Archive for May, 2012

Whisky Advocate’s #9 whisky of the summer issue

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

Kavalan Solist Fino, 57.6%, $117

Each cask of this nicely packaged malt is selected by the distiller, and so there is considerable variation between batches. This one is a step up from last year’s releases. It’s slightly weaker, but the nose has firmed up into a delightful mix of fresh juicy grape and a spicy dustiness. Tastewise this takes an amazing journey from plummy, sweet fruit up front to a slow dominance of dry sherry at the end. The finish is longer than before.  Excellent. — Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 91

Whisky Advocate’s #10 whisky of the summer 2012 issue

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Beginning today, we’ll be announcing the ten highest-rated whiskies from the summer 2012 issue of Whisky Advocate’s Buying Guide. One whisky, every day, will be announced until we reach the #1 whisky of the summer issue. Please note all whiskies currently available in the U.S. have prices listed in dollars; any whisky priced in other currency is not presently available in the U.S. We begin today with the #10 whisky of the summer issue:

Glenfarclas “Family Cask” 1970 (Cask 140), 57.1%, £345

Another first fill sherry butt, giving its typical reddish-brown hue. This runs more into the clove, cassia, and allspice area than just dried fruit.  While maturity is obvious, and there’s even a hint of dunnage/leatheriness, it is the concentrated fruit sweetness that surprises here. The distillery has fought back against the cask, and while still crepuscular in nature, there is a rich, concentrated, and mellow glow at its heart.  — Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 91

Mike Miyamoto explains Hakushu Japanese whisky

Friday, May 11th, 2012

It’s not often that we have a master distiller visit the Whisky Advocate offices in the sleepy town of Emmaus, PA, but yesterday was one of those days. It was a brief visit–only about an hour–but Mike Miyamoto, the master distiller for Suntory, discussed Hakushu whisky and how the whisky is created.

He was nice enough to taste the Whisky Advocate office staff, not our writers, on some Hakushu whiskies. For this reason, the tasting wasn’t overly technical in nature. However, he did mention a few items you might find interesting.

Hakushu, until about a decade or so ago, wasn’t a peated whisky. Now the whisky is lightly smoky–nothing like the big brutes on Islay–but still is demonstrably smoky. When I visited Hakushu about six years ago, I fell in love with the whisky and have consistently asked Suntory to import the whisky to the U.S. They finally have, with the introduction of Hakushu 12 year old. (Of course, now I am asking them to bring in the 18 year old…)

We tasted the three main Hakushu components that go into making the 12 year old. Interestingly, they don’t use lightly peated malt to make the lightly peated whisky. Instead, they make an unpeated whisky and a highly peated whisky and blend the two together. So, in front of us (pictured) were three samples: Hakushu matured in a hogshead, Hakushu matured in a Spanish oak sherry cask, and a highly peated Hakushu.

Why make a heavily peated and a non-peated whisky and blend them together, instead of just making a lightly peated whisky?

That’s a good question! According to Mike, it’s difficult to ask a malting company to make malted barley to a specific peating level, like 8ppm phenol, to use in making a whisky. There’s too much variability. Instead, they order some non-peated malt and some highly peated malt (around 25 ppm–any higher than this becomes more of a challenge according to Mike) and blend the whiskies together to get it in the range of what would have been 7-9 ppm phenol.

Yes, that means they are making some heavily peated whisky–along the equivalent of Bowmore 12 yr. old in peating level–and could actually bottle this if they wanted. Indeed, they have done just this, but on a very limited basis. (Nice try for all of us living here in the U.S.) It also means that they could put out a heavily sherried Hakushu, which they also have just done, but only in Japan. We also had the fortune of tasting this during his visit. It was delicious: very smooth, clean, and lush–not cloying and sulphur-tinged like some sherried whiskies.

What’s new on the horizon for Suntory and their two distilleries, Yamazaki and Hakushu? Mike told us they are going to be introducing whiskies from both distilleries with no age statements and a lower price. It will be released in Japan only initially. We’ll see where it goes from there.

Why aren’t they selling some of these limited release whiskies here in the U.S. (or even in Europe)? Mike told us the Japanese market has suddenly become smitten with Japanese whisky, and there isn’t a whole lot their whisky to spread around to all the thirsty consumers on this planet. Hey, we’ll take whatever we can get!

One final note: the heavily peated sample we tasted, which would be on par with Bowmore, didn’t taste as intensely smoky as Bowmore. It was softer, gentler. Mike credits the water supply and environment surrounding Hakushu (affectionately referred to as the Japanese Alps) for this.

WhiskyFest New York 2012: A whisky enthusiast’s dream weekend!

Monday, May 7th, 2012

The agenda for the saturday seminar program has been finalized. It’s going to be a great day: rare whiskies, debut whiskies, award winning whiskies, master distillers and blenders, and leading whisky writers all in one place.

A summary of the day’s events is below. If you follow the link to the WhiskyFest website (click on the logo), you’ll find the details in outline form and also be able to purchase tickets to this exciting event.

WhiskyFest New York: imagine a weekend of the world’s best whiskies, two nights of grand tastings and a day of seminars presented by the world’s top whisky distillers and blenders, bringing their best, their oldest,and their newest. The seminars on Saturday, October 27th, 2012, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. will be an unprecedented whisky event for those fortunate enough to attend. This educational experience takes the hands-on approach to learning, engaging every sense as we nose and taste our way through a line-up that is not to be missed. Legendary master distillers, blenders, and whisky makers will be pouring their finest—and newest—whiskies!   

The Whisky Advocate writers—the best in the business—will moderate the five 45-minute seminar sessions, and a special whisky-themed lunch, along with several whiskies making their U.S. and world debuts. A brief summary of this very special day follows.

Debut Scotch Whisky

The first debuting whisky of the day will be presented by John Glaser of Compass Box Whisky, featuring mixologist and Whisky Advocate contributor David Wondrich.  In addition to treating us with a world-debut Compass Box whisky, they’ll also be serving it up in a breakfast cocktail. A great way to start a day!

Whisky Collecting and Auctions
Jonny McCormick, Whisky Advocate contributor and Martin Green of Bonhams will enlighten us on the auction and collecting scene that has exploded lately. They will offer tips on collecting and participating in whisky auctions. Attendees will taste some of the very rare whiskies that have been seen on the auction block. The whiskies speak for themselves, as do the personalities presenting them:

Gold Bowmore – Iain McCallum,
Balvenie Islay Cask 17 year old – Nicholas Pollacchi,
Glemorangie 1963 Vintage – Dr. Bill Lumsden,
Brora 30 year old – Dr. Nick Morgan,
The Glenlivet Cellar Collection (1983 Vintage).

Debut Irish Whiskey
Then, legendary Barry Crockett from the Midleton distillery will present the U.S. debut of his very own Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy bottling.

Trending Scotch
Keeping the momentum going, Dave Broom, Whisky Advocate contributor, examines the trends in Scotch whisky. Join Dave to explore smoky blends, designer whiskies, single malt extremes, and brand premiumization. Dave will be joined by the A-list of master distillers and blenders from Scotland who are making some of these special whiskies. Here they are, with the whiskies they will be pouring:

Dr. Bill Lumsden – Glenmorangie Malaga Wood Finish 30 year
Jim McEwan – Bruichladdich Octomore 4.2
Matthew Crow – Johnnie Walker Double Black
Richard Paterson – Dalmore Castle Leod

Debut Bourbon
Here we will feature the world debut of a very special bourbon presented by Truman Cox,  master distiller from  the A. Smith Bowman distillery.  He knows what the whiskey will be, but for now he’s keeping it a surprise.

Understanding Irish
Dominic Roskrow, Whisky Advocate contributor, follows by taking us on a tour of Ireland, explaining the difference between the single pot still, single malt, grain, and blended whiskeys of Ireland. And, of course, we will taste some very special examples of each, and we will be joined by the master distillers who make them:

Barry Crockett of Midleton distillery will pour Powers John’s Lane (Single Pot Still) and Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve (Blend)
Noel Sweeney from the Cooley distillery will be pouring a very special grain whiskey – Greenore 8 year old
Colum Egan of Bushmills distillery treats us to a very special Bushmills 21 year old single malt.

Lagavulin Lunch

The whisky fun continues at lunch. Diageo’s Dr. Nick Morgan, Head of Whisky Outreach, along with Whisky Advocate writer Gavin Smith, will lead us through a tasting and comparison of three special Lagavulin whiskies: Lagavulin 16, Lagavulin Distillers Edition, and the very limited 2012 Lagavulin 21 year old Special Release.

Bourbon and Rye Innovations
Immediately after lunch, we focus on American whiskey. Whisky Advocate contributor and managing editor Lew Bryson will lead a session focused on innovations in bourbon and rye. Joining him will be three legendary master distillers and one whiskey pioneer, and they will be pouring some very special new releases:

Chris Morris – Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection new 2012 release
Harlen Wheatley  – Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project, comparing two Single Oak bottlings
Parker Beam – Parker’s Heritage Collection new 2012 release
David Perkins – High West’s “Campfire” (a blend of bourbon, rye and scotch!)

Award Winning Whiskies
Finishing up our special day, attendees will taste a sampling of the 18th Annual Whisky Advocate Awards winners published in the spring issue of Whisky Advocate magazine. Here they are, along with the Whisky Advocate contributors who will be presenting them:

Gavin Smith: Lowland/Campbeltown Single Malt of the Year: Springbank 18 year old (2nd edition)
Dave Broom: Islay Single Malt of the Year:Bruichladdich 10 year old
Lew Bryson: Canadian Whisky of the Year:Wiser’s 18 year old
John Hansell: American Whiskey of the Year:Elijah Craig 20 year old
Dominic Roskrow: Blended/Blended Malt Whisky of the Year: Compass Box Great King Street

Tickets for this special day of seminars can only be purchased through a combination package with one of the evening grand tastings.  Tickets are available at whiskyadvocate.com  or by clicking here. We hope to see you at this very special event.

Bourbon goes coastal

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

We’ve all heard of smoky and briny Scotch whiskies, but smoky and briny “bourbon”? That’s a new one!

Two different whiskeys (from different producers) are going to hit the market soon. One’s got some smoke in it, and the other has a sea influence.

Let’s talk about the briny one first. I received a call last week from Trey Zoeller, who puts out the Jefferson’s bourbon and rye whiskeys. He told me he’s got a few barrels of “bourbon” that have been in the belly of a ship for nearly four years. One mysteriously leaked (into the mouths of the crew?) but two others survived. A few stories have been written in the press about it already, including this one.

Take a look at the bottle samples in the picture when compared to standard Jefferson’s. It sure looks like all that sloshing around in warm climates accelerated the oak influence. That’s what I call dark! Trey tells me that one of the barrels in particular is distinctively briny. Samples are on their way. I’ll let you know my thoughts after I taste them.

The second whisk(e)y I want to tell you about is called “Campfire,” courtesy of David Perkins over at High West. David is no stranger to creative blending. He’s already put out Bourye (a blend of bourbon and rye) and Son of Bourye (a younger version of the same). The soon to be released “Campfire” throws in some smoky single malt scotch into the mix. Yes, that’s right: a whiskey comprised of bourbon, rye and smoky single malt scotch.

David just bottled this stuff and is debuting it this weekend. (I tasted some “work in progress” samples. The ones I liked most had the least amount of smoky scotch in the mix.) He also plans to have a special version of Campfire (possibly aged in French Oak) to debut at the WhiskyFest New York seminar program in October.

It sure is a fun time to be a whisky drinker. Let’s just hope these whiskeys taste as good as the stories behind them.

Update: Of course, I just received my sample and press release of the Jefferson’s Ocean-Aged Bourbon right after I posted this. Here are some more details:

Price: $90. Number of bottles: only 600 nationally. ABV: 44%. More importantly, how does it taste? Contrary to my fears, not bad! It tastes like an 18 or 20 year old bourbon. Yes, there’s a heavy dose of oak, but there’s also a sweetness to tame some of it. And I do pick up some sea influence in all that oak, toffee and molasses. Definitely worth a look!