It’s pretty incredible how quickly traditions form. This is only the fourth year for The Whisky Exchange to be releasing their Black Friday whisky. Yet, I somehow knew it was coming, even in a year like this.
What did surprise me though, was that I got a sample. With shops not being able to ship handily from the UK to the mainland, I didn’t expect a sample this year. Yet, I got one.
It was introduced like this:
After scouring the Scottish Highlands for something exceptional, The Whisky Exchange located a distillery near the Speyside borders. The distillery is known for its distinctively smoky style that sets it apart from its neighbours, making this whisky highly sought-after by whisky fans around the world.
While this doesn’t give you as much information as last year’s bottling description, everybody who’s been around the whisky block with a significant in reading about distilleries knows which distillery this indicates.
Now, for tasting notes, there’s going to be a massive disclaimer:
I’ve been having a cold for the last three+ months and haven’t tasted much whisky in the meantime. With most samples that is not a problem and they can be postponed for a little while, this one obviously has a bit of a deadline. So, I did what I could, but might have missed some things.
Sniff: A very gentle and warm smokiness, with lots of barley scents. Some oak behind that too. There’s a whiff of moss and hay as well. I get stewed apples, pear skins and banana peels. I think I’m getting carambola and maracuja as well.
Sip: The palate is quite sharp for the ABV and the age, although it is the first dram of the day. There’s quite a lot of black pepper accompanying crisp fruits. Apple, pear, carambola. Some lemon zest too. Straw and barley. There’s a bit of weight from the heathery smoke although that’s a very gentle smokiness.
Swallow: The finish livens up the fruitiness, but with a bit more emphasis on the smoke. More so than on the palate. Heathery, with more herbaceous notes. Still, there’s the straw and the fruit.
When push comes to shove this whisky does exactly what you expect a 22 year old Ardmore (oh crap, now I said it) to do. It’s slightly smoky, but has a vastly different character to what Islay smoke does. On top of the heathery smoke there’s lots of fruit.
What makes this extra special is that this changes ownership at a hundred quid. Last spring I paid significantly more than that for a similar whisky. I was happy to do so, since this is not a common level of quality to encounter.
Again, that disclaimer: I kept half my sample for re-tasting when I’m finally back to my own meager standards in a while. So take this rating with a grain of salt. However, I trust The Whisky Exchange to sell out within the first half our of this being available. Just get a bottle.
Black Friday Limited Edition 2020, Highland Single Malt Whisky, 50.5%. Available for £ 99.95. Add a fiver for a gift tube.
As every year, there’s a Caol Ila Feis Ile bottling. Even this year there are bottlings, even though there was no festival due to COVID-19.
Also as always, Diageo tries to come up with something they haven’t done before for these bottlings. This 10 year old, cask strength whisky was drawn from refill American hogsheads, and rejuvenated European oak butts.
There were almost 2500 bottles released and it’s currently available for £ 139. To my surprise this is fairly affordable, compared to many Feis Ile bottlings.
The mix of casks makes me expect a fairly spirit driven whisky. Two types of casks, but both types are not first fill casks. Rejuvenation means there is a bit more oak influence, but it will not be swamped in sherry.
I’ve had a soft spot for Caol Ila since their 18 year old whisky was the one that got me properly hooked on Islay whisky initially. It’s diminished a bit, or I should say my whisky-fandom has spread from just Islay to also include other regions with less focus on just Islay.
Sniff: Very coastal, with brine, sea spray, sand. Some minerality, quite some smoke. A little bit fishy with straw and a touch of vanilla.
Sip: Pretty sharp, and very Islay. Smoky, salty. A little dry, with dry oak, some vanilla. Minerals, brine, tarry. Very much like a harbor on Islay.
Swallow: The finish is much more gentle, a bit sweeter, and a bit paper-y. Smoky, briny, warming.
Honestly, this isn’t an overly unique or special whisky. While that sounds negative, I need to add that what this whisky does, it does very well. It’s almost a quintessential whisky that shows the coastal aspect of Islay with enough hints of sea and harbor like notes.
Because of that, I really, really like this one. It’s so focused without much distraction from the oak it sat expect that it has mellowed a bit from being new make. Very solid Islay whisky!
Until SJ gave me the rest of his sample of this, I didn’t even know that was a thing. Of course that also made me unaware of it’s casks being used to finish whisky spirit in.
Of course, this partially has to do with the fact that I don’t have The Milk & Honey Distillery on my radar at all. Somehow the distillery from Tel Aviv is not something I care about.
I think that’s in general because I don’t really care about where a distillery is. As in, I don’t think something is interesting because it is in an unusual city or country. Things like ‘the first distillery in <enter country name here>’ is just not something that grabs me.
So, when this sample came around I tasted it with some apprehension. New distillery, incredibly young spirit, ridiculous cask…
Sniff: Initially there’s the typical ‘wine’ scent to this spirit, but very quickly after there is a scent of moldy fruit. It’s hard to get around that mold, but I do think I get some of the pomegranate seed scent.
Sip: The palate is pretty hot, with quite a lot of upfront alcohol. The funkiness is still present, but pushed back by a lot of fruitiness. The heat is rather prohibitive, and turns to a very dry palate. There’s some oak, and fruit, but mostly alcohol burn.
Swallow: The finish goes towards the flavors you sometimes get from a port cask, with musty fruit and dark oak. However, there is that moldy flavor that I also got on the nose.
Honestly, I think this is shit. I guess there’s a good reason I had never heard of pomegranate wine, and why the casks are never used in the whisky industry.
I’m not sure where to begin but let’s keep it at “Don’t drink this”. The moldiness is not the Springbank-kind-of-good-funk. The heat doesn’t make this enjoyable either.
I don’t really know how to score this. Generally, under 80 is getting sketchy, which makes anything under 60 obsolete. However, 60 feels too high for this.
I managed to get a sample of this PX cask GlenAllachie bottled for Denmark (thanks, GvB). Of course I didn’t write down all the details in time, which will show in the tasting notes…
It was bottled this year, and somehow it ended up in The Netherlands. Normally not too strange but with the extremely limited travel that happened it’s quite surprising.
GlenAllachie is belching out single casks left and right, for specific markets in batches of three or more. I believe there have been about ten available in The Netherlands over the last year alone.
Of course, Billy Walker is no stranger to doing this, since this was the modus operandi with GlenDronach and BenRiach too. I still have three others lined up for reviewing soonish.
Anyway, tasting notes.
Sniff: Even though it’s a PX cask, there is a lot of vanilla. There are some tropical fruits present like banana and peach. A small whiff of straw, and some notes of oak.
Sip: The palate is fairly sharp, with lots of oaky heat and chili heat. So fresh chili pepper, fresh oak. Again, there’s a lot of vanilla, with dryness because of the strength. Some tropical fruits like peach and some banana. Also some cherries. It’s quite sweet.
Swallow: The finish shows the same as the palate. A surprising amount of vanilla for a sherry cask. It’s pretty long, but also pretty singular.
There’s so much vanilla that I would be very surprised if this was NOT from American oak (this turns out the be the case). The PX finish is very light, which gives some room for the spirit to come through, but the vanilla is a bit of a tyrant on the palate.
So, not a bad whisky by any means, but in the end it’s just too much vanilla for a higher score.
GlenAllachie 11, 2008-2020, PX Hogshead 2826, 55.5%, bottled for Denmark
Last Wednesday I participated in a Twitter Tasting hosted by Steve Rush and Lux Row Whiskey, combined with a PR agency which didn’t participate in the tasting.
I had been ages since I participated in such a tasting. At some point these tastings started to get increasingly pretentious with people not just writing notes and assessing the drams, but writing complete sonnets with tasting notes, and shouting the greatness of the whisky from the rooftops. Even when the whisky was obviously shit.
However, this one wasn’t that. There was fair judgment, and nobody tried to outdo another in writing notes. There was just a mild stimulus to dive in once more to find another note or two. Highly suggestive, but it was fun!
Tasting notes then!
Rebel Bourbon, Cognac Cask Finish, 45%
Sniff: Slightly acidic before the sweetness kicks in. It stays crisp and fresh, with quite some leafy herbs and some spices. Even minty, I’d say. Hints of charcoal and corn. A whiff of orange cheese cake. Maraschino cherries
Sip: The palate is quite a bit sharper than I anticipated (no info on ABV at the moment or writing). The charcoal I found on the nose is here too, as is the orange and its hint of bitterness. There’s some peanuts, or nuttiness. Slightly less creamy in texture, and far more dry than on the nose.
Swallow: The finish is quite a bit more typical for a bourbon than before. Slightly less fruity and more focused on the wood. Some charcoal, and after a while there’s the sweet citrus again. Again, quite some spices.
A very decent dram, and the finish on Cognac barrels worked surprisingly well. Generally I think finished bourbon is hit or miss at best, even more so than scotch, but this one didn’t add more sweetness to an already sweet drink.
Sniff: Rather light and sweet, with some pastry and vanilla custard notes. Corn and panettone. Popcorn, cornbread, not overly sweet.
Sip: The palate is very light too, but there’s a bit of a grainy, straw like dryness that wasn’t there before. Buttery popcorn, peanuts, pastry. Minor notes of cherry and barrel spiciness.
Swallow: The finish continues down the same vein but adds boiled sweets, the sugary lemon kind. Some herbs too, tiny notes of mint and maybe even some sage. Quite light, and a bit short. With a sip of water, there’s suddenly these banana foam candies…
Apart from the fact that this one could stand up to Rebel Cognac Cask, this is a very, very light bourbon. 40% ABV is too low, I think, especially in this line-up.
Ezra Brooks Straight Rye Whiskey, 45%
Sniff: Rather timid on the rye, compared to the Rebel, strangely. Or is it just shy? Crusty bread, Dutch rye bread, some oak. Some acidity and crisp apple after a while. The wood is rather forward, almost astringent. Pencil shavings. More fresh mint after a few minutes.
Sip: The palate is rather gentle on arrival, but the dryness starts up soon after. Pencil shavings, with the graphite. Rye bread, slightly burnt crusty dark bread. The dryness of walnuts, but with a slightly bitter edge to it. Oak, allspice, mint. Quite some black pepper too.
Swallow: The finish has some bite to it and makes the spicy notes of the rye very well known. Lots of black pepper and allspice. Some mint too, with crusty bread.
This tastes like a rather low rye-rye, as in, I strongly doubt this is over 70% rye. This doesn’t mean it’s bad in any way, but it’s rather gentle and not too different from the bourbon.
However, this one did inspire me to pair it with my wife’s pumpkin soup. The toasty notes remind me of home made dark bread croutons in the oven, which in turn reminded me of said soup. I’ll probably not get a bottle of this (I don’t think it’s available in The Netherlands), but I’ve got other ryes to try this with.
Ezra Brooks 7yo Barrel Proof, 58.5%
Sniff: Shy at first, but ominous. Like something is about to happen. Typical bourbon, but quite spicy. Might be some chili heat in there. Salted caramel, oak, even some browned butter methinks. (Roasted poblanos)
Sip: The ABV arrives quietly and shows itself mostly in building dryness. There’s a heat from sharp oak shavings and black pepper. It keeps building with notes of straw and salted caramel. Some bitter notes of almonds and cherry stones. Hints of pecan pie too. Almond/Pecan paste, puff pastry.
Swallow: The finish leaves your tongue on fire, but in a good way. The Clint Eastwood face after he drinks whiskey in those westerns of his. After that there’s a lot of warmth, with caramel, butter, wood and corn. Some almonds and cherries too. Caramel pushed slightly too far.
Which this stays very much in the middle lane regarding the tasting notes, it’s quite well executed. Also, the slightly higher age than the minimum makes it better than it’s predecessors. A very tasty bourbon, and well priced too, at something around € 65
I have no understanding of mead. I have never had an interest in it either. However, About two months ago I was at my dad’s cottage in Dishoek. The nearest bottle shop, and an epic one, is Ace Drinks in Vlissingen.
Of course, going there without a plan is madness since they’ve got too many beers to go through. I decided to go on Untappd, find their shop and sort their inventory from highest to lowest rating.
While some beers were already sold out and others were way over my price cap for beers, what I did notice were the meads by Schramm’s near the top of the list. So I started digging a little bit further and Schramm’s turns out to be the third highest rated brewer on Untappd. No filters, just third highest, period.
Obviously this peaked my interest. Also, since I’ve never been a sensible guy in regards to this, I thought it was a good idea to get no mileage in regards to mead and just want the best I can get, straight away. Starting from the top, so to say.
Then there’s the price. This stuff, in The Netherlands, clocks in around € 35 for a 375ml bottle. Obviously this meant I wanted to share it, so I did. Four bottles were bought and separated into 6cl shares.
This too was a bit of an operation since, contrary to whisky, mead doesn’t keep indefinitely. Sharing meant getting the packages out the day after and keeping the samples in the fridge. But, that’s how things happened. Now it was time to kick back and drink my shares and see what all the fuss is about.
Michigan Apple, 11% Starts of crisp, but gets sweeter after a while. A bit of carbonization makes it a bit fresher, which is interesting with its nuttiness, and sweet honey.
Heritage, 12.5% A big smacking of raspberries. Massive! The palate is dry and sweet, but the slight bitterness of the raspberries remains.
Black Agnes, 11% Rather sweet for black currant, but rich. Dryness that emphasizes the fruit even more. A long finish. A touch of bitterness too. Good!
The Statement, 14%: Huge notes of the thick cherries. Slightly bitter and almost pulpy. On the nose that is. Quite dessert-like, but that added touch of bitterness makes it great.
So, now my completely unsubstantiated conclusions about this stuff.
Let’s start with the good:
The fruit flavors are amazing. You taste the quality of it, and it’s intensity is unsurpassed.
It’s ridiculously easy drinking.
Now my concerns:
It’s fairly one dimensional. Apart from the fruit flavors, not a lot is happening.
It’s ridiculously easy drinking.
Coming from whisky, what I am looking for is complexity and flavors to discover. I don’t really find that here. What I noticed in the beers I like best, is that this complexity also shows, albeit to a lesser degree.
I miss the challenge to get to the bottom of it. The challenge to find more flavors.
So, apart from the fact that these meads are very, very tasty, I noticed I started to get a bit bored by the third sip. Combine that with the prices asked for them, I don’t really expect to be going back anytime soon.
This is one of these drinks that is like Pink Floyd and Queen. I recognize the quality, but I just don’t care.
In the world of bourbon, and other American whiskey, pre-prohibition is a thing. And while that is absolutely not untrue, the time between prohibition and the 1980s should not be disregarded either.
During the seventies America veered towards vodka and other lighter spirits, which caused a massive decline in bourbon production and character. This one, bottled in the 1960s, is from before these times.
With this being from sometime in the 1960s and being 6 years old, the distillate is from around 1960, just before or just after. The tax label states that it was made in 1961 and bottled in 1967.
What makes this one extra special is that it was made at the legendary Stitzel-Weller Distillery, which has been closed since 1972. It became famous for earlier releases of Pappy van Winkle and Weller. All these brands are now made at Buffalo Trace to old recipes. Of course, using old recipes in a different distillery creates an approximation of the older spirit, but will never be 100% the same.
Sniff: A rather caramel-like richness, cigars, autumn leaves and not a lot of sweetness. Some minty freshness too. Very mature, with lots of oak, some dark cherries and a touch of bitterness.
Sip: The palate is dry with oak, and has some cherry stone bitterness. Pretty intense, with rancio, cigars, dry herbs and spices. Menthol, chili pepper, sawdust. Cherries and popcorn, blood orange. Lots of different flavors.
Swallow: The finish continues down the same line, with more fruitiness and quite a lot of oak. A long and warming after taste, with mostly the fruitiness lingering, and some of the bitterness.
Ho. Ly. Shit. This is absolutely stellar stuff. There is so much flavor and so much complexity that this is drinkable for hours on end and you’d still discover new things.
I very much love that the sweetness is not as prominent as in contemporary styles of bourbon. There’s much more focus on the herbs, spices and fruity notes. A touch of added bitterness finishes the experience on a ridiculously high note.
Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond, 6yo, 1961-1967, Stitzel Weller, 43%
This guy, Norbert, seems to be on a roll with all his tastings. He’s doing mostly American whiskey but I’ve seem other tastings being announced too. I’ve not looked too closely, since my sample stash is quite rapidly responding, contrary to what remains of my whisky budget.
So this time, a rye whiskey tasting. Seven whiskeys in a row. This sounds rather singular in respect to the tasting notes, but Norbert promised to make it quite interesting.
Also, the title of the tasting is of course a play on the Creedence Clearwater Revival song:
Tasting notes then!
Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye, 40%
Sniff: Young rye whiskey with quite some alcohol and a bit of oak. Rye spices, with some green flavors of moss and ferns. Apple sauce, tangerines, apple skins, pear skins.
Sip: Very gentle and quite fruity. After a few seconds there’s the typical spiciness that kicks in. Cracked black pepper, rye bread crust. The green scents are barely present on the palate.
Swallow: The palate is a bit sharper with more dryness than before. Pepper and orchard fruits. Reasonably long.
Norbert was very enthusiastic about this one, but this was in part because of the great time at the distillery he had. I’m a bit less thrilled. It’s a very decent whiskey but it’s not overly special. Just a ‘good’ drink.
Lot No. 40 Rye Whisky, 43%
Sniff: Pecan and almond rolls, lots of sugary caramel, mars bars. Nougat, very sweet. Stewed strawberries and Werther’s Original.
Sip: Again, very sweet. A bit more spicy so not just almond paste, pecans and caramel. There’s some spices but not a lot. Dry grains, husks, a whiff of white pepper heat.
Swallow: The palate ramps up the spiciness initially, but the sweetness catches up soon. Very similar to the palate.
Well, this is ridiculously sweet. There are some flavors to be discovered, but it got swamped in caramel fudge. I didn’t even finish it. I’m not sure how this got as many prizes as it did.
Michter’s Straight Rye, Single Barrel L19C496, 42.4%
Sniff: Slightly closed off, quite bourbon like. Slightly oaky with oaky sweetness. A touch of charcoal, very gentle. Some cherries and mocha too.
Sip: Again, quite bourbon like initially. It takes a little while before the rye spices come through. A bit of chili heat, but some fresh green herbs as well. A bit of mint and basil. Orange pith, a touch of bitterness.
Swallow: The palate is a little bit more herbaceous, with more mint and basil. The orange pith is present too.
I’ve been eyeballing this whiskey at a shop I frequent for a while, and I think I should get one. Then again, I should simply do a Michter’s bottle share to go through the range of their US-1 series.
This one starts of quite bourbon like which made me slightly less interested at first. However, the complexity quickly corrected that. The slightly lower rye content in the mash bill did give some other flavors room to shine and not be overwhelmed by spicy flavors.
Cedar Ridge Rye, Batch 14, 43%
Sniff: Slightly bitter with lots of wood spices. Some nutmeg, a whiff of cinnamon. Dried mint, a bit of oak. Quite timid.
Sip: Lots of malt driven flavors, a coarse texture, graininess. After a seconds there is more chili pepper heat, with quite a lot of dry grain.
Swallow: The finish brings a lot of rye typical flavors. Mint, dry grains, white pepper heat.
A bit scotch like, with the wood and grain dryness. I would have expected that to make it a bit more appealing to a (mostly) Scotch drinker. However, since I wanted rye whiskeys I prefer them to taste of rye whiskeys too. It’s a bit too Glen Elgin for me.
High West Double Rye!, cask 20B11, 46%
Sniff: Grain and chocolate. Also quite dry, especially compared to the number 3 and 2. Some mocha, with a touch of oak. Speculaas spices,
Sip: The palate starts of with a candy like sweetness. Quite dry with a bit of chili heat. Orange pith, slightly leathery, some licorice.
Swallow: The finish lingers with a bit of heat on the tongue, but otherwise rather timid. Some dark chocolate and a hint of espresso.
It takes a while to open up. Initially I wasn’t overly thrilled, but with a drop of water it starts giving more scents and flavors. The amped up spiciness makes it a bit harder to discern separate flavors for me, somehow. Having said that, it is rather quintessential rye whiskey and that is not something to scoff at!
Sonoma County Cherrywood Rye, 47.8%
Sniff: Acetone and a bit of glue, with a more east coast vibe to it. Not unlike how I remember Old Overholt (it’s been ages). Some paper too. Not unpleasant, but a bit ‘different’. Lapsang Souchon, leather.
Sip: Dry wood spices and dry oak. Some cork, lots of white pepper. Gets more and more dry, almost ridiculously so. Tea, some wood smoke.
Swallow: The finish has something young to it, with a taste not unlike green malt. Typical rye spices with mint and wood spices.
Apparently it’s cherry wood smoked, but apart from a bit more forward wood, I didn’t get something out of the ordinary. Cool stuff. So, even though something as clunky as cherrywood smoking has been done to this whiskey, it’s still one that thrives in subtleties. I was very surprised by this whiskey, and maybe even more by me liking it this much.
James E. Pepper Straight Rye Barrel Proof 57.3%
I stopped writing tasting notes at this point. Not because I was getting hammered, but because I have quite recently reviewed this whiskey, in this post. What stood out this time was the grapefruit flavor. I noticed it before but not as much as this time around.
I also improved its score by a point, and ordered a bottle.
So, another great whiskey tasting by Norbert with a lot of cool information. There was only one whisky I didn’t like at all and that was the Canadian one. I don’t think I’ve ever had a Canadian whisky that convinced me to try more, and this one didn’t help one bit.
Now I’m on the fence to participate in the third ‘The Night Time is the Rye Time’ tasting, or hold of until the high roller Christmas tastings that are bound to come up.
For a change, this is not an old, forgotten sample from my cupboard. Which means as much as I knew I had it, but it still is old and from my cupboard, just not forgotten.
A whisky friend went to the Springbank Open Day in 2016 and did a massive share of everything that was picked up there, and this is one of them. I have been putting of most of the whiskies in that share, though. Mostly because they’re all high strength stuff and somehow, I’m not often in the mood for that. Not for reviewing them, at least.
So here it is. An eight year old Sherry cask from Springbank’s Open Day, four years ago. It’s a sherry cask, which generally works well with young Campbeltown spirit, so let’s find out where this one sits!
Sniff: Massively funky fruity sherry. A lot of barley, with quite some oak. A lot of bitterness, quite some Springbank-y funkiness.
Sip: Incredibly dry and sharp, but in a delicious way. Bitter, dry, fruity, funky, oaky. Cherry stones, almonds, walnuts, dates, plums. Some baking spices too, with oak and dry barley ears.
Swallow: A warming finish, with more of the hessian, sulfur, bitterness. A lot of fruitiness, spices and oak.
This, dear reader, is exactly what I meant with ‘It’s a sherry cask, which generally works well with young Campbeltown spirit‘. I absolutely love the funkiness in combination with a lot of other complexity. Especially when there’s some nuttiness and fruit involved. The sherry is clearly present but so is the whisky and it works together marvelously.
Kilkerran 8yo, bottled on 26/04/2016, Sherry cask, 56.4%, Springbank Open Day.
Strathmill is not a whisky you come across often. It’s mostly used for Diageo blends like J&B, since they took ownership of the plant and brand in 1997. Before that it was owned by Chivas, which also used it for blends.
In the last couple of years there have been a reasonable number of Cadenhead’s bottlings, if I’m not mistaken. I have one of these which I’ll review at some point. But, this one came from a sample I got a few years ago. A very decent age, at 26 years old, and with it coming from a bourbon hogshead, there is still some room for the spirit to make itself known.
Sniff: Sweet on the nose, with quite some tropical fruit. Rich fruits like mango and papaya. But there’s also notes of straw and sawdust, some dark chocolate and milky coffee.
Sip: The palate is not sharp at all, even when you’re starting fresh. There’s a bit of a tingle but no real heat. Quite oaky, with sawdust and straw. Some rich, tropical fruit like mango and papaya. Also stewed apples. An interesting combination.
Swallow: The finish shows a bit more of the American oak, and has a bit more bite. It’s, strangely, a bit spirity even after 26 years. So, quite green and a tad coppery. The fruitiness is slightly less ‘ripe’ than before.
Strangely, I got quite some tropical fruits on the nose and palate. Normally I would associate that with sherry casks, but I guess the spirit itself has something to say about that too.
In the end the American oak comes through, as do flavors of apple. I like that the spirit is still noticeable even though the spirit isn’t all that great. As in, it is well suited for blending as it’s not a flavor powerhouse.