Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Laphroaig 10 Year Old Original Cask Strength

Mark Twain once said, "Too much of anything is bad, but too much of a good whisky is barely enough." I basically agree with Mr. Twain's statement every time I find myself one-on-one with any delicious dram. I'm sure my fellow DOS contributors would admit the same. But, there comes a dram every so often that makes my eyes dart up from the glass edge, face light up like a child being told Santa left him the keys to his shop, and mouth stumbling and falling upon itself in an attempt to tell whoever is close how amazing it is.

Ok, you get the point. It's no secret that I am referring to one of my favorite bottles, the Laphroaig 10 Year Old Original Cask Strength. And yes, too much of this is barely enough.

Laphroaig has existed as one of my favorite drams since I originally developed a palate that could essentially handle, and enjoy, eating peat and having an after peat dinner cigar rolled of peat. But it was not until recently that I happened across a bottle of 10 Year Old Cask Strength at my local, off-the-beaten-path liquor store. The fact this isn't a store that gets a lot of traffic for scotch is probably a good thing because according to the label, this bottle's origin is Batch 001, Bottled Feb. '09, at a whopping 57.8%. For comparison, currently on the Laphroaig website the last batch of cask strength was bottled in January, 2011 at 55.3%. This fella is a huge, huge, delicious whisky.

Nose: Smoke on smoke. Imagine a peat fire that has somehow lit itself on fire. At the same time, there is an amazing deep sweetness that lofts through as a result of the charred oak. I also noted that the high alcohol content almost surprisingly slips by.

Palate: Ah yes. If you enjoy Laphroaig 10 Year, get ready. This expression is simply giving you a true experience of what it is like to sample the regular 10, almost right off the cask. I say almost because it is only barrier filtered. A ton of peat smoke delivers the medicinal dose of flavor with that delightful nutty vanilla sweetness.

I definitely use a splash of water to let it release, although I don't agree with the label on the back of the bottle which for some reason says adding more water than whisky is good.

Finish: At first breath post consumption, I half expect to see wisps of smoke trailing from my lips. Unfortunately, none. Next is where the alcohol content gets to strut a little. The syrupy sweetness slides down your throat and ushers in a quick, but pleasant tingle that lasts for over a minute or so. I can literally feel it in my gums. This is good my friends.

My final thoughts on my friend the Laphroaig 10 Year Cask Strength are simple. I plan to always have a bottle in my cabinet. Especially when you factor in the pretty reasonable price (I got it for $59), this fills the role of the complex, peaty, and smoky whisky in your collection. If you love big Islay whiskies, pour yourself a dram of this.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Master of Malt Order
Crowborough, East Sussex (UK)

Package arrived from the UK with some tasty treats!

Check out the Master of Malts website. You can buy full size bottles and 30ml samples (about the size of a dram). Many different single malts that you won't find in the US for reasonable prices.

  • The Balvenie Signature 12yr (Batch #4)
  • Glenlivet 33yr 1977 - Jim McEwans Celtic Heartlands
  • Macallan 22yr 1988 - Cask Strength Collection (Signatory)
  • Highland Park 30yr
  • Smokehead 18yr Extra Black
  • Laphroaig 10yr - 1999 Murray McDavid
  • Islay Mist Delux
  • Caol Ila 25yr - 1984 Cask 3637 - Cask Strength Collection (Signatory)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Balvenie PortWood (21yr, 47.6% alc)

This bottle was purchased at the duty free shop at Heathrow airport in London by my drug running cohort that goes by the nickname "The Wind". This 21yr concoction is a marriage of rare whiskies, matured in traditional oak casks and then transferred to fine port wine casks. David Stewart, the Balvenie Malt Master, samples this regularly to ensure that exact amount of flavor is reached from the port casks. Sounds like a miserable job...

So here I am...sitting in my living room, watching my beloved Cubbies lose the 2nd game of a double header, while I crack this gorgeous bottle of single malt heaven. The statuesque bottle had been staring me in the eye for about 2 weeks like a sad puppy that just lost his favorite bone. As I carefully unwrapped this gem, I thought long and hard before I poured. I tried to decide whether or not to dispense a conservative amount or to say f*** it and let 'er rip. You can probably guess which one I chose.

The color is a breathtaking reddish copper with a hint of dark chocolatiness. The provocative color gave off a very sweet yet elegant aroma. David Stewart suggests to give a few short sniffs, then fresh air and a few more short sniffs to catch the initial flavors. I roused the whisky and took my first taste. As the radiant elixir hit my tongue, it felt as if my taste buds were swashbuckling with battle axes made of hazelnut and caramel. The finish was that of a ravishing big fat silk sandwich on thickly sliced pumpernickel bread. It was DAMN good.

NOSE: A bouquet of fruity and ripe raisin notes, backed by a chocolately fragrance.

PALATE: Refined with remarkable character, it is creamy and silky with hazelnut, caramel and spice notes.

FINISH: Long, tender, symmetrical with a warmhearted aftertaste.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ardbeg Committee Summit 4/16/2011 Bottom Lounge - Chicago Whisky week

Spring is in bloom in Chicago! And as the snow melts and March Madness ends, Chitown dusts off the bagpipes and puts on the kilt. Why? It's Whisky Week! A full blown whisky lollapalooza of tastings, master distillers, and promotional events. Like throwing back many o' drams for a nominal fee or no cost at all? Hell yes you do! If you said no, leave this website, leave now. You have no frame of reference. You're like a child who wanders into the middle of a movie, and wants to know the plot. that could be the whisky talking...

Want to see what I'm talking about?

Below are photos from the Ardbeg Committee Summit on 4/16 at the Bottom Lounge. (Forgive me for aging my photos as I have, better late than never.) I went into the event having enjoyed the Ardbeg 10 and Uigeadail, nothing else. For a scotch brand that considers itself among the peatiest plus having tried the aforementioned, my interest is piqued. And to quote Jim Belushi from Delta House, "Don't cost nothing." Really?!

Outside the Bottom Lounge, this will be a great Saturday

Tasting-From left to right (newborn whisky [aged 1 week], 10 yr, Uigeadail, Corryvreckan, Alligator)

Dean and Mike sampling the goods

From Islay, the Smoquito (optional garnishes: bacon, cheese, ham chunks, pickles, olives)

Rachel Barrie (Ardbeg Whisky Creator/Master Blender) riding in on chopper to present the newest addition to the Ardbeg family, Alligator! -- Must be terrible, welcome to the rat race, Rachel!

Open bar, anything and as much as needed. How wonderfully generous, Ardbeg, I love you, major props! A great opportunity to get to know the different Ardbeg expressions.

Pre-release bottle of Alligator-This was the launch event for the upcoming release.

Alligator refers to the pattern of burnt wood within the aging barrels (level 4 charred bourbon barrels) resembles alligator skin. Available in June to Committee members, September for general sale. Absolutely delicious, a sweet taste with a definite burnt edge a few seconds in. I can see this being a permanent addition to my whisky collection.

Dwarf alert! Wait, I'm drunk, that's a huge bottle! Alligator being poured in the concert area.

The Ardbeg crew with a, a giant snake?? Whatever. Thanks, ladies!

Again, props to Ardbeg for putting on a great event (and for not being shy with the drams) during Whisky Week. Great scotch, fun events, stylish image, sold! Hope to see you next year...

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Glenlivet NĂ durra (16yr 59.7% alc)

This bottle was given to me as a gift last Christmas. My brother asked me what I wanted, so my kneejerk reaction was, "How about a bottle of Scotch? Surprise me." And surprised I was. This wildly complex dram springs forth from Speyside country in Scotland, but unlike its clanmates at the Glenlivet distillery this whisky remains unmolested by modern filtration techniques - hence the name. Nadurra is Gaelic for 'natural'. The lack of chill-filtering leaves the drink at 'barrel-strength' which is as imposing as it sounds. The alcohol content is enhanced, but so is the experience.

The price of $70 is not unreasonable given the nature of the product. It is meant to be savored, drunk slowly and in moderation. Besides, at 114 proof, more than a glass or two and you will literally be pissing the natural goodness right out the window (or off the roof, or into the neighbors bushes). But I digress...

On to the review:

NOSE: The initial whiff was a strong blast of ethyl, which reminded me of a doctor's office from my childhood. While I appreciated the nostalgia, my heart began to sink in preparation of oncoming disappointment. However, once my olfactory system had a chance to collect itself, a pleasant sweetened scent emerged. After leaving the doctor's office, I was treated to pleasing aromas of vanilla, honey, sweet bread and a hint of roasted almond.

PALATE: With such a paradoxical nosing, my taste buds were preparing for an equally perplexing experience. Again, I was surprised because the initial taste was quite unsurprising. The strength provided a mix of sweet and hot - an experience similar to Indian dishes featuring garam masala. Given the high alcohol content, this was surprisingly smooth and easy to drink. A bit dry, but this becomes an advantage later...

FINISH: The finish is where this whisky really lets you have it. I've consumed nearly half a bottle over the past few days simply to re-experience the long and complex end game between my perception and senses. When the flavor comes rushing in, my taste buds fire so many signals that my brain becomes hopelessly lost. Only after serious practice and mental fortitude was I able to decipher the messages transmitted from my tongue.

The start-of-the-finish is remarkably unsweetened - with a touch of peat, a splash of bitters, and dried flowers. After an interesting bit of tingle throughout the mouth, a complete about-face occurs and what seems to be a bowl of honey-nut cheerios materializes from thin air. Successive tastings have yielded similar sweetened cereal/grain experiences (banana bread, vanilla granola, etc...). This second stage finish is quite strong as well, filling the entire mouth with the sweetened grain. It is good.

FINAL THOUGHTS: The twists and turns provided by this whisky justify the entrance fee. The taste is good, and the finish is astounding. I did my tastings neat and chilled with whisky rocks. Adding ice brings a tad more flavor, but severely diminishes the characteristic aftertaste. Do yourself a favor and keep this away from the ice bucket. Very unique and worthy of a spot in your cabinet. Use it to impress your friends who are used to drinking the same ol' scotch. Or keep it for yourself as a nice cool-down after a tough day in the salt mines. Either way, this is the natural choice for your next bottle.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Longmorn Single Malt (16 year, 48% alc)

Like the shades of green covering the rolling landscape of the Laich of Moray, this well-respected but obscure whisky, has delicate, constantly changing properties and subtleties.  Since this is whisky in its most natural state - with nothing taken away- you may detect a slight haze when adding water or ice.

NOSE: Heavy at first, alcohol clears after the initial intake. With subsequent inhales, the fog lifts, revealing a unique sweetness, hinting at a nice honey-pear sunrise in my immediate future.

PALATE: The first splash (no water) burns the lips and tongue, fading away last on the back of the palate (5 secs), making a late resurgence (15 secs). The whisky contains strong sherry flavors typical in many other brands. What makes this special is the delicious sweet-malt coating left on the palate. Each
drink increases the coating, making each drink thereafter, that much better.

Adding water certainly helps open this drink up, revealing more of a grain and cereal taste. The honey sweetness is diminished in a transformative way, not necessarily bad depending on what you like in whisky and desire in complexity.
FINISH: The more I drink this, the more I dig the way this whisky leaves the palate; sweet and strong, ready for more. I'm a big fan of the stuff (whisky that is) in general, but this malt has a well-above-average finish in my mind. This one has a disappearing ink effect, starting strong, pretending to leave, then resurfacing as robust as ever.  Adding water did not alter the finish much at all, however the palate taste does change.

FINAL THOUGHTS: The Longmorn 16 yr is not a scotch you will come across often, at least in the US. I have never seen this in a liquor store or on a menu at a restaurant. This variety was highly recommended by an employee at World of Whiskies in Heathrow Airport to a colleague who was traveling internationally.  (Who can pass up tax-free scotch??)

Initially, I was impressed by the packaging. The box is held closed by hidden magnets and the bottle itself has a leather ring on the bottom acting as a coaster. Brilliant, right?

I had rolled the dice with this bottle, by bypassing some obvious winners such as the duty-free Balvenie 14 yr Golden Cask, or the deeply discounted Balvenie 21 year Portwood. In the end though, the Longmorn is winning me over. A very nice, sweet flavor and finish I have yet to find in another brand.

My international scotch mule, errr co-worker ;), is making another trip over "the pond" in a few months, can't wait!


Thursday, March 31, 2011

Glenlivet French Oak Reserve (15 year)

Selective maturation in new French Oak casks typically reserved for wine production makes this whisky unique among the Glenlivet family.  The rich, spicy notes, mingle and interplay with a fruity and floral bouquet.  A delicious whisky to savor.  

NOSE: Sweet, lingering floral scent.

PALATE: Strong beginning with a tantalizing blend of fresh French raisin muffins. Several seconds in, a light burn is soon accompanied by light licorice and nutty flavors.  Adding water, of course, softens the burn exposing subtle, yet delicate flavors of flat-out "tastiness". Kevin says, "It's good."

FINISH: Like a light warm breeze, it slowly fades leaving behind some of the floral notes and a refreshed palate.
FINAL THOUGHTS: A smooth and tasty step up from the Glenlivet 12. A modestly priced bottle, with above average value.  Good for the seasoned or beginning taster.

REVIEWED BY: Mike Giannangelo, Kevin O'Donnell