Posts tagged ‘Whisky’

Phil’s Favorite Speyside Single Malts

There is no region of whisky-making in the world more renowned or more compacted with distilleries than the Speyside region of Scotland.  A great many of the famed whiskies of the world hail from this famous river valley.  And, with so much having already been said about it by more qualified persons than me, I’ll waste little time in getting to my nominees.

Name: Aberlour A’Bunadh

Batch: #39

Age: No Age Statement

Proof: 119.6 (59.8% abv)

Price: $70-80/750ml

Notes: Many of the older batches of the A’Bunadh could have made this list because there have been many brilliant iterations of this wonderful whisky.  It is a batching of old and young whiskies, all aged in first fill ex-Oloroso Sherry butts.  This particular batch is amazingly complex, with rich wood spices, sweet dark fruits, tangy citrus peel, and decadent toffee and butterscotch.  This batch was deep and full, and presented something new every time I sipped it.  Aberlour A’Bunadh is still a readily available whisky, although I have to admit that some of the more recent batches have not reached the heights of some of the older ones I have had the pleasure of sipping.  Even still, at cask strength and aged in first fill Oloroso butts, it’s a great value buy.

Name: The Balvenie 21 Year-Old Portwood

Batch: N/A

Age: 21 Years

Proof: 86 (43% abv)

Price: $200-225/750ml

Notes: This expression of The Balvenie was one of the first super-premium Scotches to utilize cask finishing when it was developed by famed maltmaster, David Steward, in 1995.  It is every bit as good of a whisky today as it was then.  It is aged principally in hogsheads for 21 long years before being transferred into port pipes for the final stage of their journey.  This process exudes flavors of nutty flavors, backed up by baking spices, rich dried fruits like apricot and pineapple, and drying dark chocolate.  This is a readily available expression of whisky in most fine liquor stores, and although it does cost a good deal of money, there are few gifts the whisky lover in your life will appreciate more.

Name: Glendronach 21 Year-Old Parliament

Batch: N/A

Age: 21 Years

Proof: 96 (48% abv)

Price: $150-175/750ml

Notes: There is perhaps no whisky I have tried in my travels that looks quite so impressive in the glass as this one.  It is aged 21 long years in Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez casks and bottled without artificial coloring or chill-filtration, giving it a rich dark maple syrup appearance.  It is a rich, robust, viscous whisky, almost chewy.  Antiquated libraries with Oxford Dons sipping sherry come rolling through the memory as this whisky cascades across the palate.  All the rich chocolate and mocha flavors with subtle spices that one would expect from an old sherried dram are evident here in large quantities, such that taking your time with this whisky and letting it open up for you provides the best whisky experience.  This is not an impossible whisky to find if you frequent higher end liquor stores, and it is a very reasonable price for its age and casking.

Name: The Glenlivet XXV

Batch: N/A

Age: 25 Years

Proof: 86 (43% abv)

Price: $350-400/750ml

Notes: At the time of its release, this whisky was intended to be a mainstay in The Glenlivet’s Classic Range, but with the massive demand for premium Scotch these days, the distillery no longer releases this on a regular basis, but it is released in small batches on occasion.  After its principle aging, which ranges around 25 years, the barrels that are to comprise this expression are married for 1-3 years in first fill Sherry butts, eliciting a rich layer of flavor.  What makes this whisky so unique is that it drinks like a young whisky and an old whisky at the same time.  It has only spent a short time in Sherry casks, so the musty sherry notes of old sherried drams are not present.  Rather, this whisky layers dark chocolate and fresh gingerbread over the top of rich vanilla, spiced almonds, and creamy blood oranges.  This is a very hard whisky to find, but if you can find it, it is one of the classic drams from Speyside, and certainly my favorite whisky from arguably the most famous Scotch distillery in the world.

Name: The Macallan 18 Year-Old Sherry Oak

Batch: 1996 Vintage

Age: 18 years

Proof: 86 (43% abv)

Price: $175-200/750ml

Notes: This is perhaps the most famous sherried malt in all the whisky world, and for good reason.  Just about any iteration of Macallan 18 could have clocked in on this list, but I’ve chosen my personal favorite.  Sticking my nose in a glass of this was one of the great pleasures I have had in my time drinking whisky.  The nose has rich mahogany, spiced walnuts, and saddle leather.  This whisky works beautifully between sweet sherried flavors and spicier flavors such as ginger and orange peel.  This whisky has been called the epitome of an aged sherried Speysider, and I can see why.  This one is not so hard to find if you frequent luxury liquor establishments, but for an 18 year-old whisky, it is expensive, so be sure you have a special occasion on which to enjoy it.





Lagavulin 16 year-old Scotch Review

Ever have one of those moments where you awake at night and realize you forgot something at work?  Such was this moment for me when I realized that I had never reviewed Lagavulin on my blog.  The truth is that Lagavulin needs no introduction, what with Diageo having Ron Swanson as a spokesperson and all,  but it is one of those whiskeys that it is crucial to have listed somewhere on your whiskey blog.  The reason for this is credibility – folks tend to take your opinions more seriously when they know your thoughts on Lagavulin.  Thus, without further ado, my thoughts on Lagavulin 16 year-old (bottled at 86 proof/43% abv.).

The nose is traditional Islay, peaty, with some iodine and salt mixed in, taking you right to the seashores of Scotland.  The palate opens up the full complexity of this whisky.  The peat is still there in full force, but it is backed by oak, barrel char, toffee, and some nuttiness.  The finish is rich and well-peated, but it is also smooth and complex, with undertones of vanilla and roasted nuts.

There is a reason that for many whisky-drinkers, this is the benchmark by which all other Islay base-malts are judged – it is a consistently excellent beacon in whiskymaking.  There is great balance in the smokiness and barrel flavors, and the whisky opens up to complex flavors as water is added.  My grade: A-.  Price: $60-70/750ml.  If you claim to know the truth of Islay and have not embarked upon Lagavulin’s journey, its high time.

Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky Review

Balcones Texas Single MaltI am capping off my little mini-series on American craft whiskeys with one of my very favorite whiskies, Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky.  This whisky is made from malted barley that is mashed, fermented, distilled, and aged at the Balcones Distillery in Waco, TX.  Like most Balcones whiskies, there is no age statement on the bottle, but that is not a case of Balcones trying to hide bad spirit.  This is truly a case of Balcones bottling their products when they are ready.  Like most Balcones products, their single malt is bottled in small batches (this is batch #SM12-9) and without the use of coloring or chill-filtration.  Like the Balcones Brimstone, Texas Single Malt is bottled at 106 proof (53% abv).

In the glass, Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky is a rich, deep mahogany color.  The nose is a classic single malt, but wholly unique at the same time.  It reminds me of rich, freshly baked banana bread, with the balance of toasted sweet breads, bananas, walnuts, tangerines, chocolate pound cake, and a light whiff of cinnamon spice.  The nose on the whisky is unbelievably delicious.  The palate is medium to full-bodied, fruity and buttery, with notes of pears, strawberries, cinnamon sugar, and toasted bread.  The finish is warming and relatively long, with some spiced oak, cinnamon, and vanilla custard.

Overall, this whisky is absolutely brilliant.  It is unlike anything else on the American whiskey scene today, truly in a class of its own.  It is sweet, fruity, malty, spicy, and lightly wooded.  Everything you would want from a single malt whisky is present, and yet this whisky sneaks into the realm beyond words.  It also opens up beautifully in the bottle and with a few drops of water.  It is slowly becoming more readily available, but still not the easiest whisky to find.  Snag a bottle if you see one.  My grade: A-/A.  Price: $50-60/750ml.  This is a little pricey for its youth, but the juice in the bottle is worth every penny.  Balcones is definitely doing some great stuff with whisky, and letting it ride!

Ardbeg Uigeadail Scotch Review

Ardbeg UigeadailToday, I will be concluding Scotchvember on Thanksgiving with a review of a wonderfully warming Islay single malt, Ardbeg Uigeadail.  Ever since Jim Murray awarded this the greatest whisky in the world in 2009, much has been made about this highly-awarded single malt.  Before I get too far into my opinion on Uigeadail, what exactly is “Uigeadail?”  The name of the whisky comes from the loch where Ardbeg gets its peaty water supply.  There is no age statement on the whisky itself, but I have heard that most of the spirit is between seven and twelve years old.  The whisky in the bottle is a vatting of whisky aged in Oloroso Sherry casks, first-fill bourbon casks, and refill bourbon casks.  According to Ardbeg’s Distillery Manager, Mickey Heads, most batches of Uigeadail are comprised of approximately 20% sherried spirit, with the rest of the whisky being divided between first and second fill bourbon casks.  Uigeadail is non-chill filtered and bottled at 108.4 proof (54.2% abv).

On the nose, Ardbeg Uigeadail presents that famous Ardbeg peat, but that is not all.  There are also notes of mesquite BBQ sauce, asphalt, and mocha. There is a dark sweetness that works beautifully with the peat on the nose.  The palate, however, is where this whisky truly comes alive.  The palate is full-bodied with a brilliant balance between sweet and peat.  The luscious, rolling peat is present throughout the palate, but it is rounded out beautifully by honey, vanilla, raisins, and dried mangos.  The finish is long and complex, starting out peaty, and then evolving into sweet, dark cigar tobacco (Maduro) and black coffee.  Water brings out sweeter flavors in the nose, such as roses and honeysuckle, while bringing forth dark chocolate and sherry on the palate.

This whisky continues to evolve as I go through the bottle and as I add water to the glass.  Different flavors come alive with each drop of water, but I love this whisky most at its full bottle strength.  The complexity and balance is superb throughout the sip at a level few whiskies can seek to achieve.  I truly believe this is one of the finest whiskies I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying.  If you love peat, Ardbeg Uigeadail is the pinnacle of peat and cask influence in a young, affordable Islay whisky.  My grade: A/A+.  Price: $70-80/750ml.  The price makes this a reasonable dram, and the whisky in the bottle screams to be unleashed on the most special of occasions.

Old Pulteney 12 Year Scotch Review

With the sea in the background, Old Pulteney has one of the most visually appealing bottles coming out of Scotland.

With the sea in the background, Old Pulteney has one of the most visually appealing bottles coming out of Scotland.

Today, Scotchvember rolls on with a review of Old Pulteney 12 yr., as well as marking another tandem review with my friend William from A Dram Good Time.  Pulteney is the northernmost distillery on the Scottish mainland, located on the northeast Scottish coast in the fishing town of Wick.  The distillery is somewhat famous for the fact that the stills both have very large balls towards the top (a design imitated by the Old Pulteney bottle), encouraging a lot of reflux.  The finished product is a very oily spirit, similar to that of Scapa.  Old Pulteney 12 yr. is the entry level malt from the distillery, aged entirely in ex-bourbon casks, and bottled at 86 proof (43%abv).

On the nose, Old Pulteney is especially fruity in flavor and oily in texture.  The fruit notes remind me most of pears and red apples, but the nose also yields barley, sea salt, and light floral notes.  The palate is the highlight of this whisky for me, though.  It is medium-bodied, with notes of pear, peach, sea salt, strawberry, and warming oak.  The finish is medium in length, but still warming and pleasant, with very good balance between saltiness and orchard fruits lingering on the palate.

Overall, I am definitely a fan of Old Pulteney 12 yr.  It is an accessible malt that still packs plenty of complexity for all whisky drinkers to enjoy.  I would love to see what this whisky would achieve at a higher abv, but as it is, this is still very good whisky.  The 12 year-old expression of Old Pulteney is also a very spry malt, still very much alive.  I am curious to try some older Old Pulteney malts to see how the spirit handles the extra wood.  My grade: B+.  Price: $35-40/750ml.  For the price, this single malt is very hard to beat.  If you are in a seafaring mood, but don’t care for peated whiskies, give Old Pulteney a try and let it ride!

Here are William’s tasting notes and a link to his review here.

Color:  Gold

Nose:  Bright, fruity and lightly floral – Apple, pear, vanilla, paraffin, honey, some light coastal qualities – brine, seas air – honeysuckle now and caramel.
Palate:  Slightly oily mouthfeel and again full of fresh fruits and light floral qualities – Apple, honey, sweet grain, brine, ginger, caramel and just a touch of citrus.
Finish:  Moderate with ginger and sea-sprayed fruits.

Overall this Pulteney is aligned quite nicely with its aromas and makes for a great ‘anytime sipper.’ Its coastal influences also make it an excellent introductory whisky for those wishing to branch off into something a little different but still want to stay in the light and fruity side of single malts. It also shows just how broad of a range there is in regards to Highland whiskies.

Glenfarclas 10 Year Scotch Review

Glenfarclas 10Scotchvember is almost at an end, but fear not, I’ll be finishing up with some delightful drams.  First up in the closing stretch is Glenfarclas 10 year-old.  Glenfarclas is a family-owned distillery in the Speyside valley of Scotland, notable for their sherried style, and their dedication to single malts.  Glenfarclas is one of the few Scottish distilleries still owned by the family that owned it 100 years ago.  In fact, the Grants of Glenfarclas purchased the distillery in 1865, and still own it today.  Very little in production has changed over the years at Glenfarclas, which is also unique among Scottish distilleries.  Personally, I have not dabbled into much of the Glenfarclas range, but their whiskies are always reasonably priced for single malts, and I suspect that there will be more Glenfarclas reviews on Bargain Bourbon in the future.  The Glenfarclas 10 year-old is aged in ex-sherry casks and bottled at 80 proof (40%abv).

The nose on this whisky is sweet and perfumey, reminding me a lot of apples or a hard cider.  There is a distinct (but pleasant) bitterness to the nose, all backed up by sweet orchard fruits and honey.  The palate continues the sweetness, with a creamy entry of honey and apple cider.  The finish is medium-long and quite dry with those same tart apple notes present throughout the whisky.  With water, Glenfarclas 10 year-old begins to show its sherried qualities more.  Water brings out a nuttier palate, along with some raisin and marzipan notes on the finish.

Overall, this is a wonderful whisky that unfolds very nicely with water and time.  I suspect (only judging by the whisky, itself) that the Glenfarclas 10 year-old is aged primarily in refilled sherry casks, as the sherried flavors are subdued in this whisky.  Tasted blind, I highly doubt I would have guessed there was much more than 25% sherried whisky in this bottle.  All that said, Glenfarclas 10 year-old is a spry, young whisky that packs good complexity into a drinkable, delicious dram.  My grade: B.  Price: $45-50/750ml.  In some less expensive locations than Boston, this whisky is available at a very good price, making it a very good bargain buy especially for the holidays.

Ardmore Traditional Cask Scotch Review

Ardmore Traditional CaskToday, I am continuing Scotchvember at Bargain Bourbon with a review of Ardmore Traditional Cask.  Ardmore is a unique distillery because it hardly fits the flavor profile of its region.  As I discussed in my review of some McClelland’s whiskies, each Scotch region tends towards a specific flavor profile.  Ardmore is usually considered to be within the Speyside region of Scotland (even though Ardmore considers itself a “Highland Single Malt”).  Speyside is the most popular Scotch region, known for soft, elegant, fruity, and malty whiskies.  Speyside has the highest concentration of distilleries in Scotland, and the three most popular single malts in the world (Glenfiddich, The Glenlivet, and The Macallan) all hail from Speyside.  What sets Ardmore apart is that it is smoky and peaty, much more reminiscent of an Islay Scotch than it is of a Speysider.

Ardmore Traditional Cask is the standard entry-level offering from the distillery, and it is aged in ex-bourbon casks for about 6-8 years, and then finished in quarter casks (125 liters) for an extra period before aging.  There is no age statement on the bottle, but most of the whisky in the bottle will be about 8 years old.  If the process sounds similar to Laphroaig Quarter Cask, it is.  In fact, both distilleries are owned by the same parent company, Beam Global.  Ardmore Traditional Cask is non-chill filtered and bottled at 92 proof (46 % abv).

On the nose, this whisky has a medium peat backbone (not quite the dense peat of Laphroaig, for example), with a nice rounded sweetness in the form of honey and vanilla.  The palate is medium-bodied and creamy with a lot of sweet flavors, like brown sugar, honey, and vanilla all wrapped up in a warming peat smoke.  The finish is medium-long and fairly drying.  There is a woody tannic bite that comes in on the finish, but those pleasant sweet flavors from the palate are still present.  There is definitely a lot influence from the bourbon casks in this one, which is allowed to shine through a more gentle peat than in Ardbeg or Laphroaig.

Overall, Ardmore is a lighter, softer take on a peated whisky.  It does drink a little young, but it is still a very pleasant pour.  Ardmore offers new drinkers a great introduction to peated whisky without knocking all the wind out of your palate, nor is it an especially deep whisky.  Despite its youth, Ardmore drinks well below its elevated proof point, making for a warming, yet delicate dram.  My grade: B.  Price: $25-30/750ml.  At the price point, Ardmore Traditional Cask is a fantastic value whisky, well worth letting it ride on this peated Speysider.

Scapa 16 yr. Scotch Review

Scapa 16 yrAround this time of year every year, I get a lot of questions from friends and colleagues about Scotch ideas for the holidays.  For some very wrong reasons, Scotch has much more holiday allure than other whiskeys.  But, I figured that since I have not done much with Scotch reviews in a while, I will be spending the month of November reviewing some affordable Scotch whiskeys.  To kick off Scotchvember at Bargain Bourbon, I am doing a review of Scapa 16 yr., a single malt Scotch whisky from the Isle of Orkney off the north coast of Scotland.

Orkney is most known in the whisky world for Highland Park, and for good reason; Highland Park is a beautiful single malt.  That said, Scapa is a wonderful distillery with a much different profile from that of its Orcadian neighbors at Highland Park.  The standard offering from Scapa is their 16 year-old, an old offering for a standard entry bottling.  One of the most unique aspects of Scapa distilling process is that they usually slow down their fermentation process (sometimes taking up to a week to ferment), which elicits a fruity backbone to the finished spirit.  The waxy characteristics of Scapa are also aided by a “Lomond” wash still, which produces a heavy, oily low wine before being transferred to more traditional copper pot still.  The Lomond still allows for a lot of reflux, holding heavier vapors in the still for longer periods of time before condensation.  The end result is dense, waxy mouth feel in the finished product.  Scapa 16 yr. is aged in refill bourbon casks for a minimum of 14 years before being transferred over to first-fill bourbon casks for at least two years before being bottled at 86 proof (43% abv).

On the nose, Scapa is sweet, with a lot of honey and vanilla notes.  There are also some notes of barley and heavy whipping cream mixed in.  The palate is very distinct, with its buttery mouth feel.  There are a lot of sweet notes here as well, with caramel, honey, vanilla, and fresh oak.  The finish is medium, and exposes some oak spiciness along with the sweetness of the caramel and vanilla.  The whisky really coats the throat well, and goes down buttery smooth.  I hate when people say that a whisky is smooth, but this one is very much that on the finish.

Overall, I really enjoyed this malt.  Scapa’s sweet flavors and distinct mouth feel tend to get mixed reviews, but it all worked well for me.  I think this is a great dram to have on the shelf for the holidays because of its flexibility across different palates.  I think Lagavulin 16 yr. might be a better whisky, but Lagavulin certainly is not for everyone.  I think most of the folks at your holiday parties will enjoy Scapa, but you know your guests better than I do.  My grade: B+.  Price: $70-80/750ml.  The price point is very affordable, considering its age, making it a great whisky to let it ride with if you’ve been looking for a Scotch to delve into this holiday season.

George Dickel Rye Review

Today, I am reviewing George Dickel Rye whiskey, the newest George Dickel product to hit the liquor store shelves.  As many of my loyal readers know, when it comes to Tennessee whiskey, George Dickel gets the nod over Jack Daniel’s for me every day of the week.  However, George Dickel Rye is not actually distilled at the Dickel distillery in Tullahoma, TN.  George Dickel Rye is sourced from Midwest Grain Products (MGP), and is only bottled under the George Dickel label at 90 proof (45% abv).  That said, I believe that George Dickel does charcoal filter the whisky with their chill filtration process just like they do their Tennessee whisky.  There is no age statement on George Dickel Rye, but my guess is that it is about 5 years old or so.George Dickel Rye

On the nose, George Dickel is very reminiscent of a typical MGP rye.  There are notes of spearmint, rye, anise, dill brine, and some light vanilla.  The palate is soft and simple, but delicious, giving off nice flavors of spearmint, pine needles, vanilla, and some sugar cane.  The finish is medium-long with a minted sharpness along with some good rye and pine, with a small hint of vanilla.

Overall, this whisky reminds me a lot of Bulliet 95, possibly just a hair younger.  I don’t get all the sweeter flavors from Dickel that I do from Bulliet 95 (although I must admit I have not yet done a side-by-side tasting).  George Dickel is a very drinkable rye that presents great rye flavors from start to finish with enough influence from the barrel to make it all work.  My grade: B.  Price: $25-30/750ml.  This is a great rye to have in the cabinet because it is a good whisky neat, but versatile enough for great cocktails.  Let it ride!

Much thanks to the folks at Diageo and George Dickel for the sample!

Glenmorangie Original Scotch Review

Glenmorangie OriginalWell, I have to admit that I’ve never been a huge fan of Glenmorangie.  A few years back, I had the Glenmorangie Original in a bar, and didn’t care for it.  Of course, that was casually in a bar, and I suspect that it wasn’t my first drink of the evening.  The point being that it was hardly the ideal conditions for tasting a whisky.  So, when my roommate offered a sampler pack of 200 ml bottles of Glenmorangie whiskies to me as a graduation present, I was ecstatic to give Glenmorangie another look.

Glenmorangie is a Highland Scotch distillery perched on the northern part of the East coast of Scotland on the Moray Firth.  Glenmorangie has always been known as an innovated whisky company, a tradition which continues with their staple lineup of 12 year-old finished whiskies.  Nevertheless, the signature whisky of the Glenmorangie line remains the 10 year-old Original, aged in American oak and bottled at 86 proof (43% abv).

On the nose, the Original is heavy with barley notes, sweet heather, honeyed sweetness, a note of sweet potpourri, and a wee bit of smoke.  The palate is well-balanced, with a great combination of pears, honey, and the strong backbone of barley.  The finish is medium length, and rather oily as it works its way down the throat.  There is a hint of smoke that weaves in and out of a flavor profile of sweet pears, apples, and a bit of floral airiness.

Overall, this is a fine single malt and one quite worthy of trying.  It is a great way to get interested in single malt Scotch, especially because of the great price and the soft, accessible character of the whisky.  My grade: B-/B.  Price:  $40-45/750ml.  This is a whisky emblematic of the mission of Bargain Bourbon, in that it provides a wonderful whisky experience at a great price.