Thursday, 10 October 2019

Portrait of the Whiskey As a Young Man: Bushmills 10 Year Old Single Malt

The light music of whiskey falling into a glass made an agreeable interlude.
James Joyce, Dubliners

What can a whiskey blogger write about James Joyce that hasn't already been written (better) by someone far more qualified? Joyce was one of the most important and influential writers of the twentieth century. And while he spent most of his adult life living abroad, Ireland remained at the heart of his work. Now I know some of you are thinking "Joyce wrote about Dublin, and Bushmills is in NORTHERN Ireland !!!" I know, I know. But I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for Bushmills since James Joyce mentions it by name in his magnum opus, Ulysses. Since I’m a fan of everything Joyce wrote, I feel I should warn you so my scoring here may not be purely objective.

Bushmills claims to be the "oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world", having received their license in 1608, a number which graces their bottles. The Old Bushmills distillery is located near the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland, and I'm told both the causeway and distillery are great tourist destinations. Since my wife and kids have no interest in whiskey tourism, I'll have to wait to find out.

Tasting Notes

  • Nose (undiluted): honeycrisp apples, cloves, cinnamon, an aroma reminiscent of sewing machine oil (it’s pleasant, I promise)
  • Palate (undiluted): light arrival, floral, honey, milk chocolate, a touch of salted butter, more apples
  • Finish: medium length, some oak, cinnamon, a hint of cardamom, apple skins, biscuits (scones?)
Water makes the whiskey a bit more “cereal-forward” with some porridge notes and Nilla wafers taking center stage. Lovely either way, but I prefer it neat. I’d love to taste an older Bushmills, say the 16 or the 21 year. The 10 year displays all the traditional characteristics of triple distilled Irish single malt, which isn’t surprising since Bushmills is pretty much synonymous with Irish single malt. It doesn’t seem to suffer for being bottled at 40% abv. I would obviously love to try it at 46% or even at Cask Strength, but I would not hesitate to re-purchase this bottle. It’s good enough to sip “thoughtfully” and yet light enough to share and drink “socially”.

Rating: 85/100 points

Monday, 30 September 2019

Against All Odds: a review of the Tyrconnell 16 Year Old Irish Single Malt

"Never tell me the odds ! "

Han Solo, 
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Stikes Back 

The original (and obviously the best) Star Wars trilogy overcame some pretty big odds to become the classic it is today. Three studios rejected George Lucas' original proposal for a "space opera" before 20th Century Fox decided to invest in it. Lucas' original proposal was two pages, which became a 13 page synopsis, which then became a script that required at least three films. Other than Alec Guinness, most of the actors weren't that well-known. In fact, Harrison Ford had pretty much given up acting to become a carpenter until Lucas convinced him to audition for the part of Han Solo. Imagine a world where someone else plays everybody's favourite scruffy-looking nerf-herder ! Fate has a funny way of lining things up.

Tyrconnell Irish Whiskey has an odds-defying tale of its own. Tyrconnell was a racehorse who bested 100 to 1 odds and won the prestigious National Produce Stakes horse race in Ireland. The surprise victory captured the imagination of  A.A. Watt, a local distiller. He chose to commemorate the occasion by creating a limited edition, small batch whiskey that bore the name of their local champion. Although A.A. Watt intended to make The Tyrconnell just once, it ended up becoming Watt's most popular whiskey. Before Prohibition, The Tyrconnell was claimed to be the best selling Irish whiskey. That's the story anyway. Today, the brand is made at the Cooley distillery in County Louth, Ireland. The Cooley distillery and Tyrconnell brand are owned by Beam Suntory.

This review is from a sample provided by a friend. The bottle was 1/4 full when the sample was poured. I sampled this from a copita.

Let's dispense with the myth that all Irish Single Malts are triple distilled. The Tyrconnell is a double distilled single malt produced at the Cooley distillery.  I can’t find information on the use (or lack thereof) of E150a, but I believe it is unchill-filtered. Yay! It’s also bottled at a respectable 46% abv.

Tasting Notes

  • Nose (undiluted): baked honeycrisp apples, cinnamon, a bit of honey, almonds, malty with a slightly grassy note
  • Palate (undiluted): rich, mouth-coating, more apples, almonds, vanilla, a touch of lemon zest
  • Finish: medium length, vanilla, coconut, almonds, a touch of oak spices, with honey lingering

With water, enticing apricot and peach aromas appear on the nose. There’s more malt presence and nuttiness on the palate with water added. The texture becomes creamy rather than oily with water. Orange zest replaces honey as the lingering note on the finish. This is beautiful either way. No off notes, no overly dominant cask influence (I believe this is 100% first fill ex-bourbon cask matured), no spirity acetone flavours, respectable abv, and a lovely texture. A most impressive balancing act. Consider me a fan of this Irish beauty.

Rating: 90/100 points

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Odd Man Out: a review of Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old (bottled in 2012)

Image result for cookie monster cookies eat gif
Actual footage of me near peated whiskies
Ask any single malt enthusiast about Islay, and you'll probably get one of two responses since Islay whiskies are associated with heavy smoke and peat. One group, of which I am a part, will say "YASSSS !! PEAT !! SMOKE !! OM NOM NOM NOM NOM!!" like Cookie Monster on a bender, while the other group will utter "NO !! EW! Peat is gross!" recalling Alexis Rose's frequently heard  "EW, David !!" response on Schitt's Creek. However not all Islay whiskies are heavily peated affairs. Bruichladdich's range is unpeated (their peated offerings are sold under the Port Charlotte or Octomore labels). Caol Ila offers several unpeated whiskies. I've reviewed some here and here. Bunnahabhain (pronounced: BOON-a-have-in) produces mostly unpeated whisky as well. They're also known for releasing special edition whiskies with unpronounceable names. Stiuireadear anyone? Toiteach A Dha? Eirigh Na Greine? Luckily, the sample I'm reviewing is their standard 18 Year Old, so I don't have to try to pronounce any Scots Gallic.
Related image
The brilliant Annie Murphy as Alexis Rose

Tasting notes

This review is of a 2012 bottling of Bunnahabhain's 18 Year Old. It's matured in a combination of ex-bourbon casks and ex-Oloroso sherry (seasoned) casks and bottled at 46.3 % abv.

    Image result for bunnahabhain 18
  • Nose (undiluted): raisins, oak, pipe tobacco, cherries, brown sugar
  • Palate (undiluted): rich arrival, somewhat oily, but oak tannins quickly overtake the oiliness, cloves, raisins, figs
  • Finish: short to medium length, drying and a bit tannic, more pipe tobacco, oak spices, hazelnuts

With water this whisky becomes far more lively. More dark fruits on the nose, with some nuttiness joining the party. More akin to walnuts than hazelnuts. There's a little bit of brine on the nose as well. On the palate, the brine continues alongside some baking spices and brown sugar. The figs and dates are still there but more subdued. The finish is a bit less tannic and pulling with a touch (about 1/4 teaspoon) of water added. 

I think I prefer this one with a bit of water. I have no complaints about Bunnahabhain 18, but I didn't find any "wow" factor here either. There was a bit more oak and a little less sherry than I was expecting, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe I was expecting too much, given the age statement and the price of this bottle here in Ontario. It's certainly not a bottle I'd complain about receiving as a gift, and I'd be happy to accept a glass or two if someone offered me a dram, but I'm not rushing out to buy a bottle of it either. I think this whisky is ideal for bourbon drinkers who are new to scotch. The sherry isn't overpowering and there's plenty of oak presence. The proof wouldn't pose any kind of challenge to a serious bourbon drinker either. I love the fact that this is bottled without any artificial colour and without chill-filtration. I love that it's a very clean whisky; there was absolutely no sulphur at all, which is becoming rare in sherry-matured whiskies. Kudos to Bunnahabhain for terrific cask management.

Thanks again to my friend for his generosity.

Rating: 87/100 (3.5/5 moustaches)

Slainte !!!!

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Expectations and Opinions: Glendronach Single Cask 18 Year Old Tawny Port Finish

Image result for the dressRemember "the dress"? I do, and it was (and is) white and gold to my eyes. I know, I know, it was later revealed that it's actually blue and black, but it doesn't change the fact that four years later, my eyes still perceive the original, weirdly lit photo as a white and gold dress. The audio phenomenon "Laurel/Yanni" was much the same. People argued until they were blue in the face (or was it gold in the face?) about what they heard. Now different scientists have differing explanations for why we see, hear, and taste things differently, but for the purpose of this post, the "why" doesn't really matter. What is important is that perceptions, all perceptions, will vary widely among individuals.

I've been a fan of Glendronach for a long time. So my expectations were high even before sampling this 18 Year Old Single Cask, finished in a Tawny Port Pipe. My high opinion of Glendronach undoubtedly skewed my evaluation. There is a whole field of psychology and neuroscience which studies the connections between expectations and enjoyment. Unless a tasting is done totally blind, biases and expectations will affect any reviewer's evaluation. Anyone who says differently is lying to you or to themselves.

There, with that disclaimer out of the way. Here's my review of Glendronach 18 Year Old Single Cask.

High Risk; High Reward

Image result for glendronach 18 single cask tawny portSingle Cask offerings are fun. It's a high risk, high reward proposition. It's interesting how different the tasting notes and scores are. I've seen this particular whisky scored between 82 and 90 points. Of course, this shouldn't be surprising coming from different reviewers, and especially with single cask offerings from different casks. What's interesting to me is that my sample is from a bottle drawn from cask 5959, the same cask whence came the sample TOModera reviewed. For those of you who aren't familiar with him, he posts on reddit, the Toronto Whisky Society, and on the his own website. His reviews are funny and interesting, but I'm convinced he doesn't really like anything that doesn't cost eleventy billion dollars and isn't impossible to find. Oh well, subjectivity and all that. He rated this whisky 82/100 points. Fine, everyone's scoring is personal and subjective, but reading his tasting notes after I made mine, I was convinced we were tasting completely different whiskies. It's "the dress" all over again.

Tasting notes

  • Nose (undiluted): Christmas fruitcake, tobacco, cherries, dark chocolate, walnuts, and a very slight hint of something earthy. Wow. THAT is an enticing nose. Spectacular. With time the earthy note becomes more prominent and there’s some black pepper developing.
  • Palate (undiluted): rich, full-bodied, far more gentle than the abv would suggest, mouth-coating, tobacco, dark cherries, sweet but not cloying, black pepper, another tiny hint of earthiness.
  • Finish: long, warming, dark chocolate, cherries, toasted walnuts, a bit of nutmeg and cloves linger.

I could not bring myself to add water to this whisky. If I had a whole bottle, I might try it "for science", but as its just a single sample, I enjoyed it as is. I sincerely wish anyone who thinks higher strength whiskies “burn too much” or are “harsher” than lower abv offerings gets to try something like this whisky. It is superb. Nothing out of place. Just enough sweetness and spice. “Balanced” is sometimes synonymous with “uninteresting” but “balanced” is a huge compliment in this scenario. There’s nothing uninteresting here. If this whisky’s aroma were a cologne, I would wear it. If there was a car air freshener that smelled like this, I would buy it, though it might be awkward to explain to the police. Highly recommended.

Rating: 90/100 points (4/5 moustaches)