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theScotchlife

Enjoying Scotch Whisky and a few other things

Author

John

theScotchlife.com is about my love of the whisky of Scotland. I do talk about a few other things on it also.

Highland Park 31

On a glorious December day I found myself bargain shopping at the local liquor store. Special discounts were available that I took advantage of, at the check out I peered past the counter and spotted something unique. It was a bottle of Highland Park, single cask whisky. Oh, and is that on sale? Yes, drastically. Joy.

So this is a special bottle just for Virginia. I've been waiting for some time to open it. I chose now. It is splendid! Scotch whisky at about 30 years takes a turn towards being candy like. This one's is no exception. It's exceptional and elegant. I'd say go buy it, but if you don't have it, well….. Cheers

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Lagavulin 8 Limited Edition

Lagavulin 8

Happy 200th Lagavulin! Though I’m a bit tardy. Of course you have to release something special, so Lagavulin has decided to go its beginnings. For you fans of peat smoke whisky, this is certainly what you have wanted and your longing for just something different to come to shelves in America. If you are curious if this should be the first scotch whisky you taste from Islay, be warned, this is not a tame spirit.

The hallmark of this brand is its intense smoke, so intense it is as if you are standing over the peat as it sets fire and infuses the barley. I love smelling this whisky as much as I like to taste it. The fact that it is a limited edition and eight years of aging has occurred before being arrested in glass is enough to make me pick it off the shelf and actually write a bit about it.

It’s a touch lighter than the typical Lagavulin 16 year that most are used to. But that is all. Its wonderful mouthfeel and richness of lemon and smoke are sublime. “Exceptionally fine” is what Alfred Barnard said in 1886, I do believe he would same the same today.

Vacation Whisky – Oban Little Bay and Ardbeg Perpetuum

Little Bay
Oban Little Bay

While on vacation on North Carolina’s shore this  year, I decided to pick up a couple of whisky’s to enjoy. The great thing about leaving where you live is finding whisky offerings that aren’t in your home area. The ABC store I went to in NC had a surprising and wonderful collection, I settled on a Oban Little Bay offering. I’m not a huge Oban fan but it is quite popular. This is a small batch offering so it’s a bit higher on the scale as far as cost but not over $80 USD. It’s not what I’d call a remarkable or distinctive scotch whisky but a good one. In fact, this may be a perfect beach whisky. It’s light on the palate and smooth. It does not have a very strong profile to me at least. It’s a very good sipping whisky or you could even, dare I say, mix it? This would be a good whisky for people who “don’t like whisky” and would like to try something “good.”

Perpetuum
Ardbeg Perpetuum

Since I had to get back to work and leave the family behind, I purchased at home the new Ardbeg Perpetuum. This was the new whisky release on Ardbeg day that for the first time in memory, I missed. But this has shown up in good quantities on Virginia’s ABC. The marketing on the box talks about its unending taste profile, and hence its name. I first tasted it neat, no water, and soon realized why the termed it perpetuum. It does stick to the tongue and linger, at length. When you add water and have more than one offering this sensation did disappear though. I can’t say that I didn’t like this, as I enjoy any Ardbeg offering, but I cannot say that I’m blown away. The best/last Ardbeg I’ve had was the Ardbog offering. And to date, nothing beats the current offering Uigeadail. So Perpetuum is worth a purchase but temper your enthusiasm. It should cost you close to $99 USD.

Haig Single Grain Scotch Whisky

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It’s been awhile since I’ve been impressed by a new scotch whisky. Especially one that is influenced by pop culture or non traditional bottle design or packaging. That has just changed. I’m not sure what Diageo set out to prove with this whisky but I really believe they have made something completely unique and its timing is perfect!

I’m a lover of single malts! I have only had a handful of really good single grains and the best was a sixty year old at a very exclusive event in Vegas. This Single Grain created by Haig and promoted by the very well known David Beckham is first class. The bottle and packaging is bespoke, but it’s the whisky itself I find remarkable. In nosing you get the sense that you are nosing a cologne. The bottle even looks like a cologne bottle. It’s light in color and you are very aware that this will not be a single malt. My first taste confirmed what my nose had seen. This is a soft, floral whisky. It’s so unique I dare compare it to anything cause I really think you should try it.

At 40% ABV, you can sip it neat. If you add some water it really evens out and is quite pleasant. I would even recommend this to new whisky drinkers who are trying to drink whisky without throwing Coke in it.

Alas, it isn’t the cheapest whisky! So this price point in the USA of about $70 is high but there isn’t anything like it so I think it has a chance to be successful. A great Christmas gift!

Cheers and Merry Christmas!!

Balvenie 15 yr Single Barrel Sherry Cask

Balvenie 15 year Sherry CaskSo I have a long liking of The Balvenie Scotch Whisky and I don’t ever think that will change, but this latest offering opens a new door to me as an enthusiast of Balvenie. If you are wondering if you should buy this as you stand in the whisky aisle I hate to be long-winded but this opinion is going to be a bit drawn out.

Balvenie, to the whisky enthusiast, is an easily recognized dram. It’s vanilla and honeyed prevalence is without equal in Scotland’s whisky industry. It is without question one of the first scotch whiskies you should try from Scotland. This one, however, is not that one.

I first tasted this at the Balvenie celebration of American Craft arts in Washington DC. I knew that this was on the shelf in Virginia and soon picked it up to give it a firm break in and evaluation. My overall response is that this is a great whisky but a departure from what I think Balvenie is all about. To me, this is a “special” offering to show that Balvenie can do a Sherry cask as well, or perhaps better, than Macallan can. It’s slightly more powerful than a regular offering at 47.8%, as most Balvenie products come in at about 43%. So, it’s not exactly strong as most single cask offerings but the fact that it has set in the Sherry Cask this long delivers very rich flavor. I’ve tried this without and with water added and I tend to favor it with very little to no water because too much water seems to make it lifeless.

I personally think that this product is for people like myself, who enjoy seeing different sides of an established distiller and don’t mind spending 100 USD for a bottle of whisky. I have to compare this to my favorite TUN series from Balvenie and then the Doublewood 12 year “gateway” whisky. It falls in between and personally, I would have saved this for a “vatted” product with some traditional American cask whisky to target an empty section between regular Balvenie offerings and the exclusive TUN series. But I don’t have to answer to Grant & Sons so my opinion is just that.

In summation, it’s a quality product but not for the casual drinker, that is what Doublewood 12&17 is for. At this price point I think it’s a great offering for us whisky geeks and collectors. If I were you and didn’t mind the price I’d buy it.

Cheers!

Signatory Un-Chillfiltered Bowmore Distillation 2000

A quick post but one that is needed. I happened upon this bottle in DC and felt compelled to buy it. An unchill filtered whisky is one that is bottled without being “refined” so that it doesn’t change color or cloud up when someone adds ice to it, which should never happen btw. So this is as pure as you can get your whisky. It’s really something that aficionados enjoy because you really get the feel for what actually comes out of the cask. For me, this Bowmore has better mouth feel and reminds me of Loch Indaal at Bowmore. I really wish this would come in the standard Bowmore line but alas, Signatory has done us all a favor bottling this one as God intended it. This bottling was done in September of 2013 after 13 years of aging. It was matured in a Hogsheads cask and is from cask #1430. It’s bottled at 46% ABV and is great with a splash of water. Classic Bowmore lemon zest and salt come through on the palate but the real pleaser is the excellent mouth feel and finish from the lack of filtering. If you can find it you’d be well if buying. I’m keeping my source secret for now! Cheers!

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Black & White Whisky – a San Francisco treat?

I recently found myself with a little time on my hands in the North Beach section of San Francisco. I was actually excited to hit some stores and search out some unique scotch whisky. My hopes were high to find something, after all, I’ve heard so many good things about the selection of whisky available in California. Well, I was hopeful, excited even, and then reality set in. Store, after store, shelf after shelf… I found the same whisky that I can find in the Washington, DC area. Dumbfounded, I  decided to manage my expectation based on the area.20140422-214224.jpg

That particular area is quirky, unique, and has a special vibe to it. Old shops, not new shops. A Beat era museum, not gift shops. Laundry mats, boutique shops, hardware shops, and yes, if you know the area, “gentleman clubs.” So I’m not going to find a hard to find single malt here, no problem. I decided to look for something weird, something old. I found it.20140422-215425.jpg

In the 1980s Black & White was a go to blended scotch whisky of many men (and I’m sure a few women). In that era it was owned by Buchanan’s who was eventually absorbed by Spirit behemoth Diageo. I’ve read somewhere where this was a go to for Dean Martin and a few others. It actually received the Royal Warrant in Britain in the late 1800s. It had a long run but now it sits on the shelves across little shops over America, waiting for someone to take it home. I rescued one bottle.20140422-214330.jpg

The price was $27 USD. The clerk tried wiping the dust off of the box, but something that has been sitting that long in an old store is not going to be pretty. I’m pretty sure this is from the 1980s era due to it still has a tax stamp on it. I haven’t seen a tax stamp in forever! And the top is white, whereas the last photos of the product all showed black tops. Anyhow, it was an old vessel, holding a fairly young blended whisky. If you were wondering, whisky does NOT age in the bottle. Wine ages, whisky waits.

So I’d go on about the taste, but seriously, this is just a blended scotch whisky that is very drinkable. It’s not going to impress. It will do the job though. My only regret is that I couldn’t travel back to Washington with an open bottle of booze and I don’t check luggage if I don’t have to. I did the only right thing, I handed it over to the front desk manager at the Hotel. He was a little taken back. I hope he enjoys it.

 

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CHEERS!

 

DEFIANT AMERICAN WHISKY – This was bound to happen, my discovery

I haven’t written in a while, mainly because I’m busy, but also because I just haven’t been that inspired. My walks thru the stores over the winter really haven’t shown me anything new. I have spent the winter drawing down on many quality Bowmore, Ardbeg, and Balvenie offerings. One or two new things slipped in but didn’t really motivate me to put finger to keyboard. But on this day, the curse has been broken…. defiantly.

I have dreamed for a long time about having a whisky produced in America in the Single Malt, Malted Barley style. This is what the Scottish do, 24/7, 365 days a year, and they do it damn well. Some better than others. But now, so has an American, in North Carolina.

Introducing DEFIANT whisky. Distilled in Bostic, North Carolina just East of Asheville, NC. If you know Asheville, NC, then you could be aware of the uniqueness of products and micro-brews that are there. You have to check out the website, the background to the birth of this spirit is unique and I’m excited about what the future holds for America producing Single Malt whisky that is worthy to stand up to the best Scotland can produce!Defiant Whisky

So, about the whisky. In a sentence, it may be the best American distilled product I have ever tasted. It has a beautiful color, the nose is very unique. The most prominent thing my nose picks up is a smoke. The smoke I get from my smoker and I typically use Hickory wood when I cook. There is something else hitting my nose and I just can’t place it. What I do not get is all the typical smells that come out of a typical, Highland Scotch whisky, but it does not remind me of Bourbon at all. I think this is where this whisky goes “Asheville” on you. It’s a little weird on the nose and what that makes me believe is that it is not produced the Scottish way. Maybe it’s the custom-made stills these salvage divers put together? Yes, their day job is deep-sea salvage, how cool is that! The way they prepare their barley? Malting matters.

On the tongue, this whisky shows. It’s neutral and balanced on the tongue, and delivers an organic, slightly spiced fruit (not fruity) with just a kiss of fresh toasted oak wood. It has body, it’s not thin, and as I have been sipping on it for a few hours now, it hasn’t even occurred to me to put water in it. It’s 41%ABV (82 proof) and is very well-balanced. Double distilled? Triple distilled? I don’t know. The website says that they do not follow tradition and my nose and palate are really picking up on it. It’s fairly smooth. The finish is very clean.Slight vanilla? There is a bit of oil left on the palate afterwards, I tend to enjoy that.

Well, all that to say I really like it. I think these guys have a lot of intuition and an obvious love for whisky. I’d say they are onto something. I bought mine in Virginia so you may have to check their web-site to find where you can purchase it.

Cheers!

Cold weather, Whisky, Christmas. Natural companions?

The winter of 2014 has really moved into the North American continent and it has brought a special gift for the Mid-Atlantic region. For those of you unfamiliar with the East Coast of the United States, the Mid-Atlantic region’s center is Washington D.C. For a couple of years we have had mild winters which of course has festered the “global warming” ilk to wail our incoming doom (if you live in the DC area you get sick of hearing special interest groups regardless of their cause). Prior to the warm winters we had three feet of snow in a week. Go figure. This year we’ve had a couple of snows already and every day when I check the weather I see how consistently colder it is here than it is in Glasgow, which doesn’t seem right?

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I love this promotion! The 18 year product is a “must try before you die” whisky.

So winter weather, and it’s by-product snow, seem to be a natural setting for good whisky. The other day I picked up a bottle of Highland Park 12 year that is being sold with a small bottle of the Award winning 18 year Highland Park whisky. The fact that the 12 year was on sale was good enough reason to buy it and to see the 18 year teaser bottle as a bonus sealed the deal.20131215-092427.jpg

I had to quickly snap some pictures with the iPhone because I could not resist opening the bottle. There is something irresistible or just natural about the Highland Park bottle. It makes you want to open it. I was going out for the evening but wanted to take a sip just to reacquaint my palate with the spirit. Delicious. This really is just a remarkable product. It’s what whisky should taste like and there really, to me, isn’t another type of spirit offering that gives you that immediate confirmation.

The folks at Highland Park Distillery can, as marketing logically goes, brag that they are the northern most distillery in Scotland. They do seem to be in a micro-climate that seems to bring little variation in temperature. No, it never gets hot there, like in Washington D.C., nor does it see -8c temps like just two nights ago here in DC. But a very naturally steady cool temperature that seems to aid in producing an excellent whisky. In Islay, you have wild temperature/weather swings (I’ve witnessed this first-hand) and I think it is fitting the type of smoky-peaty whisky that is largely produced on that Island. If you know Kentucky, you really have to reflect on the fact that the climate there is so remarkably different than in Scotland. Bourbon as well as other American whiskies are subject to wild temperature extremes in storage from 90f+ down to -32f degrees (0c to 32c for you folks outside the US). Scotland’s geographic placement puts it into a constantly cool environment which in my personal opinion and affinity for the Scottish spirit is superb.

What also is superb is this 12 years aged single malt Scotch whisky. I had to check to see if I had written about the 12 year before and what I found is that I haven’t, but wrote about the 15 year product (which is a cousin to the 12, but not an older brother) almost to the date, one year ago. Another naturally occurring phenomenon? Whatever the case, this Highland Park 12 product is remarkably smooth, gentle on the nose and despite its rough Viking ladened marketing programs (which is for some of their other HP products but still misleading) quite the gentleman on the palate. This is a “no-brainer” whisky, it simply must occupy your cupboard from time to time, especially at Christmastime! Naturally.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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