Category Archives: Whiskey

The 1983 Tasting Series #5: Brechin (aka North Port)

It’s easy to look at the 1983 closures and say they were an unfortunate necessity, or perhaps (as I read elsewhere recently) an overreaction to a slump in the sector. However, that misses one point worth considering. DCL did the world a favor when it closed today’s distillery – variably known as North Port or Brechin. (Since our bottle for the day calls it Brechin and that’s shorter, that will be the preferred nomenclature). It’s easy to look back and say, “boy, it’s a shame there’s no more Port Ellen”, or “Clynelish is good but not quite Brora”. But Brechin? Good riddance – in my opinion.

This is not my first Brechin. When I started getting into closed distilleries, Brechin was one of the earliest purchases I made. I wasn’t too impressed. At the time, I thought that bottle (a Connoisseur’s Choice edition) may have just been underwhelming. I’ve also managed to sample a Duncan Taylor Rarest, which normally is a satisfying label, and the whisky was just all alcohol fumes and indistinct, generic woodiness. That’s why I was excited when I found an Old Malt Cask edition of Brechin. OMC bottles are generally solid to quite good, and I can’t think of one in memory that has disappointed. This Brechin was also a little darker than others, so it seemed like perhaps there would be some sherry in the mix – as well as, I’d hoped, some flavor beyond “inert cask” and ethanol.

However, as I was pouring out samples of this one, I got a couple whiffs that made me wonder what this held. It wasn’t that it was overtly bad, there was just something different than the smells I tend to associate with a nice, well-aged older whisky. For weeks, Brechin sat on the bar, glaring back at me like some sort of whisky eye of Sauron; some sort of atavistic evil scarcely contained in a Boston Round.

When the time came, I poured the Brechin into my glass and prepared to take my notes. I had a feeling this was going to be interesting, but the OMC label kept me helpful.

The nose was bizarre out of the gate – distinctly watery, with this kind of burnt hair meets barbicide note. There was a woody tone to it, but it was unplaceably funky. Plastic, solvent, and some kind of lower key overripe fruit notes. And yes, that capstone quality for any whisky: a hint of garbage.

Well… that’s certainly tempting. In the name of science, I guess it’s time to find out how it tastes.

There’s a weird mixture of bitterness and sweetness. Plastic, apple cores, and burnt hair. With time, it also starts to get hot. And that’s about all there is to say. The finish is hot and uneven with more apple cores and plastic.

In an act of pure optimism, I decided to see how it changed. The nose actually has an intensification of the burnt hair and plastic with water. It stays around for the palate, though there’s some woody fruitiness and faint pepper. The finish settles down a bit but is still identifiably “off”.

This, to me, was flawed in the extreme. It reminded me of a Duncan Taylor bottle of Glen Elgin I’d had recently that had the same burned hair quality. I don’t know if it’s a specific cask flaw or taint that I’m picking up on, but it’s a flavor that jumps out at me when it’s present and is just foul.

For me, this puts my experience with Brechin at 0 for 3. At this point I think I’d be happy to see Brechin fade into the mists of time like some of the lesser-remembered Tom Hanks movies. Apparently there are some OK ones – Serge scored two in the low 90s; but the Whisky Monitor shows nothing scoring higher than 86 in aggregate. LAWS scores them low as well, though it looks like the 23y Rare Malts release from several years back was the best of the bunch. That’s only going to show up at auction of course.

If you’re not sure if you’ve gotta collect ‘em all, I’d urge you to start with skipping Brechin.

Interestingly, the rest of the tasting group likes this one better than I did, so perhaps I am sensitive to something on this.

At a glance:

Brechin (North Port) 1976 Old Malt Cask – 28y 50% ABV
Nose:  Watery with burnt hair, kind of a funky off note from the wood too. Plastic, a little solvent, some low grade overripe fruit. A faint hint of garbage. Water brings the burnt hair and plastic notes up.
Palate:  A weird mix of bitter and slightly sweet; a little bit of plastic, apple cores, that burnt hair note. Hot with time. Water keeps a burnt hair taste and brings a little woody fruit notes up with some faint pepper.
Finish:  Hot and uneven, a little old apple core, a bit of the plastic quality again. Water helps this by taming some of the more objectionable notes, but it’s still off.
Comment:  Flawed in the extreme; this is very reminiscent of a DT Glen Elgin that had a lot of the same burned hair/plastic notes. Has to be some sort of a cask flaw or taint; it’s pretty foul. The search for an acceptable Brechin continues.
Rating: D

Random Thoughts, The Manifesto, and The Subcontinent

What’s this, a non-’83 post? Yep. Here’s the scoop!

If you’ve seen me complaining on Twitter and elsewhere like I’ve got a real problem in the world, I’ve no doubt mentioned how burned out I am on the whole whiskey scene of late. “Yeah, how rough. You split great bottles with friends, your job and socioeconomic status is such that you can buy 30 year old bottles from closed distilleries, etc. Cry me a river!” What can I say? It’s the sheer drudgery of drinking astonishingly great whiskey – the true problem of the snob and elitist.

In all seriousness, in the last two to three months, I really have been writing on a much more restrained level. For some reason, like a moron, I decided to worry about traffic and hits more than having fun with this. I appreciate the traffic that some have referred in the last few months, but being a little more straight-and-narrow just sucked all of the fun out of this site, to the point that I entertained serious notions of shutting down the site. That’s stupid: this site isn’t monetized in the least nor do I have any intention of going there, so it better serve a different purpose.

So, the bad news is if you hated the old rambling, barely-connected S&I diatribes that somehow looped back to whisky: sorry, they’re probably back. Meandering streams of thought about my personal life? Yep. Digressions about who knows what? Yeah, the chef is serving that too, and you paid for the tasting menu.

Well, some of you did. A fair amount of readers have recently gotten smart and bugged out. I urge the remainder of you to follow so I can get a little more free-jazz and confessional here. Seriously, the bad old days, that’s what I’m gunning for. You want the real scoop of why I think Aberlour A’bunadh is just hideously overrated? It’s coming. Seriously, it’s probably time to unsubscribe. Of course, you can just wait for Google Reader to fade away and it’ll all be moot in a few more weeks anyway.

Alright, those of you who are left… you don’t care? Cool. I don’t either. Let’s have fun. I think there’s some great people in the whisky scene, but it tends to get so same-y and repetitive. All the facts about distilleries are everywhere. I haven’t yet been to any distilleries (… I KNOW!), so I have nothing new to add. When I do, no doubt, I will. Tasting notes are searchable on Google. The Whisky Monitor and LAWS have fantastic searchable archives for that stuff. Serge too. Instead, this is the place get stupid, go out on the tightrope without a safety line and have fun. As much as I’m going to tell you my stupid stories and questionable insights, I’d love to hear yours. Seriously, dumb stories? Odd proclivities? I don’t care. Have fun with it.

So what else has been happening? Why have pages been disappearing? Why have I been removing links from the top bar? Why is my name disappearing from the site? It’s not some sanitizing scrub of my identity and thoughts. For whatever reason, in the last three weeks, the hacking-inclined scum of the earth have directed their attention to this blog. Why? I don’t know. It’s kind of like trying to achieve world dominance by taking over Liechtenstein. There’s not enough traffic here to mount a takeover of the world, and yet, these clowns from various southern European nations are determined to log in. My only guess is these guys wanted to log in and sing the praises of the latest Glenrothes bottling under my name… as if. Only reasonable explanation.

The last point on this meandering, rambling, ill-constructed diatribe (I’m back, baby!): I’ve read the luminaries of the whisky writing world discuss how bloggers are a second class, or are in some way wanting for legitimacy. You know what? I’m cool with it. I’ll take my stand, I’m independent. In fact: at no point going forward will S&I review samples provided to S&I by a producer. It’s all what I’ve paid for out of my pocket. Their business model and livelihood doesn’t allow it. Where they succeed in wall-to-wall access and connections, I have them trumped on the ability to speak my mind without fear of having access cut off… unless someone stops putting their whisky on shelves and only providing direct to whisky writers. This doesn’t even come close to paying my  bills – my day job does that just fine, thanks. I’d rather the readers of S&I get the unvarnished opinion of someone who put their hard-earned dollars (and they are hard earned!) on the line for the whiskey written about here. So, consider this my redeemed no-bullshit guarantee. All this means in practical terms is that you won’t see me presenting a tasting on Questionable Malts Of The Highlands for a bunch of pasty-skinned, too-serious gentlemen (at least on someone else’s dime – I’ll let you know when my Questionable Whiskies Of The World tasting masterclasses are scheduled in Los Angeles).

In the spirit of standing up on one’s own, let’s take a look at Amrut Peated. Amrut? Who’s that?

Well, India is producing whisky. A lot of people still can’t wrap their heads around the whole “Japan makes really good whisky” idea, and I’m bringing the subcontinent into things. What a jerk! A lot of Indian whisky is crap and wouldn’t necessarily legally meet the definition of whisky in most whisky markets – distilled from molasses and such. Amrut, however, wisely said, “people don’t like garbage, we should make a whisky people actually would like to drink and sell it instead of something that makes you worry about imminent blindness.”

So, sitting down with Amrut, what do we get? The nose is a touch watery. There’s a light touch of smoke, some faint leather, some gentle fruitiness and younger malt notes. It’s a touch waxy, but more paraffin than the big furniture polish waxiness of a Clynelish.

The palate has light smoke on the roof of the mouth. It’s slightly thin (it’s 46% so that’s not entirely surprising), but not objectionable. It’s got a fair amount of malt and straight barley notes; and a vague impression of white pepper wafting in from the next room over. There’s also a faint touch of fruit sweetness on the palate.

The finish leads with smoke and follows behind with a really clean waxy apple note, which is uncommon on younger malts but welcome here. There’s some maltiness again as well as straight barley.

Amrut Peated is a bit simple, and it drinks like a blend that’s malt-heavy, but the light peating gives it some grounding and weight. It’s a nice straightforward number – though I can’t deny, I’d like to see an older/stronger/more intense version. Honestly, to me, this is a nicer, lighter, easy-drinking peated malt that could be called on anytime. It’s super accessible, and I’d probably keep this one on hand if I couldn’t keep some Hakushu Heavily Peated.

At a glance:

Amrut Peated Single Malt – Batch 5, Jan 2010 – 46% ABV
Nose:
  A little watery; some light smoke, a faint touch of leather, some gentle fruitiness and young malt. A touch waxy – more paraffin than furniture polish.
Palate:  Light smoke on the roof of the mouth. Slightly thin on the mouthfeel but not bad. Reasonable malt and barley, some white pepper kind of wafting in from the next room over, a faint touch of fruit sweetness on the palate.
Finish:  Smoke leads on the finish, followed close behind by a little waxy apple note. Some maltiness and straight barley on the tongue.
Comment:  It’s a little simplistic and drinks a touch like a malt-heavy blend, but the light peat on this really gives it some weight. Pretty nice and straightforward number. Would love to see an older/stronger/more intense version of this.
Rating: B

†Last year I did a tasting of a dozen Glenrothes expressions with the intention of blogging them. They all sucked. Even the one from the late 60s that just sat in a cask for decades. There’s no point in writing a depressingly long entry about why I hate Glenrothes. Robur Reserve is the best out there and it’s a B. Now you know. If you like Glenrothes, I don’t think you’re a bad person but please don’t ever buy me a bottle of it (or even a dram).

The 1983 Tasting Series #4: Glen Mhor

It’s the fourth entry in the trip through the closed distilleries of 1983. If you’ve been following so far, we’ve hit some interesting ones so far; my personal favorite to date being Banff. Unlike last week’s note that maybe Dallas Dhu could see a return, we can safely put Glen Mhor in the “definitely gone” category. It was demolished in 1988 and apparently there’s a supermarket on the site now (this curiously is the fate that a few distilleries ultimately share).

Apparently the costs of running Glen Mhor were high and output comparatively low for the cost (merely having a single pair of stills, output couldn’t have been too great). Around the 1980s some degree of renovation would have been needed, but that was the worst time to be in that situation – so, decommissioned it is.

Glen Mhor seems to be off a lot of peoples’ radar and is one of the middle-to-back of the pack ’83 distilleries in mindshare. I’ve seen a reasonable number of bottles on shelves to this day, most commonly Rattray bottlings of different vintage. Prices still seem to be on the low end of the range for whiskies of that age, to say nothing of closed distilleries (certainly not chasing the astronomical mark set by Port Ellen or Brora these days).

As I noted, Rattray bottlings seem to currently be the most plentiful. I’ll be looking at the Rattray 27y 1982 bottling, 54.2% (cask #1217).

The nose on this Glen Mhor was slightly sour – a touch of newmake for just a second – with some light white wine, confectioner’s sugar and a slightly stale malt taste. Not a great start. This sort of nose usually indicates a questionable cask in my experience.

The palate is woody initially with plenty of malt. More white wine, pepper; a big, oily mouthfeel, and a faintly salty note which I didn’t expect. The finish had cinnamon, pepper, malt, and a little general fruitiness. There was also a little more of the saltiness from the palate. There’s some faint apple skin late on the finish, and then it all turns a touch bitter.

The nose indicates a much different whiskey than what follows. Those sour-ish notes are usually a real turnoff to me – the whole thing ends up tasting slightly pukey, or you have that edgy sweetness that hints that the cask didn’t do enough. This was a real surprise – more pleasantly so than the Dallas Dhu last week with its wood and too-sweet character.

At a glance:

Glen Mhor A.D. Rattray 1982 – 27y, #1217 54.2% ABV
Nose: 
Slightly sour, lightly white wine. Some confectioner’s sugar. Malty, a bit stale.
Palate:  Woody upfront, with plenty of malt. More white wine, a little pepper, and a faintly salty note. Big body, slightly oily.
Finish:  Cinnamon, pepper, malt, a touch salty, a little fruit. Faint touch of apple skin. A touch bitter at the end but it kinda works.
Comment:  The nose is disappointing but it’s pretty wild after that. Nice mouthfeel, a little more dimensional than the old, flat whiskey it seems like.
Rating: B

The 1983 Tasting Series #3: Dallas Dhu

In the two weeks since this tasting series began, almost as if on cue, there have been new rumblings about the Dallas Dhu distillery. As I said in the first piece in this series, the 10 distilleries closed in 1983 that have never reopened were unlikely to reopen again. Many of them share similar fates in being demolished or substantially renovated, but one of the exceptions is Dallas Dhu.

In 1988 after being closed five years, Dallas Dhu was opened to the public; it’s been operated as a museum since the early 1990s. Two weeks ago, Historic Scotland (the agency which oversees the Dallas Dhu site) was revealed to have commissioned a feasibility study to see if Dallas Dhu could resume production. The desire as stated is to have it produce as it was when closed so that the distillery museum has more of the sights and the smells and sounds of a working distillery.

In the whisky-nerd land, this is a crazy and potentially exciting update. I’m not familiar enough with these sort of processes to know how far it is from the feasibility study to the point where stills are producing whisky again, but assuming it’s like the US, I wouldn’t expect to see anything happen for the better part of this decade.

I’ve had a number of Dallas Dhus and generally found them pretty enjoyable, with nice, fruity and floral character. Unlike some other distilleries, I don’t generally feel like I need to do a lot of research on a particular bottling of Dallas Dhu before having them as I’ve found them generally agreeable.

Today’s Dallas Dhu is a Signatory decanter, distilled in 1979 and bottled in 2005 and weighing in at a whopping 60.6% ABV – guess the angels missed this cask!

The nose is light, slightly floral and honeyed, with a bit of chalkiness. There’s some white pepper as well. The palate leads surprisingly woody, with a fair amount of spiciness and verges on having too much oak for me. There’s a real abundant malt, tons of heat, and a touch of honey – and surprisingly, a sour note late.

The finish leads off very warm with pepper and malt, and has the mouth-numbing feel of Sichuan pepper. More wood on the finish as well as malt; it hangs around forever in a huge, long-lasting resolution. After a while it starts to get a little bitter.

My impression was that this was a little too hot at cask strength so I added some water to see if this would go in a more familiar Dallas Dhu direction. There was some more overt fruit on the nose; the palate had some tropical fruit, but also a confectioner’s sugar type sweetness – very sharp and pronounced.

As far as Dallas Dhus go, this one was an unusual miss for me. A little too hot at cask strength, a bit too sweet with water, and probably a touch too much wood.

Dallas Dhus have been creeping up steadily in price, but you can still find them for a fairly reasonable amount if you hunt. Then again, if the distillery reopens, in several years this may all be a moot issue.

At a glance:

Dallas Dhu 1979 Signatory – #1390 (d:8-6-79, b:4-4-05) 60.6% ABV
Nose: 
Light, slightly floral and honeyed, with a slight chalkiness. A little white pepper. Water adds a little more overtly fruity note.
Palate:  Wood up front with a fair amount of and spiciness, verging on too much oak. Abundant malt, lots of heat, a touch of honey. Vaguely sour. Water brings up a little more tropical fruit – but it almost gets a sugary sweetness too.
Finish:  Warm to lead, leaving pepper and malt, a little sichuan pepper and wood. Malt hangs around for quite a while. Huge, lasting finish. Dries a touch bitter.
Comment:  Hot as hell at cask strength, a bit too sweet diluted down. A lot of promise but not the best Dallas Dhu I’ve had.
Rating: B-

The 1983 Tasting Series #2: Banff

The 1983 tasting continues! Thanks to everyone who came for the first installment. I’ll be trying to publish these on Fridays or Saturdays, depending on scheduling.

This week we’re looking at Banff. If I’ve discussed whisky with you and we’ve drifted to the subject of closed distilleries, I have inevitably discussed this one with a little more intensity. Banff was my first “drink your age” whisky a couple years back, and I was blown away at the time by the really gentle buttercream vanilla notes on that particular bottle, as well as the wonderful, relaxed nose. Perhaps that bottle would pale with my malt experience since then, but that’s a discussion for a different time.

Over the last couple years in the wake of that tasting, I semi-quietly went on a Banff buying spree – up until recently they were an incredible mix of availability and value for a 1983 distillery. Banff didn’t have the lofty reputation of Port Ellen or Brora (and it can be an unusual if not polarizing whisky), but I liked the ones I’d had, so I thought I would capitalize on the opportunity.

Fast-forward a few years and now Banff is starting to command loftier prices and is a little less common. It’s still one of the most reasonably priced of the ’83s, though I suspect in the next two years, that will cease to be the case.

Banff marks the first regional shift in this tasting. We started with St. Magdalene, the sole Lowland representative; Banff is first of a set of Highland distilleries. Banff has a relatively colorful history, and almost feels like the Swamp Castle in Monty Python & The Holy Grail, plagued through its history by fires and rebuilding. The first was in 1877 when a fire damaged a large portion of the distillery requiring an extensive rebuild, which took several months.

The most notable incident happened in 1941, a warehouse was bombed by a German aircraft. This article (page 9 of the linked PDF) has a really amazing eyewitness account -

The fires (two 100kg. bombs had been dropped) spread rapidly and a rivulet of burning whisky flowed through the fallen walls and into the stream. Being lighter than water, the flaming spirit spread across the width and was carried by the flow downstream. The burning river continued out of sight behind the peat store where a steeper gradient caused turbulence which extinguished the flames.

[...]

… they had saved twelve barrels out of three hundred.

[...]

Next day the Regimental Sergeant Major, the scourge of the troops, supervised an equipment inspection including water bottles. This resulted in several non-commissioned officers being reduced to the ranks and many squaddies being confined to barracks for fourteen days.

Jock Crystal reported that his ducks were drunk, and that some of the Old Manse cows were [unable to stand up].

 That alone would be a colorful enough past, but in 1959 during maintenance on one of the stills, a spark caused an explosion that damaged the distillery and required repairs. Fortunately no one was killed in that accident.

Banff was closed in 1983 (as all of these were) and the still house has been demolished; as almost a tragicomic grace note to its history, in 1991 one of the warehouses was destroyed in a fire. Banff is certainly in the category of “lost distilleries” – any new distillery to bear the name would be built from the ground up with no usable equipment from the original.

Interestingly (and somewhat in response to the question around St. Magdalene), Banff did practice triple distillation for a while, though the process ended in the 1920s.

Enough history for now: what about the whisky?

This bottle of Banff is from K&L’s 2011 bumper crop of exclusive bottles and was one of the stars of that productive trip (though eclipsed by the Ladyburn which sold out way before it arrived, as well as the Chieftain’s exclusive Brora from the same trip). This bottle is part of the Duncan Taylor Rarest of the Rare series, which I’ve had multiple bottles from and can’t think of a single one that I haven’t enjoyed. Alongside Signatory’s cask strength decanters, I’m usually willing to give the Rarest of the Rare a chance if I haven’t seen reviews for a bottle.

This was distilled in November 1975 and bottled in May 2011; cask 3353, at 45.2%. Interestingly a sister cask was released in the summer of 2001 – 3352 – as a UK release.

The nose on this Banff is initially sweet, with some malty notes and a touch of honey. There’s an overall dusting of white pepper and some wood in the background.

It’s got a nice mouthfeel, that bigger, slightly oily kind of whisky. It leads with a fair dose of wood, and has some flintiness to it that’s not unlike older whiskies I’ve had (in terms of distillation date, not time in wood). It’s slightly mineral which just adds a nice dimension. Some of the sweetness of the nose comes through; faint dried oranges and apples. It’s big and bold overall, and the wood creeps up with time.

The finish is warm and with plenty of white pepper; the minerality and a little malt comes along.

It’s a big, bold whisky that hits the spot for me. It’s really enjoyable, and the minerality harkens back to an earlier style of whisky.

This will not be the last time Banff is covered in depth here. As I mentioned, I acquired several bottles. At some point in the future (timing still to be determined), I will go through those as part of a project to do a deeper dive on Banff’s output.

At a glance:

Banff 1975 – Duncan Taylor Rarest of the Rare, K&L Exclusive Cask #3353
Distilled 11-1975, Bottled 5-2001 45.2% ABV
Nose:  Sweet initially with some malty notes and a touch of honey; white pepper all over, a little wood.
Palate:  Nice mouthfeel, leads with a fair dose of wood. Some old-style flintiness to this one, mineral. A little sweet – a faint hint of dried orange and apple. Big and bold. Leans a touch bitter with time.
Finish:  Warm with white pepper, again a slight hint of minerality.
Comment:  Quite big and bold. Really enjoyable. The mineral notes remind me of older (distillation date, not age) malts.
Rating: B+

Son Of The Port Ellen Doubleheader

In 2011, I did a head-to-head of two Port Ellens – both really nice but not world-beaters. The McGibbons Provenance 27y from that taste-off was certainly the winner. Late last year, I said a likely goodbye to new Port Ellen purchases due to market inflation, and recalled my favorite Port Ellen (and possibly favorite whisky), a 12 year old MacArthur bottling from the early to mid 1980s.

A few weeks ago, a fun opportunity presented itself to try the very bottles I’d written off as my breaking point for individual purchases – K&L’s single cask pick,bottled by Sovereign, and the official 12th release Port Ellen from Diageo. There was a debate in LAWS to see which might be desired for an upcoming event, so the decision was made to simply have a taste-off. Through a comedy of errors, I wasn’t able to make it to that event, but had quite large pours reserved.

In the days that passed, it became clear that this was a hotly debated topic among LAWS; it was basically deemed too close to call. Would Sku and I mind terribly if our samples were blinded?

Would I mind? Hell no, I’d love it!

These two are both old whiskies – 30 year for the Sovereign K&L and 32 for the Diageo bottling. The K&L is vastly more limited, being from a single cask, with a bottling run just slightly more than 5% of the total Diageo run this year.

Now, I’d had a very small taste of the Sovereign from K&L, and my impression had been that it was rather middle-of-the-road at the time. This was however based on quite a small sip and it was nothing I’d ever feel comfortable assigning a score to or standing very firm on my assessment of. As a result I never really mentioned it. It was certainly nothing that I could place in my taste memory in a tight lineup of Port Ellens.

I started with Sample “A”. It was lighter than expected and to my nose, surprisingly fruity for a Port Ellen. It had a little waxiness that was not exactly, but not far off what I associate with older Clynelishes. There was a little lemon and a touch of pear. Some sweet maltiness floated around, and there was a lot of well-developed, seasoned oak. It didn’t seem astonishingly peaty and leaned a little more sweet – not unexpected; peat can have a pronounced fall off after 20 years in the barrel.

The palate was oily and spicy, with a touch of white pepper, a fair amount of oak, some waxy wood polish character to it, dried apple skin, and some faint, roof-of-the-mouth smoke in the background.

The finish had some of the tarry/diesel notes I commonly associate with Port Ellen, and then surprised with a brief zing of mint. There was a fair bit of wood and a waxy apple note.

Good, not the best I’ve ever had, but good. Saving some for later given the split decision nature floating around.

Sample “B” went into a clean glass.

The nose on B was lemony-sweet with some nice malt and a little hint of leather, with a touch of diesel.

The palate opened with a really great creamy mouthfeel, and a fair bit of wood. There was malt underneath and some white pepper, with a late hint of pears again. There was light peat, and it was more of a shading on everything else than a main note – in a way reminding me of older malts from the mainland in the 50s and 60s. After a while it gave way to more malty sweetness.

The finish had some light smoke and a faintly industrial quality. There was a bit more of the pear taste; it was a surprisingly clean finish.

Again, a good whisky; not the best I’ve had but definitely in the ballpark. These two were different beasts and played on different aspects of Port Ellen. I gave my palate a rest and revisited later with dueling pours again. The differences stood out much more at this point and I had a better sense of the two.

Whisky “A” had quite a bit of waxiness to it and I just kept thinking “old Clynelish”. It’s not the same thing, but it had a similarity I couldn’t deny. There was tons going on and it was really dense. It was also pushing the limits of its age; having perhaps a fading vitality, but the spiciness kept it interesting and it gained momentum as it went on.

Whisky “B” was a more straightforward affair, showing some of the underlying spirit characteristics that can be masked by peat even in 25 year old whiskies. It was not an overly-complex whisky, but a stunningly easy drinker. It reminded me in ways of the better whiskies from decades ago, with smoke integrated nicely without overwhelming things.

I could see the difficulty in deciding and why this was a split decision. In all honesty in my opinion, I think I could go either way on these, but to me the complexity of whisky “A” was ever so slightly my favorite. “B” was fantastically drinkable but a variation on a theme I’d had before. “A” was good and dense, if slightly tired in its old age.

The bottom line, I think, is that if you have this kind of cash available and you have your heart set on either one of these bottles, you won’t be disappointed. They’re a little better than average for a Port Ellen.

This morning, I got an email from Sku with his preference. It seemed, unsurprisingly, that we split evenly on the blind tasting, with his preference being Whisky B. This just goes to show how evenly matched these whiskies are: some die-hard whisky lovers in LAWS who have sampled far and wide are pretty much evenly split on these two. As for me, given the choice, I think I’d pour a little of Whisky A.

So what are they?

Whisky A: Port Ellen 12th Release (Diageo Official) – 52.5% ABV 32y
Nose:
  Light and surprisingly fruity for a Port Ellen. A little waxiness that’s not far off Clynelish. A little lemon, maybe even a touch of pear. Some sweet malt, a fair amount of well-developed, seasoned oak. Not a lot of peat. Sweet in general.
Palate:  Oily and spicy, a touch of white pepper, a fair amount of wood, some waxy wood polish kind of notes, dried apple skin, and a little faint background smoke.
Finish:  A little smoke with a hint of tarriness and diesel, a little quick hint of mint for a second, a fair bit of wood and the waxy apple note.
Comment:  This, for all the waxy notes initially, makes me think Clynelish. It’s definitely on the far edge of what’s vital, but a little spice keeps it interesting. Picks up nicely as it goes on.
Rating: A-

Whisky B: Port Ellen 30y, Sovereign, K&L Exclusive. 51.90%
Nose: 
Lemony-sweet with some nice malt, a little hint of leather. A touch of diesel.
Palate:  Creamy mouthfeel, a fair bit of wood. Some malt underneath, a little white pepper. Some pears start to come through late. Light peat, almost more of a shade than a main note. After a while a little more malty sweetness.
Finish:  Some light smoke and a faintly industrial touch. A bit more of the pear-type note; quite clean.
Comment:  Quite a gentle Port Ellen; a really great mouthfeel.
Rating: B+

Compass Box Week, Er, Fortnight – The Peat Monster

Many apologies for the delay in closing out the slightly-longer-than-a-week Compass Box Week. February seems to be my month for home IT failures and this February was no exception. I tend to have a limit to how much I’m willing to deal with and this pushed me into full-bore disgust. Any energy I would have devoted to typing up even a quickie review ended up going towards race prep and everything involved with that.

As a brief review, the last few notes I’ve posted have been reviewing the core range of Compass Box – Hedonism (Blended Grain), Asyla (Blended), Oak Cross and Spice Tree (both Blended Malt). The final entry in this range is The Peat Monster, an ambitiously named whisky, but in a world of Octomores and Supernovas, is it really a “Peat Monster”? We’ll see.

The Peat Monster has a lightly lemony and slightly malty nose with a pretty well-balanced level of peat. It’s not some sort of untamable beast of peat; it’s just fairly well-peated. It’s got a bit of the rubbery note I associate most strongly with Caol Ila, and a surprising bit of young whisky vegetal tones in there. Not overpowering but definitely noticeable to me.

The palate is big and full with some oiliness; a little black pepper and chili oil, some rubbery notes, dry campfire smoke and a slightly diesel/tarry industrial quality to it. There’s some barley in the background too.

The finish starts warm and has some dry campfire smoke and chili oil. It stays smoky, but then gets sweeter with some maltiness. It’s also got a nice mouth-and-tongue Sichuan peppercorn tingle to it.

The Peat Monster isn’t a “monster” in the sense of a double-barrelled blast of peat that knocks you down at 40 yards. It’s just a full, slightly wild ride with some heat and a little bit of youth and a ton of different peated characteristics. Its a nice mix, but based on the asking price I see these days I don’t know that I’d consider it superior to the single malts available from Islay these days. However, variety is the spice of life…

Overall, Compass Box has an interesting range. In general I’ve been more pleased with their limited releases; Spice Tree is also a fantastic whiskey that I think manages to take a good thing (Clynelish) and make it better in an affordable way.

If you’re hungry for a change, I think it’s worth testing the waters.

At a glance:

Compass Box The Peat Monster 46% ABV
Nose:
  A lightly lemony, slightly malty nose with a pretty well-matched level of peat. Not as beastly as the name suggests; a little rubbery note; maybe just the slightest hint of young whisky with a slightly vegetal note.
Palate:  Big and full mouthfeel, somewhat oily, a little pepper and chili oil, some rubbery notes, dry campfire smoke and a hint of a diesel and tar type industrial note. A little barley in the background.
Finish:  Warm at first; dry campfire smoke, a little more chili oil, stays slightly smoky and then gets a little sweeter with some malt after a moment. A pleasing sichuan peppercorn tingle too.
Comment:  Nice mix of peat from Islay. It’s good but at the asking price these days I think I’d still rather buy a single malt of almost any distillery and pocket the change.
Rating: B