Tuesday, March 30, 2021

BenRiach The Twelve and The Smoky Twelve Reviews & Tasting Notes

 



Earlier this month, I reviewed BenRiach's The Original Ten and The Smoky Ten single malt scotches. They both received Bottle ratings from me, and of the two, I preferred The Original Ten. 


Today I'm exploring The Twelve and The Smoky Twelve. Similar to the ten-year expressions, these are not simply sisters with one unpeated and the other peated. They're both non-chill filtered and both naturally colored. They're both bottled at 46% ABV (92°).


The BenRiach does things differently than most Speyside distilleries. It tends to follow a more classic Highland region attributes of peated, light-bodied, and maltier. Guided by Master Blender Rachel Barrie, The BenRiach touts itself as "unconventionally Speyside."


Just as with the 10-year whiskies, I'll do a side-by-side comparison with the 12-years. Before I do, I'd like to thank The BenRiach for providing me these samples in exchange for no-strings-attached, honest reviews.  Let's #DrinkCurious and learn more.


The Twelve





The Twelve is triple-cask matured, using former Bourbon, sherry, and Port casks. It is distilled from 100% unpeated malted barley.  A 750ml bottle will set you back $49.99.


Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, The Twelve presented as the color of brass. It formed a medium rim that led to thick, wavy legs that fell back into the pool. It left sticky droplets on the rim.


Nose:  Aromas of honey, candied orange, and (good) fruitcake provided a rather simple nosing experience. When I drew the vapor into my mouth, malt rolled over my tongue.


Palate:  I found the mouthfeel to be creamy with a medium body. On the front, I tasted black cherry, vanilla, and honey. As the liquid moved to the middle, cocoa, malt, and coffee were easy to discern. Then, the back consisted of oak, spiced fruitcake, and ginger.


Finish:  Ginger continued into the medium-length finish. The black cherry and oak returned, and the three were joined with mocha.


Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I found The Twelve to be tasty, but when I compare it to The Original Ten, it lacked much of the same big fruity notes. Granted, the casks were different, both used the same Bourbon and sherry casks, but The Twelve used Port for the third cask whereas The Original Ten used virgin oak. There's only a $5.00 difference between the two. I enjoyed this enough to convey a Bottle rating, but between the two, I'd choose The Original Ten.


✤✤✤✤


The Smoky Twelve





The Smoky Twelve is also triple-cask matured, recycling Bourbon, sherry, and marsala casks. Incidentally, this was Whisky Advocate's #3-best whisky of 2020.  You can expect to pay around $64.99 for a 750ml.


Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, The Smoky Twelve featured a dull gold color. It formed a medium rim which generated husky, slow legs that crawled back to the pool. It also left sticky, thick droplets on the wall.


Nose:  Fennel and an herbal astringent quality nearly overwhelmed the smoky peat. I was able to pick out apricot and plum beneath those dominating aromas. When I brought the bouquet in my mouth, cherry gave me some respite.


Palate:  The mouthfeel was creamy with a medium-weight body. The front offered vanilla cream and molasses. I discovered orange and dark chocolate at the middle, and then, on the back, things got spicy with black pepper and smoked oak.


Finish:  Medium-long in length, peat and char had a definitive presence which was rounded out by sweet tobacco leaf and black pepper.


Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I was not a fan of the nose. I'm not big on herbal notes or astringent qualities. Thankfully, none of that carried into the palate or finish, and I loved those. Sans the nose, this was a very enjoyable pour. I can certainly understand why this one is popular. Despite the nose, it would be a mistake for me not to confer a Bottle rating for it. Cheers!


My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System
  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It

Friday, March 26, 2021

Yes, There Really Is A Difference in Glassware



Glassware is, believe it or not, a very polarizing subject. It ranges from people telling you it doesn't matter what glassware you use to people telling you someone with some authority says they'll only drink out of one type of glass.  In truth, just as the "best" whiskey is the one you like the most, the "best" whiskey glass is the one you enjoy using the most.


But, make no mistake about it, glassware matters.


The first time I wrote on this subject was back in 2016 for Bourbon & Banter. But I've been a proponent of using the right glassware for many years prior. I keep revisiting this subject because it is constantly changing. There have been Kickstarter campaigns to deliver "new and improved" glassware to the marketplace. And, whenever I find a new design, I am always excited to try it. You could say that I believe there is, somewhere out there, a holy grail to whiskey glassware. 


Today I'm working with nine different glass designs. This is the largest population I've ever conducted for this type of experiment. In an effort to be as fair as possible to all candidates, I used the same whiskey in each glass. I happen to love using Evan Williams Black Label when I experiment. It is available in every market and it is very affordable. I find it offers a nose of caramel, vanilla, and oak, a mouthing of caramel, fruit, and vanilla, and a palate of vanilla, caramel, toffee, corn, and oak.  A very basic, solid Bourbon, and almost perfect for experimentation.


My methodology was as fair as I could make it. There would have been no way for me to do this blind as I know their shape, feel, and weight, and handling them all was necessary. As such, I'm not going to come up with a "best" glass. 


I poured a measured half-ounce into each glass. I let each glass oxidize for the same amount of time. I set this up into four different categories:  Hand Feel, Nosing, Mouthing, and Palate. I changed the order of glasses in each category.  I also didn't want to bias my nose or palate. I reset my olfactory sense between each sample. I drank water between each sample tasted, and I spit everything (hence the affordability aspect) rather than swallow to avoid burning out my palate and not getting buzzed.


Let me get some necessary disclosure out of the way. When I compose reviews, I always use a Glencairn Whisky Glass unless I specify otherwise. I use a Glencairn for several reasons, but they're my reasons. Also, I have friends who have designed or represent different types and brands of glassware. Those friendships do not interfere with my ability to determine which glassware is best for me.


My purpose is not to prove to you why the Glencairn glass is my glassware of choice. Rather, it is to demonstrate how design affects the factors I consider to be important.  As such, let's get on with it.


Shot Glass


The first glass up is the basic shot glass. These are very affordable, only a buck or so in most cases. They are usually made of glass, but there are resin, stoneware and metal options. Its purpose is, understandably, to deliver a shot of whatever. Mine has measurement lines. While you can sip from it, many folks simply slam back a pour. 

Hand Feel:  This can be held with just two fingers without trouble. A glass version will have weight to it and can offer a satisfying thunk as you slam it back on the counter or table.

Nosing:  I can pick up alcohol fumes and a bit of oak, but even that is hidden beneath the alcohol. There was no real change trying various nosing zones.

Mouthing:  When I inhale through my mouth, I am able to pick out vanilla.

Palate:  There isn't a lot in terms of flavors. It is buried under alcohol burn. I was able to taste oak.


Rocks Glass

Next up is a standard rocks glass. These are uncomplicated and most of us have a set. They are priced from a buck to being pricey, depending on the material and thickness. It can easily accommodate rocks or a sphere. 

Hand Feel:  A rocks glass fits the hand well and a high-quality one can have some heft. 

Nosing:  It is easy to get my face up to it without a blast of alcohol fumes. I was able to pick out vanilla and oak. I did not find any variety with my various nosing zones. 

Mouthing:  Inhaling through my lips offered only oak.

Palate:  The whiskey was creamy and soft. It offered some alcohol burn but was not overwhelming. 


Glencairn Canadian Whisky Glass


The Glencairn Canadian Whisky Glass is specifically designed for Canadian Whisky. However, it is also versatile enough for other types. It has a bowl shape that tapers and then flares outward. It can accommodate rocks or smaller spheres. They run, on average, about $15.00.

Hand Feel:  These are crystal glasses but lack significant heft. I find them a bit on the large side for holding in my hand, and easier to grasp underneath in my palm.

Nosing:  I didn't experience any overwhelming fumes, the shape of the glass did assist in deflecting. I was able to pick up vanilla, caramel, and oak.

Mouthing:  Inhaling through my lips led me to heavy wood notes. There was no alcohol burn.

Palate:   I found there was an overall muting of flavors. There as no burn but I felt like aside from corn, everything else was missing. 


Norlan Whiskey Glass

The Norlan Whiskey Glass is one of those Kickstarter styles. It is a double-walled glass with fins at the bottom. The purpose of the fins is to assist in aeration, thus unlocking flavors. They're on the pricey side, usually about $24.00 (and are sold in pairs). 

Hand Feel:  The Norlan feels delicate, almost as if it would break in my hand if I held it too tight or let it hit the table too hard. In reality, it is far sturdier. It also fits my hand unnaturally, heightening my concern of breaking it.

Nosing:  The fins create an obvious difference, as everything smells sweet. I lost any semblance of oak, but vanilla and caramel aromas were heavy.  There was no alcohol burn.

Mouthing:  Caramel was thick and danced across my palate without alcohol fumes.

Palate:  The whiskey was soft and silky. It flowed easily across my tongue. I picked up caramel, vanilla, toffee, corn, and oak - everything I expect from Evan Williams. There was a hint of alcohol warmth, but not what I would describe as burn.


Glencairn Whisky Glass

The Glencairn Whiskey Glass was designed in 2001 and utilized a tulip shape. It directs the aromas to the nose and the liquid to the tip of the tongue. It is popular and used at distilleries around the world. You wouldn't want to use ice in this other than chips. Prices are all over the spectrum, but you can pick up a basic, unbranded one for under $10.00.

Hand Feel:  The Glencairn glass is weighted well. I find it very easy to pick up by its thick foot. Its shape helps me manipulate its direction while I'm nosing and has a natural feel when sipping. 

Nosing: It is easy to tilt and twist the glass to switch between each nostril. It sits properly at my chin, just below my lower lip and finally, my nose. As such, I experienced little effort in picking up caramel, vanilla, and oak. 

Mouthing:  Channeling aromas directly in my mouth is facilitated by its design. Vanilla, caramel, and fruit were obvious.

Palate:  I picked up caramel, vanilla, toffee, corn, and oak, and the narrow mouth helps aim the liquid across my palate versus everywhere in my mouth, allowing me to pick out the individual flavors.


Riedel Vinum Cognac Glass

Riedel is a well-known glassmaker, especially as it pertains to wine. It also makes a cognac glass, which performs well as a whiskey glass. It is tulip-shaped, but with a more flared mouth than the Glencairn. Retail is about $18.00. You wouldn't want to use anything more than chipped ice in it.

Hand Feel:  The stem makes it very easy to grasp, twist and manipulate. It is weighted well and while delicate looking, feels solid.

Nosing:  There is something lost in the nosing process. I can pick up oak and vanilla.  If I twist and turn the glass, I can also find the caramel. There were no unpleasant alcohol fumes.

Mouthing:  Caramel was easy to pick up, but it lacked anything else, including alcohol burn.

Palate:  The whiskey seemed creamier than it did in any other glass, and as it flowed across my palate, I had no trouble picking up vanilla, corn, and oak. However, missing was toffee and caramel.


Libbey Perfect Glass

The Libbey glass is a different take on the channeling design. Rather than a bowl of any kind, it offers hard angles at the bottom, then it starts narrowing as it goes up. These are sold in sets of four and can be had for about $9.00 each. Rocks can be used, but a sphere would not fit.

Hand Feel:  The Libbey Perfect is difficult to hold. It has some weight to it, but there is no natural place for your fingers or even the palm of your hand to grasp it. 

Nosing:  Despite a very different shape, it performed almost exactly like the Canadian Whisky glass.  I was able to pick up vanilla, caramel, and oak, and didn't find anything in terms of alcohol burn. 

Mouthing:  I found vanilla and oak, but strange as it sounds, both "tasted" stale. There was no alcohol burn to speak of.

Palate:  The flavors of corn, vanilla, and fruit were evident, however, they came across muted. There was a very small amount of alcohol burn.


NEAT Ultimate Spirits Glass

The NEAT glass has gone through a few name changes over the years. It started off as the NEAT Experience. I've also seen it called a NEAT Judging Glass and NEAT Ultimate Spirits Glass. Regardless of what it is called, NEAT is an acronym for Naturally Engineered Aroma Technology. It looks like someone took a Canadian Whisky Glass and smooshed it down. The bowl is flatter, and the mouth is very flared. You can add rocks but, unlike the Canadian Whisky glass, you wouldn't get a sphere to fit. Retail is about $16.00.

Hand Feel:  The NEAT glass fits in my hand nicely, and much better than a Canadian Whisky Glass. It also feels less delicate.

Nosing:  I found the NEAT glass allowed sweeter notes to shine through, making vanilla and caramel easy to discern. Less easy was the oak, but it was there. I found no alcohol burn.

Mouthing:  I was absolutely shocked to find I pulled nothing at all while attempting to inhale through my mouth. I suspect it has to do with the very wide, flared rim.

Palate:  Drinking from the NEAT glass is challenging. You must lean your head back to get the liquid beyond the flare. However, it provided a softening of the mouthfeel. It also eliminated any alcohol fumes and burn. I was able to pick up all of the expected flavors of corn, vanilla, caramel, toffee, and oak.


Aged & Ore Duo Glass

The Aged & Ore Duo Glass is another one that started with a Kickstart campaign. Like the Norlan glass, it also features a double-walled design. This one has no fins. Instead, it has ribbed lines along the inside wall that serve both to measure and aerate. The glass is large enough to accommodate rocks or a sphere and costs about $24.00 each. 

Hand Feel:  This is very similar in feel and appearance as the Norlan glass, meaning it looks very delicate but isn't. While the lack of heft is the same, the shape is slightly different and I found it easier to hold than the Norlan.

Nosing:  There was no alcohol burn. I found aromas easy to detect and had no issues picking out the vanilla, caramel, and oak.

Mouthing: When inhaling through my mouth, all I could pick out was oak. There was also a lack of alcohol burn.

Palate:  I found the Duo Glass to be easier to sip from than the Norlan, but more difficult to identify flavors. It isn't to say I couldn't discern the vanilla, corn, and oak, but it took a good deal of effort and I missed out on the toffee and caramel. There was also a muted flash of alcohol heat.


Conclusion

My personal experience is that I get the best overall performance from a Glencairn Whisky Glass. But, it isn't the winner in each category. When comparing price, form, and function, it is simple for me to gravitate to it and I'm used to it. Keep in mind that the Norlan and NEAT glasses have huge fanbases as well.


The point of all this was to demonstrate how different glass shapes provide different results while pouring the same exact whiskey. Don't let anyone tell you the glass doesn't matter. It absolutely does.  Just find what works for you and enjoy your whiskey the way it makes you happy. Cheers! 




My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System
  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Barrell Seagrass Review & Tasting Notes

 



Barrell Seagrass may be the most unique whiskey I've ever tried. There, I said it!  When it becomes challenging for me to figure out just what I'm tasting, that piques my interest. Each time I took a sip, I was tasting something else.


Seagrass begins with a blend of Ryes from MGP of Indiana and an undisclosed Canadian distillery. They've been finished separately in some rather unusual barrels:  Martinique rum, Malmsey Madiera, and of all things, apricot brandy barrels. If you're trying to imagine what this would taste like, don't bother. I spent a week wondering about it. I was wrong.

 

"Seagrass stands alone as a whiskey, while also inviting the drinker to explore the multitude of influences created by a global approach to sourcing, finishing, and blending. It highlights the grassy oceanside notes we love in rye and the opulence and spice of finishing barrels." -- Joe Beatrice, founder of Barrell Craft Spirits.


If you're unfamiliar with Barrell Craft Spirits, they're blenders. There are good blenders and less-than-good ones. Barrell is in the former grouping. That's not to suggest everything they do is awesome, I've had some blends that have fallen short. But, I've enjoyed most of what I've tried.


Seagrass doesn't carry an age statement, and like everything out of Barrell, it is packaged at barrel proof. In this case, that's 118.4°. You can expect to pay about $89.99, which is about average for a Barrell expression. 


Before I get to the tasting notes and recommendation, I'd like to thank Barrell for providing me a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. With that, it is time to investigate this whiskey.


Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Seagrass was bright bronze in color. It made a thin rim and perhaps the thickest legs I've seen. They were heavy and crashed back into the pool.


Nose:  Here's where things got really different - dried apricot and plum were sweet notes, then brine offered a barrier of sorts, separating out the grass and mustiness on the other end of the spectrum. When I inhaled through my lips, coconut and apricot rolled across my tongue.


Palate:  The mouthfeel was full-bodied and weighty. The front of my palate found candied apricot, peach, pear, and pineapple. Rich, strong pineapple. The middle consisted of chocolate, almond, and caramel. On the back, there was a mixture of cinnamon, molasses, candied ginger, and the bitterness of walnut.


Finish:  Long and warming, the finish had plenty of wood tannin, salted chocolate, molasses, ginger, rye spice, apricot, and pineapple. Again, these are things that are difficult to imagine intermingling with one another. I did find my hard palate zinged quickly, but the sweetness mellowed out any burn the proof may have otherwise presented.


Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  As I said at the beginning, this is probably the most unusual whiskey I've tried. It was sweet. It was spicy. It was earthy. The challenge became both exciting and a little frustrating. But, as I experienced the frustration, I caught myself smiling because the mystifying quality just worked for whatever reason.  


If you're adventurous and want to really #DrinkCurious, I'm here to tell you this is going to stimulate the heck out of you. Of course, I'm in that camp, which means Seagrass grabs my coveted Bottle rating. Cheers!


My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System
  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It



Monday, March 22, 2021

Obtanium "Beautiful Swan" Single Barrel Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes

 



MGP is the big boy on the block when it comes to sourced whiskey in the United States. There are some other big names who provide whiskey to brands, but no one really does it at the same level. A handful of years ago, brands were shy to admit their whiskey was really MGP distillate. Folks frowned on MPG.  Oh, wonderful, another MGP Bourbon. Yawn. 


But then, something almost magical happened. It isn't that MPG necessarily got better, but it developed a cult following. Now, when someone bottles MGP whiskey, they either come right out about it or they make it obvious in some other way. Excited consumers now ask, Is this MGP? and hoping the answer is Yes. 


In Bettendorf, Iowa, there exists a place called Cat's Eye Distillery. It buys a lot of MGP distillate. Sometimes it is Rye, sometimes Bourbon, sometimes Light Whiskey. Gene Nassif of Cat's Eye is prolific on social media and doesn't hide the facts. 


If you cross over the Mississippi River into Wisconsin and head into Appleton, you'll find Niemuth's Southside Market. Niemuth's picks a lot of interesting barrels and uses The Secret Midnight Whiskey Club to do its barrel selection. In full disclosure, I've been involved with a handful of their picks. Not all, not most, just a handful.


Today, I'm reviewing Obtanium Bourbon Whiskey, which is a Niemuth's pick called Beautiful Swan.  The Obtanium label is owned by Cat's Eye.  It consists of an MGP Bourbon utilizing its 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% malted barley mash and was aged for six years. It weighs in at 118.2°, and you can expect to pay $29.99 for a 375ml bottle.


I'd like to thank Niemuth's for providing me a sample of Beautiful Swan in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. I'm ready to #DrinkCurious.


Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Beautiful Swan was, well, a beautiful burnt umber color. It produced a medium rim and watery, fast legs that sped back to the pool of liquid sunshine.


Nose:  In an unusual fashion, the first aroma to hit my nose was nutmeg. Nutmeg is typically a comparatively subtle smell against others, but this time it jumped out quickly. I found cinnamon, charred oak, cherry, and plum as well. When I breathed the vapor in my mouth, I got a cherry vanilla blast.


Palate:  I discovered a creamy, full-bodied mouthfeel that offered a distinctive Indiana hug. Fruity flavors of cherry, plum, and berries were on the front of the palate. As it moved to the middle, I tasted caramel, nutmeg, and English toffee. Then, on the back, I experienced rye spice, cinnamon, toasted oak, and sweet tobacco leaf.


Finish:  Things started off sweet with cherry, then earthy with dark chocolate, and finally spicy with cinnamon and rye. As those two faded, clove came in late and offered an overall longer finish.


Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  In my experience, six years seems to be a nice sweet spot for MGP 36% rye Bourbons. That's not to say they're all good because they're not. But, Beautiful Swan fits the bill and I sure enjoyed the heck out of it. I'm confident you'll find this to be a good Bourbon, and as such, it earns my Bottle rating. Cheers!


My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System
  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It


Niemuth's Southside Market is located at 2121 S. Oneida Street in Appleton, WI.



Friday, March 19, 2021

Barrell Bourbon Batch 28 Review & Tasting Notes

 



Some folks get hung up on single barrels, single malts, etc. I make it a point at any of my tasting events for my guests to keep an open mind - the whole #DrinkCurious philosophy is pushed hard.  Single barrels and single malts can be awesome, but blending is a learned skill and unless you're very, very lucky, you don't just mix things together and wind up with a good finished product. Play around with an infinity bottle - you'll understand that many great whiskeys blended together do not necessarily make for a good blend. Believe me, I know. I've dumped my own attempts at infinity bottles down the drain because they were just horrific.


Today I'm sipping on Batch 28 Bourbon from Barrell Craft Spirits. If you're unfamiliar with Barrell, they aren't distillers, they're blenders. They're also, for the most part, at the top tier of American blenders. I won't say that I've loved everything Barrell has put out, but I will say that I've enjoyed most of it. A good example of Bottle and Bust ratings for Barrell can be found on my review of their Private Release Series. The nice thing about Barrell, good or bad, is that everything is bottled at barrel-proof. They dilute nothing. 


Batch 28 is a blend of 10- and 11-year Bourbons distilled in Indiana (MGP), Kentucky, and Tennessee (George Dickel).  I've stopped trying to nail down who Barrell sources their Kentucky components from. The proof is 108.86° and the suggested retail price is $90.00. Per the youngest whiskey in the blend, it carries a 10-year age statement.


I'd like to thank Barrell Craft Spirits for providing a sample of Batch 28 in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. Let's get to it.


Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Batch 28 presented as a hazy orange amber. It offered a medium rim, but husky, slow legs that dropped back to the pool while leaving sticky droplets behind.


Nose:  Batch 28 was fragrant before I pulled the glass anywhere near my face. A fruitful bouquet of orange zest, apricot, peach, and cherry started things off. They were joined by honey, oak, and a mineral quality that spoke Dickel. When I drew the vapor into my mouth, I could swear a Dreamsicle caressed my tongue. 


Palate:  I found the mouthfeel to be extremely oily and coated everywhere. As the liquid hit the front of my palate, flavors of orange citrus, cherry, apricot, and strawberry required no effort to discern. At the middle, I tasted a marriage of smoked vanilla and salted caramel. The back featured oak, walnut, orange peel, and clove.


Finish:  Long and warming (but not hot), the finish seemed like a blending of Grand Marnier, Triple Sec, smoked oak, black pepper, and a dash of brine.


Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I loved the orchard of fruit on the nose and palate. The mouthfeel was deliciously oily. There was no Flintstone vitamin quality that can come from Dickel-sourced whiskeys. The finish reminiscent of two great liqueurs was a nice touch and unexpected. I believe Barrell has another winner with Batch 28, and I'm happy to tender my coveted Bottle rating. Cheers!



My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System

  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It



Thursday, March 18, 2021

My Appearance on "This is My Bourbon Podcast" Tonight

 



It was a great time tonight on Perry Ritter's This is My Bourbon Podcast!  If you don't know Perry, he's the designer of my Whiskeyfellow logo. He's also a nice guy and has this hilarious podcast.


The topic tonight was the recent Jack Daniel's Barrel Proof pick for The Speakeasy_WI called Grumpy Old Men.  With me were Steve Schwartzer and Troy Mancusi, the other admins of The Speakeasy_WI. 


Give it a look-see, it'll run you about an hour. Cheers!

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Ha'Penny Irish Whiskey Review & Tasting Notes


Sometimes, when you wander the aisles of your local liquor store, you find something new. And then, when you're traveling, you wander the aisles of a far-off liquor store and you're more apt to discover the undiscovered.


Now that COVID is starting to (finally) start to show cracks, I'm able to explore liquor stores in further-flung areas. While shopping in East Dubuque, I stumbled upon a bottle of Ha'Penny Irish Whiskey. Maybe you've heard of it, maybe not. Toss me in the latter group. But, for $27.00, I wasn't going to pass it up, especially after reading the label.


This is a blended Irish whiskey using four different types of cooperage:  ruby port pipes, Oloroso sherry butts, first-fill Bourbon barrels, and twice-charred oak. The label wasn't done shelling out the transparency.  The port pipes held malt, as did the Bourbon barrels. The sherry butts and twice-charred oak held grain. It is non-chill filtered and bottled at 43% ABV (86°). It is produced by the Pearse Lyons Distillery with the key term being produced - meaning they likely didn't distill some or all of it.





Further research told me the final blend was 38% malt and 62% grain.  The whiskeys aged between four and ten years.  The Bourbon barrels came from Town Branch Distillery


"For Dublin is a city of character and of characters and is warm, witty, and welcoming in equal measure. And that spirit has connected people through the years, just as the Ha'Penny Bridge joined the people of Dublin." - Pearse Lyons Distillery


If you're like me and wondering what the term Ha'Penny means, that's "a halfpenny" which was the toll required to cross the bridge.


Let's #DrinkCurious and find out what this affordable whiskey is all about.


Appearance:  In my trusty Glencairn glass, Ha'Penny presented as golden with an orange tinge. It created a sticky, thicker rim, which led to heavy, slow legs that dropped back to the pool of liquid sunshine.


Nose:  I found the aromas to be sweet and fruity.  I found a punch of honey married to apricot, raisin, and stewed peach. Those were joined by nutmeg and a smattering of woods - I was able to identify oak and cedar, but there was an exotic that I couldn't pin down.  When I brought the vapor into my mouth, chocolate and golden apple danced across my tongue.


Palate:  The mouthfeel was both oily and buttery. At my first sip, I could swear I was drinking a French Chardonnay. On the front was vanilla, brown sugar, and coriander. As it flowed mid-palate, I tasted apricot, date, and golden raisin. Then, on the back, it became earthy, with oak and apple.


Finish:  The length of the finish was difficult to categorize. Some sips gave me a short finish. Others, it became long. It kept cycling between the two. It was never somewhere in-between. A big blast of oak was followed by lemon and orange zest and ended with coriander.


Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  There was nothing mind-blowing about Ha'Penny but it was absolutely an enjoyable experience. I loved the mouthfeel and how fruity things are. I appreciate that Pearse Lyons didn't dilute this all the way to 80°, which it could easily have done. But, I find the extra proof points give it the character it deserves. The price is a no-brainer. This is better than many Irish whiskeys at a similar price-point. As such, it takes my Bottle rating. Cheers!


My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System
  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It

Monday, March 15, 2021

BenRiach The Original Ten and The Smoky Ten Reviews & Tasting Notes

 



Speyside whiskies aren't exactly known for smoky qualities. These are the Scotch workhorses, the region where many newbies begin their Scotch journey. They tend to be easy drinkers, and for the most part, lack nuances that some drinkers can find off-putting. The Speyside region is known for rich, fruity flavors, little-to-no peat, and is where a majority of Scotland's distilleries are located. 


The BenRiach does things differently than most Speyside distilleries. It tends to follow a more classic Highland region attributes of peated, light-bodied, and maltier. Guided by Master Blender Rachel Barrie, The BenRiach touts itself as "unconventionally Speyside."


I've decided to do a side-by-side comparison of two ten-year single malts from this distillery.  The former is The Original Ten, which is the core whisky for The BenRiach, and the latter is The Smoky Ten. This is an interesting exercise because while similar in some aspects (both single malts, both aged in three types of cooperage, both aged a decade, both are naturally-colored), they also can't be any more different from one another. In a preview of an upcoming review, I'll also do the same with its twelve-year cousins.


Before I #DrinkCurious with these whiskies, I'd like to thank The BenRiach for providing me samples of The Original Ten and The Smoky Ten in exchange for no-strings-attached, honest reviews.


The Original Ten




This is the flagship whisky representing this distillery. It has matured in Bourbon, sherry, and toasted virgin oak casks. Bottled at 43% ABV (86°), you can expect to spend about $45.00, offering a low barrier of entry.


Appearance:  Poured neat in my Glencairn glass, The Original Ten suggested the color of golden straw. It formed a medium ring, with medium-weight legs that fell back into the liquid sunshine.


Nose:  If you were blindfolded, you'd swear you were walking through an orchard. Aromas of cherry, orange, and plum were everywhere. Honey and brine followed. When I took a whiff with my open lips, it was pure honey. 


Palate:  The mouthfeel was oily with a medium body. On the front, I tasted apricot, pear, and orange peel. The middle was simple with malt and honey, and the back featured oak, vanilla, and almond paste.


Finish:  Out of nowhere, there was a puff of smoke, it was very slight but unmistakable. Oak, honey, clove, and pink peppercorn offered a medium-to-long finish. I was a bit taken back that my hard palate sizzled at only 86°.


Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  The Original Ten goes down easy while being a memorable pour. I'm assuming that while aging it picked up peat from the air, that or a small portion of the malted barley used peat in the drying process. The fact that my hard palate reacted was puzzling. In my opinion, someone new to Scotch would love this - it lacks any astringent (Band-Aid) quality. At the same time, an experienced fan of Speysides would find this a nice change of pace. Looking at the price, this seems like a no-brainer Bottle rating. 


✤✤✤✤
 

The Smoky Ten




If you assume this is simply a "smoky" version of the flagship Scotch, you'd be wrong. The three types of casks used to age The Smoky Ten are Bourbon, Jamaican rum, and toasted virgin oak. It also utilizes peated barley from the Highland region.  Packaged at 46% ABV (92°), a bottle will set you back about $49.00. Considering the proof and age, that's a decent price for Scotch.


Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, The Smoky Ten gave a yellow gold appearance, like what you'd see on a nice watch. It made a thin rim, but slow, sticky, thick legs dropped back to the pool.


Nose:  The peat is obvious. It isn't the same as you'd find as something from the Islay region, but it is true to its name:  smoky. Once you get past it, honey, apricot, and orange marmalade gave it a sweet nose.  When I took the fumes into my mouth, smoky vanilla rolled across my tongue.


Palate:  The mouthfeel was medium in weight, but lacked the oiliness of The Original Ten. Similar to the nose, peat was the first sensation experienced. The front also had flavors of vanilla wafer and honey. As it worked its way past, it became malty with roasted pear and orange citrus. The back brought the peat back, along with oak, clove, and tobacco leaf.


Finish:  Long and drying, The Smoky Ten had a bit of pucker power. I almost instinctively smacked my tongue against the roof of my mouth as peat, dry oak, and brine eventually yielded to black pepper.


Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  If you've been reading my reviews for a while, you know I'm attracted to the unusual, and peated whisky out of the Speyside region is that. Peat is something I enjoy, and I realize that's not for everyone. But I'll go on out on a limb and suggest if you don't like peat (or you've never tried it), this may be a good opportunity to dip your toe in the water. The price gives a lot of bang for the buck, and it's a tasty dram. My Bottle rating is well-deserved.  Cheers!



My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System
  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It


Sunday, March 14, 2021

And a New Record is Set...

 



This is a new record - for a barrel sell-out. In a mere four hours, this Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Select dubbed Grumpy Old Men and picked by The Speakeasy_WI for Neil's Liquor of Middleton disappeared. 160 bottles, 130.2°, and 5-1/2 years old. 


The selection committee was Dan O'Connell, Troy Mancusi, Steve Schwartzer, Ty Krugman, and me.


The previous record was held by The Rat Pick selected for Riley's Wines of the World. That one sold out in a day.


Cheers!

Friday, March 12, 2021

The GlenDronach 18th Batch Cask Bottling Reviews & Tasting Notes

 


I've come to respect Dr. Rachel Barrie. She's the Master Blender of The GlenDronach, The BenRiach, and Glenglassaugh distilleries. I've been blessed with some amazing opportunities to taste selections from the first two - I've yet to try the latter. Regardless, Dr. Barrie has proven to me she knows what she is doing and doesn't fool around when it comes to whisky.


The GlenDronach is a distillery in Scottland's Highland region. Established in 1826, it is one of the oldest licensed distilleries. The distillery concentrates heavily on aging its whiskies in former sherry casks as well as craft casks.


The most recent release is their Cask Bottling Series, called The 18th Batch. The release is comprised of eighteen casks selected by Dr. Barrie for their unique character and representations of what the distillery has to offer. Four of those casks have been released in the United States:  2008 Cask #3017, aged 12 years, 2005 Cask #1928, aged 14 years, 1994 Cask #5287, aged 26 years, and 1993 Cask #7102, aged 27 years.


The GlenDronach Cask Bottling Batch 18 is a celebration of the distillery’s time-honored mastery and a showcase of the finest of what this richly-sherried Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky has to offer.


This long-standing, much-loved release is a focal point to each year, demonstrating the exquisite character of our whiskies, through these exceptional casks which I have carefully hand-selected. Each cask individually explores the sophistication, powerful intricacy, and rich layers of Spanish sherry cask maturation found in every expression of The GlenDronach." - Dr. Barrie

The four are all naturally-colored and non-chill filtered. I've had a chance to try each, and am combining them into a single, four-part review. Before I get started, I'd like to thank The GlenDronach for providing the samples in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. Let's #DrinkCurious.



2008 Cask #3017





This single malt has been aged 12 years in a former Olorosso sherry cask, filled in the late summer to take advantage of the peak interaction of the newmake and sherry.  It is bottled at 59.8% ABV (119.6°). There was a yield of 628 bottles with a suggested retail price of $120.00.


Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, 1994 presented as a golden amber color. It offered a thinner rim, but thick, slow legs that fell back to the pool. 


Nose:  Aromas of raisin, nutmeg, caramel, and nuts were easy to pick out. Beneath those were plum and dark chocolate. When I drew the vapor into my mouth, sherry notes were evident.


Palate:  Full-bodied and oily, I tasted thick honey, orange marmalade, and raisin on the front. At mid-palate, I discovered a blend of nutmeg and chocolate. On the back, the chocolate continued and was joined with fig and oak.


Finish:  Long, sweet, and dry, the finish consisted of mint, raisin, candied orange slices, fig, oak, and dry sherry.


Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  For about $120, we're scratching the ceiling of 12-year Scotch. But, not when you take into account the proof. Sherry notes abound, Cask #3017 does nothing to mask it and, in fact, shines a spotlight on it. Folks that crave sherry-bombs are going to drool. Folks who are new to Highland Scotch might as well.  I left happy, and this snags my Bottle rating.



2005 Cask #1928






Aged 14 years in a former Pedro Ximénex cask before being dumped and bottled, Dr. Barrie suggests the PX sherry influences both the light and dark aspects of the whisky. Packaged at 58% ABV (116°), there are 612 bottles available for about $150.00 each.


Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, this single-malt had the color of golden honey. It formed a medium-thick rim with sticky drops. Those eventually gave way to heavy, slow legs.


Nose:  As if there was a theme, honey was the first thing picked up by my nose. The smells of blackberry, cinnamon, raisin, dried cherry, ginger, and dark chocolate were unmistakable. When I inhaled through my lips, black cherry rolled across my tongue.


Palate:  Despite the only two-year difference between this and the 2008 cask, the mouthfeel was incredibly thick.  On the front, flavors of cherry, plum, and molasses hit hard. The middle was milder with raisin, honey, and mint. Then, on the back, blackberry danced with dark chocolate and vanilla cream.


Finish:  Long and dry, Cask #1928 featured oak, dark chocolate, mint, raisin, and cherry.


Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  PX sherry cask Scotch is generally easy to appreciate as it is big on the sweet fruits.  Cask #1928 goes a step beyond that with its finish, adding a whole new dimension to what's expected. I was shocked at how easy this was to sip despite its high ABV.  Dry did not equal burn. Priced fairly for its age and proof, I find no barricade for a Bottle recommendation.



1994 Cask #5287





This cask was a former Ruby Port pipe sourced from the Douro Valley region of Portugal. 1994 was a small distillation year for The GlenDronach, making this cask even more limited. Only 638 bottles are available at 51.3% ABV (102.6°), with a suggested retail of $415.00.


Appearance:  Presenting as the color of golden chestnut, the rim was broad with slow, plump legs that crawled back to the whisky. 


Nose:  The Port wine influence was indisputable. Plum and cherry jam blended with coffee, truffle, and molasses. Beneath those was butterscotch.  When I pulled the fumes across my palate, the earthy notes of truffle continued.


Palate:  I found the mouthfeel to be thick, jammy, and luxurious. On the front, I tasted cherry, raisin, and plum. The middle offered dark chocolate, caramel, and roasted walnuts. Then, on the back, flavors of coffee, truffles, and dry oak rounded things out.


Finish:  If you like freight-train finishes, this doesn't disappoint. Several minutes afterward, it kept chugging along. There were earthy truffles, smoky oak, deep, dark chocolate, and nuts.


Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  One of the cool things is when a whisky doesn't give you a chance to forget about it. The finish never ends. There's no getting distracted and struggling to recall what you've poured. Cask #5287 is like a Vulcan mind-meld. You're stuck with it. Thankfully, it is delicious. The palate wasn't overly complicated which, again, allowed me to relish this whisky. It scores a Bottle rating. 



1993 Cask #7102




Aged for a whopping 27 years in an Oloroso sherry cask, this single malt is the obvious oldest of the bunch. At 51.4% ABV (102.8°), there is a premium for the additional year - it will set you back about $600.00. There are only 633 bottles produced.


Appearance:  After forming a very heavy rim on my Glencairn glass, husky legs raced back to the whiskey.  The color was deep and dark, almost like maple syrup.


Nose:  There was so much that went on here. Molasses, chocolate-covered cherries, cinnamon, ginger, strawberry jam, orange marmalade, raisin, and spiced rum... have you ever had good fruitcake? That's what came to mind as I got lost in the aroma. I also encountered berry cobbler. When I breathed in through my mouth, orange marmalade and plum tangoed across the palate.


Palate:  The mouthfeel was full-bodied and weighty. Date, molasses, and honey mead hit the front. The middle ponied up dark chocolate, black cherry, and raisin. On the back, I tasted oak, dark chocolate, and honey.


Finish:  The finish simply would not quit. Dark chocolate, date, dry oak, black cherry, and spiced plum stuck around with smoke intermingling between each sensation. By smoke, I want to be clear this was not peat.


Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I'll be frank. There is absolutely nothing not to like about Cask #7102. Flavors were bold but didn't trample over one another. I fell in love with the mouthfeel, and, oh, that nose! This one's just a fantastic, beautiful whisky that I can't say enough good things about, earning it a Bottle recommendation.


Final Thoughts:  While all four were special, I believe the two stand-outs were the 2005 and 1993 casks. The two youngest casks I considered value against what I was tasting. But, once you start getting into the 26- and 27-year Scotches, the prices get steep, but remember, you're also paying for something that is rare. This helped me get past my usual value statement that I do with most others and it became less of a consideration.


None of these whiskies are peated, and none had that astringent (Band-Aid) quality that some folks find unappealing. Despite their higher proofs, they were all easy sippers and while I tried them with water to satisfy my curiosity, it wasn't necessary and my tasting notes are based on all-neat pours.


I'm not sure where you could go wrong with any of the four, but my order top to bottom would be 1993, 2005, 1994, then 2008.  Cheers!


My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System
  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It