Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Ardbeg Fermutation Special Committee Edition 13 Year Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky

- $200
- 98.8 Proof
- 13 Years
- Islay

Ardbeg's committee releases are incredibly consistently good, so much so that I rarely think twice about buying one when I get the chance. This, however, was one of the first that I was eager to get my hands on when I first heard of its release. As it is, Ardbeg puts out some fairly funky stuff, and certainly lands on the higher end of peated Scotches. 

However, this release promised to be one of its funkiest ever.  Ardbeg touted it as their longest fermentation ever, hence the name, "Fermutation." Based on their press releases, this particular bottling was fermented for over three weeks (much more than the few days that are typical) before being distilled. So, whether or not it would be better than other Ardbegs was a complete crap shoot.  But, I was confident that it was certainly going to be different than other Ardbeg releases.

The nose immediately exposed the funkiness of this Scotch. It smelled like a smokey hayride on a damp fall day.  That sounds incredibly pretentious and a bit dramatic, but I did get notes of hay mixed with the peat, and there was a damp, musty wood note to it as well. However, there were also great notes of unsweetened vanilla and even stewed pears. Behind the hayride was a kind of a brandy note that really complemented those smoky notes. 

The flavor mostly followed suit. I got those hay notes, but they were what I described as "pillowy," like a soft and delicious saison beer. Of course, it being Ardbeg, the peat smoke was front and center, but there was a soft yeast note or bready note to it as well. What really stood out, however, was a bright lemongrass note that really kept everything from getting too "heavy."

Other sweeter notes came through as well, including a nice and bright honey note as well as a graham cracker note. There was something nutty up front as well, but I couldn't quite put my thumb on it. It was earthy and somewhat sweet.  And of course that peat smoke carried throughout.

The finish, though, was where I really fell in love with this bottle. All of that funk remained, with lemongrass and hay notes leading the way. But the honey notes kept it sweet.  It was very viscous, and I was finally able to place my thumb on the nutty note, which was kind of like a walnut oil flavor. The peat really hit harder on the finish as well, and it combined with a distinct cooling, almost minty sensation on the finish that was not only completely unexpected but was pretty awesome. 

This was not your typical Ardbeg, that's for sure. While it had the peat, it didn't have those typical brighter, lighter notes that I get behind the peat in other Ardbeg offerings. But, this was a lot of fun, certainly scratched that itch when I was in the mood for something funky, and it had one of the most memorable finishes I can recall.  

Grade: A

Friday, February 16, 2024

Kilkerran Heavily Peated Batch No. 4 Campbeltown Single Malt Scotch Whisky

- $100
- 117.2 Proof
- Batch No. 4
- Campbeltown

I certainly have an affinity for just about anything coming out of Campbeltown (and based on their prices lately, I'm apparently not alone in this). A couple years ago one of the stores by me got in a bunch of bottles from the Kilkerran line, and I decided at that time to grab the Heavily Peated. 

It was something I had never tried, and it was a bit different from the usual Campbeltown stuff I've enjoyed, which tends to be a bit on the lighter side of peated.  I figured perhaps it might find some great middle ground between a Campbeltown and an Islay, or at worst a decent version of one or the other.

The nose was certainly smoky, but the peat did not dominant. Rather, it was more like a mezcal, providing that smokey flavor but without all the phenols. It even had a bit of an agave sweetness and a bright honeydew note to it.  The only thing that kept it from smelling just like a mezcal was the sweet butter and brown sugar notes that also came through. That said, this combination apparently worked, because I couldn't get my nose out of the glass.

This is a bottle that I sat on for a while, and as a result I almost had two different experiences with it. When I first opened it, it had those bright, citrus notes that I was getting off the nose. It absolutely had some honeydew or cantaloupe notes to it, which actually paired pretty well with the sweet smoky note.  But, it wasn't what I was expecting to get out of a heavily peated Campbeltown.  

It did have some darker cherry notes as well, which, along with the smoke, gave it a sort of barbecue sauce note.  But it was a citrusy or even a mango barbecue sauce. This was a bit odd and a bit out of place with the bright melon notes.

However, months, even years down the road, as I got toward the bottom of this bottle, the flavor really seemed to shift on me. It got away from those fruity notes almost entirely. By the end, I got none of those bright melon notes, but rather rich brown butter notes, with honey and brown sugar. There was a sweet graham cracker note, and all of this was tempered by the ever-present smoky notes, and even a little bit of black pepper spice.

Had I graded this bottle on the last half only, I would have given this an A, maybe even an A+.  It was that good.  I just wasn't sure what to make of it at first. It wasn't bad by any stretch. In fact it was quite good.  But, it was just . . . unexpected, I guess.  Either way, I will certainly be grabbing future releases.

Grade: B+ 

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Stagg Jr. Kentucky Straight Bourbon Batch No. 14

- $60
- 130.2 Proof
- Batch No. 14
- Kentucky

Stagg Jr. (and now just Stagg) seems to take up a lot of shelf space in my collection. It's just one of those bottles that remains reasonably priced, particularly given the proof, quality and consistency. And it's one of those bottles that is semi-allocated and I've had the fortune of being able to get my hands on them as they've come out, for the most part.

Among recent batches, though, there hasn't seemed to be a whole lot of variation. I've tried them side-by-side, and I've found it difficult to differentiate between the batches. In fact, the last one I finished I didn't even bother to write up because it just felt like I could simply refer to the last review I wrote. But, that felt lazy, so with this one I'm making it a point to write up my review, even if for my own sense of completeness.

The nose was fairly traditional to good, well-made bourbon, with healthy amounts of brown sugar and cinnamon. There was a light oak note that indicated a bit of age on the whiskey, and an undertone of vanilla as well. It also had a sweet, almost candy-like cherry note to it that smelled great.

As to flavor, right up front it had a tanginess to it that reminded me of amaretto liqueur.  That was accompanied by big hits of brown sugar and caramel, giving it a rich sweetness. If it weren't for the heat coming from the pour, I'd have classified it as a "dessert whiskey."

Those dessert notes seemed to really carry through, as I then got a strong cherry note, as well as notes of chocolate and cherry, making for a rich and sweet combination that was met with a counter-balancing oak note that seemed to temper that rich sweetness. 

The finish provided an additional cinnamon spice that I think was missing before. The oak and cherry notes came forward more on the finish as well, and that seemed to really round out the flavor into something very well-balanced and delicious.

I wish what I got from the finish I got throughout, but it was still delicious front to back. It just seemed to be a bit more balanced on the finish. But, I guess that's a good thing, considering that's what kept me going back for my next sip.

Grade: B+

Saturday, February 3, 2024

Longrow Red Cabernet Franc Matured 11 Year Peated Campbeltown Single Malt Scotch

- $150
- 111.8 Proof
- 11 years
- Campbeltown

The Longrow Red series has long been my favorite "series" or annual release, probably in all of whiskey/whisky. In fact, it was the Pinot Noir Cask that I had back in 2017 that turned me on to wine finished, peated scotches, and my insatiable love for sweet and peat!! Ever since then I've made it a point to get my hands on and try anything fruity and peaty that I can find.

While most of those are matured in either sherry or port (port tends to be my favorite), this one was matured in Cabernet Franc barrels. I'm certainly no wine guy, so I have no opinion on or experience with cabernet franc. But, given that I absolutely loved the Malbec Longrow Red, and I know that I don't particularly like Malbecs, I figured I couldn't go wrong with this one either. 

Right up front on the nose I got those rich fruit notes I've come to expect from these bottlings. It was full of bright raspberry and black currant. There was a light smokiness to it as well, along with some black pepper spice on the back end. It had a bit of a sweet barbecue note and I could not wait to dive into it.

The flavor was full of rich, fruity notes, but not quite as bright as on the nose. It leaned more dark fruits like blackberry and plum. It was sweetened, however, by a great honey note. That was all underscored by a malty backbone that came across like a honey wheat bread, but a good one, like the kind you'd buy from a bakery.

The peat smoke was there but not pervasive. Like most Campbeltown Scotches, it doesn't slap you in the face the way an Islay might. But it was still there to provide that great balance and "meatiness" to accompany the sweet and fruity notes. There was also a white peppercorn type spice, particularly on the back end. 

The finish reminded me a lot of sangria. It had the rich wine flavors, with dark fruit notes and a bit of tannins to counter the sweetness, which came from a bright orange note that seemed to appear out of nowhere. The finish wasn't particularly long, but the flavors were absolutely delicious!

Unsurprisingly, I loved this bottle, and I can't wait to work my way through the rest of the lineup sitting on my shelf.

Grade: A

Monday, January 22, 2024

Old Scout Binny's Private Selection Straight Rye Whiskey

- $50
- 114 Proof
- 5 Years
- Barrel No. 31905
- Indiana

This is one of those whiskeys where by now I pretty much know what I'm going to get. After all, this is a single barrel, cask strength bottling of MGP rye. This has stuff has been bottled under so many different labels, of course at varying ages and proofs, but almost always the 95/5 mashbill.

This is a single barrel, though, so it should have its own unique qualities. And, it was good enough to be selected by the tasters at Binny's (though if you look at number of private barrels sitting on the shelves at Binny's lately, it doesn't exactly scream discriminating).  So, what's another cask strength, single barrel MGP rye?? At least I know going in I'm going to to enjoy it!

And yet, when I first popped the cork, poured my glass and took a big whiff, I wasn't much of a fan of the nose. I got notes of dark chocolate and cherry cola. Good so far. But, what followed that were notes of bitter oak, and a healthy amount of pine-scented household cleaner. At first I thought it was just the typical pine note and I was blowing it out of proportion, but I definitely got that Pine-Sol note off of every single pour. 

Luckily, though, that note did not carry over to the flavor. It made for a bit of a weird experience getting something so strong on the nose but not in the flavor, but that was a good thing. Rather, I got a great, strong cinnamon spice. There was a bit of a bitter note, but it came across as more of a coffee note. And this all seemed to mix with a cherry and dark chocolate note that just really worked.

There was a light pine resin note, but nothing even close to approaching that cleaner note. Rather, it was a welcome note of pine, one that came across as natural and complementary to everything else going on. And all in all, this was a rich, sweet and spicy pour. In fact, the last few pours of the bottle were even sweeter and incredibly enjoyable.

This rye also had a great oily texture, which made for an incredibly long finish full of that same, bold cinnamon spice I got up front as well as the rich dark chocolate notes. 

If I could have gotten past the nose, this would have been one of the best MGP ryes I could recall. But that nose was really off-putting, despite how good the whiskey actually tasted.

Grade: B

Monday, January 1, 2024

Bondstone Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $42
- 125 Proof
- 4 years
- Kentucky

Whenever I go out of state and find myself in a liquor store (always seems to happen), I make it a point to seek out whiskeys that I can't get or haven't seen on shelves back home. Of course that usually involves a local craft distillery or perhaps a store pick if they have any. But sometimes I come across something that I just simply have never seen before.

That was the case with this Bondstone. They had a handful of offerings, and not necessarily the usual line you might see, which included a high rye bourbon and a double oaked bourbon. I, of course, gravitated to the cask strength version.  And with a price tag of $42, finding a cask strength, age-stated Kentucky straight bourbon for that price that I've never seen before made for an easy decision. 

The nose immediately told me that this was going to carry many of those traditional bourbon flavors, and it also told me I was going to enjoy that first sip! I immediately got notes of caramel and cinnamon, with a mild vanilla undertone. There was even a bit of an anise note as well as hints of cloves to spice it up just a bit and add another layer. 

The flavor very much matched up with what the nose was telling me. Right up front I got a great medley of cinnamon and vanilla, with a light oak note making this seem like it had more age than it did. There was a sweetness to it, but it was tempered, kind of like a burnt sugar note.

Behind those traditional notes, however, I got some rich, fruity notes, including a great candied orange note that I couldn't get enough of. The spiciness from the high rye content of this bourbon also added to a bit of a spiced cherry note, particularly on the finish.  That note seemed to linger forever in the back of my throat and had me really wanting that next sip right away.

I was very pleasantly surprised by this bottle.  I knew nothing about it (and, quite frankly, still know nothing about it), but I know now that it's very good whiskey at a very good price!  I've since learned (if YouTube is to be believed) that this was distilled by Wilderness Trail.  It certainly wouldn't surprise me, as I've found their whiskey to be very good at a young age.  In any event, I may have to try some others in this line, including the Double Oaked.

Grade: B+

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Blackened Total Wine Exclusive Batch Blended Whiskey Finished in Black Brandy Casks

- $45
- 90 Proof
- Ohio

There's something to love about vacation whiskey. Perhaps it's the warm weather, or the momentary lack of responsibility, or just the fact that it's whiskey while on vacation. Whatever it is, I find myself really enjoying my vacation whiskeys, whatever they may be.

In this instance, while in Florida I wanted something I couldn't find in Illinois. So, I naturally gravitated towards a store pick. But, I also decided to go with something that has certainly been out and on the shelves for a few years now, but I have yet to try -- Blackened.  This whiskey, blended by Dave Pickerell, certainly carries the credentials, and I was curious about the black brandy finishing. Plus, it seemed like a good easy drinker in the likely event I found myself enjoying a drink in the afternoon sun.

The aroma was full of caramel and vanilla notes, but the brandy influence was immediately noticeable.  That's where notes of grape and apple came through. After a bit of opening up, those notes seemed to transform a bit into a kind of baked pear note that certainly dominated. It also remained very sweet, with a brown sugar sweetness.

While the nose was full and delicious, the flavor seemed to fall a bit flat, especially in comparison.  I definitely got the brandy notes, as flavors of white grape and sweet apple came through. That baked pear note also made an appearance, but it was all quite muted.  I realize that the proof on this whiskey is relatively low, but I still expected more pronounced flavor.

Aside from the brandy influence, there was a layer of vanilla underscoring those other flavors. It also had the lightest peppery spice, to at least make it a bit interesting. That also helped counter the sweetness, as without it it may have been a bit over the top. The brown sugar note was fairly constant.

I love the idea of this whiskey, taking a great blend and giving it a unique finish. I just wish the flavor was a bit more focused.  It could have come across as bold and unique, but instead came across as flat and a bit boring. I may have to give this a try at higher strength, but I don't know that I'll be buying a bottle in order to conduct that experiment.

Grade: C