Wednesday, August 28, 2013
One of the hottest new bourbons of the year is Elijah Craig Barrel Proof. This is a barrel proof version of the popular Elijah Craig 12 year old that was released earlier this year, but has been nearly impossible to find. This stuff came and went in a blink of an eye. I'm told that the allocations are less than those for Pappy Van Winkle, so it will be tough to track down. The suggested retail price is $40, but I don't know if that's what it's actually been going for.
So far, there have been two releases, the first came out at 134.2 proof (67.1% abv) and a second issued at 137 proof (68.5% abv). I sampled both of them below.
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (first release), 12 years old, 67.1% abv
This has a huge, wonderful aroma of polished wood. The palate is candy-sweet with some nice pine and oak notes. The finish is rich and sweet. Water brings out caramel on the nose and some tobacco and spice on the palate.
It's been a long time since a new bourbon release really blew me away, but this one did. It's got huge wood notes balanced with candy sweetness, and with water, complex, spicy notes emerge. Tasting blind, I would have guessed that this was far older than its 12 years. A big win for Heaven Hill.
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (second release), 12 yo, 68.5% abv
The nose on this release is more medicinal than the first. The palate is woody, piney, with some acidic notes. The finish leaves a lot of candy on the nose. This one also does well with water; in fact, it needs water more than the first release. Water again brings some spice, but also some candy corn sweetness that settles in for the finish.
This is very good but doesn't quite reach the heights of the first release. I would recommend both of these, particularly if they are anywhere near the suggested retail price, but if you have a choice, go for the initial 134.2 proof release.
Monday, August 26, 2013
Our blog of the month for August is the Bourbon Truth Tumblr. Let's start out by acknowledging that this blog is on the weird side. It's written in a half-crazed, spelling and grammar-be-damned style featuring massive run-on sentences that makes you wonder if this is what Ted Kaczynski does during the one hour of computer access he gets every other day. But if you can make it past that, your reward is a blog by an anonymous author who has three things that make for a great blog: a lot of knowledge of the whiskey industry, strong opinions and a wicked sense of humor. Is it over the top? Hell, it's over the top of the top, but it's highly entertaining.
Check out this post about a dog tasting test and see if you're not laughing out loud by the end of it.
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Amrut is, of course, an Indian single malt distillery. This malt merits the name "Two Continents" because they distilled it in India, aged it in second fill bourbon casks and then sent it to a "secret location" in Europe (I'm guessing Estonia) for its final two years of aging. This is the second edition which was first released in fall 2011 but is still on some shelves.
Amrut Two Continents, 2nd edition, 50% abv ($100)
The nose is very light and malty with white grape juice notes. The palate is malty with sweet white wine. The finish is back to a sweeter, grape juice note.
This is a nice, very straightforward malt, dominated by sweet, malty notes, at a nice strength. I'm not sure how enhanced it is by the secret European location, but it's good stuff.
Thanks to that guy with the annoying opinions for the sample.
Monday, August 19, 2013
I was very impressed with last year's Chateau de Pellehaut Armagnacs from K&L's exclusive barrel program so when they announced two new vintage barrels for this year, I was excited to try them.
As you may recall, Chateau de Pellehaut is a grower/distiller from the Tenareze region of Armagnac.
1996 Chateau de Pellehaut, 17 yo, Folle Blanche, K&L Exclusive, 50.4% ($60)
The nose is earthy and rich. The palate brings out that earthiness with a slight bitterness and some background spice. This is one of those deep, earthy brandies that I would usually identify with something much older. It's fantastic stuff and I highly recommend it.
1983 Chateau de Pellehaut, 30 yo, Ugni Blanc, K&L Exclusive, 47.8% ($85)
Yes, this is a 30 year old Armagnac for $85, another reason why I'm loving brandy these days. Suck it Scotch!
The nose on the 1983 is sweet and syrupy with Canadian Whisky notes. The palate starts off with some of that syrup and orange rind, then moves to spice and earthy notes. The finish is a bit acidic.
Overall, the 1983 is good, but the 1996 is wonderful. Last time I tried two Pellehauts, I also preferred the younger one, but in both cases the older version was Ugni Blanc and the younger expression has more Folle Blanche, so I'm not sure if it's the age or the grape that I'm appreciating. In any case, I found the 1996 drier, spicier and more complex and the 1983 fruitier and sweeter, and I tend to favor dry and spicy over sweet and fruity; your tastes may be different.
Both of these continue to reinforce my perception that we are indeed in a golden age of brandy. Great prices for wonderful, old brandies. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Four Roses does two special releases each year, a single barrel in the spring and a small batch in the fall. This year's single barrel is 13 years old and from the OBSK recipe, which uses the higher rye mashbill of 60% corn, 35% rye, 5% barley. As it is a cask stength, single barrel release, each barrel has a different proof.
Four Roses 2013 Limited Edition Single Barrel, Barrel 3-3J, 60% abv ($90)
The nose has everything, candy, oak, rye spice, the whole package. The palate has honey with plenty of rye spice, coffee, chocolate. The spice grows through the palate and the finish is rye and barrel. It's pretty hot, so water is a good idea, and brings out some deeper spicy notes, tobacco and brown sugar. This is a nice, complex bourbon.
While many American premium bourbons seem to be declining in recent years, Four Roses just gets better and better. This bourbon is definitely one of the better Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrels that I've had. Whatever they're doing, they're doing it right.
Monday, August 12, 2013
After being dumped by the woman he thought he would marry, Rob Gard left the glamor and glitz of his LA media consulting job and the Hollywood nightlife for the frigid ruggedness of Isaly and a sort of work-study program at the Bruichladdich Distillery. He went to Islay searching for himself as much as running from his past, and what he finds in the isolation of winter on Scotch Whisky's most famous island is that the whisky making process is a metaphor for both his own journey and the universal journey on which boys become men. Distilling Rob: Manly Lies and Whisky Truths is his story.
Despite its use as primarily a literary device, the whisky making process is lovingly described and the distillery workers come alive. One of the workers says little more than "aye" for days on end, while another mumbles nearly constantly. Almost none of them actually drink whisky.
Gard's own persona is the lovable loser with a mix of self-loathing, part Woody Allen, part Jeff Portnoy transplanted to a distillery in Scotland. At the end, he has his expected realization, but you're never sure if this will change his life or if he will again sink into neurosis when he returns to the U.S.
A few of the literary devices are overdone. Sometimes Gard hits you over the head with the metaphor, and sometimes the connections between the distilling process and his memories of life in LA or his troubled childhood in Wisconsin seem forced, as if every grain of barley has a direct connection to a particularly awkward moment from his past.
Overall though, Gard is an engaging writer and, as can be expected from a journalist, excels at the art of description. I've never been to Islay, but after reading Distilling Rob, I feel like I could walk into the Bruichladdich Distillery or one of the local pubs and know exactly what they would look like, smell like and how the locals would react to me.
Distilling Rob: Manly Lies and Whisky Truths is available in paperback for $12 or a mere $4 on Kindle. It's definitely worth a read!
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Arguably no one made more waves in the Scotch Whisky industry during the first decade of the twenty-first century than Bruichladdich. The distillery was the comeback kid of the 2000s, rising from the dead as a pugnacious independent with an endless pipeline of new releases.
They probably made their biggest splash of that decade with two peated releases: Port Charlotte PC5 and Octomore. Bruichaladdich had traditionally been made at a very low peat level, but master distiller Jim McEwan quickly showed he wasn't going to be bound by tradition and turned the peat level up to 11.
The PC 5 came first, a five year old, heavily peated whiskey released in 2007 with a bold price point of $120 (for a five year old?!? - we cried back then). It got almost universally rave reviews and there was a new PC6 the next year and so on up to the new PC10.
Octomore came out a few years later in 2009. It was another five year old at an even higher price that boasted one of the highest peating levels ever used. Octomore was a bit less popular than the PC5, though I liked it more. (I actually think much of the less than enthusiastic reception was due to the distillery's release of a low proof Octomore "futures" bottling prior to the release of the cask strength official bottling; initial reports on the futures bottle were negative and impacted perceptions of the official release).
Now, five years later, we have our first ten year old peated Bruichladdichs. A PC 10 from the Port Charlotte series, a ten year old Octomore and a lower proof Port Charlotte 10 that will become a regular release. Given this sudden plethora of 10 year old peated 'Laddies, I thought it was a good time to taste them. Keep in mind that the ppm level, measuring peat phenols in parts per million, is based on the original count in the malted barley. Peat tends to fade with age and two of these are also diluted with water.
Bruichladdich Port Charlotte 10, 40 ppm, 46% abv ($60)
The nose is quite peaty with a sweet, ocean breeze. The palate is a bit flatter than I'd expected, with a soapy note along with the peat. The finish returns to the nice peaty, coastal notes of the nose. The nose and finish are spot on, but the palate lets you down on this one, and hey, that's the important part. It's fine, but doesn't distinguish itself among the other peated mainstays of Islay.
Bruichladdich PC 10, 40 ppm, 59.8% abv ($150)
The nose on the PC 10 is the least peaty of these three. It has more of a motor oil nose with some very light fruit notes in the background. The palate has malt and some fruit, maybe even a touch of sherry. Only later in the palate do you get with that sharp, less aromatic peat that is the mainstay of the PC series and harkens back to the oily, peat of old Ardbegs. It drinks surprisingly easily for the proof. The finish is mostly peat on the nose and some sweet cereal grains and maybe a trace of sherry on the palate.
Bruichladdich Octomore 10, 80.5 ppm, 2012 First Release, 50% abv ($275)
This expression of Octomore, while still double the peating level of the other two, is quite a bit less than the earlier Octomore releases which were peated into the hundreds of ppms. It's also lower proof than the other general release Octomore expressions, all of which have been cask strength.
The nose has an herbaceous quality along with the strong dose of peat; there's some juniper in there. The notes follow into the palate with some sweet notes early on, but then it becomes all peat and herbs, like a peaty pesto. The finish, as expected, is just a big dose of peat. I really wish they had bottled a cask strength, because I think it would have been fantastic. As it stands, it's good, but nowhere near what I would expect for the price. If you're going to put out a ten year old for nearly $300, it better be something amazing, and this isn't. What I really would have liked to see as the ten year old Octomore is the ten year old, cask strength version of the original Octomore which was peated to 131 ppm and was excellent at five years old. Hopefully, we'll see that in the future sometime, and maybe even it will even be worth the price.
All three of these were good peated malts. The PC10 was my favorite, with a lot more complexity than the other two. The Port Charlotte was the least impressive, and while the Octomore was good, the price to quality ratio is way off.
Monday, August 5, 2013
Mortlach is one of the few single malts that seems to be more available now than it was five years ago. A Diageo owned Speyside distillery, Mortlach has always had somewhat of a cult following. There is only one official bottling, but there are numerous independents. Today I'll compare two retailer specialty bottlings of 22 year old 1990 Mortlach aged in sherry cask: a Chieftain's from K&L and a Signatory from Binny's.
Mortlach 1990, (Signatory for Binny's), 21 yo, Distilled 1990, Cask 6073, 52.8% abv ($100)
While it's officially 21 years old, the dates indicate that this Mortlach is only nine days short of 22 years.
The nose is malty without much trace of sherry at all. Malt also dominates the palate, which starts with very nice sweet malty notes and then moves into fruit, floral notes, some bubble gum and a touch of white wine.
This tastes much more like a bourbon cask offering. If it didn't list it on the label, I would never have guessed that it was sherry cask matured. I would assume that this was a cask that had already had a number of fills such that the sherry had all been sucked out of it. Regardless, this is a very nice whiskey; just don't approach it thinking you're getting a sherried malt.
Mortlach 22 (Chieftain's for K&L), Distilled 1990, Cask 5160, 58.1% abv ($170)
The first thing I notice in contrast to the Binny's is how much darker the K&L Mortlach is; it has a dark red hue, while the Binny's is yellow (or as whisky companies call it, "golden"). Both indicate on the label that they have natural color so any difference is likely due to the particular casks or other factors such as temperature and warehouse placement.
The nose has lightly sulfured sherry with some sweet fruit notes. The palate is a very dry sherry with a hint of sulfur and some spice. On the finish, it's prunes and dry sherry. This is a very nice, dry sherried malt.
This was a fascinating match up. Two malts from the same distillery, distilled in the same year, of a comparable age and both aged in sherry butts, yet they are completely different in character. Both of these malts are quite good and definitely worth trying, but if I had to pick just one, I'd say I slightly preferred the Binny's.