Thursday, March 5, 2015

K&L Rums

Photo Courtesy of K&L Spirits Journal
Today I take a look at K&L's exclusive barrel rums. These are single barrel rums that were bottled in Scotland by Hunter Laing. Both of the Guayanan rums are from closed distilleries.  I'm not usually one to care about bottle design, but I have to say that there is some pretty cool label art on these rums.

Faultline Jamaican Rum 14 yo, Hampden Distillery, 50% abv ($75)

The nose on this is fantastically fruity with cherries but also a vegetal note; it noses more like a rhum agricole. The palate opens with pineapple then gets spicy with mint.  The finish has overripe mangoes and herbs and even some kalamata olives.  I really dig this stuff; it's funky with a ton of flavor packed into it. Just great.

Faultline Single Barrel Guyana Rum 20 yo, Uitvlugt Distillery, distilled 1994, 52.8% abv ($150)

The nose is light and crisp with apples.  It almost smells like an apple brandy.  The palate starts fruity but quickly turns spicy and trails off with black licorice.  This is another great rum with a lot of flavors mixed in.  The licorice notes on the finish are a bit strong for me, but other than that, it's both complex and enjoyable.   

Faultline Demarra Rum 25 yo, Enmore Distillery (Guyana), distilled 1989, 51.3% ($200)

This is another very fruity nose with fruit cocktail.  The palate, though, comes on very spicy with anise and clove and less fruit than the other two. Then it moves to a caramel note.  It's got a spicy finish with peppercorns and anise. Sweet, densely flavored and spicy, this is another winner.

This was a great end to this series of K&L tastings.  These were really exceptional rums.  My favorite was definitely the 14 year old (luckily, it's also the cheapest), but I keep flipping over whether I like the 20 or 25 year old better. The 20 year old is lighter while the 25 is more dense. It just depends on the style you like or the mood you're in, but all of these were great.

Thanks to David Othenin-Girard for the samples.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

New K&L Scotch: The Single Grains

Next up on my week long K&L tasting are some very old Scotch single grain whiskeys bottled under Hunter Laing's Sovereign label.  Scotch grain whiskeys, of course, make up the bulk of most blended whiskeys. They can be made from pretty much anything but corn, rye and barley are common ingredients, and they are distilled on column stills.  Very few Scotch distilleries market their own grain whiskeys, but occasionally, independent bottlers get hold of a cask or two.

Girvan 24 yo, distilled 1990, 50.3% abv ($100)

The nose is mostly bananas with some alcohol notes.  It seems odd to find this in a 24 year old whiskey, but the palate opens with new make notes, then some banana, though it's a more subtle banana note than on the nose. It's very sweet and has a very short finish.  There's just not that much to this one.  Unless you're a big fan of bananas, I'd avoid it.

Port Dundas 36 yo, distilled 1978, 60.1% abv ($150)

The nose on this is very subtle with light grain notes.  The palate is sweet and spicy with vanilla first and then a smoky bacon note.  The finish is soft with grainy notes and a touch of alcohol.  This one is decent and a bit odd with the smokiness in the mid-palate.

North British 50 yo, distilled 1964, 44.7% abv ($250)

The nose has caramel, vanilla and some savory notes which I got as chicken fat.  The palate is a huge dessert bomb with sweet caramel and vanilla.  It's a damn candy bar.  The finish, as with all of these grain whiskeys, is short, light and slightly sweet.  This was pretty tasty if not overly complex.

I'm not generally a big single grain fan, so I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about these.  While the North British was good and the Port Dundas was decent, for the price, I'd much rather buy some of the K&L malts I tasted over the last two days.

Tomorrow: The K&L Rums

Thanks to David Othenin-Girard for the samples.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

New K&L Scotch: Old Particular

Next in my series of K&L exclusive barrels are whiskies from Douglas Laing, including one blend under K&L's Faultline label and four single malts bottled in 2014 under the Old Particular label.  Unlike yesterday's Hepburn's Choice malts, these are not cask strength.

Faultline Blended Scotch, 50% ($25)

The nose is malty in a sort of Clynelish style.  It's got some coastal notes but also some floral.  The palate opens with sweet peat.  The peat is present but not overwhelming, and the sweetness gives it a sort of candy coating.  The mouthfeel is light.  The finish is peaty and, for the first time, shows some grain whiskey notes. A minute later the sweetness is back adding a chocolate note to the grain, like Ovaltine.

This is a very solid blend with some good peat action, and at $25, it's a no-brainer.  The price to quality ratio is insanely good.

Laphroaig 16 yo, Old Particular, distilled 1997, 48.4% abv ($140)

The nose is pure Laphroaig with big, funky, peaty notes. The palate starts with big peat but gradually develops a sweet wine note, but the peat comes back for the finish along with some BBQ smoke.  This is very tasty. It's everything you would want from a 16 year old Laphroaig.

Tamdhu 16 yo, Old Particular, distilled 1998, 48.4% abv ($100)

This has a very fruity nose with pears.  The palate is malty/spicy with some sweetness. There's a nice balance between the sweet and spicy notes.  The finish is a peppery white wine, like a Gerwurztraminer.  I really like this one. It's sugar and spice and everything nice.  

Tobermory 18 yo, Old Particular, distilled 1996, 48.4% abv ($110)

The nose is malty/fruity with mild peat.  The palate is rich with light peat, growing stronger as it goes down and trailing off into the finish with a touch of mint.  This is a really nice one as well.   

Macallan 21 yo, Old Particular, distilled 1993, 51.5% abv ($250)

The nose is sweet and fruity.  The palate starts sweet but gets drier.  It then develops a peppery note that adds complexity and moves it into the finish.  This is from a refill bourbon cask, and while I haven't been a huge fan of bourbon cask Macallans in the past, this one is really good.  I'd always associated the Macallan profile with sherry, but something about this feels very Macallan even without the sherry influence.  Would I pay $250 for it?  Well, I haven't yet, but I wouldn't rule it out.

This was a very good set of malts.  As a whole, I liked them better than yesterday's selection, though they are also more expensive.  My favorites were the Macallan and the Tobermory followed by the Laphroaig, but they were all quite good.

Tomorrow: Scotch Single Grain Whiskies

Thanks to David Othenin-Girard for the samples.

Monday, March 2, 2015

New K&L Scotch: Hepburn's Choice

Last week, K&L got in 14 new private barrel Scotches from the Hunter and Douglas Laing bottlers.   This week, I'll be reviewing the whole lineup, along with some bonus reviews of their new rums.

First up is a series of  cask strength single malts bottled in 2014 under the Hunter Laing Hepburn's Choice label.

Caol Ila 5 yo, Hepburn's Choice, distilled 2008, 61.1% abv ($50)

The nose, not surprisingly, is young, peated malt.  The palate is very sweet with lots of peat.  There's a slight bitterness late in the palate and into the finish which counteracts the sweetness, and it finishes with lots of nice peat on the nose.  It's five year old Caol Ila, and that's exactly what it tastes like.

Mortlach 7 yo, Hepburn's Choice, distilled 2007, 58% abv ($50)

The nose is perfumy and floral.  The palate opens with a bit of those floral notes but they are quickly replaced by a nice, sweet maltiness.  The finish is dry with just a trace of sweet malt and some floral notes on the nose.  This one is nicely composed though the nose was a bit too floral for me.

Tobermory Smoky & Peaty 8 yo, Hepburn's Choice, distilled 2004, 60.7% abv ($60)

The Tobermory Smoky & Peaty is peated whisky that would have gone into Tobermory's Ledaig label. On the nose there are the tequila like notes you get with young peat.  The palate is similarly brash with young peat and some acidic notes that last into the peaty finish.  This one tastes quite young (tasting blind I probably would have guessed it was younger than eight years), but it's fun and bold.

Bowmore 12 yo, Hepburn's Choice, distilled 2001, 58.4% abv ($80)

I'm liking this nose with peat and motor oil, like an old garage.  The palate follows suit with thick, fuely peat; then there's a sweet note, maybe some chocolate, maybe some dessert wine, that sticks to the roof of your mouth while the rest of your mouth is still finished in peat.  This one's a winner, bold but balanced.

Craigellachie 18 yo, Hepburn's Choice, distilled 1995, 54.3% abv ($100)

The nose has sherry and a very light sulfur note along with some coastal breeze.  On the palate there is sweet sherry and a small dose of sulfur which grows into the finish; after a few seconds the finish turns metallic, though not in a bad way, and then a bit salty.  I like how this one transitions from quite sweet to more funky.  

Miltonduff 19 yo, Hepburn's Choice, distilled 1995, 50.4% abv ($100)

This has a nice malty nose, crisp and clean with some grape juice. The palate follows suit with sweet malt notes and a light fruitiness.  It's a straight forward malt; the kind you can drink anytime.

All of these are solid malts.  My favorite was definitely the Bowmore followed by the Craigellachie.  My least favorite was probably the Mortlach which was just a bit too floral for my tastes, though it was still perfectly decent.

Josh at The Whiskey Jug, my February Blog of the Month, is also reviewing the new K&Ls with somewhat different results, so you should check out his opinions on these bottles as well.

Tomorrow: K&L's Douglas Laing Scotch Bottlings

Thanks to David Othenin-Girard for the samples.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Blog of the Month: The Whiskey Jug

This month's Blog of the Month is the Whiskey Jug.  The Whisky Jug started back in 2010 but really got going in 2013.  LA whiskey lover Josh Peters is a tireless taster, posting new reviews nearly every weekday. Josh tastes the entire spectrum of whiskey and his reviews are concise and to the point. Every whiskey gets both a number and letter grade and reviews are accompanied by his stylized photos which are much more interesting than the typical generic bottle pix. I also really like that most of the whiskeys he reviews are both accessible and affordable. As a bonus, he also has guest posts from the very knowledgeable LA whiskey distributor Chris Uhde.

Check it out!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Stupid Pappy Questions

As you all know, Pappy Van Winkle is officially the best bourbon in the world, and...oh, you didn't know that?  Well, it is. It's been declared that by a bunch of very media savvy celebrity chefs, a whole squad of "journalists" and ten thousand internet lists that may or may not have been composed by robots, and we all know how smart robots are...especially about bourbon. Anyway, it's obvious.  You can't find a bottle of Pappy anywhere, so it must be the best.  Even the reliably unexciting 12 and 10 year old Van Winkle bourbons are nowhere to be found.  Pappy has become something like the unholy offspring of Johnnie Walker Blue and a particularly rare Beanie Baby.  It's created an insatiable thirst; well, I shouldn't say thirst, since no one seems to actually drink the stuff but an insatiable desire in everyone from bourbon lovers to folks who wouldn't know E.H. Taylor from Taylor Swift.

In some ways, it's good that Pappy has been officially recognized as the world's best bourbon.  It takes the pressure off folks like me because I know that no one in the general public will pay much attention to my reviews unless I'm talking about Pappy (unless I say something bad about Old Forester Birthday Bourbon - which is apparently a crime punishable by virtual stoning).  It also makes it easy for retailers to sell the stuff they actually have because instead of talking about what it tastes like, they can just say it's like Pappy Van Winkle or, better yet, it beat Pappy in some random tasting. I'm waiting for a new whiskey blogger to rate bourbon on a scale of one to five bottles of Pappy.

But there's a downside as well.  Because many of these new purchasers of Pappy know nothing about bourbon, they have generated a lot of questions.  I get them by email and see them all over the place on-line. They tend to be very detailed questions not about the bourbon or its history, but about the label or its possible value.  While my usual rule is that there are no stupid questions, I fear that when it comes to Pappy, there are no smart ones.  As a service to the new owner of a bottle of Pappy and to save us all a lot of time, I thought I would answer a few of the most common questions right here:

  • The label on my Pappy 15 is slightly askew, does this mean anything?
  • The fill level on my Pappy 20 is higher than on my Pappy 23, what gives?
  • My Pappy has a slightly off white color on the back label.  What does that mean?

This is a category of questions that I call "Is my bottle worth a million dollars?" since that's usually the subtext of the question.  And no, I'm sorry to inform you that your slightly skewed label is not some secret code that this bottle was filled with some superior liquid. Variances in bottling and labeling happen and don't generally improve the quality of the bourbon. However, given the Pappy hype, you probably can sell it to some idiot for a premium if you say it's the special "skewed label" bottle.  Good luck!

  • My bottle doesn't have a laser code.  How can I find out how old it is?

Years ago, I posted a guide to deciphering Pappy Van Winkle bottle codes.  If you can't find a bottle code on your bottle, that means one of three things: (1) it's from before 2007 when they started printing the bottle codes; (2) you aren't looking hard enough (it can be very hard to see against the dark liquid and sometimes hides under the label); or (3) the shyster who you bought the bottle from used a sophisticated method (e.g. Windex and a paper towel) to remove the bottle code and convince you that it was a really old bottle and possibly worth a million dollars.

  • Can you tell me if this bottle is from 2005 or 2006?

Really?  You need to know the exact date of the bottle?  Why?  No, really, why?  I see this type of question all the time and I can't imagine why it matters. There's really not much difference between a 2005 and 2006 bottling in terms of the whiskey. Given that the Van Winkles sometimes bottled enough for more than one release at a time, it might even be the exact same stuff.  Yet still they ask and in great numbers.

I repeat this a lot, but no one seems to want to hear it.  There's no great way to date a bottle from the mid-2000s.  As I noted on my Pappy Van Winkle Timeline, we know that the address on the label changed from Lawerenceburg to Frankfort in 2002 and that the Pappy 15 year old was first released in 2004.  There weren't any significant changes between those dates and 2007 when they started putting the laser date codes on the bottle.  There were some very minor label changes in that period, but exact dates of when they happened are hard to come by.  The Van Winkles didn't keep track of that kind of thing, and as mentioned above, even if someone knows when they bought the bottle, it might not have been that year's release.  With those caveats, based on TTB data, the Old Rip Van Winkle website appears to have been added to the label around 2004, and some say that raised letters on the front label started appearing around 2006 (though I've never seen any confirmation of that date with reliable evidence).

  • Can you tell me where this bottle of Pappy was distilled?

Sure, that's an easy one. It was distilled at Stitzel-Weller...or Bernheim or Buffalo Trace or some combination of those, unless it's really old, in which case it might have been distilled at the Boone Distillery, which no one seems to know anything about but everyone agrees is amazing and probably worth a million dollars.

  • Do you want to buy my bottle of Pappy for a million dollars?

No, but I will trade you for my collection of rare armadillo Beanie Babies.

There you go, everything you wanted to know about Pappy but were afraid to ask.  You're welcome!

Friday, February 20, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: Wild Turkey 17 and Tullamore Dew 15

This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

Wild Turkey cleared a label for Master's Keep, a 17 year old bourbon.

Tullamore Dew cleared a label for a 15 year old Irish blend.

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.