Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World Expo San Francisco 2018

Hey, look who’s not breaking his foot this year! Last year’s Whiskies of the World Expo was cut extremely short for me, but this year, safety was the name of the game. (Reminder: Don’t text while on the stairs, kids!)

I spent a lot more time than usual on American whiskeys this year, reflecting an amazing surge of craft distilleries appearing at WotW as well as a relative dearth of Scotch. That said, some of the Scottish drams I sampled were some of the best whiskies I’ve ever had — particularly Glencadam’s glorious 25 year old, to which I gave a spot rating of A+, thanks to its delightfully bright texture and fruit-forward palate. There was plenty of whiskey to like in America and beyond, too, but if I had to pick one product I’d like to sample in more depth, it’d have to be Healdsburg-based Alley 6’s bitters made from candy cap mushrooms they forage themselves on the Sonoma Coast.

Thoughts on everything tasted follow, as always.

Scotch

GlenDronach 12 Years Old – Bold sherry, nutty, with spice, but vegetal on the back end. B
GlenDronach 18 Years Old – Richer and better balanced, with big spices and some chocolate notes. A-
Ancnoc 24 Years Old
– A surprising amount of grain here for a 24 year old, with some orange peel notes; perfectly approachable but not overwhelming. B+
Balblair 1983
– Some smoke, barrel char, vanilla and chocolate. Nice balance. A
Glencadam 25 Years Old
– Bright and fresh, with a Sauternes character to it; some coconut, a little chewy; very lush and rounded. Best of show. A+
SIA Scotch Whisky – This has clearly been refined a bit over the years, now showing a youthful but silky caramel and vanilla notes; quite elegant for a blend. A-
The Exclusive Grain Cameronbridge 1992 25 Years Old
– One of the best single grains I’ve experienced in years; chocolate dominates, with a big sherry finish. A
The Exclusive Malts “An Orkney” 2000 17 Years Old
– I’m guessing Highland Park, then; traditionally built, but quite oaky. B+
The Macallan Edition No. 3
– A disappointment; a huge, bold body for Macallan, but surprisingly hot. B+
Highland Park Dark 
– HP in first-fill sherry barrels; the name is no lie, but the sherry takes it so far it ends up medicinal; overdone. B+
Highland Park Full Volume
– Chewy, with gunpowder and grain notes. A bit dull in the end. B
Alexander Murray Bunnahabhain 28 Years Old Cask Strength
– Lightly peated, with a solid Madeira note; gently floral. B+
Tobermory 21 Years Old Manzanilla Finish Cask Strength
– Blodly spice up front, but a bit raw and vegetal on the back end. B+
Deanston 20 Years Old Oloroso Finish Cask Strength
– Big grain base, with notes of cotton balls. B-
Ledaig 1996
– Punchy, with lingering grain and plenty of sweetness. B+

American

Belle Meade Mourvedre Cask Finish – A very rare offering that sold out in 2 days, it’s a beauty of a blend of wine and wood influence. A-
Belle Meade Imperial Stout “Black Belle” Finish – Bold and hoppy, notes of peanut butter, tons of fun. A
Sonoma County Distilling Sonoma Rye
– Soothing menthol notes, but a little mushroomy funk. B+
Sonoma County Distilling West of Kentucky Bourbon No. 2
– Wheated. Silky but rustic at times, with ample spice. A-
Sonoma County Distilling West of Kentucky Bourbon No. 3
– High-rye. Youthful, some vegetal notes peeking through, showing promise. B+
Old Forester Statesman
– Special bottling for that Kingsman movie last year. Big chocolate notes dominate, with vanilla and clove. Classic Kentucky. B+
Amador Double Barrel Bourbon
– Quite sweet, with candied pecan notes, vanilla finish. A-
Seven Stills of San Francisco Czar
– A burly whiskey made from imperial stout. Lots of smoke here, which would be fine but for the very green character. Overly malty and unbalanced. B-
Seven Stills of San Francisco Frambooze
– Racy berry notes in this whiskey, which is distilled from raspberry ale, plus notes of walnuts and dark chocolate. Lots of fun. A-
High West Bourye (2018)
– A classic whiskey, gorgeous with deep vanilla, spice, and chocolate notes. A
High West A Midwinter Nights Dram 5.4
– The deep raisin profile remains a classic, showcasing both power and grace. A-
Do Good Distillery California Bourbon
– Very rustic, gritty with pepper and raw grain. C+
Do Good Distillery Cherrywood Smoked Whiskey
– Pungent, mainly showcasing pet food notes. D
Widow Jane Single Barrel Bourbon 10 Years Old
– Absolutely massive, with notes of minerals, orange marmalade, creme brulee, and milk chocolate. A-
Widow Jane Rye Oak & Apple Wood
– Youthful, the apple really shows itself. B
Alley 6 Single Malt Whiskey 
– Rustic, pungent, but showing promise. B
Alley 6 Rye Whiskey
– Pretty, quite floral. A-
Mosswood Corbeaux Barrel Bourbon 6 Years Old – A private bottling for a SF retailer; a rustic style whiskey. B
Mosswood Sour Ale Barrel
– An old favorite, gorgeous with apple spices and a delightful, deft balance. A

Japanese

Kurayoshi Matsui Whiskey Pure Malt – A young malt, gentle but simple, florals and biscuits. B+
Kurayoshi Matsui Whiskey Pure Malt 8 Years Old – Surprisingly a bit thin, though more well-rounded. B
Fukano 12 Years Old
– Heavy greenery notes, drinking overblown tonight. B

Other Stuff

Alley 6 86’d Candy Cap Bitters – Insane mushroom intensity, really beautiful stuff. A
Mosswood Night Rum Scotch Barrel
– This is a rum, finished in Ardbeg whisky barrels. What!? The combination of sweet and smoke is almost impossible to describe; working on a sample to paint a bigger picture of this madness. A-
Mosswood Sherry Barrel Irish Whiskey
– A 3 year old Cooley Irish, sherry finished in the U.S. Fairly classic. A-
Amrut Double Cask
– Port finished Amrut from India; peat overpowers the sweetness it wants to show off. B

Review: Jura Seven Wood and Jura 18 Years Old

Jura, based on the Isle of Jura just one island over from Islay, has launched two new expressions, both of which join its permanent, national lineup. These will soon be replacing much of Jura’s current lineup, with Origin, Superstition, Diurachs’ Own 16 Years Old, and Prophecy all being sunsetted.

Let’s look at each of the new whiskies in turn.

Jura Seven Wood – This unique whisky, which carries no age statement, is “influenced by seven select French and American Oak barrels.” It is initially matured in first-fill American White Oak ex-bourbon barrels, then finished in six different French Oak casks — Limousin, Tronçais, Allier, Vosges, Jupilles, and Les Bertranges, all wood-producing regions in the country. Of special note, none of these casks have been used as wine casks — though it’s unclear what exactly they have been used for before ending up at Jura. Wood is indeed a strong element throughout the tasting experience of Seven Wood, starting on the nose, where a quite burly, almost New World character leads the way. Aromas of new lumber, roasted meat, allspice, and savory herbs are exotic but can be a bit daunting, muscling out the more approachable, sweeter aromas one might otherwise expect. The palate has a bit of sweetness at first, but with even a little time in glass this tends to dissipate. As it develops, the palate takes on a leathery, mushroom note, with flavors of hemp seed, bacon, and more toasty wood notes backing that up. Quite drying, it finishes on a spicy note that recalls allspice and layers in cloves and nutmeg, which is about as traditional as Seven Wood ever gets. Those looking for something off the beaten path may quite enjoy this, but it does tend to wander fairly far afield and never finds much in the way of balance. The name turns out to be perfectly apt. 84 proof. B- / $75

Jura 18 Years Old – This 18 year old single malt is matured in American White Oak ex-bourbon barrels and finished in European oak casks, formerly used to age an undisclosed red wine. It’s a more traditional whisky than the Seven Wood, but a well produced one to be sure. Malty and a little spicy on the nose, the whisky hints at nutmeg, licorice, and mint, with some dark chocolate and a touch of toasty wood making an appearance. On the palate, a stronger chocolate character dominates, with some clove clinging to the back of it. A burnt sugar note emerges as the palate develops, and here we see a little island influence, with a salted caramel note offering just the barest hint of briny peat character. The finish is sweeter than expected, and long with notes of spice and some hints of dark cherry and, from nowhere, a coffee bean note. Nice balance, with plenty to recommend. (Not to mention, a new single malt with an age statement? Color us shocked.) 88 proof. A / $130

jurawhisky.com

Tasting Report: WhiskyLIVE Washington DC 2018

Whiskey festivals come in all shapes and sizes, but WhiskyLIVE consistently produces a very approachable event for a fan at any stage in their whiskey obsession. There’s a good balance of offerings from industry heavy hitters and smaller craft outfits, as well as the occasional downright weird bottling. This year, I got to taste whiskey the way George Washington made it, but I somehow missed the 28-year-old Czech single malt (which I’m not sure I regret). There were no real standouts from our side of the pond this year (no duds really, either), but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed some of the line-up from Australian distiller Limeburners, as well as one or two other international whiskeys. Abbreviated thoughts on (most) everything tasted follow.

American

Elijah Craig 18 Years Old / B+ / familiar oak and cinnamon notes; not as balanced as previous releases

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon (Batch A118) / B+ / another fine barrel proof release from Heaven Hill; drinking a little hot

Wathen’s Barrel Proof Bourbon (Jack Rose Private Selection) / A- / extremely approachable at cask strength; full of clove and orange peel

Kentucky Peerless Rye Whiskey / A- / complex and rich for its age with a great balance between the rye spice and sweeter elements

Maker’s Mark Bourbon Private Select (Whisky Magazine & Schneider’s of Capitol Hill) / B+ / bold and complex but a little too sweet

Journeyman Last Feather Rye Whiskey / B / light and grainy with good clove and caramel notes

Journeyman Silver Cross Whiskey / A- / cereal-forward with a minty sweetness and chocolate and cola notes

Widow Jane 10 Year Single Barrel Bourbon / A- / baking spice and a little dark chocolate; surprisingly good, if straightforward, (sourced) bourbon

Widow Jane Rye Mash, Oak and Apple Wood Aged / B- / medicinal nose saved by notes of overripe apple and pear, thin and unbalanced

Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye “Maple Finished” Cask Proof / A- / syrupy and sweet but balanced with a bold rye spice

Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select / A- / tastes like Jack Daniel’s but better

George Washington’s Rye Whiskey (unaged) / B / baked cereal and creamy with a heavy corn sweetness

George Washington’s Rye Whiskey 2 Years Old / B- / chewy vanilla notes but unbalanced and astringent

George Washington’s Rye Whiskey 4 Years Old / B+ / age has clearly brought balance along with toffee and caramel notes; could be something special in a few more years

Scotch

Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso / B / jam toast on the nose; light-bodied with a little too much sherry influence

The Glenlivet 21 Years Old / A- / stewed fruit; sweet and earthy with an interesting chocolate covered cherry note

Aberlour 18 Years Old / B+ / a little hot with a good balance of raisin and creamy cola notes

Tamdhu Cask Strength / A- / rich, honeyed body with dried dark fruit and a little lemon zest, easy drinking at this proof (58.5%)

Glenglassaugh Revival / B / sweet, citrusy, meaty, and earthy; a bit all over the place

Benriach 10 Years Old / A- / complex and bold for its youth with great pear and citrus notes

Glendronach 12 Years Old / A / great balance of wood and honeyed dark fruit notes; a gateway single malt if there ever was one

Glendronach 18 Years Old / A- / more of a raisin quality than its younger sibling with a slightly thicker body and just as enjoyable

Bruichladdich Black Art 5.1 / B / a bit flat and woody underneath all the smoke and meat

Deanston 20 Years Old / A- / a great sherry-aged whisky old enough to provide a solid baking spice punch

International

Limeburners Single Malt Whisky Port Cask / A- / creamy nose, dark fruits on the palate with a great caramelized sugar note

Limeburners Tiger Snake Whiskey / A / big cherry sweetness and mounds of brown sugar; one of my favorites of the evening

Amrut Port Pipe Single Cask Whisky / B+ / honeyed palate with a good balance of smoke and raisin notes

Glendalough 13 Year Old Irish Whiskey Mizunara Finish / A / pecan praline ice cream with a dusting of raw coconut; an already great Irish whiskey elevated

Crown Royal XO Canadian Whisky / B+ / silky body with rich oak and subtle nuttiness; the cognac influence is pronounced on this one

Brenne 10 Year Old French Single Malt Whisky / B / herbal and floral, but almost too much so

Lot 40 Cask Strength Canadian Whisky / A+ / massive palate full of bold, fruity rye spice and rich caramel; one of the better Canadian whiskies I’ve ever tasted

Review: J. Mossman Blended Scotch 12 Years Old, 15 Years Old, and 18 Years Old

 

That packaging… it’s almost too much. As if it’s designed to distract you from thinking about the whisky inside, right?

Well, rest assured that although these three new releases from new brand J. Mossman look exquisite on the outside, they’re just as good beneath the stopper. All three are blended Scotch whiskies, and they take their name from one Sir J. Mossman, a goldsmith in Edinburgh who was a jeweler to Mary, Queen of Scots. Mossman was the last artisan to work on the Crown of Scotland, back in 1540. Now he’s got a whisky named after him.

Three expressions are on offer; other than the age statements (refreshing these days, no?), there’s no additional production information on how the blends differ. Let’s dive in.

All are bottled at 80 proof.

J. Mossman Gold Crown Blended Scotch Whisky 12 Years Old – There’s an immediate and surprising nuttiness on the nose here; it can come across as slightly musty, but while the underlying grain is evident in the blend, it’s nonetheless fresher and better integrated than you’ll find in most spirits in this age range. The palate has soul. It’s quite savory and drying, to be sure, but the nutty aromas here develop into a rich mahogany note, with hints of old sherry, baking spice, and burnt toast all at play. Just a hint of pie crust sweetness shines through enough to cut the austerity. The finish is on the short side, but compelling in its savory depth. B+ / $45

J. Mossman Platinum Crown Blended Scotch Whisky 15 Years Old – At 15 years old, the whisky has settled down, at least a littly. The heavily nutty nose in the 12 is a bit muted by 15, the aromas taking on more of a mushroom and pasture character. The palate is still extremely dry and is dominated by similar flavor characteristics, though a slightly peppery element comes more to the fore amidst the impact of wood, brown bread, and savory-leaning baking spice. It’s a bit more cohesive as a whisky, but ultimately carries a similar charm. B+ / $54

J. Mossman Pink Gold Crown Blended Scotch Whisky 18 Years Old – Mossman takes things in a new direction with this 18 year old, which finally turns up the sweetness, giving the whisky more of a sense of balance. The nose is surprisingly restrained — more so than either the 12 or the 15 — though notes of camphor and cloves cut through that mild nuttiness that again lingers through the family tree. The palate takes a detour however, offering a healthy and surprising slug of chocolate, more pepper and spice, and a silky vanilla character that lengthens the finish considerably. All of this gives the whisky a bit more heat, but also a creamier quality that makes it far more enjoyable to linger over. A / $60

jmossmanwhisky.com

Review: Chapter 7 Allt-a-Bhainne 9 Years Old and Aultmore 9 Years Old

We last wrote about the Swiss brand Chapter 7, a newer independent bottler of single malt Scotch, in mid-2017. Now the outfit has released two new releases in the U.S., both single cask bottlings offered at cask strength. Let’s check the duo out.

Chapter 7 Allt-a-Bhainne 9 Years Old – Allt-a-Bhainne is a Speyside distillery in the hands of the Chivas Brothers, built primarily to pump out malt for blends. This rare single malt expression (aged entirely in a first fill bourbon hogshead) initially shows nothing much special. The nose is green and a bit weedy, with heavy granary overtones and a raw pungency to it. The palate is fortunately much more enticing than the nose would indicate, offering quite a slug of spice, a bit of cinnamon red hots, some late-developing dark chocolate, and a soothing, bourbon barrel-driven vanilla finish. It’s rough around the edges, and would clearly have benefited significantly from extra aging, but it’s not without some measure of charm. 121.4 proof. B- / $65

Chapter 7 Aultmore 9 Years Old – Speyside’s Aultmore has a little more street cred, and single malts from this distillery are easier to come by. This 9 year old is bourbon cask aged but finished in an oloroso sherry cask. Again, though, the nose betrays the whiskey’s youth, though the sherry cask manages to give it an aromatic lift. That said, it’s underpinned by ample granary notes, a heavy barley pungency that pushes past whatever citrus and spice notes the sherry cask have given it. The palate is a bit of a bruiser at over 62% abv, and the sherry and underlying grain notes remain in serious conflict on the tongue. It’s perhaps a touch nutty from time to time, but simply too undercooked to show much charm. Water helps. 124.4 proof. B- / $70

chapter7whisky.com

How to ‘Premiumize’ Your Whisky Brand, in 10 Easy Steps!

Marketing is one of the many tools for Premiumization

Sales flagging? Running out of quality stock? Desperate to push prices up even higher? Here’s our 10-step plan to get you to the world of ultra-premium spirits.

Step 1: Be well respected at the start

This is crucial. You have to have a good reputation from the start, because the goal here is to make a load of money, and in that process we’ll eventually need to ruin your reputation. There’s no way to do that by starting from a bad reputation. You should have a decent following, with a well respected and reasonably priced range of whiskies with age statements. Also, your distillery should be completely unprepared for a sudden increase in the popularity of your whisky, or at least look it.

Step 2: Discontinue your age statements

Age statements are great from a customer perspective, but to really premiumize those you’ll need to discontinue them so that they become sought after. To do this you’ll need a new range of whiskies to replace the ones with age statements. Name them after colours, something in nonsensical Gaelic, or anything really. People will buy them no matter what.

Step 3: Bring back the age statements… at a price

Ha, a bit switch! Now you need to bring back the age statements to much fanfare and applause… but at a much, much higher price. This means you’ll be getting way more money from the same whisky you were selling before! Boom, premiumized! It really helps if these whiskies were well loved to start with, which is why step 1 is so important.

Step 4: Bring on the marketing gimmicks

Marketing is a fantastic tool that you’re going to be spending a lot more of your money on now you’re a premium whisky brand, so make sure you invest it wisely by blasting whisky into space, using virtual reality experiences, smoke machines, or anything else that will get people talking. It doesn’t need to be positive, just talking. There’s no such thing as bad press.

Step 5: Release crazy expensive stuff

Another way to get people talking is by releasing some crazy expensive stuff they can never afford to buy. Now that you’ve premiumized your age statements, you have the go-ahead to release something astronomically expensive and people will believe that it’s worth it. It is important that every part of this whisky be very expensive looking. Possible packaging could include a massive hand-made wooden box carved by a sixth-generation craftsman, a certificate signed by the distiller, and a hand-blown decanter or bottle. A good rule for the box is that it should be at least three times the size it needs to be. Make sure to auction a few bottles for charity and have huge release events with a premium and exciting setting. Mega-yachts work well.

Step 6: Become collectible

Another crucial step is to become collectible. This is because you want prices to spiral out of control and then capitalise on rising auction prices by raising the prices on your stuff on the primary market. Step 2, 3, and 5 should help with this, but it may also be prudent to bid on your own whiskies at auction, buy back any stocks you sold to other companies or brokers and buy hundred-year-old fakes off collectors to display as a reminder of how premium you’ve always been.

Step 7: Get whisky enthusiasts to hate you

Studies have shown a definite link between whisky enthusiasts hating a whisky brand and the continued premiumization of the same brand. There is some disagreement as to the causality of these two things, but we believe that these same whisky enthusiasts will talk, either way. This chatter will be negative but it’s still talk. But all this whining about how you used to use better casks, ‘it’s not like the old stuff,’ and other rose-tinted-glasses comments is perfect, because you discontinued all the old stuff and made it inaccessible to anyone without a Bugatti, which is then driving collectibility and auction prices (and therefore your own prices, remember) further and further skyward. Of course, this only works if you were well respected in the first place which again, is why step 1 is crucial.

Step 8: Explore Duty Free/Travel Retail

If you aren’t releasing stuff in the airport, you aren’t premiumizing. The important thing to remember here is that people in an airport know nothing about whisky and will either buy your rubbish NAS whisky for loads more than they should or will pay crazy money for dark-looking whisky in fancy decanters and boxes. It’s important that you only release these two things in travel retail and save your good stuff for the Bugatti drivers.

Step 9: Premiumize social media

Social media is becoming bigger and is a fantastic place to shout about your newfound premiumness. Start an official page on all the usual platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. These pages will churn out nothing but artsy black and white photos of the distillery and how premium and ‘hand made’ everything is. You must also start accounts for all of your brand ambassadors (of which there should be quite a few) showing off what rare and collectible whiskies they are getting to try and the exotic places they are getting to go. This will again further associate your brand in people’s minds with the words premium, rare, and collectible.

Step 10: Profit!

Well, we’ve discontinued the age statements, brought them back, raised the bar, raised the prices, become collectible, released a load of new whisky, and become universally hated. The only thing left to do is watch the cash roll in. Wow, it’s that easy? you say. Yes, but be aware, there is a trade-off: Respect. Now that you’ve become hated, you’ve lost all respect and therefore your reputation, since you’ve alienated the customers who actually loved your whisky, not just loved to brag about how expensive it is. To gain this back, you would have to undo all of the premiumizing that we’ve come so far to achieve. Don’t be foolish! What’s the grumblings of the whisky community compared to cash in your pocket? Next round’s on us!

Review: Glenmorangie Spios

Always an exciting part of the beginning of the year, Glenmorangie’s latest Private Edition release is upon us. For 2018, it’s Glenmorangie Spìos (Scots Gaelic for ‘spice’ and pronounced ‘spee-oss’), the distillery’s first single malt whisky fully matured in American ex-rye whiskey casks. As usual, no age statement is offered.

I was initially skeptical that this would work well considering the disparity between ethereal Glenmo and American rye, but what an interesting combination Spios turns out to be. The nose retains that classic Glenmorangie delicacy, but punches it up with some Emeril-style bam! spiciness.

The nose has that classically Glenmo floral element but here it’s impregnated with lots of baking spice, particularly cloves. A stronger vanilla note, driven by time in American oak, is evident, though the barley backbone remains unmistakable. This feels like a younger expression of Glenmorangie that conceivably could have benefited from more time in cask.

The palate is heavy with malt notes, a biscuity flavor developing alongside a more pastoral, grassy character. Here the rye influence is less instantly evident than it is on the nose, with elements running again to cloves, some dark chocolate, and toasty grains. Again, there’s some youth apparent here, the finish falling back to its barley roots. That’s not a crime, but it doesn’t let the barrel treatment shine quite as much as I suspect the distillery would have liked.

92 proof.

B+ / $100 / glenmorangie.com

Whisky Brand Confusion: When Is It a Different Scotch Distillery?

The new Macallan Distillery will look quite different…

In 2013 a new brand was launched by William Grant (owners of Glenfiddich and Balvenie distilleries) called Kininvie. You may see its little 35cl bottles in duty free shops. The 17 year old is the cheapest version of this whisky and it will cost you around £80 for that half bottle, £160 equivalent for a full UK bottle size.

Where does this rare and expensive whisky come from? Grants claims it is from Kininvie Distillery. Only sold in minute quantities as a single malt, this mysterious Speyside whisky mostly goes into Monkey Shoulder and Grant’s basic blended whiskies.

If you research this distillery though, you’ll find that in 1990 Grant had need of more malt whisky. To cope with this, it expanded Balvenie. It added 3 wash stills and 3 spirits stills in a building just behind the Balvenie distillery. The mash was mashed and wort fermented in the normal Balvenie distillery buildings and piped over the wall.

Because the whisky can be made slightly differently at the Kininvie stillhouse to that of Balvenie, the little whisky that was sold as a single malt was known as Hazelwood, until recently when it was rebranded as Kininvie. Even more confusingly, Grant has now brought out a blended whisky called Hazelwood.

This stillhouse is a logical extension of what Japanese distilleries and more modern Scotch distilleries have been doing: Producing different whisky styles from the same distillery to give you more options, particularly if you don’t have lots of distilleries. The most obvious example is to produce both peated and unpeated whiskies from the same distillery. Such as Ledaig and Tobermory, Tomintoul and Old Ballantruan, among many others. Much more modern and adaptable super distilleries have also been developed, such as Diageo’s Roseisle and Grant’s Ailsa Bay. However, none of these claim to have whiskies from different distilleries, just different brands produced from the same distilleries.

I would argue that Kininvie is not a different distillery to Balvenie. It shares equipment in the same buildings, and the one building that houses its own stills is not far enough away from the main site. Some would disagree with me however, because Kininvie does have some of its own equipment within the Balvenie distillery and the character of the spirit is different enough.

You may remember from the Scottish film The Angel’s Share, the plot revolves around a rare whisky called Malt Mill. This distillery was actually a replica of Laphroaig, built inside Lagavulin. It shared Lagavulin’s mash tun but had its own fermentation tanks and stills. But is Malt Mill a different distillery? Many seem to think so, with huge amounts of effort and money spent finding even a few drops of the precious stuff. (A miniature was sold at auction recently for a few thousand pounds. Yes, a 50ml bottle.) But again, I would argue not, having the same mash tun and being in the same building as Lagavulin makes all Malt Mill Lagavulin, no matter how different the spirit was.

Another great example is Mannochmore, a distillery built in 1971 on the grounds of Glenlossie distillery. It had its own mash tun and fermenting tanks, but it is still within the same complex as another distillery. Are these two brands made at the same distillery? Diageo doesn’t seem to think so, as it has sold whisky from the two separately for years, but the point remains. In this instance, I would say that Mannochmore is a different distillery as it has all of its own equipment, despite being within the same complex.

More examples include Clynelish and Brora (closed 1983), Linkwood ‘A’ (closed in 1985) and Linkwood ‘B,’ and Glendullan ‘Old’ (closed 1985) and ‘New.’ These three were all examples of a distillery expanding by building a new distillery next to the old one, running them simultaneously for a while then shutting down the original. Why don’t we see Linkwood ‘A’ and ‘Old’ Glendullan going for crazy money like Brora? At first, I had no idea. The principle was the same and they all closed around the same time. Then I realised Brora had been renamed, partly because of a high peating level being used in the early ’70s, so it was treated as a different distillery. The casks were labelled ‘Brora.’ Linkwood and Glendullan were never that lucky. Despite having brand new distilleries (with new equipment and therefore different characters) they were not renamed and so never entered the history books as rare and collectable whiskies. It is funny though that Brora was treated as a different distillery, while Linkwood ‘A’ and ‘Old’ Glendullan were not.

Then we have the opposite question: When does a distillery stop being the original? For me, the best example of this is the recent building work at Macallan. They have invested a huge amount of money in building a massive brand new distillery on the Macallan estate. When the new site goes online (they were running tests at the distillery as of November) the two old distilleries will be shut down, unless they are needed in the future. Separating the two old distilleries and the new one is about the same distance as the distance between the Glenfiddich and Balvenie distilleries down the road. Essentially, Macallan has three distilleries on the same ‘site.’ Even though the new distillery is modelled completely on the old, I think you could make the argument that the new Macallan distillery is exactly that, a new distillery.

And what about when a distillery is completely rebuilt, so that it bears little resemblance to that of before? Should it be considered a different distillery? You have Dalmunach distillery, built on the same site as Imperial, a totally different distillery with new equipment. But equally, now you have Ardmore without its old direct fired stills, Scapa with halved fermentation times, and Benrinnes without partial triple distillation. These things were part of the core personality of those malts. Now, they are different and perhaps the whiskies will never be quite the same again.

The message here is to always be questioning of what the industry is telling you. Should you spend a lot of money on Kininvie because Grant tells you it’s from a different distillery? Perhaps not. Should you trust that Macallan’s new distillery will make exactly the same as the old? Well, we’ll have to wait and see…

Review: James Eadie’s Trade Mark “X” Blended Scotch Whisky

Scotland has no shortage of lost brands and silent stills, and it’s always fun when one re-emerges. The latest is James Eadie, a self-styled “ancient Scotch mixture” (read: blended Scotch) that is returning to the market after 70 years.

James Eadie’s Trade Mark “X” first retailed in 1854 and was trademarked 1877. Today’s expression includes stock from the silent stills of Cambus and Littlemill, among others. If you’d like to more, check out “The Spirit of James Eadie” on YouTube, which tells the story of the revival of Trade Mark “X.”

We got a small sample to play with. Let’s check it out.

The nose is unremarkable, heavy with granary notes, some light peat, and creosote, but also a somewhat green, weedy character. The palate shows more promise, with a sharp lemon and orange citrus note giving way to a more savory cereal note, some hints of honey, and a moderate spice element — cloves and some nutmeg. The finish is on the heavy side, but reasonably clean, with sweet cereal notes enduring alongside some of that sharper, grassy note.

While its charms grow with some air and some time, all told it ends up as a rather typical example of a lightly peated blended Scotch whisky. Nothing wrong with that of course, and it’s definitely worth a sip or two, should you come across it in your whisky adventures, just to see whether the X marks the spot.

90.2 proof.

B / $52 / jameseadie.co.uk

Review: Bruichladdich Octomore 8.1, 8.2, and 8.3

Don’t get confused — Octomore 10 may have arrived in early 2017, but this series in the Octomore line, called Octomore 8 (technically “Masterclass_08”) is actually the most recent set of whiskies in Bruichladdich’s continuing exploration into just how much peat a distiller can jam into a spirit.

There are four releases in the Octomore 8 line, and today we look at the first three. 8.1 and 8.2 are close siblings, both eight years old and distilled in 2008, while 8.3 is quite a different spirit altogether, part of Bruichladdich’s investigation into Islay-grown barley, distilled in 2011, and peated far beyond anything else it’s ever released to date.

Let’s dig in!

Bruichladdich Octomore 8.1 – 100% aged for 8 years in American (ex-bourbon) casks. Intense smoke immediately hits the nose, fresh and peaty. There’s a hint of flamed orange peel in the mix, and, given time exposed to air, some nutty notes and chocolate aromas. The palate is fiery, pungent with peat smoke and wood embers, but water tames the beast appropriately, coaxing out a vanilla and caramel character that is otherwise elusive. The finish sees a squeeze of lemon atop that core of intense and lingering peat smoke. 118.6 proof. 167ppm. B+ / $140

Bruichladdich Octomore 8.2 – Aged 8 years in three different types of European oak wine barrels: French mourvedre, Austrian sweet wines, and French Sauternes. It’s a much darker whisky in color, and darker in spirit, too. While 8.1 is relatively light on its feet, 8.2 is well weighted with aromatic notes of camphor, sea spray, and dried fruit. On the palate, again water is a necessity, as it helps to showcase ample citrus notes, sweet custard, and fruits in syrup. The finish is much less smoky, with a clear citrus thread running through it. Intense, but really quite lovely. 116.8 proof. 167 ppm. A- / $200

Bruichladdich Octomore 8.3 – Made completely from local barley, aged 5 years, 56% in bourbon casks, 44% in a mix of European oak wine casks of various ilk. Peated to a reportedly unprecedented level, you wouldn’t know it from the nose, which offers a soft, cottony smoke profile and hints of candied nuts, vanilla, and a little bitter cocoa powder. The body — at full proof and full phenol — is hard to get your head around, but water again tames the beast and pushes a delightful agenda of spiced nuts, wine-soaked berries, baked apples, and a long, lingering savory spice character. Surprisingly, 8.3 finds more of a sense of balance than either of its forebears, though the powerful peat element can of course at some times be a challenge. 122.4 proof. 309 ppm. A- / $220

bruichladdich.com

Review: Flaviar Son of a Peat Blended Malt

Our pals at Flaviar, which operate a cool spirits subscription service as well as owning our affiliate retail partner Caskers, have released their first ever private label whisky: Son of a Peat.

The inaugural Son of a Peat (this is technically Batch 01) is a blended malt Scotch comprised of eight single malts from three regions in Scotland: Islay, the Islands, and Speyside. “Through member feedback and market insights, Flaviar co-founder Grisa Soba combined his passion for distilling and blending with data from Flaviar club enthusiasts to create a peated malt blend members would be sure to love. Son of a Peat is blended with the flavor profile top of mind, rather than being focused on an age statement.”

The initial run is 1500 bottles in size, with a three bottle limit per customer.

Let’s give it a taste.

Of those three regions mentioned above, Islay (as expected) really dominates. In fact, as the name implies, this is a quite straightforward expression of a heavily-peated whisky, extremely maritime on the nose with ample salt and seaweed notes and a strong current of smoke running throughout. The palate offers few surprises, a racy and powerful take on ultra-peat, pungent with a reprise of notes of seaweed, salt spray, and waves of peat smoke wafting over everything. It’s a fair enough complaint that Son of a Peat offers few surprises. But did I mention the peat? Just checking.

96.6 proof.

B / $60 / sonofapeat.com

Review: The Maltman Springbank 24 Years Old from Whisky Foundation

Ever wonder why the price of whisky doesn’t fluctuate with supply and demand like the price of gasoline? Well, now it does — sort of — thanks to The Whisky Foundation Reserve, which is launching the idea of whisky priced based on market demand.

Take a look at the listing page (link at the bottom of this review) and you’ll see what we mean. Basically, The Whisky Foundation Reserve acquired a cask of Springbank 24 year old, distilled in 1992, aged in sherry casks, and bottled by The Maltman in 2017 at cask strength. 244 bottles were produced, and as they sell, the price rises and falls. The first bottle sold for a mere $1. Prices have topped out at $551 before settling, as I write this, at $270. That may go up, it may go down. Depends on if you go buy one.

Neat idea, and we were lucky enough to be able to actually sample the whisky. If you’re thinking about jumping into the malt market, here’s what you can expect.

The nose has that immediate punch of Springbank funk, slightly earthy and meaty with hints of camphor, Stilton cheese, and simmering bacon. The palate is racier than expected, finally showcasing the sherry-driven fruit character of citrus oils mixed with hints of walnut. A gunpowder character and a powerful artichoke note carry things to a lingering finish that is sharp and citrusy, with some of those mushroom and vegetal notes mixed in. Green pepper isn’t normally something I like to see in anything I drink, but in this well-aged Springbank, it works well as just one part of a curious but compelling whole.

94.2 proof.

A- / $270 (subject to change) / whiskyfoundation.com

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