Old Crow, 43% +/- 1970

I reviewed an Old Crow bourbon last year, which was pretty awesome but had a crappy cap. This one is a lot better, from a regular bottle. The Italian tax label suggests that this was bottled between 1969 and 1971, but Italians being Italians, there may be a small diversion.

Why is this? The label first:

  • It has a completely red Italian tax label
  • There are three stars on the label
  • The contents are described as ‘3/4 litri’ and not 0.75 or so

These indicators make you pretty able to pinpoint the point of import into Italy. I investigated this a while ago for an article in our club magazine and between some of the Malt Maniacs and Max Righi of Whisky Antique this was what I was able to find out.

Then, why this might still be wrong because Italy:

I’ve heard from the same sources and other writings on the interwebz that Italy wasn’t overly strict on the use of the tax labels in those days. So, if there were any labels left over they might have used them to after 1971, or if the bottles sat in bonded warehouses before being cleared through customs for some years they might have been importer earlier. So, 1970 is a guess at best.

What’s certain is that it’s old. Very old. The bottle that is. The whisky is most likely just about six years old as that seems to have been the age of the Old Crow bourbons. These Old Crows were the cream of the crop back in the day according to many knowledgeable people. When the distillery closed and Beam took over the brand quickly lost their quality earmark and moved to the bottom shelf. I’ve tried a more recent version at De Whiskykoning a couple years ago and it was undrinkable.

Note: I don’t have anything against Beam. They make some kick-ass bourbon. Many of you will know my love of some of their small batch series (Booker’s, and especially Knob Creek. I’m not a fan of Basil Haydens’)

This one then.

Glue comes off the glass if you let it breathe, but upon closed inspection I still get that, but with burnt oak, maize and sugary syrup. There’s cinnamon and ginger behind all that for some bite. It’s pretty sharp for a 43% bourbon.

The palate is gentle at first but quickly comes up with a lot of chili pepper. There’s quite some sweetness behind it but accompanies by spices. The hot cinnamon and ginger are present, as is some oak and oak bark. The glue is not as prominent as on the nose but it’s still here.

The finish is more typical of bourbon with some spices and quite a lot of sweetness. Corn syrup mostly but also some sappy oak. A hint of charcoal maybe?

Even though still has spent some forty (!) years in glass there’s barely any Old Bottle Effect, and it’s actually a delicious bourbon. It’s a shame the bottle is almost gone by now, and I wish I was more alert for this kind of stuff a couple of years back.

I bought this for some € 30, but bourbon has also gotten really popular in auction sites on this side of the Atlantic, so prices are not what they used to be. I wouldn’t expect to get something like this for under a hundred now. Still, that’s not too bad a deal for a bit of true liquid history.

In short. They made some fine bourbon at Old Crow Distillery back then. This one in particular has held together well in the bottle and has some really intense flavors for something this low in alcohol and not that old either. Great stuff!

Old Crow, 43% +/- 1970 from a 0.75706 liter bottle (some exact labeling there!)

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Caol Ila 30, 1980-2010, 53.3% – Bladnoch Forum

Caol Ila has always been a favorite of mine. There are terrific whiskies from this Islay distillery, but mostly it is because this is the whisky with which my fascination truly kicked off.

I bought my first bottle of Caol Ila 18 at De Whiskykoning after I had gone through some Glenfiddichs and was really blown away by the depth and massive flavor it has. After that I didn’t really collect them, but I was never without Caol Ila. Even now I have quite some of this distillery’s bottling open on my shelf and most of them are pretty awesome.

This 30 year old came out in 2010 and was ridiculously cheap, as was the main USP for the Bladnoch Forum bottlings. At the same time, the first 30 year old Port Askaig was released by The Whisky Exchange. A lot of comparison was done between the two and I believe the general consensus was that the Port Askaig was slightly better, albeit more expensive too.

Back then this THIRTY YEAR OLD Caol Ila cost some 80 quid. Keep in mind that in those days a Pound Sterling was worth as much as a Euro. In those days The Whisky Exchange, Master of Malt and all other British web shops sold massive amounts to Europe since it was very affordable for us to order across the pond. But anyway, 80 euros for a 30 year old whisky. That was some deal.

Oh, on a side note. The Bladnoch Forum has since ceased it’s bottling operation. This has been nicely taken over by The Whisky Broker, who now released very affordable bottlings from all kinds of distilleries, as well as selling casks of spirit. The Whisky Broker is run by Martin Armstrong, the son of (former?) distillery manager Raymond Armstrong of Bladnoch Distillery.

Caol Ila 30. Image from Whiskybase

Caol Ila 30. Image from Whiskybase

It’s warm and smoky, ashy even. Gentle, with lots of fruit. Apples, ripe galia melon. Also the more typical Islay flavors or grass, salt and heather. The typical Caol Ila milkiness is present too.

The palate is surprisingly peppery, with smoke, vanilla cream and salt. It’s quite a bit sharper than the nose suggests but there is a lot less oak than you’d expect from a 30 year old. Some wood spices too.

The finish is rather long, dry and spicy. The oak is a little bit more present here and the smoke is toned down a little.

While this might not be the best Caol Ila ever, and it’s even a little simple compared to the older official bottlings and more expensive indies (think Berry’s and such) it’s still a pretty good whisky. It’s showing its age well, without being too woody. The spices and fruit are nicely balanced and the smoke never overpowers the other flavors.

All in all, a rather lovely dram. One that I had kind of forgotten and only a couple of glasses had been gone from the bottle in four years. I’m thinking this might not last too long now.

Caol Ila 30, 1980-2010, 53.3%, Bourbon Hogshead, Bladnoch Forum. Now worth some € 120

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Highland Park Sigurd, 43%

Highland Park Sigurd. I initially wanted this bottle because it’s called Sigurd. Sigurd is the Norse base name for Sjoerd, which is rather epic. It means something like ‘Keeper of Victory’.

Rob, the owner of Whiskykoning in Den Bosch, saw my post of this on Facebook and promptly changed this in his line-ups to ‘Highland Park Sjoerd’, and was kind enough to save me dram (Much obliged, Rob, thanks a million).

In the end I didn’t buy it since it is quite a pricey dram and for one that I hadn’t tasted before and it being just at 43% I thought it too big a risk to guess. Now, since I’m able to really try it, I get to see if I’m right.

The reviews I found on the interwebz weren’t overly promising. Some people liked it, some people didn’t. Although, depending on which review you get, even from the same dude, 89 points is translated to ‘good but not great’ or other times ‘great but just short of epic’. I guess it’s a mood thing. That, combined with a deciding factor called price, is the reason I don’t rate my reviews.

The whisky then. It’s from Highland Park’s Warriors series. This is the 243rd series of Norse themed whiskies from Highland Park in the last decade or so, and one that has not been overly popular with the whisky geeks. The range starts (from a budget point of view) in a couple of American oak matured drams, and then another couple of Spanish oak ones. This is the first from the European oak part of the line.

Quite mature, without losing touch with its spirit. Lots of oaky spices, like nutmeg and red cinnamon. Warming with a hint of smoke in the background. Wow. It’s very gentle with some raisins, moss, and wet earth. Very autumnal with even some cigars.

Gentle, with a slightly peppery bite. A nice continuance of the nose on the palate. Rather syrupy with a woody, sappy note. Rather specific on the oak. Again the coarseness of the cigar smoke, with wood dust, moss, and spices.

The finish is, as expected, very gentle and mellow. Pretty long lasting with the sappy notes again. The smoke is very rich, but gentle. The wood is present too and pretty strong at that.

This Highland Park surprises me in several ways. One is that it’s not fruity at all. Two is that it’s ridiculously autumnal. Three is that this is not more popular.

I’m slightly confused by the European oak thingy. I guess it’s from a refill cask since the wood influence is vastly different than I’m used to from the more prevalent American oak in whisky. On the other hand, I barely get any sherry influence apart from maybe some bitter raisin twigs in a woody kind of way. I did find some raisins on the palate, but not what I’d expect from sherry matured Highland Park.

I only had a single glass left in the bottle I got, but bloody hell it’s good. It’s really gentle and timid because of the 43%, but the flavors are really good and exactly to my liking. I didn’t miss the fruit at all, but the gentle spices with the sappy and mossy notes make for a proper autumnal dram.

It’s like a forest in a glass, with some bonfire in the distance. I removed it from my wishlist since I only wanted it because of the name, but now I want it for more reasons. This goes right back on the wish list!

Highland Park Sigurd, 43%, available at a lot of shops but De Whiskykoning sells it for € 152. Prices vary heavily.

Thanks a million for the sample, Rob!

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The Lost Blend, 46% – Compass Box

Compass Box is a very interesting company from London that produces an impressive array of impressive whiskies. Some blends and some blended malts. Some of their whiskies are okay but still worth the money you spend on them. Most of the whiskies, however, are ridiculously good. Especially if you take the price in account, like the Great King Street blended whisky.

Some months ago I received a couple of samples from them (reviewed here, here and here) and they have since released two new whiskies. One is this The Lost Blend, another is an addition to the Great King Street range. I’ll review that second one shortly and I’m really excited about it. The first and still available Great King Street was awesome (and Clynelish heavy, as far as I know).

The Lost Blend is a whisky to celebrate their first blended malt named Eulethera. That whisky saw the light of day in 2001 and was retired in 2004 because they couldn’t get a key component anymore. Ten years later they felt the need to celebrate. They have tried their best to recreate the same style. Unfortunately I can’t comment on that as I wasn’t drinking whisky in those days.

Light at the start with quite some oak influence. I would say refill American oak. Some charcoal, ginger but also apple and a hint of smoke. After a while it becomes slightly more crisp with pear, galia melon and chalk.

The palate is lightly spicy with some bite. Even some bitterness. Apple, pear, pineapple so quite some fruit. Even some white pepper for spiciness. Oak and charcoal, but also some added sweetness that reminds me of the cream icing on carrot cake.

The finish is rich and spicy with a hint of vanilla and ginger. Some barley, oak. Not overly long.

This is a highly consistent whisky that is very, very tasty. Dangerously drinkable, I would say. The flavors are all there and the fruitiness with a backdrop of oak and spices is gorgeous.

I think this one also has quite some age to it and it’s a prime example of what some good bourbon casks can do to quality spirit. This also demonstrates why I generally love American oak, even though I’ve recently bought quite some sherried whiskies.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this went quickly (as most of Compass Box’ limited releases do) and since I generally wait quite a while before I review a whisky, it could also have sold out by now. The General, for example, went lightning fast. Bad marketing tactics in waiting too long, I know.

The Lost Blend, 46%, Compass Box, available at Master of Malt for € 97

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Delirium Café Amsterdam

Right. Yesterday a couple of colleagues and I went on the piss. On a school night. That was not such a good idea, since I was already massively sleep deprived, and last night my body was mostly processing alcohol instead getting actual rest.

Anyway, it was a team outing. We got to spend some non-work time with each other and even though we see each other an average of some 32 hours per week, we still had loads of bullshit to yap about. With the level of roaring laughter we produced it might have been smart to go on a quiet week night after all.

The Delirium Café then. It’s a branded place, owned by some canal tour operator in Amsterdam, but run by people who seem to know their brews. The menu proudly shows some 500 beers in stock, mostly bottled but about 20 on tap or so.

The fair is simple with the choice not ranging wider than a kind of meat with chips (the meat being schnitzel or a burger) and a vegetarian dish. Burgers were had by all. They’re good.

The location of the place is both good and crap. Good because I generally like those off the beaten path places that you have to know about to find. Somehow that reminds me of some of the best bars I’ve been able to visit. On the other hand it would be nice to be somewhat closer to the train station, especially since the main walking route to the station is under some heavy construction and we had to skip some borders between buses and cars to get to where we wanted to be.

The beer menu is what I found a bit of a letdown. Prices for beers are fairly high, which might be acceptable in Amsterdam but I would have expected some beers to be more sensibly priced. Also, and this is my biggest issue with the beer selection, the 500 beers they promote is bullshit. We had five rounds with seven people, and some drank lager. But, where things went wrong is that about half the craft beers we ordered weren’t available.

We didn’t order too rare stuff. Mostly stuff you can get in most beer shops. None of the too fancy beers like Westvleteren or other limited releases. Just regular stuff. And HALF wasn’t there. Apart from the menu being vast, if your beer wasn’t there you had to start finding one to your liking again on it. That takes a lot of time, especially since the categories used were nonsense. Since when is Orval a blond beer?

Anyway, the night was incredible fun. We had a great time with colleagues and some ex-colleagues who decided to show up too. The beer we ended up having were good too. The food was good and the place is nice. What’s to complain, right?

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Birthday Booze

33. A number that is not unimportant to the freemasons and Illuminati. Now, before you get visions of all kinds of DaVinci Code crap, I don’t really know anything about that.

Today, I thought I would find time to be all sophisticated and try some nice samples of obscure drams or things that meant something to me. Of course, life/faith/insert-random-deity had different things in store for me and I ended up inviting my entire family-in-law. They’re close and they share my love of booze.

This is what we had:

Nothing too crazy. At to that we went to Wullie’s Hielander yesterday for a bazillion calorie dinner which still has me recovering… I had some terrific whiskies there too, and a couple of beers.

My wife got me a new bag for carrying my stuff to and from work, which is great since the old one had me look like a bum, and she and Ot decorated a nice ‘crown’ to wear for bits of today. All in all it was a great day, albeit somewhat different from what I had imagined beforehand.

So, Highland Park’s Sigurd will have to wait till tomorrow.

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Clynelish 18yo, 50.6% – The Whisky Exchange Retro Series

No, don’t go rushing to The Whisky Exchange’s site. It’s long gone. An affordable Clynelish that is well aged and matured in a good sherry cask is going to be popular. If, on top of that, Serge Valentin of Whiskyfun.com rates it at 91 points, it won’t last another day. Luckily, I had just ordered one.

Let’s be honest about something first. I love Clynelish, but I haven’t had many great ones from a sherry butt. There have been some but in some cases sherry and Clynelish don’t mix. The result can sometimes taste too much like glue.

Also, my love for Clynelish works both ways of the equation. I tend to get biased when I like a distillery. If a dram lives up to my expectations of it, I tend to like it more than is justified. If it doesn’t I probably won’t stop complaining. This does NOT mean that when I really, really like a Clynelish, it’s only living up to expectations. There is some epic booze coming from that distillery. Unfortunately, Diageo have also hooked on to that idea… Thijs Klaverstijn wrote something about that which is rather good.

The sherry is quite noticeable but not overly big. What I find surprising is that Clynelish’s trademark waxy notes come off so strongly. I already love this. There’s quite some wood and pine resin too. After that I get blackberries and blueberries and cherries. Also, the flavor of sherry (apart from the fruitiness) is there.

The palate is gentle, which isn’t too surprising at a relatively mild 50.6% abv. A touch of pepper is here which I didn’t find on the nose. The oak and resin are back with more focus on the resin. I get the slightest bit of sulfur, in a matchbox kind of way. The black fruits again, luckily. Blackberries and dark ripe cherries. Surprisingly, it has a creamy undertone that I generally link to American oak (which this might very well be from).

The finish continues down the same path with more focus on the oak and resin, and the matches are here too. The fruitiness is still lovely but toned down a little bit.

My opinion of this week’s Caol Ila Masterpiece can be reiterated here. I want more of this. Half a bottle isn’t enough. The combination of good oak, resin and wax with those fruity notes is just gorgeous.

I bet there is a lot more to be gotten from this dram than I already have, but if these flavors were all I got, I’d still want more than one bottle, just to drink it. Now I have about half a bottle left with some enjoyment AND exploration to be done. I bet this is going to go fast.

What’s more surprising and many kudos to The Whisky Exchange and Speciality Drinks Ltd. for it, is that they sold this stuff at and affordable £ 75. With the current price ridiculousness I bet they could have charged more and gotten away with it. Thank God they didn’t.

Clynelish 18yo, 50.6% – The Whisky Exchange Retro Series. Sold out.

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