Sunday, 18 April 2021

To be, or not to be: Arran Port Cask Finish

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them.



Please don't run away or close your web browser; I promise I'm not going to bore you with an existential soliloquy, at least not today. Why bring up Shakespeare then? Well, Arran was, for a time, one of those "secrets" that wasn't on the mainstream whisky drinker's radar. As the better-known bloggers and vloggers started talking about Arran, the word got out. Arran became more popular, and rightly so. However, they're a younger distillery and they don't have billions of casks of mature whisky just stitting around. Arran was forced to make some tough decisions. The wonderful Arran 14 was discontinued, while many of Arran's Non Age Stated offerings remain available. The current Arran lineup contains about 8 NAS whiskies and 2 or 3 that carry an age statement. Arran suffered the slings and arrows of online backlash when these changes were announced. I was disapointed at first, but I'm not running the company.

The Port Cask offering from Arran doesn't carry an age statement, but Tweets and blurbs from the company suggest that most of the whisky is at least 8 years old. Of course, without an age statement we don't know for sure. The Arran website reads:

After initially maturing in traditional oak casks for approximately 8 years, The Arran Single Malt in this bottling was finished in a selection of Port casks sourced from an artisan producer of this iconic Portuguese fortified wine.

Approximately...aye, there's the rub. Anyhow, I can't be too picky about marketing verbiage since I've liked everything I've tried from Arran so far. Smell, taste, and texture are the most important things, are they not? For in that glass of whisky, what dreams may come...ok, I'm done with my literary pretensions.


Tasting notes


Neat from a Highland whisky glass


  • Nose: cinnamon, red apple skins, strawberry jam, orange zest, milk chocolate
  • Palate: sweet on arrival, full bodied, vanilla, malted barley, 
  • Finish: medium length, vanilla, honey, cherries, orange zest

With water

  • Nose: the red fruits pop out first, with the malted barley/distillate becoming more assertive, there's less chocolate and orange now
  • Palate: very malty, more red fruits (especially strawberries), 
  • Finish: a big hit of vanilla, honey, oak spice, and a slight grassiness that gives way to some lingering milk chocolate

Thoughts


This sample is from an older bottling of Arran, before they moved to the squat bottle with the chonky stoppers. I haven't tried a newer bottling, so I can't compare it to this, the older version. Arran Port Cask isn't currently available in Ontario, but sells for about $85 in Québec. I like this whisky, but would I pay that much for it? Probably not. I know, it's 50% abv, which means fewer bottles per batch. I understand the "why" but I'd still be loath to part with my whisky dollars for something I like but don't love. Your mileage may vary. There's a lot to like about Arran Port Cask. The wine finish doesn't overwhelm or dominate the malt and Arran's distilllate is terrific. This one doesn't open the heavens for me which makes scoring it a bit difficult. I'd definitely say try before you buy.

Score: 6/10


SCORING BREAKDOWN

  • 1/10 – Really bad. "Drain pour" bad. I've only tasted two whiskies this bad.
  • 2/10 – I hope to avoid ever drinking this again. I'd use this for shots if I had to drink it.
  • 3/10 – This is either not great or astonishingly dull. Either way, I won't buy a bottle. I might accept a free glass if you offered me one. Maybe.
  • 4/10 – Sub-par. Not awful, but more bad (or disappointing) than good.
  • 5/10 – Average. Certainly not a bad whisky, but not one I want to stock all the time. 
  • 6/10 – Above average. Worth a glass now and then, maybe worth buying if the price is right.
  • 7/10 – Very good. Worth stocking regularly if the price is below $100
  • 8/10 – Excellent. Something I never want to be without, if possible. If it’s under $100 you shouldn’t think twice.
  • 9/10 – Exceptional stuff. The missing mark is probably because I'm shallow and pedantic.
  • 10/10 – Mind-bending, life-changing stuff. Whisky has no business being this good. An absolute must-taste. To expect more would be soulless and churlish.

Sunday, 28 March 2021

The Goldilocks Zone: Knob Creek 9 Year Old

Please allow me to begin this review by horrifying the ghosts of all my universtiy professors by quoting Wikipedia:

In astronomy and astrobiology, the circumstellar habitable zone (CHZ), or simply the habitable zone, is the range of orbits around a star within which a planetary surface can support liquid water given sufficient atmospheric pressure.The bounds of the CHZ are based on Earth's position in the Solar System and the amount of radiant energy it receives from the Sun. Due to the importance of liquid water to Earth's biosphere, the nature of the CHZ and the objects within it may be instrumental in determining the scope and distribution of planets capable of supporting Earth-like extraterrestrial life and intelligence.

The habitable zone is also called the Goldilocks zone, a metaphor, allusion and antonomasia of the children's fairy tale of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears", in which a little girl chooses from sets of three items, ignoring the ones that are too extreme (large or small, hot or cold, etc.), and settling on the one in the middle, which is "just right".

I find the Goldilocks metaphor apt when discussing bourbon. There isn't a massive degree of variation between bourbons to my palate. Before you write in telling me what an idiot I am, consider this: can you name a bourbon that doesn't have aromas and flavours of vanilla and caramel (or brown sugar)? Because I can't think of one. I'm not disparaging bourbon here, just pointing out that the differences between bourbons can be subtle and finding the one that works for you can be tricksy. With that out of the way, let's talk about Knob Creek.

Knob Creek Small Batch 9 Year Old lost its age statement for awhile but it’s back, hopefully for good. Bourbon boss-man Fred Minnick stated in a recent video that there’s “a ton of 9 Year Knob Creek in the Beam warehouses”, so there's no need to stock up on it like it's toilet paper during a global pandemic. I was lukewarm on the Knob Creek Single Barrel at first but the bottle really grew on me with time. The 9 Year 100 proof Knob Creek is a bit more consistent from start to finish.


Tasting Notes


Neat from a Glencairn


  • Nose: vanilla, nutmeg, warm cornbread, caramel, damp oak
  • Palate: a little thinner than I would like, but it’s still easy to sip, caramel, damp oak, nutmeg, something a bit farmy (wet hay), a very faint nutty note, pecans maybe.
  • Finish: longer than I expected, yet still drying, vanilla, oak, “farminess”, cloves, brown sugar, pecans

Thoughts: Knob Creek isn’t as sweet as most bourbons. I like the dry, oaky character it’s got going on. I perceive the oak as damp, almost musty but in a very pleasant way. If I may permit myself a flight of fancy, I would compare it to being in an old barn during a rainstorm. Knob Creek is also my bourbon of choice for an Old Fashioned as the addition of simple syrup doesn’t take it into “cloyingly sweet” territory, and the bitters add a beautiful depth to the drink. I don't like it as much in a whiskey sour as the lemon clashes with some of the other flavours. I'm a bit torn on what to score this bourbon, as it isn't über-complex, but the personal enjoyment factor bumps it up a notch. I find a lot of bourbons too sweet and Knob Creek 9 Year avoids that trap.

Rating: 7/10


SCORING BREAKDOWN

  • 1/10 – Really bad. "Drain pour" bad. I've only tasted two whiskies this bad.
  • 2/10 – I hope to avoid ever drinking this again. I'd use this for shots if I had to drink it.
  • 3/10 – This is either not great or astonishingly dull. Either way, I won't buy a bottle. I might accept a free glass if you offered me one. Maybe.
  • 4/10 – Sub-par. Not awful, but more bad (or disappointing) than good.
  • 5/10 – Average. Certainly not a bad whisky, but not one I want to stock all the time. 
  • 6/10 – Above average. Worth a glass now and then, maybe worth buying if the price is right.
  • 7/10 – Very good. Worth stocking regularly if the price is below $100
  • 8/10 – Excellent. Something I never want to be without, if possible. If it’s under $100 you shouldn’t think twice.
  • 9/10 – Exceptional stuff. The missing mark is probably because I'm shallow and pedantic.
  • 10/10 – Mind-bending, life-changing stuff. Whisky has no business being this good. An absolute must-taste. To expect more would be soulless and churlish.


Thursday, 11 March 2021

Beyond Good & Evil: a review of Glengoyne 18 Year Old

I'm Canadian. That means I have a complicated relationship with geese. As the Canadian legend goes, all the anger and hatred was sucked out of the Canadian populace and channelled into its geese in a secret ritual known only to Rick Mercer, Avril Lavigne, Sandra Oh, and Ed the Sock. The ritual worked, but it worked too well. Our geese are the most spiteful and evil creatures on planet Earth, whereas a Canadian citizen is likely to say "Sorry, eh!?" even if YOU bump into them. 

Australian wildlife recoils in horror at the thought of fighting a Canada Goose.  Rumour has it that even Chuck Norris won't approach a Canada Goose for fear of losing his tough-guy reputation. So you can understand my reticence at purchasing and drinking whisky named after "the valley of the Wild Geese".  That said, the name refers to Scottish geese, and I can only assume that they're not as evil as Canadian geese, since that would tear a hole in the space-time continuum. Perhaps Scottish geese are more dour and taciturn.

I really enjoyed the balance of Glengoyne's 10 Year Old offering, so let's see what the 18 Year Old has in store. Hopefully, it's not violent hatred.


Tasting notes


Neat from a Glencairn glass

  • Nose: dark fruits (dates, raisins), oak, honey, red fruits, a bit of vanilla, the aroma is more gentle than one might expect.
  • Palate: medium bodied, brown sugar, almonds, red apples, walnuts, a touch of cloves, some milk chocolate
  • Finish: medium length, brown sugar, oranges, walnuts, black tea, barley and oak lingering
  • Thoughts: Glengoyne continues to impress me. According to Glengoyne's website, the "cask recipe" is : 
    • 35% 1st Fill European Oak Sherry, 15% 1st Fill American Oak Sherry, 50% Hand-selected quality Oak Refill casks,
Now you might worry that the sherry notes would be too prominent and overtake the malt. Fear not, dear friend. Once again, the sherry notes are integrated yet balanced with the malt character. The sherry notes are present but don't dominate. There's a higher proportion of first-fill casks, but not too many. I know some would love to drink naught but malts matured exclusively in the aforementioned first-fill casks but I'm not one of them. Glengoyne 18 is a wonderfully balanced whisky that is exactly the opposite of a Canada Goose. It's quiet, calming, easy-going, and thoroughly enjoyable.

RATING: 8/10

SCORING BREAKDOWN

  • 1/10 – Really bad. "Drain pour" bad. I've only tasted two whiskies this bad.
  • 2/10 – I hope to avoid ever drinking this again. I'd use this for shots if I had to drink it.
  • 3/10 – This is either not great or astonishingly dull. Either way, I won't buy a bottle. I might accept a free glass if you offered me one. Maybe.
  • 4/10 – Sub-par. Not awful, but more bad (or disappointing) than good.
  • 5/10 – Average. Certainly not a bad whisky, but not one I want to stock all the time. 
  • 6/10 – Above average. Worth a glass now and then, maybe worth buying if the price is right.
  • 7/10 – Very good. Worth stocking regularly if the price is below $100
  • 8/10 – Excellent. Something I never want to be without, if possible. If it’s under $100 you shouldn’t think twice.
  • 9/10 – Exceptional stuff. The missing mark is probably because I'm shallow and pedantic.
  • 10/10 – Mind-bending, life-changing stuff. Whisky has no business being this good. An absolute must-taste. To expect more would be soulless and churlish.


Thursday, 4 March 2021

Woodford Reserve Double Oaked

I reviewed Woodford Reserve Distiller's Select here and liked it well enough. It didn't change my life, but I had absolutely no complaints. The standard offering from Woodford "tastes like bourbon". That may sound ridiculous, but it's the simple truth.Woodford Double Oaked is basically the regular Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select re-barrelled in a second virgin oak barrel for a little under a year. The second barrel used is deeply toasted before being lightly charred.  So what's the pricier ($20 more, to be precise) Woodford like? Is it worth the price tag?

Neat from a Glencairn


  • Nose: caramel, vanilla, orange zest, toasted oak, cotton candy, some cherry sweet tarts, a touch of nuttiness, maybe some very floral honey
  • Palate: medium bodied, brown sugar, caramel, marshmallows, a bit of icing sugar, hazelnuts
  • Finish: medium length, sweet, vanilla frosting, blueberries, leather, icing sugar, a touch of orange zest, toasted oak lingers
  • Score: 7/10
It’s funny; this isn’t the most complex bourbon I’ve ever tasted but I really dig it. Every sip makes me think “Yes! THIS I like!” No off notes. Nothing harsh, yet not bland or watery. Definitely worth keeping around. Well done, Woodford. Well done.

SCORING BREAKDOWN

  • 1/10 – Really bad. "Drain pour" bad. I've only tasted two whiskies this bad.
  • 2/10 – I hope to avoid ever drinking this again. I'd use this for shots if I had to drink it.
  • 3/10 – This is either not great or astonishingly dull. Either way, I won't buy a bottle. I might accept a free glass if you offered me one. Maybe.
  • 4/10 – Sub-par. Not awful, but more bad (or disappointing) than good.
  • 5/10 – Average. Certainly not a bad whisky, but not one I want to stock all the time. 
  • 6/10 – Above average. Worth a glass now and then, maybe worth buying if the price is right.
  • 7/10 – Very good. Worth stocking regularly if the price is below $100
  • 8/10 – Excellent. Something I never want to be without, if possible. If it’s under $100 you shouldn’t think twice.
  • 9/10 – Exceptional stuff. The missing mark is probably because I'm shallow and pedantic.
  • 10/10 – Mind-bending, life-changing stuff. Whisky has no business being this good. An absolute must-taste. To expect more would be soulless and churlish.