Showing posts with label peat. Show all posts
Showing posts with label peat. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Port Charlotte OLC:01 2010 Single Malt Scotch Review & Tasting Notes


Experimental whiskies are something I find exciting. It really doesn't matter if it turns out good or bad, because I love it when a distiller does something outside the box. Obviously, my hope is that things would turn out good (or great). But I'll try any experimental whisky to see what was done.

The fun happens when a distillery is fully transparent about what it tried. That's something Bruichladdich is known for. If you visit its website, they'll tell you pretty much everything you'd want to know, to the point where even a whisky geek will, if you'll excuse the pun, geek out

Port Charlotte is Bruichladdich's heavily-peated brand (with Bruichladdich as its unpeated lineup, and Octomore as its super-peated brand).  I've reviewed some from each of the expressions, and for me to be truly transparent, I'm a fan of Port Charlotte. As such, when Bruichladdich sent me a sample of OLC:01 2010 to review, I was intrigued. I'd never heard of it, and had no idea what to expect.

What I learned is OLC:01 is part of Port Charlotte's Cask Exploration Series, which is an experimental line of single malt Scotches. It starts with a 2009 harvest of 100% Invernesshire malted barley. Once distilled, it was then aged from 2010 to 2018 in first- and second-fill ex-bourbon barrels, first-fill Vin Doux Naturel barrels, and second-fill Syrah wine barrels. Once that's done, it was then transferred to first-fill Fernando de Castilla Olorosso sherry hogsheads where it rested for another 18 months. 

"These Olorosso hogsheads are superb casks. They're smaller than your average butts. So they've quickly left a lasting impression on this complex single malt." - Adam Hannett, Master Distiller

It is non-chill-filtered, naturally colored, and has a 40ppm phenol rating, which is something you'd expect with Port Charlotte. Bottled at 55.1% ABV (110.2°), it carries a nine-year age statement and you can expect to pay around $124.99 for a 750ml.

The big question, of course, is, How did this experiment turn out? That's answered by a simple tasting, and I'd like to thank Bruichladdich for sending me the sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, OLC:01 presented as a soft mahogany color with an amber tinge. It formed a medium ring that created slow, medium-thick legs that dropped back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  This was an extremely fragrant Scotch. As I allowed it to breathe, the aroma of barbeque filled the room. When I went to nose it, I smelled peat, plum, cherry, apricot, apple, honey, and chocolate. Yes, it seemed like I was in an orchard with a bit of smoke in the air. When I drew the vapor into my mouth, I picked out honey and milk chocolate.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was thin and very oily. My first sip consisted of a peat bomb - more than anything I've had from either Port Charlotte or Octomore. Once I got past the palate shock, the second sip had amazingly muted the peat. Orange, apricot, and peach were at the front. The middle offered flavors of honey, date, and vanilla. On the back, I tasted tobacco leaf, clove, and citrus.

Finish:  A medium-long finish started with citrus, smoked salt, tobacco leaf, and black pepper. One thing to note is this Scotch drinks at its stated proof, and that was eye-opening.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I was happy when I smelled the typical Port Charlotte barbeque but it was missing from the palate. I was shocked with how heavy the punch of peat was and how quickly it dissipated. I expected fruit, yet not the entire orchard on the palate. Finally, this may have been the "hottest" Scotch I've ever had, and I've tried plenty of cask-strength offerings. All of this makes for a unique drinking experience, and I believe that makes OLC:01 well worth the price tag. Obviously, this one earns my Bottle rating. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System

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

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Ardbeg Wee Beastie Single Malt Scotch Review & Tasting Notes

The minimum age a whisky must have in order to be called Scotch is three years. I've seen a lot of labels, and not too many will offer a three-year age statement. 

If I called something The Ultimate, my guess is you'd expect it to be a premium product. How many of you would consider five years a premium whisky?

Now, wait just a darned minute, Whiskeyfellow! Aren't you the one who has said time and time again that age is just a number and an age statement is not an indicator of quality? Why, yes, yes I have.

Ardbeg is a name that is well-known by fans of Islay Scotch. Heavily-peated between 50 and 55 phenol parts per million (ppm), Ardbeg doesn't fool around. While Ardbeg is known for having no-age-statement whiskies (including one of my personal favorites, Corryvrecken), they're not known for bottling young whisky. But, today, I'm writing about a five-year single malt called Wee Beastie

Wee Beastie is the youngest expression Ardbeg has ever released and is the newest addition to its permanent lineup. Bottled at 47.4% ABV (or 94.8°), it is also the most affordable from the distillery at only $39.99. Like everything else Ardbeg releases, it is non-chill filtered. Wee Beastie was aged in both Bourbon and Olorosso Sherry casks.

"Young and intensely smoky, this is a dram untamed by age. Matured in ex-bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks, Wee Beastie is perfect for enjoying neat or as the mouth-watering main ingredient in a powerfully smoky cocktail." - Ardbeg

I purchased my bottle of Wee Beastie based on my long experience with Ardbeg. Prior to purchase, I'd never tasted it. But, it is time to #DrinkCurious and discover what this youngster is all about.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Wee Beastie looked like the color of straw. It formed a medium ring with incredibly slow legs that fell back into the pool of liquid sunshine. 

Nose:  This is typical Ardbeg, meaning the peat can be smelled from across the room. It was sweeter than many of what Ardbeg offers, somewhat comparable to An Oa. But, beyond that was something I've rarely encountered - smoked meats, and of that, both brisket and pastrami. It made me salivate. I also smelled apple and pear. When I sucked the aroma in my mouth, I could swear I tasted freshly-cut pine trees.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was oily with a medium body. The more I sipped, the oilier it became. On the front of my palate, I found apple, pear, and oak. There was also a dusting of cocoa powder. As it moved to the middle, it became briny with a hint of raisin (likely from the sherry) and dark chocolate. The back had flavors of sweet tobacco, barbeque sauce, and barrel char.

Finish:  Dry and chewy, the finish consisted of charred oak, pastrami, black pepper, dark chocolate, and brine. Originally the finish was medium-short but expanded to medium-long with additional swallows. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  It is difficult to see a bottle of Ardbeg at this price and ignore it, youthful or not. There are some distillers that have that sort of magical power, and I'm not talking hype. Wee Beastie doesn't disappoint with its smoky punch, character, and distinct mouthfeel. Not only do I think this was a good purchase, but I believe it is a steal. Wee Beastie is a slam-dunk Bottle rating. Cheers!

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

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

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

Thursday, March 4, 2021

The BenRiach The Twenty One Single Malt Review & Tasting Notes


Founded in 1898 by John Duff, the initial run for BenRiach was very short-lived - only two years. Then, it was shuttered due to the Pattison Crash. If you've not heard of it, the short story is it took out many distilleries. The longer story is it was caused by independent bottlers gaming the system, so much so that when the biggest firm, Pattison, Edler & Company went under, they took out nearly a dozen others in the process. That cascaded and led to the bankruptcies of the distilleries. It was not a good time to be in the whiskey business.

It was then reopened in 1965 by The Glenlivet. During that 65-year hiatus, the building was never torn down because the distillery next door, Longmorn, used BenRiach's malting floor and some other equipment while it was mothballed. Then, Seagrams purchased The Glenlivet in 1978, which was acquired by Pernod-Ricard in 2001. 

And, then, the distillery was shuttered again from 2002 to 2004. It was purchased by Brown-Forman, which owns BenRiach to this day. The Master Blender, Rachel Barrie, runs things "unconventionally Speyside."

What does "unconventionally Speyside" mean? First and foremost, it isn't overly common for Speyside whiskies to be peated. BenRiach offers both peated and unpeated expressions. It also has an extensive collection of various cooperages which, in turn, impart different flavors and characteristics to the matured whiskies.

When presented with an opportunity to review The Twenty One, my heart skipped a beat. Getting into older Scotches is a pricy concept, and there's an admittedly romantic notion of drinking something that is decades old. The Twenty One is a single malt that was aged in former Bourbon, sherry, and red wine casks along with virgin oak. Those barrels were subsequently blended to create a non-chill filtered, naturally-colored Scotch. While we don't know exactly how old the various components were, we do know the youngest was 21 years.

“These older expressions are a beautiful reflection of the landscape around the distillery with intriguing, luxurious layers of flavor imparted by the eclectic casks sourced from around the world. The refreshed Benriach range is for those open to new possibilities, building on a wealth of experience and tradition. I invite the drinker to join me on this creative journey, as we explore the lush rewards of single malt whisky.” - Rachel Barrie

Bottled at 46% ABV (92°), you can expect to pay about $199.00 for a 750ml package. Before I get to the tasting notes, I'd like to thank The BenRiach for providing a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. Time to #DrinkCurious

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, The Twenty One shows up as honey-gold in color. It fabricated a husky rim that formed broad, fast legs that fell back into the pool of liquid sunshine. 

Nose:  This Scotch was plenty fragrant. Oh, it wasn't a blast of smoke, rather, it was orchard fruits mingled with it, and that was just allowing it to breathe. The fruits smelled of apple, apricot, and plum. I also smelled oak and chocolate. When I inhaled the vapor in my mouth, smoky vanilla rolled across my palate.

Palate:  A silky, creamy mouthfeel started the show. The more I sipped, the creamier it became. On the front of my palate, I tasted sweet, smoky peat and peach. The peat was not the star of the production, rather, it was a supporting character. At mid-palate, I tasted chocolate, apple, and pear. Flavors of toasted oak, toffee, and an encore of the light peat constructed the back.

Finish:  It started short-to-medium. Like the mouthfeel, the more I imbibed, the longer the finish became. Eventually, it seemed to last forever. Smoke, plum, honey, pear, and toasted oak danced about.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Just because something carries a decades-old age statement doesn't mean it is great or even good. I've had some mediocre, older whiskies. The Twenty One is absolutely the opposite. If I had to select one word to describe this experience, it would be luxurious. From the amazingly refined nose to the silky mouthfeel, to the fruity palate and what is a near-perfect peatiness, there is simply nothing to complain about. This is a mesmerizing affair and I'm happy to fork over the premium to partake in it. There's not a doubt in my mind that a Bottle rating is owed. Find a bottle, seriously. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System

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

Monday, January 25, 2021

Do You Love Barbeque? You'll Fall in Love With Port Charlotte!


While barbequing is done all over the world, it is a genuine American pastime. A rite of passage, even. Americans will dig a path through waist-high snowdrifts to use their grills and smokers. On any holiday weekend, folks pack parks and backyards for fun and to enjoy outdoor cooking. The summer air is full of delicious aromas. 

Some of the very best barbeques I’ve experienced are from run-down, roadside shacks in Kentucky. The smoky smell of grilled meats of every kind makes my mouth water.  Frankly, it doesn’t matter if the meat is hot smoked over fire or smoke cooked. I love it all.


The wood used is at least as important as the choice of the meat itself. Some woods impart a smokier flavor. Others create a sweeter taste. And, then, there are the rubs, marinades, and sauces. Anything can be done with these additives, giving the meat its own, distinct flavor.


The point is barbeque is awesome.  We love barbeque.


Today I’m here to let you in on a little secret:  If you love barbeque, you’re going to love Port Charlotte Scotch whisky.


Wait a second there, Mr. Whiskeyfellow… Bourbon and Rye are paired with barbeque. Heck, we use those in our sauces and marinades. And, we drink them with our grilled meat. What’s this Scotch stuff you’re trying to foist on us?

I've never led you down the wrong path yet... stay with me. 

First of all, I must offer you transparency. One thing I admire about any brand is transparency. I hold myself to that same standard. I was approached by Bruichladdich, the distillery behind the Port Charlotte brand, to publish sponsored content about the brand. A majority of this piece fits that bill. What is not sponsored will be my tasting notes and review.


Port Charlotte is a small village on the island of Islay. The village used to be home to the Port Charlotte Distillery (soon renamed Lochindaal Distillery) from 1829 to 1929 before it was shuttered and abandoned.


Two miles away from Port Charlotte is the village of Bruichladdich, home of the Bruichladdich Distillery. Bruichladdich acquired the defunct Lochindaal Distillery in 2007, but has, to date, not resurrected it.  However, it has brought the name of the town back to life as Port Charlotte for its heavily-peated whisky brand.


You might be thinking that you've tasted Islay Scotches and I am off my rocker. Trust me here, please.


The term appellation is one we hear a lot in wines and brandies:  champagne must come from the Champagne region of France, otherwise, it is sparkling wine. Cognac and Armagnac must come from their respective regions.  It works for spirits, too.


Port Charlotte versus Pretty Much Every Other Islay Whisky


Port Charlotte is different from every other Scotch that comes from Islay. Did you know that to be legally called an Islay whisky, all that has to happen is the malt has to be distilled on Islay? The barley itself doesn’t have to come from Islay. The malting doesn’t have to occur on Islay. The whisky doesn’t need to age on Islay. The water source doesn’t have to be from Islay. And, finally, it doesn’t have to even be bottled in Islay. In fact, most Islay whisky fits the minimum requirement of being distilled on the island.


Islay is an unforgiving place to cultivate barley. Until very recently, barley hadn't been grown on the island since World War II! Most distilleries get all of their barley from the mainland. The two that don’t are Kilchoman and Bruichladdich. The Port Charlotte brand uses 42% of its barley grown locally. In fact, Port Charlotte is the only heavily-peated brand to claim 100% Scottish barley content. While the barley isn’t currently malted on Islay, that will change in 2023. Once barreled, Port Charlotte spends its entire life aging on Islay. Again, that’s not something most other distilleries do. Instead, they spend a short time on Islay and then are sent to the mainland for the duration of the aging process. The water used is sourced from Islay natural springs. Finally, the whisky is all bottled on Islay.


All of the above contributes to Port Charlotte's very unique barbeque flavor.  Not traditional peat smokiness. Not ash. What helps enhance that special flavor comes from its very narrow-necked stills and its heavily-charred ex-Bourbon casks the whisky is aged in. 

Port Charlotte expressions are peated at 40ppm, the same as Ardnahoe and Laphroaig. That's higher than most, falling short only of ArdbegLaphroaig, and, of course, Bruichladdich's super-peated Octomore.

Bruichladdich's Vision

Bruichladdich's vision across its entire product line is to distill for flavor and not for consistency. Things change from batch to batch, and that's how they like doing things. The distillery maintains an inventory of over 200 different types of cooperage to add whatever variety is desired.  Everything they produce is non-chill filtered and retains its natural color. 

The final thing I want to tell you about Port Charlotte before I get to the reviews is Bruichladdich's B-Corp Certification. It is something they're very proud to be a part of. To be considered, a business must use itself as "a force for good."  A business is required to maintain the highest standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and must remain accountable. There are currently 3327 companies in 78 nations that hold B-Corp status.

That Barbeque Thing...

Taste is king and is how the whole barbeque experience comes into play. As I stated earlier, what never changes, sponsored or not, are my reviews and tasting notes.

The first review is for Port Charlotte 10.  This Single Malt spent a decade in oak.  The largest portion, 65%, was in first-fill ex-Bourbon, 10% in second-fill ex-Bourbon, and the remaining 25% in French wine casks. It is bottled at 50% ABV (or 100°) and you can expect to shell out about $70.00 for 750ml.  The 10-year is the flagship release and is widely available.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, PC-10 presented as the color of dull gold, almost like a pale ale. While it created a thinner rim, it released thick, fat, watery legs that fell like a curtain back to the pool of whisky. 

Nose:  The first thing I smelled was smoky and the aroma was sweet and briny with grapefruit, ginger root, peach, and milk chocolate. It also offered floral notes. When I breathed the vapor through my lips, vanilla and toasted oak danced across my tongue.

Palate:  The texture was medium-bodied, and the whole smoky/sweet combination got things moving. At the front, I tasted smoked oak, toasted coconut, vanilla, and merengue. As it moved to the middle, pear, dark chocolate, ancho chiles, honey barbeque, and sweet tobacco leaf took over. Think of it almost as molé sauce. Then, on the back, a marriage of orange, lemon, and crème brûlée.

Finish:  It stuck around in my mouth and the back of my throat for several minutes, providing me flavors of smoked oak, brine, clove, orange peel, and honey. Before everything fell off, a brush of stewed peaches made itself known.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust: There was no astringent quality, there was no earthiness to the peat. Sip to sip, it made my mouth water for more. I love traditional peated whiskies and this one was so different I was wowed. Port Charlotte 10 earns a Bottle rating. 

The second review is of Port Charlotte Islay Barley 2012 Vintage. This Single Malt is aged a mere six years in 75% first-fill ex-Bourbon barrels and 25% second-fill wine casks. Eight Islay farms came together in 2011 to harvest four varieties of barley:  Oxbridge, Publican, Propino, and Concerto. The 2011 harvest was particularly rough due to adverse weather conditions. Like the PC-10, Islay Barley is packaged at 50% ABV. This expression is more limited, and you should expect to pay about $90.00 for a 750ml bottle.

Appearance:  Islay Barley proffered a pale gold color that was reminiscent of Chardonnay. Fat, sticky droplets turned into long, slow legs that dropped from a medium-thick rim on the wall. 

Nose:  Smoky peat began the experience, which led to pear, citrus, peach, and brine. Beneath those, I found honeysuckle, vanilla, and golden raisin. When I inhaled the vapor through my lips, I tasted coconut, vanilla, and barbeque smoke.

Palate:  I found Islay Barley to be surprisingly light-bodied and sweet. Honey, vanilla, and mocha were on the front. Flavors of apricot, peach, and pineapple were at the middle, and chocolate, clove, honey-molasses barbeque, and smoky oak fell on the back.

Finish:  Long and sweet, the finish was fruity with apricot, pineapple, and spicy with ginger and smoke. There was also a briny quality to it. This was a sweeter finish than the PC-10.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  For $90.00, I expect much more out of a whisky, and Islay Barley didn't disappoint. I loved how flavorful this was, how it reminded me of a few types of barbeque sauce blended together. The peat is subtle and offers a near-perfect balance of smoke, spice, and sweetness. This easily takes a Bottle rating from me.

Bottom Line:  While both were stunning, it wasn't much of a contest for me as to the better bottle, and that was the Islay Barley. While I'm not the grillmaster, Mrs. Whiskeyfellow knows what she's doing, and these paired fantastically with ribeye steaks and grilled asparagus. With food, they added a touch of caramel and molasses. If you want to taste something that will appeal to the barbeque fan, Port Charlotte is the Scotch that's going to make that happen. Finally, don't let heavily-peated scare you away. Even a newbie to peat can enjoy and appreciate these expressions. 

If you're interested in getting a bottle of either for yourself and you don't want to leave the comfort of your home, follow this link (note: I do not receive any sort of compensation for the click or purchase). Cheers!

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

Friday, January 22, 2021

M&H Elements Peated Israeli Single Malt Review & Tasting Notes


To prove the point that whiskey can be made pretty much anywhere, today's review highlights a peated single malt from M&H Whisky Distillery out of (wait for it) Israel!  That's right - based in Tel Aviv, M&H ages its whiskey at the Dead Sea, which is 1412ft (430.5 meters) below sea level. Aging whiskey in this climate, which sees about 300 days of sunshine a year, means things mature faster while they lose about 25% to the angels.

Established in 2012 as Israel's first distillery, M&H was originally called Milk & Honey Distillery, and they've recently moved to change the name to M&H in an attempt to alleviate confusion and assumptions that either milk or honey are used as ingredients. The Head Distiller is Tomer L. Goren. Using a 9000-liter (about 2377 gallons) Romanian pot still, a 3500-liter (about 924 gallons) German pot still, and lacking any legal requirements to define Israeli whisky, they've chosen to follow a traditional Scottish process for making whiskey. Everything has aged a minimum of three years.

The Peated Single Malt is part of the Elements series. 

"The M&H Elements Series is a composition of flavors and aromas assembled from meticulously selected casks that bring forward characters enhanced by the casks' wood, origin, and history. Each expression in this series begins with the M&H CLASSIC Single Malt Whisky and complimented with whisky matured in a variety of hand-picked, superlative and quality oak casks, culminating in a beautiful natural color, impressive flavors, and a well-balanced single malt." - M&H Whisky Distillery 

The mash is obviously 100% malted barley. It is non-chill filtered and naturally-colored. As far as cooperage goes, M&H chose ex-Bourbon, ex-Islay, STR (Shaving, Toasting, and Re-charring of wine casks), and virgin oak, and the blend is 41%, 40%, 15%, and 4% respectively. Once matured, it is diluted to 46% ABV (92°), and a 750ml will set you back about $65.00.

Before I start to #DrinkCurious, I'd like to thank M&H for sending me a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. 

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Elements Peated presented as honey in color. It created a thinner rim and very sticky, slow legs that crawled back to the pool.

Nose: The peat was evident but not overwhelming. Beneath it, I smelled sweet tobacco, crème brûlée, caramel, crushed grapes, and the slightest suggestion of citrus. When I inhaled the vapor through my mouth, I discovered a definitive briny quality, which I'm assuming comes from the Dead Sea.

Palate:  I found the mouthfeel to be warm and creamy. The first things I tasted were peat and brine, along with oak.  At mid-palate, it was fruity with apple, pear, and lemon. Then, on the back, the flavors of salted caramel and ginger rounded things out.  

Finish:  The long-lasting finish consisted of apple, ginger, brine, and smoked oak. When I thought it was finished, citrus made an encore and then faded.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  The Elements Peated did an admirable job of reminding me of an Islay Scotch while still offering something a bit different. While not as heavily peated, if you told me that Ardbeg was the distiller, I'd accept it as gospel and wouldn't balk at the price at all. The fact that it isn't Ardbeg makes it even more intriguing and as far as a rating goes, I'm sold!  M&H Elements Peated takes a no-brainer Bottle rating.  Cheers!

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

Friday, December 11, 2020

Grand Traverse Distillery Islay Rye Review & Tasting Notes


I love peated whiskeys. Peated American whiskeys are so rare that when I stumble upon one, I just feel like a kid at 4:30am on Christmas morning who can't wait for Mom and Dad to wake up so I can bust into my presents. I have samples that I have to review, but sometimes I shove something to the front of the line because it is so unusual that I must satisfy my curiosity.

That's exactly what happened when the FedEx dude dropped off a package of Islay Rye from Grand Traverse Distillery.  I couldn't psych myself up too much, otherwise, it would bias my opinion before I had a chance to try it.

"Islay Rye is a small-batch Rye Whiskey that takes two of our favorite things and combines them ton something awesome and unique!  [T]his is a Rye Whiskey with a heavy nod to Islay Single Malt Scotches." - Grand Traverse Distillery

The first thing to know about Grand Traverse is they're not sourcing anything.  It is a grain-to-bottle distillery located in Traverse City, Michigan.  It utilizes a custom-built Arnold Holstein still.  All of the grain is supplied by Send Brothers Farm in nearby Williamsburg. The Rye itself is distilled from a mash of 80% rye and 20% peated malted barley. It carries no age statement, which means it is at least four years old and is non-chill filtered, then proofed to 90°.  A 375ml bottle runs about $50.00.

How's it taste?  Well, before I get to that, I thank Grand Traverse Distillery for sending me a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. Now, let's #DrinkCurious...

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Islay Rye appears as a bronze amber.  It created a medium rim that left a heavy curtain that fell back to the pool. Behind that were fat, slow drops. 

Nose:  The smell of peat filled the room, so much so that Mrs. Whiskeyfellow commented how strong it was. But, as I raised the glass to my face, that peat was surprisingly muted. Aromas of grass, oak, malt, caramel, nutmeg, and rye.  When I inhaled through my lips, I discovered brine and grass.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was thin and oily.  I had no issues having it fill every corner of my mouth. The first flavors were peat, dry oak, and earth. Mid-palate, mace, allspice, caramel, and dill take over. Then, as it approaches the back, banana, citrus, tobacco leaf, and rye spice round things out.

Finish:  The long, dry, and sweet finish was a blend of clove, dry oak, raisin, citrus, and rye bread. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Let's talk about a few things. I really, really enjoy Islay Scotch. This isn't it, it isn't even close, and to be fair, I didn't expect it to be.  The peated malt was a nice addition but the rye overwhelmed the barley. This was absolutely unique, and that's something I find attractive. Value is part of the recommendation process. At $50.00, that's not obnoxious. But, this is also a 375ml, so in reality, this is a $100.00 bottle comparatively speaking. For me, the return on investment wasn't there. I enjoyed this, I'd enjoy it a lot more if it were less painful on the wallet. I'm giving this one a Bar rating - you should definitely try this for yourself before making the commitment. Cheers!

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

Friday, November 27, 2020

Paul John Single Malt 2020 Christmas Edition Review & Tasting Notes


Indian whiskey can prove to be an... um... interesting category. There's not a lot of rules as to what's required to call a distilled spirit from India Indian whiskey. You can have anything from distilled neutral grain spirits blended with fermented molasses and pre-blended Scotch to Indian Single Malts. The category is undefined outside of Europe, and, in fact, cannot legally be called whiskey inside Europe unless it follows the stricter standards of other EU nations.

Distilling whiskey from India is a relatively new thing. It started in 1982 by Amrut, but they didn't start off with single malts. They did it utilizing the fermented molasses method. It wasn't until 2004 when Amrut launched the first Indian Single Malt on the market. 

John Distilleries, the parent company of Paul John, is located in Goa, which is in the western part of India. While it was distilling blended whiskey since its founding in 1996, it didn't start with single malt whiskey until 2008. The man behind the brand, Paul P. John, was obsessed with creating an Indian single malt that would rival some of the best in the world. He worked with master distiller Michael D'Souza to fulfill that dream.

Paul John sources six-row barley grown in the country, which is said to have a higher protein and fiber content. This leads to an oilier whiskey than two-grain barley. Any peat that Paul John uses is sourced from both Islay and the Highland regions of Scotland. Fermentation takes 40 hours or longer before the mash is distilled through its copper pot stills. 

Today I'm reviewing Paul John's 2020 Christmas Edition. It is aged for five years in former Bourbon, Oloroso sherry, and virgin oak casks. Once aged, those whiskeys are blended together.  The whiskeys aged in the sherry and virgin oak casks were unpeated, whereas the whiskey in the Bourbon barrels was peated. The Christmas Edition is non-chill filtered and is naturally-colored. It is bottled at 46% ABV (92°). The Christmas Edition is allocated and retails for about $85.00. 

If you're thinking that five years isn't a whole lot of time, keep in mind this is being aged in hot, humid India, where the average temperature is 86°F. It has been suggested that a whiskey aged in this region of India for a single year is equivalent to three years in Scotland. 

Is the 2020 Christmas Edition worth the time and effort to buy? The only way to know for sure is to #DrinkCurious. Before I do that, I'd like to thank Paul John for sending me a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review.

Appearance: In my Glencairn glass, this single malt appeared golden in color. It created a thin rim and thin, fast legs that fell back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  An aroma of sweet, mild peat hit my olfactory senses. Once I got past it, apple, pear, plum, and orange peel offered a very fruity experience. Behind those were caramel, brown sugar, and honey. If you're thinking that sounds terribly complex, it was. When I inhaled the vapor through my mouth, I could swear it was apple cider.

Palate:  A creamy, very heavy full-bodied mouthfeel kicked things off. At the front, I discovered soft peat, caramel apple, and toasted oak. The mid-palate had flavors of sweet tobacco leaf, raisin, pear, and pineapple. The back consisted of praline pecan, coconut, cinnamon, and dark chocolate.

Finish: This single malt had a long, dry finish of soft peat, dry oak, ginger, raisin, and black pepper. 

Bottle, Bar, or Bust: Maybe peat isn't your thing. That's understandable. I found the 2020 Christmas Edition to be incredibly complex - from the nosing to the palate, from the palate to the finish. I loved the fruity, spicy flavors and they simply complement each other. Quite frankly, if peat isn't your thing, maybe this one will entice you to come to the dark side. I loved everything about this single malt, and the $85.00 price seems more than fair considering how wonderful it tastes. If there is a whiskey screaming for a Bottle rating, this is it. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System

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

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Octomore 11.3 Single Malt Scotch Whisky Review & Tasting Notes

This is two of a three-part review series of the Octomore 11 release from Bruichladdich. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, Octomore is an annual release of whiskies. But, it isn't just another whisky - Octomore boasts to be the heaviest-peated Scotches around.

Yesterday, I reviewed Octomore 11.1, and I also explained what peat was.  Feel free to swing back to that review for a detailed explanation, as well as what makes Octomore truly different in terms of Scotch. 

Today's review is Octomore 11.3What's the difference, you may ask?  Well, both are made with 100% Scotland-grown barley grown in 2013 and harvested in 2014. Octomore 11.1 was aged in first-fill American oak from Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Heaven Hill, and Jack Daniel's. Octomore 11.3 uses first fill barrels from the same sources, except without Wild Turkey. Both are naturally-colored, and both are non-chill filtered.  Octomore 11.3 uses barley grown on the Octomore Farm, the other expressions use 100% Scottish-grown barley. 

At five years old, 11.3 comes out of the barrel at 61.7% ABV compared to 11.1, which was 59.4% ABV. That's not a huge difference but a few points can differ enough. Octomore 11.1 had a yield of 30,000 bottles compared to Octomore 11.3's 18,000 bottles. But, where things get really crazy is 11.1 has 139.6 PPM of phenols... compare that to 11.3 with a monstrous 194 PPM!

Just as I did in my 11.1 review, I want to offer some transparency: I was provided samples of Octomore 11.1, 11.3, and 10-Year in exchange for reviews. I've been recruited as part of a group of US-based whiskey writers dubbed The Octomore Eleven. We were selected to assist with the launch of Octomore 11. However, my review is 100% mine, it is as always my true tasting notes and experience. As you know, my reputation is everything.

I want to make one other thing clear. It would be a huge mistake to pour Octomore into a glass and drink it without letting it breathe. Bruichladdich recommends eight minutes. I recommend between ten and fifteen.

And, with all that out of the way, it is time to #DrinkCurious and discover what this peat-bomb has to offer.

Appearance:  In my Glencairn glass, Octomore 11.3 presented as the color of straw. It created a thin rim with heavy, fat legs that slowly crawled back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  The aroma of peat is overly obvious. However, with almost 39% more phenols than 11.1, the peat was somehow softer. Underneath the peat, I found an orchard full of citrus, pear, and apple combined with vanilla, honey, caramel, malt, and milk chocolate. When I inhaled through my lips, flavors of peat and honey rolled over my palate.

Palate:  As the whiskey passed my lips, it offered a thin body and was almost watery. It also was less peaty than I expected, although that may have been psyching myself up for it.  Joining the peat on the front was mild iodine.  Mid-palate, there was a very fruity mix of pear and apple. They were accompanied by cocoa powder. Then, on the back, I tasted clove, nutmeg, and smoked oak.

Finish:  A medium-to-long, creamy finish of toffee, chocolate, and clove skidded into white pepper before finally falling off.  

Bottle, Bar, or Bust: The 194 PPM phenol count was less intense than I assumed it would be. Like 11.1, this whisky was well-balanced and so much more than smoke. The nose and palate were complex and interesting.

The unknown factor for me is the price. I have not been provided with suggested retail prices, but I have seen Octomore previous releases in the low-to-mid-$100 range, and I'm willing to go out on a limb and suggest it is in that neighborhood.  

Let's get serious here - peat is not for everyone. Something super-heavily peated will to fall into more of a niche market. I really enjoy peated whiskies and I enjoyed this.  Despite the fact I prefer 11.1 over 11.3, this still earns my Bottle rating. Feel the peat, but don't fear it. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System:

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