Archive for October, 2010

My initial thoughts on the new Angel’s Envy bourbon

Monday, October 18th, 2010

I was fortunate to receive a “pre-release” sample of the new Angel’s Envy bourbon two weeks ago before WhiskyFest San Francisco from Lincoln Henderson and his son Wes.

Many of you will know Lincoln for the days when he was instrumental making Woodfords Reserve and Old Forester bourbon. You also might have seen him recently at on of our WhiskyFests, conducting seminars for Suntory Yamazaki whiskies.

Now, he’s going to be starting up his own distillery in Louisville, KY, with his son Wes. In the interim, they have purchased some bourbon stocks which they are just now bottling. A portion of the whiskey was finished in Port Pipes. (I think they told me it was about 40%.). Contrary to the indication on the bottle, the whiskey is being bottled at 86.6 proof, not 90.

My thoughts on the whiskey? My review sample was very good. It’s very rich, creamy and fruity, with good weight to it (all thanks to the port pipe finishing). Indeed, the port finishing has enhanced the whiskey’s traditional bourbon flavors without dominating.

I don’t know the age of the whiskey. It tastes like it’s less than 10 years old, but nicely matured. My only criticism at this point: I would like to have seen the whiskey bottled at 90 proof (or even higher) rather than the 86.8. I can always add water, but it’s pretty hard to take the water back out.

I’m holding off reviewing it formally here, because I think Lincoln told me that my sample was from a smaller-scale hand bottling and could indeed differ slightly from the final bottling that is put out on the market. And my sample may not have been chill-filtered. (Lincoln or Wes, if you are reading this, perhaps you could clarify?)

However, if the final commercially released version tastes as good as this one, I’d be scoring it a solid 90. That’s how much I liked it!

When the I do get a sample of the final, fully dressed product, I’ll review it and post it up here.

New Buffalo Trace Antique Collection is a winner!

Friday, October 15th, 2010

Several of you have already been emailing me for my thoughts on the new release. Yesterday I tasted the entire (soon to be released) Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2010 release side-by-side with the entire 2009 release to see how they changed.

I don’t have formal tasting notes written up yet, but I can tell you my general thoughts on the new release. In short: wonderful!

The only true setback last year was with Eagle Rare 17 yr. old (which I rated an 84), because it was showing too much wood (especially compared to the 2007-2008 releases). I’m happy to report that the 2010 is back on track and will score somewhere in the mid 90s.

My second lowest rated whiskey from 2009 was Sazerac 18 yr. old rye whiskey, which came in with a 91 rating. A very nice whiskey, but lost a lot of its zing from earlier years. The 2010 does show more character. Surprisingly, I’m tasting more wood notes in this year’s release. I say surprisingly, because it was my impression that this whiskey over the past few years has been aged in Stainless Steel tanks. This year’s release still doesn’t have the vibrancy of some earlier releases, but it’s a very nice whiskey, which I will rate somewhere in the low to mid 90s.

The William Larue Weller, put simply, is wonderful, just like last year (which I rated a 96). And very similar in profile. (Perhaps just a bit less spicy?) Once again, I will score this somewhere in the mid 90s.

The same goes for George T. Stagg. I loved last year’s release, giving it a 95. This year’s release is very similar–perhaps just a bit less complex, but I am splitting hairs here. I’ll be rating this somewhere in the 93-95 range.

Finally, the Thomas H. Handy rye whiskey, which I gave a 92 to last year, is also very similar this year–perhaps even a little better overall in complexity. I’ll be scoring this at least a 92 and most likely a couple of points higher than that when my formal reviews are done.

So, the bottom line here: we’re looking at five great whiskeys–all classics, or pretty close to classic.

Some new whiskies headed to the U.S.

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

This is from a U.S. perspective. (Yes, we know that you guys across the pond are spoiled and get most of this stuff before we do.) This is the time of the year when we hear about new whiskies being introduced for the upcoming holiday season. Here’s a list of new whiskies that I’ve heard about coming to the U.S. that I haven’t already mentioned here in greater detail on WDJK.

From Diageo:

  • Lagavulin 12
  • Cragganmore 21
  • Talisker 30
  • Glen Spey 21
  • Auchroisk 20
  • Glenkinchie 20

Old Pulteney 30 yr. old (cask strength, coming early 2011)

anCnoc 12 & 16 (started getting into distribution just a little while ago)

Compass Box Flaming Heart (10th Anniversary Edition)

A.D. Rattray whiskies

The Black Grouse

The Glenrothes John Ramsay Legend bottling.

Deanston Virginia Oak

Amrut Intermediate Sherry

GlenDronach and BenRiach single casks (one of each)

A new line of higher-strength Chieftain’s whisky

Angel’s Envy Bourbon

WhistlePig High Rye Bourbon (40% rye!)

Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (I ust got my review samples. Some are better than last year, some aren’t. Still, they are high quality whiskies. Stay tuned.)

A line of Glenglassaugh whiskies (some older expressions too!)

I’m sure there are more (and more will be forthcoming), but these are the  whiskies that come to mind at the moment.

Do you know of any other new whiskies destined for the U.S. this holiday season?

Notable whiskies at WhiskyFest San Francisco

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

WhiskyFest was this past Friday. With more than 250 whiskies to choose from, I narrowed my tasting to a small handful of whiskies that I (for the most part) hadn’t tasted before.

I think the one that I liked the most wasn’t even on the pour list. It was a sample of The Glenrothes John Ramsay Legacy expression (pictured on right). Only 200 bottles are coming to the U.S.  I was very impressed with it–very complex and well-balanced.

Some  others I enjoyed: Old Pulteney 30 yr. old (coming to the U.S. in Q1 2011, and nicely bottled at cask strength), Amrut Intermediate Sherry (coming to the U.S. soon–very smooth), Pappy Van Winkle 23 yr. old (most recent bottling, didn’t taste tired or woody at all), Angel’s Envy bourbon (for its richness and creaminess), Glenfarclas 40 yr. old (okay, I tasted this one before, but I would be a fool not to drink it again!), an A.D. Rattray 18 yr. old Bowmore (single cask, cask strength), a Duncan Taylor Lonach Strathisla 42 yr. old, a Gordon & MacPhail Strathisla 1963 vintage, and a 1975 Vintage Ardbeg from a sample bottle that Master Blender Rachel Barrie was carrying along with her .

I also enjoyed sampling the diversity of the offerings from the craft distillers. And it’s only the beginning of this new movement.

WhiskyFest New York is on November 9th (and is completely sold out). I am already looking forward to trying more new whiskies (and making new friends).

A new limited release Glenlivet

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

It’s great to know that this whisky is coming to the U.S. I’m getting a review sample and will offer my thoughts after I taste it. Press release below.


Commemorating the recent expansion of its venerable distillery, The Glenlivet®, the #1-selling single malt in the U.S., has introduced a limited release Scotch whisky: The Glenlivet Founders Reserve.  Master Distiller Alan Winchester specially crafted the Glenlivet Founders Reserve – consistent with the steadfast tradition of The Glenlivet and founder George Smith – in honor of the June, 2010 distillery expansion. Founders Reserve will be available in the U.S. in limited quantity beginning in October.

Founders Reserve is characterized by its rich and velvety smooth mouth followed by a luxuriously long and lingering finish. The nose offers a full array of fruity flavors ranging from sweet orange marmalade and apricots to warm most fruitcake and is perfectly balanced with the tart and spicy aromas reminiscent of sweet rhubarb and ginger jam. The juicy Clementine and sweet caramel toffee taste envelope the mouth and finish with a delicate hint of spicy cinnamon and raisin.
“Founders Reserve is a fitting tribute to the expansion of the distillery where The Glenlivet single malt Scotch whisky, ‘the malt that started it all’ is created,” noted Wayne Hartunian, Vice President, Whiskies & Cognac, Pernod Ricard USA. “The £10 million expansion supports The Glenlivet’s long-term ambition to become the world’s #1 single malt and represents a new chapter in the remarkable story of The Glenlivet. It is 184 years since founder George Smith embarked on his personal crusade to create a malt whisky against which all others would be judged. Not only did he achieve his objective, but the visionary founder of the distillery would no doubt be gratified to know that The Glenlivet continues to maintain the standards he laid down for it as exemplified in Founders Reserve.”

The Distillery reopening and the unveiling of The Glenlivet Founders Reserve were celebrated at a gala opening ceremony attended by numerous dignitaries, including His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales, Patrick Ricard, Chairman of Pernod Ricard, and Christian Porta, CEO of Chivas Brothers, the Scotch Whisky and premium gin business of Pernod Ricard.

The opening of the expanded distillery also coincided with the recent appointment of Master Distiller Winchester, the man at the helm of the expansion project and one of the Scotch industry’s most respected distillers.  “The opening was a momentous occasion in the long and proud history of The Glenlivet Distillery,” said Winchester. “It was only fitting that we create a very special whisky in celebration of the reopening and the beginning of new opportunities and successes for The Glenlivet. Founders Reserve is a celebration of our storied past and a toast to our future.”

The Glenlivet Founders Reserve will be available in a 750ml size and will retail for a suggested price of $375.


Guest Blog: Book review of “The World’s Best Whiskies” by Dominic Roskrow

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

The mini-marathon of book reviews by Jonny McCormick continues here on  WDJK. Thanks Jonny!

(Please note, the cover image posted here is the UK editon.)

The World’s Best Whiskies: 750 Essential Drams from Tennessee to Tokyo by Dominic Roskrow
Published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang, New York and Jacqui Small LLP, UK | 288 pages

This is one of the more substantial contenders of the whisky book releases this Fall but does size really matter?  Well, there appears to be some publishing machismo about, from Ian Buxton’s 101 Whiskies, Dave Broom’s World Atlas: More Than 300 expressions tasted, to Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2011 (promising more than 4,500 tasted) so slotting in the middle sits Dominic Roskrow’s 750 essential drams. It’s certainly noteworthy to bring out a major new tastings-dominated title in the whisky blogosphere’s golden era, to a marketplace of established tasting titles in the same year as the author played a major role in updating Michael Jackson’s Malt Whisky Companion (6th edition). However, the author’s purpose was clearly not to produce his own heavyweight version of other coffee table texts such as Michael Jackson’s Whisky (2005) or Jim Murray’s Complete Book of Whisky (1997). Here, the purpose is to tell the stories of the key people and distilleries behind the world’s best whiskies.

The introductory section contains a quick overview of distilling, production techniques for single malts, blends and bourbon followed by some brief whisky basics on tasting, glassware, whisky categories, food pairing and cocktails. The selection process of the 750 drams was meritocratic, drawn from contemporary releases and truly global in scope with sections on Scotland, USA, Canada, Ireland, Japan, Europe and the Rest of the World. Tasting notes are straight-forward, informative and expert descriptions without exuberant embellishments and the whiskies are not rated. Interspersed between the tastings are 34 distillery profiles and four distiller profiles. The majority of whiskies are accompanied by a bottle image creating a strong visual aesthetic with enticing double-spreads marking a benchmark for future reference. The creation of ten tasting symbols help you pick out different characteristics from peaty or aged to a high strength warning (George T Stagg bourbon, with eight symbols listed, has more symbols than any other) though it takes some time to become familiar with the system and whilst you’re learning, it would have been helpful to have the symbols and explanations for easy reference on the book jacket inside flap or on an accompanying bookmark. He jests about the irony of a whisky author explaining the best glass for nosing single malts yet publishers insistently placing a tumbler on the front cover. I’m calling this Roskrow’s first law of whisky publishing; check your bookshelves everybody!

There’ll be few WDJK followers unfamiliar with the author’s professional contributions to the field and you sense this is a book he’s been craving to write for years. We’ve read some sneak previews of his background research for the book through recent magazine articles and his writing style, eschewing forgettable statistics and dry passages of history, is credible yet informal, accessible and laced with his trademark references to good music and sports (frequently his cherished Leicester City soccer team). Arguably, in a selection of the world’s best whiskies, there shouldn’t be too many negative points but it does read like he’s being way too nice here. Where he has a chance to be critical, all too often he pulls back, for example on the Wemyss Smooth Gentleman where he remarks on a vaguely fishy nose and how it doesn’t leave a huge impression then draws back declaring it “pleasant enough and worth investigating”. I assume that on a rare occasion, geographical range has overridden quality during selection as a couple of whiskies are listed yet disclosed as not tasted (for example some Corsican whiskies). Similarly, during the territory overviews and profiles, where there is criticism, it is oblique and attributed to unspecified third parties, that is “some say that…” rather than the author’s personal opinion on these issues. Controversies, where they appear, are likely to be well-known tales including Cardhu’s Pure Malt, the launch of The Macallan Fine Oak range and the SWA legal objections to Glen Breton and Compass Box Spice Tree.

 Occasionally, there is overlap between the introduction of the distillery and the tasting notes leading to a degree of repetition, for example, we learn the reason behind the Buffalo Trace name on page 163, only to be reminded of the same fact on page 167. I suspect this is because most tasting books are sampled in small sections rather than read front to back. Bearing that in mind, don’t skip the rewarding sections on the innovations occurring within the blended and blended malt categories, the growth of Irish and Japanese whisky and Roskrow’s drumbeating for European and World whiskies. Finally, the most satisfying writing comes from the sharing of the anecdotes from his whisky writing career such as a late night bar debate on whisky journalism with a spirited Charlie MacLean or his night in an Irish Republican bar in Cork singing rebel songs and drinking Jameson.

With over 900 tasting notes on the Malt Advocate website, do you prefer to read tasting notes in books, magazines or online? How many notes will you read on a single release?

How long does it take you to tune into another expert’s tasting notes? When has someone got a review that perfectly matched your experiences of the whisky?

Guest blog: Book review of “101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die”

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Here’s another book review, exclusive to WDJK, by Malt Advocate features writer, Jonny McCormick.

101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die by Ian Buxton
Hachette Scotland | 224 pages

by Jonny McCormick

The prolific Mr Buxton returns with his third book of the year (I’ll leave you to insert your own Bruichladdich analogy here) but this publication championing 101 whiskies probably has the greatest mass appeal. The cover art is sharp and contemporary, reminiscent of a David McCandless graphic and whilst the title encapsulates the contents perfectly, this is no rampant bucket list of unobtainable luxuries. Buxton’s ground rules for inclusion are availability, affordability and advocacy and the list includes single malts and blends, Japanese, American, Irish, Canadian and English whiskies (Highland Park have more entries than anyone else). Premium bottles costing greater than £1000 are excluded and scarcity explains the absence of closed distillery bottlings (no Rosebank, Brora or Port Ellen here). Each double-page spread contains the bottle image, website, price bracket and distillery details on the left with justification, anecdotes and opinion about each brand or bottling opposite. The tasting notes are straight-forward, no nonsense descriptions of the big flavours devoid of hyperbole and bluster; appropriately and deliberately, he doesn’t score them either. Making the list is recommendation enough and I doubt many experienced palates will have tried every single one on the list, though I can see that could lead to some competitive blogging boasts! (One friend of mine has set the benchmark at 74 having bought a copy already). It’ll make for great bar conversations, as what makes your own 101 list will be highly personal and equally valid as this list. The book’s style is inclusive and companionable, yet sidesteps endless plauditory prose. Where necessary, he can sound the clarion call to galvanize support for particular causes such as Raymond Armstrong’s efforts at Bladnoch and Alex Nicol’s resurrection of Sheep Dip, then turn on a dime and have you chuckling with a humorous aside (can anyone suggest a more bizarre use for a Dewar’s Signature box once you’ve enjoyed the whisky?) This has clearly been both hugely enjoyable to write but also quite therapeutic and Buxton gets everything that’s been buggin’ him off his chest, accusing the Scotch Whisky Association of stifling innovation, taking a swipe at Isle of Jura whiskies which he dismisses as “bland”, criticizing the marketing of Ardbeg and “the overly self-congratulatory” Compass Box website.

This book is a gateway into the world of whisk(e)y for friends who are on the fringes; for those who’ve only dipped their toes in the pool, this book will give them the metaphorical nudge to dive on in. For novices, it’s a more approachable book than the standard texts on single malt whisky, concentrating on brands and flavour and much less worried about production nuances.  Whilst the selected whiskies are global, the text contains some UK colloquialisms (for example, I’m not sure that his analogy of Bruichladdich with Millwall soccer fans will travel too well). I did notice some minor errors such as the wrong bottle photograph on the entry for Thomas H Handy (the standard Sazerac rye bottle is shown) and the price banding for Knob Creek 9 year old, which is displayed at greater than £150 a bottle (if you are Ian Buxton’s ostentatiously wealthy whisky merchant  then shame on you). Whilst the whiskies run A-Z from Aberfeldy to Yoichi, it appears pedantic that Balvenie, Dalmore, Glenlivet, Glenrothes and Macallan aren’t listed by name but lumped at the rear of the book under the definite article and filed under “T”.

This is the book you wish you had when you first got interested in whisky especially the judicious steers towards value for money bottlings, but it still works for the more committed imbiber. Every home should have one.

What would be on your 101 Whiskies to try before you die list? How many of the 101 have you tried?

Guest blog: Book review of “Glenglassaugh”

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

Note: This the first in a series of regular book reviews, exclusive to WDJK, by Malt Advocate features writer, Jonny McCormick.

I’m in San Francisco to host Whiskyfest. Maybe I will see you there?


Glenglassaugh – A Distillery Reborn by Ian Buxton
 The Angel’s Share (Neil Wilson Publishing, Glasgow) |118 pages

by Jonny McCormick

Many of you will share the same scepticism as I do when it comes to approaching whisky books directly commissioned by a distillery company. However, this newly published history of Glenglassaugh distillery has much to recommend it and this high-quality book could comfortably find a place on the shelf of any single malt lover.  Whilst Ian Buxton (pictured) was Director of Marketing for the Glenglassaugh Distillery Co Ltd during this book’s creation, he has had the access and insight to complement his experience as an author without the end result becoming a glossy marketing endeavour, a process he has described as “semi-detached”.

Glenglassaugh – A Distillery Reborn makes absorbing reading from the early history of distilling in the area around the small settlement of Portsoy, Aberdeenshire and the local accomplishments of Colonel James Moir who had the distillery built in 1875 with typical Victorian vigour through to the recent history of the negotiations into the purchase of the distillery and existing stock in 2008 by the Scaent investment group from Highland Distillers who had mothballed the site in 1986. Buxton keeps the history engaging and informative including quirky asides about characters associated with the distillery.

A chapter is devoted to the major developments and changes of ownership from the late 19th century through to its cyclical periods of activity and closure in the 20th century. This includes contributions from Jim Cryle, Glenglassaugh distillery’s manager in the early 1970s and later The Glenlivet’s Master Distiller, as he recounts how attempts were made to tame this Highland spirit made with hard water from the Fordyce Burn by using soft water from Rothes brought in by tanker along with experimental changes made to distillation to try to create a Glenrothes style malt demanded by the owners of the day.

A short reference chapter on the few official and independent bottlings (backed up with an impressive photographic record) separates the old history from the renaissance as Scaent go shopping for a distillery.

Stuart Nickerson, Managing Director is central to the purchase before overseeing the million pound refurbishment as equipment left dormant for two decades is cleaned, repaired or renewed and replaced in time for that first mash on 24th November 2008.

Throughout the book, but especially at this point, the story comes alive with the accompanying original photographs by sought-after distillery photographer Ian MacIlwain (best known for the captivating Bottled History, see Malt Advocate, Q4 2009). From the dereliction of warehouse and malting floor, the dull sheen of the copper-domed Porteus mash tun to the industry of Forsyth’s men as they breathe life back into the neglected stills, MacIlwain creates studied images worthy of lingering contemplation.

With a nod to his Classic Expressions series, Buxton ends with a colour facsimile of the pamphlet by Alfred Barnard commissioned by Highland Distillers in 1898 where he described his journey to Glenglassaugh, then a mighty powerhouse with a solid reputation, interspersed with historical photographs of the young distillery. Fortunately for Glenglassaugh, there is no longer an end to its story.


Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

I want to thank you for being my friend. Even though we may not see “eye to eye” on everything, we all enjoy whisky. We are united for a common cause.

And we understand the true value of sharing time with friends, whether it is with a whisky in hand or not.

This might come across as being a bit gratuitous, but please don’t take it this way. It is most sincere.

I try to be very professional on WDJK and not be emotional, but I will make an exception this one time. I have finally returned home from a long day, spending time with friends and family to celebrate the life of someone who showed me that, regardless of your religion or spirituality, you can’t go wrong by helping others unconditionally.

Today we buried a good friend and father (technically, my stepfather). He wasn’t a whisky drinker. I never saw him drink whisky. In fact, being a missionary, he never told me that he even condoned what I now do for a living.

That’s fine with me. He showed me that there’s something so much more important than that.

He devoted his life to helping other. Unconditionally. When was the last time you voluntarily did something nice for someone and didn’t feel good about it?

A lesson for us all.

Please join me for a drink in San Francisco

Monday, October 4th, 2010

I’ll be in San Francisco later this week for WhiskyFest. The Fest is on Friday. As host, I’m always very busy at WhiskyFest. If you do get the chance to meet me, I usually don’t have much time to chat.

So, I thought it would be cool if we could have a drink together outside of WhiskyFest, when I’m not working. if you’re going to be in town the night before, please join me for a drink at Elixir. I’ll be there from 5:00-6:30pm, before I take the Malt Advocate team out to dinner.

I hope to see you then. Slainte!