Here's what we're drinking, and you should too.

40 Whiskies Under $40: Macphail’s Collection Bunnahabhain 8 years old

It’s really great that the famous Gordon & Macphail shop and indie bottler has revived their Macphail’s Collection range of generally younger, cheaper, but high-quality single malts.  Their Highland Park 8 year old was excellent (for the price; good either way), and I was excited to see this Islay malt for under $40.

Macphail’s Collection Bunnahabhain 8 years old

Price: $35.

Abv: 43%

Color: Chardonnay.

Legs: medium in speed and size.

Nose: underripe pears, overripe honeydew, a sharp floral sweetness that might need some time in the cask to chillout.

Palate: tobacco leaves and a bit of that underripe pear from the nose give way to a burnt malt flavour; there may also be a note of honeydew here.

Finish: as various girlfriends have described some very decent whiskies—“burn-ey and sting-ey.”  Has an interesting baked cinnamon-and-apple flavour to it, but it’s a little overpowered by a prickly mouthfeel that lingers.

Overall: It honestly took a few pours and some time left out to turn from a highly metallic style toward something reasonable to drink; the burnt-malt note was consistent, however.  And while this doesn’t resemble the more developed fruits, vanilla, and smoke of the distillery-released 12 year old, to a certain degree it has its own charm.  I’d get it if you really like Bunnys and want another angle for a lowish price.  Or if you’ve got every other 40/40 bottle on our list and are keeping your own notes on the best bargain Scotches.  But for a cheap, smokier Islay, I’d go with Finlaggan every time.  I don’t really think it’s great as a light, subtle whisky, either.

Other Opinions: um, not many.  In fact, there’s none that I could find.  Just this DUNY blurb:

  • DUNY gets some of the tobacco and burnt (okay, “roasted”) malt, but finds a softer side to it.
Comments

40 Whiskies Under $40: Old Weller Antique Original 107

A Lake of Gold

I picked up a bottle of Old Weller Antique 107 after reading about the recent comparisons to the William Larue Weller bottle from this year’s Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.  I was not disappointed by the bottle or the value it offered.

Old Weller Antique Original 107 Brand Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Price Paid: $22

ABV: 53.5% (hence the 107)

Color: Golden Mahogany

Legs: Slow to form, impossibly slow to fall.  Medium sized.

Nose: A little one note, but you can work your way through it to find sweet butterscotch candy, caramel popcorn, banana runts.  I don’t get much vanilla, which for a bourbon, strikes me as odd.  It really is a sweetened fruit nose.  With water the vanilla comes out a bit more.

Old Weller Antique in the Late Afternoon

Palate: Lots of sweets.  The nose doesn’t lie.  There’s the vanilla caramel.  Honey.  Almost a sweet floral taste.  Really smooth with only a tinge of alcohol burn.  With water, it becomes a really sweet forward with a bitter behind it.

Finish:  A long, good and warming burn.  Stays sweet, not drying or cloying.  It ends up with actually a nice little bit of spice which I didn’t expect.

Overall:  This is a wonderful bourbon.  You can drink and drink and it won’t offer any disappointment or hit your bank account hard for that matter.  The juice is also pretty wonderful just because you can water it down (or not) to whatever your pleasure - at 53.5% alcohol, it’s a little strong (though manageable) but gives you enough room to alter it for those who aren’t used to anything above 40%.   The one issue I have is that because it’s a red plastic screw cap, it makes me feel like I have to apologize when I offer it to guests - when I have all these nice corked bottles sitting next to it, it makes it seem cheaper than it really is.  Regardless, for taste and value, I wholeheartedly recommend it for a sipper and as part of your cabinet.

Other Opinions:

  • Bourbon Enthusiast reviews are a bit all over the place.  But, lots of honey, fruit, caramel.  Some people find it thin, but I’m getting the sense that Old Weller Antique might shift a little from year to year.
  • Jason at SourMashManifesto tastes it at his pool table.  He and I agree on the nose and palate, though I seem to get more out of the finish than he does.  He still recommends it.
  • SouthCoastToday calls it a stronger Maker’s Mark, and gets more vanilla than I do
  • The venerable Sam Simmons (aka Dr. Whisky) starts off his review with “Fuck Scotch.”  I think he likes it, though definitely doesn’t find everything he wants.  Sam finds vegetables instead of fruit, but finds the same warming oak driven finish.
  • WhiskeyPro finds the floral notes I did.  Gives it a B+.
  • BourbonDork (nice name!) talks more about the variation between years and the dropping of the aged 7 years from the label.  He highly recommends.
  • LiquorLocusts discuss the merits of the new bottle vs. the old (finds it lacking like I did) in a strange, old-timey discussion, but overall recommends.
Comments

40 Whiskies Under $40: Isle of Skye 8 Year Old Scotch Whisky

Isle of Skye with a roaring fire

The name “Isle of Skye” would make any whisky lover think immediately of Talisker.  But this isn’t some cute-named independent bottling of Talisker, it’s a blended whisky containing elements of Speyside, Isle of Skye and grain whisky that make up a nicely balanced dram.  It comes from Ian MacLeod distillers, a family owned whisky company that owns the GlenGoyne Distillery.  Thanks to the folks at JVSImports, we got to try a little bit for our 40 under $40 series.

Isle of Skye 8 Years Old Scotch Whisky

Cost: ~$30

ABV: 43%

Color: orange gold

Nose: heather. brine. a tinge of smoke in the backseat and stone fruits. fruitcake and honey

Palate: a light mouth feel with a nice maltiness and faint citrus. a light honey and fruity sweetness with a swirl of smoke.  so far, not what i’m expecting from a peaty scotch.  you can find the pepper, but you also have to look for it.

Finish: the tinge of smoke builds a little, but in general still balances with the sweetness that has turned to cherries and honey with cracked pepper.

Overall: Isle of Skye is a good whisky.  It’s not really complex, but it does what blends should do - provides a nice balanced whisky to drink.  Despite the name Isle of Skye, it doesn’t have this huge peppery kick.  The smoke and the pepper hang back, letting the malt and the sweetness of speysides do most of the heavy lifting.  This is a good, light whisky.  Worthy of sharing with friends who might not be into whisky yet.  It won’t turn them off of smoke but it won’t necessarily encourage them, either.  Definitely worthy of a purchase, and a good value to have around for yourself or for folks who usually get scared off from whisky.

A Golden Compliment to a Cold Night

Other Opinions:

  • John Hansell finds the balance and the citrus and the honey in his review.
  • Peter at the Casks winds up liking it, but it takes him a while.  In his review, he doesn’t find the sweet and smoke as balanced as I did.
  • On Isle of Skye’s site, they have a quote from Jim Murray recommending the whisky to Islay-philes, which judging from what I and others got, doesn’t make much sense.  So it goes.
Comments

40 Whiskies Under $40: The Glenlivet 15 French Oak Reserve

William Wallace Doesn't Scream FrenchA bottle of George Smith’s Finest The Glenlivet 15 French Oak Reserve

The Glenlivet.  Or The Real Glenlivet.  There’s not much I can say about the distillery that hasn’t already been written somewhere.  The distillery was established in 1824 and has generally been killing it since.  So much so that until The Glenlivet fought for it, many whisky brands appended “Glenlivet” to their name just to try and get some positive glow from the brand name affiliation.  Even Macallan did it.   But that was then and this is now.  Does the legend hold?

The Glenlivet 15 Year French Oak Reserve

Half Full?  One Large Gulp To AnotherThe Glenlivet 15 French Oak Reserve

Color: a pale, pale gold

Nose: Strong brown sugar.  Almonds, vanilla, some freshly baked raisin bread and spearmint.  very delicious nose. there is a little bit of pine there, too.  Though you have to search for it.
Palate: very chewy.  a decent amount of oak and the raisin bread (though slightly less sweet) is still there.  a new cinnamon butter cookie is present, but there’s not as much favor as the nose promises.  Even with that, it’s very easy to drink.
Finish: the finish is very nice.  it’s long, drying, with an underlying sweetness and a minty tinge on top.  The finish lasts quite a bit.  A long drying sweet tinged deliciousness.
Overall: So the legend still holds.  This is a really delicious dram.  It’s one of those whiskies that surprises you with its drinkability, just because the flavor is somewhat complex and layered, but easily approachable.  It’s a great dessert dram and a price point of under $40 for a 15 year old whisky is pretty damn great.  Price paid: $39.99

Other Opinions:

  • Whiskyboys also like the dram, though find more wood than I did.  They all found it sweet, though.
  • The venerable Dr. Whisky finds loads in the nose from hippie oils to salty black licorice and contends that everyone will find something different.  Well put.  He also gets the dry finish but finds more in the palate than I do and equated Glenlivet cork popping sounds with flatulence.  Methinks the good Dr. enjoyed the whisky a bit much that night (though truth be told, there is NOT a satisfying pop on my bottle).
  • The average on For Peat Sake is a low 78 with descriptors like “Not Offensive” and “too much alcohol”, which frankly confuses me but so be it.
  • Peat and Smoke finds oak and spice as well, but agrees on some of the sweeter notes.  He thinks its too sophisticated and complex for a daily drinker.  Take that, stereotypes.

- StrongLikeCask

Comments

40 Whiskies Under $40: Grand Old Parr Aged 12 Years Deluxe Scotch Whisky

Not Grand Young ParrGrand Old Parr Aged 12 Years

Where to start with the Grand Old Parr? First, it’s a bottle you’d expect to remember from your grandfather’s shelf.  It’s opaque brown, with scales all over it.  It’s squat and multi-faceted, almost gem shaped.  It brings up thoughts of gilded mirrors and wrought iron fences.  You see it and think you made the score of the year, finding an antiquated bottle in a modern liquor store.  Even it’s name and label bring up thoughts that this bottle would be better suited on an episode of Mad Men than next to all the modern design from Highland Park and Balblair.

Regardless, it is situated there, somewhat hard to find (though under the umbrella of the giant Diageo), and under $40.  Why the name?  Old Tom Parr was an Englishman who lived until the age of 152 (supposedly), didn’t marry until age 80, had an affair and sired a child at 100, and then remarried at age 122.  Basically, he was strong like cask and Charles 1 had him buried in Westminster Abbey.  Old Parr also  comes in 15 and 18 year old age statements (which won Jim Murray’s whisky of the year and highest rating of 97/100 in 1997), though I have not seen these myself.

Color: Orange gold with a hint of yellow sun.

Legs: Slow to form, medium large, medium fast to fall.

Nose: Lots of honey.  Some raisins and cinnamon.  Good citrus - from orange.   Fresh baked biscuits (malt).

Palate: Still sweet.  Lots of malt and some tropical fruits up front, with a really nice hidden smoke that comes through midway through the taste.  The smokiness isn’t too-peaty, it’s nice.  A nod to what what smokier whisky brings.

Finish: The finish comes a bit quickly and is very dry, but after a beat of nothingness, a raisin-y sweetness comes back wearing a peat cape in to really finish up nicely and save the day.

Overall: This is a really nice drinker.  It’s refreshing and clean.  There’s no cloying aftertaste.  It develops nicely, and hits many different notes - all of them well.  It doesn’t blow me away, but the way this whisky bring its disparate parts together in such a harmonious and succinct way is great.  It’s a little less smoke than Johnnie Black, but not in a bad way.  I feel it’s a better blend.  It reminds me a bit of Chivas 12, though mixed with some Glenfiddich for the raisins and some Highland Park for that type of smoke.  I would totally buy this again, and would feel fine serving it to even the most discriminating drinker.  Price paid: $33
Other Opinions:

-StrongLikeCask

Comments

40 Whiskies Under $40: Macallan Fine Oak 10 Years Old

The Macallan is a brand that is no stranger to either the whisky novice or the whisky expert.  And with good reason; Macallan has a long history of making some delicious liquids.  We’ve done a tasting of Macallan here before, and WhiskyParty found that The Macallan 18 accomplished a perfect marriage of smokiness and creaminess.  That perfect marriage costs over $150.  The ability to include a Macallan whisky in a 40 under $40 post feels like an accomplishment in itself; The Macallan name is almost synonymous with luxury and quality.

You don’t have to look far for examples of that association -  The Macallan is the whisky that went into the World’s Most Expensive Cocktail in Dubai’s Burj Al Arab.   It is a whisky that comes in Lalique crystal.  It is even a whisky which can randomly advertise/partner with Panerai watches on The Macallan Website and almost succeed in not looking too ridiculous (almost).

The Macallan Fine Oak series was created in 2004 and comes in 10, 15, 17, 21, and 30 year expressions.  Very distinct from the more widely known sherried Macallans, the Macallan Fine Oak is triple cask matured in a combination of European sherry oak casks, American sherry oak casks, and American bourbon oak casks.

The Macallan 10 Fine Oak

ABV: 40%
Legs:
 Medium, very slow and clingy.
Color:
 Crystallized light gold.
Nose: Vanilla, oak, banana. Not necessarily the best nose, but a good light whisky nose.
Taste: Lots of wood and malt. The vanilla from the nose stays away at first though the bananas are still there, sweeter. There are also some berries present.
Finish: Short, puckering and at first drying. Spices become evident and then the vanilla creeps in with more of that hint of berries that then get the juices flowing.  It’s sweet and tasty yet over too soon.
Overall: Macallan 10 Fine Oak is just that - a fine, oaky whisky. It’s not great by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a good and decent whisky that though enjoyable to drink, just doesn’t overwhelm you with its charms.  It’s pretty interesting that you can taste the influence of both wood types (bourbon with the vanilla and sherry with the bananas and the berries).  When it comes down to it, perhaps the whisky is just still a bit young and needs more time to get some better flavors out of the wood - I remember really liking the Macallan 15 Fine Oak when I tried it, and everyone seems to love the Fine Oak 17.

So, this is a perfectly good whisky, and something nice to have on your shelf if you want to have a Macallan but don’t want to drop more money for the Fine Oak 15 or even twenty more dollars for the Macallan 12 (which is absolutely delicious). It’s just not the most standout whisky you can buy for under $40.

Other Opinions

  • John Hansell also finds the short finish with spice.  He gives it an 83 and wishes it were bottled at a higher ABV like its older brethren.
  • Review on the Rocks thinks it’s a “must buy” but doesn’t dive too deep into his notes other than saying that the nose is complex.  Proceed with caution on that review.
  • Some of the Finer Things got the sweetness but picked up some smokiness I didn’t find.  There was a claim made of Macallan bias, and that bias got the whisky a 9/10.
  • Connosr user ratings range from 7 to 8 with general agreements on the fruit, oakiness and vanilla.
  • The Whisky Exchange user comments are a little bit all over the place, but they carry the official tasting notes which mention the heather and fruits that others found.
  • The Boys of Bourbon (great name!) approve of the whisky with its subtly sweet taste.

-StrongLikeCask

Comments

40 Whiskies Under $40: The Arran Malt Non-Chillfiltered (NAS)

Reportedly, during the 19th century there were over fifty illicit distilleries making some of Scotland’s best whisky on the Isle of Arran.  That number diminished to zero until Harold Currie, former Managing Director of Chivas Brothers, founded The Arran Malt Distillery at Lochranza in 1995.  Using only traditional, wooden washbacks and copper stills, Arran now produces a nice range of (unpeated) expressions including 10 and 12 year olds and those with some interesting finishes.  This bottle intrigued me because of its non-chillfiltration, higher ABV, natural coloring, and sub-$40 price point.  On paper, it sounds great— but games are played between the lines.

Arran Non-Chillfiltered Island Single Malt (no age statement)

Abv: 46%

Color: Pinot grigio.

Legs: Big beads, fairly quick, but many of them and long legs.

Nose: A cloying caramelized fruit, sour cherries, pine resin, some perfumy lilacs, rotted wood.  Fairly bad.

Palate: Wood.  Lots of wood.  Sharp, biting, cheaply made wood.  Anything else?  Maybe a touch of cinnamon.  I don’t know.

Body: Medium; there is a touch of oiliness in there, but mostly you get an astringent sting.

Finish: Short but way too long.  Hot, dry, and awful.

Overall: Interesting Island locale?  Check.  Non-chillfiltered?  Check.  Nice strong ABV?  Check—46% (just a wee tad higher than that other Island malt, Talisker).  Under $40?  Check… Good?  Not check.  I thought our private barrel of Tuthilltown Single Malt (aged 7 months) was the worst single malt whisk(e)y that I had ever tasted, but this might take the proverbial cake.  Not having ever tried anything else by Arran, I don’t have much more to offer here, but if you’re an Island/Islay-phile in need of a go-to table bottle or are looking for an interesting new dram, there are way better options both at the bargain level and in the $40-60 range.  This bottle is reminiscent of a Ledaig, but truly a step or two down from that.  Pass on this one.

Retasting: Sometimes your tastebuds are off, or sometimes a freshly opened bottle is a little stiff at first.  Considering my thorough disgust, I felt that I needed to do a complete retasting one week later with a clean palate.  Basically, the results were the same.  With some water, the nose becomes softer, with orange rinds, but isn’t anything remarkable; the taste improves slightly (less tannic), but is similarly unremarkable.  But, I hear that the distillery is producing some very worthy malts as well, such as the Peacock expression.  Skip this, try those.

Other Opinions:

  • Malt Advocate, in 2003, liked it well more than myself, giving the “youthful… sweet [and] fiery” flavours an 80/100 rating.
  • MN and DB at Whisky Mag liked a 43% bottling (which is actually a different expression).
  • Serge has a reaction similar to my own: raw, perfumy, and bad.  65 points.
Comments

40 Whiskies Under $40: Yamazaki 12 year old

In the early 20th century Suntory Ltd. was primarily an importer of Spanish wines but began to make its own plum-based dessert liquor.  In 1923 its founder, Shinjiro Torri, capitalized on the sizable whisky market and founded the Suntory Distillery in the Vale of Yamazaki, between Kyoto and Tokyo.

Most of their (very lightly peated) barley is imported (from Australia, typically), but the natural water used for Suntory whiskies comes from wells right near the distillery and is relatively hard (ie, has a high mineral content, similarly to Highland Park and Glenmorangie).  While the sizes and shapes of the various stills used at Suntory differ greatly, they are all in the copper pot tradition, and the whisky is distilled twice.  The Yamazaki 12 year old expression comes from whiskies aged in three types of wood: American, Spanish, and Japanese oak.  The result is something not unfamiliar to Scotch drinkers, but at the same time is something unique.

Abv: 43%

Color:

[Mike F.]: Reflective copper; seems like a little fino sherry influence.

[Dan]: A nice full gold. Reminds me of gilded painting frames.

Legs:

[MF]: Great; many well-formed beads, slow, a little large, but long.

[Dan]: Super slow to form. Slow to fall. Medium sized.

Nose:

[MF]: Sticky apricots, lemon meringue, cherry penny candies, orange marmalade, cedar wood; with time in the open air it becomes waxy, and some of the dried fruits come into play.

[Dan]: Berries, apple jam, flowers and something(s) that I can’t place (seaweed? grilled or dried fish? crayons?).  There’s also a decent amount of vinegar there.

Palate:

[MF]: Not exactly what I expected coming off of the nose; maltier, bready, and spicier; some dried cranberries; a touch of mint, perhaps.

[Dan]: Short and mostly sweet. Malty. There’s a good amount of spice and fruit. The floral taste from the nose is also here. The taste almost is really just a short beginning that crescendos and transitions extremely smoothly into the finish.

Body:

[MF]: Light-to-medium, with just a slightly assertive mouthfeel.

Finish:

[MF]: Kind of long, big and slightly burning, but pleasant; ending on dried fruits, toffee, and cocoa powder.

[Dan]: Powerful and evolving. Hits both sweet and savory on the tongue, and almost gives you a spicy chili-pepper heat mouth feel. The lingering finish is coating and leaves you with a spicy sweet, almost fruity bubble gum taste.

Overall:

[MF]: A very good single malt; easily fits within the Speyside style, but is still not quite the same as any Scotch. Would have liked more going on with the palate, but nevertheless not a watery or unpleasant product at all. Well worth the $37 I paid for it at Binny’s.

[Dan]: Wow. I have to say that this ranks up there with some of the more interesting drams I’ve had. It seems crazy to write crayons for the nose, but that smell that you get when you first open a new box of Crayola really struck me. This dram is entirely unique, complex and delicious. I’m a little surprised that some of the maritime character I got on the nose wasn’t found in the whisky, but it didn’t really detract from all the wonderful flavors which were there. It’s my first foray into Japanese whiskies, and I am impressed. The way the entire whisky is balanced and fits together demonstrates some amazing craftsmanship. I highly recommend it. I have been looking for a dram to have for dessert, and I may have just found one.

Other Opinions: A range; generally a well-liked malt; the greatest agreement is on the floral nose.

  • MN and DB give it decent scores (8 & 7.75) at Whisky Mag.
  • Tastings.com finds it “exceptional,” noting a rich, sweet-fruit profile.
  • Jason’s Scotch Whisky Reviews finds it “interesting and totally inoffensive,” with malt, chocolate, spice, peat, and honey; he compares this “sweet whisky with drying qualities upon the finish” with Dalwhinnie.
  • Drink Hacker gives the fresh-fruit aromas and honey-like palate an A-.
  • Scotch Hobbyist likes this “dangerously drinkable” Speyside twin, for its overall pleasure if nothing else.
  • Nonjatta doesn’t have much love for the flowery nature of the drink.
  • Whisky Israel enjoys both the 12 and 18 year old, even though they are just a wee bit pricier in that market.
Comments

40 Whiskies Under $40: Tomatin 12 year old

We’ve already reviewed Trader Joe’s Tomatin 10 (available in CA), and Dan didn’t have much love for it.  But fortunately for the right-most 95% of the country (and the rest of the drinking world), Tomatin has an extremely affordable official 12 year old release into which they clearly put a lot of work.  Tomatin, in the Monadh Liath Mountains outside of Inverness, is at once one of the highest ditilleries (in terms of elevevation) in Scotland and one of the largest, with 12 working stills.  Most of their distillate goes into blends such as Antiquary, but since around 2008 they have been increasing their output of various single malt expressions.  This 12 year old comes from a lightly peated malting and is finished in sherry butts.

Tomatin 12 year old

Abv: 43%

Color: gasoline… in a good way.

Legs: medium beads (a little bit tight), with a kinda slow descent; not bad.

Nose: fresh cherries; slightly floral (rose petals; honeysuckle); a subtle maltiness; some pine notes; and then a little perfume, pineapples, and stewed apples develop with aeration.

Palate: nice honey, a good dose of vanilla malt; nuts (cashews?), a few spices, and then a nice amount of light and heathery smoke developing in the middle to end.

Body: medium; a touch flabby, with a watery front end, but still a good bit rounded and decent overall.

Finish: not huge; very subtle toffee at first, and then some very dried berries linger for a bit more, and numbing if you drink enough (which is easy to do).

Overall: Enjoyable.  A handful of pleasant flavours to ponder, and perfect for someone starting to get into Scotch since it hits a few different notes but is immensely easy to imbibe. There’s a nice subtlety to the taste; and yet it still imparts a balanced variety.  I almost want to say that this is the poor man’s Highland Park, what with its heathery peat and hint of sherry maturation… not to belittle it, though: Hanley Ramirez was once known as the poor man’s Jose Reyes. For the price ($29), a gem.  Dollar-blind… not amazing, but still nice.

Other Opinions: straightforward and malty, with some fruit, spices and nuttiness seeming to be a nearly general consensus.  Where I found honey up front, others seem to get some kind of seed oil.

  • neither MJ nor DB at Whisky Mag love it, and seem to (slightly) agree on the maltiness and nuttiness.
  • SMSMMS also noses a floral element and tastes some nutts, but like DB, gets a rubbery note, too; we’re in agreement on the value.
  • The great John Hansell likes the straightforward malt and “summer fruit,” but mentions the $60 18 year old as a great value… haven’t seen that one around much, though.
  • The Malt Imposter mostly just recites Robert Burns poems.
Comments

40 Whiskies Under $40: Chivas Regal 12

Chivas Regal 12

If you’ve been keeping up with the whisky blogosphere lately, you’ll have noticed that Pernod Ricard has been admirably putting their Chivas Regal 18 up against the much more expensive Johnnie Walker Blue.  The overall feeling (at least from those who are passionate enough about whisky to write about it on the internet) is that Chivas won, especially when it comes to value.

The whole episode made me realize I had been meaning to formally write down my thoughts on Chivas Regal 12.  My first real experience with Chivas Regal 12 was on an airplane from Tokyo, Japan to New York, NY.  The seats were small, and my not-huge backside and legs  seemed quite gigantically and erroneously large by Japanese coach standards.  Add in the fact that I was forced to watch a terrible movie three times (as the movie controls were broken), and you get the idea that my wedged-in cramped self was not necessarily a happy camper.  Enter slightly older but very nice Japanese stewardess with the drink cart.  I ask for whisky.  She offers me Jim Beam.  I realize I’m an idiot, and I ask for scotch.  She offers me Dewars or Chivas - I opt for the Chivas.  After the first glass (which interestingly gets poured out of a large bottle,  and not a single serving miniature), my day (or night with the time difference), improved.  After the second glass, new flavors came out of the blend, and the terrible movie seemed almost funny on the third time through.  After the third glass, I realized that I was taking part in the miracle of flight and I should be thankful.  And I was.

Chivas Regal Premium Scotch Whisky

Age: 12 Years Old

Abv: 40%

Color: Light gold

Legs: Medium Slow, Medium Large.  They stick to the glass and pause nicely before their fall.

Nose: Fruit, lemon, honey, freshly risen yeasty bread

Palette: sweet fruits, dried papaya.  citrus that evenly splices orange and lemon.  a bit of a rough wood.

Finish: tongue coating.  still sweet, and ends in a bit of a bitter burn.  the sweetness is once again a bit of the aspartame kind.  But, it doesn’t seem to detract too much from the rest of the dram

Overall: This is an easy and tasty whisky to drink.  I would give it an 83.  Some weeks after I got back home from my trip, I turned WhiskyParty onto the Chivas Regal 12 through a blind tasting.  He was also impressed.  Chivas Regal 12 didn’t hold the aura for me as it apparently enjoys in Europe and Asia, but it does now.  The whisky is not amazing.  It’s not a drop you on the floor stunner.  What it is, though, is really quite good.  What it is, is something I’m happy to have in my liquor shelf next to the Ardbegs, Glenrothes, Taliskers, Balvenies, etc.  And as we’ve mentioned on our blog before, we really like those ads.

Other Opinions:

  • ScotchHobbyist thought of it as an easy drinker, but he ranked it the least in a taste test among Glenfiddich and Glenlivet.  He got the sweetness, but thought it was weaker than those single malt entries.
  • LiquorLog pretty much loves it.  She finds a peaty aftertaste with a hint of smoke that I just didn’t get.  But, I’ve been known to not get some of the complexities that others get out of good whisky.
  • ForPeatSake gives it an average somewhere in the 70s.  The last review summed it up nicely, I think.  “I like this scotch. it really grows on you. The nose is really dull but this is still an easy drinking and speyside-like dram. Well made.”
Comments

40 Whiskies Under $40: Balvenie DoubleWood

The Balvenie is a distillery I seem to always hear quite a bit about, but tend to pass by to continue to purchase some of my other standards, or save up for some big purchase.  I decided the other day to give it a chance and purchase The Balvenie Double Wood, aged 12 years.

Balvenie Doublewood

The Balvenie distillery has been owned and managed by the same independent family company for 5 generations.  Which, in this day and age of consolidation and mass production, is pretty impressive.  Furthermore, this distillery is the only one that still grows its own barley, that it then malts in traditional floor maltings, and still has coopers to tend all the casks and a coppersmith for the stills.  Those last two points, whether or not they’re added just to give the distillery the “only” tag, are still pretty cool.  The act of coopering, and the skill that involves, is still pretty amazing.  Even if it is a standard amongst distilleries, I appreciate the fact that the distillery calls it out on their bottle.

The coopering is especially important for this release - the DoubleWood is matured in ex American Whisky-oak casks for the majority of its life, and then switched to a second aging in European Sherry Oak casks for  a “few” months.

Cost: $33

ABV: 43%

Age:12 years

Color: Reddish gold.  Very bright.

Legs: Medium large, medium slow.

Nose: Strong caramel.  A little vanilla, backed by apples, or maybe a little cinnamon cider.  Raisins.

Taste: The sherry is pretty powerful, but not in a bad way.  The caramel and the apples have fused and take a back seat to the sherry taste.  The caramel stays throughout, with the finish creating a really nice dried fruit taste. Maybe fig-like, maybe prune-like, but a sweetened fruit that puckers your tongue to give the impression of texture.

Overall: This is a really enjoyable whisky.  I purchased it thinking it might sit on the shelf while my islay whiskies were drained, and now there’s only about a quarter of a bottle left.  Frankly, it’s one of those whiskies that I feel some blenders try and create - something smooth to drink, with good notes of sweetness, but nothing too overpowering.  The fact that it’s an aged single malt makes that even more impressive.  The fruit is definitely strong, but it’s not cloying.  For $33 a bottle at 43%, I feel like I’m getting a really good deal.  Add in the fact that it’s aged in two different styles of barrels, where they explain how the barrels add various flavors to the dram on the bottle sleeve (and include a sweet pamphlet on the distillery’s history), thereby increasing the general knowledge of whisky to the public is icing on the cake.  I give this whisky, nothing amazing but a really tasty, strong showing of a daily drinker,  an 86.

Other Opinions: (please note that some of these are for the 40%abv version of DoubleWood)

  • Oak and Smoke likeys, concluding that ”The traditional whisky cask makes sure the DoubleWood grows up to be a fine, upstanding Scotch, while the sherry cask acts as a finishing school designed to add depth and character.”
  • ForPeatSake is a little bit all over the place.  I’d say the average review here is in the mid-80s.
  • Chatterwocky, though thinking the scotch stands up pretty well claims “The Balvenie Doublewood couldn’t compete with his 15- and 21-year Balvenies, or the Islay syrup that knocked my dick in the dirt.”  Alright then.
  • TastingNotesPeriodical in what I hope is a continuing trend writes a haiku
    "Seduced by honey,
    The whisky I was promised
    Toasts the end of stress.”
  • TheAspiringGentleman finds more alcohol burn at 40% than I did at 43%.  He did get some of the same mouthful feel and delicous caramel (he doesn’t even wash the glasses so he can nose the next day).
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40 Whiskies Under $40: Finlaggan Islay Single Malt Whisky Old Reserve

Trader Joe’s in California have to live up to a pretty impressive reputation.  There’s decent, healthy, cheap food.  There’s 2 buck chuck.  And there are great deals on liquor.

I posted previously on their current line up of Trader Joe’s single malt bottlings, and unfortunately, though I think it’s great to have them at a price point of $30 (and pretty cool to be able to try silent distilleries like Imperial), they weren’t really all that tasty.  They were boring.  Uninteresting.  Definitely something I’d pass on, especially since TJ’s sells Laphroaig 10 (oh, how we droogs at WhiskyParty.net  love our Laphroaig 10) for $33.

But for today’s 40 Under $40, I purchased another single malt that seems exclusive (at least in the US) to Trader Joe’s.  I purchased Finlaggan Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky Old Reserve.  This dram, made by the Vintage Malt Whisky company, is not expensive.  I purchased this 750ml bottle for a price of $17.99.  That’s right.  Single malt whisky for less than $20, it’s going to be bad.  Even McClelland’s Islay Single Malt which we reviewed here wasn’t terrible, but it was $4 more expensive at $21.99.  This was going to be Scottish, and it was going to be Crrrapp.

But wait - what’s that sticker on the bottle?  Is that?  Really?  Why, yes, it is.  This whisky, that sells for $17.99, won a Gold Award at the International Wine and Spirit Competition (in 2000)?   And after tasting it, it’s easy to see why.

Finlaggan Old ReserveFinlaggan Old Reserve

Price: $17.99

Abv: 40%

Color: light gold, almost like a watered down apple juice.

Legs: small and slow.

Nose: coal, a tinge of maritime saltiness, an almost chalky, sticking burning smell that gets a bit medicinal underneath.

Palate: burnt barley with a foundation of mellow sweetness.  A good amount of peat that doesn’t coat.  I’m failing a bit at grasping the sweetness.  It’s almost candy-like, though not at all too sweet.  I want to say there’s a faint burnt caramel flavor in there, but only the burnt part, no caramel.   There’s a bit of wood, but the peat overpowers a bit.

Finish: the build is nice, but it doesn’t crescendo to where I thought it might reach.  It fades fairly quickly leaving some smoke, but also a bit of a bad aftertaste.  It’s not completely bad, it’s just not as great as the palette promises.  It becomes sort of a reedy burn.

Overall: So the finish isn’t long.  Go suck an egg.  This is a fantastic Scotch.  Seriously.  It would be a fantastic Scotch at a price point more than twice what it costs.  It’s got smoke, it’s got sweet, and the nose is just right.  It’s not terribly complex, but neither was The Big Lebowski, and that didn’t stop it from being spectacular.  There’s a reason why my bottle has only about two drams left in it, and I’m just getting to this review now.  Delicious.  If you’re at a Trader Joe’s that sells liquor, you have no excuse not to pick this up.  Also, to speculate, I would say that this is an independent bottling of Caol Ila, but nowhere is that identified on the bottle.

On the bottle it says: ”Many centuries ago, the Lords of the Isles ruled Scotland from their stronghold of Finlaggan Castle on Islay, but today it’s Malt Whisky of which legends are made.”

Other Reviews:

  • Jim Murray, as quoted on the bottle, says “BRILLIANT…This is simply awesome.  If you don’t get a bottle of this, You’ll regret it for the rest of your life!”
  • Reviews on Peat’s Sake are mixed.  The bottle there is different.  Though the first guy that says you might as well drink gasoline should go back to his Zimas.
  • The Whisky Exchange has no reviews, but they sell the bottle for about the equivalent of $36 USD.  So, I’m just posting it because there are many things that I want from the Whisky Exchange and can’t get over in the states.  This is obviously not one of them.
  • Badger and Blade is positive.  Folks there posit it’s either a young Lagavulin or a young Bowmore (7 years).
  • Whisky-Distilleries suggests that it’s either Lagavulin, Caol Ila, or Laphroaig.
  • Whisky Intelligence enjoys it and concludes that it’s “a great dram for the peat heads in a social setting with friends.”
  • Luca at MaltManiacs gives it an 88.
Comments

40 Whiskies Under $40: The Trader Joe’s Collection - Tomatin 10, Imperial 12, Aberlour 12

Trader Joe's Single Malt Whisky Collection (Sept 2009)Trader Joe’s Single Malt Whisky Collection (Sept 2009)

One of the great things about Trader Joe’s in San Francisco (or, California if you will) is that they sell liqour.  Cheap.  They might be known for two buck chuck, but when you can pick up a Laphroaig 10 for $32, you’re doing pretty well (interestingly enough, CostCo sells Laphroaig 10 for $24 out here.  Yeah.  Wow.)

In addition to selling name brands of liquor, Trader Joe’s does what they do with everything else, that being selling their own brand.  In addition to a blend, they have branched out to Single Malt Whisky.  They’ve been doing this for a while, but I just moved out here again.  I’ve decided to review the single malts they had on hand when I went to TJ’s last time.  These are a Tomatin 10 year old, imported/bottled by WM Maxwell & Co, Ltd, and an Imperial and Aberlour 12 year old imported and bottled by Alexander Murray & Co.  i was pretty excited by the Imperial bottling because it’s a silent distillery, not too easy to try a single malt from, especially at an under-$40 price point.

Trader Joe’s Single Malt Collection : Tomatin

Age : 10 Years Old

Maturation : Bourbon Oak casks

Paid : $29.99

Alc/vol: 40%

Color: dull gold, that seems thin and reflective

Legs: large, really quick beads.  they almost don’t form - you just see the tails

Nose : some pear.  woods, sweetness that’s barely vanilla, candied apples.

Palette: saccharin orange, the scotch burn.  goes from wetness to harshness really quickly.  a tinge of vanilla, but more of a cloying alcohol.

Finish: Cherries and some rubber.  It’s a little harsh, most of it ends quickly, though there’s a lingering bitterness.

Overall:  Hmmm.  I have high hopes for these whiskies.  I love that Trader Joe’s does this.  But this whisky was pretty underwhelming.  The best part was the nose, and even after three small sips, my mouth is a little numb from the over-ripeness of the dram.

Score : 6.5/10

Trader Joe’s Single Malt Collection : Imperial

Age : 12 Years Old

Maturation : Bourbon Oak casks

Paid : $29.99

Alc/vol: 40%

Color: slight reddish yellow gold

Legs: medium sized, medium speed beads

Nose : varnish, maraschino cherries, slight vanilla

Palette: really bitter toffee that’s been burned (slight smoke though not much).

Finish: Creme brulee, really dry

Overall:  Once again, this isn’t terrible, but it’s not great.  The whisky just doesn’t seem all that complex, and the notes that it hits are all not impressive ones - overly sweet without being refreshing, tartly dry, and bitter.  I love that scotch can taste like this, but it leaves a coat on my mouth that’s just not what I’m going for.

Score : 7/10

Trader Joe’s Single Malt Collection : Aberlour

Age : 12   Years Old

Maturation : Bourbon Oak casks

Paid : $29.99

Alc/vol: 40%

Color: the reddish of the lot, bloody sun, really.

Legs: well this shows promise - pretty small and very slow

Nose : vanilla, pine forest, really fresh and clean, with a bit of alcohol burn

Palette: cotton candy, blood oranges.  I get an almost pickled chutney taste before giving way to the finish

Finish: A warm, lasting, bitter.  There’s a hint of sweetness, but mostly just a burn.

Overall: I think this was a bit better than the Imperial, and in line with other Aberlours i’ve had (I’m not the biggest fan).  It’s a decent drink, but again, nothing to which I’m looking forward to going back.  There are just other whiskies that are tastier, especially with Laphroaig 10 to be had at the same location for only 2 dollars more.

Score : 7.2/10

I think that my general preference for Islay keeps me from loving these scotches.  But, they just didn’t live up to the hype.  I was quite excited to buy them when I saw them, though now I almost feel as though I’m stuck with slightly undrinkable bottles that will continously be passed over.  All is not lost for the 40 under $40, though.  Trader Joe’s has a few other selections (not branded, though) which have blown my mind away.  I’ll do a tasting soon (and I’ll probably have to, as the bottle is already half gone).  But, I’d have to give a pass on these 3.  My fellow bloggers, Dodgydrammer and Whiskyparty tend to go for Speysides more than I do, so I’ll try to get them some samples to add to this review.  And, as has been said many times over, there’s really no such thing as a bad sotch.  However, unfortunately for these three, there’s such a thing as a better scotch.

Other Opinions

  • John Hansell seems to like the Imperial (and get way more out of it) here
  • Ganga at the WhiskyMag forum seems to like these better, too.  Check it out here
  • A Chowhound community post switches between bland and good here
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40 Whiskies Under $40: McClelland’s Single Malt Islay Scotch Whisky

McClelland’s Single Malt Islay Whisky McClelland’s Single Malt Islay Scotch Whisky, distilled and bottled by T.A. McClelland Limited, Glasgow (a subsidiary of Bowmore which is itself a subsidiary of Suntory) This is the Islay Region representation put out by McClelland as part of their Single Malt Range. Included in this range are the Islay, a Lowland, Speyside, Highland, Highland Sherry Finished 12 Year, and an Highland 16 year. From what I can find, the whisky in this representation is 5 years old, but I am unable to locate from which distillery this whisky actually comes (though it is rumored to be Bowmore - I just question that based on the quality of this whisky). Andrew Jefford has a very interesting article on the origins of this whisky here. I applaud the price points on this whisky, but wish there were more information out there. The bottle and case designs, done by British artist Kathy Wyatt are quite pretty, though. Price: $21.99 Abv: 40% Color: copperish gold. Legs: medium large, pretty quick. Nose: brine, chlorine, saltwater taffey, and a grassland brush fire just started. Palate: a blunt dullness up front, sort of obscures the tastebuds for a while. It opens up after a second into a peppery bitterness. A little bit of smoke there but not too much. More pepper than smoke, but the smoke builds throughout. Finish: it’s there, continuing to build from the palate. Surprisingly strong considering the weakness of the palette and the initial nothingness. Once again, it’s more pepper than smoke, though. Overall: this is a pretty good drinker. I wouldn’t say it’s a great representation of an Islay, though. There’s not enough smoke, more bitterness than sweetness. But to get a single malt from Islay for $22? Seems like it would be a great bottle to bring out when friends are over wanting to finish a bottle. Or, maybe even a great bottle to demonstrate how ice ruins your tastebuds. I just know that I like some blends better, and when it comes down to it, this tastes pretty much like a “scotchy” blend, rather than an Islay single malt. Which, come to think of it, might not turn many people onto single malt, so maybe don’t serve it… However, check out Finlaggan Old Reserve for a great value ($18!) on a quality Islay single malt. Other Reviews: All you really need is For Peats Sake. Lots of reviews here. McClelland’s website gives some tasting notes itself here. Though, I really can’t quite get where they got their citrus notes, malted vanilla, or burnt oak.

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