

The company makes a variety of spirits but the highlights are three single cask, single malt whiskeys produced in the Scottish style of Islay, with local barley and, yes, Tasmanian peat over which it is dried. Local yeasts and water are used in the bottlings, which do not carry age statements but which are typically aged for three to five years in barrel.

We got to try all three members of the lineup. They’re all available in the U.S., but you’ll have to hunt pretty hard to find them.

Lark Single Malt Whisky – Cask #648, 86 proof – Big malty grain notes reminiscent of white whiskey on the nose, and more on the palate. Young and fresh, it comes across with bread character, then fades to citrus — orange and lemon. The finish is on the short side, with a bit of alcoholic burn in an otherwise smooth spirit. B-

Lark Distiller’s Strength Whisky – Cask #659, 92 proof – Nuttier on the nose, with more orange and orange peel notes. Still has that youthful spirit, bread, yeast, and malt, but it’s more subdued and better balanced here. Surprisingly, though it’s a hotter whiskey, this one has considerably less bite to it and a more lasting, pleasant finish that offers sweetness and some nougat character. B+

Lark Cask Strength Whisky – Cask #659, 116 proof – Same cask as the Distiller’s Strength (unless that’s a misprint), but uncut from cask strength. Fiery, but flavorful. More wood character here, but the alcohol gets in the way of some of the Distiller’s Strength version’s charms. It’s still got spunk, though, with those nut and citrus notes coming on in the finish, but it ultimately feels a bit more simplistic as a spirit than the more nuanced Distiller’s Strength. B

typically $100 to $150 each / larkdistillery.com.au [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS!]