Thursday, December 22, 2016

Whisky Review: Tomatin 14 years Port Casks Highland Single Malt



At Christmas time, I gravitate towards sherried malts and port wood finishes.  This holiday season is no exception.

Today I want to introduce you to Tomatin 14 years Port Finish Single Malt.

Region
Highlands.

ABV 
46%

Natural Color?
Yes!

Chill Filtration?
No! (Yeah!)

Wood Management Note
12 years in ex-Bourbon casks followed by 18 - 24 months in port pipes (yeah!!!).

Nose (undiluted)
Vanilla, nutmeg, oak, sawdust, damp wood, forest leaves, cooked apples.

Palate (undiluted)
Creamy port, dark chocolate, light spiciness of berries, fig and pecans.  The body is light!

Finish (undiluted)
Herbaceous, mineral water notes, grapefruit, blood oranges and apricot.
Finish is long.

General Impressions
At 46% ABV you are probably thinking it is going to be a little fiery and hot.  Not the case here!  The master blender has done a wonderful job in delivering a balanced, textured and not over the top dram.  There is a spiciness on the palate, but it is gentle.  The body of this malt is fairly light unlike it competitor like Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban 12 years that is heavier and a wee jammy.  What sets this port wood finish malt apart from other port finished malts is how it starts with traditional port flavors (fig, strawberry, nutmeg) and then becomes surprisingly citrusy with grapefruit and apricot.  A real transition that works very well!  A lot of port finish malts start with those typical port notes and build from there as would be the case with Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban or the far more expensive Balvenie 21 year old port wood.

You could add water certainly and you should experiment.  I am just am hooked on the neat taste of this malt.

Between now and New Year's this will be my dram to warm me from the cold winter!

Merry Christmas!



Jason Debly

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Whisky Review: Dalwhinnie 15 years Single Malt Scotch Whisky

"Yesterday, my boss swung by my office and told me to come see her."

Keith paused, let out a triumphant belch, crushed his can of Schlitz upon his blue jean thigh and then continued.

"I was thinkin' . . . ahh shit, not the Lara Croft thing again."


Earlier this year, he had pinned to the gray fabric partition of his cubicle, a movie poster of the fictional video game character, the voluptuous British archaeologist/explorer, who passes her time ducking poisonous blow darts while trekking through ancient, dangerous tombs and ruins.  His white pressboard cubicle bookshelf was also adorned with Lara Croft figurines striking feisty action poses with big guns drawn, firearms that is.

Have I also mentioned he is 46 years old, a genius software coder, who lives in his mother's basement, and is my one of my best friends?  And, what does this say about me?  Leave that for another post.

Anyhow, to Keith's utter bewilderment, someone in the office took offence to the cinematic poster and action figures.  HR visited Keith, who invoked nonsensical freedom of expression arguments. He also protested, in vain, that no one complained about his Star Wars figures: bikini clad Princess Leia with Jabba the Hutt.

In any event, his employer proffered what they termed a 'compromise.'  Either he make the poster and offending figurines disappear or he would be disappearing from the software company's payroll quicker than an arrow flies from Ms. Croft's crossbow.

"I still had Lara as my screensaver, and thought that maybe the boss was gonna whine about that."

His defiance reduced to a computer screen in sleep mode was not wise, and any attempt to warn him was dismissed with a wave of his pudgy mitt that clasped a fresh replacement to the recently compacted Schlitz can.  He had moved on to Old Milwaukee.

"Turns out she has a new idea for an app she wants me to work on.  It had nothing to do with the Tomb Raider."

Keith seemed to be trying to conjure up another belch, but his gastrointestinal tract would not cooperate.  Instead, my Chinese friend momentarily grimaced in effort while his lower lip quivered kinda like Jabba the Hutt.

"What's the app?" Roger asked while making braised Provençal beef.

We were in his sunny country kitchen and he was at his island gas grille expertly stirring sauce in one pan, and searing chunks of beef in another. Amidst the steaming pots and hissing frying pans, he would nonchalantly toss a dirty pot into the double sink from where he stood, a distance of about ten feet.  He had worked in Brussels, Lyon and his native Lancashire, not to mention a few places in the New World.

"She wants me to develop a whisky tasting note app."

. . .

The  braised Provençal beef was rib sticking fare of chunks of seared beef in a dark sauce that had duck fat, pre-glazed carrots, oven dried tomato, artichoke and turnip. Between this French dish, the tannic-of the soil red Bordeaux, and the crackling fireplace next to the kitchen table, I was listening without really understanding as Roger explained the recipe that Saturday afternoon in cold December.  Eventually, I could no longer follow the conversation of spices, repeated braising at certain intervals, the changes in pans, and oven cooking temperatures, to the point that my mind set sail on a river of Bordeaux and eventually came to the shore of whisky apps, no doubt inspired by Keith's tale of self-inflicted workplace woe.  Maybe I should rate them all and let you know the best whisky app available.

. . .

The Best Whisky App of 2016
Here at Jason's Scotch Whisky Reviews, I and my team of testers (Keith and Roger) have spent the past month downloading every available whisky app onto our respective smartphones and computers in hopes of discovering the best whisky app for you.  I am happy to report that after surveying the marketplace, paying close attention to cost, availability, absence of software glitches, and a multitude of other performance metrics, we can report with authority that the best whisky tasting notes app is the:

"Whisky Bottle"



















Whisky Bottle 
Every whisky app has its strengths and weaknesses.  What we were particularly impressed with was how well the Whisky Bottle performed in areas where wifi was not available.  The display performed consistently.  Software updates were never a concern.  The label on each single malt Scotch bottle we tested provided us clear, easy to understand text, the name of the distillery, age statement, ABV and capacity (e.g. 750 ml).  Now, we must admit the font chosen by some brands took a little bit of getting used to, like take for example the bottle pictured above.  The "Dalwhinnie" script was a little different and not as simple as say the 16 point Times New Roman font that you might see on other bottles like say Johnnie Walker Black, but with a little time and possibly a libation or two, we were able to adapt.

Because we did not need wifi or a data plan to operate the Whisky Bottle, that meant it was very mobile.  Park benches, even in the rain, were no problem.  The interface display, namely the label did degrade somewhat during testing in a heavy downpour at a local park.  The ink on the label did seem to run a bit, but we just moved to the trees and under those mighty branches, the display significantly improved.  Plus it became more user friendly as the bottle was less slippery!

Software updates were naturally not a concern.  No patches needed here.  One's personal identity was not exposed to hacking, unless he downloaded too much of the Whisky Bottle content at the office Christmas party, and then started hitting on the waitress who happens to be his neighbor's daughter.  Then a user's identity or reputation could be put at risk.    



















During our extensive testing we were comforted by not having to have access to an adequately charged smartphone to operate the Whisky Bottle.  While USB power cords, adapters and electrical outlets were not needed, there was one accessory that was a must: the Glencairn glass.  Without this user interface device, operation of the Whisky Bottle attracted stares from onlookers in restaurants, bars and the park we were in.  This in turn drew the unwanted attention of the police, who unceremoniously pulled out handcuffs when we explained we were doing field testing.

Armed with a Glencairn glass, one can operate the Whisky Bottle with relative ease and develop tasting notes very quickly in real time.  A case in point, here is the tasting note produced by a bottle of Dalwhinnie when accessorized with a Glencairn glass:

Dalwhinnie 15 years Single Malt Scotch

Nose (undiluted)
Vanilla, apple blossoms, pears.

Palate (undiluted)
Apple peel, bruised apple sweetness, salted almonds drizzled with wild honey, lemon zest and barley toys.

Mid-to-Late Palate (undiluted)
Spices emerge, baking soda, thyme, rosemary and walnut.

Finish (undiluted)
Drying malt, pencil lead, graphite, white oak, balsa, part your lips and breathe and you will taste smoke and remnants of heather.

The Whisky Bottle, with Glencairn add-on, allows the user to draw their own conclusions and general impressions.  We found this much more readily accepted by the user than to rely on someone else's opinion, or sorting through endless Facebook and Twitter feeds.  With respect to Dalwhinnie 15 years, our testers had the following impressions:

Very sweet whisky that is devoid of sherry and peat.  Fortunately, it does transition mid-palate to become dryer, but overall a pretty sweet dram.  Newbies to whisky will certainly like this Highland Malt and prices tend to be good, so it is worth seeking out!  

Cheers!


Jason Debly

P.S.  If you don't like the Whisky Bottle app, as it is costly on a per bottle basis, try downloading a You Tube app and watch our review for free!


Monday, October 17, 2016

Whisky Review: Old Pulteney 12 years Single Malt Scotch Whisky

"Where is he?" Keith fumed.

We were sitting on the front porch of mon maison.  Fishing rods with shiny brass reels, grandad's creel, a dented bottle-green metal tackle box, and other implements of marine life destruction were propped up against the railing.  I slouched further in my Adirondack chair that my wife had declared, at breakfast, must be painted before winter.  I easily peeled away some of the yellow paint with my fingernail and pondered if that chore could be done before it got too cold, given it was now October.

I snapped out of my handyman trance due to the chirping metal sounds of the Tin Snail braking as it turned onto my street.  The '72 Citroën DS Break was one pale, sea green, junk fish of a vehicle that had headlights reminiscent of a shark's snout and eyes.

We piled into the station wagon.  I took the front seat, figuring Keith would not be be super talkative given Roger's tardiness by about 45 minutes.  Whatever, I didn't care.  I knew Roger and so did Keith.  Roger didn't make it on time for anything, unless you were his date, half his age, straw blonde, and eligible to tryout for the US Women's Olympic Volleyball team.  But, he was a Gauloises billowing, easy-going Brit Francophile who was willing to haul us out to a remote fishing spot, expend probably a small fortune in gas, and then cheerfully pick us up at the end of the day, cook up whatever we caught and pair it with a Muscadet, Pouilly-Fumé or other bouteille de vin out of his cellar.  I, of course, would handle the whisky pairing with dinner, and also a pairing with our pastime of casting our lures in hope of hooking some din-din.

You want a whisky that compliments the great hobby of angling, but doesn't become a distraction because it is amazingly complex or gag-reflex terrible.  The chosen whisky has to be pleasant, able to keep us company, but not too chatty like the software salesman seated next to you on a long flight, or the know-it-all retiree you get paired with on a golf course.  Had to be cheap too!  All these pressing considerations caused me to select Old Pulteney 12 years Single Malt Scotch.  It has a marine and fishy quality without being very complex or expensive that seemed well suited for our chosen leisure activity.

Distribution
Widely available.

Price
Pretty much one of the cheapest 12 year old single malts available.  Frequently discounted by retailers.

Format 
700ml bottle, so 50ml less than the typical Scotch bottle.  I can overlook this because of the low price.

ABV
40% is the bottle I have, but other countries sometimes get 43%.

Closure
Cork stopper.

Chill Filtered?
Yup.

Artificial Coloring (E150A)
Yip.

Nose (undiluted)
Briny Maritime notes, restrained sweetness, rainfall, damp evening lakeside air, soft wood smoke, smooth peat.

Palate (undiluted)
Salty taste of the foaming sea, lemon rind, rosewood, a hint of Ocean Spray Cranberry Cocktail, faint oak.

Finish (undiluted)
Short but interesting.   Notes of bacon, mackerel, kippers but rhubarb too, ginger and lemon again.



















General Impressions
Everything I have read about Old Pulteney claims that it is aged exclusively in ex-bourbon casks.  I am surprised because I really think I taste some aging in sherry wood.  I really do.  A little sherry, dark and sweet red fruits.  Hmmm.  Evidently I am mistaken.

. . .

Old Pulteney fit the bill as a pleasing economy sipper to accompany Keith and I while we stood quietly on the stony shore, facing the dark blue lake, hoping to land our dîner before the Gallic Shark returned to collect us in his rusty Tin Snail!










Cheers!


Jason Debly

Photo Credit: Citroen photos by Jason Torchinsky who is the holder of copyright and all moral rights.  His great review of his passion for Citroens available here.  All the other photos are mine and feel free to use them for non-commercial purposes.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Whisky Review: Ninety 20 years old Canadian Rye Whisky



Highwood Distillers are the vendor of this whisky, that is not cleverly entitled "Ninety" because it is 90 proof and carries an age statement of 20 years.  I say 'vendor' because Highwood Distillers did not actually distill this spirit, but rather bought it from another distiller or possibly acquired it in a corporate merger (Potter's Distillery).  Highwood then aged it further, performed wood management in ex-bourbon (or ex-Tenessee) casks, and blended the stocks.  The oak casks were reportedly sourced from Jim Beam or Jack Daniels.

The label says it is a "Rye" but actually it is not.  It is 100% corn whisky.  Confusing?  Opaque?  Clintonesque?  Informative as a Bill Belichick press conference?  Me thinks so.  Maybe not intentional, but certainly not helpful to the consumer.  The explanation I received from Highwood Distillers is as follows:

"As a Canadian distiller and following the allowable definition from the government of Canada we continue to use 'Canadian Rye Whisky' as the unique Canadian indentifier . . . just like the Scots do with 'Scotch' as their proprietary descriptor."

In any event, we are dealing with a 100% corn whisky aged for 20 yrs in charred American oak.  Notwithstanding the inarticulate labeling, our quest is to determine if it is any good?

ABV
45%

Closure
Silicon stopper

Price
$50 CDN.

Availability
Canada only.

Nose (undiluted)
Cedar, cooked plums, vanilla, charred oak.

Palate (undiluted)
Melted caramel, maple cream, French Vanilla ice cream, nut meg, toasted coconut, pleasant spiciness late palate.

Finish (undiluted)
Long lasting notes of white chocolate and spiced milk chocolate macaroons.




















General Impressions
This is a good whisky in terms of taste and has a lot more spice than one would expect from a 100% corn whisky.  For the price, it is worth the money.

Just one thing bugs me, the use of 'rye' on the label when there is no rye in the mashbill is not reaching the level of transparency I expect of a player in the Canadian spirits industry.

Cheers!



Jason Debly

P.S.  I did correspond via email with Highwood and they answered very promptly a question of a reader about whether or not this is a one-time release:

Hi Jason,

Thank you for your email and thank you for your appreciation and support of Ninety 20yr.

The Whisky is a limited release but not in the context of a one-time bottling. We do have Whisky to support this brand for some years to come but there is only so much 20 year old of this outstanding character to bottle into this brand every year. As the popularity and distribution continues to grow there may be times when it becomes unavailable because we have bottled all the available select Whisky for that year.

For now you should not find any issue with availability, but the Ninety 20 Year has been recognized in review by Whisky Advocate as the 4th best Whisky in the world so word is spreading.

Enjoy, and thank you again for your support.

HIGHWOOD DISTILLERS LTD.
highwood-distillers.com

Monday, August 22, 2016

Whisky Review: Oban 14 years Single Malt

Steve McQueen starring in Bullitt (1968)
"The best scene in Bullitt isn't the car chase scene," Keith advised as he puffed his Bolivar.

We are in Odell Park, quietly breaking the law among the stately elm trees, duck pond over yonder, and cooing Mourning Doves.  The local politicos had recently passed anti-smoking legislation that even applied to public spaces like park benches.  I mean, what has the world come to when two middle aged guys, let alone somebody's grandfather, can't smoke a cigar in the afternoon sunshine on a park bench without risking a fine?  Ah, the limousine liberals have truly taken over.

I was taken aback by Keith's assertion.  The riveting car chase scene between the dueling '68 Ford Mustang GT fastback and the '68 Dodge Charger R/T was what I considered to be the best scene in the film, and probably the greatest car chase scene of all time (McQueen did his own driving too, no stunt drivers needed).

"The genius of Steve McQueen was that he didn't waste dialogue.  He could convey displeasure with an iceberg stare or a few stark words."  My friend tapped his Cuban and contentedly watched some kids, on the other side of the duck pond, playing on the swings while their moms stared at their hands, which cradled their other precious extension of their being: a smartphone.

I thought about this.  Unlike McQueen, too many actors, then and now, overuse dialogue to try and convey feeling and tell a story.  I mean some thespians just don't shut up.  Benedict Cumberbatch, James Woods, Ed Norton and Robert Downey Jr. gotta cram into every scene as much witty/cute/pseudo-intellectual banter as possible.  Granted, screenwriters are a huge part of the problem, but actors could demand a leaner script.  They could push back if everyone was not so damn polite.

Keith elaborates on this motif:  "About 35 minutes into Bullitt, McQueen's character, Frank Bullitt (a San Francisco police lieutenant) and Robert Vaughn's character Walter Chambers (a sleazy politician/lawyer) are talking in a hospital.  Chambers is corrupt.  Bullitt is not and doesn't yield to the sludge Chambers represents with a simple parting shot:

  You work your side of the street and I'll work mine."

 "Le Mans," I said nodding approvingly.  Clouds, like cotton batting carelessly strewn by the Almighty, had moved in and threatened to interfere with my sunny afternoon.

"Exactly!" exclaimed Keith.  His choice of camo cargo shorts and novelty print t-shirt no longer seemed appropriate with the wind picking up and the sun obscured by drifting cumulus.  I was in a crumpled nazy pinstripe suit and a white button-down with a slackened rep tie.  I went to lunch with Keith and never went back to work, like a stockbroker learning of a market crash over noon hour, who decides to duck the inevitable wave of angry client calls.

My Ramon Allones had an immaculate ash with a perfect draw.  Staring at the swirling smoke it emitted made me more contemplative.  I added, "There is a scene where a horde of reporters question a woman, who lost her husband in a night time crash during the 24 hour race of Le Mans the year before.  She, Lisa, is confused and troubled and the reporters continue to try to interrogate her while photographers snap away at her vulnerability.  McQueen's character, Michael Delaney, sees this and helps her into a waiting Citroen.  Turning back to face the crush of reporters, one of them asks if the accident he has just been in can be compared to the accident of the year before that killed Lisa's husband.  The question is cruel, uncalled-for, a punch-in-the-gut, but Delaney stares down the journalist and then simply walks away when you were sure he was gonna punch him or at least tell the newspaper cretin off."

Steve McQueen starring and staring in Le Mans (1971)
I thought about cold stares and how they communicate so much.  In fact, one of the moms was staring our way from across the pond, replete with lilies and a couple mallards.  Keith looked her way and smiled.  Sometimes I think the guy registers somewhere on the Aspergers scale.

"I know the scene."

"What whisky would be McQueen worthy?" I ask as the ash on my cigar tumbles unceremoniously into my lap.

"It would have to be a whisky that does not need or seek any external validation."

"Kinda like Frank Bullitt or Michael Delaney in Le Mans."

"Yeah."

"Can't be a blend.  They are all trying to be somebody's friend."

"Yes, has to be a single malt that is uncompromising, unimpressed and not trendy."

"That rules out Highland Park and definitely those over-the-top show off releases from Bruidladdich and Ardbeg.  Glenmorangies would be too pretty, friendly and a tad foppish with their endearing 'finishes.'  It has to be a malt that just doesn't care about trends.  A resolute malt."

"Oban?"

"Yes, absolutely."

Category
Single Malt Scotch whisky

Distillery
Oban

Age Statement
14 years.

Closure
Cork stopper.

ABV
43%

Nose (undiluted)
Fine sherry, Cabernet Sauvignon, orange blossoms, slight smoke, maybe some roses in the distance.

Palate (undiluted)
Smooth, firm, sweet arrival of red grape tannins that make me thing of a very fine and vibrant Merlot or easy Cab.  A warmth spreads through out the body from the first sip.  Rhubarb pie, with a sprinkle of dill, anise and orange chocolate.  There is a mineral note.

Finish (undiluted)
Drying sandalwood, fieldstone and saddle leather accented by malt, orange rinds, hint of peat with wisps of creamy cigar smoke.

"The minimalism of the flavor profile is easily overlooked as not being complex."

"The complexity is in the the hidden and restrained notes."

"Or rather the complexity is the lack of complexity."

Keith and I were in Zen-like or at the very least a Yoda-like state of bliss, in spite of the fast developing overcast sky.

Our reverie was interrupted by one of the doting moms striding towards us in dark purple Lululemon that was immaculate in form and fit.  Probably never been dampened by sweat, other than that of the child labor used to sew it in the first place.  When she arrived, Keith's smile evaporated.  She looked us up and down, pausing to read Keith's t-shirt: "Let's drink and make bad choices."

"I am reporting both of you for smoking to the park warden's office,"  she fumed, as she pointed her iPhone at us with toned arm extended, like a cop flashing his badge, and started recording.  "Please state your names."

Just then, the clouds parted a little, and the sun shined down upon us, and we replied:

"Frank Bullitt."

"Michael Delaney."


Sunday, August 14, 2016

Whisky Review: Lagavulin 8 years Single Malt

I was at a whisky tasting last night in Jarge's backyard and there was a brand new, unopened, bottle of Lagavulin 8 years, courtesy of whisky dawg Ken.  He picked it up in Manchester, New Hampshire for $50 on sale (normally retails for $65-$70).

Any single malt under ten years of age makes me shiver.  Scotch needs time in the cask to soften it up.  A lot of time is needed to tame the bite of the white dog, the smoke, the peat and iodine of the sea when dealing with Islay.  So, I viewed this recent release from the Lagavulin distillery with some trepidation.  I wanted it to be good because I like and respect the 16 year old so much.  But, bottling whisky from the same distillery at half the age?  That is fraught with danger!

Bottled at ABV 48% made me think this is gonna be really strong and in need of water.  It was aged in refill American and European oak casks.  Holding the glass up, I notice it is very pale which to me suggests no artificial coloring, but apparently this is not true.  I have read that it is colored with E150.  Oh well, you purists can stop reading now, but for the rest of whisky tramps, read on!

From the first sip I was hooked.  It may be 48% ABV but sure was smooth like the coat of a well groomed Doberman, without the bite.  While it was peated and smoked with mackerel notes, there were also intriguing dark red fruits making an appearance.  Complexity abounds.  There is a sweetness of the smoke and iodine that intertwines with dark plum, fig and even some citrus notes.  I added water, maybe a little too much on a second glass and kinda diluted it a bit too much.  Water should be administered in drops.

This is a great place for a novice wondering about Islay whiskies.  It is also a great place for a mangy old whisky dawg like me.

At half the price or lower than the 16, Lagavulin 8 years is highly recommended!



















Cheers!



Jason Debly

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Whisky Review: Cragganmore 12 years Single Malt Scotch



Category
Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Region
Speyside, Scotland

ABV
40%

Price
$73 and less

Availability
Wide Distribution

Closure
Cork stopper

Age Statement
12 years

Nose (undiluted)
Beautiful sherry notes waft up in heavenly fashion, oranges, dandelion.

Palate (undiluted)
Golden barley, marzipan, dark honey smeared on dark toast, almonds, hazelnuts, rose petals, and great complexity of all these flavors.

Finish (undiluted)
Medium length of flavors remaining upon the palate include creamy caramel, hint of lemon pith and grapefruit, wisps of very fine Cuban cigar smoke: H. Upmann, and finally salty sea spray.

General Impressions
This is a gateway drug for whisky novices. Cragganmore will reveal to you the majesty of single malts if you as a novice have ever wondered what all the fuss was about.

Cragganmore is a stunning exercise in complexity of subtle flavors of honey, barley, lemon and sea spray.

Widely available and generally reasonably priced, what can I say?

Highly recommended!

Cheers!



Jason Debly

Whisky Review: Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 years



Approximately 40 different whiskies make up this blended Scotch whisky.  Each whisky has a minimum age of at least 12 years.  The proportion of grain and malt whiskies making up this blend is unknown.

There is artificial coloring added too.

The price is sharking up.

But, guess what?  It's still the best 12 year old blended Scotch in the market place.

Nose (undiluted)
Vanilla, gentle peat, ocean air with a salty tang, orange rind and floral notes.

Palate (undiluted)
The taste experience commences with smooth, sweet cinnamon, caramel, toffee, toasted almonds, brown sugar, malt, some spiciness, but not to the point of pepper, which evaporates quickly into clouds of subtle peat and smoke.

Finish (undiluted)
Very restrained peat with a flourish of smoke and grains of sea salt round out this tasting experience.

General Impressions
This is the gold standard of 12 year old blended Scotch category.  Costs a bit more, but is worth it.  Very consistent bottle to bottle.  The master blender and team do an amazing job of maintaining the consistent flavor bottle to bottle, batch to batch.

Cheers!


Jason Debly

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Whisky Review: Pig's Nose Blended Scotch Whisky



Pig's Nose Blended Scotch Whisky

Age Statement
None.

ABV
40%

Closure
Twist off metal cap

Price
Cheap

Category
Blended Scotch, just above entry level candidate like Ballantine's Finest.

Nose (undiluted)
Spirity, floral, sweetness, roses, dusty sherry.

Palate (undiluted)
Sweet entry of raspberries, strawberry jelly, but quickly turns malty, cheap oak chased by a spicy graininess that I liked to carmelized onions on a steak.  Good on steak but not in your whisky.

Finish (undiluted)
Some malt, oak and strawberries fight against an unrelenting tide of graininess, and ordinary table salt and pepper and loses.  You are left with pencil lead and stale rye bread.

General Impressions
This is Cream Soda with alcohol.  Sweet strawberries contributed to by ex sherry casks that have seen better days, old oak and grain whiskies that overwhelm.  The young whiskies making up this blend are too young contributing to graininess that is over the top.  The sherry notes contributed by ex-sherry casks taste more like balsamic vinegar.  Not a good thing.

This is not suitable for sipping.  Use it as a base of a whisky cocktail.  I cannot recommend this to be enjoyed neat.  That being said, the company that produces this whisky does make a great blended malt called Sheep Dip that I would encourage you to try.

Cheers!


Jason Debly

Monday, July 11, 2016

Whisky Review: Black Bottle Blended Scotch Whisky



In 2013, Burn Stewart Distillery relaunched a long established blended Scotch brand: Black Bottle. They changed the bottle and they changed the contents. With a new mashbill the question is whether or not it is as good as the older version?

Prior to 2013, Black Bottle was a wonderful blended Scotch with a tremendous amount of smooth, sweet Islay whiskies with some grain whiskies that were never offensive. A real treat that was super cheap to buy too! I mean typically around $23 or so. It and White Horse dominated the very best of blended Scotch whisky bargains. The new version tasting note is as follows:

ABV
40%

Age Statement
None

Nose (undiluted)
Spirity, young for sure, but getting past that it exhibits notes of sea air, smoke, roses. Nothing special here, nor did I expect an incredible nose given the cheap blend price.

Palate (undiluted)
Sherry for sure, hardly any Islay influence like peat and smoke.  I am tasting black grapes, black cherry, graphite, pencil lead and young oak.

Finish (undiluted)
Smokey, like a damp wood fire beachside, with much grainy notes, sandy, mineral water and herbs.

General Impressions
Big disappointment. This is a shadow of its predecessor. What was once a wonderfully smooth and peated blended Scotch with plenty of Islay notes of tar, seaweed and dulse is now a tired, boring and young whisky exhibiting dull black grapes, black cherry and little smoke.

Recommendation
Do not buy. This represents a cheap blended Scotch whisky experience that I do not care to repeat.

If you ever see the old Black Bottle on a shelf, buy it! Here is a review of the pre-2013 bottling:

https://jason-scotchreviews.blogspot....

Cheers!


Jason Debly

Friday, June 10, 2016

Tips to Develop Your Whisky Palate!

The subject of whisky appreciation is intimidating. Why? Probably because good whisky is expensive, which means it has been traditionally the drink of the affluent and gold crest embossed navy blazer wearing, private school educated prats, whose only claim to fame was having the dumb luck of winning the genetic lottery of "fabulously rich parents."

You and I are not enjoying summering-in-The-Hamptons prosperity, and therefore not part of the clubby world of those incredibly annoying whisky pretenders.  We do not spend our evenings sipping fine single malts in dim paneled libraries, lit by the soft yellow glow of antique Tiffany lamps, discussing politics, the current price of light sweet crude, and the latest society scandal that the fourth estate hasn't gotten wind of yet.  I mean did Chad really do donuts with his mother's robin's egg blue '74 Porsche 911 on the judge's lawn that night?  The young man should have dealt with his disappointing fiance in a more elegant manner.  He should have challenged the old lecherous barrister to a duel in the park on Sunday at noon.  I would have been his second, by George!

Hell no!  That's not us.  But, we do know a few of the know-it-all cretins who put on such airs, and deftly cut us to pieces when they ask us pithy questions, usually at whisky festivals, like: Debly, what do you taste in this single malt?  Well, the next time the ascot wearing Mr. Peanut tries to pull that passive aggressive shit on you brother, you gonna hit back so hard that the ivy league pug is gonna cry for his mommy.   Not literally bro, we're gonna do it up high society like, we gonna retort like a poet!  Let's mow the muther down with a solid howitzer volley of astute whisky observations.  How you ask?  Worry pas ta brain, it's easy peasey lemon squeezy.

Imagine yourself in your Mother's kitchen back when you were a kid, before you became the suburban teenager who played nothing but NWA and Public Enemy in your 'crib' (aka bedroom).  Conjure up your inner child's vision of Mom's or maybe Grandma's kitchen in the country.  OK?  What do you see?  What do you smell?  What do you taste?  The crystal bowl of strawberries from the field?  Still warm from the noon hour sun?  Cherries? Over there on the counter is the sliced watermelon.  Yeah, now you're getting the hang of it.  Now, imagine what it tasted like to you as a kid.  You know.  Good.  Okay now turn to the spice rack. Cardamon, Kosher salt, peppercorns, sage, parsley, dill?  Don't forget that pitcher of spring water with a slices of lemon floating on top.  What's that in the oven?  Apple pie. In the cupboard, boxes of cereal and oats. In the bread box, rye bread and a jar of wild honey.

Now, take the tiniest of sips of your whisky.  I mean the tiniest, like the size of a quarter on your palate, hold it for twenty seconds and ask yourself what do you taste?  Rye bread?   Maybe some caraway seed in there too? Is there some strawberry lurking under it all.  Swallow.  What remains for flavors?  Was your sip initially sweet and then once gone left you with dusty rose notes?  Cereal notes?  Black pepper?  Now let your mind go wild?  Just roam through the kitchen ingredients in your mind.  Yeah, it does kinda taste like balsa wood, it is dry, that is what balsa wood would taste like if a person actually tried balsa wood.  Now tell Chauncey what you taste in single words.  Keep it simple.  Save the Lord Byron poetry for the ladies in the parlor.










"Sweetness.  Honey.  Caramel.  Oak."  Pause for affect and think what are the flavors left with you after swallowing.  Now raise your game and use two words:  "Creme brulee or dark toast or fruit cake or  lemon meringue."

People will be impressed because your response is honest and accurate.  If Bryce removes his cigarette holder from the corner of his mouth and snickers a put-down of any kind, you have my permission to slug him!  Besides, anyone who holds the opinion that the BBC's Pride and Prejudice miniseries is better than Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby deserves a good smashing.  And, I will act as your second if you are challenged to a duel!

Cheers!




Jason Debly

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Whisky Review: Canadian Club Small Batch Classic 12 yrs



Price
$28

ABV
40%

Age Statement
12 years

Closure
Plastic/Silicon stopper that was made to look like cork.

Nose (undiluted)
Oak, Caramel and an astingency/alcohol swab.

Palate (undiluted)
Sweet oak, big time caramel, I mean a lot of caramel that makes me think I am tasting the E150 that was undoubtedly added to make the color darker.  The caramel is too sweet and almost synthetic.  Oak is here as well as chocolate flavor powdered Nestle's Quik.  Christmas cake, rum notes.

Finish (undiluted)
Length is medium, consisting of an astringency/bitterness that is a mix of rubbing alcohol and oak.  A little creme brulee?
















General Impressions
This is very smooth, caramel dominated whisky with some chocolate powder and creme brulee followed by an astringency/bitterness of the grapefruit pith variety.  The whisky is not horrible, but not exceptional by any means.  I really think this should be used as mix and nothing more.  Not great neat.  I cannot recommend this whisky for sipping.  As a mix it works with ginger ale and as the ingredient whisky base of cocktails.

Cheers!



Jason Debly

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Whisky Review: Canadian Club Chairman's Select 100% Rye



The best selling spirit in the United States is Canadian whisky.  Why?  A number of reasons for this like:  it's affordable or down right cheap in price, the flavor profile appeals to a lot of people as Canadian whisky is typically smooth and somewhat sweet, and finally it tends to make for a damn good mixed drink.  Marries well with the likes of ginger ale and other sodas.

In the past, Canadian whisky was not regarded as a worthwhile drink to be sipped neat.  Times have changed.  In the past few years, Canadian whisky has undergone a renaissance of sorts.  A lot of innovation has taken place and a lot of money has been spent to improve this category by the companies that own the many famous brands.  Canadian Club is not an exception.

Price
$27 in Canada

Distillery
Alberta Distillers, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

ABV 
40%

Age Statement
None on the label but the component whiskies making up this blend, according to reliable sources has been aged for 7 years.

Closure
Plastic twist off cap.

Nose (undiluted)
Surprisingly floral.  Hints of roses, wet leaves, like the damp air you inhale as you walk through a forest following a light rainfall.

Palate (undiluted)
Gorgeous rye bread gives way to sweet oak, vanilla, cloves, a dusting of thyme and sage, red fruits and berries.

Finish (undiluted)
Cleansing, fresh, cinnamon, zesty wild honey on darkened rye toast.

General Impressions
This is an amazing value for money proposition!  $27 for a bottle of 100% rye whisky that is perfectly balanced without bitterness, bite or any offensive qualities, yet at the same time sufficiently interesting that you will have no hesitation in returning to time and time again for another reward of artisan rye bread, caramelized oak flavors and a nice lingering finish.

I am not a fan of the standard bottling of Canadian Club, and so was really leery about this brand extension, but I had a friend that insisted it was worth a go, so tried it and was really impressed.  The price may be cheap, but the quality is there.  I did read somewhere that Beam-Suntory (brand owner) put a lot of thought into the price, and the theory is that they are trying to lure in younger consumers who cannot afford higher price points.  This could have easily been priced $15 higher, and would have found a market waiting for it.

This is a highly recommended bottle for someone who is wondering what is the big deal about Canadian whisky and interested in a fine example of this whisky category that can be enjoyed neat.

Cheers!



Jason Debly

P.S.  As much as I like Canadian Club Chairman's Select 100% Rye, I cannot say the same for another Canadian Club release Canadian Club Small Batch Classic 12 yrs.  The latter is too sweet, cheap caramel notes, overly oaked and the nose is raw rubbing alcohol the nurse swabs your shoulder with before the big needle!  Not recommended.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Whisky Review: Glentauchers 1994 by Gordon & MacPhail



The Glentauchers Distillery was established in 1897 or 1898 depending on which textbook you consult or website you land on.  Being such an old distillery and having an output of around 3 million litres annually, you would expect this distillery would enjoy a bit of brand-name recognition.  Not so.  I had never heard of it either till I laid my eyes on a bottle during a recent visit to my local liquor emporium with fellow whisky dawg, Ken.  Our mission was to buy some obscure bottling for our next whisky club meeting.

Sitting proudly on the shelf was a bottle of Glentauchers, but this whisky was not released by the distillery as an official bottling.  Instead, Gordon & MacPhail had bought up some Glentauchers 'new-make' spirit, poured it into their own casks, maybe let it remain at the distillery warehouse for further aging or moved it to their storage facilities.  I don't know as this independent bottler is not about to give away their tricks of the trade.  Nevertheless, G&M saw potential in the 1994 distillation of Glentauchers single malt and felt with just the right amount of aging in their choice of casks they just might have a winner.  They bottled it in 2014 and out to market it went.

Just another quick note about Glentauchers.  While you are not familiar with the name, you probably have tasted it in the past, well, at least as a component single malt added to blended Scotch whiskies like Ballantine's Finest, Teacher's Highland Cream and Black & White.  The only time the distillery had an official release of the single malt to the public was in 2000 and that was a 15 year old edition.

Price
$125 Canadian

Distilled
1994

Bottled 
2014

ABV
43%

Format
700ml

Closure
Natural cork stopper

Region
Speyside

Cask Type
Sherry butts and remade American hogsheads.

Nose (undiluted)
A little peat, very little tickles the nose before some orange and lime peel and lemon pulp appear.  Pleasant.

Palate (undiluted)
Sweet lemon meringue, oak, soft vanilla, pineapple chunks with lots of citrus notes, especially lemon and ruby red grapefruit.

Finish (undiluted)
Apricot, star fruit, light treatment of sherry, drying, balsa wood.

General Impressions
If I had to sum up the taste of this Speyside single malt in a word, it would be: grapefruit.  It tastes like ruby red grapefruit juice.  It is also sweet with some drying sensation on the finish.  The malt is cleansing and light.  A dessert whisky.  If you like Glenkinchie, Balblair, Glenmorangie Nectar D'OR and other sweet light whiskies then this is in your wheelhouse my friend.

Criticisms?  Maybe not overly complex.  The flavors are not simple, but not exhibiting any 'wow' factor.  Nicely balanced and pleasing, it goes down incredibly easy and before you know it, half the bottle is gone.  Trouble is, this goes for $125 a bottle (not $140 as I mistakenly stated in my video review), and at that price point, this is not quaffing whisky.  I would happily pay $75 to $80, but again, north of $100 is just too much.  Damn those prices!  Ah well, it is what it is.

Cheers!


Jason Debly

P.S.  As stated above Glentauchers is principally used for blending and functions well in that capacity, but on its own, it does not sparkle.  A blender's malt for sure.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Search for Black Bottle blended Scotch

It's always nice to discover an affordable economy blended Scotch that punches way above its weight class.  Black Bottle was once a great blend delivering luscious Islay notes in a cheap bottle.  Here is my old review of that beauty: http://jason-scotchreviews.blogspot.ca/2011/05/review-black-bottle-blended-scotch.html

Unfortunately, in 2013, the flavor profile changed dramatically (as the corporate masters sought to increase sales by going for the lowest common denominator) from a strong Islay influence to a boring, mainstream Speyside style.  Nevertheless, one of my readers, Bob, and I were trading some email, as he searched for the best affordable blends. Here is his tale of Black Bottle discovery that he emailed me the other day:

It's rare that I am in the right place at the right time, like when Microsoft first offered it's stock to me circa 1985 and I poo-pooed it at the time when it was around $5 a share and had yet to split about a dozen times after that. Ahhh, a $5000 investment at the time would probably be worth $350,000+ today but to even think about it still makes me sad so I will digress. Thus, I will fast forward to the present to get to the gist of this e-mail rather than waxing poetic on love scorned, opportunities lost, ad infinitum.

So for the past 2 months since reading all the rave reviews about Black Bottle blended Scotch, only to read further that all the fuss was about the old bottling I had pretty much made up my mind that it was just not in the cards for me. I am not (read 'my wife will not let me') buy a bottle at auction for $120 or more. Or order one from the U.K. and have to endure a 55 £ shipping charge. So I resigned myself to finding a bottle of the 'new' version in person rather than ordering one. Which was no small feat! Pennsylvania and New Hampshire have state stores that all carry the same stuff and neither state stocked Black Bottle. Ditto Vermont. So I scoured Connecticut and found one place that had it in stock, but at $26.99 a bottle I passed figuring another store would have it for less (I had seen it for $20 online) on the same trip. Well after 200 miles of driving and 9 additional stops, I was kicking myself for not getting it, just to try it.


Several weeks and dozens of stores in various states later, I could still not find a store that stocked Black Bottle and most had never even heard of it. Then on a whim my wife and I were away on a short business trip (I sell used & rare bass guitars for a living after suffering as an accounting manager back in those early Microsoft stock days) and it was late so I decided to just try one more store before we headed to our hotel. I headed right for the Scotch aisle and of course, started at the bottom shelf. Right next to the Inver House I saw a 'sale' tag for Black Bottle at $17.99 but did not see any. I bent down and moved a few bottles around and there on the bottom shelf, behind the Inver House were. They were covered in dust with the original hang tags on them! I only saw one at first and acted as if I had discovered the Mother Lode, according to my wife. I was in shock as I got down on my stomach and pulled out a 2nd, 3rd and 4th bottle! Of course, later in the week when I had to drive through the area I tried every dinky liquor store within a 40-mile radius and as expected, not a single one had ever heard of Black Bottle new or old. 

So I consider myself as lucky as if I hit the lottery or something like that! The thrill of the hunt was as exciting as actually finding a few bottles of 'the good stuff' and I feel a bit let down now that it's over. Of course I won't stop looking but my short-term obsession has waned more out of necessity than anything else. Now I just have to sit down and try it when I am back home in a few weeks! We are in Denver, Colorado this week so I'll scour the area a bit for a small prize before I get worn out.


Best, Bob

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Review: Dewar's 12 years Pure Malt (circa 1980s)





























A member (Whisky Dawg Bob) of the whisky club I belong to was given a bottle of 12 year old Dewar's Pure Malt Scotch Whisky (long since discontinued) that was bottled sometime in the 1980's.  Matter of fact, the fellow who gave him this old blended malt soldier has a case of it in his musty basement.  In any event, we were having one of those meetings where everyone just brought an interesting bottle, as the club funds had been exhausted due to costly purchases made by yours truly for the last meeting.

I was intrigued.  A bottle that sat in someone's basement for over thirty years was now on my coffee table.  The bottle had a simple twist off metal cap.  No cork.  Could air have gotten in and spoiled the whisky?  I was mesmerized.

I made sure it was the first drink of the night, as I wanted to really appreciate this whisky.  What made this pure malt interesting was that it was an old release, and an unexceptional one.  No cult following for Dewar's Pure Malt.  It is not a single malt, so not terribly collectible.  I suppose there is a market for old bottles of blends, but not like a Macallan from the 80's.  Again, I must say I was intrigued.

So, what did it taste like?

I twisted the metal cap off, which gave some resistance, a good sign I thought, and then proceeded to pour a dram.  On the nose, I was not picking up much.  Some apples and dandelion.  That was about it.  Nothing impressive.  I took a sip and was immediately rewarded with plenty of fresh orchard apples, honey, a wee lemon and pancakes drizzled in maple syrup.  Wow!  Right in my wheelhouse.  I was happy.  Weeks later, I sampled this bottle some more and was not disappointed.  Very balanced and the flavor profile was identical to the first tasting.  A solid drink.



















This bottle came complete with the original cardboard packaging.  Wow!  I mean this was printed up at the same time Bob Newhart was on television and Reagan was in office.  A real time machine.  I was blissed out by this pure malt.  I must say that I am a fan of pure malts anyway and wish there were more on the market.  Oxidation was not an issue.  The seal was intact for 30 some years.

Bottom line:  If you get the chance to sample an old bottle of any whisky, you may be delighted, and don't fear the metal twist off cap.  It can keep the air out just as well as the cork stopper and maybe better in the sense there is nothing to dry up, crumble, fall in the spirit and ruin it.

Cheers!



Jason Debly

P.S.  This blog has recorded over 4 million hits and I just wanted to say thanks to you for continuing to visit and read my posts.  Much appreciated.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Whisky Review: Te Bheag Blended Scotch Whisky



Te Bheag 
Pronounced 'chey-vek' (Gaelic word meaning wee-dram).  This brand is produced by the small, independent company, Pràban na Linne Ltd., located on the Isle of Skye. The same company that puts out a delightful blended malt, Poit Dhubh, which I recently reviewed. Due to the small size of Pràban na Linne Ltd. distribution of Te Bheag is not on the scale of other competing blends (owned by much larger multinationals). It is available in Canada, the UK, parts of Europe and some limited availability in the US.

Category
Blended Scotch Whisky (40% malt whiskies & 60% grain).  No age statement.

Price
$36 - $40

Format
700 ml bottle

ABV
40%

Non-Chill Filtered
For those of you who are convinced that chill filtration strips away fatty-acid esters that contributes to subtle flavors and oily texture, have no fear, this whisky is not chill filtered. As for artificial coloring with E150, I am unsure, but suspect that if they do not chill filter then it is likely they don't color their whisky.

Nose (undiluted)
Intriguing maritime notes of sea, brine and surf.  Smoke wafts up nicely too.

Palate (undiluted)
Oily texture, rounded, salty, peat, brine, dulse,  and smokey!  Not over the top but interesting smoke I liken to Lucky Strikes unfiltered, rich Virginia tobacco.  Black licorice is here too.

Finish (undiluted)
Sherry, smoke, red and black licorice intermingle, prunes and mackerel.

General Impressions
This is priced higher than Teacher's Highland Cream and Black Grouse, but it is sure a lot better.  I liked this blend when I first reviewed it five years ago (click here) and I still like it today.  'Like' is too light, it doesn't convey my continued excitement for this great blend.  If this whisky is available where you live, I would highly recommend you consider it next time you want an affordable blend that punches way above its' weight.

Cheers!



Jason Debly

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Whisky Review: Hibiki "Japanese Harmony"

I'm at a downtown bookstore with Keith.  We are sitting opposite each other with our respective purchases.  I clutch Hunter S. Thompson's The Rum Diary, and a steaming black coffee, while Keith balances a direct-from-Japan manga trade paperback on his lap, and enjoys a double espresso.

It's a Saturday night.  The wife kicked me out of the house for the evening because she was holding a Gilmore Girls marathon with a friend.  As water seeks its own level, I rang up Keith.

"I am thinking about posting a review of a Japanese whisky," I say changing the topic abruptly from our mutual vent session directed at the writers of the original Star Trek series for never having an episode where Captain Kirk and crew beam down to a planet where the inhabitants are naked.

"Do me and the world a favor by not telling stupid ass stories."  Keith stared out the window at the howling wind that caused the curbside snowbank to drift into the street.  "Straight review."  He took a sip of his espresso, and added, "That's what people want."

"Boring," I replied.  "Trotting out a little distillery history, regurgitating corporate marketing material and officially sanctioned tasting notes with high resolution stock photos has been done to death."  I enjoyed my Ethiopian java and noticed Keith doing some not so subtle surveillance of a middle-aged lady with a serious affinity for leopard print.  She looked his way.  Caught in her gaze, he was a trembling antelope.

"And stop writing about me.  That is not cool."  He sat up in his chair a bit.  The slouch was gone.  Ms. Leopard had returned to her Cosmopolitan.  "You deleted that post, right?"

"Yup, it's gone."

"So, what's the deal with the Japanese whisky?"  He rolled back the cuff of his  olive green, '60's vintage US army combat field jacket to glance at his diver's watch.

"Dunno.  I am looking for a hook, an interesting segue into it."

"Just make sure I am not a part of it.  OK?"

"Got it."

The sky was pitch black with twinkling stars above the soft glow of the street light.  A cloudless, wintry night told me it was getting colder by the minute.  I glanced away from the street to see my friend was no longer in his chair.  The Antelope had left me and was chatting up the Leopard.  I finished my cup of joe knowing full well I had been abandoned in this urban savanna.

"I'm heading out," I muttered as I breezed by Keith.  I glanced at his new found friend's left hand, resting atop a Michael Kors bag, and was relieved not to see any gold band or tag suggesting she was considered an endangered species by someone else.

"Nice seeing you again," he said like we just ran into each other by accident while ordering skinny vanilla bean lattes rather than how it really went down with me picking him up at his mom's place.

I drove back to my house, marched upstairs, out of earshot of the giggling Gilmore Girls revival going on in the basement, and decided to try and write a 'straight review.'

Japanese Whisky
We all know that Scotland has a rich 200 year plus history of distilling whisky.  Japan, not so long.

The Japanese whisky industry started in 1923 with the founding of the first malt distillery, Yamazaki.  Today, the distillery is still in operation and is owned by Suntory.  In 1934, the Scottish trained Yamazaki master distiller, Masataka Taketsuru, bolted from Yamazaki in order to set up his own distillery in Yoichi that eventually became Nikka, another juggernaut of Japanese whisky distilling that has become a rival to Suntory.

Hibiki
I am familiar with the Hibiki brand, having enjoyed the 17 and 21 year olds.  The 17 is among my top three bottles of all time.  A blended whisky that somehow manages to deliver complexity of flavors superior to nearly all single malts I have known.  The 21 is excellent too, but I favor the 17.  What is also amazing about these two offerings is that in a blind taste test I am sure that most people would automatically assume they are sampling a single malt from Speyside.  Hibiki is one of those rare blended whiskies that fools everyone into thinking they are drinking a single malt.

So, it is with pretty lofty expectations that I sampled the latest release under this label: Japanese Harmony.

Category
Blended Japanese Whisky

Composition
60% malt, 40% grain whiskies.  Malt whiskies come from the Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries while the grain whiskies originate from the Chita distillery.  These three distilleries are owned by Suntory.  In Japan, the owners of distilleries do not sell their whiskies outside their corporate conglomerate.  So, Suntory owns all the whisky distilleries spirits going into their blends, whereas in Scotland, it is common business practice for distilleries to sell stocks unwanted to anyone, even competitors, if the price is right.

Wood Management
The whiskies have been aged in American white oak, sherry casks and Japanese (mizunara) oak.

Price
$100 (in Canada)

ABV
43%

Chill Filtered?
Probably.

Age Statement
None.

Nose (undiluted)
Buttery, floral, bergamot oranges, sherry, sandalwood/exotic oak.

Palate (undiluted)
Sweet up front, orange slices, blood oranges, raspberries, citrus, pomegranate, golden tree sap.

Finish (undiluted)
Pineapple, spiced malt notes interspersed with milk chocolate moving to drying grapefruit notes.  Part my lips and exhale and some smoke emerges.

Verdict
In a blind taste test, this could easily be mistaken for a young (e.g. 8-10 yr old) single malt.  There is no graininess or imbalance of flavors that is present with so many blended whiskies.  No bite or offensive alcohol notes here.  Hibiki Japanese Harmony is indeed harmonious.  Initially quite sweet, but it does dry up a bit by the finish, but not by much.  This is a sweet whisky overall.  It works for me.  If you like Dalwhinnie, Glenmorangie Nectar D'Or, Cragganmore 12 and Glenfiddich 15 Solera, then you will find Hibiki Harmony is in your wheelhouse.  Add a little water and you will taste more sherry and smoke.

Criticisms?  Price.  It is very expensive.  $100 in Canada and not cheap in the US I am sure.  For that price, I can buy some 18 year old single malt Scotch whiskies that will exhibit far more complexity.  Matter of fact, all of the aforementioned single malts are substantially cheaper than this Hibiki release.  For that reason, the chief problem with Hibiki Harmony is not the taste, the quality or anything to do with the whisky itself, but rather the price.  No value for money here.  If you buy this whisky, you are treating yourself, which I think is always nice to do from time to time.

Other than the price, I find it is a little light on complexity.  If you want complexity of flavors, you need age.  None of the whiskies making up Japanese Harmony taste young or cheap, but if they were given some more time in the cask, I think we would be rewarded with much more complexity, as is the case with the amazing Hibiki 17 and 21.  And this is a sticking point for me.  For the high price, I expect more complexity.  Compass Box whiskies are no age statement Scotches that exhibit tremendous complexity for a lot less money.  Try out Spice Tree for a prime example.

Japanese Harmony shares a lot of its flavor profile with the 17 year old bottling, but without the complexity.  So, it is fair to say that a lot of the house style of Hibiki is readily apparent in this bottling, and that is a good thing.  Unfortunately for you fans of Hibiki 12 years, I understand that Japanese Harmony is intended as a replacement.  The trend in Scottish producers to move away from age statements also seems to be happening in Japan.

Except for the price, I recommend this blended whisky.  If you are a novice and have the money to buy, I am certain that you will enjoy this fine whisky.  Connoisseurs will delight in Japanese Harmony because it delivers classic Speyside notes with a slight taste of Japanese oak.

Cheers!



Jason Debly

P.S.  Interested in more info?  Try my video review of this Japanese whisky:


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Whisky Review: Poit Dhubh 12 yrs Blended Malt Scotch

"That's the problemo with you Debs . . ."

Keith paused to take a sip of the blended malt he brought back from Hong Kong ostensibly as a 'gift' for me, which I eventually paid for after listening to his Shogun-esque airport saga.  "It was a heavy bottle dude," he whined. "And, I was helping this Lucy Liu look-a-like through the airport, who was on crutches.  Jet ski accident.  We clicked like a Glock.  Know what I mean?"

I was sitting in his enormous basement bedroom, replete with aqua-green shag carpet, that had not changed much since high school.  The faux bamboo walls were adorned with creepy dark wooden masks of Polynesian Gods that stared back at me, as did my reflection in a rectangular mirror with a mortar and cluster of seashells frame that unkindly revealed I had more chins than a Hong Kong telephone book.  There was a lava lamp and a painting of a grass skirted hula hoop girl seductively gazing well past me.  I felt like I was in a Tiki bar in the South Pacific, but for the Bruce Lee posters and near life-size Millenium Falcon suspended from the ceiling.

"Knowing is not enough.  We must apply," he quoted his long-dead martial arts mentor with the intensity of Yoda.

He pointed at the Bruce Lee poster on his wall, that has been there since grade 9.  Seriously, grade 9!

"Debs you can take your blog to the next level if you apply the knowledge you have.  You have to embrace Twitter and Facebook.  They will drive traffic to your blog.  And you have to write more reviews and stop those stupid, off-beat tales of woe of your life.  Nobody wants to hear from Debbie Downer."

The plan was simple.  I was supposed to drop by this evening, pick up the bottle, have maybe one drink and leave.  But nothing is that simple with my Chinese-Canadian friend since primary school.  No, he was determined to lecture me on entrepreneurship and the potential of my blog.  I tried to be patient, but if he called me 'Debs' one more time I might have to bash his head in with the stormtrooper helmut sitting on top of the Sony Trinitron picture tube TV until his Mandarin shrieking mother comes downstairs and pulls me off him.

"That's a bit rich coming from you.  Whatever happened to some of your brilliant ideas.  Camo condoms?"  I inquired.

"Huh?"  Keith shifted in his wicker chair next to the king size waterbed, upon which were strewn black and white manga paperbacks.  I shuddered to think what a crime scene investigator would see with a black light in here.

"C'mon, you remember the camouflage condoms.  Last I heard, you were working on a logo.  What was the logo?"

"Don't let them see you coming," Keith muttered sheepishly while he gazed at the TV, as if Anderson Cooper suddenly had something interesting to say.  I much prefer Erin Burnett even when she doesn't have anything interesting to say.

"Or what about the mistletoe belt buckle?  The great holiday gift!  I even remember the branding you wanted to use: 'kiss me under the mistletoe."  I was still searching for one more product idea that he thought would make him millions.

"Yeah, yeah, but I almost had it with the chainmail bikini.  Damn prototype pinched when they sat down."

"Pinched?  Oh come on!  The poor college girl looked like she had welts after walking in it for ten minutes on the beach.  Not to mention that the metal heated up in the sun and burned her skin."

"It didn't burn her skin!"  He scrunched up his nose as his glasses were slipping.  I could hear his mother upstairs pound her foot on the kitchen floor, which was her subtle signal for us to lower our voices.

Poit Dhubh Blended Malt Scotch Whisky 12 years

"So, what do you think of this?" I asked, trying to defuse the conversation.  I set my glass down next to an enormous conch shell.

Keith sniffed the shot glass, took a sip and nodded.  "I am tasting a lot of smoke and mackerel.  Online I read that the blend is made up of Talisker, Caol Ila and Tobermory."

Keith had an amazing memory and I had no doubt he read that.  I could find very little online written about Poit Dhubh, a 12 year old blended malt.  All I knew was that it was owned by a relatively small company (Praban na Linne Ltd.) located on the Isle of Skye.  Distribution is limited.

"On the nose, I am picking up dandelion, honey, oats, brine, sea air and some sherry."  I sniffed for more but wasn't getting anything else.

"Well, there is precious little sherry to taste.  I dunno how you nose sherry." He averted his gaze from the TV.  Anderson had gone to commercial.

"I smell it and I taste it."  I held up the bottle to the light of the lava lamp.  A pale malt with no caramel E150 coloring added either.  "No doubt about it, sherry is present on the palate, which I grant is a bit baffling given the reported core malts.  I think there may be some aging in ex-sherry casks of these peaty and smoky malts."

Keith was pensive.  A silence.  Maybe 30 seconds.  A record he quickly shattered:  "What I am getting on the palate is brine, wood smoke, lemons, and then some sherry, just slight.  A real melding of peat, smoke and slight sherry.  Interesting.  43% ABV and unchilfiltered.  This is good shit."

"On the finish I really taste Talisker.  There is a lemon seeds and pith note from the palate that remains on the finish along with a salty note that is Talisker.  Rosewood and oranges too.  You da man!  Thanks for picking this up!" I enthused.

"How do you pronounce this?"

"The back label gives guidance.  Just say Potch Ghoo."

"Gaelic is a really strange language" Keith muttered.  Staring up at the poster of Bruce once more he said:

"Willing is not enough we must do."

I nodded and added, "I think we must 'do'  . . . more Potch Ghoo!"

Cheers!



Jason Debly

P.S.  If you want a slightly more succinct review of this good blended malt Scotch, click on my video.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Whisky Review: Dewar's 12 years Blended Scotch

Under the Christmas tree, were two presents from the Wife.  I tore the wrapping paper off with gusto equal to my kids and discovered I had been gifted Bowmore 12 yrs and Dewar's 12.

"Do you like those ones?"

"Yup!" and turned away so she could not read my ashen face.

My mind was already trying to scheme what of equal value I could exchange the Dewar's for.  Bowmore was a keeper, but Dewar's was one I intended to exchange.  And I mean exchange!  My last experience with that blend had not been pleasant.  A couple of years ago I bought a bottle and found it to be terrible.

Over the phone, on boxing day evening, I was lamenting to a friend the high cost of Scotch whisky.  Where I live (Canada) blends and single malt prices have gone through the roof in recent years.  Let me give you a few examples:

Chivas Regal 12yrs - $49
Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 yrs - $53
Chivas Regal 18 yrs - $99
Balvenie Double Wood 12 yrs - $75
Cardhu 12 yrs - $75
Cragganmore 12 yrs - $75
Highland Park 12yrs - $80
Glenmorangie Nectar D'OR 12yrs - $80
Laphroaig 10yrs - $80
Talisker 10yrs - $80
Dalmore 12 yrs - $95

I mean $53 for Johnnie Walker Black?*&^%!!!!  What is the world coming to?  It seems that $75 is now the new threshold for a good 12 year old single malt.  Don't even thing about anything older.  For the really good stuff you are looking north of $100 in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and many other high tax states.

There are two reasons for higher prices lately: (1)  Greedy government imposed sin taxes; (2) increased demand overseas causes drinks companies to raise their prices here.  But, now for the good news!  Global Scotch whisky exports fell by 7% last year and demand fell particularly hard in its biggest markets USA (-9%).  According to the BBC (click here) some other markets shrunk also: Singapore (-39%), and Germany (-18%).

Part of the reason we have seen a trend as of late away from age statements (ie. Macallan) was that past demand was so strong (Taiwan +36%, India +29%) that drinks companies thought sales would continue to grow no matter what they did.  I can hear the suits in the C-Suite now: "Just keep that single malt tasting close to what it already tasted like.  They will never notice a few less years in the barrel or less 1st fill casks.  Hell, nearly all of them mix with ice and soda anyway."

Guess what?  I think guys like you and I have noticed, and we are doing what consumers in other areas of the economy have always done, we migrate to products offering better value for the dollar.

Canadian and American whiskies are enjoying a bit of a boom in sales as of late.  Quality is the best it has ever been and prices are very reasonable when compared to Scotch whisky.  And then there is rum!  Ever try some sipping rums?  Goslings?  Eldorado 12 years?  You can spend a lot less on those spirits and guys are catching on.

So, when I got off the phone, bearing all of the above in mind, I though "oh, what the hell, let's give the Dewar's 12yrs a go."  My New Year's Resolution will be to only review whiskies under the $100 price point and really try to find and review those bargains that deliver good quality.  Maybe Dewar's is a better blend than it was four or five years ago.  Blends can change in taste.  Sometimes it is an intentional decision by the suits in head office to task a master blender with changing the flavor profile to what they deem is 'mainstream' which is code word for stronger sales.  I really think this is what happened to Black Grouse.  When it burst on the market around 2003 it was a peat and iodine bomb with plenty of tar and smoke of Islay.  Try it today and it is not even recognizable to what it had once been.  It's sherried and grainier than it ever was.

So, back to Dewar's, I decided to have a couple pulls with the most minimal of expectations.

Price
A lot cheaper than Johnnie Walker Black and Chivas 12 where I live.

ABV
40%

Nose (undiluted)
Mellon, fruitcake, raspberries.

Palate (undiluted)
Spiced honey up front, followed by easy sherry notes, golden barley, pancakes, spiced strawberries.

Finish (undiluted)
Malty, black pepper, fennel, anise, arak, black licorice, blackened toast.

General Impressions
This is really good in the blend category.  Definitely displays some sherry notes on the palate and then there is a very pleasant finish of malt, black licorice and dark toast.  Well balanced.  Not grainy either.  I was so shocked by my initial impressions that I revisited this bottle several times over the holidays and the flavors remained consistent.

The abv is 40% and I just have a gut feeling that this bottle might not taste so great if it was half empty and placed on a shelf for six months.  Dewar's 12 upon opening is a delight and remains for a while, but I have a sneaky suspicion that it does not respond well to oxidation.  I would finish this bottle within two months once the bottle falls below 50% full.

I would add Dewar's 12 to my list of 'comfort blends' that deliver good value for money.  I put this on par with Chivas 12 (another blend that seems to go flat in the bottle too soon after opening), but Johnnie Walker Black is still more interesting.  Black doesn't go flat.  It just remains really good.

So, I guess I should thank the Wife and also refrain from referring to her as the Wife (fortunately she never reads the blog - living with me is enough of a treat).

Happy New Year 2016!

Cheers!



Jason Debly

P.S.  Now that you have read this post, below is my video review.