Archive for May, 2008

Bruichladdich’s super-peated “Octomore” is bottled

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

The world’s smokiest whisky has just been bottled. (Thanks to Islayblog.com for letting me know.) Bruichladdich’s Octomore, a whisky clocking in at 80 ppm phenol, was bottled for those individuals wise enough to purchase Octomore futures back in 2002.

That’s great for the futures owners (I am not one), but what about the rest of us poor souls? I have some very good news. According to my contact at Bruichladdich:

“There will be a limited edition release later this year in different packaging and at a different ppm which will be sold through traditional channels to consumers. More information will be supplied in due course when we have it.”

This will be a hot item when it comes out. Start making your inquiries at specialty retailers whole stock Bruichladdich and get your name on a list. 

New Old Forester Repeal Bourbon

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

In addition to the annual release of the Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, this fall the folks at Brown-Forman will be releasing an entirely new whiskey called Old Forester Repeal Bourbon. Here’s the information I just received on it:

Old Forester Repeal Bourbon celebrates the 75th anniversary of the repeal of prohibition. The bottle will come in a gift pack along with a scroll of the 21st amendment which repealed prohibition. The bottle will be a 375ml bottle, the only size bottles could be produced during prohibition for medicinal purposes. Old Forester is the only bourbon still in existence today that was produced before, during and after Prohibition.  No other bourbon brand sold in the U.S. today can make that claim.  

I asked my Brown-Forman contact if it will be the same whiskey as the standard Old Forester but just in a different bottle, and here was the response:

It is actually completely different inside. In the words of (Master Distiller) Chris Morris, “it is an Old Forester that has more of a robust aged character that is similar to the Old Forester that was bottled during prohibition.”

There is no age claim on the bottle, but all of it was taken from at least a 10-year old sample. It will be 100 proof and will come in a gift pack only that will include a prohibition scroll, an Old Forester snifter and an Old Forester pen.  

This sounds very exciting. And it will be great to compare this Old Forester bourbon to the others in the Old Forester family. When my review sample arrives, I’ll taste it and pass on my thoughts.

New Tullamore Dew 10 yr. old

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

I was just informed by Tullamore Dew’s PR company that a new 10 year old blend will be arriving in the U.S. in the September/October time frame. According to my PR contact:

The Tullamore Dew 10-Year-Old is simply a new addition to the Tullamore Dew family; they are only allocating for 900 cases in 2008 giving it limited edition status.  The original blend and 12-Year-Old WILL NOT be phased out.

It is being bottled right now and I should receive a review sample shortly. When I do, I’ll taste it and pass on my thoughts.

The reason for this blog

Monday, May 12th, 2008

I want to explain why I started this blog.

“What Does John Know?” really didn’t get going as a legitimate blog until about August of last year. I must admit that I resisted the idea of blogging. For most bloggers, there is no direct income, as it currently is with “What Does John Know?”.

Blogging seemed like a lot of effort. Now that I have been blogging for several months, I can say that it most certainly is. I have had to forgoe direct income-producing opportunities to make time for this blog. (Cutting into my precious family time, which is most important to me, is not an option.)

But, I began to realize that I would get a lot of great information and news as soon as it was breaking (or sooner) and, with a magazine that is published only quarterly, by the time I wrote it up in the magazine it was common knowledge. I began to understand the importance of blogging.

Don’t get me wrong. Malt Advocate will always be a great publication–even if it always stays quarterly–but it, like other magazines, can’t be timely in this increasingly global oriented world.

This blog’s purpose is to bridge the gap between issues of  Malt Advocate magazine. It is an extension of the magazine. I see it as significant, vital, and important. Otherwise I wouldn’t do it. I have my finger on the pulse of the whisky industry and I can share what I know with you almost instantaneously. I am happy that you are tuning in.

I won’t blog every day but, when I do, you will know that there’s a purpose to it.  If you’ve been following my blog (or reading Malt Advocate), I think you probably already figured that out.

Speyside visit update: Glenfarclas

Sunday, May 11th, 2008

With 52,000 casks of whisky maturing in 29 different warehouses, Glenfarclas doesn’t have a shortage of older whiskies like many other distilleries I visited in Speyside whose whiskies have been largely allocated to go into blends. In fact, Glenfarclas decided to prove this point, loud and clear, by introducing “The Family Casks” this past September. This is by far the most significant effort by Glenfarclas in the 30 years I have been drinking whisky.

The Family Casks are a series of 43 different vintages from 1952-1994. It is an amazing collection of whiskies which I was able to taste last July, well in advance of the official launch during my visit to Glenfarclas with George Grant, Brand Ambassador. The whisky was being bottle at the time , but he had cask samples of every vintage in boxes stacked up all over his office.

“Have whatever you want, John,” he said.

I just stared at the boxes and thought to myself, “Good Lord! A great deal of restraint and self-discipline is in order here.” After all, it was only 10:00 in the morning and I had a busy day ahead of me.

The better part of me persevered and we decided on tasting one vintage from each decade. I was amazed at how different they were. While most expressed a degree of sherry influence, they varied greatly, from light and elegant, to the vintage of my birth year, 1960, which was very dark and brooding.

(As a side note, George informed me that the standard ratio of sherry to bourbon casks for aging Glenfarclas is 60% sherry and 40% plain oak. Yes, that’s plain oak, not bourbon oak. Plain oak means that it was a sherry cask that was used at least four times before, or a bourbon cask that was used three times already. He said Glenfarclas doesn’t use any first fill bourbon casks because it makes the whisky too oily. Very interesting.)

During my most recent visit to Glenfarclas, I once again enjoyed sampling my way through various samples from The Family Casks, including the oldest vintage, 1952. I also had another go at 1960. (Why not? How often does one get to taste a whisky from their birth year?)

My only complaint about The Family Casks is that they have not been available in the U.S. But they sure have been popular. In fact, they ran out of several vintages and have done a second release from the following years: 1952, 1957, 1960, 1967 and 1969 . One guy from France, who tasted his way through various vintages, bought the entire lot from 1960. (He obviously has good taste!)

George Grant assures me that he will work with a few select retailers to bring a portion of The Family Casks to the U.S. Let’s hope so.

I also enjoyed spending some time in the Glenfarclas warehouses, and we tasted some interesting whiskies, including some aged in port pipes. (They have vintages from 1979-1981 aging in port pipes.) In fact, George informed me that, for the first time, they will be importing a Glenfarclas into the U.S. that was aged entirely in a port pipe. It will be a 1981 vintage, 27 years old, and will be available through Park Avenue Liquors in New York City in August. I didn’t get the chance to taste that one, but I am looking forward to it. No doubt you are too!

Special Lagavulin & Port Ellen for Islay Whisky Festival

Saturday, May 10th, 2008

Until recently, Diageo was reluctant to release special whiskies during the Islay Whisky Festival, which occurs annually at the end of May. That has all changed.

This year, they will be releasing two single cask bottlings, including a rare 1981 vintage Port Ellen of which there will be only about 200 bottles. It is the first single cask bottling ever released by Diageo for the general public. (You will have to get it at the Caol Ila distillery, since Port Ellen was closed in 1983.)

I am including the press release below, which also includes pricing. I imagine that the Port Ellen will be sold out in a very short time.

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RARE REWARDS FOR ISLAY WHISKY FESTIVAL PILGRIMS
For this month’s Islay Festival of Malt and Music in May, two exceptional single-cask malt whisky bottlings are being released, for sale exclusively to visitors attending this annual celebration, that attracts malt whisky aficionados from all over the world to Scotland’s famous whisky island.

Following the great success of last year’s single-cask bottling, Lagavulin distillery will be releasing just over 500 bottles drawn from a single European oak cask. Cask No. 1403 was filled on 13 April 1993, and was hand-picked in Warehouse No. 1 by well-known Lagavulin warehouseman Iain MacArthur who has worked at the distillery since 1983. The 15 year old Lagavulin™ single malt whisky was bottled earlier this year at a natural cask strength of 52.9%, and will sell at the distillery for at £59.

Rarer still will be a very exceptional single-cask bottling  –  the first ever by the Distillers –   of the iconic Port Ellen™ single malt. The whisky in this ex Refill American Oak cask was distilled in April 1981, just a couple of years before the distillery finally closed in 1983. The cask has yielded a mere 200 or so bottles, at a natural cask strength of  56.6%.

The Port Ellen will be on sale at Caol Ila distillery for £99.99. It will not be on sale at the Port Ellen Maltings.

Peter Campbell, at the Port Ellen Maltings on Islay, said “It’s uncanny to have the first-ever official single cask bottling from a distillery that went silent 25 years ago. We’re expecting these bottles to sell out very quickly indeed.”

The Lagavulin™ single cask bottling will go on sale at the distillery’s Open Day on Saturday 24 May. The Port Ellen™ single cask bottling will go on sale at Caol Ila distillery on the distillery’s Open Day on 26 May. In both cases the limit is one bottle per visitor. Neither bottling will be available at any other location.

The Lagavulin open day during the Festival is Saturday 24 May. The Port Ellen Maltings open days are 26, 27 and 29 May. The Caol Ila open day is 26 May.

Speyside visit update: The Macallan

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

I was just at the Macallan distillery a few years ago and toured the distillery at that time. So, when I showed up this time, I asked if there have been any changes to the distillery operations. They told me “no”, so I asked if I could just go to the blending lab and spend some time with Bob Dalgarno and Ian Morrison, the Whisky-makers. They obliged. Bob was out for the afternoon, but Ian was there working on the next bottling of Macallan 12 year old so I chatted with him.

I think that the blending lab at The Macallan is as close as a whisky-lover can get to heaven on earth. My afternoon spent there began simply enough. I was a little uninspired by the second Macallan Lalique decanter release this past fall, which contained 55 year old Macallan (and cost $12,000!). I was okay with the aroma and the first half of the palate, but the second half really started showing its age, getting rather woody and tired. I have enjoyed several other 50+ year old Macallan whiskies, and this one seemed a bit inferior to those. The US PR group asked me to taste the whisky again while I was at Macallan, so I did.

The whisky tasted the same to me. And to prove my point to the UK PR Manager who was with us in the lab, I asked Ian if he had anything else in that age range for comparison. That’s when I experienced one of those rare moments that we whisky drinkers can only dream of. Ian rummaged through what looked like thousands of whisky samples to pull out anything close. We tasted a 50 year old that was lighter and fresher with less wood, a 49 year old that was deliciously sherried and even-keeled throughout, and then sampled the Macallan 1946 Vintage bottling which still is the smokiest Macallan I ever tasted.

Catching my breath from all that, we tasted several new releases, including the richly sherried Gran Reserva bottling for the Far East and the Whisky Maker’s Selection for Travel Retail, which is essentially a marriage of 12-21 year old Fine Oak.

I then inquired about the Macallan Replica bottlings and asked if there are any more in the works? Ian said: “No, but I have samples of the original 1861 and 1851 bottlings. Would you like to taste them?” (Not samples of the replica bottlings, but the original whiskies.)

I didn’t have to answer that one. I just looked at him and smiled.

It was an interesting contrast between the two. The 1861 was not that bad actually: European Oak, sherried, adequately matured. The 1851, from what appeared to be American Oak,  tasted quite young. Less than 10 years old I would guess. I didn’t like it. That’s one whisky I don’t think Bob and Ian want to replicate exactly the same as the original. Definitely throw in some older whiskies in the mix on that one.

And so went the rest of my visit in the Macallan blending lab, tasting samples and talking about Macallan whisky, until Ian had to leave for home. A very memorable day indeed.

And it turns out there are some big changes in the distilling operations after all, which we discussed during my visit. I’ll include that information in my feature on Speyside in the 4th Quarter issue of Malt Advocate magazine.

Speyside visit update: Glenrothes

Monday, May 5th, 2008

I was priviledged to have Ronnie Cox, Director for The Glenrothes, show me around the distillery and taste me on some whiskies. Ronnie is a very engaging person, well traveled, and knows a thing or two about whisky too!

After an interesting tour of the distillery (details in the 4th Quarter 2008 issue of Malt Advocate), we worked our way over to the tasting room. Glenrothes’ signature has been that they focus on vintage bottlings, not age statements. There have been a few reasons for this, which Ronnie explained to me:

“We’re looking for maturity, not age. But you must also realize that (brand owner) Berry Brothers & Rudd have a wine background, and the wine industry is more focused on vintage. And at one time, the quality controls weren’t there to make the same whisky twice. They would all be a little different. Releasing vintages shows people the different personalities of the whisky. It’s more about style than anything else. We don’t want to keep making the same whisky. We want to make different styles of whiskies for different moods.”

Ronnie told me that there have been 17 vintage releases of Glenrothes so far from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. He mentioned that they still have some casks from the 1960s, but, to quote Ronnie, “They may not be ours. At one time we used to fill casks for private individuals and age the whisky in our warehouses.”

I didn’t recall ever seeing a Glenrothes in a port pipe, Madeira casks, or something even more exotic, so I asked him about it. He told me that Glenrothes whisky is aged in nothing but sherry and bourbon casks. “We have enough to experiment with working within these parameters,” he said.

Glenrothes did finally release a non-vintage “Select Reserve” a couple years back, which contains the basic house flavor profile. It’s a relatively young whisky (when compared to the vintage releases) but still adequately matured and economically priced. The vintage releases all evolve from the Select Reserve’s flavor foundation.

We sampled numerous expressions, including a 1966 & 1967 limited release around 2000 which, according to Ronnie, at that time were selling between $1,500 and $2,000. The 1966 was from a first-fill sherry cask, very rich and nicely balanced. The 1967, a little bit less expensive than the 1966, was from a second fill sherry cask and was fantastic!

Another whisky that really impressed me besides the 1967 vintage above was the 30 year old bottling released in Duty Free (Travel Retail) a little while back. It’s replacement, a more heavily sherried 25 year old , is no slouch either. It’s not as elegant as the 30, but will romance you with its sherry and wood spices.

There are also some really good new releases from the 1970s, namely a 1975 that was released in the U.S. (A 1978 expression was released in Europe as the sister vintage for those of you across the pond.) Another one from the archives to track down was the amazing 1972 vintage released several years back. That whisky, along with the 30 year old release, may well be the two finest Glenrothes whiskies I have ever tasted. And if you look hard enough, you can probably still find the odd bottle somewhere.

But, steer clear of the 1979 single cask, cask strength whisky that was released to the U.S. a couple years ago. The excessive sherry and sulfur just ruined the show for me. That’s one style of Glenrothes I didn’t need to see. No mood exists for that whisky. Not in my personality, anyway.

Here’s another insider tip for you: There will be no more vintage releases from the 1970s. That’s now common knowledge. But, according to Ronnie, the distillery is also running low on casks from the 1980s (just like many other distilleries I visited in Speyside). Indeed, he told me that the next releases will be from the 1990s. So, now is the time to go out and get those vintages from the 1970s and 1980s that you enjoy and stock up!

One final note. Glenrothes is a key component to the Cutty Sark blend. I tasted the Cutty 25 year old while I was in Speyside and it was amazing. I loved the combination of drinkability, flavor, complexity and balance. It’s one of the best blended whiskies I have ever tasted. Even my wife, who doesn’t normally drink whisky, finished her entire dram. And if she hadn’t, I would have finished it for her! The only problem: it’s not sold in the U.S.

So, for all of you who email me and ask me what you should buy when you are overseas, you now know my answer.

Three down, four to go

Sunday, May 4th, 2008

I have already posted tasting reports on three of my seven Speyside distillery visits two weeks ago. A few diversions have delayed my posting on the other four (namely my reviews of Highland Park 40, Bruichladdich PC6 and my posting of the new Forty Creek whisky).

But, no worries. I have already written about my tasting experiences at the other four distilleries. They are teed up and ready to go. First posting will be on Monday. Let me note that these are just the tasting segments of my distillery visits. These, along with write-ups on my distillery tours, will be published in the 4th Quarter issue of Malt Advocate.

I’ll be out of the office during the daytime the next few days goofing off with a new (used) boat I bought, but plan to check my email in the evenings. If you make any comments to the blog, they might night get posted until the evening hours (after I have approved them).

Bruichladdich PC5 vs. PC6

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

Yesterday I sat down and reviewed Bruichladdich’s peated whisky, PC6. I also compared it to last year’s expression, PC5. An interesting comparison of the two whiskies. You’ll find my tasting notes, and rating, below.

Bruichladdich, PC6, 61.6%, $150
This is six year old 40ppm phenol (very smoky) whisky distilled at Bruichladdich, bottled at cask strength and enhanced in Madeira casks. A young whisky, but mature enough to say that it’s not too young. The immediate impact is damp peat smoke and smoldering charcoal. If you are patient and observant enough (and with an addition of water), you’ll coax notes of vanilla, berried fruit, pear, green apple, and underlying spice (fresh mint, anise), all leading to a briny, smoldering smoke finish. A cult whisky for those who like to push the envelope. When compared to its predecessor, PC5, PC6 is slightly darker in color, creamier, fruitier and a shade softer. Given this, I still prefer the PC5 over the PC6 for its clarity and innocence.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 87