Taking The Bait – Git Offa Our Property, Parker!

This morning, K&L’s David Driscoll posted noted wine reviewer/professional Napa douchebag Robert Parker’s authoritative stance on bourbon as he sees it. I’ll give Driscoll the link mojo that he doesn’t need, because I saw it on his site first.

I don’t drink wine, generally speaking. It doesn’t take long before it disagrees with me and I’m in a generally bad state. I have to resort to ultra-bland food for weeks afterwards. Who knows what causes it — I don’t particularly care, because it’s easily avoided by rarely drinking wine. As a result, Robert Parker hasn’t been on my radar for much, other than as an emblem of the whole wine scene that I think is ridiculous. In my wine-drinking life I was a fan of Sonoma and Italy; I always thought Napa was kind of the sell-out alternative.

Last fall I went to Napa and while I did have some truly outstanding wine, I was mainly struck by the sheer douchebag factor of guys in their 60s tooling around in Porsches with chinos and checked oxfords dangerously unbuttoned at the collar, made safe by the addition of a blazer. Perhaps a cable-knit pastel sweater was draped over their shoulders with an artfully-tied knot designed to look careless and casual, while saying all the while “I sweated the hell out of this knot”. On more than one occasion I heard a deferential and reverent mention to what Parker thought – as if his taste is more relevant than your own.

Parker has decided to put his loafer-clad foot in our turf and has deigned to tell the masses what bourbon everyone should be drinking. In an expected quiet condescension, Parker tries to connect with the everyman by explaining how he got interested in bourbon via a TV show. How great! It wasn’t the usual expected avenues of Bourdain/Chang, Treme or Parks & Rec, but Justified. In his words:

… the bourbon drinking antics of the many violent episodes of this sensational series that takes place in Harlan County, Kentucky are a prominent sideshow.

I’d discuss how his writing in that sentence alone offends my sensibilities, but who cares: Parker has made his living writing, I make my living doing other shit in spite of my degree in journalism. The Beat fan in me, however, cringes at the dissociated, cerebral and lifeless sound of what he’s written.

A little research had me on the chase for Pappy Van Winkle, the most difficult alcoholic beverage to find in the United States. If you think I’m joking, try and find a bottle, especially of the 20-year-old and the very rare 23-year-old bourbon. They are much more difficult to find than esoteric and limited production French wines such as Romanée-Conti, Montrachet or Petrus.

The little research that Parker mentions seems to have been typing into Google, “what is the best bourbon”. Result #2? Another Wall Street Journal hack-job telling us that we need to absolutely shit ourselves over Pappy Van Winkle, because, like, it’s hard to find. We see in that article name-checks of Buffalo Trace and its brands, highlighting Pappy prominently; Willett and Black Maple Hill also rate a mention.

Apparently the wine world regards scarcity as a measure of quality. I hope Parker very quickly clues into the rich-asshole-targeted Dalmore Constellation Collection; those are extremely limited and they must be fantastic since they’re so hard to find. (Have you ever seen one in the stores?) Also, Brechin isn’t common. You ought to stock up on that shit post-haste. It closed 30 years ago! BUY NOW.

Parker goes on to discuss how Bourbon, despite what all the Schwab branch office guys are predisposed to think, is actually perhaps worth giving some attention to. Apparently Johnny Reb’s firewater made from mostly corn is worth consideration, as long as it’s rare and priced highly.

Parker’s first set of reviews are a tedious exercise in identifying virtually every hyped whisky of the last half-decade or so, with a few “surprising” and “everyman” picks thrown in to make the list relatable. You can’t get in the good graces making aspirational lists of booze most people will never see unless you stooge for a few readily accessible whiskies, I’m sure.

I recognize that palates are unique and we all have our unique tastes. I’m not going to point fingers in general at his scores; we all have our preferences. However, there are themes that emerge – Parker seems to fall for the common trap that “older is better” and rates Pappy 23 a 100%, tacitly blessing all of the fanboy bullshit that surrounds Pappy, age in general, and the overrated mythos of Stitzel-Weller. Parker also tells us in his notes that “top bourbons” should never be “diluted or served on ice”. Oh, really?

Hey Bob, did you know that Van Winkle 23 is about 47% ABV which is considered “towards the low end of ABV” in our scale? Any clue that people regularly will drop a little ice or water in their blisteringly-high-proof single cask scotches or bourbons and find a massive explosion in flavor? It’s extremely common, and if you’d spent any time whatsoever learning the culture and truly tasting whisky and learning about the spirit, you’d know that it’s not at all taboo in those cases. Instead, you’ve taken what amounts to a five-minute noob-comment-driven crash-course on Reddit and are now spreading it to a bunch of uninterested assholes as gospel truth. Why don’t you hop on the “bourbon can only be made in Kentucky” bandwagon while you’re at it? It’s as tone-deaf and factually ignorant as what you professed. Maybe you saw Paterson saying he’d “kill you” for putting ice or water in your whisky, but that’s because Paterson’s whiskies are already pretty fucking watery unless you’re spending $2000.00 for a cask strength bottle.

Parker’s list includes a ton of random Buffalo Trace including experimental releases that have been off the shelf for two years. For a guy who seems to want to portray himself as Joe Average Guy who just happened to get into this stuff and hunted it down, he’s managed to find some bottles that a lot of bourbon lovers would beat each other up for. There’s an abundance of KBD and Buffalo Trace on his list. Worse still, in his discussion of KBD (or Bulleit), he seems to be utterly ignorant of the concept of independent bottling. He rates various KBDs confidently, giving Noah’s Mill an assertive 96 – a whisky I myself know to have incredible batch variation. Hey, it’s possible, but you need to note which batch that was because they vary so wildly.

Another tiresome thread is a seeming ignorance of what’s on the bottle at times, compared with a slavish devotion to the bottle itself. Frequently he mentions something about the bottle, as if the EH Taylor bottle conveys special taste to the contents, while completely missing big-picture stuff about the whisky contained inside. His Four Roses 2012 Limited Small Batch (highly regarded among those in the know) squeaks by with a borderline score of 92, and he states, “I assume this has been aged in oak a lot longer than the basic Four Roses, and that shows in its softness.” Oh, I don’t know, Bob, what do you think? The recipe is on the back of the bottle calling out years, this information could be Googled in about ten seconds — but fuck Google, that’s not Robert Parker’s style. The inimitable Parkerian palate has detected that it might be older, so we’ll state it as fact. Yeah, it’s older. Notice those tannins? That black tea quality? More than a little bit of wood? Pretty clear sign of age and cask influence. But palate aside, that bit on the bottle that mentions a 17 year old whiskey on the back should have tipped off your older-is-better palate (given your rating for Evan Williams 23).

There’s so much stuff that Parker mentions that could easily be answered with the most perfunctory of google searches, but instead, we’re left to accept his pronouncements as truth handed down from the heavens. Parker’s Heritage 2012 – “Apparently this is no longer being produced”. Yes, that’s right, Bob. Five minutes of searching even by an assistant would have turned this up. Woodford tips its hand to Labrot and Graham as the producer. It’s made by Brown-Forman, Bob, the people who make Jack Daniels. That’s probably far too declasse for the silver Boxster and salmon-sweater crowd, but it’s the truth.

Sure, I’ve taken the bait. The know-it-all wine critic has decided he is the arbiter of taste and quality on the American whisky scene while seemingly managing to not do even the most basic bit of research and self-education on the subject. We all suffer as a result: every halfway decent whiskey will be name-checked by him and the joyless farts who swan about at wine tastings will now be regurgitating Parker’s notes with no insight and nothing to contribute to the discussion.

It’ll be a great day for the distilleries, especially Buffalo Trace. Tons of dumb money coming in, flooding the market with cash, and buying up things we took for granted. Most of these guys will probably store these bottles horizontally, which is perhaps some small consolation – speculators, take note: store your whiskey UPRIGHT. It’s great for guys who run shops, it’s great for distillers who want to wow with a thousand labels sourced from a handful of mashbills or sourced whiskey. For the average consumer, it’s yet another crowding out at the hands of shameless trend-hoppers who saw this on TV, will make no attempt to understand the culture or the spirit, but instead will blindly make pronouncements in the absence of knowledge.

The end result of this for me is to call into question the worth of Parker’s wine ratings, given how spotty his foray into whisky has been. However, again, I don’t care much: I’ll continue to pull against my bunkered stock of whisky and private barrel buys that Parker will never have access to. I only hope he doesn’t wreck the market for American whiskey as well. Surely this will attract the “investment-grade-whisky” speculative douchebag market.

And that’s all I’ve got to say on Parker.

At a glance:

Pappy Van Winkle 23y, Bottle C8752. 47.8% ABV
Nose: 
Strong presence of old wood, light aroma of dark fruits. Strong alcohol initially. Soft sweetness. Alcohol eases in a few minutes and reveals toffee scent with a hint of caramel.
Palate:  Initially dry mouthfeel, warming, strong wood, dark fruits, pleasing sweetness like cotton candy or bubblegum but also vanilla. An evolving trace of caramel and toffee that never become too huge. Wood stays somewhat bitter but does not overpower.
Finish:  Vaguely bubblegummy and toffee sweetness and again wood. Balanced, some traces of grain flavor. Medium finish.
Comment: This is not the equal of the 20y or even the ORVW 23y selection. It’s out of balance and overoaked.
Rating:  B-

The 1983 Tasting Series #7: Glen Albyn

Glen Albyn is one of the lesser-seen 1983 distilleries. According to Oliver Klimek’s interesting reference, Glen Albyn falls under the “Endangered” category, like many of the other 1983s. I can’t say I’ve seen more than two of these in the last several years.

This week’s survey of the closed 83′s is a Hart Brothers bottling of Glen Albyn; distilled in February of 1978 and bottled in February of 2004. It’s bottled at 46%, a touch lower than I’d normally like to see from an independent bottling, but not too watery. Certainly well within the realm of what we’d expect from a modern distillery bottling, so that’s a good thing.

The nose on the Glen Albyn was very fruity – kind of a mix of fruit cocktail syrup and some very light white wine on the sweeter side of things. There’s confectioner’s sugar, and it’s very floral. I also get some Jolly Rancher candy (watermelon and maybe a bit of the cherry ones too). There’s a trace of wood, but this is just an amazingly fruity nose.

The palate ends up being suprisingly substantial. There’s wood and white pepper with a little dash of smoked paprika. It’s hugely malty and has a little sweet barley behind that. I’d expected this to be either slightly syrupy or thin but floral, and it’s got plenty of weight.

The finish is dry with malt sugars and wood, and is generally sweet. It’s not a very remarkable finish.

It’s an interesting malt, and one that I enjoyed, because of the head fake between the nose and the rest of it. I was expecting a slightly lighter Balblair style whisky, but the palate was much more grounded and earthy with a faint smokiness. It was really unusual and generally speaking, I find it hard not to enjoy these fake-out whiskies on some level. It’s perhaps a novelty thing, but they can be quite fun.

At a glance:

Glen Albyn 1978 Hart Brothers – 26y 46% ABV
Nose:
  Very fruity, kind of a mix of fruit cocktail syrup and a light white wine. Some confectioner’s sugar, very floral. I get little flashes of Jolly Rancher candy (Watermelon, maybe cherry). Some light wood but this is all about fruit.
Palate:  A little more substantial on the palate than I expected, with some wood and a light dusting of white pepper. A little smoked paprika behind that. Tons of malt, a little sweet barley sugar.
Finish:  Somewhat dry; malt sugars, wood, generally sweet.
Comment:  Very interesting. The nose suggested something syrupy like a Balblair, but the palate came in much more grounded and earthy with kind of a faint smokiness. It’s a bit unusual but I enjoyed it.
Rating: B

Scotland Has Lost The Plot

It’s a downright awful time to be a consumer if you’re interested in Scotch whisky.

There’s a lot of underlying causes that have made Scotch an absolutely horrible buy lately, especially for Americans, and I won’t rehash exhaustive analysis by others or my thoughts on the latest whisky to be sold in an imitation boat or the constant and ever more garishly nouveau-riche eye that guides brand identity these days. The fact is that two things have just utterly decimated my interest in Scotch these days – and as an enthusiast with some disposable income I suspect I am late to the party on this one.

The first is selection. What’s that? Isn’t choice great? Of course it is. However, “selection” has become just a proxy word for a ceaseless stream of one-offs released in stunt casks with novelty finishes. You only need to have so many wine finishes before you realize that a great many of them add very little to the underlying spirit. So much attention is delivered to single-cask releases or one-off limited runs or something similar and there seems to be virtually no attention given to distillers’ core range, short of tarting up the packaging every couple years and maybe bumping ABV up a hair. If you were one of those who felt they had to catch every new experience, it wouldn’t take long before you were tearing your hair out in despair of ever trying to try everything.

Even more tiring is the ceaseless stream of bullshit that accompanies these releases. If it’s not some impenetrably bizarre “legacy of stone” pitch (I’m sorry, what in the actual fuck was that supposed to mean?), then it’s something that tries too hard, like a hashtagged whisky. Intrepid distillers, take note: the correct answer is not to next release a QR-coded whisky. Here’s a general bit of advice – if you need three paragraphs to explain why you named your whisky “Dawn” in Gaelic and how that relates to what’s in the bottle, you are too clever by half.

For me, the breaking point came – to my surprise – from Glenlivet, of all distilleries. “Alpha” was first. $150 for a black bottle of… who knows what? Legally speaking it’s probably whisky, so we can guess at 3 years and at least 40% ABV, but who knows beyond that? What a tempting pitch.

I can have blind tastings with friends for less out of pocket and a higher likelihood of a fantastic whisky. If you see Alpha and think, “AT LAST! I, TOO, CAN HAVE A BLIND TASTING!”, I urge you to log off your computer right now and go meet people. This is a product that acts as a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist for most reasonably well-adjusted people.

The last straw though was only a couple weeks later with Glenlivet’s Quercus. A 17 year old single cask – breathlessly and reverentially noted for its maturation in an “American white oak cask”. You know, a bourbon cask. There’s at least a million of them made a year in America and Scotland buys them by the shipping container. There are distilleries that use them exclusively for all new spirit maturation. Almost every distillery uses bourbon casks, and they are a common sight on the independent bottler market. Hell, even Glenrothes did this as a groundbreaking concept in their Alba Reserve and had the decency to charge about 60 bucks for it. Glenlivet has decided somehow that a single cask of 17 year old whisky in an industry standard cask now somehow merits $300. Three hundred dollars. What cast-iron balls!

That’s a perfect segue into the other side: price. In the last three years or so, prices have increased by 40% or more on some really standard malts. I remember buying Laphroaig 10 for $29. Today, you’d be hard pressed to find it much under $45. Macallan 18 went from $130-140 to now over $200 in the last three years. These are serious, serious increases in price. Certainly some of the old, closed distilleries will only rise in price, but when the bread and butter malts continue to skyrocket or get replaced by NAS editions, it’s hard to swallow. Apparently this is being driven by the East Asian market – best of luck to the distilleries of Scotland; I hope for your sake they can maintain that demand level. “Emerging markets” are also cited as a cause for why prices skyrocket – I guess that’s a good thing, but when customers in the US are starting to get uneasy, I wonder how it’s easily justified in these markets.

The price to consumers is only one aspect of this problem. The other is the up-until-recent practice of ordering direct from the UK. Due to local changes in UK law, shipping through Royal Mail is no longer possible and you’re limited to other carriers – which has made the cost of single bottle orders nearly prohibitive and more at risk of being held by customs.

Perhaps if the US adopted the 700ml bottle standard we’d see a wider variety of bottles and perhaps at a lower price due to Scotland being able to streamline bottling operations and by keeping a single range of labels as well. I’m not holding my breath though.

So what’s an enthusiast to do?

For now, the answer seems to be to focus elsewhere. I’m not a brandy guy, so don’t expect me to follow that recent trend; as far as whisky goes, my attention increasingly will focus on the US, Japan, and Ireland, with other international options here and there. In the meantime I will enjoy the bottles I bought when they were far less expensive. Hopefully by the time I’m done, things will come back to earth a bit. (Edit: Now I’m seeing Yamazaki 12 in a couple places for $80 and Nikka 15 for over $100 – maybe it’s already too late for Japan?)

I certainly won’t be buying much Scotch whisky for a while. Maybe some here or there, but at today’s prices, my purchases will be far less. I hope you’re not feeling the squeeze, but if you are, hopefully things will correct sooner rather than later. If not, I hope you have a stockpile you can work through! I do, and I will.

 

The 1983 Tasting Series #6: Brora

At last, the mighty Brora.

If you’re a follower of Serge over at Whiskyfun, you know that Brora occupies a spot somewhere near “holy sacrament” in his whisky preferences. It’s certainly in the upper echelon. I’ve had a fair number of whiskies from Brora and found them to be hit or miss – when they’re on, they are nearly unmatched; when they aren’t, they’re good-to-OK. In comparison to Port Ellen which is usually wildly consistent, Brora can be a crazy grab-bag. That’s what makes this fun, right?

Brora is an interesting distillery. It’s almost impossible to mention it without mentioning Clynelish – a sister distillery, and in fact, the name that the distillery we call Brora bore at one time. So: older Clynelish (mid-60s and prior) is actually what you’d see now as Brora; Clynelish from after that point is a separate building. Brora these days usually — but not always — implies that there will be a moderate-to-heavy peating level included.

A while back, K&L scored a pretty surprising coup in their 2011 Single Cask program when they had a 30 year old Brora bottled by Chieftain’s, from a first-fill sherry cask. I and many others jumped on this bottle almost immediately. It sold out long before arrival. K&L split the cask with Binny’s and Binny’s may have a few bottles left, but this one is fast disappearing.

I’d held my bottle aside for a special occasion, not knowing what it might be. When this closed distillery tasting came along, I suspected this may be the perfect occasion. This 1983 tasting has been conducted with some people who are not extremely experienced with Scotch whisky and I thought this would be a fun one to share – it reminds me of Sku’s generosity.

A couple years ago, on a fairly hot summer night, I had a really fun evening at Sku’s house. I’d met him a few weeks prior, and was getting my feet wet in the LA whiskey scene. He generously invited me over to his house, and even more generously opened a trio of Diageo Broras. He then went on to open so many other amazing bottles, and this has been indelibly stamped on my mind as the model for generosity that we should all aspire to. I had a lot of fun that night, tasting some all time favorites (Brora 30y 2007) and some all-time least-favorites (Usuikyou 1983). All in short supply, all generously shared. I hoped perhaps this tasting would let me pay that generosity forward in some way.

So, back to the Brora in question. K&L/Binny’s; 1981 distillation, 30 years. As dark as you’d want to see a whisky; gorgeously deep brown.

The nose had rich, full woody notes, with a light hint of oranges, and slight dust – kind of that “old study” quality (I guess with some oranges on the table). It was lightly earthy with fig and a hint of balsamic vinegar with a touch of molasses. The nose was intoxicating. I could just nose this whisky all day.

The palate was perfectly mouth-coating, with a sherry nuttiness and earthiness with plenty of wood. There was a slight quality of Kiwi shoe polish, some leather, and light sichuan peppercorn mouth-numbing heat. Cayenne pepper, figs, and molasses rounded it out with some faint peat in the background.

The finish had tons of dried fruits, pepper, and wood. There was a really nice apple skin note on the background, almost tangibly from a fresh Fuji apple. There was the slightest hint of rubbery quality but it worked so well.

This was one of the most phenomenal Broras I’ve ever had, with a fabulous cask influence and a luxurious mouthfeel.

Now, to step back briefly. I had a sample of this one quite early on, and it had received quite a bit of air in the sample bottle. I wasn’t particularly impressed with it at the time, and I thought it had more than a bit of wood to it – to the point that I’d dismissed it as being somewhat overoaked. The fresh bottle experience is quite different and on a shortlist of favorites. In all honesty, given the data points, I’d expect this one to have the potential to oxidize to something unpleasant. I’d suggest if you have a bottle of this or come across it (like I said, Binny’s may have a few but the K&L ones are long gone), you might want to consume it quickly – better yet, share with many friends. If those are not options, you should definitely consider gassing it with Private Preserve.

As I finished my whisky, I thought, “boy, there’s part of me that wishes I hadn’t shared this and kept it to myself”. I’m still reminded of the generosity of Sku sharing his great whisky with me and that makes me feel better about spreading the love on this one. That said, you better believe I called to try and secure more of this.

Most surprisingly, and this is largely a story for another time, I had the privilege of scratching one of my “bucket list” of drams off this weekend – Brorageddon. Brorageddon is an absolutely fantastic and almost impossibly dense and nuanced whisky. And yet – I think I might prefer this barrel pick. Write me off as a dilettante or a no-palate feeb; but I really loved this. If you can find some, you should absolutely try it. As with all of the 1983′s, these are vanishing fast now.

At a glance:

Brora 1981 Chieftain’s 30y for K&L & Binny’s, 1981 #1523, 54.6%
Nose:  Rich wood, light hint of oranges, slightly dusty. Lightly earthy, a little hint of fig and a faint hint of balsamic vinegar. A touch of molasses.
Palate:  Mouth-coating, beautifully nutty and earthy with plenty of wood. A little hint of kiwi shoe polish, a touch of leather, some light sichuan peppercorn and cayenne pepper. Lightly figgy and a touch of molasses. Very faint peat in the background.
Finish:  Nice. Dried fruits, some pepper, plenty of wood. Some really nice apple skin on the finish too. Slightest rubbery hints in a good way.
Comment:  Really excellent. Perfect cask influence. Just beautiful. One of the best Broras I’ve ever had.
Rating: A-

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

Don't be a'feared of the brown spirit!