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Introduction

This year, I’m going to do something different for my gift guide post. It’s too late to have anything shipped in time for Christmas, but there’s plenty of time to stop by your local liquor store. I’m going to take a stab at answering a question I often get by email, or from friends:

My spouse/friend/relative likes Scotch, and I want to buy them something nice for Christmas. I know they really like ["Whisky X"], what do you recommend?

Ok, I’m not an expert, but I’ve tried enough whisky expressions in the last 3+ years to have an opinion on this. I’ll focus on whiskies I think will be available in many big box and/or specialty retailers in the U.S.

A little something for Santa...

If their go-to whisky is…

Johnnie Walker Black, try:

  • Johnnie Walker Double Black ($40+): A new “limited” release that I’m curious about myself. It costs twice as much as standard Black Label, so they might hesitate to purchase it themselves. A great reason to gift it!
  • The Glenlivet 18 ($50-$70): If you can get it in this price range, like I can here in AZ, it’s a great bargain. This is the first single malt I tried after tasting and liking JW Black, and it hooked me, so I figured I should mention it here. The new packaging makes it an even better gift.
  • Talisker 10 ($50) or 18 ($80): One of the components of JW Black, Talisker is a fantastic single malt. If the peat smoke is what draws them to Black Label over other blends, this will take it to the next level for them. Pretty bold flavors, so a moderate risk, but potentially high reward!
  • Highland Park 18 ($90-$100): If this is the price-point you’re looking for, forget Johnnie Walker Gold. This is one of the best all around single malts out there.

Chivas Regal 12, try:

  • Aberlour 12 ($30-$40) or 16 ($45-$55): My personal favorite “entry level” single malt from the Speyside region. I use this to hook whisky newbies. :-)
  • Chivas Regal 18 ($55+): Much more flavorful than the 12 year, but certainly not a departure from the profile. Comes in a nice box, too.
  • Scapa 16 ($60+): Also owned by Chivas Bros, this is pure buttery smooth elegance in a bottle. Some balk at the price since it’s not the boldest whisky in the world, but that’s just another reason to give it to them as a gift. No guilt.
  • Longmorn 16 ($70+): Longmorn is one of the components of Chivas Regal, bringing a sharp intensity that the blends shy away from.

Balvenie DoubleWood, try:

  • Yamazaki 12 ($45): Ok, it’s not “Scotch”, as it’s from Japan, but now that they’ve familiarized themselves with American and European oak with the DoubleWood, introduce them to Japanese Mizunara Oak. Great stuff!
  • Bunnahabhain 12 (the newer 46.3% version; $45): As long as we’re talking about introducing them to something new…they may have tried other whiskies from the island of Islay and gotten scared off of the region. Surprise them with this minimally-peated bouquet of warm apple cobbler, cinnamon and malt.
  • Any of the 17 Year Balvenie special releases ($110-$120): Taking what they love about the entry-level Balvenie to the next level. Very high quality.

Macallan 12 (not the Fine Oak line), try:

  • Aberlour a’bunadh [a-boon-ah] ($50+): One of my favorites. This is, as they say in whisky circles, a “sherry bomb”. Sounds scary, but that’s ok, as your Macallan-drinking friend is already a fan of sherry cask matured Scotch. This is a very high proof cask-strength whisky, but if it’s too much for them, it holds up great when adding water. If they smoke cigars, have them try one with this as well.
  • Any Glendronach (12 $50, 15 $70, 18 $100+): Glendronach is special because it’s one of the few remaining independent distilleries. Find a local specialty shop and grab one of these expressions as a special treat.

Laphroaig 10 Year, try:

  • Laphroaig Triple Wood ($55+): New to the U.S., there’s a good chance they haven’t  tried it yet. They might also be conflicted about buying this vs. one they KNOW they love, like the Laphroaig Quarter Cask. Save them the trouble of choosing and buy them a bottle.
  • Laphroaig 10 Cask Strength ($50+): They might have avoided this one because of the high proof, figuring it was just a stronger version of the standard 10 year, but it’s much more flavorful.
  • Lagavulin 16 ($65-$95): Mmm…Lagavulin. We already know they like peat, smoke and medicinal qualities in their whisky. If they don’t love this amazing Islay classic, they should. Maybe they just need to drink more of it, so get them a bottle.
  • Lagavulin 12 ($70-$150): As great as the 16 is, it’s readily available. The 12 year is amazing in a bigger, bolder way, and is a limited release. If you see it on the shelf, grab it! [Unless they're charging $150 like BevMo in AZ]

Premium whiskies

Looking to spend $125 plus? Try one of these:

  • Macallan 18 Sherry Cask ($125 – $150): Considered overpriced by some, it’s still a great whisky. A nice gift because they can enjoy it without feeling the guilt of over paying. I’m due for a new bottle of this myself. Any volunteers?
  • Balvenie Port Wood 21 Year ($150-$170): The definition of “dangerously drinkable”?  Even fans of “big” whiskies should be able to appreciate this sweet, juicy malt. An “occasional” drinker might think it’s the best thing ever.
  • Mackinlay’s “Shackleton” Rare Old Highland Whisky ($150+): Ok, this is only available in limited markets, but if you see it, it’s an amazing gift…a taste of what whisky was like over 100 years ago.
  • Glenlivet 25 Year ($250-$300): Great whisky, great bottle presentation, great gift.
  • Highland Park or Talisker 30 Year Olds ($300-$400): For a true Scotch lover. In return, you’ll have good karma for life.
  • Johnny Walker Blue ($150-$225): Sure, why not? If they’re just a sometimes scotch drinker, they’ll love how smooth it is, and they probably associate this expression with high quality. A whisky aficionado might be less impressed with the liquid inside (at least when their whisky club friends are looking), but would still appreciate the thought and have fun sharing it with you.

Happy Holidays, Jeff

Introduction

I’m really lucky to have gotten a bottle of the new Redbreast 12 Cask Strength from Irish Distilers Limited a while back. Thanks, James! It should be coming to the U.S. in early 2012. Now that I’m over half way through the bottle, I should probably write up some notes. :-)

This Redbreast is a “Pure Pot Still” Irish whiskey, matured in a combination of sherry and bourbon casks (probably more bourbon than sherry). Fortunately, rather than explain this term myself, I can just point you to the new post on The Whisky Exchange Blog that tells you all you ever wanted to know (and possibly more) about pure pot still whiskey: Midleton Distillery Trip: Single Pot Still Irish Whiskeys Pt.1. Enjoy!

Tasting Notes

Redbreast 12 Cask Strength; Batch B1/11; 57.7%

The “official” tasting notes for this whiskey talk of a fruit explosion on the nose, and I’ve read others describe it similarly. I must say, I have a different impression. To me, it’s more of a wood explosion. Yes, the nose offers up dried fruits, apple, and a hint of banana. However, to me at least, it’s wood-based scents that really hit you over the head. Cedar wood chips and heavy vanilla, primarily. The higher alcohol content seems to thrust the woody notes right down your nostrils. Add a little water and the vanilla turns more to butterscotch, reminding me of Ponderosa Pine sap.

The nose is very nice, but the palate is where Redbreast 12 CS really shines. It starts out sweet and juicy, then those wood spices hit, gripping your tongue, aided by a drying sensation. What an amazing feeling in the mouth! The 57.5% isn’t overwhelming, either. It’s strong, but it feels right. Even more amazing, you can water it down a little and the spice and tingling stay there, further enforcing that it’s not just the alcohol content doing all of the work.

The finish brings back some of the dried fruit, which is nice, while introducing a combination of malt and grain. The grain lingers on the tongue as an after-taste.

Conclusion

This is NOT just the standard Redbreast 12 year (which I often recommend to newbies as an “accessible” whisk(e)y”) cranked up to 11. At first, I was a little disappointed by the 12 CS, as I braced myself for the aforementioned fruit explosion. I tried it side-by-side with a number of Speyside whiskies, and the Redbreast paled by fruity comparison to all of them.

Once I got over that pre-set expectation, though, I came back again and again for the unique, gripping experience experience on the palate. Also, if you’re in the mood for vanilla and wood on the nose, few will top this one. A very good nose, GREAT palate, and good finish, the whole is well above average for me, and definitely worth a spot in the cupboard. B+ (88 Points).

Cheers, Jeff

Introduction

MoM Movember Glenfarclas

We interupt this not so regularly scheduled blog to bring you an exciting breaking development in the whisky world. Well, it’s a breaking development for me, anyway. This weekend, I received a surprise sample in the mail from the folks at Master of Malt. It was the new Movember bottling – an expression produced by a partnership between Glenfarclas and Master of Malt. According to the literature I received, this is a vatting of two Oloroso sherry hogshead casks, matured for 9 years. 10 casks were picked out by George Grant, Sales Director at Glenfarclas, with the final two casks chosen by Master of Malt. It’s bottled at 53%.

For every Movember bottling sold at £39.95, £10.00 will be donated to Movember. Sounds great, but how is the whisky?

Tasting Notes

Glenfarclas – Movember 2011; 53%; £39.95

Nose: Super clean sherry in the form of ripe red fruits. Just amazingly juicy, with a little bit of cooking spice, a hint of oak, and no sign of sulfur. Wow!
Palate: Still juicy, and also fairly sweet, with a pretty big impact at first, but dropping off to more of a medium impact by mid-palate. The alcohol is well controlled, with no need to water it down.
Finish: The red fruits continue right on through to the end, lingering for a medium duration in the back of the nostrils. It’s sweet with a little oak spice on the tongue. However, the taste drops off fairly quickly, leaving just a hint of oak to go with the fruit in the nostrils.

Comments:

I could sit with a glass of this and take in the aromas all night long! Sure, the finish could be a little bigger, but that doesn’t spoil the overall experience. The amazingly clean, juicy nose reminds me of my favorite Aberlour a’bunadh batches (#23 and #26). It’s a little more fruity and a little less oaky than those two, and the finish is bigger on the Aberlours, but oh, that clean sherry nose! It’s a refreshing change from the heavier Macallan-like nose often found in big sherry whiskies. I’m very comfortable giving this a personal rating in the 88-89 range. A solid B+.

Conclusion

If you love a big sherry, fruity nose on your whisky, you should enjoy this young Glenfarclas. If strong impact from palate through finish is all that matters to you, it’s possible you’ll be left wanting for more. For me, a sherry nose this clean is hard enough to find that I want to grab onto a bottling like the Movember Glenfarclas when I get the chance. After prying my nose away from the glass, following my first taste of this sample, I jumped on my laptop and ordered two bottles. I’m putting my money (well, credit card and ensuing interest charges) where my mouth is on this one.

Cheers,
Jeff

Got this info from The Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America. You do NOT have to be a member to sign up.

Wish I could go…

SMWSA Tasting Invite

Join us as we sample 5 rare and unique Society offerings as well as expressions from the Dalmore & Isle of Jura Distilleries.

Dinner will be served to complement your evening’s enjoyment.

Phoenix
DATE: Tuesday, November 8, 2011
TIME: 7:00pm – 9:00pm. Registration begins at 6:30pm.

The Arizona Biltmore
2400 East Missouri Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85016

TICKET PRICE: $95.00 per person
Business Casual. Jackets Preferred. No denim or athletic attire.

To purchase tickets call 800.990.1991

Well, good timing with my previous post on the Mackinlay’s Shackleton whisky replica. It looks like the National Geographic Channel is airing a special on the Shackleton whisky discovery and replication process tonight. I’ll be watching..likely while enjoying a dram of The Dalmore. :-)

[Edit: Oops! I accidentally posted this as a PBS special originally. It's actually on the National Geographic channel.]

Here is the info from National Geographic:

Expedition Whisky
Premieres Thursday, November 3 at 8pm ET/PT
Battling subzero temperatures and using only rudimentary navigational tools, explorer Ernest Shackleton set the record for reaching the furthest south in 1908, just 97 miles from the South Pole.  The expedition was cut short by a lack of food, and Shackleton returned home to a hero’s welcome in England and was knighted by King Edward VII.  But apparently, Shackleton left behind a few “necessities” from his epic journey to the South Pole.  In 2006, Shackleton’s stash of Scotch was re-discovered beneath the hut he used as his base camp.  With rare archival material and the last remaining film footage of Shackleton and his crew, “Expedition Whisky” not only tells the amazing story of Shackleton’s most successful adventure and his secret stash of whisky, but also shows a world’s top taster on a mission to sniff out and remake the vintage.

Shackleton’s Whisky Recipe
http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/player/national-geographic-channel/specials-1/expedition-week-1/ngc-shackletons-whiskey-recipe.html

Whisky Find of the Century
http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/player/national-geographic-channel/specials-1/expedition-week-1/ngc-whiskey-find-of-the-century.html

Cheers,
Jeff

Introduction

Mackinlay's Shackleton replica bottle

Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky is a replica of the whisky found under Earnest Shackleton’s hut in Antarctica, from an expedition in 1907. After some of the original whisky was very carefully thawed out, Master Blender Richard Paterson had the opportunity to try it, after which he created this replica whisky expression. It’s a limited edition of 50,000 bottles, and comes in really cool packaging. Bottled at 47.3% ABV, with no coloring or chill-filtering, it is now available in the U.S. for a pretty steep suggested retail of $200. Shopper’s Vineyard has it for $145, though.

I’ve been dying to get my hands on some of this whisky, but was not having much luck. First, I got an email out of the blue in April from the PR department at Whyte & Mackay saying that a sample was on its way, followed by an “oops” email that they couldn’t ship to the United States. Then I came across an opportunity to split in on a bottle and get 50ml for about $20 (including shipping from Netherlands). Well, I paid the money, but never saw a sample. I guess somebody working for the postal system got thirsty.

The sample I’m reviewing here came from the baddish group, who I believe handles PR for Whyte & Mackay products here in the U.S. Thank you Laura and Patty!

Tasting Notes

This is a blended malt (single malts only…not a traditional “blend”), with no age statement, but is said to contain malts ranging from 8 years to 30 years. The 30 year portion likely comes from Glen Mhor, which was one of the backbone distilleries for Mackinlay’s back in the day, but was shut down in 1983.

Mackinlay’s Shackleton replica whisky; 2011; 47.3% ABV; $150 – $200

Nose: Creme brulee sweetness (vanilla, caramel, and caramelized sugar), light peat smoke (like Highland Park, not Islay), something grassy and a little “wild”, polished wood and dusty books, and little bit of Dalmore chocolate orange.
Palate: The sweetness carries through, both caramel and chocolate. There is some nuttiness, and a hint of peat. It has an interesting way of being both easy going and untamed at the same time. Not sure how to describe the untamed part, except that it reminds me of Springbank 10 year.
Finish: Sweetness on the tongue, with earthy peat followed by tea and tobacco leaves lingering in the back of the nostrils. A great combination, except it dies off pretty quickly, just leaving some caramel flavor on the tongue.

Comments: The Shackleton replica vatting tastes to me like a high quality blend, composed of Dalmore 12, Highland Park St. Magnus, and a little Springbank 10, all laid down on a bed of good column still grain whisky to smooth things out and make it easy to drink. The Dalmore traits especially stand out, from the manner in which the sweet profile presents itself to the library and tea leaf notes. The smoke and grass combination is where HP St. Magnus comes in. Enjoyable from start to [a little disappointingly short] finish, this ranks as a high B whisky in my personal scoring system. 87 points.

Conclusion

I’m really glad I got a chance to try Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt. It’s a special whisky, for sure. While I mentioned a number of familiar components, the way they’re combined results in a unique and enjoyable profile. I hope Whyte & Mackay ends up making a standard release Mackinlay vatting or blend with as much of this flavor profile as they can squeeze in. I won’t be paying $150 for a bottle of this limited release expression (it’s going on my Christmas wish list, though), but I strongly recommend seeking it out in some manner. Whether that be via full bottle purchase, or through a local whisky club or bottle share.

Cheers,
Jeff

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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