Toast to Ernest Shackleton’s Birthday

Posted By Charlie on February 15, 2012

February 15th will mark Ernest Shackleton’s 137th birthday!

Toast the famed explorer with his favorite whisky, Mackinlay’s Rare Old HIghland Malt! In 1907, Irish-born explorer Ernest Shackleton, in preparation for his Nimrod expedition to the South Pole, shipped himself 25 crates of Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt. The expedition went awry and three of the whisky crates were abandoned in Antarctica along with the belongings Shackleton and his crew left behind.

A century later, the whisky was uncovered by the New Zealand Antarcitc Heritage Trust and sent to Scotland where Whyte and Mackay’s Master Distiller Richard Paterson recreated the whisky.

Cheers! Two years old today!

Posted By Charlie on February 14, 2012

Today marks the two-year anniversary of this blog.  I want to thank all of my readers and everyone who enjoys a good dram of scotch.

If you were looking for a reason to celebrate today I can’t think of a better reason to raise a glass.

Thank you again!

Review: Balvenie Doublewood 12 Year

Posted By Charlie on February 4, 2012

Balvenie 12 Doublewood

Balvenie 12 Doublewood

The vital stats
Country of origin: Scotland
Region of origin: Speyside
Type: Single Malt
Age: 12 years (finished in Sherry Oak casks)
Proof: 86 (43% ABV)
ScotchInfo.com score: 85/100

Packaging: The short and stout bottle is in a nice tube that explains the two kinds of woods used in the aging and it also gives you a heads up about some flavors to expect.  I like when a whisky respects its customers enough to give some hints, but also not labor on and on.

The bottle is closed with a cork stopper with a very nice wood handle.  This is perhaps the best cork topper I’ve seen yet.  This isn’t a super win or something, but it is something I notice after having opened many bottles of scotch in my years.  It’s that nice little something extra that is good to see.

To the eye: The light golden hue is on-point with many scotches in this age-range.

Nose: I get the typical heather and clover notes that Balvenie is known for, but the additional sherry sweetness manifests itself as a very pleasing melon and fresh fruit aroma.  Given the 43% alcohol I expected to need to use water to coax out some of the subtleties but I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of harshness.  The overall experience is like that of a much more mature scotch.

Palate: The first tastes are clearly of fine oaks.  There is a tangy, nutty honey from the wood that blends well with the cereal malty flavors.  These flavors are then surpassed by the sherry sweetness bringing a mix of raisins and dried peaches.  There is no alcohol burn to speak of: this is a very easy drinking scotch.

Finish: The sherry and oaky blends into a medium-length carmel apple flavor.  Very enjoyable.

Overall: I am very impressed with this scotch.  I often pick The Macallan when I’m not sure what I’m in the mood for and I seriously think any serious scotch drinker would have a hard time differentiating between this 12-year and The Macallan 12-year.  I am really enjoying this bottle and I am sure that I will pick up more of it so that I will never run out.  Often with bottles that I review I’m glad to have tasted them but I can’t see when I’ll invest more into that line again, but this one is a for-certain keeper at my bar.

It is not a super complex dram that will have you coming back for more to try and understand it.  It is simple and good: a combination that is often more difficult to achieve than complex.  One can just keep adding variety to a scotch through aging to make it complex, but to stick to a simple method and have good solid flavors is a nice treat.

Similar To: This scotch is very similar to its Speyside neighbor The Macallan 12 Year.  They both have a Sherry component.  This whisky has a little bit more oak and a little less sherry sweetness compared to The Macallan.  Depending on my mood I can prefer one or the other: do I want a nice sweet sipping scotch or something with a little more oak complexity.

Finding it: I’ve found this locally in my stores in Pennsylvania and I have seen it in NYC.  Perhaps not as common as The Macallan 12-year it is nearly so in my experience.  It should be within pretty easy access to you and luckily worth the drive if you have to shop around a little.

Who would like it: This is for the sweet scotch lover.  I often find that sweeter scotches are good introductory scotches.  Only rarely can someone not enjoy a tasty sweet scotch.

Who wouldn’t like it:If you need earthy peaty flavors to have a good time then you will need to look into a different bottle.

Pairing: I really like this scotch with earthy alty peanuts or chocolate.  I even had a dram with a hand full of chocolate covered raisins and the pairing with the fruit and the chocolate is good, but almost too close of a match to the sweet and fruity tones of the scotch.

Other comments: Balvenie is quickly becoming my favorite Speyside distillery.  They offer a variety of aging options from bourbon barrels, to sherry casks, to port barrels, to even the use of rum barrels.

What others are saying: Scotch Noob has a great reivew.  All Things Whisky’s review is quite good as well.

Review: Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Posted By Charlie on December 19, 2011

This is the scotch for all whisky reviewers to write about.  In the whisky world it seems that if you haven’t written about the Blue Label then you just haven’t written about scotch.  I’ve been saving this review so that it could be presented with a perspective; i.e. after I’ve already written numerous other reviews.  A discussion of this nature can not just be thrown out there without some perspective.

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

The vital stats
Country of origin: Scotland
Region of origin: Various, known to include some Islay
Type: Blend
Age: Unstated, but the whisky-world thinks it includes samples as old as 40 years
Proof:  80 (40% ABV)
ScotchInfo.com score: 95/100

Packaging: This is the best non-wood box packaging I have seen yet.  From the velvet lining to the novel that comes with the bottle to tell you the history of what you are about to enjoy, this is high-class all the way.  The bottle also has a unique blue tinting to it and it is amazingly thick at the bottom; it feels great in your hand.  My bottle also came with a little pull string to make removing the cap-lining that much easier.  Everything about this bottle and package is high class perfection.

To the eye: Like tarnished brass, the color is on the darker side of yellow/gold but not as amber as scotches aged in sherry casks.

Nose: The first impression when inhaling is how smooth this is on the nose.  There is no alcohol burn to speak of and this lets you inhale very deeply to coax out the subtle aromas of golden raisins, dried flowers, and just a weak hint of sea salt.  After several sniffs I get something that I can only describe as dusty nutmeg – an old dried spice that is clearly a background aroma.

Palate: Again, this is smooth and that is the immediate reaction to taking a sip.  Thus, like the nose, you can let is linger without burn and really enjoy this scotch for all that it has to offer, which sadly is not that much when it comes to complex flavors.  There are dried apples and plums mixed with tobacco leaf flavors that give way to brown sugar and then what I can only describe as a chocolate covered raisin, only with a high-quality 95% cacao dark chocolate.

Finish: The finish is of average length and it has a hint of Islay peat smoke this washes away quickly to sweet oolong tea.

Overall: I think the best analogy of this scotch is to a Mercedes.   It is expensive, it is of pretty good quality, but you can certainly do better for your money.  It is not bad, not by a long shot, but there are better options for cheaper prices.  It is also such a well known name that it is itself a status symbol, which is product of some excellent marketing.  Driving a Mercedes, sipping some Blue Label, it’s more about the statement about your wealth than it is a statement about your level of class.

If you have more money than brains, go ahead and buy a case.  If someone is kind enough to give you a bottle as a gift, thank them greatly.  But, don’t feel that you have to run out and spend your hard earned money on a bottle.  If you really can’t get it out of your system and you have to see what all of the fuss is about, get a dram at a bar on a special occasion.  Only then if you think it is worth it should you buy a bottle.

While I am totally in love with how smooth this scotch is and how absolutely amazing it is to drink, its luxury comes at a price that just doesn’t match to the lack of complexity, and that imbalance is what is this whisky’s downfall.  A touch more complexity, then the price is okay.  Or knock 30% off the price, and it seems a lot more reasonable for what you get.  Either way, at the end of the day, when you’re spending your money, this is not 100% perfection in a glass.

Similar To: This whisky is truly in a class all its own.  I’ve been scratching my head to find something comparable.  Perhaps Macallan 25 year is a good comparison for the sugary after taste and the overall smoothness, but I actually think JW Black Label is a good comparison of something that errs on the side of less complexity for its flavor.  On the nose, JW Gold and Blue are quite similar.

Finding it: Despite its high price this seems to be available nearly everywhere.  Bravo, the marketing team at Diageo is earning their keep on this one.  I can find this at my local down-the-street liquor store but for some reason I have to drive across town to the larger store to find Laphroaig 18-year.

Who would like it: For a scotch or just a whisky fan, this would be enjoyed by anyone.  This is the ultimate gift.

Who wouldn’t like it: If you can’t help but think about the dollars you’ve spent disappearing in front of you as you taste this, then move along as you clearly can’t handle the price to play.

Pairing: I would not recommend that something of this caliber have to fight against any other flavors. Please enjoy this whisky straight out of the bottle without any water or ice and please do not complicate its flavors.

Other comments: Although I knock this for its lack of complexity, don’t assume that it is boring.  It is subtle, it is refined, it is smooth, it is darn tasty, and I don’t want something overly complex so if you’re going to make any kind of mistake with a scotch it is better to err on the side of less complex.

What others are saying: Being the scotch to write about, naturally there are plenty of reviews available.

Jason reviewed it not once, but twice and I have to say that his core ideas are very much in line with my observations.

Review: Laphroaig Quarter Cask

Posted By Charlie on November 28, 2011

Laphroaig Quarter Cask

Laphroaig Quarter Cask

The vital stats
Country of origin: Scotland
Region of origin: Islay
Type: Single Malt
Age: 5 Years in regular barrels, 7 months in quarter casks
Proof: 96 (48% ABV)
ScotchInfo.com score: 86/100

Packaging: The regular Laprhroaig tube opens to reveal the regular-Laphroaig-shaped green bottle and the card for your plot of land or additional points in their club.  The  corked bottle stopper comes out easily after the foil top is removed.

The labeling tells of the history of distilleries using a quarter cask (described below) many years ago and why Laphroaig has brought it back.

To the eye: The color is an golden amber.

Nose:  At first there is some old leather aromas which give way to a medicinal iodine much like a soggy old band-aid.  Adding a little water brings out the earthy peat that we all know is Laphroaig’s signature.

Palate: Medicinal iodine, seaweed, bonfire smoke, and dirty peat roll around in an oily bath.  With a little water I can coax out a bit of toffee (caramelized sugar).

Finish:  The finish is simply intense.  The smoke fills your head and warms your heart.  The long finish is punctuated with a slight bit of ash at the end.

Overall:  This scotch is amazingly smooth and enjoyable for its age.  This is achieved by Laphroaig’s use of a “quarter cask” or what is really a barrel that is one-quarter the size of their normal barrel.  This means that the surface area to content ratio is higher, thus more of the whisky that is aging inside has a chance to mingle with the oak of the barrel.  This serves to impart the flavors from aging more quickly.

This faster aging yields a final product that is more on-par with 16-year and 18-year vintages as far as complexity, but it does still suffer some smoothness due to its true age.

Similar To:   This bottling is similar to the Laphroaig 18-year and the Lagavulin 16-year bottlings as far as complexity and intense Islay/peat flavors, but it is behind both in smoothness and refinement.

Finding it: So far this seems to be a readily available, world-wide offering from Laphroaig and if you can find their 18-year surely you can find this product as well.

Who would like it:  For for the person who likes peat this is simply dazzling.  For the routine Laphroaig drinker that might want a cheaper alternative to their 18-year, they should give this a serious thought as a daily dram.

Who wouldn’t like it: If you prefer sweat or just hate peat this is not for you.  Don’t even bother giving it a try in a wee dram, you will not only hate it, but you’ll have to put up with its long finish for quite a while.

Pairing:  The bold flavors stand up well to many things including salty snacks, but I’ve found a good sharp cheese such as one from Crackerbarrel makes a tasty combination.

Other comments: If the aging is merely 5 years in regular barrels and then just 7 months in the quarter casks, can you imagine what the result of doubling either of those ages?  I dream of a 10-year finished for just 12-months like this.  That would surely be heaven in a bottle.

Or, dare I say it, 10 years + 2 years.

What others are saying: Please bear with me as I look for good links to share with all of you.  I first write my own review and then I go looking for others.  I will update this space after I return from my US Holiday for Thanksgiving.

New Link: Jan’s Whisky Paradise

Posted By Charlie on November 25, 2011

I am once again happy to announce yet another link to yet another fine scotch/whisky related site.

This time it is for Jan’s Whisky Paradise and Jan has been posting here on this blog after I linked to another that we both found to be excellent.  Jan has many great reviews and I look forward to seeing more.

Happy Thanksgiving

Posted By Charlie on November 24, 2011

I hope that all of you are having a happy Thanksgiving.  And if you’re particular corner of the world doesn’t celebrate this holiday I hope that you can find something today to celebrate anyway.

Cheers to you!

New Link: WhiskyCritic.com

Posted By Charlie on November 23, 2011

I’m happy to announce a new link from this blog to the whisky reviews at whiskycritic.com.

Review: Glenfiddich, 12 Year

Posted By Charlie on November 21, 2011

Glenfiddich, 12 Year

Glenfiddich, 12 Year

The vital stats
Country of origin: Scotland
Region of origin: Speyside
Type: Single Malt
Age: 12 years in new oak
Proof: 80 (40% ABV)
ScotchInfo.com score: 78/100

Packaging: The round tube contains the three-sided green bottle. The cork opens easily after removing the cap revealing a slightly larger than normal mouth on the bottle.

After removing the seal I found that mine left a little ridge that would poke my hand when I removed the cork stopper. This is the only bottle in my vast collection of whiskys to have had this behavior. I’m hoping it was just a bad sample that didn’t tare as it was designed.

To the eye: The sunlight color is well known to come from addatives so who can be sure of its natural color, but it is made to look the part of a good 12 year vintage.

Nose: Apples and pears coated in honey with vanilla clearly backing it up.

Palate: A spicy fruit, particularly apple but perhaps pear. A hint of honey is present behind the spice. Although it is smooth and creamy for a 12 Year, the spice is fighting the fruit.

Finish: A little bit of a nutty oak wood is present during the medium finish.

Overall: This is a pretty good scotch for a 12 year. Not the greatest of this vintage, but when its price (roughly $30~$40US per bottle) is factored in, then in a ratio of price to performance it is a good buy. It has enough complexity to it to be enjoyable and as a top-shelf mixer it can’t be beat with Coke or even a little Tripple Sec and bitters.

Similar To: This similar to the Glenmorangie 10 Year (known as The Original) in both its spice and roughness. It is also quite similar to Glenlivet 12 Year for its fruitiness.

Finding it: The Glenfiddich 12 Year is widely available, in fact it is one of the most popular single malts in the world and thus it is at every bar and liquor store the world over.

Who would like it: This a good introductory single malt, especially if the taster might not like peat flavors found in the Islay bottlings. It might be too spicy for some so perhaps something with some sherry aging would be a slightly better first-timer scotch, but given the availability this is still a good whisky.

Who wouldn’t like it: If you demand very smooth, very sweet, very complex, or lots of peat then you should look elsewhere.

Pairing: You can enjoy this scotch paired in a mixed drink or with some salty peanuts.

I have no objections to a first-timer enjoying this drink on the rocks, especially since its alcohol content is 40% and might be above what someone is accustomed to drinking.

Yes, that’s right, I’m not objecting to the use of ice with scotch. Many people look down their noses at those who enjoy a dram on the rocks, but if that’s how you enjoy it, who am I to tell you that you’re happiness is wrong? And for the newcomers to world of scotch, I’ve never heard of something being scared off by a drink being too easy to sip or enjoy but I know of many that find trying one harsh drink will keep them from ever trying another one like it again. (For more information about how to best enjoy scotch, please see this other post)

Other comments: This the best selling single malt scotch in the world, and its popularity is well deserved. It isn’t harsh and it is a great “Welcome!” to any first time single malt taster.

What others are saying: Overall, I agree with much of what this reviewer had to say and their report is well written, too.

Many blogs really rip on this whisky but many reviews are poorly written by anonymous folks so I won’t link to them. I did find that the ScotchNoob rating was well written in their “Not Recommended” conclusion, even if I don’t fully agree with that conclusion.

In looking around at various anonymous web reviews I thought I had the highest rating, but then I found this review.

This review is outstanding and I think I’m going to have to look into more of their reviews in the near future as I really like their writing style and their observations are excellent. Perhaps it is because I’m a geek as well that I like their writing so much.

So it seems that my findings are not in line with the mass of haters out there, but I’m clearly not the biggest fan, either.

On the road: whisky shopping in NYC

Posted By Charlie on November 19, 2011

I’m in one of my favorite cities in the world: New York City, and I just got back to my hotel room after a shopping trip to Warehouse Wines and Spirits down by NYU. Here is a picture of my purchases there:

Four Whiskys From NYC

Four Whiskys From NYC

The Dalmore (the one on the left) is for me, while the other three are for a good friend of mine who enjoys whisky as well. They are the Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition 1996, Laphroaig Batch 002, and Midleton Very Rare.

My Dalmore is a Highland scotch that spent 60% of its time in used Sherry Oak and 40% in new American Oak. I can’t wait to taste that and write a review. Its color is so alluringly dark it must be amazing.

The three for my friend are ones I’ve had before and other than a Macallan 18 I’d say they are the top of my favorite list, and thus good things to get for my friend.

My apologies for the poor quality of the photo, but I shot that and wrote this post all from my cell phone.