Posts tagged ‘Bunnahabhain’

Top Ten Conversion Whiskeys (and Happy Repeal Day!)

Well, it’s Repeal Day, and that calls for some good ol’ whiskey fun.  December 5, 2013 marks the 80th Anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition in the United States, and I am celebrating with a list of my Top Ten Conversion Whiskeys.

Since most of us whiskey nerds have folks in our lives that do not enjoy whiskey, it is important to remember that evangelism is just as important as enjoyment.  One should not impose whiskey on others, but the introduction to whiskey can never hurt, right?  (Note: I realize that there are ethical problems with tying somebody to a chair and pouring whiskey down their throat.)

This is a list of whiskeys that I have found useful in the conversion process.  Some people do not like whiskey for all kinds of reasons – because it is too harsh, not flavorful enough, does not accommodate their palate, or they are just plain old prejudiced.  So, I have tried to incorporate whiskeys from all over the map, and all across the flavor wheel to help you convert that loved one in your life.  Not all of these whiskeys are personal favorites of mine, but they are all readily available in most liquor stores to help you in your proselytizing.  (I have also limited the list to one entry per distillery, and there are no limited edition whiskeys on here, only standard range releases.)

Honorable Mention:  Wild Turkey American Honey – While this is not technically a whiskey, it deserves a mention here because it is the best bourbon liqueur on the market today at preserving the flavors of bourbon.  This can be a great gateway drug, especially when served on the rocks with a splash of Wild Turkey 101 on a summer afternoon.

10. Ardbeg Uigeadail – This might seem like a strange entry on this list since most folks are turned off by peat, but there is a story here.  The beautiful woman I am currently dating is a coffee drinker who has never found whiskey to her liking.  Ardbeg Uigeadail was the breakthrough whiskey for her, so to the coffee drinker in your life, Slainte!

9. Bunnahabhain 12 yr. – Another Islay entry on this list makes it here because on its simplicity, and its drinkability.  The whiff of smoke works well for beer drinkers, as does the dense sherry on the palate.  For the lover of wee heavy ales, and Belgian Tripels, Bunnahabhain 12 yr. can be very persuasive.

8. Gentleman Jack – I know few (if any) whiskey lovers that love Gentleman Jack, but I know a ton of weekend gin guzzlers that love Gentleman Jack.  It speaks to a unique audience, and works well at converting that gin guzzling neighbor you know.

7. Basil Hayden’s – This is a bourbon on the lighter side of bourbon, and it lacks a lot of the dense, sweet notes that bourbon is known for.  It is a great introduction to spicier, more floral bourbons for that sultry Southerner you’re trying to convert.

6. Bushmill’s 16 yr. – This is a port-finished single malt Irish whiskey that is both sweet and dry, reminding me a lot of port, itself.  If you are seeking to convert a wine drinker, have a bottle of Bushmill’s 16 yr. on hand at your next house party.

5. Crown Royal Reserve – This super smooth Canadian dram is great for this conversion endeavor because of its allure.  The packaging works just as much as the contents of the bottle to convince the stubborn hold out that their life is about to be enhanced by whiskey.

4. Four Roses Yellow Label – This is flat out the most drinkable bourbon available.  It is mellow and sexy, and prime conversion material, which is one of the primary reasons it was one of the first whiskey reviews I ever did.

3. The Balvenie 12 yr. DoubleWood – This is on the list precisely because it works.  I don’t have a ton of analysis beyond the fact that I know at least three people who have told me that this whiskey changed their life.

2. Redbreast 12 yr. – This silky Irish pour will always be the highlight of a dinner party because of its combination of floral, sweet elegance, and its superb drinkability.  It is also an Irish whiskey so the tough, hard-working stockyard workers in your life will be more easily swayed.

1. The Glenlivet 12 yr. – This takes the number one spot on my list because it is the whiskey that converted me.  I was miring in a world of craft beer and rum (both of which are still wonderful) until I picked up a bottle of this juice on a whim one day.  Four years and a blog later, I could not be happier with that decision.  I also happen to know that my good friend, William from A Dram Good Time, could tell you a similar story about this Glenlivet expression.

Those are my favorite conversion whiskeys; what are yours?  What whiskeys do you keep on hand for those hold outs at your house parties?  Are there any great conversion whiskeys I have left out?  Happy Repeal Day, and don’t forget to let it ride!

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The Black Grouse Blended Scotch Review

Today, I am reviewing The Black Grouse blended Scotch Whisky.  Up to this point on the website, the only Scotches that I have reviewed have been single malts.  The difference between a single malt Scotch and a Blended Scotch is that the former is comprised of whisky made from a single mash bill, whereas blended scotches are made up of multiple whiskies blended into one.  Typically, a bottler like The Famous Grouse (creators of the Black Grouse) gets its whisky from other distilleries, but occasionally one of the whiskies will be self-distilled.  Generally speaking, blended Scotches are cheaper than single malts, mostly because single malts receive better ratings at whisky tastings.  However, that is not to say that all single malts are better than all blended Scotches.  In an effort to showcase a fine blended Scotch, I present my review of The Black Grouse.

The Black Grouse is made by blending The Famous Grouse (another fine blended whisky) with peated single malts from Islay.  It creates a very nice balance between the smoke of an Islay whisky and the fruits and florals of a Speyside.

On the nose, The Black Grouse is spicy and smoky, with good notes of peat, but also balanced with dried fruits and light sherry.  The palate is light-bodied, but very enjoyable.  It is mostly peaty, but there are some subtle notes of dried apricots and orange peels that whisper in the background.  The finish is medium-long, and it moves from smoke and peat to sweet oak and some cereal sweetness.

Overall, this whisky is not as bold or as complex as a single malt Speyside (like The MaCallan) or a single malt Islay (like Bunnahabhain).  However, it blends the two Scotch regions together wonderfully, making it a great introduction to peated Scotch.   My grade: C+.  Price: $25-30/750ml.  This is a nice blended whisky, worthy of having in the cabinet.

My Favorite Whiskeys by Price Point

I am often asked, “What’s your favorite whiskey?”  Honestly, that is like asking me to name a favorite child, favorite beer, favorite song, or favorite movie.  I have many favorites, and many of these depend on my mood, and the money in my wallet.  However, I have recently had a request from my good friend, Kate at http://www.kateampersand.com/ for some recommendations for how to give the gift of whiskey.  I have reviewed about 40 whiskeys on the site so far, and here are my favorite whiskeys out of those 40 at different price points.  The prices used are the approximate prices for 750ml of the whiskey.

Best Whiskey under $20:  Old Grand-Dad Bottled-in-Bond (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/08/17/old-grand-dad-bonded-review/).  This is a very good, rye forward bourbon, with a lot of power.  It doesn’t have the complexity of some other high rye bourbons, but it is hard to beat for $18 a bottle.

Runner-up under $20:  Four Roses Yellow Label (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/03/14/four-roses-yellow-label-review/).  In comparison to the power of Old Grand-Dad (bottled at 100 proof), the Yellow Label is a delicate rye-forward bourbon.  There is a lot of light spice that tingles the tongue and the nostrils, but it doesn’t quite have the depth of Old Grand-Dad.  Nevertheless, Four Roses Yellow Label is a great buy.

Best Whiskey under $25:  Rittenhouse Rye Bottled-in-Bond (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/07/28/rittenhouse-rye-review/).  Not only is this whiskey a great value, it is a great whiskey.  There is a ton of complexity, ranging from spiciness to sweetness to a rich earthiness.  If you want to impress somebody, buy them this whiskey for their birthday.  Trust me, they will think you spent a good amount on it (especially if you put it in a fancy decanter since the bottle design is not especially flattering).

Runner-up Under $25:  McClelland’s Speyside (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/07/30/comparison-review-scotch-styles-mcclellands-speyside-vs-mcclellands-lowland/).  This is a fine single-malt Scotch for the price.  It has all the delicacy of a Speyside, with the craft necessary to give it some soft chocolate and smoke flavors that give it character.  (It should be mentioned that if you can find Wild Turkey 101, Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare 10 yr. Single Barrel, or Jim Beam Devil’s Cut for under $25, they are even better.  However, I live in Boston where I am not quite so lucky.)

Best Whiskey under $30:  Rittenhouse Rye Bottled-in-Bond.  It still reigns supreme; it’s just that good.

Runner-up under $30:  Buffalo Trace (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/03/31/buffalo-trace-review/).  It is the bourbon that turned me on to bourbon a number of years ago, and it continues to impress.  It is not overly sweet, leaving the vanilla to be blended perfectly.  It is like eating a perfectly balanced cheesecake (sort of).

Best Whiskey under $35:  Russell’s Reserve 10 yr (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/07/12/russells-reserve-10-year-bourbon-review/).  Finally, Rittenhouse was dethroned.  Every time I drink Russell’s Reserve, I am amazed at how wonderfully structured it is.  It is like reading a great novel, where the plot unfolds precisely when it should.

Runner-up under $35:  W.L. Weller 12 yr (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/08/28/w-l-weller-12-year-review/).  This is exactly what a wheated bourbon can achieve.  It is sweet, but complex, demonstrating the many phases of a sweetness.  It reminds me of eating buttermilk pancakes smothered in cinnamon sugar and maple syrup (except not as filling).

Best Whiskey under $40:  Four Roses Single Barrel (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/08/14/four-roses-single-barrel-review/).  Although this is a single barrel whiskey (meaning there will be some difference between batches), I’ve never had a bad batch of this whiskey.  It is plainly brilliant.  It has the all the spicy rye character of Four Roses Small Batch, but it demonstrates a whole other layer of complexity with a sweet, dark palate.

Runner-up under $40:  Russell’s Reserve 10 yr.  It has rightly remained high on my list even at a higher price point.

Best Whiskey under $50:  Bunnahabhain 12 yr (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/08/22/bunnahabhain-12-year-review/).  This is really a brilliant Islay whisky.  The sherry influence is strong, but the Islay peat hangs around to provide a perfect balance.  Although this is not a traditional Islay whisky, it is my favorite value.

Runner-up under $50:  Four Roses Single Barrel.  Yes, it can compete with whiskeys that reach above its price point.

Best Whiskey under $60:  Booker’s Small Batch Bourbon (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/06/21/comparison-review-bookers-vs-noahs-mill/).  This is my favorite whiskey to date, and it should only be given to a true whiskey lover who you love very much.  It is a full, robust whiskey, providing a complexity and intensity rarely seen elsewhere in the bourbon world under $60.  (I have seen Booker’s for as cheap as $47.  If you see it around that price, snatch up a bottle.)

Runner-up under $60:  Bunnahabhain 12 yr.  As many of you are aware, Scotch is expensive.  However, I have yet to find a better value among Single Malt Scotch than Bunnahabhain.

I am stopping at $60, because most people that read this blog are seeking value bourbons.  If you like some recommendations for higher price ranges, feel free to email me at thedagupeir@gmail.com.  I would also recommend that you read the reviews of these whiskeys before purchasing them, just to make sure it sounds like something that will truly be enjoyed by whoever is its lucky recipient.  Let it ride!

Laphroaig 10 Year Review

A few days ago, I reviewed Bunnahabhain 12 year Scotch whisky.  The strong Sherry influence and delicate smoke of Bunnahabhain is not what most people associate with Islay Scotch.  I would be remiss in my exploration of Scotch regions if I did not provide a review of Laphroaig 10 year, a whisky that gives a lot of bang for your buck.

Laphroaig is one of the distilleries known for creating “peat monsters.”  The smoky, peaty flavors in these whiskies are achieved by drying the malt over a peat fire.  There are many distilleries that do this, but Laphroaig uses fresh peat (and a lot of it) to create a pretty intense flavor profile.  The 10 year expression is the standard Laphroaig, bottled at 80 proof.  Many of Laphroaig’s other whiskies are bottled at higher percentages (and they are brilliant whiskies), but they are also usually outside my price range.  The 10 year is usually around $45 a bottle, making it the most affordable of the “peat monsters” Islay Scotches.

On the nose, Laphroaig is full-bodied.  Seriously, it extends beyond the glass and fills the room.  It is primarily a nose of peat smoke, but some salty flavors sneak through, like seaweed and iodine.  On the palate, Laphroaig is mostly earthy.  The primary notes are (sweet) soil, seaweed, peat smoke, sea salt, and smoked fish.  The finish lasts quite a while (several hours or so), and it is a resurgence of the nose.  The smoke comes in and out with big bursts.  There are also some whispering notes of heather and soil.  However, the peat and smoke are the biggest flavors after a few minutes, and they will stay for a long time.

Overall, Laphroaig 10 year is a bit one-tricked.  It doesn’t have the incredible depth and complexity that some of its older siblings have.  However, there is a ton of power and strength in this flavor profile.  If you love a strong, peated whisky, look no further than Laphroaig.  If you don’t like the way a bonfire smells when you have it in a peat bog, then I would not recommend Laphroaig; it probably isn’t the best whisky for you.  If you would like to try an authentic, peated Islay single malt, then Laphroaig is probably up your street.  My grade: B-.  Price: $45-50/750ml.  This is a nice introduction to Islay Scotch, and it would make a nice daily dram for rainy days.  However, I usually pay a little more and something for my top shelf from Laphroaig.

Bunnahabhain 12 Year Review

Well, today is my birthday, so I am going for pure pleasure.  Today, I am doing a review of one of the finest whiskies on the planet, Bunnahabhain 12 year-old single malt Islay Scotch.  If you would like to know how to pronounce Bunnahabhain, let Brian Cox help you.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=JanRqMtGtOI

I have talked a little about Scotch regions in the past, yet I have not yet talked about Islay.  Islay is my favorite Scotch region; it is known for massive, powerful whiskies that take your taste buds for one hell of a ride.  “Peat Monsters” like Laphroaig, Ardbeg, and Lagavulin all come from Islay.  However, there is a lighter side of Islay as well, with distilleries like Bowmore, Bruichladdich, and Bunnahabhain.

Bunnahabhain is a non-chill filtered whisky, aged in Sherry casks, bottled at 92.6 proof.  It has a rich, amber color, a much darker color than most Islay Scotches.  On the nose, it is sweet and salty.  The sweetness comes primarily from the Sherry influence, giving way to almonds, dark fruits, berries, and sweet oak.  The saltiness comes primarily from the peat, offering a soft whiff of smoke every soft often in the nose.  The palate has the traditional fullness of an Islay Scotch, yet the flavor profile is much different.  The front of the palate picks up a full array of sweetness, with notes of hazelnuts, almonds, some light cinnamon sugar spiciness, blackberries, boysenberries, and dried apricots.  As the whisky moves towards its finish, it begins to show its Islay roots.  The back of the palate begins to get smokier, until the smoke finally releases its power in the finish.  The finish is long (another Islay trademark).  It starts off with a big puff of peat smoke, yet it becomes deliciously sweet over time, echoing the sweet and salty balance of the nose.  The finish seems to take you right to the sea, where a cool autumn breeze is blowing salt into your nostrils as you eat freshly picked raspberries.

As you might have guessed, I love this whisky.  My only wish is that the Sherry would not be quite so strong on the front of the palate.  Occasionally, you can find this whisky for under $50, which makes it a pretty good deal.  Honestly, I have seen other Scotches with this depth and complexity cost twice that much.  My grade: A-.  Price: $45-50/750ml.  This is a whisky for special occasions, and it comes through beautifully.  It tastes well beyond its price point.

The Ideal Liquor Cabinet (Summer Edition)

A few months ago, the guys at bourbonjournal (http://www.bourbonjournal.com/2012/02/choosing-the-essentials/) posted their thoughts on choosing the proper bourbons for a liquor cabinet.  As the summer approaches, many people are preparing their summer liquor cabinets.  Here are my thoughts on how to create a great liquor cabinet without breaking the bank.

As the boys at bourbonjournal correctly identified, you want diverse flavor profiles.  Each bottle in your cabinet should reflect something different.  Do you really want 5 big Islay Scotches in your cabinet at once?  I also think that your cabinet should be catered well to the season.  There are some whiskeys that transcend all climates, but there are definitely some whiskeys that are better suited for a sultry summer afternoon than a cold winter night.  That being said, there are some essential roles that I believe are essential to the ideal liquor cabinet (don’t be afraid to wander away from bourbon from time to time).

  • You should have a staple, an anchor of the liquor cabinet.  This is like the captain of a sports team, the player who you can always count on.  For me, the staple is Buffalo Trace.
  • You should have a seasonal staple, a vice-captain that makes for a great sipping whiskey for the specific time of year.  For me, my summer staple is Four Roses Yellow Label.
  • You should have a mixer.  The honest truth is that not everybody likes their whiskey straight up, so I would recommend keeping a whiskey in the cabinet that you don’t mind letting a guest put into cola.  My mixer would be Evan Williams Black Label.
  • My final suggestion is only for those who are not on so much of a value kick as I am.  A 3 whiskey liquor cabinet can be very good if selected properly.  However, a 5 whiskey liquor cabinet is an ideal liquor cabinet for a whiskey drinker.  If finances allow, a few top shelf whiskeys are in order.  I would choose two distinctly different whiskeys that you truly adore to have for special occasions (promotion at work, graduation, wedding, etc.).  For me (if I hypothetically possessed the funds), my ideal summer liquor cabinet would include a bottle of Bunnahabhain 12 year (Scotch) and a bottle of Woodford Reserve (bourbon).

That’s my ideal liquor cabinet, what’s yours?  Let it ride!