Tag Archives: Dave Broom

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)

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.


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 — 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 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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Gin Scratch Fever

In Edmonds, Washington by the waterfront is a must visit site for any gin lover– Scratch Distillery.

Founded by self-described “gin-nerds”, the story of Scratch is intimately tied with the motto of Kim and Bryan Karrick–Gin Equals Love. It was their shared love of gin and quest for the perfect martinis and gin & tonics, that led them to start their distillery in 2013. After years of attending classes, internships and reading nearly every book on gin they could get their hands on, they officially opened the distillery on July 10, 2015.

I got a chance to learn more about their story and making gin during one of their Giniology sessions hosted at the distillery. This was truly a one of a kind experience that immerses you into the world of gin production, getting up close and personal with the history of the spirit, its classic cocktails and the endless potential of the many different botanicals that are used it craft it.

An absolutely delicious Gimlet made with Scratch’s Martini-style gin

The Giniolgy starts with a pre-class Gimlet cocktail made by their staff mixiolgist using Scratch’s Martini-style gin. As you get settled in, Bryan Karrick explains how the Gimlet is a surprisingly simple cocktail made in 5-1-1 ratio of gin, lime juice and simple syrup that hides really well how strong and potent it is.

And he was quite right! Beautifully aromatic with the citrus notes of the lime playing off the spice of their Martini-style gin, and silky smooth to boot. I can easily envision this being a cocktail that someone would get seconds and even thirds of before realizing how much booze is in there.

The class then spends about 30 minutes going into the history of Gin, tracing the early origins of distilling, the development of the alembic still and the creation of medicinal tinctures to the birth of the malty Dutch jenever. The modern concept of gin really takes off in the 18th century in Great Britain which introduced to the world the slightly sweet Old Tom gin , the gun-powder ready Navy Strength, the historic Plymouth and, finally, the London Dry styles of gin that we see in marketplace today.

The class also touched a bit on the cultural role of gin and how it evolved from a public scourge during the “Gin Craze” of the 18th century to the choice tipple of naval officers before becoming the benchmark of white-collar sophistication in the mid 20th century with the “Three Martini Lunch”.

I came into the class with some familiarity about gin after reading Lesley Jacobs Solmonson’s Gin: A Global History and Dave Broom’s Gin Manual but I was impressed with Bryan Karrick’s concise but very detail-oriented intro into the world of gin. You can see the passion and “gin-nerdiness” at work and its hard not to be infected with his enthusiasm for the spirit and the role it has played in history. However, where the class leaped beyond the pages of any gin book is when Kim took over and brought the class into the distillery.

At its core distilling is very simple. You start out making essentially beer and then move it to a still where heat vaporizes the alcohols that are then captured and condensed backed into a liquid form. But being simple is the recipe for making Everclear. The art and craftsmanship in distilling comes in all the tiny decisions and the watchful eyes that follow the process from start to finish.

The most fascinating part of the entire Giniology session is watching Kim talk through each of these tiny decisions from creating the wash to moving it to the pot still for the first distillation and then the careful temperature control and sleepless nights monitoring as the distillate works it way through the multiple plates of the column still. Since different alcohols vaporize at different temperatures and you only really want the “heart” of the distillate, monitoring this process and making the decision of when to make the cut is one of the distiller’s most important tasks.

Just visible between the column stills in the picture above, the magic happens with the introduction of a gin (or botanical) basket. Here the Karrick’s commitment to doing everything “from scratch” with organic, non-GMO and locally sourced botanicals is put into practice to craft a high-quality product that is light years beyond the mass-market gin brands.

I really can not give justice to the wealth of information and eye-opening experience you get walking through the process of gin production with Kim and Bryan. Over the course of the 40 minute tour of their little one-room distillery, you are certain to leave with a deep-seated appreciation for the craftsmanship as well as the hours of time and sweat that goes into making something that a lot of people just think of as tipple for their gin and tonics.

And speaking of G & T’s, after the distillery tour, you are greeted with one made with Scratch’s Gin & Tonic style gin as you hunker down to indulge in your inner mad scientist. Here the Giniology class goes from strength to strength as Kim and Bryan walk you through how to come up with your own personal gin–starting with first really getting to know the ingredients.

The Core Four ingredients of gin–juniper berries, coriander, orris root and angelica root

Have you ever rolled juniper berries and coriander seeds between your finger tips? Ever smelled orris root on its own? Seen angelica root up close and personal? Played around with hop flowers? Have you ever even heard of galangal root?

Even if you could answer “Yes” to all those questions, I would still wager that you’d get a sense of childlike wonderment as the dozen or so jars of botanicals are passed around and you get a chance to fully engage your senses with each. I found myself thinking back to early herbalists across ancient cultures who would look at each and every one of these herbs, seeds, flowers and roots with an inquisitive mindset of what kind of healing or intoxicating properties each had.

After getting familiar with the botanicals themselves, you move on to smelling and tasting them in isolation. Using neutral potato spirit, Scratch isolated 30 different botanicals that are commonly used in gin to give folks a chance to experience what each individual component can bring to a recipe. It can be a bit overwhelming for the senses which is a testament to the discipline required by master distillers like Kim Karrick to sit down and really study each of these botanicals as they craft their proprietary recipes. Like a chef combining food flavors and textures, you see the art in the distiller’s blending of different flavors and sensations with the intermingling of citrus, floral, spice and heat.

While the possibilities are endless, going through the exercise you start to see some patterns in the process beginning with why the core four ingredients of juniper, coriander, orris and angelica root form the bedrock of nearly every gin recipe. With Kim and Bryan’s guidance, you also learn about some of the “house styles” of popular gin brands which is very valuable in crafting your own blend.

Do you enjoy Hendricks? Well that is a floral-focused blend with caraway, cubeb berries, cucumber, lemon, meadowsweet, orange and rose. Is Bombay Sapphire your go-to? That’s a citrus-driven blend with lemon, grains of paradise, cubeb berries, cassia bark, almonds and licorice.

Though more important than knowing your favorite brand is knowing what you want to do with gin. Gin’s versatility in cocktails is legendary but the perfect gin for a Negroni may not be the perfect gin for an Aviation. In crafting my recipe, I told Kim how I liked more citrus oriented Gimlets and Martinis (and that I absolutely adored Scratch’s Martini-style gin), so she steered me towards a relatively soft blend that was high on the citrus aromatics but with enough spice to balance.

If you are intimidated by the math and ml conversions–especially after enjoying two cocktails–don’t be. Thankfully, there are professionals there to do the blending for you. While the staff at Scratch are making your blend, you get an opportunity to try many of Scratch’s other offerings like their vodkas, “bier schnapps” and barrel-aged gins.

And then finally, after probably the most fun 3 hours of “work” you’ll ever have, you leave the Giniology class with your own custom bottle of gin and a recipe that is kept on file at the distillery and can be replicated whenever you like. If you’re like me, you’ll probably also leave with a few extra bottles of Scratch’s products like their crazy smooth organic wheat vodka that makes Grey Goose seem like a bottom-shelf pour and a pepper infused vodka (made from a blend of Jalapeno, Serrano, pink and black peppercorns) that is just begging to be used in a Bloody Mary.

Overall, this is truly an experience that is well worth the time and cost to attend. If you are already an avowed “gin-nerd”, you will revel in the geekery of playing with the botanicals and crafting your own personal expression of your favorite spirit. But even if your only experience with gin has been the occasional martini or G&T made with the handful of mass-market brands, its still worth checking out this small, family-owned distillery.

I guarantee that not only will you end up having a lot of fun but you’ll also just might find yourself Scratched with a case of Gin Fever.

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