Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Johnnie Walker Black Label

Goodness. It's been quite some time since I've posted anything here! I'll blame it on the summer -- despite Dr. Whisky's excellent warm-weather dramming advice, I've been in gin and tonic mode for the past few months. Now that autumn is upon us, let's get back in the swing of things with a very popular bottle that we're all very familiar with.

Johnnie Walker Black Label
Aged 12 years
Blended Scotch whisky
40% alc/vol

I've mentioned before that I was never a big fan of Johnnie Walker. I tried Black Label, and decided I didn't like blends. Then I tried Gold Label, and was unimpressed.

Then my palate developed a little bit, as I branched out and tried different things. I decided to come back to Black Label one more time, and I'm glad I did.

The funny thing is, it's not really all that great. It's got a caramel sweetness to it, in direct opposition to the light smoke and just a hint of peat. It's nice and creamy, and the smoke lingers in your mouth after you drink it. Which is all well and good, but as far as flavor profile goes, Black Bottle does all that better.

So what is it about Black Label that makes it so drinkable? It definitely has some ethereal quality that makes me want to drink more of it once my glass is empty. And no, it's not just the alcohol! Some virtue of the combination of smoke, spice, and sweetness in these exact proportions keeps me coming back, despite the fact that there are many drams that taste better. And I suppose that's a much more desirable quality than mere tastiness.

P.S. I find that this is one of those rare Scotches that do not benefit at all from water. A few drops are okay, but don't dilute it. It just kills all enjoyment of the drink.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

JMR's The Rich Spicy One

Jon, Mark and Robbo's
The Rich Spicy One
Vatted malt Scotch whisky
40% alc/vol

No real story here, I'm afraid. I'd heard good things about the Jon, Mark and Robbo's brand. It's a vatted malt -- malts from various distilleries mixed together. I think it's being discontinued, so if this sounds good to you, go buy a bottle!

I have a hard time describing this malt. I'm just going to write whatever springs in my mind, even if it doesn't make sense!

Earthy, deep, and mellow. It smells purple. What does that even mean? Alright, digging down: I taste cinnamon, and cloves. It's very full in the mouth. A little bit of lime, too.

Anyway, seriously, this is one of the most unique Scotches I've ever tried -- it is so different from anything else I've ever tasted. Go try some!

Also, if you've got the whisky strain of the summertime blues, Dr. Whisky has the cure!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Old Pulteney 12yo

Old Pulteney
Aged 12 years
Single Highland malt Scotch whisky
43% alc/vol

I'd heard a lot of good things about Old Pulteney's standard offering - mainly that it's quite good at its price point. It's also the most northerly distillery "on the Scottish mainland," for whatever that's worth. A few months ago, Binny's had a great big whopping sale, so I picked up a bottle (along with a couple of others), and am presently sharing the first glass with all of you.

The color is lovely - just a hint of red in it, showing the influence of the sherry casks some of the whisky is aged in.

The first thing I notice on the nose is citrus, opening up into an ethereal, nutty aroma, and finally a little bit of grass. Very nice.

It's slightly oily, but quite pleasant. Spreads out nicely on the tongue. It finishes dry, salty-sweet.

I can see why so many people like this.

Edit: Pear on the nose, too. How did I miss it?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Glenfiddich 30yo

Aged 30 years
Single Speyside malt Scotch whisky
43% alc/vol

I bought this bottle to celebrate a particularly nice bonus I received at work a year or so ago. I was particularly taken with the idea of tasting a whisky that was older than I was -- and, truth be told, I still am. (Only a few months to go before I catch up to it, though.)

It's dark. Tawny. It smells wonderful; it's got that distinctive Glenfiddich pear scent, though there's some banana and sherry in there as well. It goes down very smoothly, with a vanilla finish that leaves me wanting more.

To be perfectly honest, $260 is rather a lot of money for this bottle. It's delicious, but comparable to the 12, 15, and 18 year old whiskies. That said, I'm not sorry I bought it, and I'll thoroughly enjoy the rest of the bottle -- especially since it's still spent more years maturing in the cask than I've spent maturing on this earth. :)

A Smorgasbord of Sumptuous Spirits - WhiskyFest Chicago 2008!

So, Friday night rolled around, and I found myself in the possession of a ticket to WhiskyFest Chicago! A VIP ticket no less; this means I got to enter an hour earlier than mundane ticket holders.

It was a blast. Showed up at 5:30 (an hour before the *sniff* non-VIP riff-raff) at the Grand Ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. Registered, picked up a canvas tote bag full of swag (pictured), entered the main area, and started tasting! Rough, quick, dirty notes below.

Attended one of the seminars they held – “The Incredible Influence of Wood at Glenfiddich,” with Ian Miller, the Global Brand Ambassador (how do you sign up for that job?) at Glenfiddich. We tasted samples of cask strength first-fill American oak aged malt (light and peary), as well as cask strength first-fill European oak aged malt (dark, syrupy, and sherried), both 12 years old. Then we compared them to a mixture of the two, and to the bottled 12 year old Glenfiddich malt. Then we did the whole thing all over again with 18 year old samples. It was really interesting to see how the different component malts tasted, and how the bottled malt compared to them.

Amusingly, with the 18 year old samples, I thought the American oak aged malt tasted very much of sherry, like the European oak sample of the 12 year old. That didn’t make any sense to me until the woman sitting in front of me asked why the mixed sample looked lighter than both of the component samples. As it turns out, the mixture had gotten switched with the American oak sample – a pouring mix-up. Funny, and also nice to know that I can taste the difference. :)

Anyway, I strongly recommend that you check out WhiskyFest if you get the chance. I had a great time, learned a lot, and got to try a lot of new whiskeys. Well done!

Tasting notes:

Bushmills 1608 – sweet, caramel. Very good. I see that Binny’s carries this now, which is excellent.

Bushmills Malt 21 – fresh, like the Malt 10, but a little sweeter and less harsh. Quite nice.

Oban Distiller’s Edition – bananas. Sweet, malty. Excellent.

Johnnie Walker Swing – sweet, smoky, and tasty.

Johnnie Walker Blue Label – smoother nose than the Swing, but smokier and spicier. Very good, but not $200/bottle good. I’d recommend the Swing over this, for the price.

Antiquary 12yo – a blend, and my first real encounter with peat smoke! It’s faint, but recognizable. Creamy. I like it.

Tomatin 18yo – mint and malt. Smooth, citrusy, and very much a Highland Scotch. Good!

Greenore 8yo – this is a single grain Irish whiskey. It’s been hard to get in the US, but Binny’s has it now! White chocolate and coconut. Very, very good.

Four Roses Small Batch – bourbon. It tasted bourbonny. I’d need to drink more bourbon before I could taste this stuff properly. Good, though.

Four Roses Single Barrel – ditto.

Balvenie 21yo Port Wood – fruit; pears and melon all the way. Delicious!!

Balvenie 17yo Sherry Oak – not much to say except fruity, in that sherry kind of way. Very good, but can’t compete with the 21yo.

Scott’s Selection Auchentoshan 1983 – this is interesting, as my only other Auchentoshan experience is with the 10yo, which is very peanutty. This dram is cask strength, and it was flowery and perfumy, with a strong flavor of broccoli on the finish. I’ve never had anything like it. Not sure if I really liked it, though. :)

Scott’s Selection Glenlivet 1977 – also cask strength. Roses, spice, and vanilla. Good, but by this time my nose and tongue were getting tired, so it seemed unremarkable to me. If I tried it again now, I’d probably enjoy it a lot more.

Laphroaig Quarter Cask – my first Laphroaig, and my first true peated Islay, if you don’t count the Bunnahabhain 12. Heavy peat smoke was about all I got out of it, but I thought it was really quite tasty. Makes me look forward to the bottle of Ardbeg 10 I’ve got sitting at home.

Famous Grouse Malt Whisky 18yo – a vatted malt. This was one of the last I tasted, so I couldn’t get the full taste of it. It struck me as being decent, but nothing to write home about, and not nearly as tasty and the excellent standard Grouse blend.

Laphroaig 10yo – about the same as the Quarter Cask. I should try it again sometime when my nose and tongue are fresh.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey

Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey
Aged 2 years
Rocky Mountain straight whiskey
47% alc/vol

Stranahan's is one of a very few single malt American whiskeys. Unlike bourbon, Stranahan's is made solely from malted barley, just like Scotch is. Only this stuff is 100% American -- the barley and water come straight from the Rockies. It's only aged for two years, which makes me wonder how it can be so dark. This stuff almost looks like a Macallan or an Aberlour. Caramel coloring, maybe?

The first thing I notice is solvent on the nose. Like nail polish remover. It's hard to dig past it to get to the malt. It tastes sweet and a bit sharp, and finishes with...with what? More sweetness, maybe a little vanilla...

Adding water helps. Now I can elbow my way past the nail polish remover to get to the banana and vanilla that were ducking down behind it. Still sweet, all the way through.

It's not my favorite, but it is nice. Eccentric, too: the label tells you in handwriting not only when it was distilled and what batch it's from (#7!), but also who did the distilling (all I can make out are the guy's initials, J. N.) and what he was listening to at the time (Bob Wills). And if that weren't enough, the cork-sealed bottle is actually capped with a tall metal shotglass. I'm not sure who's hauling around an entire bottle of whiskey without proper glassware, but if you should find yourself in such a position, you'll be good to go if that bottle is Stranahan's!

Monday, March 17, 2008

St. Patrick's Day Special: Bushmills

Today, in honor of St. Patrick's Day, I've got notes on a couple of Bushmills offerings. Binny's had all things Bushmills on sale last week, so I figured, why not? Now's the time! :)

Bushmills Malt 10 notes are here.

Bushmills Original
Blended Irish whiskey
40% alc/vol

Smells of white chocolate and toffee, thick and insistent. Sweet and creamy on the palate, with a dry, bittersweet finish. This feels like Bushmills Malt 10, except sweeter and softer. I think that's a good thing. And at this price, it's tough to beat!

Bushmills Black Bush
Blended Irish whiskey
40% alc/vol

The Black Bush is fully aged in Oloroso Sherry casks, and, as you well know, I'm a total sherry freak when it comes to whiskey. You can see the sherry in this dram right off the bat, in its characteristic deep russet color. It's very evident in the nose, as well, sweet and spiritous. Like its non-sherried cousin, it's nice and creamy, but the Black Bush has a bit of cinnamon in its long, dry finish. Like the Original above, I think it's a fairly uncomplicated whiskey -- or is it just my mood? -- but I like it very much, indeed, to the great surprise of no one at all.

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone! And on that note, Guinness is lobbying to make this a national holiday in the U.S. Why not sign the petition to make it happen? The country -- and, indeed, the world -- could use a few more simple, easy-going holidays like this one could be.

Saturday, March 8, 2008


Grant's Family Reserve
Blended Scotch whisky
40% alc/vol

Grant's Family Reserve is interesting. It's one of those blends that spring to mind when a working-class fellow who's been around the block mentions "Scotch." Cheap, ubiquitous. A man's drink.

But, upon tasting it, I'm once again reminded that none of that means it's not good.

I sat down with this one some time ago and compared it directly, head-to-head, with the Grouse. The two are very similar. The Grant's nose seems slightly sweeter, with an appetizing hint of banana. The taste is sharper, though not unpleasant, and the finish longer.

By my reckoning, the Grouse beats this one out, but not by much. If I were on a budget, however, I'd probably prefer Grant's; at 13 USD for a 750 mL bottle, or somewhere around 20 USD for a 1.75 L bottle, the price is hard to beat.

I'll also note that Grant's has a sherry cask offering, finished in ex-Oloroso casks, for the same price. Sherry freak that I am, it seems right up my alley. So many whiskies, so little time!

(For plenty of interesting information about Grant's Family Reserve, check out Dr. Whisky's write-up!)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Black Bottle

Black Bottle
Blended Scotch whisky
40% alc/vol

So, it's been nearly four months since I blogged about my first Islay whisky, Bunnahabhain. I'd decided it was okay, but nothing stellar, and a definite mood drink. But as I neared the end of the bottle, I found myself enjoying it more and more. I decided to chalk it up to acquiring the taste, or developing my palate, or whatever you want to call it.

In the meantime, I'd been hearing a lot of good things about Black Bottle, albeit often with decidedly unpleasant-sounding descriptions (ashtrays?). Anyway, at a mere $17 USD, the price was right, so I decided to give it a go, and I'm quite glad I did.

Black Bottle's main claim to fame seems to be that it includes malt from every active distillery in the Islay region, save for Kilchoman, the newest.


Black Bottle is a deep copper color -- nothing special, but pleasant. Fresh fruit and malt on the nose, with earth, peat, and smoke. Light sea salt and cloves. Sweet and soft on the palate, with a smoky, lingering finish.

I quite like this. The grain whisky helps the peat and smoke from being overpowering, I think, and the result is a very inviting, approachable dram. The bottle's nearly empty now, and I'm sure I'll replace it when it's gone. I'm wondering if this will prove to be something of a "gateway" whisky: my palate's expanding from Speyside/Highland single malts, to Highlandy blended Scotches like Famous Grouse, to Islay blends like Black Bottle. I recently purchased a bottle of Ardbeg 10, which comes highly recommended by those who like that sort of thing; I wonder how I'll like it!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Bushmills Malt 10

Bushmills Malt 10
Single malt Irish whiskey
Aged 10 years
40% alc/vol

And here we are, with the first Irish whiskey on Nose Palate Finish. Now all I need is a Canadian whisky, and Japanese, and I'll be pretty well representing the global whisky scene!

I was introduced to this one by my friend Aubrey. It's her favorite whiskey of all. Dr. Whisky, on the other hand, didn't care for it one bit, and I lie somewhere in the middle.


A deep gold color. Bread and oranges on the nose. A bit of solvent and leather. Flowers and heavy malt. It feels very full in the mouth, and spicy. The finish is dry, hinting at chocolate.

I like this malt. It's not my favorite, and it never will be (EDIT: all right, all right, maybe. Someday. Maybe.), but I like it enough to keep buying it. I find it particularly interesting how different it tastes from any single malt Scotch whisky I've had, while still being good. Well, Sláinte!

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Macallan Cask Strength

The Macallan Cask Strength
Single Speyside malt Scotch whisky
No age statement (but apparently aged 10-12 years*)
58.6% alc/vol

This is the second Macallan I've reviewed on this blog -- and one of my favorites so far. This one is cask strength, which means it was not diluted with water before being bottled, as most whiskies are. Thus, while most Scotches are 40-46% alc/vol, this big guy weighs in at a hefty 58.6% (116 proof)!

Keep this in mind when drinking cask strength whiskies. The high alcohol content means you should drink it more sparingly than usual, so you don't get sloppy drunk (unless that's your goal, of course!). It also means you should be careful when nosing and tasting it, since it can numb your sense of smell and taste, and inhaling its vapors deeply can be uncomfortable or even painful. If you usually like to dilute your whisky before nosing it, dilute this one a bit more; if you don't usually dilute it, seriously consider doing so for this one.

Oh, and I should also note that this is the USA/Canada bottling, rather than the 10yo cask strength bottling available elsewhere in the world.


The Macallan Cask Strength is a lovely brown sherry color. The nose bursts with brown sugar, subsiding into strong vanilla and caramel notes. Bananas Foster and baked apples.

It's very sweet. Creamy, thick, and sharp in the mouth; numbing. Cola. The finish is long, dry, and tingly. Oatmeal scotchies and cinnamon.

This is one of my favorite dessert Scotches. It's sweet, rich, and deeply satisfying. My bottle's almost dry, but I'll definitely pick up another. So should you.

What are you still doing here? The liquor store's still open. Get!

* Michael Jackson's Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch, p. 357.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Gordon & MacPhail Glenlivet 16yo

The Glenlivet
Aged 16 years
Single Speyside malt Scotch whisky
Bottled by Gordon & MacPhail
46% alc/vol

This is the first independent bottling I've reviewed on this blog. "Selected and Bottled Exclusively for Binny's by Joe C," this Glenlivet malt is part of a 306 bottle limited edition.


It's a pale gold color, much lighter than perhaps any other malt I've tried. The nose is fruity, with apples and pears, followed by some soft citrus and floral notes. Its body is light and a little on the thin side, but not unpleasantly so. The whisky finishes with more florals, and lingers for a long while.

Despite its rather high ABV, this is one dram that doesn't need water. I prefer to drink it straight, to preserve its delicate flavor; water would likely dilute it too much.

Independent bottlings often offer a rare opportunity to sample a fine Scotch at an age that would otherwise be unavailable. Take, for instance, another Gordon & MacPhail whisky I had a while back, which was a Strathisla 17yo. I believe the Strathisla distillery itself only bottles 12yo whisky; thanks to Gordon & MacPhail, I was able to try it at five years older for less than $100. So don't be afraid -- try an independent bottling. You may like what you find!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Aberlour 16yo Double Cask

Aberlour Double Cask
Aged 16 years
Single Speyside malt Scotch whisky
43% alc/vol

Last week, I reviewed the delightful Aberlour 15yo Sherry Wood Finish, and this week, we'll try her slightly older sister. She's also finished in a sherry cask, but there must be something different in the maturation process, because she's a very different malt than her kid sister...


A deep, warm tawny color. She's got a full fruit nose: grapes, cherries, plums, apples, and lemons. She's smooth and creamy in the mouth, with more fruit and a kick of spice. Afterwards, I'm left with some serious cinnamon and nutmeg, and a nice warm feeling in the cockles of my heart. That's right -- in the cockles.

Not quite as light and soothing as her sister, the 16yo is nevertheless a joy to drink. This is a deeply satisfying malt, and an excellent digestif. And now, I shall drop the metaphor of these Aberlour whiskies to women, as it's beginning to sound creepy. After all, they're only teenagers!

And, strangely, there don't seem to be any good pictures of this dram online, which is why you're getting one taken by me of my own bottle. Plus, Aberlour's website doesn't mention it. Is it out of production...? That would be a shame.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Jim Beam White Label

Jim Beam
Aged 4 years
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
40% alc/vol

I'm really not as big into bourbon as I am into Scotch. It's a very different flavor, though it's not a bad one. It's also tricky for me to taste, since it's the main ingredient of my favorite cocktail back when I was in college, the Manhattan; I have to work to keep myself from writing simply, "This tastes like a Manhattan."

Some interesting facts about bourbon, from Wikipedia:

  • It must be made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn, and is typically closer to 70% corn.
  • It must be 100% natural; no caramel coloring allowed!
  • The barrels in which it is aged must be new, American charred oak barrels.
  • Bourbon aged for two years or longer may be labeled as "straight" bourbon.
  • Bourbon younger than four years old must be labeled with its age.

So, you see, it's not just Scotch made in America!

Anyway, courtesy of my very silly sister, I bring you that perennial classic -- and the first American whiskey on this blog -- Jim Beam, a.k.a. Jim Beam White Label.


The usual russet color of whiskey. It's sweet on the nose, with vanilla and caramel, and a hint of freshly-ground black pepper. Much softer than Scotch. Do I smell cherries, or is that the Manhattan rearing its lovely head once again?

It's thin and watery on the palate, which feels odd to a mouth accustomed to usually creamier Scotch. I'm getting a lot of nutmeg in the flavor here.

The finish is long, much longer than I expect, with a lot of butterscotch and a tiny bit of peppermint.

Overall, not bad. I probably won't buy another bottle, though; for $15 per 750 mL, I can get whisky much more suitable for my palate. (Grant's tasting notes coming soon!)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Johnnie Walker Gold Label

As an aside, I happened upon the opportunity to try a glass of Johnnie Walker Gold Label in an Irish pub the other night. I wasn't super-impressed with it, in general, but I'm glad I tried it. I was struck, in particular, with how smoky it was, and it was then that I realized that the reason I'm not as fond as many of Johnnie Walker is because it likely has a higher Islay whisky content than the blends I do like. I don't know this for a fact, but that's what my nose and tongue are telling me, now that they've been educated by the Bunnahabhain 12 yo. Interesting.

The Famous Grouse

The Famous Grouse
Blended Scotch whisky
40% alc/vol

Ah, the Grouse. When I first tried this one, the only blended Scotches I'd had were the Johnnie Walker Black Label (meh) and the Pig's Nose (wheeeee!). The Famous Grouse was the turning point; the day I tried it, I realized that I do, in fact, love blended whisky. Some blended whiskies, anyway.

Not only is the Grouse delicious, but:
  1. it's delicious neat. (It's great with ice or mixed, too, of course, but neat?!)
  2. it's cheap. Around $20 for a 750 mL bottle, and $30 for a 1.75 L bottle.
These two factors make the Grouse one of the best bangs for your buck out there. I still can't believe such an inexpensive whisky can taste so damn good.


This blend is the lovely burnished color so many Scotches seem to share. The sweetness in the nose hits me immediately. Soft and fruity, pears and honeydew. On this tasting, the alcohol is more apparent in the scent than usual. The texture is nice and creamy, coating the tongue beautifully. The finish is unremarkable, though it leaves me wanting more -- always a good quality!

The Famous Grouse has something about it that makes it undeniably drinkable. It's the kind of whisky you could just sit and drink all night long, and never get tired of it. It's earned a permanent spot on my drink cart, and I'm just so glad I ventured out of my comfort zone to try it!

I <3 the Grouse.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Aberlour 15 yo Sherry Wood Finish, my long, lost love

Aberlour Sherry Wood Finish
Aged 15 years
Single Speyside malt Scotch whisky
43% alc/vol

This, dear friends, is the Scotch that started it all.

I received a bottle of it from a friend for Christmas in 2006. When I tried it, I was struck for the first time by how different one Scotch could be from another. This Aberlour was noticeably sweeter than the Glenlivet 12 I was used to, and a fair sight darker in color as well. From that moment forward, I became a true Scotch fan.

This is one of my favorite drams, so much so that I couldn't bear to finish the bottle. I've made it last until today, because I love it so, and because I can't find the blasted thing in any liquor store I visit anymore. I used to see it every now and then at Sam's Wine, but no longer. They don't even have a spot for it on the shelf now.

But I found a store online that still had a couple bottles in stock, so I ordered one, ridiculous shipping charges and all. Can't complain though -- it's so worth it. And now, I get to finally polish off this bottle of liquid joy.


Beautiful tawny color. Sweet and fruity -- melon and bubblegum, with a trace of mint. Delicious and comforting. Soft, delicate, proud, and mellow.

Seriously, I'm in love. I want to marry this whisky. I want her to take my name and bear my children -- sweet, sherry-finished children. I know how our President feels about homosexuals, but what about whiskysexuals?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Macallan 10yo Fine Oak (NOT Jim Beam)

The Macallan 10yo Fine Oak
Aged 10 years
Single Speyside malt Scotch whisky
40% alc/vol

Happy new year, everyone!

So, on the Christmas list I gave my folks last month, I included "some interesting new whiskeys to try." I didn't really know if they'd go for it, but I figured, what the heck. I was also a little desperate for things to ask for. Lousy Christmas lists.

Anyway, December 25th finally rolled around, and my sister brought out a gift bag for me. I looked inside while she grinned evilly, and found a small bottle of Jim Beam bourbon. Now, my sister loves giving horribly disappointing gag gifts before bringing out the real stuff, so I wasn't worried; I figured there was more to come. And there was.

My dad and she picked out for me this lovely bottle of Macallan. I've tried a number of their scotches before, but never the 10 yo Fine Oak expression. Before even tasting it, I knew it was a great gift. I've never met a Macallan I didn't like, and it was new to me. So, thanks, Dad and Sis!


A deep copper color. The nose explodes with orange, especially with a bit of water; a hint of molasses and gentle floral notes hide beneath the citrus, sweet and sour at the same time. A very soft, creamy texture -- really nice mouth feel.

Maybe not the most complex whiskey around, but a very satisfying one. A pleasure to imbibe! Nice job, family!

Also, while the Jim Beam was just a gag, I fully intend to taste and post about it sometime in the not-too-distant future. Because, well, why not? :)