Yamazaki Limited Edition 2015, 43%

As part of a deal for a bottle I recently sold I could come over the guy who bought it and pick some samples. He’s very focused on Japanese whisky and therefore has some contacts in the land of the rising sun. He just got in this Limited Edition Yamazaki, this year’s edition which is bound to go the way of most Japanese whiskies and sky rocket soon.

However, I got a sample and I get to review it. Quite early as I haven’t seen any posts of it yet, although I don’t follow a lot of blogs myself. (Not many, just 50 or so…)

It’s bottled at 43% and made up of young bourbon barrels and older (up to 20+ years, according to the press release) sherry casks. Obviously it’s already sold out and if I remember correctly from the talk BP and I had about it yesterday it’s already doubled in price.

Yamazaki generally is very good, although the 2013 whisky of the year from Murray’s Bible was only so-so in my book. Worth a hundred bucks, and CERTAINLY not the 1300 euros it finally went for at its peak. But then again, that’s what hypes are for, right?

Sniff:
Timid and malty at first. There’s some oaky spices and a hint of apple. Sweeter fruits follow that, melon and unripe banana. Some nutmeg and tree bark. The sherry is very faint with just some dark spices coming through. Also a touch bitter.

Sip:
The palate is not overly rich at first, but has a very nice and interesting flavor of cassis, cherries and some almonds. The oak is kept in check and it takes a few seconds for some bitterness and oomph to come through. It’s slightly biting after that, with some sharp spices. Not quite peppery. The melon is present again (rock melon, I’d say). Some licorice. It gets richer after some seconds, which helps.

Swallow:
The finish is complex with many flavors. All I got before hit right at the same time and the sweetness and light bitterness of the oak and spices fight for the first spot. Neither wins. The sweetness lasts longest, although the bitterness is never gone. Wood influence at its finest.

This is a gorgeous dram. It’s not punch-packing like some other Yamazaki releases and therefore lacks some intensity, but it’s more a refined dram than I expected. The sweet fruits and the bitter spices combine very well and I think that’s where the sherry cask and bourbon cask blends work best.

The only thing I’ve not found here is that typical ‘Japanese-ness’. This could just as well be a Balvenie or some other very carefully and very well blended scotch. But, that’s not really a complaint when the whisky is this good. And it is. It is gorgeous.

Yamazaki Limited Edition 2015, 43%, available for $300 at Dekanta in the US (at the time of writing)

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Eylandt Legend, white spirit, 40% – Kampen Distillateurs

Kampen Destillateurs is a small Dutch distillery in the province of Zeeland. They, like Zuidam mainly produce other drinks. In this case that’s mostly liqueurs, vodka and a grappa like product.

A couple of years ago (information is sketchy) they released their whisky spirit called Eilandt Legend (Island legend) for their investors. It was available at the Whisky by the Sea festival in Vlissingen but since then it has gotten very quiet. According to some people who know things about whisky it was very promising.

I managed to get my hands on a sample, I think it was courtesy of Elise of DH17, but I’m not sure. It’s been years and I had completely forgotten about it. When I came across it in a recent night of ‘I grab some sample and taste those’, I decided to give it a go.

Sniff:
Well, it’s a spirit for sure. It’s very rough and fiery, even at 40%. No refinement at all to be found here, even compared to other new makes from Scotland for example. There’s some smoke and salt, with alcohol and sulfur. Some barley, porridge and mash notes follow, being a tad sour.

Sip:
The palate is again, very mash like. Like a sour beer gone bad. Too much of those notes! Alcohol, barley, porridge. But also sulfur like vegetable flavors. It’s not sharp and quite a bit better than the nose made me expect (or dread). Still not good though.

Swallow:
Oh hell no!

This is a bit of a strange one. If I would regard this as an actual product, it would score in the vicinity of Abhainn Dearg, which is not a good thing. But, when you imagine the roughness being mellowed out, and nice soft oak influences added to the mix I can imagine this going somewhere.

But, since we’re not reviewing possible future products but what we actually tasted we have to go with that. And then the short story of it is “No. Just no. Hell no.”.

There is a lot wrong with this and the roughness is not the main issue. The scents and flavors are just not nice. The sulfur is far over the top and the soury mash and porridge notes are just appalling.

I’m glad I’ve been able to taste this, but, as you might imagine, I’m not convinced of this being a success.

Eylandt Legend, white spirit, 40%, Kampen Distillateurs

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Inchgower 1994-2007, 13yo, 58.9%, The Manager’s Dram

During my last Blog Birthday Bash buddy TT left me a sample of this. Contrary to what usually happens (I’m trying to improve this, it’s going better) it didn’t disappear in my nigh-infinite sample stash but I drank it soon.

The Manager’s Dram is a series of whisky releases from Diageo during the 2000s in which they released a whisky from a lot of their distilleries to showcase the distillery. While they were acceptably priced in those days, they’re pretty expensive now. Funny enough Diageo tried this again a few years ago with their Manager’s Choice series, but they tried to pass of 8 year old whisky for hundreds of euros. As you might imagine, this didn’t work out too well. A lot of the distilleries’ whiskies are still available and the only ones gone are the ever popular distilleries like Lagavulin, Talisker, Clynelish and Oban. Maybe I’ve missed one, but a lot of others are fairly easy to get, at heavily discounted but still high prices.

Now, back to the Manager’s Drams. I’ve had the Caol Ila at a tasting ages ago. It was great. I had the Clynelish a few years ago when I visited Jon Beach. That is one intense dram.

Diageo usually releases their special releases at really high ABVs. A lot of the annual premiums are high ABV, a lot of the Rare Malts are over sixty percent. This one, actually, is at a surprisingly ‘mellow’ 58.9%.

Image from Whiskybase

Image from Whiskybase

Sniff:
It’s surprisingly well ‘finished’ for a 13 year old dram and smells much more mature than expected. There’s a light scent of barley and white bread. Some fresh herbs like mint and some pine scents. Red chili pepper too, peach and apple sauce. A tad of oak too.

Sip:
The palate is pretty sharp with some alcohol heat. It’s sweet and rich with brioche style bread on the palate. Peach, dried peach and some baking spices. Rich with flavors of ‘ontbijtkoek‘.

Swallow:
The is a fruit bomb before the spices and herbs come back. Again that ontbijtkoek. It’s long and strong with less oak than I expected.

Somehow the style of this whisky reminds of a lot of SMWS bottlings. Highly complex with lots of different flavors. There’s more wood influence on one hand because of the complexity and influences. On the other hand there’s less since it doesn’t actually taste like oak.

This one is a gorgeous example of a young whisky that taste much better than you’d randomly guess from a 13 year old Inchgower. Maybe the expectations are heightened because it’s from the Manager’s Dram series, but I still was positively surprised.

Great stuff, and recommended if you can get it!

Inchgower 1994-2007, 13yo, 58.9%, The Manager’s Dram. £ 175 at TWE

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BenRiach 1976-2010, 33yo, Cask 8795, 53.2%

For some distilleries there are years that are much better than others. For others it’s a couple of years. I think most of the people who read my ramblings know at least some name-year combinations that rock a lot of people’s boats.

Lochside 1981, Caperdonich 1972, Port Ellen 1978 (among others), Brora 1974 (among others), Tomatin 1976 and also for BenRiach 1976 was an epic year. I’ve tried a couple of releases from this annum and all were pretty damn awesome. It’s not even necessary to go back that far. For example, Clynelish is doing fantastic with their 1997 releases. Bowmore has 1995 going for them.

A couple of years ago this BenRiach 1976 was discounted at Whiskysite.nl, and it so happened to be that I had a couple of Ardbegs Jack wanted to have of mine. A trade was quickly arranged and bottles were swapped. I managed to get my hands on my very own BenRiach 1976!

I was thrilled, and I didn’t wait very long to open it. Not even a week I think, and that was mostly because I took the wrong bottle home and we had to send replacement to and from Leiden.

Last weekend, I emptied it. So, it took me a couple of years to go through the bottle, but I don’t think this stuff should be rushed. It waited 33 years in a cask before that was emptied, it can handle a couple more years in a bottle.

Sniff:
The nose is stronger than I’d expect from an oldie at 53.2%. It’s slightly dusty with lots of dried pineapple. Some fresh pineapple too, but the dried kind if more prominent. A slightly salty touch with some hints of barley and barley sugar. A tiny trace of peat, maybe? Dried mango, oak and sugar.

Sip:
Sharp again, but light. Fruity mostly, tropical and dried. Peach, pineapple, mango and lots of coconut now. A hint of straw, vanilla and pastry cream. Some oak too but not as much as you’d expect from 33 years in a barrel.

Swallow:
The finish is slightly drying but again very fruity. Coconut and pineapple. Slightly bitter oak now and it’s not overly long.

I believe that according to the people who went to Serge’s ridiculous BenRiach 1976 extravaganza a couple of years ago, this was the least of the releases. He even calls it a letdown. While that may be true, I think this is a really epic dram.

I love dried fruits. I love pineapple and coconut. This stuff is just right for me. The combination of the two with some nice oak influences that turn deliciously bitter towards the end really does the trick for me and this was one of the best whiskies to ever be in my collection. A couple of random Ardbegs well spent, I think.

If you are at a festival or see samples of BenRiach 1976 coming by, do yourself a favor and try to try some. I can’t imagine someone not liking this style of whisky, even if this is my major benchmark and it’s the least of the releases.

BenRiach 1976-2010, 33yo, Bourbon Hogshead 8795, 53.2%.

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Highland Park Odin, 16yo, 55.8%

About a million years ago (on February 19th of 2015, in the time of the mammoth) I did a bottle share of Highland Park’s then newest release in their ‘short series’ stuff. The Odin. The follow up and grand finale of Thor, Loki and Freya. It wasn’t cheap but I was able to get a bottle at initial retail price, thanks to Richard Blesgraaf.

Somehow, it sat on my shelf awaiting review for a couple of months and I just didn’t seem to get around to it. I did to a hundred or so other samples, but you know how things go. Last night, I finally tried it. And I emptied my sample. Decluttering and such.

So, Highland Park Odin. 16 years old, and made up of undisclosed whiskies, and ‘limited’ to 17000 bottles. Which boils down to “everybody in the world who spends this amount on a bottle and wants one can get one”. The official web page contains no information on the casks that were used, but I guess there’s a mixture of American and European oak in there.

Anyway, apart from its ABV and the age there is barely any information, but given there’s an age, it’s more than we’re getting in many cases nowadays.

A fallen god.

A fallen god.

Sniff:
Juicy and fruity sherry, the Oloroso kind. Light smoke but quite a bit of that compared to what I expect from Highland Park. Slightly dry with some straw, and there’s dried peach and dried apple. Quite sweet.

Sip:
The palate is sweet again. Rich and sharp too with spices and fruit. A tad dry, with straw and heather and some earthy tones. I get red fruit suddenly, which is a bit overripe. Some chili pepper late in the game.

Swallow:
The finish brings out the sherry sweetness again. There’s some oak and some fruit. It’s dry and long. Some red fruits in the form of sweet cherries and peach. A trace of smoke and quite woody compared to before.

Strangely after half an hour or so I suddenly get a taste of bacon after taking another sip.

I guessed the kinds of oak used on general experience of ‘engineered’ whisky and the flavors too. Engineered is not meant in a negative way, by the way. It’s just that currently, more whisky is blended to fit a certain profile instead of letting the whisky decide all of the outcome.

Anyway, this is a tasty whisky. There’s a lot of good things it has going for it, mostly the sweet fruit and drinkability. The almost 56% abv is not noticed in full and when tasted blind I would have guessed 50-52%, I think. The combination of fruits with everything else gives you quite a bit to discover but if you want to sit back and just drink a whisky this one serves that purpose too.

So. Yes it’s good. But I don’t think it’s 250 euros good. And that’s just the initial price, which currently sits at about € 400. For that amount of money you can get more and better.

Of course, Highland Park is a company which needs to make a profit. Their limited releases do exactly that and since the world is happy to oblige, I can’t blame them. I do think, however, that the target audience of these kinds of whiskies are different than the ‘analysts’. This is a luxury product that warrants a certain status, and that’s what it’s aiming to be. Well done, Highland Park.

In short. I like to have tried it. I don’t mind buying a sample at cost, but I’m glad I didn’t get a full bottle.

Highland Park Odin, 16yo, 55.8%. Currently some £ 275 in the Whiskybase Marketplace.

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Spirit of Hven, Seven Stars #3, Phecda, 45%

Montsh ago the nice folks at Spirit of Hven Distillery sent me this sample but, I’m sorry to say, it got lost in the box. It’s only the last couple of weeks that I’m really ramping through my samples with more written tasting notes than there are blog posts.

Phecda, the third Hven whisky in the Seven Stars series, is a bit older than the previous two (Dubhe and Merak) and matured in French and American oak. It’s also an organic whisky that’s been bottles without any caramel and hasn’t been chill filtered either.

They guys at Hven are going at it the right way, and I think it’s clever to play the Organic card, since there are quite some folks out there who care about that. Anyway, it’s released without an age statement but we know it’s at least three years old. We also know that it’s older than the previous two releases, so my guess would be somewhere around the five years old range.

Sniff:
Quite spirity and young, but not in a bad way. It’s quite heavy and rich with lots of character. Old barley, malt and overripe fruit. Pear peels, banana and some oak. Slightly spicy and leather.

Sip:
The palate is tingling with a vegetable note (a sulphur note, I’d say). Heavy with pepper, alcohol, oak and barley. There’s malt and banana, pear. Quite sweet, with soft fruits and a buttery feel.

Swallow:
The finish is a tad spirity again. That vegetable note is back again too. Heavy and young but in a certain way also quite old fashioned. Some spices, fruits and barley.

The folks at Hven surely know what they’re doing. They’re creating a whisky that is fully their own style, and by the taste of it they’re doing it in a very old fashioned way. Not necessarily the flavors, but the ‘sense’ of the whisky reminds me of Benromach.

I’ve professed to like whiskies in which you can taste the spirit and not just the oak it rested in. This one fits that bill perfectly. There’s still a ways to go to mellow out the small sulphuric notes, but I’m already liking this whisky, and I expect it’s only going to get more impressive.

Now, I have to say something about the biggest drawback of this whisky. It’s price tag. Unfortunately the booze comes from Sweden, and as we’ve seen with Mackmyra’s special editions in the past, they’re expensive. This one, unfortunateley, is no exception and it’ll set you back € 140 for a 50cl bottle. According to Whiskybase the price is some € 85, but I don’t know where that’d be.

Fun fact: That’s the same money I paid for the Pe1 from the Elements of Islay range. How times have changed.

But, from a craft whisky perspective, which operates in a higher price bracket as big established distilleries, I don’t think this is a bad choice. The whisky’s pretty good, after all!

Spirit of Hven, Seven Stars #3, Phecda, 45%. Available at Master of Malt

I got this sample for free from the distillery. Thanks guys!

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Bourbon Strange by Chuck Cowdery

Chuck Cowdery is a well known, to me, blogger who focuses on American whiskey. He’s very critical of wrong or fake information on labels and in marketing stories and an advocate for proper labeling in general. I can only applaud that.

On his blog he writes fairly elaborate posts on mishaps in the world of whiskey which are pretty interesting, although sometimes a bit far fetched. For example, his argument that Jack Daniel’s is actually a bourbon albeit filtered through sugar maple charcoal is something that just doesn’t interest me.

On the other hand, there’s loads of stuff that’s very interesting to read and sometimes also very surprising. Mr. Cowdery was as surprised as I was when I read on his blog that non-straight American whiskey can contain a small amount of flavorings.

Then there is the book. The introduction of the book, the back cover, state that it contains the strangest of tales of the bourbon industry (and American whiskey in general). This was going to be interesting!

This is where things went a little awry. While the stories are certainly interesting, they’re not very strange. At least, if you’ve read about American whiskey before they aren’t. There’s bits on who distilled the first bourbon, which is not new information. There’s bit on Canadian Jews saving American whiskey around prohibition, which is not new information.

What I miss is where it really gets strange. By the title and subtitle I expected to find some truly inexplicable stories that consisted of lots of coincidences shaping the industry to what it is now, and some debunking of myths that make no sense. That doesn’t happen.

Charles K. Cowdery

Charles K. Cowdery

Now, is it all bad? Far from it. If you’re not a follower of Cowdery’s blog, and haven’t read too much on American whiskey, this book is very interesting. It might not be as surprising as you’d expect, but there sure is a lot of explanation on why things are the way they are in the US of A.

It you’re not all that familiar with the industry I highly recommend picking up this book and giving it a go. If you are familiar with the whiskey industry in the USA, but you haven’t read much on it and want to dust off your knowledge, I highly recommend it too.

It’s a bunch of short stories that are easy to read, and that also makes an ideal book to leave near the loo, or for your train commute, for example.

So, in short:

Highly recommended in some cases. Still quite recommended in others. Just don’t expect to be left utterly amazed.

Buy the book here.

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