Don’t be in a rush with this one in the bottle – it develops nicely over a couple months, with the bacon note increasing after a while, and then even later it becomes incredibly creamy and rich.
A couple days ago, David Driscoll of K&L Wines wrote an interesting blog post about people taking risks in their wine buying habits. He was talking about it from the perspective of a fear of a bad purchasing decision. But he hit on something in his last line that really resonated with me and my tastes in general, and not strictly in relation to whiskey:
It’s ok to end up with a bad bottle now and again. It’s the understanding of the bad ones that make the good ones so good.
I believe this completely, but I think you can remove “bottle” from that and replace it with “experience” and it works the same. Earlier this year I read Brené brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection. In a broader discussion about the tendency some people have to try and lessen the sting of negative emotions, Brown stated that numbing the lows also numbs us to emotional highs. That’s stuck with me since I read it.
Never was it more apparent to me how true that was than when our son went into the NICU a few days after being born. I can still remember hearing over the phone at 1 AM my wife’s voice and how shaky she was when she told me. As a brand new parent this was terrifying. We got acquainted with celebrating every small victory in the NICU and the baby steps (pun not intended) that we had to take to get out. Believe me, in the midst of that uncertainty, every little coo and bit of contact was the most electrifying jolt of emotion. (Actually, it still is… )
I love having the occasional whiskey that’s been ranked as terrible. I look for the ones where people use the strongest, most negative language they can, because I know that’s truly testing for the bottom. I feel like people through lack of experience or a desire to appear like they only enjoy the finer things, limit their palate and can’t truly appreciate the nuance of their truly excellent drink. I’m not saying they can’t pull it apart and tease out what’s great about it, but I question how much they truly appreciate it. I feel like some of the more adventurous may even try a couple “bad” drinks and safely retreat to their George T Stagg or Brora, having had a safe experience on the bad side of the tracks.
There’s a movie parallel I like to use in explaining safe-bad versus truly bad. A lot of people accept the idea that Plan 9 From Outer Space is the worst movie ever made. And it’s bad, for sure. But have you seen Manos: The Hands of Fate? It’s a completely different experience and will recalibrate the low end of your scale. I’m sure there are movies even less redeemable than Manos (it’s quite well known as being really bad at this point), but it stands as a marker of how truly bad things can get. It’s the worst movie I’ve ever seen by a mile and makes Plan 9 look brilliant. I’m advocating hunting down the Manos experience instead of the Plan 9.
In the spirit of truly bad, I’m going to touch on a couple of the very worst I’ve had. For me these are fun to read and write because they demand a deeper level of conviction to convey how awesomely bad they are. I love reading peoples’ notes on these because it encourages people who would normally rate as “good” or “bad” to dig deeper and put words to the horrid tastes they’re experiencing. To see that person apply the same discipline applied to good and great (and average) subsequently is always fun.
Loch Dhu 10 year – The Black Whiskey
This is the Plan 9 of whiskies. A terrible idea executed poorly. You see, a fair number of whiskies use a caramel coloring to get a deeper brown color, which taps into some latent perception of deeper color meaning a more robust, developed, aged whiskey. Fortunately, Mannochmore released Loch Dhu, which proves that dark color doesn’t mean great taste.
The nose was strongly spirity, slightly raisiny, had a salty soy-sauce smell, was stale, and had a bit of brown sugar as well. Not awful, but nothing to seek out. The palate is bland and spirity. It’s murky, flabby, a little sherried, slightly sweet. There’s not much to note because it’s just there. It’s light in the mouth and not particularly warm. It finishes flat, with some raisins again and wet cardboard. It’s also got a slightly astringent, slightly woody, slightly bitter element to the finish which doesn’t wreck it but doesn’t help.
It’s not good, but as I’ve said, this is Plan 9 bad. There’s far worse whiskies out there, and it’s just not worth your time except as a mandatory stop on the bad whiskey curiosity trail. It looks bad, smells bad, and just doesn’t have anything happening for it. D+.
Usuikyou Vintage 1983 Japanese Single Malt Whisky
The Japanese are making some really great whiskies these days. I think Suntory Yamazaki 12 and Yamazaki 18 are worth the money and are great values for the dollar. Nikka has produced some great whiskies also (which I think may be getting broader distribution in the US if I read correctly recently). It’s a category that is worth exploring and I encourage you to seek out Japanese whiskies as they present an excellent “third style” to complement Scottish and American whiskies.
Usuikyou is not one of them. Fortunately, you probably won’t find this one. Even if you did, you wouldn’t want to have a bottle of this on hand. This is weapons-grade awful. The nose featured enticing aromas like burning garbage, mildew, wet cardboard, a massive dose of leather (actually, more like pleather), and had this rubbery new plastic scent, or vinyl that hasn’t degassed. It is incredibly chemical. The palate does not improve: Ashes, that new plastic toy scent, a metallic tang like sucking on a tin can, rubbery notes again, complemented by a weird cloying sweetness. The finish is new plastic, pleather, new leather, a really poorly integrated vanilla note, and ashy metallic garbage. It’s also an eternally long finish. Like twelve hours long: I still had this stuff wrecking my palate at morning coffee. It’s horrible.
And yet, I can’t give this my lowest grade in the book. It’s right on the cusp, I’ll be fair. It is amazingly chemical in taste, but the weird vinyl/plastic note started to remind me of some of the toys I had in the 80s. In a weird way that association saved it from being an F because I could find something redeeming about it. However, it’s a terrible beverage and would be worse as a potpourri. D-.
Bowmore 21 (bottled circa 1996)
Mid-90s Bowmore is a contentious point. At some point I’ll discuss an interesting Bowmore that represents a debated element of the “house style” in the 90s. However, I have to be honest that of all the whiskies I’ve had, this particular bottle of Bowmore is the worst.
The nose is revolting. My tasting notes say it simply: “Rotting garbage and farts, feet and a bit of wood.” I assure you there is nothing even slightly exaggerated about this. I looked for something – anything – else. There was only garbage, farts and feet. With a little wood.
The palate was not much better. (Yes, despite the notes I have, I still thought the palate was better than the nose.) I described it as “Feet and vomit, dead rotting animals, and dry wood.” Why I prefer vomit covered rotting animals, I don’t know. But apparently it is slightly better. The finish, blessedly short, was dry with strong spirity alcohol notes. Not as awful as what preceded it, but it still has that feet & farts smell.
While I devoted more time to the Usuikyou which probably should be on the bottom of the list, the Bowmore was just more than I could deal with. The garbage notes were just painful, and it just smelled like a bad day at the fraternity house. I seriously thought at one point I might have to puke because it was so instantly and sharply offensive. Fortunately the Bowmore had a short finish. Still, I enter it into the books as an F.
A Toast To The Worst
Take the opportunity to try something awful. And while it’s probably going to be unpleasant, really grab the experience and try and describe it as much as possible. It’ll help you understand what it is you don’t like. It’ll deepen your appreciation for what you do like. And when you go back to the great things you like? You’ll love them even more. (And try to figure out what it is you like about them!)
At a glance:
Loch Dhu 10 year 40% ABV
Nose: Strong spirit, hint of raisins, salty kind of soy-sauce smell, stale, vaguely leathery, low grade sherry note? A little brown sugar on the nose.
Palate: Spirit and not much else. murky, flabby, kind of sherried, kind of sweet, doesn’t really have notes as much as it just sits there. Light mouthfeel, semi-warm.
Finish: Flat, wet cardboard, raisins, earthy. Kind of sweet too, lacking vitality. Mildly astringent, kind of woody bitter but not strong – just perceptible.
Comment: It’s not good, but it’s Plan 9 bad. There are far worse whiskies out there (looking at you, Usuikyou) but this is not worth the time aside from a mandatory stop on the bad whiskey curiosity trail. It looks awful, smells funky and just is muddy and indistinct.
Usuikyou Vintage 1983 Japanese Single Malt Whisky 64% ABV
Nose: Burning garbage, mildew, wet cardboard, rubbery, new plastic, vinyl that hasn’t degassed, neoprene, massive note of leather, incredibly chemical.
Palate: Ashes, new plastic, weird cloying sweetness, metallic tang, and rubbery.
Finish: New plastic, pleather, new leather, poorly integrated vanilla note, metallic, ashy, garbage. Eternally long finish.
Comment: NOT GOOD. Became amazingly chemical. Repulsive yet reminded me of many toys from the 80s. In a weird way that association saved it from being an F. It’s really terrible as a beverage. It’d also suck as potpourri.
Bowmore 21 year (ca. 1996 bottling) 43% ABV
Nose: Rotting garbage and farts, feet, wood.
Palate: Feet and vomit, dead rotting animals, dry wood.
Finish: Dry, alcohol, not as awful; feet & farts.
Every once in a while there’s an opportunity that you can’t pass up. Two of the most hyped bourbons released this year were Jim Beam Devil’s Cut and Lincoln Henderson’s Angel’s Envy. While these cleverly reference part of bourbon-making lore (more on that in a minute), that’s where the production similarities end.
So what’s the shared reference here, for those who have better things to do with their lives than be whiskey nerds? They’re both pointing to a phenomenon in whiskey production called the “Angel’s Share”. Basically, when you place a bunch of spirit in a barrel and let it age, some of it will evaporate. The lore was that this was the amount taken by the angels each year. The average loss is 2% by year – so if you’re wondering why that 18 year old whiskey costs more than the 12 – there’s part of your answer. This is also the mechanism by which Scotch whisky decreases in alcohol content over the years but Kentucky whiskies (among others) increase in alcohol content over the years. Well, that and some issues with humidity..
But that’s where the similarities end. The Devil’s Cut is made from the barrel remnants from Jim Beam bourbon that has aged 6 years. After they’ve dumped the barrels for the Beam, they’ve got barrels with bourbon in the staves. The Devil’s Cut is what they’re making from what they’re able to extract from the staves. (Sound like the dregs? It basically is, but don’t run off just yet.) Beam is tight-lipped on the process used, but Chuck Cowdery had a good discussion of this, which indicates there may be some water used in the barrel to “sweat” out the bourbon in the wood. Whatever the mechanism, we’re getting to the same underlying point: this is the stuff left in the wood after the barrel’s been emptied. (The “Devil’s Cut”, if you will…)
Angel’s Envy, on the other hand, is more traditional in its production. The sourced bourbon used in the whiskey is aged for 5-7 years in new charred oak casks, and then finished in a port pipe for 4-6 months. (Finishing, for my friends who are again blessed with enough of a life not to be stuck on whiskey minutia, is taking a whiskey from its original barrel and putting it in another barrel that held something else, to impart flavor. Murray McDavid has issued a lot of finished Scotch whiskies in recent years, though they call it “Additional Cask Enhancement”). This finishing is intended to impart some added dimension to the flavor of the spirit. Why “Angel’s Envy”? Well, this is made out of what’s not in the Angel’s Share, you see…
So how do they taste?
I will be honest and say my expectations for the Beam were low. Really low. I expected pencil shavings and gasoline. I was introduced to whiskey at the bottom shelf (with the expected results), and then when I got back into it from higher shelves, I’ve had the predictable reaction and looked down my nose at most major, mass-market whiskies. Beam was certainly no exception. With some hesitation, I poured a sample, trying to catch those early hints of gasoline, industrial degreaser, the pencil sharpener from third grade, and didn’t catch anything. Just a mild generic “bourbon” scent.
I nosed it, ready for my nostrils to singe. They didn’t. With some trepidation, I took a sip, and never got the heavy kick I expected. And the finish didn’t leave gasping like Jud Taylor in the Great Escape. You know what? It wasn’t that bad.
Actually, Devil’s Cut is decent enough if benign. There’s the expected corn, some moderate wood notes, light vanilla cream, and some clay earth and light cherry on the nose. The palate is surprisingly light – very light in the mouth, slightly warming, with a bit of the earthiness. After a moment, there’s a brief bitterness, and then some vaguely vegetal notes and some new-make sweetness with the turbinado sugar notes common to that. The finish is also light and on the short end of moderate. It’s got a light cherry note, but it dries out and becomes indistinctly alcoholic. The new make note also continues through with the turbinado sugar note again.
None of the expected harshness existed – it’s really light after the nose. It’s a C+; totally drinkable but lacking something after the intrigue of the nose.
The Angel’s Envy came with some loud hype as well this spring. While the Scottish have been fearless in finishing their whiskies; the Americans are more conservative on this point. Some people even questioned if it could still legally be called a bourbon since it wasn’t a to-the-letter representation of the law. (By addition, not omission)
I tempered my expectations on Angel’s Envy given some of the hype. And honestly, again, I was pleasantly surprised. Much to my surprise, the Angel’s Envy initially showed a stronger alcohol note on the nose. It had an intensely strong wine presence on the nose – tons of rich, red fruit and with that sugary richness of a port. That said, it was somewhat dry, and the bourbon made itself known with a little pepper and some oak.
The palate was a treat – very rich, very coating, like a thick wine – and some warmth. The wine notes were very clear with berries and fruit again. The wood came through after a while as did a light dusting of pepper. The finish, however, is where it asserted its bourbon character with a more traditional bourbon heat. There were black cherry notes all over it with some earthiness and a hint of vanilla. The port hangs on at the tail end of the finish as well as some dry wood flavors, but it doesn’t become bitter. A light dusting of cinnamon hangs on the finish as well.
Angel’s Envy drinks very much like a scotch – it’s actually got some similarity to sherried whiskies. It’s not in the class of the very best sherried malts, but it would hold its own against many midlevel whiskies, and certainly beats those that have become overtly raisiny (e.g. Aberlour A’bunadh batch 32). It doesn’t have the “grapey” profile of the other wine-finished bourbon I’ve had (the abhorrent Woodford Sonoma-Cutrer – a story for a different post).
It’s not quite a bourbon in flavor, it’s not quite a scotch. It’s just fun and drinkable. An easy B. I don’t know how it will hold up for a full bottle, but that too will be worth noting in the future.
It’s interesting to see how these bourbons have played with the lore of bourbon. One experiments with the nature of what can be considered a bourbon by borrowing a page from Scotland, and succeeds. Is it the envy of the heavens? Hard to say, but it’s certainly an interesting and promising experiment for American whiskey. The other seeks to extract every drop from the wood, sweating it out in an age-old fashion. Does it deserve the dark sided image? No. It’s not going to win bourbon of the year, but it’s a fun and light bourbon. If you’ve got a taste for new make, you might enjoy it!
According to the Angel’s Envy Twitter account, the batch I’ve reviewed won’t be on the shelves much longer. If you’re interested, now is the time!
At a glance:
Jim Beam Devil’s Cut 45% ABV
Nose: Initially shows up with some corn notes, as well as a slight clay-like earthiness. Light vanilla cream, moderate wood. Slight cherry note.
Palate: Light mouthfeel, slightly warming, the clay earthiness comes through. Fairly lightweight – not a lot of flavor on the palate. Gets somewhat bitter after a brief bit, with a vague vegetal note. Has a low-level new-make sweetness as well, with that unrefined sugar note.
Finish: Warm but fleeting. Light cherry note and moderate length, but it dries out and becomes just sort of indistinctly alcohol-like. Not strong though. Also has the new-make note on the finish with the certain grainy sugar.
Comment: There’s just not much happening past the nose here. It’s not bad – at all – but there’s just not a lot to it. This is right on that cusp of C+/B- and if there was juuuust a little more to it it’d be safely into B range.
Angel’s Envy 43.3% ABV
Nose: Much stronger on the nose in terms of the alcohol content, and has a very strong wine presence upfront. Somewhat dry,a little bit of pepper on the nose. Some medium wood.
Palate: Rich and coating, with some warmth. Again, definite red wine, berries and fruit, some wood emerging over time. Light pepper.
Finish: Warming initially and then it goes down. This is where the bourbon presents most strongly – the black cherry, earthy notes, a hint of vanilla. There’s some port hanging on the finish as well as some slightly dry wood – but it doesn’t verge into bitterness. Light dusting of cinnamon in there.
Comment: The port is all over it with sweetness and a definite rich wine note, but it doesn’t have a “grapey” thing happening like some wine-finished bourbons (Woodford Sonoma) do. To be honest, there are elements of this that remind me of a good midlevel sherried scotch (that isn’t drowning in subpar sherry and has that SunMaid gone bad flavor). I’m not sure how the bottle life of this one will be but it’s enjoyable. Not quite a bourbon, not quite a scotch, just something fun and drinkable.
Today, my shipment of the second 12 bottles from Buffalo Trace’s Single Oak Project arrived. While I’m unpacking them and portioning them out into samples for the friends who will be tasting these with me, I thought it was a good opportunity to post my thoughts on the first round.
For those who don’t follow these things closely, your restraint and sanity is to be commended. The Single Oak Project (henceforth BTSO) is a series of 192 different experiments that Buffalo Trace is conducting in their stated quest to formulate the “perfect bourbon”. I’m not sure I believe there’s such a thing, given how wildly my tastes can vary from day to day, but I welcome the effort. Doubtless some interesting results will come out of it, and even if it brings one more good bourbon to the shelves, it’s a worthwhile undertaking.
Without recapping the press release in its entirety, the variables in the experiment are:
It’s a heck of a lot to take in, and there’s a natural tendency to be somewhat skeptical that it really matters – or that you’ll ever taste any of this (stave location? a tree’s a tree! warehouse floor? seriously?)
With a healthy dose of skepticism, I tasted the first twelve bottles late last month. I was totally surprised: I definitely could taste differences in some of the samples… and it wasn’t necessarily the obvious differences (rye vs wheat) that made the biggest difference to me.
Surprisingly, I found a huge difference in the top cut vs bottom cut. I think going into this I expected it to hardly matter at all. With one exception (barrel 131) my favorites generally skewed towards the bottom cuts. I didn’t know which I was tasting at the time, but I noticed a consistent preference for ones that had a particular earthy note. To me this was a somewhat sweet, somewhat earthy flavor, reminiscent of clay, play-doh or marshmallows.
While I love wheaters, the rye recipes for me were hands down preferable as well. The wheaters tasted harsh to me and were not very enjoyable on the whole – with one exception.
Wood didn’t have a strong influence for me, or at least not in a recognizable pattern. Grades did go up gradually as the grain got more coarse.
Here’s my at-a-glance summary with tasting notes below:
If you can only buy one: Barrel 131. In my opinion, this had the most complex palate, with plenty of fruits on the nose and palate; light spice, and good wood involvement. I found the tannins on 131 to be really enjoyable; there was a distinct black tea note at one point that was really pleasing.
The best wheater: Barrel 36. This had the textbook bottom cut notes to it – earthy, clay, play-doh, marshmallow; creaminess and gentle spice. There was some white pepper and grains, but the wood could be a bit bitter.
Barrels to avoid: I found 3 & 4 to be not worth the time. They were spirity, very dry and woody, thin, and not very open. 4 was slightly better, but not by much. While 99 & 100 were crowd favorites, I found them to be sharp, with kind of pine forest and solvent notes. Not my cup of tea.
You don’t have to take my word for it on these though. Why not check out the notes from a few of the other people who have tried round one?
Want to see all the scores so far? Check the Single Oak Scorecard.
Full Tasting Notes for Round One:
Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 3, 45% ABV
8 Years Old, Entry Proof 125; Rye Recipe; #4 Char; 6 Month Seasoning; Top Cut; 16 Rings/Inch; Wood Floor
Nose: Initially spirity, with a hint of black cherry. Somewhat dry, a bit woody in a dry way, with some peppery, cinnamon spice.
Palate: Somewhat thin, slowly warming, with rye evident on the palate with some spice and the light black cherry note. A bit dry, lacking any real complexity. Some hints of wood influence but nothing strong.
Finish: Moderate length with some light spice evident, more light black cherry.
Comment: Not very complex or interesting. Slightly woody with hints of the good stuff but nothing that you’d actually want to hunt down. It doesn’t really have that depth of flavor you’d hope for.
Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 4, 45% ABV
8 Years Old, Entry Proof 125; Rye Recipe; #4 Char; 6 Month Seasoning; Bottom Cut; 16 Rings/Inch; Wood Floor
Nose: Closed off initially and woody. Spirity with a little bit of rye scent. Very subtle hint of toffee and the slightest hint of butterscotch. Opens after a few minutes in the glass.
Palate: Warming on the palate, dry and woody, slightly bitter. Not much flavor beyond that – subtle hint of orange and subtle toffee. Slightest bit of vanilla. Slowly sweetens in the mouth.
Finish: Warm, revealing some cinnamon and allspice for a fleeting moment. Becomes somewhat bitter and sour.
Comment: Lacking in even the complexity of barrel #3. Very closed off and dry. The things you can taste almost have to be read in; it’s very closed off.
Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 35, 45% ABV
8 Years Old, Entry Proof 125; Wheat Recipe; #4 Char; 6 Month Seasoning; Top Cut; 17 Rings/Inch; Wood Floor
Nose: Moderately spirity, some grain and sweetness – light toffee. Some dry wood. Hints of furniture polish. Light creamy vanilla note.
Palate: Warming and somewhat sweet, moderately coating. Good wood influence and some hints of black cherry. White pepper. Toffee, a hint of maple syrup.
Finish: Warming, leaving hints of black cherry, some slightly dry wood. Short finish.
Comment: Much more developed on the palate. The nose is the weak link but it’s a pretty decent otherwise. It’s a C+ just because this isn’t worth seeking out as is. Get the nose dialed in and it’s a different story.
Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 36, 45% ABV
8 Years Old, Entry Proof 125; Wheat Recipe; #4 Char; 6 Month Seasoning; Bottom Cut; 17 Rings/Inch; Wood Floor
Nose: Earthy, with kind of a clay/play-doh note to it; hint of marshmallow; some vanilla; lightly grainy.
Palate: Creamy, mouth-coating, the clay/play-doh note continues through; white pepper, light black cherry note; toffee, vanilla, sweet.
Finish: Grains, somewhat dry and with kind of a slightly bitter wood finish, Moderately long, with some peppery spice and nice heat.
Comment: Amazing that the only difference between this and Barrel 35 is the location on the tree. This has a lot more going on of interest to me.
Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 67, 45% ABV
8 Years Old, Entry Proof 125; Rye Recipe; #4 Char; 6 Month Seasoning; Top Cut; 12 Rings/Inch; Wood Floor
Nose: Spicy – slight rye, definite pepper. A strong dry woody note, a slight trace of cardamom. There’s something slightly metallic in the background.
Palate: Thin and light on the palate but gathering some weight. Slight pepper, toffee, light hint of orange and some cinnamon, a bit of a cherry note, some wood.
Finish: Warming initially. Reveals some plum, some cherry, a bit of vanilla. Drying slightly. Not particularly long.
Comment: It’s a fine enough bourbon. I could use something slightly more to grab my interest – it’s a bit underdeveloped.
Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 68, 45% ABV
8 Years Old, Entry Proof 125; Rye Recipe; #4 Char; 6 Month Seasoning; Bottom Cut; 12 Rings/Inch; Wood Floor
Nose: Spice with cinnamon and pepper, an earthy note (clay/play-doh), marshmallow, a bit of rye. A little oak, a little orange.
Palate: Moderate mouthfeel, somewhat coating, slightly warming, slightly buttery, a little dry spice and slight astringency, a little bit of cherry and jam-like sweetness. A bit of toffee. Oak. A bit of orange and clove.
Finish: Moderate length with the cherry and jam; earthy sweetness; a bit of drying pepper and dry wood, slight orange notes.
Comment: Once again, a bottom cut grabs me with its clay and earth and oak. More enjoyable flavor and nuance; a nose and body that you can actually penetrate. Lacks some complexity but it’s getting in the ballpark.
Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 99, 45% ABV
8 Years Old, Entry Proof 125; Wheat Recipe; #4 Char; 6 Month Seasoning; Top Cut; 12 Rings/Inch; Wood Floor
Nose: Spirity at first. Dry wood. Lightly sour and vegetal.
Palate: Mouth-coating, somewhat sweet, black cherry, white pepper, wood, a little cinnamon, very light toffee
Finish: Warm, drying and becoming bitter. Some of the fruit notes. More oak. Short end of moderate finish.
Comment: Too closed off to be good. Not much to enjoy.
Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 100, 45% ABV
8 Years Old, Entry Proof 125; Wheat Recipe; #4 Char; 6 Month Seasoning; Bottom Cut; 12 Rings/Inch; Wood Floor
Nose: Spirity, dry and spicy. Dry wood. Lightly sour, pine notes.
Palate: Coating on the palate, creamy, slightly vanilla, with the dry pine notes present, woody. A strange mix of bitter and sweet.
Finish: Vanilla, cherry, slightly buttery, dry wood. Moderate length with the pine note persisting.
Comment:The sharp spirit and pine notes make this a non-starter for me. Dry wood; generally unpleasant.
Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 131, 45% ABV
8 Years Old, Entry Proof 125; Rye Recipe; #4 Char; 6 Month Seasoning; Top Cut; 8 Rings/Inch; Wood Floor
Nose: Deep wood, round, mildly spicy, lush, fruity with cherries, hint of peach. a touch of vanilla evident as well. A little bit of clove and a far off bit of cinnamon.
Palate: Good wood – solid oak; light rye flavor; cherries again, a bit of plum, mouth-coating, rich and almost but not quite oily. Very fruity but not over the top. Very slight bitterness.
Finish: Full, with the fruit notes taking the lead, followed by vanilla in tow with a little orange tagging along. A little bit of black tea early on as well. Nice tannins.
Comment: This is a nice, round, balanced whiskey. Nothing sticks out but it’s not dull and lifeless. Quite enjoyable actually.
Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 132, 45% ABV
8 Years Old, Entry Proof 125; Rye Recipe; #4 Char; 6 Month Seasoning; Bottom Cut; 8 Rings/Inch; Wood Floor
Nose: Sweet and spicy, with pepper evident, a bit of pine present and some slightly bitter wood. Orange with a bit of molasses and maple syrup. A rye dryness as well.
Palate: Round, slightly thin, somewhat astringent. The pine note makes itself known again, with some dry wood, some cinnamon, a hint of bubblegum.
Finish: The bubblegum note continues, some vanilla and cherry; there’s kind of a meaty note in there as well.
Comment: The flashes of the meaty note were interesting and the first I’d tasted in a bourbon. It’s decent enough but lacks some complexity. It’s a little closed off.
Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 163, 45% ABV
8 Years Old, Entry Proof 125; Wheat Recipe; #4 Char; 6 Month Seasoning; Top Cut; 9 Rings/Inch; Wood Floor
Nose: Dry, astringent and spicy with some considerable wood. Sharp and dry, with pepper, cinnamon and dry spices. A bit of toffee below the spice.
Palate: Somewhat creamy but kind of thin. Grains and cereal, light fruits – cherry and plum – with some orange. Cinnamon. Some dry oak. A hint of maple syrup.
Finish: Grainy and cereal-y, pepper, orange, distant molasses, medium length. Pepper, spice, lightly dry.
Comment: It’s fairly good. The nose is dry, spirity, and could use something additional but OK. The grain notes are nice. It’s just not something to pull off the shelf.
Buffalo Trace Single Oak, Barrel 164, 45% ABV
8 Years Old, Entry Proof 125; Wheat Recipe; #4 Char; 6 Month Seasoning; Bottom Cut; 9 Rings/Inch; Wood Floor
Nose: Dry, spicy. Some wood on the nose. Grain, dry straw.
Palate: Mouth-coating, dry, with cinnamon and pepper. Bitter, woody, light grain. Orange evident as well.
Finish: Short, light. Cinnamon and pepper on the palate after the first wave; vanilla, light fruits. Orange and a hint of cherry.
Comment: The dryness could use something to balance it out. It’s decent enough but lacking something.
For a long time, I’ve been a fan of Macallan, for better or worse. It’s been my “calibration malt” – the one that helps me know where my palate sits on a given day – for some time. Macallan 12 is the whiskey I know better than any other I’ve had.
Like many novices, Macallan 18 was the pinnacle of the form for me – the highest attainable “old” whiskey you could reasonably afford – a great showcase of some reasonable time in the barrel but with some youth and vitality still in the mix. When I was willing to splurge, I’d drop some change on the older Macallan.
The almost-unattainable whiskey that was the source of curiosity and wonder was, of course, the 30 year old Sherry Oak, which sits at the top of Macallan’s standard range. (Certainly there are rarer and more exclusive Macallans to be had; however, I am not inclined to share my tasting notes of the 60 year old Macallan Lalique. Suffice it to say that it is the finest scotch I’ve ever had while behind the wheel of my Bugatti on the way back from shopping at Bijan’s boutique in Beverly Hills.) I’d promised myself a bottle of this for various occasions: My 30th birthday (too busy); the startup I was working for at the time achieving profitability (still TBD); and a host of others. Finally, when we moved to our new place and my wife was pregnant with our first child, I knew that his birth would be the right occasion for this one.
Fast forward to mid-August of this year and he was born. The Macallan 30 finally was opened and tasted after years of waiting.
I could hardly believe I had the bottle in front of me (and that bottle above is the exact bottle I had – yes, it really is that dark!). Macallan cultivates an image of exclusivity for the higher end of their range, but here it was in my hands – in my glass!
Unfortunately, exclusivity doesn’t really have a taste. So what was the experience of this whiskey?
The nose was gentle, rich, and buttery, like you’d expect from an older whiskey. There was none of the prickle or punch of a younger whiskey, the age was evident. The sherry influence was profound, but it was not overbearing – it had the raisin notes you’d expect with a heavily sherried whiskey, but it had more dimension than that. A lot of sherried whiskey tends to have a one-dimensional raisin note and it smells like liquid Sun-Maid, which is really a turnoff. Additionally, there’s a strong toffee note. After it sat in the glass, it started to reveal some gentle spice notes that made it smell like those Thanksgiving to Christmas meals. There was chocolate and soft grain, as well as old, worn wood.
On the palate, it was thick and started warming to a degree that surprised me given its age. Many of the older whiskeys I’ve had lose a lot of their heat with age; this still had she vitality. There was cinnamon and pepper as well as the toffee from the nose. Nutmeg and harvest spices were evident; there was some maple syrup in there as well. A little wood paneling could be perceived as well. A sign of good cask selection: the wood contributed to the flavor but didn’t give it a dry and bitter or over-oaked flavor that can ruin many older whiskeys.
The finish? Slow and lasting, as you’d expect from a Macallan. The sweetness continued, as did the toffee and sherry. The wood made itself known but was never overbearing.
All in all, it was really enjoyable and easy drinking. That said, it’s not amazing. It’s lost some of the vitality of a younger Macallan and it’s not the best 30+ year old whiskey I’ve had (In recent memory, that would be a 1977/2007 30 year old Brora (Diageo’s official bottling)). I could see this being a great “mood whiskey” – it would be a perfect one during the holidays, enjoying a long quiet evening with it.
Curiously though, that’s not the final word on this one. I just finished this bottle this week – and noticed substantial development in the bottle. Over time, there were more wax and apple notes on the nose and palate. There were also some caramel notes that weren’t as evident initially. Unfortunately though, the wood notes become more dry and bitter over time.
At a glance:
Macallan 30 year old Sherry. 43% ABV.
Nose: Gentle, rich and buttery. The sherry influence is profound but not overbearing. A gentle hint of raisins, a ton of toffee. Slow to open up, but revealing gentle spice. Smells like thanksgiving to Christmas; chocolate and soft grain. Old, worn wood.
Palate: Thick, warming to a degree that belies its age, with cinnamon and pepper; toffee; hints of maple syrup, nutmeg and harvest spices. Wood paneling in the distance.
Finish: Slow, easing off the warth of the palate, retains its sweetness, lasting and rich. Toffee continues; sherry influence. Wood is present but not overbearing.
A note on ratings:
I rate whiskeys on the LAWS scale - it seeks to remove price as a component (as well as exclusivity) and grade strictly on taste. If I were to consider price on this one, I’d be inclined to downgrade it as there are better values for your money. However, strictly on a taste basis, this one rates firmly as a B: Good, and might want to own.