Comparison Review: Monkey Shoulder vs. Sheep Dip Blended Malt Scotches

Well, it has been a good long while since we’ve had a comparison review here at Bargain Bourbon, so today’s review is aimed at remedied that minor oversight.  Today, I am reviewing two blended malt Scotch whiskies – Monkey Shoulder and Sheep Dip.  Since I have not yet discussed blended malts on the blog, perhaps a brief word.  Simply, blended malts are Scotches that are derived from single malt whiskies from two or more different distilleries.  Blended malts differ from blended Scotches in that blended malts only contain single malt whiskies in their components, and blended Scotches may contain both single malts and other grain whiskies.

The two particular blends in question today are both blended malts – Monkey Shoulder and Sheep Dip.  Monkey Shoulder is a blended malt from William Grant & Sons, and the three distilleries that contribute to this whisky are all owned by Grant as well.  Single malt Scotch from The Balvenie, Glenfiddich, and Kininvie all find their way into Monkey Shoulder to make a fine Speyside blended malt.  Monkey Shoulder is bottled at 86 proof (43% abv) and this particular batch is Batch 27.  If you are wondering about the name, Monkey Shoulder is a slang term for the soreness in the shoulder that occurs when a malt man has been turning the germinating barley for a long period of time.

Sheep Dip is a blended malt made from 16 different single malts from all over Scotland, with the famed Richard Paterson as the head blender on the project.  Sheep Dip proudly proclaims that of the different Scotch regions have been included in the whisky.  Sheep Dip is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).  As far as the name on this one, “Sheep Dip” was often how whisky makers would label their products to avoid their stock being confiscated by the authorities back in the days when such things were a more common occurrence.

Now, onto the tasting…

I assume he enjoys a fine dram from time to time...

I assume he enjoys a fine dram from time to time…

On the nose, Monkey Shoulder is floral and sweet, with honey, vanilla, and some rich orchard fruits.  This is a classic, bourbon-aged Speyside nose.  The palate is wonderfully creamy, with orchard fruits, berries, peaches, apples, and rich honey.  The finish is relatively short with oak, vanilla cream, and drying perfume notes.  My grade: B.  Price: $35-40/750ml.  Overall, this is a very good introduction to what an ex-bourbon cask might do to Speyside spirits, and it is priced perfectly.

For Sheep Dip, the arrival is a bit heavier.  The nose is a funky, sherried nose, reminiscent of Edradour.  It is sweet and nutty, with notes of pralines and candied pecans.  The palate is earthier, with those pralines there, along with dates, molasses, brown sugar, and wet moss.  The finish is sweet, dry, and very short.  My grade:  C+.  Price:  $35-40/750ml.  Overall, this is in a nice price point just like the Monkey Shoulder, but the flavors seem disjointed in Sheep Dip, like there are too many chefs in the kitchen.

Something tells me these sheep got into the Sheep Dip...

Something tells me these sheep got into the Sheep Dip…

On the whole, I do like Monkey Shoulder better, but the greater point I want to make with this post is that blended malt Scotches are great alternatives to buying single malts.  Blended malts are often high quality whiskies with great taste profiles.  If you want to introduce someone to Scotch, save the money on a single malt, but give yourself a cleaner palate and a softer alternative to the blended Scotch route.  As always, let me know what you think, and let it ride!

Henry McKenna Single Barrel Bourbon Review

Well, let’s throw down the first bourbon review of 2015.  Henry McKenna is a single barrel bourbon out of Heaven Hill in Bardstown, KY.  This is not one of Heaven Hill’s biggest name brands, but the general quality of Heaven Hill certainly made me think this was going to be a good bourbon.  If the other bourbons I have had in this same age range (Evan Williams Single Barrel series) had any bearing, this was going to be a good bourbon.  The bottle I am reviewing here is from Barrel 1488, and it is bottled-in-bond at 100 proof (50% abv).

The color is a rich, dark russet, just beautiful in the glass.  The color is almost indescribable in its striking beauty, like the rich hues of a summer sunset (pictured).   The nose is dry and woody, like tree bark that has been dipped in a bit of vanilla extract.  The palate is also a very dry presentation, with dry tree bark, caramel, cinnamon, and some nutmeg.  The finish leaves the palate very dry, with a lot of wood and some cinnamon spice. DSCN0470

Overall, this is a much different profile from what I was expecting, given my prior exposure to the Evan Williams Single Barrel bourbons.  This is one of the woodiest bourbons that I have encountered, and most certainly one of the driest in a good way, like that weird uncle everybody has.  This is a rich bourbon that is especially good for this time of year, with its viscous wood notes.  Like many single barrel bourbons, I suspect that this label varies a bit, but if this barrel is anything to go on, its worth giving it a shot.  My grade:  B.  Price:  $30-35/750ml.  For the price point and the age, this is a very solid bourbon.

Tomatin 12 Year-Old Scotch Review

I started this blog with the intent of reviewing whiskeys that were affordable, and here in the United States, the best way to drink good whiskey on a budget is to buy American.  However, every once in a while, a good deal on a whisky comes a wandering across our borders.  Tomatin 12 year-old is one such whisky – affordable and quite enjoyable (and it pairs wonderfully with a bit of darts while you’re enjoying the World Championships this weekend).

Tomatin is a distillery located in the Eastern part of the Scottish Highlands, and while not an especially common single malt here in Boston, it is certainly not impossible to find.  The 12 year-old is the standard single malt from the distillery, and it is aged in a combination of first-fill ex-bourbon casks, refill American hogsheads, and refill Sherry butts before being married for an additional period in ex-sherry casks.  It is bottled at 86 proof (43% abv).

The nose on this is pleasant and fruity (apple pie), with some honeyed notes, some meaty sherry, sweet bread pudding, and a whiff of floral pleasantries as well.  The palate is soft and seductive, with malt, some fino sherry, warm nuts, and a slight waft of some warm earthy smoke.  The finish is dry and surprisingly long with pears, peat, malt, and some candied nuts.

Overall, this is a very pleasant single malt, especially if you are looking for a dry presentation of a Highland single malt.  If you are looking for a good inculcation of a Highland whisky without breaking the bank, seek out a bottle of Tomatin 12.  My grade: B.  Price:  $35-40/750ml.  At the price point, it is hard to beat this one for a single malt.

Happy New Year! and Koval Single Barrel Rye Review

2015 is upon us, and I hope you have enjoyed Bargain Bourbon’s past year as much as I have.  As always, a massive “Thank You” to all my readers of Bargain Bourbon and the people in my life who put with me through all my bloggings, musings, and rantings. So, on that note, what better way to open up 2015 than with a little whiskey review?

http://www.koval-distillery.com/newsite/whiskey/rye

Koval Rye Official Site (Photo Source)

At WhiskyLive Boston 2014, I was introduced to Koval Distillery, out of Chicago.  I reviewed their bourbon, and found it to be a refreshing take on bourbon that pushed the envelope without sacrificing the integrity of the product.  Needless to say, I was pretty fired up to dabble in some more Koval spirit.  So, I’m kicking off 2015 with a review of Koval’s rye whiskey.  This is a single barrel, 100% rye whiskey with no age statement (but I suspect we are talking about a 2-3 year-old whiskey).  The particular barrel I am reviewing is Barrel #331, and it is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).

At first whiff, this is dry stuff, damn near non-liquid with notes of sawdust, dill weed, turpentine, nutmeg, and ginger.  It is a sharp, very dry nose, and while it might not be everybody’s cup of tea, I like it.  The palate is light in its body, with some sawdust, ginger, dry rye, and cinnamon candy.  The finish is spicy, sharp, and bone dry.  As this whiskey worked down in the bottle, it really opened up in its body, cutting through its dry character to become softer and more approachable on the palate.

Overall, this is definitely a great cocktail rye (especially if paired with an especially sweet vermouth in a Manhattan), but it also works well on its own.  This is a very versatile whiskey that will only improve with a few more years in the barrel helping it along.  If you like great rye cocktails, sipping a fine whiskey on the rocks, trying a great new rye, or supporting a very good craft distillery, Koval Single Barrel Rye is worth the money.  My grade: B-.  Price:  $40-45/750ml.  The only complaint that I can really find with this whiskey is the disparity between the age and the price, but this is certainly a quality rye that cuts through the gimmicks of the craft whiskey world with a solid 100% rye.

Happy New Year from Bargain Bourbon!

Chivas Regal 18 Year Blended Scotch Review

Makes you want a dram, doesn't it?

Makes you want a dram, doesn’t it?

Well, its holiday season for a lot of folks (and the first day of winter for half of us), and that means that folks are giving all manners of whisk(e)y gifts.  Most common in the Scotch-giving arena among such gifts are popular single malts like The Glenlivet and The Macallan and upscale blends like Chivas Regal 18 yr.  What?  I haven’t reviewed Chivas 18 yr. yet?  No worries, my friends.

Chivas is one of the best-selling Scotch brands in the world, which means that Chivas is often shunned in the blogosphere.  We hipster bloggers like to review what is new, cool, and not yet popular.  Well, Chivas is not new, it is only cool in some circles, and it is most certainly popular already.  However, that does not mean Chivas is bottling a bad product or that it does not make a great gift.  Chivas 18 year-old is reasonably priced for its age, and it is beautifully packaged, making it a great present to unwrap under the tree.  But, what of the liquid in the bottle (80 proof, 40% abv)?

On the nose, Chivas is pleasant and welcoming, yielding a lot of malty and citrusy components.  I get notes of orange marmalade, pineapples, potpourri, and a hint of wood smoke.  The palate is soft and seductive, with warming oranges, dry oak, white chocolate, and a hint of wood smoke.  The finish is medium in its length, with drying oak, wood spiciness, and a drying citrus note most reminiscent of grapefruit.

Overall, this is a good gift because most people will think you paid more for it than you actually did.  As for the whisky in the bottle, it is not bad at all, but there are definitely better single malts on the market at the same price point.  Then again, the simplicity and the silky seduction of Chivas 18 make it the perfect introduction to older Scotches without breaking the bank or getting too much complexity and body.  If you’ve got a whisky lover on your list that has expressed trying some older whiskies, this would probably be a very welcome gift under the tree.  My grade: B.  Price: $70-80/750ml.  There are definitely better drams for that money, but not many of them have 18 years under their belt.

Black Friday Blends: Thoughts on some Grand Macnish Drams

Happy Friday everybody!  It is my hope that despite all that requires change, some folks reading this found something to be thankful for yesterday.  As you might have guessed, I am thankful for whisky, in almost all of its forms.  So, what I am saying today is, don’t shop at Wal-Mart; drink good whisky with good people!  Today, I am reviewing two different blended Scotches, Grand Macnish 12 year-old and Grand Macnish 15 year-old “Sherry Cask.”

Grand Macnish was founded in 1863, and has been making quality blends since that time. Ever since 1991, with their buyout by MacDuff International, this blend has gotten even more global.  Since the importer for Grand Macnish is based in the Greater Boston Area, I see a lot of this blend floating around, and I have had a few folks ask my thoughts on it, so here we go.

Grand Macnish 12 year-old is a standard blend in the range, bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).  On the nose, this smells of the Scottish Highlands, with light heather, honeysuckle, roses, grass, and lilacs.  The palate is light-bodied with a backbone of smoked heather or smoked grasses, almost peaty.  There are also honeyed sweet notes, and some fine ripe pears.  The finish is a bit peated, evolving to a very pleasant honey sweetness.  My grade: B-/C+.  Price: $20-25/750ml.

Grand Macnish 15 year-old “Sherry Cask” is also bottled at 80 proof (40% abv), and would seem to have some sherry cask influence, but what that means exactly is left a mystery.  My guess is that there is just a bit of extra sherry cask-matured whisky in the blend (as opposed to a sherried finish), but that is just a hunch.  On the nose, this one is lightly sherried, with a little booze, oak, dry grapes, and dry sherry.  The palate is medium-bodied, with some malt, oats, raisins, dry tannins, old wood, and some sizzling steak.  The finish is medium-long with a light puff of smoke, burning wood, and some fino sherry.  My grade: B-/C+.  Price: $30-35/750ml.

Overall, both of these blends are crowd-pleasers and wallet-pleasers.  Neither of them will blow you away with complexity or velvety elegance, but they are both very tolerable drams that won’t break the bank.  Between the two, I probably prefer the 12 year-old, but I wouldn’t turn down a dram of either (unless it was being contrasted with a Chivas 25 year-old or some other elderly blend).  Next time you are having some folks over, and you are looking to put a blend in the cabinet, give Grand Macnish a shot.  Even if you are horribly disappointed, and it turns out that your palate is nothing like mine, you’ll only be out a third of what a single malt would cost you!  Let it ride!

WhiskyLive Boston 2014 Review

Earlier this autumn, I attended Whisky Live Boston with several of my very good, whisky-loving friends. The great food, great company, and excellent whiskies always make this a highlight night of the year, and this year was no different. Here are some of my thoughts on some of the drams I really enjoyed from this wonderful evening…

The view from the 2nd floor of the State Room during Whisky Live Boston 2014.

The view from the 2nd floor of the State Room during Whisky Live Boston 2014.

Coming into the evening, the American whiskey that I was most looking forward to trying was the new 8th release of Parker’s Heritage Collection, a 13 year-old straight wheat whiskey. I was, of course, very excited when I saw a bottle of this sitting on the Heaven Hill display table, but I was a little disappointed on the whiskey overall. Perhaps my standards were too high because I was really stoked to try this one, but I found it a little too grain-driven for my tastes. This is still a very good whiskey and a great idea, but I did not like it as much as I have enjoyed previous PHC releases.

Lest you think I stormed out of the venue and swore off whiskey for the rest of my days, I did have the chance to enjoy some fantastic drams. I really enjoyed the balance between fruit, spice, and oak in the Redbreast 21 year-old, certainly one of the finest Irish whiskeys I have tried to date. I got to try some of the whiskeys that Koval is bottling, and I am anxious to find more. I was also very impressed with some of the Benromach whiskies I sampled at the Gordon & MacPhail display table (more on that in the weeks to come). I thoroughly enjoyed getting to taste the two most recent Laphroaig Cairdeas releases side-by-side. I preferred the 2013 release to the 2014 release, but they are both fantastic. The 3rd edition of the “Islands” impression from Bruichladdich was a wonderful pour, and the Speyburn 25 year-old is not to be missed. However, none of these wonderful whiskies were left holding a medal in my book at the end of the night (these medals are not real, so I apologize if I got your hopes up). Without further ado, here were my three favorites from WhiskyLive Boston 2014.

Bronze Medal Winner: The First Editions – Bowmore 17 yr. This is an independently bottled Bowmore that was distilled in 1996, and bottled in 2013 from a single ex-bourbon barrel at cask strength (52.8% abv). I think the Bowmore spirit is definitely best with a little age under it, and this one was really a zinger. The age smoothed out some of the plastic, acidic notes of Bowmore’s younger whiskies, and left a wonderful whisky. The palate was a full-bodied cavalcade of Memphis barbecue, peat, ginger, and wet clay. This one balanced the spirit and the cask wonderfully, giving a very welcome dose of peat and spices with some dark sweetness mixed in. The price tag on this bottle ($150-175/750ml) would probably be a little beyond what I would pay for the contents, but this was definitely a wonderful take on Bowmore’s spirit.

Silver Medal Winner: Laphroaig 10 yr. Cask Strength (Batch 006). I will avoid ranting about this whisky here, as I have already given it plenty of praise on the blog with previous releases. That said, this was one of the best releases of the 10 year-old cask strength that I have had. It balances the sweet flavors of the ex-bourbon casks with the rich Laphroaig peat almost perfectly. This is always reasonably priced ($70-80/750ml) for the quality and strength, and is a very worthy addition to any winter liquor cabinet. I will certainly endeavor to buy a bottle of this wonderful whisky.

Gold Medal Winner: Bruichladdich Octomore 06.1 Scottish Barley. This was my first go at the legendary Octomore, a 5 year-old, cask strength peat monster (peated to 167 ppm, nearly four times as peated as standard Laphroaig), and I was lured into its mysteries. When the barley is peated to that level, something crazy happens, and this whisky shows a depth of character that I have rarely experienced. It smells and tastes like the earth after a bonfire, with a touch of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. There are also some lovely citrus notes that mingle with the soot and coaldust, giving the palate a sublime workout. This whisky is not cheap ($150-175/750ml), nor is it easy to find, so I do not think a full bottle is in my future, but this was surely my highlight of Whisky Live Boston 2014.

I know that my highlights were all peated Scotches, but those were the whiskies that stood out most to me, so that’s what I picked. All across the board, it was a night of wonderful whiskies, great company, and a wonderful venue with a fantastic aerial view of Boston. If you’re in Boston, hope to see you at Whisky Live Boston 2015 next fall!

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