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Archive for the ‘blends’ Category

Introduction

Ok, it’s been a LONG while since Master of Malt announced their Blogger’s Blend contest. But dammit, I bought the samples and took my notes, and wrote most of this article 2 months ago, so I’m going to do a blog post on it. :-)

In short, the idea behind the Blogger’s Blend is to have 10 popular whisky bloggers concoct their own blend from a special blending kit provided by Master of Malt. MoM would then package up samples of all 10 blends and let the people decide which is the best value for the money. The winner would be bottled and released by MoM. Pretty cool! The sample set was priced at around $48, taking conversion rate into account. Add shipping and you’re in the $70 neighborhood. Pretty steep, and I almost didn’t do it, but I wanted to support my fellow bloggers.

I thought about posting my notes on all of the blends, but most people are never going to have access to them all, and besides, there are already good accounts of the whole set available. Check out Whisky Notes for one of the best round-ups. I’m going to provide notes for Blend “I”, which is the one I picked as my favorite. The samples came with an information sheet, which listed the amount that each blend would cost if it wins. The prices range from £36 to £68, with Blend I priced at £55.

Tasting Notes

Nose: A little bit of lemon and coal smoke combination like Caol Ila. A little bit of tar like Laphroaig. Very relaxed, though, tamed perhaps by the grain and other malts in the blend.
Palate: Peaty, a little sweet, but most notable for what’s not there…I just don’t taste anything that reminds me of cheap grain whisky at all in this one.
Finish: Longer than many of the other Blogger Blends, but medium in the grand scheme. Smoke in the back of the nostrils that once again reminds me of Caol Ila. It’s peaty, yet delicate at the same time.

Comments: I swore going into this that I wouldn’t get sucked in by my islay-leaning preferences, but dang it…I love this whisky! Of all of the malts and blends I’ve tried over the past 3+ years, this might be the one that I would most like to use as an introduction to Islay peat smoke for smoky whisky newbies. It reminds me of Johnnie Walker Blue with its ability to present smoke on the nose and in the finish, while also going down smoothly and not overwhelming at any stage in the drinking process. Well done! A solid B rating in my book.

Conclusion

Since trying the set of blends and voting for Blend I as my favorite, I’ve learned that “I” was indeed the first place vote getter, and apparently by a wide margin. Well, at least if I was duped by the prominent use of Islay whisky, I wasn’t the only one. I really do think this offers an experience similar to what you get from JW Blue (but with a narrower flavor profile). I don’t think the Blogger’s Blend is as complex as the $200 Blue Label, but for the area where the two intersect, I think “Blogger’s Blend I” accomplishes the same feat of making a smoky whisky easy and enjoyable to drink (though Blend I leans more towards an Islay smoky profile than JW Blue). It has an easy going finish that will leave the occasional whisky drinker marveling at how “smooth” it is.

Unfortunately, another way it’s similar to JW Blue is that, as a whisky enthusiast, I’m having a hard time justifying the purchase of a bottle relative to the many brilliant single malts available at the same or lower price point. Actually, if I lived in the UK and could avoid the shipping cost, I would probably buy a bottle.

So, why did I choose one of the most expensive whiskies as the “winner”, when we’re supposed to be taking value into account? My justification is that even the least expensive blend is expensive by blend pricing standards. For comparison, many people think Johnnie Walker Gold is a good value at $70 relative to some super expensive whiskies, even though it’s 3.5 times more expensive than JW Black. That’s where I’m at with these blends. Blend I is to JW Gold as several of the other blends are to JW Black. It’s just that they’re all more expensive than I would like.

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Introduction

I bought a 200ml bottle of JW Gold a while back to see what all of the fuss was about (people seem to rave over this particular expression relative to the more expensive JW Blue). I also have a 200ml bottle of JW Blue that I got from, of all people, a marketing firm representing Chivas Regal. I got it along with a 200ml Chivas 18 bottle just before Christmas, as did a bunch of other online bloggers and spirits writers. I find the Gold/Blue comparison much more interesting than Chivas 18/JW Blue, so that’s what I’m going to write about in this post.

Johnnie Walker's Gold and Blue

Taste Comparison

Nose:

  • JW Gold – Slightly medicinal, earthy peat, and some smoke. There is also some toffee sweetness and wood of the cedar block variety. There really seems to be a strong Talisker presence.
  • JW Blue – There is peat and smoke, but it’s more subdued than with Gold. Then a really rich vanilla and dried red fruits. You really have to stick your nose in there and take a big whiff to get the most of it. There is also a really nice cinnamon/nutmeg presence.
  • Comments – On first sniff, the Gold stands out, and would probably appeal more to the single malt aficionado. Though more subtle, the Blue is overall darker, richer and more complex. More luxurious, if you will.

Palate:

  • JW Gold – Ugh…what happened? It’s totally flat, like a Talisker watered down to 15% abv. Nothing offensive, but pretty forgettable.
  • JW Blue – Much thicker palate than the Gold, with a nice sweet peat flavor. There’s some white pepper that adds life to the party, but doesn’t overwhelm.
  • Comments – Big win for J.W. Blue.

Finish:

  • JW Gold – A nice burst of peaty smoke rushes up the back of the nostrils. On the tongue, however, it continues to be flat, leaving a grainy taste on the tongue that reminds me of a younger blend.
  • JW Blue - More subtle hints of smoke in the nostrils, with hints of peat and toffee sticking to the tongue for a while. No graininess or anything off-putting.
  • Comments – The Gold was off to a great start, but screamed blend on the tongue. Neither one of these stands out on the finish relative to a good single malt, but your occasional drinker friends will delight in proclaiming how smooth the JW Blue is.

Conclusion

The bottling code on my 200ml bottle of Johnnie Walker Gold starts with L4, which I understand to mean it was bottled in 2004. When I read  reviews of J.W. Gold by Jim Murray, Paul Pacult, and by numerous single malt aficionados on message boards, I can’t help but wonder if something less than ideal happened to my bottle between the time it was produced and the time I bought it. I mean, it’s got a great nose, and the finish has its moments, but it’s otherwise so flat, I find it hard to believe it would get such raves. I like it just fine, and would probably give it a solid 84 points on my scale. It would need a much more memorable palate and finish to rate more highly.

Johnnie Walker Blue provides a thoroughly enjoyable blended whisky experience. Where as the Gold had me imagining I could taste specific distilleries…Talisker, Oban or Clynelish, etc., the Blue had me thinking of the actual flavors…smoke, berries, spices. It has been blended into its own flavor profile that hits on a lot of notes that I tend to favor. The nose is a bit reserved, but it rewards time and effort. There’s enough complexity to keep you interested for a while, and it’s super smooth. Just right for the occasional scotch drinker who wants to experience a luxury spirit. I’m going to rate it 88 points.

Is the J.W. Blue worth the $175 – $225 price that it typically commands? On taste alone, of course not. But that’s not the point. As a gift to impress somebody, the Blue Label should satisfy, with its distinctive packaging and prominent recognition (due to great marketing). I’d much rather drink Laphroaig 30 year, which was going for $200 to $250 a couple of years back, but will the occasional drinker appreciate that one as much? What about the fact that you’re going to have to sit there and explain to them why it’s a “special” whisky, and why it’s about the spirit inside, not the bottle/box it comes in? I don’t have any immediate plans to purchase a 750ml bottle of J.W. Blue, but I don’t have any issue with others doing so, and if I were to get this as a gift, I’d be very appreciative and enjoy drinking it. There’s definitely a place for a whisky like this, and I think it hits the mark for what they’re trying to accomplish.

Cheers,
Jeff

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Introduction

The Last Drop Whisky

I guess I never did a write-up on the local Compass Box tasting at Sportsman’s I went to a couple of months ago. I’ll have to pull out my notes and do that. That tasting serves as a good example of why I love to get out there and be a part of the “whisky community.” First, I got to try Spice Tree, which still hasn’t made it to Arizona. Second, I scored the last few milliliters of a miniature bottle of The Last Drop (along with the bottle) from one of the guys at the store. It was only around 7 or 8 ml…just enough for one swirl around the tongue and down the hatch. But hey, at $2,000 a bottle, and only 348 bottles imported to the U.S., just being able to take a whiff of it was a special treat, let alone taste it.

Three industry veterans scoured the Scottish countryside before happening upon the three casks that make up this release in an Auchentoshan warehouse. The casks contained a blend of around 70 malt whiskies and 12 grain whiskies, originally distilled in 1960 or earlier. In 1972, then blended whisky was moved into fresh Sherry butts where it sat until being “discovered” in 2008. This truly is a rarity, and a one of a kind bottling. For more on the story, check out this interesting article Bostonist.com, or check out the various information pages at lastdropdistillers.com.

Tasting Notes

Not a tasting note, but check out the color in the picture. I don’t believe I’ve quite seen that shade of brown in a Scotch whisky before.

  • On the nose, the first thing that hit me was that I seemed to be smelling a bourbon, not a Scotch. A very nice bourbon, mind you. It’s sweet, with dark fruit, cinnamon and toffee. Definitely oaky, like you might get from a really good 17-20 year bourbon. You can tell it was aged in sherry casks, too, but I don’t think I would ever guess 36 years worth.
  • On the palate, it coats the tongue nicely, with a reasonably thick feel. So smooth and easy on the tongue, yet still very present, with a nice tingle on the sides of the tongue like there’s a bit of pepper, followed by drying. Argh…after nosing this periodically for a couple of weeks before finally drinking it, I sure wish I had more than a few ounces so I could give it another go!
  • The finish is where this whisky stops seeming like a bourbon, and asserts itself as a very old scotch whisky. It’s what i imagine a 30 year old Aberlour a’bunadh would be like. Again, my small sample is gone all too quickly, but fortunately, it’s lingering for a good long time.

I mentioned a theoretical 30 year Aberlour a’bunadh in the “finish” notes. Based on my very small sample, if I were to try to come up with my own recipe to mimic this blended scotch, it would be a vatting of Parker’s Heritage Golden Anniversary bourbon and a little bit of that imaginary 30 year a’bunadh. Maybe it’s because I’ve really come to appreciate good bourbon lately, but this whisky hit all of the right notes for me.

Conclusion

I’m in love with this whisky. I love the taste. I love the exclusivity of it. I love the simplicity of the packaging. The attitude of the guys I talked to at the Compass Box tasting, who had already tried it, was that it is a good whisky, but no way is it worth the price. I totally get that. I mean, is it really worth almost an order of magnitude more than I paid for my Laphroaig 30 year, based on taste alone? No way. However…

The Last Drop combines a great story with a rich, yet accessible taste. It’s one of those whiskies that you can sit with and nose in the evening while listening to your favorite music and contemplating life. Even better, it would be a great whisky to share with close friends on a special occasion. It’s so well balanced and free of “nasties” that any whisk(e)y drinker should be able to enjoy it. Granted, some will find it lacking if they prefer certain big flavors like peat, but that shouldn’t stop them from being able to enjoy it. What’s especially unique about this whisky is the way it can appeal to both bourbon and scotch drinkers. I’ve never tasted anything quite like it, and I guess there’s a good chance I never will again.

A HUGE thank-you to Bill at Sportsman’s for letting me try this.

Cheers,
Jeff

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Introduction

There is a liquor store between home and work that sells a lot more beer kegs than whisky, but they do have a pretty good selection of the good stuff, including some bottles that have been sitting around for several years. I stopped in to look for something I can’t find at my usual haunts, and saw a few bottles of White Horse Extra Fine blended scotch sitting on the bottom shelf. I haven’t seen this anyplace else, and I thought I had heard good things about White Horse on the whisky forums. It’s aged 12 years, bottled at 40% ABV, and priced at $33.

White Horse Extra Fine 12 years blend

White Horse Extra Fine 12 years blend

I picked up the box, and read that “the powerful, smoky flavors of the aged Lagavulin combine in perfect harmony with the mellow, rounded character of Glen Elgin and the sweet aromatic flavors of Craigellachie to produce an outstanding quality Scotch Whisky for the truly discerning drinker.” A blend based on Lagavulin? Sold! I had to try a bottle.

Tasting notes

On the nose, I immediately pick up signs of sherry cask aging. There are dark fruits (prunes) and figs. It’s not a sherry bomb, reminding me more of single malts that are 40-50% aged in first-fill sherry casks, like some Highland Parks and Dalmores. Also hinting at some sherry aging is a light sulfur presence. Not enough to turn me off, though. Finally, there is a pretty strong toffee sweetness. Sometimes I thought I picked up hints of smoke, but then it would disappear. I also thought there was some orange, until I tried it next to Dalmore 12, then I wasn’t so sure. Orange came out in the Dalmore and disappeared from the White Horse in the comparison.

On the palate, it’s very sweet, and quite mild. It does, however, have just a bit of pepper that builds after a couple of seconds, and some hints of spices like ginger and cinnamon. That’s a nice touch, but it doesn’t compare to higher proofed, stronger tasting single malts.

The finish is short to medium on the tongue, but there’s still a little pepper and some pleasant drying, along with a slight malty presence. There’s also just a little bit of “grain aftertaste” on the back sides of the tongue that I seem to get with most blends (and vodka). Meanwhile, some smoke finally makes an appearance, enveloping the fruits from the nose and hanging in the back of the nostrils for a medium period of time.

Conclusion

You’ll note that I didn’t say anything about Lagavulin similarities in the tasting notes. That’s because there is nothing even remotely resembling the iodine and smoke that makes Lagavulin so recognizable. So, I must have been terribly disappointed by this blend, right? Quite the opposite. White Horse 12 year just shot to the top tier of my blended whisky list.

I  really enjoyed the sweet, fruity nose. It was perhaps the closest to a pure malt that I can recall in a blend. I’m also a big fan of mixed sherry/bourbon cask whiskies, so my impression of this being similar to HP or Dalmore in this regard fit right into my preferences. Finally, the palate and finish were just interesting enough to keep me coming back for more, and there wasn’t much in the way of detractions. One thing lacking was much of a wood influence, which I look for (not too much, though) in a fully balanced whisky.

Overall, this is a very good whisky, and not just for a blend. I highly recommend trying this if you can find a bottle. I’d rate this 85/100 points for having lots of good points and very few bad ones. To rate it higher, the palate/finish would need to be a little more interesting, and I would want at least some level of noticeable wood influence.

Availability and other opinions

I can’t find White Horse Extra Fine in any of the larger liquor stores locally, or the online stores that I frequent. I’m not sure if this isn’t made anymore, or if it’s just primarily sold in other markets. I also can’t find any reviews in the whisky publication online sites, or the better known blogs. If you’re familiar with this particular blend, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. I’d also be interested in hearing about any “official” reviews out there. This seems too good to go completely unnoticed. Or maybe I’m just too easy to please.

I did manage to find a couple of online references to White Horse 12:

  • LA Whisky Society: Type “White Horse” into the search box at the top of their main page. A couple of the LA Whisky Society members rated Extra Fine 12 year. Their minimal notes are a bit different from mine, but they do give it a B+ rating.
  • Whisky.com: A page dedicated to the White Horse blends. The text from the box of 12 year Extra Fine is included, and check out the links to the distilleries that are used in the White Horse blends. While I didn’t find much to remind me of Lagavulin, I can certainly believe that Glen Elgin and Craigellachie play a significant role in the flavor of this blend, based on the distillery profiles.

Quick Take

You can read about my attempt at a rating system here.

White Horse 12 Extra Fine

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Introduction

I recently purchased miniature (50ml) bottles of Chivas Regal 12, The Glenlivet 12, and Glenfiddich 12 so that I could compare the three and see if any one of them stands out as an entry level value for a “light” whisky. When I call them “entry level” whiskies, I mean that in two ways. First is price. I can get Chivas for $20 and the ‘livet for $26. The ‘fiddich 12 has gone up recently in Phoenix, and now goes for $35, but it used to be closer to the Glenlivet. The other way you might consider these to be entry level whiskies is in the approachability of the flavor. All three are very light drinks, and are significantly less imposing on scotch newbies than, say, something from Islay. For this comparison, I was especially curious about the Chivas Regal 12 given the lower price (at least locally), and wondered if it could stand up to the single malts.

Three miniatures

Three miniatures

Tasting notes

On the nose, all three start out at with a common base of apples and pairs, with the Chivas perhaps offering up some peaches as well. All three are also sweet, but they diverge here, with Glenfiddich reminding me of brown sugar, Chivas Regal being more caramel/butterscotch, and the Glenlivet having a lighter honey sweetness. The Glenlivet also stands out as being more floral (and a bit more lively) than the other two. The Glenfiddich seems to have a maltiness, and perhaps a little bit of mixed nuts that I didn’t notice in the others.

The palate is pretty tame for all three. The Glens retained their fruit flavor, and the malty flavor from the Glenfiddich nose is evident in the mouth for both. The Chivas Regal seems to be more on the sweet side in the mouth, with the caramel/butterscotch continuing. I’m also getting what I perceive to be a walnut-like bitterness with both the Glenfiddich and the Chivas. Once again, I feel like The Glenlivet is just a touch more lively, with the Chivas being the weakest.

On the finish, there’s nothing to write home about for any of these. The finish just isn’t where it’s at for these whiskies. Once again, the Chivas is the weakest. It just goes away as soon as you swallow it. The malt flavor on the two Glens comes up through the nostrils a bit, as does the floral element on the Glenlivet.

Conclusion

As you might have guessed from my notes, I didn’t find any of these to be “remarkable.” However, that doesn’t mean I don’t like them. I thought all three were very pleasant on the nose, and they were extremely easy to drink. All three have a very light profile that makes them suitable for any time of day. Being into whisky as a hobby, I’ve got a pretty good stock at home, and I don’t plan to rush out and buy any of these. However, if I find myself killing time in an airport lounge some afternoon, I won’t hesitate to order any of these three easy drinkers.

I don’t intend to fill out full “Quick Take” report cards for these three. Especially since I only have miniatures, so I can’t do extensive, multi-day analysis. However, these fit perfectly into the C+/B- range in my rating system. They’re enjoyable drinks, but somewhat forgettable. Based on palate/finish, the Chivas is the most quickly forgotten. For my tastes, the Glenlivet stood out slightly above the others just because it seemed a little more lively and interesting. I’ll go ahead and throw out some rating numbers and notes on value:

  • Chivas Regal 12 – 79/100 (Value: Seems like a good deal at $20, but I’d shell out the extra $7 for the Glenlivet)
  • Glenfiddich 12 – 80/100 (Value: Not sure what the deal is with the current local price. For $5 more, I’d definitely purchase the 15 year over this)
  • The Glenlivet 12 – 81/100 (Value: Hard to go wrong with this at $27)

Other opinions

Rather than posting a bunch of links for all three whiskies, I’ll just point you to a YouTube video review for each one. You won’t have any problem finding other opinions with a Google search.

  • The Glenlivet 12 [IslayScotchWhisky]
  • Glenfiddich 12 [ralfystuff] – Ralfy also reviewed The Glenlivet 12 here.
  • Chivas Regal 12 [peatluvr]

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Introduction

Black Bottle 10 Year

Black Bottle 10 Year

Tonight I’m trying Black Bottle 10 year blended scotch whisky, bottled at 43% alc./vol. On the bottle, it says “Finest Scotch Whisky with a Heart of Islay” When they say it has a heart of Islay, they mean it. This blended whisky apparently contains whisky from all 7 Islay distilleries (this is pre-Kilchoman). Black Bottle is owned by Burn Stewart Distillers, who also own Bunnahabhain [boon-a-havn], so you can expect for there to be a fair amount of that particular Islay single malt in this blend. Of course, as a blend it also contains grain whiskies. When I first bought this bottle, I tried it by itself and liked it. However, I immediately ran across postings in the Whisky Magazine forums that recommended mixing in a few drops of your favorite Islay single malt. Black Bottle does a great job of taking on the character of that malt, and I discovered that I really enjoy it with a few drops of Caol Ila or Ardbeg. Tonight, however, I’m focusing on Black Bottle 10 as a stand-alone whisky.

Tasting notes

On the nose, there seems to be a cereal grain scent that gives away the fact that this is a blend, perhaps even a hint of rubber. Leaving the glass sitting for a bit, this seems to go away almost completely. Now, getting down to business…I get fruit over sweet peat that reminds me of a combination of Bunnahabain and Caol Ila. There’s also some smoke there, but not a big camp fire smoke like Ardbeg or Lagavulin. Finally, there seems to be a fresh wood component, and maybe a hint of iodine that reminds me of Laphroaig QC or 10 CS.

The palate is very gentle and fruity. The feel reminds me of Bunnahabhain 12. This is such a warm, friendly spirit. No bite at all from the grain whiskies. It’s not a heavy body, but it’s not watery either. Thankfully, they bottled it at 43% and not 40%.

On the finish, there is a smoke that seems to separate from the spirit and rise up through the nostrils. Once again, I’m reminded of Caol Ila, more than the smoke from any of the other peaty Islays. It’s not as strong or as long lasting as a straight Caol Ila, though. The remaining liquid on the back of the tongue once again reminds me of Bunnahabhain 12. No…it IS Bunna 12. It’s a sweet, malty flavor that’s fairly light, but does stick around for a little while. It’s interesting how these components separate on the finish and co-exist as two completely different entities.

Conclusion:

This really is a wonderful blend, and a fantastic introduction to the world of Islay malts. It tastes great by itself, and it can transform into your favorite Islay single malt (especially Caol Ila) just by adding a few drops. Unfortunately, Black Bottle is no longer producing this 10 year expression. I believe their younger NAS (No Age Statement) bottling is the only one currently in production. Here in AZ, however, I can still find the 10 year in a number of stores for $35-$40, but have yet to see the NAS. I’ve read that the NAS expression is very good as well, but if you have a chance to pick up this 10 year, I strongly recommend doing so while you can.

You’ll see really high scores in the Other Opinions below, but I’m thinking those are relative scores, taking into account that this is a blend. I feel like a score of around 84/100 is appropriate for this very enjoyable whisky, relative to the other whiskies I’ve tried. The price makes it an incredible value. As a blend, this is an amazing whisky, and one you should try to get into your cupboard.

Other Opinions

  • Malt Advocate – 93 points…wow! In their ratings scheme, it does say that this means it’s “one of the best for its style.”
  • whisky-pages – Another postive review, I think they found it to be a bit more peaty and phenolic than I did.
    • Also on the whisky-pages web site, a great overview of Black Bottle, discussing the heritage, character, and the blend itself.
  • Whisky Magazine – Scores and notes from Michael Jackson and Jim Murray, with both giving it a 9/10 score.
  • WHISKYFUN by Serge (Scroll down to “Five Islander Blends”)- A review of BB NAS and 10 year. Note the 10 year is from 2003 and bottled at 40%, so maybe a little weaker than the one I tried.

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