Monday, December 26, 2011

Whisky review: Dewar's 18 Year

My brother gave me this whisky after I finished my PhD. While many whisky "connoisseurs" will turn up their noses at the name of Dewar's, I had specifically mentioned this whisky as one I'd like to own. Why? The base of Dewar's is Aberfeldy, a single malt made in the Highlands of Scotland. I had previously owned a few bottles of the Aberfeldy 12 Year, the standard single malt bottling from the distillery. While my first bottle was outstanding, my second was fairly dismal. I'm not sure what causes the variation (varying quality of the stocks?), but it's the third single malt in which I've noticed significant variation (the first two being the Old Pulteney 12 and the Balvenie 12 DoubleWood).

So I was hoping that the Dewar's 18, which would likely be made in larger batches than the Aberfeldy single malt, would have a more consistent flavor profile and would highlight the best of Aberfeldy.

Dewar's 18 Year, 40% ABV
Blended Scotch whisky

Nose: Honey, vanilla, and a darker fruit backbone. Some very nice casks on the nose. Well-balanced and enticing.

Palate: This does indeed taste a lot like the better Aberfeldy 12 bottlings I've had. Roasty and toasty. I think the best way to describe this whisky is that it's like licking the sweet interior of a cask that is part ex-bourbon and part ex-sherry.

Finish: More toastiness, and warming.

Rating (of 100): 92. Solid whisky from start to finish, and appropriate for most any mood or season. I'm happy to taste that Aberfeldy quality in there, and hopefully all bottlings of this blend consistently contain it.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Whisky review: Aberlour A'bunadh Batch 35

I saw this whisky, which usually retailed for about $60 in Boston, for $45 at Total Wine in the Phoenix area. Not being one to let a hopeful deal pass me by, I picked up a bottle, also thinking it would make a good introductory sherried whisky for some novice friends of mine.

This particular whisky is matured solely in casks that used to hold oloroso sherry, and it's bottled at cask strength with no chill-filtering.

Compare this review to my previous review of the A'bunadh Batch 29.

Aberlour A'bunadh Batch No. 35, 60.3% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Speyside)

Nose: Wood, spices, sugary cake frosting, and citrus fruits (lemon?). Like Batch 29, it singes your nose hairs the first time you sniff it. And the second.

Palate: On the first sip, it tastes like some unaged malt spirit I have (bright fruits, but not in an especially good way). There's a bit of sherry late, but it's completely overridden by that new-make flavor up front. On the second sip, the sherry spice and fruitiness is more apparent.

Finish: Alcohol with a hint of sherry.

Rating (of 100): 74. It might be because it's such a high alcohol content, or it could be very young (or both), but this hardly struck me as a heavily-sherried whisky. I think the Batch 29 was much more sherry-rich.

Adding water definitely helps it, though. I added about 1:3 water to whisky and it brought out more mature fruits in the nose and subdued the new-make character on the palate, preserving a rich fruitiness. My rating for the whisky as-is stands, but I would probably rate it in the mid-80s with water.


After rating this and then reading some other folks' reviews of it, most of us seem to agree that it needs water. Other people are still finding a lot more character to the whisky without water than I am, though. Eh well...I guess that's what makes tasting fun!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Whisky review: Battlehill Bowmore 8 Year

I picked this bottle up at the local Total Wine and More after hearing phenomenal things about it through the grapevine. It's an independent bottling done for Total Wine by a company under the name of "Battlehill," which appears to actually be Duncan Taylor. I'm normally not a big fan of Bowmore's whiskies, but at $38 a bottle, the recommendations for this one were too strong to let it pass me by.

Bowmore is a distillery on Islay, the Scottish island known for producing smoky, peaty whiskies. Bowmore is also one of the most heavily-collected brands of whisky in the world, as they have produced some very exclusive bottlings and have a strong following. Like I said, though, their product has never really hit me as being exceptional.

Battlehill Bowmore 8 Year, 43% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Islay)

Nose: Grassy, medicinal, and a little sweet. Reminds me of the Laphroaig 15 Year.

Palate: Follows the nose with grass, then turns to heavier coal and peat. A hint of that Bowmore "Fisherman's Friend" character that Jim Murray often mentions, but not nearly as much as in some of the distillery bottlings I've had.

Finish: Full-bodied peat and smoke with some lingering sweetness. A good warming effect.

Rating (of 100): 90. This comes through with a nice amount of peat and doesn't overdo it on the sweetness - it's like a mix between the Laphroaig 15 nose and the Laphroaig 10 palate. (Sorry, I'm a Laphroaig fan...) For the price, it's an outstanding bottling, and a damn good one regardless of price. Maybe I need to pay more attention to this distillery, or at least to this bottler.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Whisky review: Old Potrero 18th Century Style, Essay #10-RW-ARM-3-J

I had read about this whiskey in a couple of places, and all reviews were positive. It's made by the Anchor Distilling Company, part of the company that makes Anchor beers in San Francisco. Having read those reviews, I was hoping to try it, but there didn't seem to be any around Boston.

One night, Eileen and I went to dinner near our apartment and the restaurant had a great selection of American whiskey, including Old Potrero. I had to get a glass.

And let's just say that, after that night, I was looking for more. We moved to Arizona soon after that meal, but I hadn't forgotten that whiskey. Once in AZ, I went to the liquor store and found it on the shelves for about $60. Normally, that would be a bit out of my range for an American whiskey, but I made an exception for this one.

The Old Potrero 18th Century Style Whiskey is made from 100% malted rye, which is very rare - usually the rye is mixed with other grains, especially malted barley, in the mashbill. It's a blend of whiskeys aged between 2 years 5 months and 3 years 9 months, and the barrels in which it's aged are toasted but not charred. The "essay" number mentioned in the title of this post is the batch identifier; they make the whiskey in small quantities and, from what I can tell from other online sources, the batches can vary quite a bit.

Oh, and it's bottled at 63.64% ABV, so you're guaranteed to get some bang for your buck.

Old Potrero 18th Century Style, Essay #10-RW-ARM-3-J, 63.64% ABV
 Single malt rye American whiskey

Nose: Chocolate and butterscotch. Hardwood. Dried fruit, yet still maintains a freshnees or greenness. This nose is unlike anything else I've smelled - simultaneously musty and fresh, old and new.

Palate: Gripping with the high alcohol content. Starts off lighter and fruitier (apples, apricots) and then turns in waves of chocolate, aniseed, and malted rye. It feels thick but also light. This whiskey is contradiction in a bottle.

Finish: More chocolate, aniseed, and malt with lingering heat. Try not to drink this near an open flame.

Rating (of 100): 93. What an experience - not for the faint of heart at full barrel strength, but perfect for someone wanting an unforgettable experience. The first time I had this, I was blown away by its flavor waves (flaves?). I also tried the 19th Century Style, which is 45% ABV and from charred barrels (unlike the 18th Century Style, which uses uncharred barrels), but it didn't strike me as much as this one did.

Glad I was able to find this in Arizona, and definitely a whiskey to have if you want to try a unique and profound dram.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Whisky review: Shieldaig Speyside 18 Year

It's probably been looking like this blog has been neglected for the past few months...because it has. Eileen and I recently moved to the Phoenix, Arizona area and have been working on getting settled into our new life. I've still been sipping some drams, but just haven't managed to get them on here yet.

So now I'm back with some free time and some new bottles. One bottle I picked up recently is sold exclusively by Total Wine and More, a large chain that wasn't in Boston. This particular whisky is an independent bottling done just for Total by "Shieldaig." It's a no-name single malt, just given the title "Speyside," and we're told it's an 18-year-old. Price? $40. And due to an error by the check-out clerk (which I only realized when I looked at the receipt some time later), the bottle was charged to me as a 12-pack of beer, so it cost about $13.

I tried to pin the salespeople at Total down regarding the distillery the whisky comes from, but they apparently couldn't remember or find it; I don't think they were trying to hide it from me, because one woman I asked spent some time trying to figure it out. So it's quite the mystery, and I was excited to try the whisky, though I didn't have huge expectations.

$13 for an 18-year-old single malt scotch. A good deal? We'll see...

Shieldaig Speyside 18 Year, 40% ABV
Single malt scotch whisky (Speyside)

Nose: A butterscotch sweetness and some sherry.

Palate: Light sherry, ripe fruit (red apples, plums) and some less-than-optimal wood.

Finish: Sort of ok (fruit again) at first and then...ghastly. *gag* The aftertaste of this whisky haunted me the first few times I tried it. It tastes like bubble gum that you've been chewing for two hours and only has a kind of nasty, rubbery taste left to it. Plus a little wood.

Rating (of 100): 31. The nose is really the only appealing part of this whisky. The lingering finish makes me want to dump this bottle, but I think I'll keep it around for any uninvited and exceptionally annoying guests.

This bottle actually decreased my interest in whisky the first few times I drank it, to the point where I got to wondering whether I really was still very interested in whisky. Some Old Pulteney brought me back to my senses.

If you buy this whisky, be prepared to have wasted between $13 and $40. I wouldn't even give this away to someone because I fear what it could do in the wrong hands.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Whisky review: Clan MacGregor

This is a blended Scotch whisky and, according to a number of online sources, is made primarily of malt whisky from the Kininvie distillery, blended with a high percentage of grain whisky. Kininvie is owned by William Grant & Sons, the company that also owns Glenfiddich, The Balvenie, Ailsa Bay (a new distillery), and Tuthilltown Spirits (a U.S. whiskey distillery).

Kininvie malt is not bottled by the distillery as a single malt. When we were in Scotland in 2010 and took the Balvenie tour, I asked the tour guide why Kininvie's malt is not sold on its own. He said something to the effect of, "It's not really appropriate for being bottled as a single malt." This means it tastes like crap.

The bottle also says it's aged for "thirty-six months" (also known as three years, the minimum to be legally called Scotch whisky), though this should not necessarily mean it is of poor quality. Other whiskies, such as the Port Charlottes and especially the Kilchomans, are bottled very young and have gotten great reviews. Though those are single malts, I see no inherent reason why a three-year-old blended whisky should necessarily be "bad" if it's only aged three years. The fact that the bottle label put the whisky's age in terms of months, though, makes me wonder if the marketing folks wanted to make sure a bigger number was on the label in order to hide the fact that it's barely legal whisky. Actually, I'm sure they did...and really, I'm not sure why they wanted to mention the age at all.

So here we go, with the hopes that our tour guide's carefully-put statement and the apparent marketing ploy on the label will not cloud my judgment...

Clan MacGregor, 40% ABV
Blended Scotch whisky

Nose: Light and fruity, kind of like the standard Jameson. We're off to a decent start. Oh wait. After a bit more nosing, I really start to smell just ethanol and not much else.

Palate: The crap is beginning to really shine through here. Fruity crap, a bit of woody crap, and something in the back of my throat like charred crap.

Finish: Light fruits turning into crap.

Rating (of 100): 53. It would do in a pinch, like if the only other potential drinks you had were Drano and a full spittoon. I might still go for the spittoon, though, hoping one of its contributors had consumed a different whisky prior to use.

In the end, the remainder of my dram met the same fate a bottle of Drano would expect to meet.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Our 100th post!

I just wanted to write a short note to commemorate this as our 100th blog post. Eileen and I started this blog about a year ago and, while we haven't really spent a lot of time developing it (no need for any more people to tell me to get a dedicated URL...), it's been a fun way to share our perceptions and thoughts with the world.

Eileen and I will be moving to the Phoenix, Arizona area at the end of June, so we'll be reporting from there in the future.

Thank you for reading!

Whisky review: The Dalmore 1263 King Alexander III

This whisky has been finished in casks that previously held oloroso sherry, madeira, port, marsala, bourbon, and cabernet sauvignon. I first tried it at a tasting led by Whyte and Mackay Master Blender Richard Paterson (check out his blog here) and was pretty astounded by what I tasted. It's an amazing effort in maturation and blending, and Richard's trademark presentation flare made it really come alive.

The whisky's name derives from the story that, in the year 1263, a member of the Clan Mackenzie (long the owners of the Dalmore distillery) saved King Alexander III from being gored by a wild stag with a single arrow. The king granted the clan the right to bear a stag's head on its coat of arms, which is now on every bottle. Bet he didn't see THAT coming.

The Dalmore 1263 King Alexander III, 40% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Highlands)

Nose: Sweet orange, grapefruit, plums, strawberries, nuts.

Palate: Toffee, chocolate, strawberries, cherries, wood, very ripe peaches.

Finish: Rich fruit.

Rating (of 100): 92. What an ensemble...the fruits just go on and on. I honestly need a lot more time with this whisky to really comprehend it all.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Whisky review: Laphroaig 15

This bottling of Laphroaig has been discontinued and replaced with the Laphroaig 18. The 15 generally didn't get very good critical reviews, and I'm sure the word made it back to the folks at the distillery after a while. Though I do like the 18 very much, you'll see below that the 15 is welcome on my shelf as well...

Laphroaig 15, 43% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Islay)

Nose: Smoldering charred wood from a camp fire, grass/hay, and a medicinal note.

Palate: Gentle smoke up front with a honeyed background. Overall, a fairly tame palate for Laphroaig.

Finish: Smoke and a vegetal note fade into the distance...

Rating (of 100): 87. The first time I tried this whisky, I was hoping for it to be a smoke explosion (or "smoke-splosion") like the Laphroaig 10 Year. It's not, but I feel like it's subtle in its allure. True, it's not especially complex, but there's something very nice about just having mild peat and some grassy notes and being able to enjoy only those flavors.

This is a peated whisky I could drink for the whole evening without regretting it; the Laphroaig 10 is probably not.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Whiskey review: Four Roses

Four Roses was the best-selling bourbon in the United States in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, but was bought by Seagram and sold only in Europe and Asia after that. In 2002, Kirin Brewery from Japan bought the distillery and started selling Four Roses in the United States again. So even though it might seem like a relatively new brand to many people, it has actually been around since the 1800s.

Four Roses makes a wide array of bourbons, including single barrels and small batches. Their especially unique feature is that they use ten different recipes to create their whiskies, employing five proprietary yeast strains and two different mashbills to get them.

In their basic whiskey, the yellow label reviewed here, they combine all ten recipes in one bottle. Others, like their small batch and single barrel, use a smaller subset of recipes.

Four Roses Yellow Label, 40% ABV

Nose: Red apples, green apples, char.

Palate: Floral sweetness with char. Perfumed.

Finish: More char, young fruit. A bit dissonant.

Rating (of 100): 81. Gets the job done if you're looking for a bourbon with some character but not enough to have to stop and appreciate it.

Whisky review: Johnnie Walker Gold Label

Johnnie Walker Gold Label is a blended whisky, where all the whisky in the blend is at least 18 years old. Gold falls above Green and below Blue in price (at around $70-$80/bottle), so it represents the premium but not quite luxury end of the Walker family.

Johnnie Walker Gold Label, 40% ABV
Blended Scotch whisky

Nose: Peach skins, pears. Peat drifts in after the fruit.

Palate: Sweet peat balanced with juicy fruit. The peat seems more apparent on the palate than on the nose. Superb use of peat to complement the fruit of this dram, coupled with a silky mouthfeel.

Finish: Soft peat lingers with warmth. I kind of want to just die right now.

Rating (0f 100): 93. This is one of those blends that I use to counter the "blends aren't as good as single malts" argument that a lot of whisky simpletons try to make. While Johnnie Walker Blue Label can also be a great blend (though I've had mixed experiences), at less than half the price of Blue, I think Johnnie Gold is the best value of the whole Walker lineup.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Whisky review: Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist 1990 Limited Release

Ardbeg is one of the Islay distilleries doing heavily-peated whiskies, falling prey to the "peatiness envy" that has also engulfed Bruichladdich with their Port Charlotte and Octomore offerings.

The Airigh Nam Beist (pronounced "arry nam baysht") is named after the small hill lake between Loch Uigeadail (from which Ardbeg draws its water) and the Ardbeg distillery, and translates from the Gaelic to mean "shelter or pasture of the animals." It is a vintage bottling, put into casks in 1990 and bottled in 2007, and has since been discontinued because the stock has run out.

Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist, 46% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Islay)

Nose: A sweet smokiness that includes some medicinal notes and aromas of fresh, green twigs.

Palate: Smoke, peat and honey entwined to give a well-rounded dram. Velvety mouthfeel.

Finish: Peat at first, fading to honey and caramel with a background of smoke. Honey and smoke seem to linger forever.

Rating (of 100): 91. A very nice all-around peated whisky, though I think the complexity of this whisky is still far less than what was achieved in the primo batches of the Ardbeg Uigeadail.

Whisky review: GlenDronach 18

GlenDronach has undergone some ups and downs in the past few years. In 1996, the distillery was mothballed (put into hibernation) and was re-opened in 2002. In 2008, it was sold to the BenRiach Distillery Company, the same private company that owns the BenRiach distillery.

GlenDronach is committed to producing heavily-sherried whiskies. This 18-year-old is named "Allardice," after the founder of the distillery, James Allardice, and has been matured solely in oloroso sherry casks made from Spanish oak.

GlenDronach 18, 46% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Highlands)

Nose: Spicy raisins, dark fruits, jammy sherry. A very thick nose that lets you know a lot of sherry has gone into this...

Palate: Sherry, dark berries and fruits (oranges, plums). A deep flavor that is kept vibrant by a good alcohol content.

Finish: Spices and toasted wood that keep lingering, turning to lighter fruits as time goes on.

Rating (of 100): 90. Tasty and not cloyingly sweet, though I don't think I could take more than a few drams because this is a big whisky. The heft of the sherry in this makes a Macallan 18's sherry content seem comparable to that in a glass of tap water.

Whisky review: Speyburn 10

Speyburn is a Speyside distillery, built on the site of an old gallows in the town of Rothes along with Glen Grant, Glenrothes, and Glen Spey. It was the first distillery to use drum maltings, in which the malt is dried in a rotating metal drum instead of on a perforated floor (the floor maltings are the traditional way of doing it, but require a lot of labor).

Speyburn is owned by the same company that owns the Pulteney, Balblair and Knockdhu distilleries, Inver House. However, they do not normally market Speyburn nearly as heavily as they do the other three. I'm not sure why, but I have a feeling they have Speyburn for blending.

Speyburn 10, 43% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Speyside)

Nose: Very floral and sweet with a bit of a toasty characteristic.

Palate: Citrus (green apple, orange, lemon) followed by a bit of earthiness.

Finish: Citrus and some malt.

Rating (of 100): 86. This is not a very complex whisky but it is extremely drinkable and, at about $20/bottle, it's a great deal.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Dewar's is a prominent blended Scotch whisky, most known for its White Label variety, which is the top-selling blended scotch in the United States. Its principal constituent single malt is Aberfeldy, a malt with which I personally have a rollercoaster history.

I tried Aberfeldy at a liquor store in Rhode Island a few years ago and thought it was great...and at $35/bottle, it was the right price. I bought a bottle and went through it quickly. I got another bottle at a store in Massachusetts and was supremely disappointed - it tastes rough and is very one-dimensional. Must have been a bad batch; it's still in my cabinet. Then I tried a bottle at a relative's place in Arizona and it was the same great character that initially attracted me to the brand.

My brother recently purchased a bottle of Dewar's 18 for me, so I was hoping it would remain true to the flavor of Aberfeldy that I liked. Here goes...

Dewar's 18
, 40% ABV
Blended Scotch whisky

Nose: Caramel, toffee, toasted nuts and wood. Hint of dark fruits.

Palate: Salt, more nuts and dark or dried fruit. Wood here too, but to a good degree. The grain whisky's smoothness is evident, but the malt keeps the potency high.

Finish: Very well done. Lingers with a soothing warmth and a mouth-filling effect.

Rating (of 100): 91. This is indeed the way Aberfeldy should taste, but with even more stuff thrown in. An excellent dram that would fare well on any occasion and in any season.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Whisky review: Ardmore Traditional Cask

Ardmore is a peated Highland malt and falls in the same portfolio as Laphroaig (under Beam Global). The distillery was built in 1898 to help provide malt for the Teacher's blend.

Ardmore Traditional Cask, 46% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Highlands)

Nose: Coal, tar, damp grass. A bit medicinal.

Palate: Peat gives way to sweetness in front of an earthy character.

Finish: More peat with chocolate and wood. Reminds me a bit of the Springbank 15.

Rating (of 100): 92. This malt has a great interplay of smoke and sweetness, while staying dry and crisp. Along with Laphroaig, this makes for one powerhouse portfolio...

Whisky review: The Macallan 18 Year Sherry Oak

The Macallan is best known for their whisky matured in ex-sherry casks. The Macallan only uses their casks a maximum of two times (where other distilleries may use them many more times) so as to impart a greater amount of sherry influence. The distillery also uses more than 90% of all the ex-sherry casks in Scotland, making them the dominant player in the heavily-sherried scotch category.

The Macallan 18 Year Sherry Oak, 43% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Speyside)

Nose: Spices, dried fruit, sherry.

Palate: Sherry at first, peeling away to expose spicy wood and then juicy fruits (red apple, red grape). Velvety.

Finish: Oloroso sherry but a bit dry after a while.

Rating (of 100): 88. Sophisticated sherry with a kick.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Whisky review: Laphroaig 10

This is the third Laphroaig I've reviewed, and probably not the last.

Laphroaig 10, 43% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Islay)

Nose: Iodine, bandages, grass, smoke, toasted nuts.

Palate: Peat and smoke with a honey and vanilla background. Coal works its way in after a bit.

Finish: A bit of sweetness immediately after swallowing, and then peat and smoke just linger on and on...

Rating (of 100): 90. When I first tried Laphroaig, it blew my mind - I was fairly new to whisky and had never sampled a peated one. Now, having drunk my fair share of barbecue-in-a-bottle malts, the Laphroaig 10 doesn't stand out as particularly peaty or smoky, but it does still hold a character that I always like. It has a grassy youthfulness that does indeed make me think of a of those almost-summer barbecues where the lawn has come back to life and so has the neighborhood.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Whisky review: Jameson 18

You can read more information about the Jameson distillery at my review of the standard Jameson bottling. This particular bottling is also a blend and has been matured in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, then finished in first-fill bourbon barrels.

Jameson 18 Year, 40% ABV
Blended Irish whiskey

Nose: Mint, juicy red fruit - plump strawberries and raspberries, and all kinds of grapes.

Palate: Just like the nose but a little lighter on the fruit and with an added note of toasted wood. Velvety smooth.

Finish: Mint, wood and spices. Warming.

Rating (of 100): 88. I like the nose and the mouthfeel but I guess this whisky just doesn't have enough chutzpah to really get me motivated to rank it in the 90s.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Whisky review: Balblair 1991 Vintage

To learn more about Balblair, see my earlier review of the Balblair 1997 Vintage.

Like the 1997, the 1991 Vintage was also aged completely in ex-bourbon casks and bottled in 2009.

Balblair 1991 Vintage, 43% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Highlands)

Nose: I'm struck by a juicy, ripe fruit bouquet. (And no, my wife isn't beating me with the groceries again.) Apples, peaches, syrup, pecan pie. Creamy, if a nose can be creamy. After a while, I also get cookie dough.

Palate: Lighter flavors than the nose would lead me to believe. Citrus and some toasty wood. The mouthfeel is great - nice weight and very smooth.

Finish: This whisky finishes with gusto. Gone are the light fruits and the lah-dee-dahs of the palate. Darker wood and darker fruits trail off gently...

Rating (of 100): 89. Just one point below the 1997! I guess this means the 1997 is a much better value, in my opinion. I feel like the '97 is true from start to finish, while this one is great in the beginning, loses it a bit in the middle, and then tries to make it up in the finale. Almost...but the tortoise wins the day.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Whisky review: Glenfiddich 12

Glenfiddich is the best-selling single malt in the world. It's made by the same company, William Grant & Sons, that makes The Balvenie and Grant's blended whisky. This was the first distillery we visited on our trip to Speyside in June, 2010, and I'm glad it wasn't the only one. Our tour guide was a summer intern, hired to give tours from a memorized script and with little other knowledge about the place. The tour itself was fairly uneventful, and since it was my first distillery tour ever, I was full of questions that I had to save for another distillery.

I went away feeling like I probably got my $0 worth out of the tour, but barely.

Glenfiddich 12, 40% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Speyside)

Nose: Like the bottle says, pear. Brown sugar. And maybe some earthier notes, like moss on a tree stump.

Palate: Definitely more fruit, including the pear from the nose, plus some wood, but with a rougher note always lingering. A bit of an edge to it.

Finish: Goes down a bit harshly and the aftertaste doesn't sit especially well with me - it's bitter and unkind. I'll just tell my wife she looks fat if I'm looking for that type of attitude!

Rating (of 100): 83. The nose is nice but it loses its way after that.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Whisky review: The Macallan 15 Year Fine Oak

The Macallan is another of the big Speyside distilleries, being the #3 single malt in the United States (behind The Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, as of 2006, with 0.2% of the U.S. whisk(e)y market share). It has traditionally been known for its production of ex-sherry oak-aged whisky, but in 2004 started a new line called The Macallan Fine Oak, in which the whiskies are matured in a combination of ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks. As the guy at the distillery confirmed when we visited in 2010, this move to partial bourbon aging was done mainly because sherry casks cost a lot (~10X) more than bourbon barrels.

The Macallan 15 Year Fine Oak, 43% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Speyside)

Nose: Toffee, brown sugar, roasted malt, and a hint of green apple.

Palate: Sherry undertones coated with some honey and vanilla. Light fruits. The sherry still stands out for me, though it is definitely muted in comparison to the Macallan Sherry Oak whiskies.

Finish: Sherry and toasted wood.

Rating (of 100): 88. A bit too sweet and sherry-dominated for my likes; I'd like to see better integration between the sherry and bourbon casks. The nose is the winner on this one. Even though I just (about 30 minutes ago) sampled the Glenlivet 12, which is also sweet, I feel like this one is cloyingly so.

Whisky review: The Glenlivet 12

The Glenlivet is one of the most well-known Scotch whisky distilleries. It is the best-selling single malt scotch in the United States and is also the first distillery in Glenlivet (the area around the River Livet) to have been licensed to produce Scotch whisky after the Excise Act of 1823 made it possible to profitably and legally distill whisky in Scotland.

Even though it's the best-selling single malt in the U.S., as of 2006, it only made up 0.5% of the American whisk(e)y market by volume. (By contrast, Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey made up 10.2%.) So there's some room to grow.

The Glenlivet 12, 40% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Speyside)

Nose: Very floral and sweet, with some malt and toasted almonds.

Palate: Butterscotch, rose petals, and more roasted nuts, all with a velvety mouthfeel. Superb.

Finish: Relaxing and lulling. Roasted malt. Just removes all the cares from my body.

Rating (of 100): 93. I'm not sure what it is tonight, but I'm loving this whisky. I've had it many times before, but I guess I never really paid attention to all that's going on. It's somewhat simple - a sweet malt that would not disagree with anyone. But on another level, it's an old friend you're happy to see and happy to spend the evening with in conversation.

The Glenlivet is one of those malts that "connoisseurs" are not supposed to like. It's mainstream. It's mass-marketed. And it's put in mixed drinks. But damn it, I like it. Maybe I'm not a connoisseur (and I never thought I was, so that's fine). But as I've said all along, that's the beauty of whisky. You can like whatever you like, and that's ok, no matter what it is.

I've organized tastings of The Glenlivet for my grad school classmates at MIT several times but this is the first time I have really tasted this malt. It was given to me as a gift by a friend who didn't know much about whisky but knew that I liked whisky, so she picked this bottle. It was a great pick, and it can be found in pretty much any bar and any retailer across the U.S. And for good reason - it's an outstanding product.

Drink up and enjoy.

Glenfarclas tasting and dinner

I wanted to put this out there for anyone who is seriously interested in Glenfarclas whisky, or who would like the chance to experience some once-in-a-lifetime scotch samples. Joe Howell from Federal Wine and Spirits in Boston is putting on a Glenfarclas tasting and dinner on Monday, March 14th at Ruth's Chris Steak House in Boston. I've pasted the info below. The cost is $194.99, all inclusive.

While it's pricey, consider that you get a dinner at Ruth's Chris (probably about a $70 value), a bottle of Glenfarclas 17 (~$80 value), and the chance to try some really freaking old whiskies that you will never taste anywhere else. Just a sample of the Glenfarclas 1953 itself is worth the price of the whole event...

I won't be there because I'm coming back from some travel that day, but if you end up going, let me know what you thought. Wish I could make it.

From Joe:

This year Glenfarclas is celebrating its 175th anniversary. For the occasion, we've invited George Grant, director of sales for this Icon of Whisky, to host a whisky dinner at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse on Monday, March 14th. Glenfarclas is one of the last family-owned distilleries in Scotland, going strong for six generations, and we'’re honored to have a member of the family celebrate this momentous achievment with us. We'’ll honor this occasion by tasting some 235 years worth of whisky; what a country! Those lucky enough to attend will be treated to a three-course dinner, end up with a bottle of the Glenfarclas 17 Y.O. signed by Mr. Grant, and will likely hear some great stories. Seating is very limited! Those interested should contact us ASAP (617-367-8605) to reserve a spot. This opportunity is not to be missed; if you've any interest in attending don't hesitate to reserve your place with us that evening or you'’ll surely regret it.

The event will start at 7:30PM at Ruth's Chris Steak House in Boston (45 School St., between Park Street and State Street).

We’'ll taste the following whiskies:

Glenfarclas 1953 45.8% This 54 Y.O. has elegance and finesse. Just precious!!!

Glenfarclas 40 Y.O. 46% Single Malt Scotch Whisky of The Year 2010 from Malt Advocate!!!!

Glenfarclas 1968 35 Y.O. 43% This was Import Whisky of The Year in Malt Advocate a few years back!! Long sold out!!

Glenfarclas 1974 31 Y.O. Cask Strength 57.4% George Grant said this was bottled because I was hounding him for an older cask strength of some 30+ years.
You can add as much water as you like to this one, it swims well!!! This one is also long sold out!

Glenfarclas 25 Y.O 43%

Glenfarclas 21 Y.O. 43%

Glenfarclas 17 Y.O. 43%

Glenfarclas 12 Y.O. 43%

We'’ll also be treated to the following meal:


Veal Osso Buco Ravioli

Steak Two Ways ~ Bleu Cheese Crust & Au Poivre Sauce

Mashed Potatoes

Chocolate Sin Cake

Um, ok...

A while ago, I'd heard about a whisky tasting event in Las Vegas that was charging something like $500/person and was supposed to be a ritzy affair (obviously). I just stumbled onto the website for this event, which is being held in a few weeks at the Wynn hotel. It's clumsily called the "Nth 2011 Show" and does indeed cost $525/person.

But what do you get for this small fortune? One of the perks is the chance to try a "Super Pour," a whisky pour that is supposed to retail over $300 (for the pour, not the bottle), and the list of pours can be found here. Some of these whiskies, however, definitely do not retail at over $300 per pour. The Gordon & MacPhail Strathisla 1963 costs a couple hundred a bottle. The Laphroaig 21 will run you $500 at the New Hampshire Liquor Store. The Yamazaki 1984 retails around $600/bottle, and most bars don't charge half the bottle price for a single pour.

So I guess I'm not too impressed with this marketing, though they do have some awesome bottles listed there that I would love to try. I'd like to see what else they're pouring, though, as I have a feeling it's not much more special than what's poured at most other events. But I guess some people just have money to burn.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Whisky review: Compass Box Peat Monster

Two whisky reviews in one day? You know how I roll.

Compass Box is a whisky blending shop started by John Glaser, a Minnesotan who worked for Diageo until he decided to have a go at making whisky himself. The Peat Monster is a blend of Caol Ila, Ardmore, and Laphroaig single malts, all between 10 and 16 years old and aged in first-fill American oak casks.

Compass Box Peat Monster, 46% ABV
Blended malt Scotch whisky

Nose: Peat and tar. Wet hay.

Palate: Light at first, then some peat and smoke coming on. A bit of sweetness in the background that just kind of hangs around.

Finish: Sugary peat.

Rating (of 100): 86. I feel like there's a lot of peat but not a lot of backbone here. Good thing I'm a peat freak.

Whisky review: Jameson Irish Whiskey

While most folks would likely dismiss Jameson as a whiskey for getting trashed on St. Patrick's Day and pretty much any other day, I prefer to give every whisk(e)y a fighting chance. If you've ever tried any of the premium Jameson expressions (12 Year, 18 Year, Gold Reserve, or Rarest Vintage Reserve), you're probably aware of the great potential of this whiskey.

Made at the same distillery (New Midleton) that produces Redbreast, Powers, and Tullamore Dew, this is the whiskey most folks will mention if you ask them to name an Irish whiskey. Well, they'll either say Jameson, or they'll say something incoherent and fall off their barstool.

Jameson Irish Whiskey, 40% ABV

Nose: Nice light fruit (lemon, under-ripe strawberries) and a little bit of something like wax.

Palate: Light again, with some honey and fruit (green apples, more lemon). Very smooth and clean mouthfeel.

Finish: A bit more weight here, with a lingering warmth. Some wood.

Rating (of 100): 82. Straightforward, easy-drinking blend. If absolutely required or even mildly prodded, I could probably chug this like Gatorade.

Recap: Ivy+ Fine Spirits Showcase

WOW. We had a lot of people show up for the first-ever Ivy+ Fine Spirits Showcase. The official count was 755 attendees, plus about 60 presenters at 30 tables. With over 200 fine spirits being poured, it was hard not to find something to love!

Our thanks to the attendees, presenters, and volunteers for a great event, and to the MIT Club of Boston and Glencairn Crystal for sponsoring.

Below are some pictures from the Showcase!

The event's presenters were kept busy and poured some great spirits.

Turns out people like this stuff.

Dan Mucciolo from Moet Hennessy USA poses with Kevin and Eileen before the event.

Kevin gets a quick pic with Simon Brooking, Brand Ambassador for Laphroaig and Ardmore.

Gardner Dunn from Suntory (Yamazaki and Hibiki Japanese whiskies) pours a dram for a lucky attendee.

Kevin and his good whisky friend, Brian Johnson from InterBev.

If you didn't attend the Showcase this year, we're planning to do it again next year, so stay tuned!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Radio silence ending soon

Wonder why we haven't written in a while? It's because we've been up to our eyeballs in work for the first ever Ivy+ Fine Spirits Showcase tomorrow! The event sold out last week at 800 attendees and everything else is coming together. We've got glasses. We've got water. We've got tables and linens and name tags. Oh my.

If you wanted to register and didn't get a ticket, hopefully we'll do the event again next year and you can attend then!

The whisky reviews and news will pick up again after this weekend. I promise!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Whisky review: Milford 10

Besides The Lord of the Rings movies and crazy rugby players, New Zealand makes some other noteworthy items, and one of those is a single malt whisky. Or, rather, it made a single malt whisky; Milford is the brand name of whisky made by the Willowbank distillery in Dunedin and sold by the New Zealand Whisky Company. The distillery started distilling in 1969 and closed in 1994 (though it seems the distillery may soon be resurrected), and Milford is the whisky left over from that distillery.

I saw this one on the shelf and just had to try it.

Milford 10, 43% ABV
Distilled 1991, bottled 2003, batch 1M32, 3193 bottles
Single malt New Zealand whisky

Nose: Milk chocolate. A little peat, some honey and toffee.

Palate: Crisp red apple. Some nice peat but not a lot. Good weight and a friendly warming, gripping effect. Rounded edges.

Finish: Smooth with sweet peat lingering.

Rating (of 100): 90. I didn't really think much of this whisky when I first tried it about a year ago. My bottle is still about two thirds full, but maybe the little bit of air in the bottle did it some good...or maybe the time lapse between my first few drams and now did me some good. Either way, this bottle was only a bit over $30 and was definitely worth it.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Whisky review: Dalwhinnie 15

Dalwhinnie is another of the Diageo Classic Malts, coming from the Highlands of Scotland. It's billed as "The Gentle Spirit" though I'd argue that most single malt drinkers don't get into whisky because it's gentle...

Dalwhinnie 15 Year, 43%
Single malt Scotch whisky (Highlands)

Nose: Sea salt and a bit of peat. Floral.

Palate: A little peat and a pinch of salt. I keep looking but there really doesn't seem to be much else. Maybe a whimper of fruit. Warming.

Finish: More of the same.

Overall (of 100): 74. Where's the beef? This is gentle with a strong note of blah.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Whisky review: Springbank 10

(For more information on the Springbank distillery, please see my entry for the Springbank 15.)

The Springbank 10 is aged mostly in ex-bourbon casks, with a little maturation in ex-sherry casks. This is in contrast to the Springbank 15, which is aged purely in ex-sherry casks.

Springbank 10, 46% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Campbeltown)

Nose: Peat, brine. Some sugary fruit.

Palate: A good dose of dark peat pervades the mouth. Bitter dark chocolate tied up with lemons, green apples, and vanilla.

Finish: More peat and salt. Light wood, milk chocolate. Dry.

Rating (of 100): 87. I feel like the peat dominates and there are a lot of other aspects that struggle to shine through. This is strange - the Longrow CV, which I just reviewed, is supposed to be the heavily-peated version of Springbank, but I got more peat out of the Springbank 10. That's not to say I'm complaining tonight; it's currently 5 degrees Fahrenheit outside and a little peat kick is definitely helping me stay warm and sane.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Whisky review: Longrow CV

Longrow is the heavily-peated single malt made by the Springbank distillery in Campbeltown on the Mull of Kintyre. This particular whisky, Longrow CV, is a blend of 6-, 10-, and 14-year-old whiskies aged in a variety of casks (bourbon, sherry, port, and rum). That's why it's called "CV," as in "curriculum vitae" - it's supposed to show off the best this brand of whisky has to offer.

(Also, I've decided to stop giving a description of the appearances of whiskies I review. After coming to the conclusion that most people don't really care what a particular whisky looks like and that a lot of whiskies look almost the same, and also that the color has nothing to do with whether I like a whisky or not, I figured I'd just cut it out and save us all some drudgery.)

Longrow CV, 46% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Campbeltown)

Nose: Peat backed by a lighter grassy note. Medicinal - has a sweet smell like bandage adhesive and iodine. Also getting some faint saltiness.

Palate: Starts out fairly light and grassy and then develops a full peat character that later turns into something dark and chocolatey.

Finish: More dark chocolate, plus some smoke and very dark fruits like overripe strawberries or raisins.

Rating (of 100): 92. Lots of good things going on, and this is a very interesting whisky. The nose tells you the whole story up front: there will be grass. There will be peat. And there might even be more. And then the palate and the finish play out the scenes in dramatic slow motion. There are so many sides to this whisky that it almost seems to have a bit of an identity crisis, but it pulls itself together in the end. It's the Britney Spears of single malt.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Whisky review: The Macallan 15 Year Fine Oak

The Macallan is known for being a producer of heavily-sherried whiskies. However, in 2004, The Macallan introduced the Fine Oak series of single malts, which are aged in a combination of ex-bourbon casks as well as ex-sherry casks made of American oak and European oak, for what they call "triple cask maturation."

In reality, it was likely a move to get away from purely sherry cask matured whiskies, as sherry casks cost about ten times what bourbon casks cost. By maturing some of their product in bourbon casks, they could cut costs and still sell a premium whisky.

The Macallan 15 Year Fine Oak, 43% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Speyside)

Orange-tan-gold-yellow, pretty much just like the last several whiskies I've reviewed. I wonder if my eyes are going.

Nose: Wow, quite a good one. I've had it several times before but never noticed the complexity and intricacy of this nose. Toasted wood with some citrus and floral aromas, with sherry and some chocolate thrown in. Very full.

Palate: Malt, vanilla, lots of fruits. Some peppery notes develop.

Finish: Lingering light wood. About a minute after swallowing, it tastes like I just licked a lumberyard.

Rating (of 100): 85. The nose is great and the palate has grown on me, but the aftertaste is not really to my liking. I try to lick lumberyards sparingly.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Whisky review: Cardhu 12

Cardhu is one of the Diageo Classic Malts and is a key part of the Johnnie Walker blends.

Cardhu 12, 40% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Speyside)

Appearance: Orange tan.

Nose: Strong scent of wood at first. Then plums, syrup, caramel, honey. Some fruitcake-like spicy aromas.

Palate: Bitter at first, then honey and wood. Astringent.

Finish: More bitter than Maxine from those Hallmark cards.

Rating (of 100): 73. Does an about-face from nose to finish. Can't say I enjoyed this whisky past some parts of the nose. This is a whisky I had read about as being a great Speyside malt but, for me at least, I'd leave it on the shelf until I can get someone else to drink it.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Whisky review: Balvenie 17 Peated Cask

The Balvenie Distillery is located in Dufftown in the heart of Speyside, Scotland, right next door to Glenfiddich - both distilleries are owned by William Grant & Sons and both go into the company's Grant's blend. Balvenie's distinguishing characteristic is that it has its own on-site cooperage (where casks are made and conditioned), coppersmith (for maintaining the stills), and floor maltings (for malting barley). Of course, having all these things doesn't mean your whisky is any better than anyone else's, but it's good for marketing.

It's also good for a distillery tour, if you ever get the chance to go. I highly recommend it. If you're also a fan of Balvenie, you can join their "Warehouse 24" group and get your own tasting book plus some other perks.

The whisky in the Balvenie 17 Peated Cask has been partly matured in new American oak casks and partly matured in casks that previously held an experimental Balvenie peated whisky. I'm interested in knowing if they'll ever release the actual peated whisky that was held in those casks. My guess is that they will, knowing how many mouths are calling for more peated whisky nowadays.

Balvenie 17 Peated Cask, 43% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Speyside)

Appearance: Light orange-yellow.

Nose: That typical Balvenie honeyed nose with a hint of earthiness.

Palate: Earth and bitter dark chocolate enveloping honey, vanilla, light fruit, and spices.

Finish: More peat and some wood with a nearly-cloying sweetness. A funky taste lingers.

Overall (of 100): 82. I don't feel like the two contrasting flavors - peat and honey - really go together too well. I've tried very hard to love this whisky because I really like Balvenie in general and this particular whisky is very unique and not cheap...but it just ain't happenin'.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

This is what whisky is all about

While home with my family in Wisconsin, I was able to enjoy a few drams (and by a few, I mean a few dozen). One of the best experiences I had was introducing my brother Scott, who is two years my younger, to Bowmore and Highland Park single malts. Though we did do the formal tasting of the whiskies, we also were able to just kick back, relax, and enjoy some drams in Scott's backyard hot tub while enjoying the tropical winter Wisconsin weather.

Having a dram with my brother, Scott, in his hot tub in Wisconsin. The white specks are snowflakes.

At the end of the day, you can nose and taste all you want, but it's the experience around the whisky that really makes it memorable.

Monday, January 3, 2011

New alcoholic beverages website launch!

Check out this website!

Through some fortunate contacts, I was asked to start writing about whisk(e)y for a new website, Smart Tastes, which just launched on January 1st. Take a look! It's aimed at people who are new to the world of fine alcoholic beverages, so the articles are written for the novice. Questions and discussion are don't hold back.

And tell your friends about it, if they're interested in this sort of thing!