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theScotchlife

Enjoying Scotch Whisky and a few other things

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Speyside

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!

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The Balvenie Islay Cask Scotch Whisky

Islay Cask
Islay Cask

Heaven. End of review…… This is one of my all-time favorite Scotch whiskys. I had this a couple of years back, or so, at an event in Vegas. The Balvenie reps had rounded up all the 17 year releases and we did a tasting of them all. This was, and is, my favorite. I was fortunate enough to have a collector round this bottle up for me in an auction in the UK. Yes, I paid a few bucks for this one.

So I’ve been waiting for an occasion to open this and I finally thought, well, I’ve been to Islay so now I should open this. Basic reasoning really. So I did, and oh, it’s just as good as I remember it.

So if you are familiar with the 17 year aged line of Balvenie you may actually have never seen this one. You probably have seen the Peated Cask which replaced this original. This bottle inspired the peated cask but the peated cask is no Islay cask, no sir.

This lovely Balvenie classic spirit was finished up in a Laphroiag cask. Affectionately  known as “lafrog,” the very essence of Laphroiag is a strong punch of the sea and earth on your palate. What is great about the Balvenie honeyed spirit slipping into that barrel for a spin is the sweet peat finish takes on a gentlemanly charm and drops the t-shirt for the tails in this bottle.

I’d go on and on about how it tastes, but, chances are you have had this, have it but not have opened it, or will never have the opportunity. Pity.

John Barr Blended Scotch Whisky

So today I finally got time to make a whisky run inside Washington DC and ended up close to the Maryland border so stopped in there also. My reward was picking up 4 bottles that I cannot pick up in Virginia, save one. One of these great finds was this 1.75L of Blended whisky. John Barr is new to me. Obviously it is nothing new in the UK and its story is worth mentioning.

As the story, albeit brief, goes there was a legal problem in the EU about Johnny Walker Red in 1977. While no great explanation is given, JW had to be withdrawn from a particular market. In came John Barr! It was evidently a label used for the market to fill the gap. The “brand” has been purchased by Whyte & Mackay, not sure when, who are experts in blended whisky. The very fact that W&M is involved in this endeavor made me purchase the product. If you do not know who Richard Paterson is, he is the master distiller for W&M and takes blending whisky seriously! If you don’t believe me, watch this.

John Barr, in the UK, comes in a choice of Red, Gold, or Black. What I found today just has a black label and no mention of “Black Label.” A quick Google search turned up an image of a bottle similar, yet smaller, that is described as a Reserve. This was tasted by tastings.com of Chicago and they rated it highly.

So? Is it any good? YES! A resounding yes! While I am not surprised due to W&M’s involvement I do feel some affirmation from trusting that W&M’s Paterson would never let an inferior product exist in his world. I mentioned a few posts ago that I was going to pursue less expensive yet good scotch whisky and I am so happy to report I have found one. This 1.75L cost me about $32 on sale, usually $40. At this price, you have a very nice daily drinker that you are not going to soon get tired of.

As for the particulars: Colour is Golden/Amber, Nose is malty and cries out quality malt. The taste is malty, Speyside honeyed with some crisp explosions of spice, I’m also going to guess there is some weighted Sherry Butt (cask or barrel) finishing going on here. The ABV is 43% (which I think is perfect) and I drank it neat, of course. The mouth-feel is very oily at first and it coats the palate quite well. I wanted to go eat Bacon with it!

I think that this is one of the best, if not the best 1.75L offerings I have ever tasted. I would be happy to have this in a decanter! I have asked the company to send me more information. If I receive more exact information on this product I will update this post.

UPDATE —

I haven’t heard any information back on this product so I don’t have any more to share. The only thing I would like to add is that this is about half full now and I noticed a very strong alcohol presence when I drank it today. It really came across as rubbing alcohol. I’m not sure if this was just due to me noticing it more or the chemistry is changing as air is introduced. Advice, you do not want to hold onto this one for too long.

Cheers!

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Lismore Single Malt Speyside Scotch Whisky

Today I decided to visit a liquor store in Middleburg, Virginia that I’ve been meaning to go to. It’s a bit anti-climatic, The State or “Commonwealth” of Virginia controls its liquor stores so the inventory doesn’t vary much. What I have discovered is that once in a while you might find something at one store that you haven’t seen before. Today was one of those instances. Sitting beside a happy bottle of Glenfarclas 10 year was this Lismore Single Malt. It was about $25 USD so I thought maybe I have found a new inexpensive Single Malt whisky.

One of my hopes this year is to cover more inexpensive scotch whisky which is typically blends. So I’m not off to a good start. But it is cheaper!

I was a little apprehensive so I actually googled this whisky first, picked up the reviews I could see to make sure I wasn’t purchasing a dog. After confirming I wasn’t I decided to open her up and see what she’s made of……..

It’s not overwhelming in presentation (bottle included) nor is the color rich or nose anything special. What it does have going for it is what I typically look for though. Good malt flavor, manageable alcohol influence, and decent mouth-feel.

The good news is that it does possess these qualities. The most prominent component is the finish. It is a bit raisin like to me, first taste almost liquorice but subsequent tastes mellow. It’s only 40% ABV so I would not normally add water to this but in doing so I find it does feel a little more round. If you are an ice drinker I think it would hold up but I really don’t want to try that personally.

As far as age, there is no statement. Expect this more and more as Distillers such as Macallan is going away from it. Age in no way guarantees you of a good product, but for those of us who appreciate aged products it does cause us a bit more work if we are unfamiliar with the product. So Scotch Whisky must be aged at least three years according to law. My guess is that this one is 5 to 7 years of age. It may even be married single malts, not sure.

It is however good, how good? It’s a good daily drinker. It’s worth being chosen over many known single malts in the mass distribution category. It’s much better than some expensive blends.

I hope this helps, if you are passionate about scotch whisky like myself, you should always experiment and this one is worth your time.

Cheers!

Lismore Single Malt

Glen Grant 16 year aged Single Malt Scotch Whisky

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Intense, ripe orchard fruits, lingering finish….. These are the words imprinted on the bottom label of the lovely bottle of Glen Grant 16. After you drink a lot of whisky (variety, not quantity) particularly scotch, you do see the finer scotch whiskies have a distinctness about them and within their own line each one acts differently. Glen Grant is a newcomer to the States and has a long history with a few owners, originally family, but since the 1970’s corporate ownership has dominated. It is a line of whisky started in 1840 in Rothes, Speyside, Scotland in the UK and was most noted by it’s second owner James Grant who at the ripe age of 25 became its purveyor and visionary. Now corporately owned, it has been introduced into America with a 10 year and a 16 year offering. I tasted both of these at the SMSWA event in Washington D.C. this past fall and really liked them. I thought the 10 to be a great entry or starter scotch for someone and the 16 to be a scotch truly enjoyed by those who imbibe scotch regularly.

Recently I found a bottle of the 16 available in DC. I snatched it up, despite its $70 cost because I am so desperate for variety of scotch and I do remember it being good, $70 good….not so sure, but like I said, desperate for variety.

When nosing this, you do notice a very clean fresh fruit nose. It’s a very bright and cheery nose, quite enjoyable. The affect on the tongue is equally refreshing! Mouthfeel is just right, a bright burst of fruit and alcohol hit you mid-palate but do not overwhelm. I would say this is a very young acting 16 year old. Much like a teenager but fully developed no doubt. I think this same spirit aged a few more years would be incredible. But fruit is forward, and very refreshing in this whisky. I’d say this would be great with strawberries or something tart like kiwi.

The finish is very nice, lingers, and really makes you want more. Being that my relationship with this bottle is new I don’t know quite how to feel about it. I do feel it has a special place though. The more I try it, the more I like it and feel this would, though great now, is strong enough to age at least four more years. I really think I have found a new favorite scotch!

And if you were wondering about cigar pairings, I would not pair this with more than a mild-medium cigar. You really are not going to find a cigar with flavor to match this one so keep it mild so the two do not clash. I’d recommend a smooth Davidoff or Montecristo with this one. If you are paying for this bottle and smoke cigars I’m sure you are not a stranger to those names.

Cheers!

Gordon & Macphail’s single malt scotch whisky

I finally got back to one of my favorite Washington, DC liquor stores, Pearson’s, which is off Wisconsin Avenue. The choices are always fun because they do not stock typical offerings that most stores do, especially the Virginia ABC stores… (where selection sucks)

So I was happy to see among several offerings this Gordon and Macphail’s 10 year single malt. I have enjoyed several of their offerings but never a “standard” like this one. I actually enjoy not knowing which distiller they purchased their product from. This mystery malt sat either in a Speyside warehouse or in Elgin at G&M’s warehouse. Regardless, someone distilled it and G&M claimed it. It’s that simple.

What isn’t simple is the complexity of this dram. It is very nice, balanced, and has great mouth-feel. The fruit that comes off the nose is nice and I rather enjoyed it without water. After adding water a few more notes open up in the nose and as for taste, it smoothed out like a lake in the morning.

The cost of this was exactly 42.99 USD. I believe it to be priced about right (nothing you can do about taxes) and I believe it is distinct enough from the likes of Balvenie and Macallan to set in among your scotch offerings. I would call this a daily drinker but I rather think it special. And so, only a twice or so a week dram. I can always rely on Grant’s as my anytime dram.

You could enjoy a cigar with this, but, I’d reserve this as an aperitif or a dinner dram. I’m not an advocate of drinking great scotch with cigars because inevitably, one will win out and the other will be non-present.

So if you are lucky enough to pick up one of these, I would encourage you, I think it’s worth a try!

Cheers!

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The Balvenie Caribbean Cask

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I make it no secret that I do appreciate Balvenie products and this 14 year aged Balvenie that was finished in Caribbean Rum casks is the perfect Christmas time scotch! The inspiration for this product is the 17 year Rum cask that came out a few years ago which was a one-time offering. This product which has been out for about a year, is evidently to be a regular offering for Balvenie. Like most of Balvenie’s regular offerings, the soft vanilla-honeyed notes are now joined with some spicy sweet ones from the previously used rum casks. The ABV rate is 43% and is easily enjoyed neat.

If you are wondering what to get that scotch lover for Christmas, Hanukkah, (pick your holiday) then I feel very confident in suggesting this product. This would also be great as an aperitif!

Cheers!

Balvenie TUN1401 Batch 3 tasting

The Balvenie Roadshow tasting in DC at Poste

As October ushered itself into Washington D.C. so did the fall-esque weather complete with 50f temperatures and cool rain. It was only fitting to have a Scotch tasting that was originally planned for outdoors at the Poste restaurant in the heart of the city. After arriving soon enough to see the Morgan off-loaded from the truck and driven through the portal which takes you to Poste, I was in no way deterred by the mist and was genuinely happy to see this fine hand-made car take its place in the outdoor dining area that it would have to ultimately spend alone.

Though the weather was gloomy the crowd and especially the host of the evening Andrew Weir was not. Andrew has one of the best jobs in the world (excluding constant travel) and that is to be the Balvenie Ambassador for the Eastern Coast of the U.S. Unlike some reps that I have met in the whisky or cigar industry Andrew is genuinely welcoming and eager to share his knowledge of his product. I also appreciate Andrews’ unwillingness to talk bad about any competing product (which I’ve heard numerous times) and his attitude towards “you enjoy scotch how you like it, because you paid for it!”

Due to the rain the tasting was moved inside to what equates to a bar/entry to the restaurant. The noise from the main dining area was an incredibly unwelcome obstacle for any speaker but everyone there tolerated it and though Andrew merely fakes a Scottish accent we could at least understand some of what he said. Just kidding Andrew. The drams that were to be had were Balvenie’s current offerings of Doublewood 12 year, Single Barrel 15 year, and Portwood 21 year. They are three very different offerings but all very Balvenie. The Doublewood is the perfect scotch to start drinking when you are just starting your journey into scotch. I believe Andrew called it the “gateway” scotch into Balvenie. I would call it the gateway into seriously good scotch! Reportedly this is one of David Stewart’s favorite products which says a lot for a Master of 50 years. The Doublewood has spent most of its life in an American Bourbon barrel and finished up in an European Sherry cask. It is a delightful dram and one I would consider a “go-to” scotch.

The Single Cask 15 is a very different taste because it does carry the kick of a single cask. The ethanol alcohol level is a bit higher and if you like that you will like this offering. I really prefer this to the Doublewood because I do enjoy the kick. It is also different from Doublewood because it only matures in American Oak. No Sherry. So you are going to get more vanilla upfront whereas it is a bit hidden by the Sherry Oak in the Doublewood.

The Portwood 21 is good. Period. It has won several awards and in my mind is a first-rate contender with anything on the market in the premium category. It has spent time in rare Port casks that impart a deliciousness that comes across as honeyed raisins. This is the scotch you have with the Duck and Creme Brûlée. It is a bit pricey but you should experience this scotch, it can be found by the dram in your better bars.

The evening went well despite the din of the restaurant and aside from the whisky nerds (myself and one other gentleman) I believe some whisky novices were very pleased to have discovered this tasting.

As an aside, the appetizers from Poste were extremely well prepared and after the tasting I did enjoy a grass-fed cheeseburger that was actually cooked the way I ordered it, medium. It was delightful! I have found that if a nice restaurant can produce a great burger then you can be assured their other offerings are great as well. If you were wondering if you should try this restaurant out I would encourage you to do so. They also have a great selection and variety in scotch.

The evening was great and as Andrew was leaving he slipped me a gift. It really took me by surprise and was totally unexpected. Let’s just say it has something to do with a future offering and I will be tasting it this week. I have also embedded the video from Balvenie about the roadshow, it’s a great video and I hope you enjoy it, preferably with a Balvenie!

Cheers!

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