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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Most Recent Whisky

Most Recent Whisky Review

Maker's Mark Private Select

This was picked by Mike Raymond of Houston's Reserve 101 as their 10th anniversary bottling. As the regular readers (both of them) know by now I love Maker's Mark, I love Houston, I love Reserve101 and I have very strong feelings for Mike.  But for some reason this one did not quite work for me, but give it a try as it might for you.   The nose is oaky with some fruity wine notes as well.  Sopem heat from the 55.65% ABV along with calssic vanilla, corn and cola notes.  The taste is hot and a little sharp at first with some black cherry, dark chocolate, jalepeno, burnt caramel and oak char.  The finish is pepper and even a little sour.  With water it gets creamier with some brown sugar and more vanilla. It definately needs a little water (or ice or time) to open it up.

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  • Simon Seaton

    Simon Seaton

    Tuesday, 08 November 2011 02:28

    Jameson 18 year old Limited Reserve

    A great example of how good Irish whiskey (and blended whiskey) can be.  The nose is quite gentle but has notes of fruit and lots of vanilla.  The taste is all sweet toffee, vanilla, butterscotch and some mild spiciness, even coffee.   Smooth and mouthfilling and for 18 years in a cask surprisingly not overly woody or stringent.    A little nutty and maybe some oak and sherry in the finish.
    Monday, 07 November 2011 23:28

    Glenfarclas, Speyside, Scotland

    Describe Glenfarclas in two words?  Old school.  Putting aside the slightly annoying and confusing matter that this is yet another famous Speyside distillery with a Grant family prominent in its history (a different Grant from Glenfiddich and Balvenie and also not the same Grant as Glen Grant) and overlooking the slightly 1960's state school look and feel of the place, Glenfarclas produces high quality Speyside whiskies with a heavy sherry influence.

    The visitor's center does not have any café and the $5 tour is the usual fare with the interesting highlight that you will see the tallest stills in Speyside.  They also store and age all their whisky on site which many of the "corporate" distilleries don't do for rather dull reasons like they want to rent cheaper warehouse space in a more central location or for "risk management" (ie in case the distillery burns down they don't lose all the stock).    After walking around the site you leave with a strong feeling that this is still very much an independent family run business, that they are proud of what they do and they are not about to change anything any time soon.  Good for them.

    Monday, 07 November 2011 23:27

    Penderyn, Wales

    Interestingly this welsh whisky, or wysgi in welsh, would barely scrape under the bar as a "whisky" in Scotland.  It certainly wouldn't be considered single malt for several reasons I will discuss later.  I should also disclose some bias for Wales at this point, as I graduated from the University of Wales and lived in Cardiff for four years.

    The  Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) rules and regulations rightly protect the process and traditions of the industry, but it doesn't means that other methods and technology can't product a whisky (and this is whisky) of exceptional taste and quality.  In fact find it slightly ironic that the industry that was in many ways born from developing the new ideas for manufacturing whisky (the Coffey still, grain whisky and blended whisky) is so entrenched in its thinking today about what defines Scotch whisky, and inversely the sticking to old ways and traditions was one contributing factors of several that nearly completely killed the Irish industry.  Remember that those that don't learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.

    That said Welsh whisky is not about to take over the world, but this is very good stuff.  The distillery in the village of Penderyn, near Brecon is modern and compact.  One reason for this compactness is that the wash is made in Cardiff at the Brain's Brewery and brought to the distillery in tanker trucks.  That in itself would exclude Penderyn from the ranks of "single malt" if it were located in Scotland.  The tour is also compact, in fact it consists of two rooms.  One room houses a history of welsh distilling and the more recent history of the distillery.  The second room is basically the tasting room and has a glass wall.  Behind the wall is the unique still Penderyn use to distill the Brain's wash into an 86 - 92% ABV spirit and a small bottling line.  

    The Penderyn still is a combination of a pot still and a column still and this would again probably prevent this being considered single malt whisky, were it in Scotland, as it is not a traditional pot still.  The spirit is diluted with water drawn from a well below the distillery and put into bourbon casks, matured offsite, and then finished in Madeira casks before being bottled on site.  They also do a peated version of Penderyn which is matured in scotch casks that have previously held peated scotch and a sherry cask finished version.

    After the tour they pour samples from their range of whiskies and also they offer a cream blend called Merlyn.  We also got to smell and taste the new make spirit.  There is the ubiquitous whisky shop as well.  This is an interesting distillery that makes a great product, and is well worth a visit.

    Monday, 07 November 2011 23:24

    Macallan, Speyside, Scotland

    The Macallan is the distillery in Craigellachie where many of the myths espoused by other distilleries come to die.   It is a place of contrast and contradiction and I loved it. 

    The distillery visitor's center is small and it is a place for whisky lovers to pay homage, not for the tourists.  No café or other family facilities, people come here to see the whisky being made and to buy from a very wide range of products available including many that cannot be found anywhere else in the UK.  The tour is very informative and goes into great depth into some of the areas of whisky production that others skirt over, particularly barley varietals (Macallan favours the less popular Golden Promise) and wood.  In fact they have an entire wood exhibit.  I don't mean the exhibit was made of wood, but a detailed exhibit on the types of wood used in their range and even goes in the detailed biochemistry of oak to explain the impact on the taste and aromas of their whisky. 

    But what strikes you walking around the site is the industrial nature of the site.  This is not your quaint, Victorian, artisan, highland distillery, this is first and foremost a whisky factory with huge modern warehouses looming over you on the hill behind the distillery like the dark satanic mills of the famous hymn Jerusalem.  They use different mash tuns, different styles of wash backs (some steel, some wooden) and they even have two different still houses on the site with some still direct heated while others are steam heated.  All the sorts of variations in process that many other distilleries claim to reject and say would greatly affect the nature of final spirit seem less important to Macallan who produce a single malt, The Macallan 18 year old, sometimes called the Rolls Royce of Whisky (admittedly usually by them), and many consider one of the best single malts in the world.

    Interestingly, despite being now reported as the second largest global brand of single malt whisky in sales, behind the Glenfiddich and ahead of Glenlivet, the success and globalization of brand Macallan does not seem to generate the angst and backlash Glenfiddich occasionally does within certain parts of the whisky community.  Discuss.

    Monday, 07 November 2011 23:15

    Yamazaki 12 year old

    I found the nose a little bit evasive and hard to define.  Perhaps some dark dried fruits like raisins and prunes and sweet.  The taste was much more accessible.  Sweet at first with honey and then drying oak and pepper notes in the finish, perhaps some sherry too.   Nice mouth feel, silky and smooth.  This isn't the most complex whisky I have ever tried.  Is it good?  Yes, but didn't quite float my boat
    Monday, 07 November 2011 23:14

    Ballechin #4 The Oloroso Sherry Casks

    Unusual highland whisky from the Edradour distillery, heavily peated at 50 ppm phenol. The color is rich due to the maturation in sherry casks.  The nose is peaty.  That's about all I could get from the nose.   The taste is peaty as well, very powerful and at 46% ABV its mouth coating and full bodied.  Did I mention the peat?  Interestingly it doesn't have quite the same the medicinal qualities found in the many of the heavily peated Islay or maritime whiskies.  With a little water is possible to get past the peat and a few sweet notes can be detected like marshmallow, brown sugar and the sherry from the cask is also there.  But to paraphrase the Fast Show "mostly I have been drinking peat". The good news is if you like peat, you will love this.
    Monday, 07 November 2011 23:12

    Buffalo Trace

    The nose has peppermint and fresh baked bread along with oranges, raisins and some dark fruit notes.  The taste is soft, even muted, with toffee, vanilla, butter and warm bread (possibly rye) and some peppermint (or is that pepper and mint?).  Hints of oak and old books in the finish.

    Everything that's great about bourbon whiskey but with the volume turned down slightly too much for me.

    Monday, 07 November 2011 23:11

    Compass Box Aslya

    A very pale color and a light nose with green apple, vanilla and toasted cereal, reminiscent of breakfast.  Also a little bourbon in the nose.  The taste is smooth as glass, and sweet with butter and vanilla.  The toasted notes from the nose and some oak builds in the finish and leaves just a hint of ashes or smoke.    One of the best (and definitely smoothest) blends I have ever tried.   A fantastic "first whisky of the day".

    As Eric Clapton might say "Asyla, you got me on my knees...." 

    Monday, 07 November 2011 23:11

    Chivas Regal 18 year old

    Easy, enjoyable nose with fruit, maybe banana, vanilla and malt.  There's malt in the taste too, along with pepper and spices, toffee, vanilla and sweet fruit, like over ripe banana.  Oak comes into the finish along with a little sherry and some smoke.  Good, but not great.    A blend in every way (fruity, malty, oaky, smoky) and perhaps for that reason nothing stands out or marks this whisky as special to me.  This one doesn't seem any better than the cheaper 12 year old and nowhere near as good as the 25 year old, so falls a bit flat in the middle, hence two stars.  If I gave half stars this one would be a 2 1/2 star whisky.
    Monday, 07 November 2011 23:09

    Glenfiddich 15 year old Solera

    The nose is honey sweet with sherry, raisins and citrus.  The taste is quite woody and spicy, but still rich and smooth.  Sherry and oak to the fore but with some sweet dark fruits like dates and prunes and even nuts all in the background.  Drying oaky finish as well.  Not my favorite 'fiddich.

    Whiskies Tried...

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    Visited to Date: 58

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    Random Whisky

    Highland Park 25 year old

    I tasted this one at the Higland Park distillery and as I will discuss in my upcoming review of that distillery it had an interesting impact on my palatte and nose as I was unable to detect any of salty, maritime notes I usually get in Highland Park as I had already been on the Orkney Islands for a couple of days.   The nose has sherry and ginger cookies.  Very nice.  The taste is quite sherry influenced and a little spicy with some coffeee, honey, caramel and chocolate and a slight bitter edge.  The finish dries out with wood tannins, pepper and the trademark floral, perfumed smoke of Highland Park's unique peat.