Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World Expo San Francisco 2017

This year’s Whiskies of the World was shaping up beautifully, but a tragic tumble down the stairs (PSA: Don’t text and navigate staircases!) cut my evening very short. I had time to taste only a handful of spirits before leaving for treatment — shout-out to the crack ER team at Kaiser San Rafael! — but I did make it out with my tasting notes, at least.

I promise to make it up to you at WotW 2018. Until then, thoughts…

Scotch

Highland Park Fire Edition / A / drinking beautifully, light and supple, with lively floral overtones
Deanston 18 Years Old / A / a big surprise; bold and heavy with caramel, with shocking depth
Glengoyne Cask Strength / B+ / ample youth and cereal notes, with a light, sweet lemon finish
Compass Box Three Year Old Deluxe / B / nothing fancy, young and mushroomy; what’s the fuss about?
Glencadam 25 Years Old / B+ / quiet, with light vanilla and fruit notes; subtle
anCnoc 24 Years Old / A / chewy, loaded with raisins and cherry notes, plums on the back end

America

Low Gap Bavarian Wheat Whiskey Sauternes Finish / B+ / exotic, tropical fruit, dark toasted bread, and golden raisins
Low Gap 2013 Port Barrel Rye (barrel sample) / A- / chewy Port notes, with lots of heavy raisin and toasty oak notes; 4 years old now — no bottling decision made yet
Low Cap 2012 Cognac Barrel Rye (barrel sample) / B+ / hotter on the nose, with less barrel influence; needs more time; 5 years old now — to be bottled at age 8
High West Rendezvous Rye / A / always a standout; old rye with lots of apple and spice, classically structured
High West A Midwinter Nights Dram 4.6 / A / mint and cherry notes, with some chocolate — a lovely rendition of the modern classic AMND

Japan

Fukano Whisky / B / single-distilled rice whisky; big cereal character surprises, slightly vegetal
Fukano Whisky Single Cask / B+ / a step up, with bolder apple and raisin, citrus oil notes
Ohishi Whisky Single Sherry Cask / A- / bold sherry  character with the lightness of a rice base; lovely combination

Review: Bruichladdich The Laddie Ten (2017), Port Charlotte 10 Years Old (2017), Octomore 10 (2017), and Black Art 5.1

With Jim McEwan out and Adam Hannett in as master distiller, Bruichladdich hasn’t taken its foot off the gas even for a second. This summer the company hits the ground with three new ten year old whiskies — all revivals of earlier limited editions — plus a new release of Black Art, Hannett’s first stab at this mysterious (intentionally) vatting of very rare whiskies.

Thoughts on the quartet follow.

Bruichladdich The Laddie Ten Second Limited Edition 10 Years Old (2017) – The Laddie Ten is becoming a classic of younger single malts, and now a second limited edition is arriving. Distilled in 2006, this release is a 10 year old just like the first, and is made again from unpeated barley, and the whisky is aged in a mixture of bourbon, sherry, and French wine casks. Departures from the first edition are evident from the start. The second edition is quite a bit more cereal-focused on the nose than the original, with orange-scented barley and light mushroom notes wafting in and out. The palate is a bit sweeter than the nose would cue you off to, with a distinct chocolate character and notes of Honeycomb cereal. The finish is lively and sherry-heavy, with a nagging echo of dried mushrooms. It’s not as essential a whisky as the original Laddie Ten, but it remains worthwhile and is still not a bad value. 100 proof. B+ / $58

Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Second Limited Edition 10 Years Old (2017) – Another round with the 10 year old Port Charlotte. Made from 100% Scottish barley, and aged in a mix of first-fill bourbon, sherry, tempranillo, and French wine casks. Peated to a moderately heavy 40ppm. Sweet orange and some strawberry interplay nicely with the smoky, salty nose. This leads to a palate of dried fruit, sultry smoked bacon notes, and hints of camphor. It’s a fine dram, but as Islay goes, it’s not overwhelmingly well balanced and not all that special. Not my favorite whisky in this batch, but nothing I’d spit out, of course. 100 proof. B / $62

Bruichladdich Octomore 10 Years Old (2017) – You’ll need to look at the fine print to determine that this is from the 2017 edition, but no matter. This release is a 100% Scottish barley edition, aged in full-term bourbon casks (60%) and full-term grenache blanc casks (40%). Peating level is 167ppm. Fans of the Octomores of yesteryear will find this a familiar old friend. The extra age (typical Octomore is about 5 or 6 years old) doesn’t really change this spirit much at all; though perhaps it does serve to better integrate the raw peat with more interesting aromatics, including roasted meats, camphor, and Asian spices. On the palate, the smokiness and sweet notes are integrated well, giving the whisky the impression of a smoky rendition of sweet Sauternes, studded with orange zest and the essence of honey-baked ham. As always, this is fun stuff, though I think some of the younger Octomores are more interesting. 114.6 proof. B+ / $200

Bruichladdich Black Art 5.1 – 24 years old, unpeated. Hannett’s stab at Black Art, per Bruichladdich, plays down the wine barrel influence, which was always a big thing with McEwan and which was effective at keeping drinkers guessing about each whisky’s makeup. I’ve always felt Black Art was a mixed bag, and despite the change in leadership this expression is no different, though the distillery is right that the wine influence is played down. In its stead, the nose offers austerity in the form of wood oil, walnut shells, roasted game, and some dried cherry fruit. The palate offers a respite from some of the wood and meat with light notes of white flowers (I’d wager dry white wine casks play some role here), dried pineapple, plum, golden raisins, and some gentle baking spice notes. The finish is surprisingly malty, with some briny elements. It’s a departure for Black Art, to be sure, and yet it still manages to be weird and, at times, hard to embrace. 96.8 proof. B / $350 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

bruichladdich.com

Review: Glen Moray Elgin Classic, 12 Years Old, 15 Years Old, and 18 Years Old

Speyside’s Glen Moray bills itself as offering “affordable luxury,” marketing a range of single malt whiskeys in a variety of styles. The new Elgin Heritage Range comprises three malts — and they all have age statements, clocking in at 12, 15, and 18 years old. Today we look at all three of these, plus one NAS release known as the Elgin Classic. Thoughts follow.

Glen Moray Elgin Classic – Indeed, a “classic” NAS single malt (entirely bourbon cask aged), lightly grainy but imbued with plenty of caramel (lightly salted) and some nougat aromas. The palate is lightly sweet, milk chocolatey with some orange and lemon peel overtones. It’s got ample youth — Glen Moray says the whisky here is an average of seven years old — but Glen Moray makes the most of a relatively simple spirit that melds salt, grain, and cocoa powder into a decent whole that comes at a highly attractive price. (Note that there are a number of specialty finished versions of Elgin Classic, but those aren’t reviewed here.) 80 proof. B- / $22

Glen Moray 12 Years Old – Like the Elgin Classic, this is aged entirely in ex-bourbon casks. This is an instant upgrade to the Elgin Classic, a malty but rounded experience that offers a nose of supple grains and a touch of cinnamon raisin character. The palate can be a touch sweaty at times, but on the whole it’s got a body that offers a beautifully integrated combination of roasted grain, walnuts, raisins, and caramel sauce. The finish integrates the cinnamon with some chocolate notes, a touch of dried plum, and a hint of gingerbread. A really fine experience and, again, a pretty good bargain. 80 proof. A- / $37

Glen Moray 15 Years Old – This 15 year old expression is a blend of whisky matured in bourbon casks and sherry casks, making for a much different impression right from the start. The nose has that oily citrus character driven by the sherry casks, but this tends to come across as quite youthful, almost underdeveloped at times, though some white florals and elderberry notes peek through at times. The palate is more of a success, with lots of fruit, a creme brulee-like vanilla note, and a twist of orange peel, though the finish is a touch on the harsh side, with some lingering acetone notes. All told this drinks like a younger sherried whisky (younger than it is, anyway). Some time with air opens things up nicely. 80 proof. B / $58

Glen Moray 18 Years Old – We’re back to straight bourbon barrels for this 18 year old release, which has no sherry influence. Bold butterscotch, vanilla syrup, pine needles, and menthol all dance on the nose. The palate is hot — this is considerably higher proof — with notes of roasted nuts and brown sugar. Some chocolate notes evolve in time, alongside a cinnamon punch and a dusting of powdered ginger. What’s missing is much of a sense of fruit — aside from some hints of dried peaches and apricots, the whisky falls a bit flat, particularly on the relatively grain-laden finish. Note that this one is quite hard to find at present. 94.4 proof. B / $100

glenmoray.com

Review: Lost Spirits Distillery Abomination “The Crying of the Puma”

Recently we gave you an accounting of a strange little whiskey called Abomination, in which newly-Los Angeles-based Lost Spirits Distillery takes Islay white dog, puts it through its patented reactor, and a week later comes out with a heavily-peated, rapidly-aged “Scotch” unlike anything you’ve ever tasted.

You may not recall that Abomination was being released in two renditions: The Crying of the Puma (aka red label) uses toasted wood from a “late harvest riesling barrel” and The Sayers of the Law (aka black label) uses charred wood from the same barrels. (As a reminder, since there is no such thing as a late harvest riesling barrel, because late harvest riesling is not aged in a barrel, Lost Spirits gets these casks made special.)

Lost Spirits was out of the Puma bottling at the time of our initial coverage, but the red label is finally back in stock and ready for our analysis. Thoughts follow.

I’ll be right up front and say that Sayers/black label is by far the better whiskey. It has a complexity that Puma/red label is largely missing. I did considerable side-by-side work to compare the two, and the differences are stark. Sayers is loaded up with all manner of flavors — lots of fruit, coffee bean, peppery roasted meats, and more — all filtered through classic, briny Islay. But Puma has a much different bent, with a much heavier focus on coffee beans, beef jerky, and salted pork — all evident on the nose and carrying over to the body. Nothing wrong with those flavors, but the underlying fruit components — which are there if you go spelunking — have a hard time finding their way through some seriously beastly smoke and meaty notes to make any impact on the palate. Water is a huge help at softening up a somewhat overbearing whiskey and helping coax out some floral elements, and a finish that recalls honey.

Completists and peat freaks may want to pick up a bottle of each of these to compare and contrast the duo, but if you’ve only got 50 bucks to spend, The Sayers of the Law sayeth the truth.

108 proof.

B / $50 / lostspirits.net

Review: Sir Edward’s Smoky Blended Scotch Whisky

With the promise that it is “matured in wood casks,” Sir Edward’s Smoky sure does sound enticing, doesn’t it? This venerable (but lower-shelf) blended Scotch brand is out with a new expression, a lightly peated blend without much else in the way of production information (except for a bit about a “Speyside heart”). Let’s give it a whirl.

For a whisky that costs less than a dollar per shot, it’s really not half bad. The nose is very light on the smoke, with notes of sea spray, petrol, and some rubbery medicinal overtones. None of this is overwhelming, but the nod at peated barley is at least somewhat noticeable. On the palate, the gentle body offers notes of honey foremost, plus a squeeze of lemon and a spritz of fresh sugar syrup. The peat is just as gentle and quiet as what’s come before, a modest puff of smoke across the top of an otherwise simple and sweet concoction. The finish sees the smoke vanish nearly entirely, leaving behind some residual sugar that, to be truthful, is perfectly enjoyable for an outlay of $14 per bottle.

80 proof. (Available only in foreign markets at present.)

B- / $14 / siredwards.com

Tasting Report: WhiskyLIVE Washington DC 2017

With so many whiskeys out there to try, from distillers big and small, whiskey festivals can easily be overwhelming. WhiskyLIVE offers a good balance of options, showcasing industry heavy-hitters along with up-and-coming American (and several international) craft distillers. It’s small in comparison to events like WhiskyFest, in both attendance and vendors, so your options are a little more limited. The size, however, does remove some of the annoyance that can come with wading through crowds of people, many of whom are just looking for their piece of the only bottle of Pappy at the Buffalo Trace table.

There was no Buffalo Trace table at this year’s WhiskyLIVE in Washington, DC. In its place, however, were many standout offerings from craft distillers, including Smooth Ambler, Westland, and Sonoma County Distilling Co., as well as a few surprisingly good bottles from regions of the world not known (yet) for their whiskey.

Brief reviews follow.

Scotch

Craigellachie 17 Years Old / B+ / buttery and chewy with honey and anise on the palate
Tullibardine 25 Years Old / B+ / light for an older sherried whisky; warm cereal notes with raisin and citrus on the palate
Aberlour 18 Years Old / B+ / well-balanced with dried fruit and a little dark chocolate on the palate
Aberfeldy 21 Years Old / B+ / malty with a good helping of vanilla
Royal Brackla 16 Years Old / B+ / spicy for a 16 year old with cocoa and raisin on the palate
Talisker 18 Years Old / A- / a perfectly balanced single malt; notes of smoke and ginger with a subtle spice

Irish

Glendalough Double Barrel Irish Whiskey / B+ / ex-bourbon- and oloroso-finished; a little hot with layers of vanilla bean and dried fruit
Glendalough Single Malt Irish Whiskey 13 Years Old / A / a fantastic sipper; the ex-bourbon cask gives this one tons of caramel and toffee
Kinahan’s Single Malt Irish Whiskey 10 Years Old / A- / incredibly fruity with citrus and apple on the palate; a biscuit-like finish

American

Smooth Ambler Wheated Bourbon / B+ / thin but flavorful for such a young wheater with notes of buttered popcorn and caramel sauce; looking forward to its older brothers
Smooth Ambler Old Scout American Whiskey / B+ / good heat with notes of caramel corn and toasted marshmallow
Smooth Ambler Old Scout Single Barrel 11 Years Old / A / the latest gift shop release; thick and honeyed; full of brown sugar and cinnamon with a great chew
Breckenridge Distiller’s High Proof Blend / B+ / molasses on the nose; spicy and oak-forward with subtle baking spice notes
Westland Garryana Native Oak Series 2016 / B+ / a little thin but well-balanced; sweet on the palate with dark red fruit, smoke, and faint sea salt
Westland Winter Release / A- / light but silky with good heat; smoked bacon, pepper, and red licorice on the palate
Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Bourbon 9 Years Old / B+ / hot for 110 proof; caramel apple and clove on the palate with a somewhat short finish
Sonoma County Distilling Co. Cherrywood Rye Whiskey / B+ / bright red fruit on the palate and a nice, warming rye spice
Michter’s Single Barrel Straight Rye 10 Years Old / B+ / minimal rye spice and very little heat; oily and fruity but with a lingering medicinal note I can’t quite place
Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye Cask Strength / B- / grassy with loads of menthol and a drying finish; the youth really shows at a higher proof
Bainbridge Battle Point Whiskey / B / cereal nose; very sweet and a little hot with notes of mint and fudge

International

Paul John Classic Select Cask Indian Single Malt Whisky / A- / rich and flavorful; honeyed palate with great baking spice notes
Paul John Peated Select Cask Indian Single Malt Whisky / B+ / balanced and enjoyable; classic peat smoke and sweet cereal
Hibiki Japanese Harmony Whisky / B+ / noticeably young but full of light sherry and bright citrus flavors
Lark Single Malt Whisky Cask Strength / A- / big for such a youthful whiskey; thick and sweet with wonderful notes of ripe peach and dried fruit
Nomad Outland Whisky / B+ / the Pedro Ximenez finish is all over this one with raisin notes and a little smoke

Review: Chieftain’s Batch #10 – Linkwood 1991, Glenrothes 1997, Glenturret 1990, Bowmore 2002

A new batch of whiskies from indie bottlers Chieftain’s has turned out six new releases. Today we look at four of them. Thoughts follow.

Chieftain’s Linkwood 1991 24 Years Old – When I think of great, beautiful Speyside whisky, this is what it tastes like. Aged 24 years in (ex-bourbon) hogsheads, this whisky is soft and sweet, with notes of brown sugar, light toffee, subdued oak, and almonds on the nose. The malty but soothing body kicks up some spice notes, with strong secondary notes of Christmassy roasted nuts, and a sharp citrus character on the back end. The finish is surprisingly briny, echoing the malty, nutty notes that roll over the tongue on first blush. It’s a relatively simple whisky, but its just-perfect maturity proves to be quite enchanting. 92 proof. Cask #10369. A / $160

Chieftain’s The Glenrothes 1997 19 Years Old Pedro Ximenez Cask Finish – This PX whisky is a monumental bruiser, and right from the get-go it offers aromas of wood oil, raisins, Port reduction, well-roasted chestnuts, and old, old wood. This is all just a comparatively restrained prelude to the body, which is overwhelming with that PX sherry, which is drying and pungent with notes of dried flowers, jasmine, dried figs, bitter roots, and more of that heady furniture polish character. The finish is lasting but tight, raisiny, and full of funk. Not your father’s Glenrothes, for sure. 106.4 proof. Cask #91822. B / $150

Chieftain’s Glenturret 1990 25 Years Old Pedro Ximenez Cask Finish – Compare the Speyside Glenrothes to the Highland Glenturret, located considerably further to the south. This is a better balanced expression of a PX finished malt, though it is still loaded to the hilt with that PX character. On the nose, it’s thick with spice and oily nuts, raisins and Port wine — but balanced, lacking the astringency of the Glenrothes bottling. The palate is bold and expressive but, again, finding a better balance among notes of chocolate, toasty oak, toffee, and some brown sugar. That racy finish is heady and lengthy, but settles down into a groovy fireside character that keeps you coming back. Cask #91812. A- / $170

Chieftain’s Bowmore 2002 13 Years Old – Saving the peat for last, this a classic Bowmore aged in bourbon hogsheads. The nose is mild, just hinting at smokiness while keeping its focus more on notes of nuts, roasted grains, dark chocolate, and maple. The palate kicks off the peat character in earnest, with notes of fresh peat, lightly sweet smoke, and a slug of salty iodine, but the finish takes things back to fruit — mainly apples, plus perhaps some white peach notes. This is a rather laid back Bowmore expression that peat freaks may find undercooked — but perhaps is more approachable to the rest of the whisky world. 92 proof. Cask #2096-2097. B+ / $120

ianmacleod.com

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