Super Nerdy: K-Means Clustering Of Distillery Profiles

Add it to the “terroir isn’t a thing in scotch/regions are meaningless” pile. Over at a big data blog, Luba Gloukhov did a k-means clustering of 86 whiskies.

What’s that, you ask?

K-means clustering is a technique to analyze large datasets where your end desire is to group things together based on mathematically calculated distances between attributes in the data set.  Essentially, the program runs through the data set and figures out what elements are the most alike.

This work is more accessible and understandable in the form of David Wishart’s Whisky Classified, which grouped several distilleries together by flavor profile. While Wishart’s is a great effort and certainly one of the best introductions to the concept, the challenge is data points.

It’d be interesting to see this approach applied to larger, more constantly updated data sets such as the Malt Maniacs’ data, though missing from most of these are an agreed-upon set of flavor variables that may be scored.

If the concept is over your head or you don’t dig reading code samples, just look at his map plots, which show a pretty scattershot distribution across Scotland by flavor. There’s obviously a cluster in Speyside but it’d be more useful to do a zoomed-in view there.

Certainly it’s something that would suggest a lot more fun data mining, but it’s an interesting start.

Technology. Huh.

Apparently something went sideways with S&I in the last 24 hours. My apologies to anyone who tried to reach it and had no luck. As penance, quick tasting notes on one of the 2012 exclusives….

Parker’s Heritage 2012 – Blend of Mashbills (65.8% ABV)
Nose:  Nice wood on the nose with some gentle peppery spice, caramel. Has a stronger dark fruit character that grows and presents some rye spice. A little bit of coffee beans. Toffee after a bit.
Thick mouthfeel, quite warm. Cinnamon briefly, an odd mix of toffee, black cherries, a liberal dose of black pepper, some red wine.
Wood and black fruit, with a slight note of juicy fruit gum. A little pepper as it dries, faintly hinting at bitter roots. A touch of peanuts. 
Hot as hell on the finish, warm on the palate. A muddy mess of indistinct flavors. I didn’t like it when Woodford did it, I don’t like it much more when Parker’s does it.  

Once again, we learn that the Four Roses Small Batch 2012 is the preferred special release of the year. A rare disappointment from Parker’s.

Give Thanks! Caol Ila and Dusty Bourbons

This is a quick update – I’m busy getting ready for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving feast. However, a quick pause is in order to give a little more color to a whisky I recommended in the Haphazard Whiskey Holiday Gift Guide. I’ve gotten a bunch of questions about the $130 sherried Caol Ila I mentioned in the import section.

It’s true, this is a really fun whisky and I’m kind of stunned it’s still available. I perhaps overstated the sherry influence; it’s there but it just adds dimension that might otherwise be lacking. The nose on it has a light smoke influence, nice orchard aromas with ripe Fuji apples, some denser red fruity notes, a little prune, some waxiness and some buttery richness.

The palate is light initially but gets that familiar oily, weighty Caol Ila presence. Some light, dry smokiness is balanced with waxy apples and gentle wood. Light, gentle peppery spice is there as is some pleasing lightly tart apple flavor.

The finish is the best part of this one. A little smokiness, slightly drying, and some nice rich fruitiness. Apple cider and some pepper zip give this heat and it’s got a lightly medicinal presence too.

It’s an immensely drinkable Caol Ila, a great show of age and a decent price.

Now, for the Dusty Bourbons. LAWS recently had a great bourbon meeting featuring all kinds of mostly dusty (really) old bourbons. Sku is covering this periodically for Dusty Thursdays and providing some more color on them. I don’t have a lot of insight to add to this one but thought I’d give general impressions. Full tasting notes on this are up at LAWS and you can compare the different opinions, which is what makes meetings like that fun.

Old Grand Dad reminded me of modern Four Roses – spicy, nicely woody but with a hint of that vanilla creaminess. Fairfax County seemed a bit marred by green woody notes. Very Old Fitzgerald – I’ve detailed a VVOF from the ’70s here. This was the weirdest SW I’ve had. A good deal darker in flavor, a little more nuance. Very interesting. As Adam says, I think Stitzel Weller dusties are a touch overrated but it was a lot of fun.

For me, the highlight was the President’s Choice, the first Brown Forman I’ve loved. I’m coming to peace with my love for easy-drinking 90 proof bourbons and this was right up that alley. Eagle Rare 101 from ’79 followed, and it was modern in profile by comparison, but just a bit dry.

Kentucky Vintage was an oddball wreck and I thought it was overoaked. It had so much wood on it that it started to almost seem peated at times – exceedingly weird. I’ve discussed Jefferson’s Ocean Aged earlier here.

There’s not much more to add; it was a fun night and worth sharing.

Update: Apparently there is something to add. David OG from K&L posted his recap of the night at the K&L Spirits Journal today. 

At a glance:

Caol Ila 1984 27y (Distilled 1-1984, Bottled 6-2011) 52.4% ABV Exclusive (Bottled by Douglas Laing)
Light influence of smoke, a nice orchard aroma with ripe Fuji apples, a little bit of denser red fruity notes, a touch of prune, lightly waxy and a touch buttery. 
Light initially but gaining some oily weight. Light dry smokiness balances with some waxy apple notes, a gentle wood influence. Light gentle peppery spice. Some pleasing light apple tartness as well. 
Immensely drinkable, a great aged Caol Ila. The finish is really enjoyable. I wasn’t initially blown away by it, but the lighter cider notes just killed me and made me keep wanting more. That said, just a touch short of my personal A-range.  

Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 6

I’ve had plenty to say about how great I think Balvenie’s Tun 1401 releases have been. Batch 6 has just been released in the US and I had my first pour this week. I don’t have a greater backdrop for this one, but wanted to pass along my impressions of it very briefly while you can still find it.

Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 6 49.8% ABV
Nose:  Lighter and more delicate than previous batches. This has gentle hints of damp clay on a gray, slightly rainy autumn morning. A faint hint of leather, but it’s balanced upfront by the lighter and sweeter fruit notes. This batch shows some light passionfruit, a faint hint of peach, soft wood, a gentle bit of tobacco. The maltiness develops after a bit and some toffee shines through. Sherry notes emerge after even more time, giving hints of ripe red fruits.
Palate:  Nice mouthfeel, lightly oily. A bit of sweetness led by oranges with a hint of toffee behind it. A little light leathery quality; think of a new Coach wallet. A little lemon perks it up; there’s a hint of ripe cantaloupe adding some body. Light vanilla creaminess and some very gentle malt. A touch of tobacco and white pepper adding spice. Some wood adds a little firm body to this palate.
Finish:  Drier on the finish than the palate would suggest, tobacco and white pepper with oak that runs slightly bitter upfront and stays that way.
Comment:  Definitely one to sit with and let evolve. Tun 1401 doesn’t disappoint. The nose continues to evolve and hold surprise; the palate is a delightful mix of sweet and creamy. The finish is unfortunately off a bit with the bitter wood but it’s still really nice.
Rating:  B+

Bottom line? It’s still a great whisky, but it’s not at the level of Batch 3, which I still think is a world-beater. If you’re fortunate enough to find a bottle of #3, grab it. Otherwise, Batch 6 is still likely to be one of the better whiskies you’ll have this year. This will likely start hitting retailers soon so keep your eyes open. Now to wait until sometime next year for the next batch! LAWS has other perspectives on this but it’s unanimously B+ to this point (which is an impressive feat all by itself).

Macallan 1963 Rinaldi Special Selection

Macallan 1963 Rinaldi Special Selection – 43% ABV (dist. 1963, bott. 1980)
Nice, wonderful fruit notes lead – deep and powerful sherry with a good apple presence on top. Light touch of cinnamon and a slight whisper of nutmeg. Plenty of wood and a lightly mineral presence. A faint wisp of smokines. Light hint of grapes and maybe some white wine. A little figgy presence too.
Palate:  Mouth-coating and leading with a nice mix of light white pepper, woodiness and mint; a faint wisp of smoke on the roof of the mouth. A little light molasses note, some figs again, a touch of oranges adding brightness. Slight lemony note as well, but this is not overly citric. A little jammy.
Finish:  Nice. Old wood, a little zip of raspberries for a second, slightly minty top note, some figs and a bit of apple skin.
Comment:  Old Macallan, you’re so fun. A great mix of older and modern Macallan.
Rating:  A-

At the risk of this seeming like all-Macallan, all the time, I just wanted to feature one last fun old sample that didn’t have a broader set of samples around it. Back to other stuff next week!


Bunnahabhain Jubilee Malt II (“Extra Regal”)

Bunnahabhain Jubilee Malt “Extra Regal” (Second Edition) For The Whisky Barrel 54.5% ABV
Light, slightly musty and malty, earthy and woody. A little white wine presence. Some slight vanilla. Hints of cantaloupe, a bit of pineapple and pear. 
Nice and mouth-coating, a gentle white pepper heat. Woody, malty, a little musty again. Some pears, a little bit of cantaloupe. Late heat in the form of cinnamon. Light vanilla. Very light sherry. 
Warm initially on the finish. Pears, lightly estery, vanilla, malt and wood. 
Jubilee Malt 1 was the one to do. This one isn’t bad (and I might even throw in “for the price”), but it’s kind of anonymously malty. There are zillions of malts like this on the shelf. If you can’t find a cask strength 21y Bunnahabhain for less, go for this.

This one is still available at The Whisky Barrel. It’s not as fun as the first edition, but it’s still available. Compare it against similarly aged Bunnahabhains – it might be a deal.

Alright Already: Redbreast 12 Year Cask Strength

Seems like there was a law that all whiskey bloggers have to cover this one. The licensing bureau just sent me my notice that if I didn’t, my blog license would be revoked. I’d hate for that to happen, so without further ado..

Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength (Batch B1/11) 57.7% ABV
Nose:  A slightly thin nose that is also a little doughy – sugar cookies. Lightly piney, white pepper and pears are the leaders on the nose. Honey is a base for everything. A touch of cinnamon against the sweetness. Water actually brings up some oily and slight tarry notes and gives it a faintly floral top end.
Palate:  Rich and oily, faintly sour and with an extremely faintly tarry note. Honey and white pepper with a tiny dab of chili oil to heat things up. Some maltiness and some grain at the base of this. Again, water opens up a floral dimension, but really blows away the interest and complexity.
Finish: Warm initially, with that oiliness and some of the pine notes leading. Some wood shows up as it starts to last and it dries slightly. Long, lingering and warm finish.
Comment:  It’s Redbreast! It’s got that oily palate that’s familiar from prior tastings. It’s better than most Irish whiskies and worth a try. Unfortunately that doesn’t really bump it up into must-have territory.
Rating: B-

Yes, it’s better than the average Irish whiskey. Unfortunately that’s not saying a lot. If you can’t get Trader Joe’s Single Malt, which I think is a genuinely interesting mix of Irish peat and familiar Irish sweetness, this is probably the next best thing. If Irish whiskies are to your liking, huzzah! You’ve hit the peak and it’s reasonably priced. Sadly, they just don’t do a lot for me, so I have to hunt down cask strength bottles of Scotch whisky bottled in idiotic toy boats.

Still waiting for the Irish whiskey that will flip my lid.