Category Archives: Whiskey reviews

60 Second Whiskey Review — Laphroaig An Cuan Mòr

While wine is my primary focus, as the weather turns colder I do enjoy a wee dram of whiskey every now and then. So with that, here are a few quick thoughts on the Laphroaig An Cuan Mòr Scotch.

The Geekery

Gaelic for “big ocean”, An Cuan Mòr is a travel retail exclusive that was first released in 2013.

A non-age statement malt, there were initial rumors that a base component was Laphroaig 18 but given the usual $200+ price point for the 18, that seems very unlikely.

The Scotch is first aged in ex-bourbon American oak barrels before being transferred to European oak casks for finishing.

The Whiskey

Photo by Dirk Beyer. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Definitely a Scotch for campfire fans.

High intensity nose. Lots of peat but not the usual medicinal iodine note I associate with Laphroaig. Instead it is a more woodsy campfire smoke, that reminds me of Scotches like Bruichladdich Port Charlotte or Coal Ila. There is also an earthy, almost Bretty, bacon fat smell that is not too far off from a smokey South African Pinotage.

On the palate, the smoke notes obviously dominant but there is a little fruity sweetness that reminds me of an apricot tart with a honey drizzle. Whirling it around the tongue, some pepper spice also comes out which accentuates the bacon fat notes from the nose. Despite the reference to “ocean” in the name, there isn’t much salinity here. Very well balance, it holds its 48% ABV well with a creamy mouthfeel. Long finish ends on the campfire smoke but is a much cleaner finish than normal without any of the chalky char residue that a lot of peaty Scotches can leave.

The Verdict

As I’ve confessed before in reviews like that of the Ardbeg Perpetuum, smokey peaty Scotches aren’t my thing.

Still I keep trying them and approaching them with an open mind. Like with the Ardbeg, I can appreciate how well made this Laphroaig An Cuan Mòr is even if I would never dream of spending $90-110 for a bottle of it.

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Johnnie Walker “White Walker” Limited Edition Scotch Review

I like whiskey. I like Game of Thrones. I sometimes like Johnnie Walker. That was enough for me to decide to give the Johnnie Walker “White Walker” Limited Edition Scotch a try.

My experience with Johnnie Walker’s Scotches are very hit or miss. Often when I’m cruising and can’t stomach the exorbitant prices for sub-par wines, I turn to whiskies which seem to be a better value on the ship. Many times (and with some good tips), the bartenders often indulge my geekiness. This has given me several opportunities to try all the different Johnnie Walkers side-by-side.

After one such flight I composed a little ditty of my impressions. With my deepest apologies to Lord Byron.

Black and Blue are overrated
Though the Green is far less jaded.
While Gold and Platinum offer much,
Of the Red should never touch.

Let’s see how much I need to drink before I can think of something to rhyme with White Walker.

The Background

Unlike the highly patronizing and ridiculous Jane Walker Limited Release, the White Walker is a completely new blended Scotch composed primarily of malts from Cardhu and Clynelish. Unusual for whiskeys, this blend is designed to be served cold from the freezer. While serving with a ice sphere will chill it down, the most ideal temperature for many whiskeys are in the 60-65 °F range.

Launched in October, the cheeky packaging features the Johnnie Walker logo re-imagined as the Night King. It also notes that the whiskey was distilled, blended & bottled “north of the wall”. Which I guess is true if we’re talking about Hadrian’s.

The White Walker bottle also proudly touts that this whiskey is “chilled filtered”. While often looked down upon by Scotch aficionados, it makes sense why Johnnie Walker would do this apart from just marketing gimmicks. Serving this whiskey ice cold from the freezer would undoubtedly leave it looking very cloudy which confuses and turns off a lot of consumers. Much like tartrates with wine, aesthetics often trump education.

More GOT Whiskies on the Way

Apparently Diageo, the parent company of Johnnie Walker, will also be releasing a whole line-up of single malts with different bottlings representing the houses of Westeros.

Singleton of Glendullan Select (House Tully)
Dalwhinnie Winter’s Frost (House Stark)
Cardhu Gold Reserve (House Targaryen) UPDATE: Really good Scotch! Click the link for my review of it.
Lagavulin 9 Year Old (House Lannister)
Oban Bay Reserve (The Night’s Watch)
Talisker Select Reserve (House Greyjoy)
Royal Lochnagar 12 Year Old (House Baratheon)
Clynelish Reserve (House Tyrell)

Cardhu
Photo by en:User:Cls With Attitude. Uploaed to Wikimedia Commons under cc-by-sa-2.5

The Cardhu Distillery. Also the source of Diageo’s House Targaryen bottling.

Cardhu has long been one of my favorite Scotches with a great history of badass women. Founded in 1810 by John Cumming whose wife, Helen, became something of an expert in “distracting” the excisemen who visited the farmhouse to collect taxes. When John died in 1846, he was succeeded by his son Lewis with Helen helping to run the distillery. When Lewis died in 1872, his widow Elizabeth ran the distillery until selling it to John Walker & Sons in 1893.

During Elizabeth’s time, the distillery was completely rebuilt with new stills and warehouse. According to Charles MacLean’s Whiskeypedia, Cumming’s Cardhu was one of the few Speyside malts not named “Glenlivet” that was sold as a single malt in London. She also played a significant role in helping William Grant start Glenfiddich.

Clynelish

I haven’t had much experience with single malt bottlings of Clynelish. My one tasting of the 14 year was a bit too grassy for my personal style.

While distilling has been taking place in the parish of Clyne since 1819, the modern incarnation of Clynelish is relatively young and short. Built in 1967, the distillery became part of the Distillers Company Ltd in 1969. After recently losing Coal Ila, DCL turned Clynelish/Brora into a heavily-peated “Islay-style” malt until 1977. In 1975, a new distillery was built and renamed Brora but whiskey under the Clynelish label was still being produced.

Dave Broom notes in The World Atlas of Whisky that Brora/Clynelish had a bit of a post-peat renaissance until 1983. Today it is part of the Diageo stable which produces whiskies under both the Clynelish and Brora labels.

The Scotch is known for its waxy, oily character which often has hints of smoke, pepper and grass.

The Whiskey (Served Cold)

Taking it from the freezer, the whiskey is surprisingly fruity and floral on the nose. Usually the colder something is, the more muted the aromatics are. Medium-plus intensity nose with a mix of cherry and peaches. Not quite sweet smelling like in a pastry but more fresh like making a fruit salad. The Cardhu pedigree comes out with the white floral notes. There is also a little woodsy vanilla but no sense of smoke at all.

On the palate, the whiskey is lively and very easy to drink. The cherries are still surprisingly vibrant but I think the peach notes become more apple. Much to my surprise this isn’t a sweet whiskey at all but is rather well balance and crisp. No heat whatsoever but that is not surprising with its low 41.7% ABV. Moderate length finish lingers a little on some of the oak spice but is mostly dominated by the fruit.

Whiskey Neat at Normal Temperatures

At room temperature the bottle is less glossy and the blue “Winter Is Here” logo is not as visible.

The nose changes dramatically when warm. Instead of being fresh, the fruit smells more dried and all the floral notes are gone. There is much more caramel and even a slight diesel smell which is vaguely reminiscent of Johnnie Walker Red.

On the palate, some of the cherry notes carry through but is very muted. The lightness of the whiskey’s low ABV really stands out more as well. While not quite “watery”, it does feel exceptionally thin on the mouth. Still no back-end heat but the short finish has a slight bitter phenolic quality. Again, this reminds me of Red in a not so flattering way.

The Verdict

On the bottle of White Walker it says “This whisky develops in complexity as it warms to room temperature.” That’s bullshit.

Served cold, this whiskey is definitely a curiosity that’s fun to have at least once. It’s easy drinking and perfectly fine to share with friends while watching Game of Thrones. It’s not quite worth its $35-40 price tag but that’s not an outrageous premium either. It’s far more interesting than Johnnie Walker Black at $30-35.

But warm? This is nothing more than an overpriced mixer.

 

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60 Second Whiskey Review — Ardbeg Perpetuum

A few quick thoughts on the Ardbeg Perpetuum Scotch single malt whisky.

The Geekery

In Whisky Classified David Wishart notes that Ardbeg was founded in 1815 by John MacDougall on the southeast coast of Islay at the site of a popular landing spot for smugglers.

The source of the distilleries soft water is the nearby Loch Uigeadail. The water flows over peat bogs on the way to the distillery giving Ardbeg peaty water to go with the peated malt.

Today Ardbeg is owned by Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH) where it is part of a portfolio that includes fellow distillery Glenmorangie as well as Belevedere Vodka and Champagne houses Dom Perignon, Veuve Clicquot, Krug and Ruinart.

The Perpetuum was a special limited edition bottling released in 2015 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Ardbeg’s founding. A non-age statement (NAS) whisky, the Perpetuum is a blend of batches that have been aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and Sherry casks.

The Whiskey

Photo by FotoosVanRobin. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

The combination of sweet and savory smoke in this whiskey reminds me of bacon-wrapped bananas.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Distinctly iodine and bandages with some earthy forest floor.

On the palate, those medicinal elements give way to a savory meatiness that is very intriguing–like cured salume. Noticeable sweetness on the tip of the tongue suggest some tropical fruit character like bananas. A little on the light side at 47.4% ABV but well balanced with no need to add water or ice.

The Verdict

Full disclosure–I’m not a smokey-peaty whiskey fan in the slightest. I greatly prefer more malt driven whiskies where cereal, fruit and spice notes take center-stage like those of Glenfarclas, Glenmorangie and Balblair–though I can appreciate some elements of salinity and subtle smoke from island whiskies like Talisker and Oban.

That said, while the Ardbeg Perpetuum is too peaty for me, it is a well made whiskey. It certainly has complexity which would merit its $90-100 price for those who appreciate this style more.

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60 Second Whiskey Review — Yamazaki 18

A few quick thoughts on the Yamazaki 18 Japanese Whisky.

The Geekery

If you want to understand Japanese whisky, I can’t recommend enough Dave Broom’s The World Atlas of Whisky. While it’s tempting to make comparisons to Scotch, Japanese whiskies are so fundamentally different that it’s like comparing oil paintings to digital art.

One huge difference is how frequently Japanese producers are willing to completely refit and renovate their distilleries with new stills and modern technology–something that ultra-traditional Scotch producers are often loathed to do. Broom notes that since its 1923 founding that Yamazaki has been completely renovated 3 times with the last renovation coming in 2005.

With 2 mashtuns, wooden and steel washbacks, multiple yeast strains, 6 pairs of stills of various sizes/shapes and aging in 5 different types of barrels, Suntory’s Yamakazi produces multiple expressions of new make whisky even within the same line-up. This makes the difference between their 18 vs their 10 or 12 year not just extended aging–they’re all 3 completely different whiskies to begin with.

The Whiskey

Photo by 7'o'7. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under PD-user

Lovely orange citrus peel notes in this whisky.

High intensity nose–a mix of orange citrus peel and cedar cigar box.

On the palate the mouthfeel is very oily and gives deceptive weight to the relatively light flavors. The citrus notes come through but are not as intense as the nose. The sweet cedar gives way to more earthier tobacco and wood spice with some subtle peat smoke. The moderate length finish bring back the citrus and adds a slightly sweet vanilla note.

The Verdict

Overall this is an enjoyable and easy drinking whiskey but it’s not “knock-your-socks-off” crazy good to merit the $250-300 premium–especially when I can get something like the NAS Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt for around $90 or even the Hakushu 12 from Suntory at $80.

It’s worth trying if a bar has it by the shot to see what the hype is about. But if you spring for a whole bottle, you should know that it is the hype you’re paying for.

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60 Second Whiskey Review — Tullamore DEW Caribbean Rum Cask Finish

A few quick thoughts on the Tullamore DEW Caribbean Rum Cask Finish XO Irish Whiskey.

The Geekery

This expression of Tullamore DEW is a blend of triple distilled malt, grain and pot-still whiskeys that have been finished in first-filled Demerara rum casks from Guyana. Compared to other Caribbean rum, Demerea rum tends to be more full-bodied in flavor with more savory and smokey characteristics.

There is only one distillery in Guyana, the Diamond Distillery of Demerara Distillers Limited, which makes rums under numerous labels they own or in partnership with other companies such as Pyrat and El Dorado. Pusser’s uses Demerara rum and blends it with other Caribbean rums for many of their bottlings.

First released by Tullamore DEW in October 2017, this whiskey was inspired by the more than 50,000 Irish immigrants who settled in the West Indies during the 16th and 17th centuries and participated in the Caribbean rum trade.

The Whiskey

High intensity nose. This really smells like an El Dorado rum–and startlingly so. Big tropical fruits (particularly banana), honey, vanilla and spice.

The rum character in this whiskey dominates the profile.

On the palate, those same rum notes carry through but underneath you can finally make out some of the typical caramel, toffee and apple notes of regular Tullamore DEW whiskey. It holds it 43% ABV well with the vanilla contributing to a smooth mouthfeel. It finishes much drier than you would expect from how sweet the nose is.

The Verdict

The temptation is to compare this to Balvenie’s 14 year Caribbean Cask but they couldn’t be more different. For one, the “rum character” of the Balvenie plays more of a secondary, rather than dominating role as it does with the Tullamore DEW.

At around $30, you’re only paying about a $5-7 premium over the regular expression. This is definitely a whiskey I would recommend more for rum drinkers wanting to branch out than whiskey drinkers.

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60 Second Whiskey Review — Pappy Van Winkle 20yr

Some quick thoughts on the 20 year Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon.

The Geekery

Made in partnership with Buffalo Trace since 2002, Pappy Van Winkle traces its origins to 1874 when Julian Van Winkle moved to Frankfurt, Kentucky. Van Winkle began working as a salesman for W. L. Weller in 1893 before eventually becoming president of the Stitzel-Weller distillery. The Van Winkles continued distilling at Stitzel-Weller for several decades until Julian’s son sold it–with the distillery shuttering its door in 1992.

In his book, Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey, Fred Minnick notes that the “Pappy Craze” really didn’t start until the mid-1990s when Pappy Van Winkle received 99 points from the Beverage Tasting Institute and was named by Food & Wine as “American Whiskey of the Year”.

To build demand, Julian Van Winkle III instituted a policy of making fewer bottles than what he knew he could sell. Even today only around 6 to 7 thousand cases across the entire Van Winkle line is released each year.

While the exact mash bill is unknown, it is a wheated bourbon.

The Whiskey

High intensity nose. Huge mix of dried fruit–figs, black cherries, raisins. Then comes the spice and floral notes with a little chocolate malt ball action.

On the palate, the dried fruit carries through and brings a butterscotch richness that adds to a creamy mouthfeel. The whiskey holds its 45.2% ABV very well and doesn’t need any water or ice. The one glaring negative is how short the finish is. After around 20 seconds or so it’s gone.

The Verdict

By Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia - Moroccan Dried Fruit and Nuts, CC BY 2.0, on Wikimedia Commons

Beautiful mix of dried fruit in the bouquet of this whiskey.

Like the Sam Adams’ Utopias and the cult wines of Napa Valley, this is one of those trophy bottles that you have to hunt down and pony up for. Was it worth it?

For the most part, yes. But also no. I’m glad I got to try this and the nose is incredible. While the smoothness and mouthfeel is enjoyable, the whiskey does literally leave you hanging with the abysmally short finish.

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60 Second Whiskey Reviews — Jameson Caskmates IPA edition

A few quick thoughts on the Jameson Caskmates IPA edition Irish Whiskey.

The Geekery

Jameson is a brand of whiskey produced by Irish Distillers which is a subsidiary of Pernod Ricard. The whiskies are distilled at the massive Midleton Distillery along with Paddys, Midleton, Powers, Redbreast and contract distillation for Green Spot, Yellow Spot and Tullamore Dew.

The Caskmates IPA edition follows the 2013 release of the Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition and continues the distillery’s “barrel exchange” program with Franciscan Well Brewery in Cork.

Barrels that initially held new make Jameson are sent to the brewery where they are used to barrel age their Irish Pale Ale. After emptying, the barrels are sent back to Midleton where a new batch of Jameson is aged in them.

The Whiskey

Medium plus intensity nose with lots of citrus and floral hops notes. It really does smell like an IPA. Underneath you get some of the tell-tale Jameson apple notes.

On the palate I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t anywhere as sweet as Jameson normally is. In fact, it was actually salty and mouthwatering. The citrus, particularly grapefruit, carries through but it doesn’t taste hoppy or piney at all.

The Verdict

By Will Shenton - https://bevvy.co/cocktail/moscow-mule/gsp, CC BY-SA 3.0, on Wikimedia Commons

I’m intrigued at how the saltiness of the Jameson Caskmates IPA would play with an Irish Mule but not enough to keep a bottle regularly in the bar.

This whiskey doesn’t have enough complexity to be a sipping whiskey. Howver, it certainly has a lot more going for it than your typical Jameson. I always look to Jameson as a mixing “well whiskey” that works great in things like Irish Mules where the ginger beer and lime balance the sweet apply notes. The saltiness of the Jameson Caskmates IPA really stands out and may give those mules an interesting twist.

With this Caskmates edition being around $30, its about $10 more than regular Jameson. Its worth trying for the curious. If you’re like me and use Jameson as a mixer, this is not worth it for a sipper.

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60 Second Whiskey Reviews – Hakushu 12

Some quick thoughts on the Hakushu 12 Single Malt Whiskey.

The Geekery

According to Dave Broom’s The World Atlas of Whisky, Hakushu was built in 1973 in the Japanese Southern Alps among the forests that surround Mt. Kaikomagatake.

The distillery is owned by Beam Suntory where it is part of a portfolio that includes the Japanese whiskey brands of Hibiki and Yamazaki as well as Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark and Knob Creek bourbon, Bowmore and Laphroaig Scotches and Courvoisier cognac among many other liquor brands.

Additionally, Suntory owns the management rights to the 3rd Growth St. Julien estate of Château Lagrange and 4th Growth St. Julien estate of Château Beychevelle as well as the German estate of Weingut Robert Weil in Rheingau.

Hakushu production emphasizes variety with the distillery using 4 different types of barley, both brewer’s and distiller’s yeast as well as six pairs of different sized stills with various lyne arm angles. The distillery uses mostly ex-bourbon American oak barrels with some Japanese barrels and French wine casks. All this variety gives Hakushu’s blenders a wide palette of flavors to work with.

The Whiskey

Medium plus intensity. Very grassy but with a sweetness to it. It’s almost like someone sprinkled sugar on freshly cut wet grass. There is some subtle almond smokiness that rounds out the bouquet.

By Copyright © National Land Image Information (Color Aerial Photographs), Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, Attribution, on Wikimedia commons

Aerial shot of the large Hakushu Distillery

On the palate, the almond smokiness comes to the forefront but it is surprisingly less sweet than what the nose would have you expect. It still has some sweetness with an apple fruit note but no where as sweet as the Glenfiddich 18 that I recently reviewed or many Glenmorangie and Balvenie offerings.

The Verdict

This whiskey has a fair amount of complexity and a lot to offer. At around $80-85, you are paying a premium but this is one of the better values in Japanese whiskeys (compare to say the Yamakazi 12 at $120+) so if you want to dip your toes in this area, it’s worth checking out.

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60 Second Whiskey Reviews — Dalwhinnie Winter’s Gold

Some quick thoughts on the Dalwhinnie Winter’s Gold Single Malt.

The Geekery
According to Charles MacLean’s Whiskypedia, Dalwhinnie is the coldest distillery in Scotland with an average annual temperature of 42.8 °F (6 °C).

Founded in 1897, Dalwhinnie was sold in 1905 to American distiller Cook & Bernheimer, making it the first Scottish distillery under foreign ownership. The advent of US Prohibition in 1919 ushered its return to Scottish hands. Through mergers and acquisitions, the distillery changed owners multiple times over the years with it eventually ending up in the Diego stable where it is part of the Classic Malts series representing the Highlands.

The Winter’s Gold is a non-age statement bottling sourced from spirit distilled during the heart of winter between October and March. Like others in the Dalwhinnie line, it is crafted with lightly peated malt from Roseisle and water sourced from Lochan Doire Uaine in the Drumochter Hills. The whiskey is aged in mostly ex-bourbon barrels.

A unique expression, the distillery recommends enjoying the whiskey straight from the freezer.

The Whiskey
(Room temperature) Fruity nose, like candied citrus and honey. Some subtle oak spice. No note of peat.

(Freezer) Still very fruity but instead of citrus there is a mix of apple and tropical fruit. The spice completely disappears.

By Andrew Wood, CC BY-SA 2.0 on Wikimedia commons

The Dalwhinnie distillery is often snowbound during the winter.

The palate at room temperature is sweet with the honey and fruit being very prevalent. The peat appears finally but is slight. Very light in body at 43% ABV.

From the freezer, everything gets more muted except, paradoxically, the peat which becomes more of a floral heather peat like a very lightly peated Highland Park.

The Verdict

An interesting dram but I’m not sold on the “enjoy from the freezer” marketing angle and preferred it at room temp. It follows the typical light & sweet Dalwhinnie style and would be a good “Breakfast Scotch”.

At around $45-50, it offers a decent value but, personally, I think the jump to their 15 year in the $70-75 range delivers a lot more depth.

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60 Second Whiskey Reviews – Glenfiddich 18

Some quick thoughts on the Glenfiddich 18 Single Malt Scotch.

The Geekery

Founded in 1886 by William Grant, then manager of Mortlach, with distilling equipment purchased from Elizabeth Cumming of Cardhu, Glenfiddich made history in 1963 with the first commercial release of a single malt bottling. Prior to this, Scotch was almost universally sold as blended whiskeys.

Still owned by the Grant family, the fifth generation of William Grant & Sons manages an extensive portfolio that, along with Glenfiddich, includes–Balvenie, Grangestone, Tullamore D.E.W., Grant’s, Drambuie, Monkey Shoulder, Sailor Jerry’s, Hendricks, Milagro, Reyka, Solerno, Clan MacGregor and Flor de Caña.

Glenfiddich uses water sourced from Robbie Dubh springs (as does its sister distilleries of Balvenie and Grangestone) outside of Dufftown in the Speyside region with the whiskeys aged in a mix of ex-bourbon (majority) and sherry casks.

The Whiskey

Lots of caramel toffee on the nose. Little butterscotch too. Makes me think of a Werther’s Original. Some star anise spice and apple peel but the sweeter notes dominant.

On the palate the mouthfeel is very smooth with a slight oiliness—but very slight. All the sweet notes on the palate carry through but the spice apple comes more out. There is a bit more back-end heat than what I would typically expect from only 40% ABV. Rather than neat, this whiskey could use a few rocks for balance.

Photo by Paul Hurst released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-By-SA-2.5, 2.0

This whiskey takes me back to Grandma’s house and these treats.

The Verdict

Definitely a whiskey on the light-bodied and sweet side. A “breakfast Scotch”.

Overall it is pleasant and quaint but nothing really wows me to make the $110+ price tag worth it. Especially when I can get much of the same pleasant quaintness from the Glenfiddich 15 year for around $50 and a bit more complexity with Glenfiddich’s sister distileries’ Balvenie 17 year Double Wood ($160) and Grangestone 18 ($70).

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