Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Whisky Review: Kilkerran WIP #7 Bourbon Wood Cask Strength

Glengyle distillery, one of the three remaining distilleries in Campbeltown, has been releasing a series of single malts over the last handful of years under the Work in Progress moniker. This has given fans a way to experience the distillery's output as it grows older in preparation for an official 12 Year slated for August 2016. The seventh release last year was nominally the last in the series and the only one so far to release anything at full strength, rather than 46%. It sold out rather quickly in Europe and has become fairly hard to find in the US, despite previous releases languishing on shelves for years. Let's see if it lives up to the hype.

This whisky was presumably distilled in 2004, filled into ex-bourbon casks, then bottled at 54.1% without coloring or chill filtration.

Thanks to Florin for the sample.

Kilkerran WIP #7 Bourbon Wood Cask Strength

Nose: big, rich, and dirty - lots of earthy Glengyle character with a slightly funky lactic edge, gentle mossy peat and floral notes, American oak caramel/oak/vanilla, cinnamon, sautéed mushrooms, cured meat, orange peel, raspberry. After adding a few drops of water the malt takes center stage, the peat becomes more herbal, some chocolate comes out.

Taste: malt/wood sweetness throughout, gentle oak tannins, thick berry notes, and mossy peat come in around the middle, and black pepper near the back. After dilution the sweetness becomes more clearly malt-based, the peat tones down a bit, and some fizzy floral notes come out at the back.

Finish: mild peat, sweet malt, a tannic edge, classic Campbeltown character, gingerbread

Yup, that's what I was looking for. While this has far more cask influence than the WIP #3 I tried a while back, it retains a lot of that spirit-driven character that I love about Glengyle. While clearly a Campbeltown malt and related to Springbank, I've been impressed that the Kilkerran releases I've tried have managed to maintain their own unique character. This bodes well for the distillery's future and makes me hope that they'll continue to release younger full strength malts in addition to the upcoming 12 Year.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Whisky Review: van Wees The Ultimate Clynelish 23 Year 1991/2014

Clynelish gets a lot of hype in the whisky community and old Clynelish gets even more. While a lot of this is for the peated releases from Brora, older Clynelish has gotten some of that shine. This makes is fairly rare to see many casks over 20 years old on store shelves anymore. But van Wees released these casks in their Ultimate series for a seriously low price.

This whisky was distilled October 29th 1991, filled into two hogsheads, then bottled on November 14th 2014 at 46% without coloring or chill filtration.

Thanks to Michael Kravitz for the sample.

van Wees The Ultimate Clynelish 23 Year 1991/2014 Casks #13213+13214

Nose: very rich, solid bourbon cask influence (caramel, oak, vanilla, nuts), sweet citrus peel (lemon, grapefruit), sealing wax, chalk, seashells/salinity, floral, berries, cured meat. After adding a few drops of water the berries and fruit notes dominate the nose and take on an almost oily sherried character, while the cured meat notes become strong enough to makes me think of peated whiskies.

Taste: big malt/wood sweetness up front with berry esters in the background, green tea overtones and beeswax underneath starting in the middle, fairly clean fadeout through more waxy character into muted grapefruit bittersweetness at the back, with a mild oak character throughout. After dilution the berry notes become much stronger and grape-ier while the oak at the back becomes sharper and more tannic, again almost mimicking a refill sherry cask whisky.

Finish: long, lingering, and evolving - bittersweet floral notes, salinity, clean malt, mild oak, wax, chalk

This is a bit of an odd whisky. The nose and finish are magnificent and everything I could hope for from an older Clynelish. The palate, in comparison, seems kind of unidimensional and uninspiring. There isn't anything flawed about it other than a lack of complexity. Michael had a similar take, but got slightly different notes. Not too surprising when he had a whole bottle to work through.

Still, it's hard for me to quibble given that van Wees released this at a fair bit under the going rate for Clynelish of this vintage, so you more or less get what you pay for. Or, more precisely, everyone who managed to buy a bottle did. It's been sold out for a while, so I'll have to turn elsewhere to scratch that old Clynelish itch.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Whisky Review: Pearls of Scotland Invergordon 42 Year 1972/2015

Not much to say about Invergordon that wasn't covered in the review of the younger Maltbarn release.

This was distilled in December 1972, filled into what was probably an ex-bourbon cask, and bottled in April 2015 at 46.6% without coloring or chill filtration.

Pearls of Scotland Invergordon 42 Year 1972/2015

Nose: lots of polished oak, fresh sawdust, sweet baked corn, a touch of Invergordon coconut, caramel/toffee, milk chocolate. After adding a few drops of water the sawdust takes over and pushed out the more polished oak, the coconut tucks into the oak, and the caramel is tamped down, and some vanilla comes out.

Taste: gobs of sweet oak and corn, some juicier fruit/raisin notes around the middle, then drier oak/sawdust and corn near the back. After dilution the oak gets a bit brighter but also expands across the palate and mostly washes out the fruit.

Finish: dry corn and oak, light coconut,

This is a big old oak bomb that will likely appeal to bourbon fans more than most single malt drinkers. With that said, I've had ten year old bourbons that hit a lot of the same notes for a tiny fraction of the price. Despite decades in the cask, this spirit doesn't seem to have developed much in the way of complexity. I suspect that a teenage Invergordon in a fresh oak or first-fill ex-bourbon cask would come pretty close. But that all comes with the caveat that this was a rather small sample and it's possible that I could have gotten more out of this with time and water. The folks reviewing it on WhiskyBase have a much higher opinion of it than I do.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Whisky Review: Maltbarn Invergordon 27 Year 1988/2015

Invergordon is the only remaining grain whisky distillery in Scotland outside the Lowlands. Owned by Whyte & Mackay, it is the only remaining grain whisky distillery that exclusively uses maize. It churns out a vast 40 million liters of spirit every year. As with other grain distilleries, only a minuscule fraction of this output is bottled as single grain whisky, but a decent number of casks make their way into the hands of independent bottlers.

This was distilled in 1988, filled into an ex-bourbon cask, and bottled in 2015 at 51.3% without coloring or chill filtration.

Maltbarn Invergordon 27 Year 1988/2015

Nose: acetone, coconut, diacetyl, corn, marshmallow/pink bubblegum, dry grass, musty oak. After adding a few drops of water the corn and coconut notes integrate, some light perfume, a touch of raisin, and toasted oak come out.

Taste: very sweet, increasingly creamy/buttery, coconut overtones, big artificial fruit flavor around the middle, becoming more drying with bigger coconut towards the back. After dilution the sweetness becomes more clearly corn based, the coconut transforms into raisin, the buttery character is amplified and spreads out, and more oak comes out at the back giving it a more bitter character.

Finish: dry corn grain, slightly bitter grass/oak, coconut

The difference between the maize-based mashes used by Invergordon and the wheat-based mashes used by most other modern grain distillers couldn't be more clear. The coconut notes seem to be a hallmark of Invergordon, which can be off-putting for a lot of people, but water tames some of that character and makes it more approachable. This is something I could see myself drinking and using effectively in blends, but given that it ran around $130, the value isn't there. At half that price, maybe, but I have yet to try a grain whisky that was anywhere near as good as a comparably priced malt.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Whisky Review: Pearls of Scotland Cambus 26 Year 1988/2015

Cambus was a grain distillery opened in 1836 that operated for more than a century until it was closed by UDV in 1993 as part of the broader program of consolidation that was taking place. While much of the site is still in use for filling and as bonded warehouse space, there is no indication that distilling will ever take place there again.

This was distilled in September 1988, filled into an ex-bourbon hogshead (judging by the number of bottles), and bottled at 47.8% without coloring or chill filtration.

Pearls of Scotland Cambus 26 Year 1988/2015 Cask #59232

Nose: bog standard grain whisky - wheat, caramel, a little vanilla, very light fruit/citrus. After adding a few drops of water the aromas become even more muted.

Taste: sweet grain up front, bubblegum, berry, and citrus peel overtones in the middle, creamy vanilla, becoming drier towards the back, where it takes on a slightly artificial (aspartame?) cast. After dilution the initial flavors are brighter and the fruit notes expand, the artificial notes come in around the middle, and grain becomes more prominent near the back.

Finish: slightly off/bitter grain notes, solvent/plastic, vanillin (rather than vanilla)

While I didn't find this as bad of an experience as my tasting notes would suggest, there's also nothing to recommend this whisky. I'm not getting anything out of it that you can't find in much younger and cheaper grain whiskies. While I think it could effectively fit into some homemade blends, the price is prohibitive for that purpose. Really, there's no reason to buy more than a sample for the sake of curiosity. The Whiskybroker Strathclyde that I sampled a while back had most of the good qualities and few of the defects of this Cambus, at the same or lower price.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Whisky Review: Signatory North British 16 Year 1997/2013 for Binny's

North British is a bit of an oddity for two reasons - first, ownership is shared between Diageo and Edrington. Second, it currently uses maize as its primary ingredient, unlike the bulk of other grain distilleries that use wheat. Additionally, it is the largest grain distillery in Scotland, churning out 65 million liters of spirit every year. While the bulk of that spirit goes to feed the blends of its respective owners, a few casks slip into the hands of independent bottlers that are chosen to be bottled unmixed with malt whisky.

This whisky was distilled on May 14th 1997, filled into an ex-bourbon barrel, then bottled on September 9th 2013 at 57.2% without coloring or chill filtration. It was hand picked as an exclusive for Binny's Beverage in Chicago.

Signatory North British 16 Year 1997/2013 Cask #246280

Nose: fresh wheat, vanilla, bourbon barrel (caramel, oak), berries, a touch of fresh vegetation. After adding a few drops of water the wheat gets a bit stronger while the barrel notes fade a bit, and a touch of something floral comes out

Taste: sweet wheat, honey, and oak up front, slowly transitioning into bittersweet chocolate as the tannins increase towards the back, berries and vanilla beginning around the middle and growing towards the back. After dilution the wheat and oak integrate - shifting it more towards a bittersweet mode, it has a more buttery mouthfeel, the berry notes become bigger and sync up with the oak, and some floral overtones come out around the middle.

Finish: bittersweet oak, dry wheat

Honestly, there's nothing terribly complex about this whisky. It reads a lot like a sweet and very smooth wheated bourbon due to the combination of (I think) being made largely from wheat and aged in what I'm guessing was a refill ex-bourbon barrel. Given that even older grain whiskies can often be somewhat flat and insipid, the bolder flavors here are a nice change of pace, especially as few of the flaws that can be found in young grain whiskies are in evidence.

North British 16 Year at 50%

Nose: relatively closed - wheat, maple syrup, vanilla, corn, raspberry

Taste: syrupy sweetness, grain-focused, berries in the middle, bittersweet near the back

Finish: alcohol, oak, dry grain

While not radically different than the other strengths, this one didn't offer much of anything new and the relatively closed aromas were a minus.

North British 16 Year at 45%

Nose: rather light - cream of wheat, berries, musky fruit, gentle oak

Taste: wheat and corn sweetness throughout, solid berry and muddled fruit notes in the middle, vanilla, herbal, bittersweet at the back with mild sherried tannins

Finish: vegetal, wheat, berries, gentle oak

With the exception of the alcohol burn and the intensity of the smells and flavors, this whisky remains remarkably consistent through different stages of dilution. Proofing the whisky down to this level didn't diminish its positive qualities, but did turn it into an exceptionally easy-drinking spirit. While I'm glad that it was released at full strength, doing it at 46% wouldn't have hurt too much.

In theory this should have been a really smart pick for Binny's - it hits a lot of the notes that appeal to bourbon drinkers while bringing big numbers at a very reasonable price. Unfortunately it appears to have taken several years to sell through, likely due to the lack of knowledge and interest in grain whisky. But more picks like this could really help to raise its profile in whisky geek circles if word gets out about the quality.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Whisky Review: Provenance Auchentoshan 12 Year/1999

Not a lot to say about this one. Despite the label, there is very little information about its provenance. It was distilled at Auchentoshan sometime in 1999, aged for at least 12 years in an oak cask, then bottled at 46% without coloring or chill filtration for Douglas Laing's McGibbon's Provenance line.

Provenance Auchentoshan 12 Year/1999

Nose: thick bourbon cask influence, spicy oak, a little sour and funky (Jamaican rum-style), overripe fruit. After adding a few drops of water the funk is amplified and it is much drier overall.

Taste: rich, creamy malt and American oak sweetness throughout, fading towards bittersweet at the back, generically fruity with dunder funk around the middle, soft oak tannins around the back. After dilution the funk grows much stronger and suppresses much of the sweetness, while the oak tannins also become stronger and more bitter at the back.

Finish: malt, oak, vague fruit, lingering funk

In most respects this seems like a fairly basic bourbon cask malt. The funkier notes that remind me of Jamaican rums. It's not impossible that this is a rum cask matured or finished malt, but that seems a little unlikely given that Provenance is the more bare-bones line of single malt from Douglas Laing.

But whatever the source, that character keeps it from being generic or boring. With that said, water amplifies the funk a bit too much even for me and throws the malt out of balance. Unless you're really into those notes - and even then you might as well drink Jamaican rum instead - I'd hold off on the water. This was already reduced as far as it could reasonably go.