Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Four Roses OESF, 52.4% (Selected by Twin Liquors in Austin, TX)

Warehouse: AN, Barrel No. 14-1K, Aged 9 years and 8 months, Bottled: November 2015.

Continuing the "Twin Liquors" theme, I recently snagged their pick of OESF, which was generously set aside for me by their staff. Who could blame them for giving me special treatment? My ferocious integrity is matched only by my staggering humility.

When it comes to Four Roses, I'm a huge mark (wrestling term: big fan). They use non-GMO corn, interesting proprietary yeasts, and their Single Barrel is my house bourbon. It's extremely rare to get a "bad" bottle of Four Roses, and their single barrel picks are as good as any bourbon out there.

Back in the day, you could get all ten recipes easily at K&L and Binny's for around $50, but prices have eked up to $65-80 at most retailers, while supplies of the various recipes have dried up. I tend to prefer OBSK and OESK recipes, but let's try this one, with the "F" yeast (herbal). 

And yeah, that nose is herbal, but in a unique way, like Thai basil. The note carries through the palate, with perfume/floral sweetness and a dynamic spicy finish. There's a ton going on here, with a level of quality that approaches the Limited Edition Small Batch. Yes, it's that good.

Most bourbon tastes so generic. This one has spunk.

88 pts/B+. This is so good that the CIA's "Vault 7" system recording this post should alert its handlers to try a bottle. Wait, it's sold out. 

John J. Bowman Single Barrel (100 proof)

Twin Liquors recently held their "$1 Sale" where everything is marked down to the wholesale price and they add $1. It produces some astonishing values--and even more remarkable damage to my bank account. It's a mad-dash the morning of the sale, with a line snaking around the block, though far more polite than those horrifying videos on Black Friday where Wal-Mart shoppers tear each other apart for a $5 waffle maker.

While walking around with my full shopping cart, I decided to add this Bowman Single Barrel for $26, because why the hell not? 

And I'll be damned if this one isn't a little engine that could.

It shows a surprisingly good nose, with lots of cinnamon and chocolate. And it's not too sweet, with plenty of rye spice, and a good bit of oak in the long finish. It tastes cask strength and has plenty of heft throughout, without being alcoholic. In fact, it's far more akin to the better bottles of E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof.

So, yes, color me shocked: this is actually a really nice bottle. Back in the day, the Bowman bottles were incredible, esp. the older ryes and bourbons selected by The Party Source. But then Bowman started doing gingerbread and coffee finishes, and the gimmicks seemed too silly to try. As a result, I never bothered to try the Single Barrel.

Maybe the triple distillation knocks out the nasty note that I usually find in so many BT products? And this is a single barrel, so expect some variation in your bottle, but I'd buy more of this. 

One suggestion to BT: how about some info on the cask? If it's a single barrel, put the details on the bottle, gang. There's nothing to be found, so how can I know if I'm buying the same one next time? A bizarre oversight that should be corrected. Better yet, just make me the CEO and I'll scream "you're fired" at whoever designed the deficient label.

85 pts/B. For $35, it's a solid value in today's market. If you're considering donating to the ACLU or Planned Parenthood, please spend your money on this instead.

Blanton's Single Barrel, 93 proof (Selected by Twin Liquors in Austin, TX)

Bottled: 9/26/16, Barrel No: 89, Rick No: 15, Warehouse H. 

Twin Liquors is the best chain retailer in Austin: unlike the big-box stores (Specs, Total Wine), they don't just treat me like a number and farm out their best stuff to bars. They appreciate their real whisky fans--especially one as transcendently brilliant as me--so when something fun arrives, they set it aside.

Recently they got some bottles of their Blanton's store pick, which you don't often see these days. I'm a big fan of Blanton's Straight from the Barrel, which I routinely order from Europe. But the regular Blanton's never wowed me. Nevertheless, who am I to control my impulses? If you put bottles in front of me, I'm helpless. Student loan payments can come later.

The nose is generic Buffalo Trace, in a good way, with few of the overly-acidic notes that I dislike in their lesser casks. And it's pleasant to drink, though hardly earth-shattering. Some light fruit, rye spice, and a breezy kiss of oak. It's well balanced, but tastes so dilute for some reason. A middle-of-the-road bourbon. Fine but forgettable. Blind, you might guess it was Eagle Rare 90 proof, which isn't a compliment.

Lately, some have said that Buffalo Trace has been offering weaker slates of casks to retailers, so perhaps that was the case here.

82 pts/B-. Ehhhh, it's inoffensive and easy to sip. But I need a bourbon that shocks my conscience and terrorizes my dreams.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

1792 "Barrel Proof", 125 Proof (Selected by Warehouse Beverages in Austin, TX)

A few months ago, Sku of Recenteats (I swear, I'm not stalking him) recommended 1792 Barrel Proof, so I tried it. Granted, if Sku told me to drink rancid arsenic, I would, but I was skeptical, since I've never enjoyed 1792 Small Batch or Very Old Barton. In fact, the only Barton Distillery product I ever liked was their rye that got bottled as High West 16 year and blended into the original batches of High West Rendezvous.

But in a mild shock, the 1792 Barrel Proof was quite solid: a big honey-bomb, but a guilty pleasure.

Then I was at Costco on Saturday and took a detour to peruse the wares of their sister store, Warehouse Beverages. And damned if I didn't see a store pick of 1792. So, for $40, I made the plunge and decided not to spend that money to replenish my diminished stocks of wild salmon and organic coconut milk.

The nose is all cotton candy and toasted bread, and it's more of that on the palate: very sweet, but a good dose of earthiness and clove spice. Nothing overwhelming in terms of complexity, but it's a real crowd-pleaser. It does well with a drop of water but doesn't need it. This is a sugar bomb, which means I should hate it, but it's kind of endearing in this case.

It's interesting enough for a mean-spirited dork like me, but approachable for noobs. And I prefer this cask to the on-the-shelf version. 

84 pts, B. Malt-heads will think it's sugary poison, and normally I'd agree, but somehow I'm charmed by its vacuous simplicity.

Whistlepig 10 Year Single Barrel, 117 Proof (Bottled for Total Wine in Austin, TX)

My relationship with high-rye ryes is mixed. The MGPI/LDI ryes (95% rye) usually tasted like dill pickle juice to me. But the first batches of Jefferson's Rye, Masterson's Rye, and Whistlepig Rye (all made from 100% ryes distilled at Alberta Distillers) were really good, B+ stuff.

Then Jefferson's Rye disappeared, and the last few bottles of Whistlepig and Masterson's that I bought were mediocre or worse.

So with some trepidation, I bought this Total Wine single cask on sale ($60). And that meant me standing around in the store for 10 minutes, contemplating the decision as if I were about to use the nuclear codes. Such a drama queen.

Good news. This is a return to the best batches of yore, and then some. Yes, it's got some of those mint/rosemary/dill notes, but it's not pure pickle juice. Instead, it's got enough cinnamon and oak to balance it out, with a nice honeyed sweetness on the front end.

For $60, this is a hell of a bargain. If you enjoy rye at all, you'll love this.

87 points/B+. After the first bottle, I bought 4 more the same week, if that's any indication of my sincerity.



Old Forester 1920 "Prohibition Style" 115 Proof

My spirit animal of spirits, Sku at RecentEats, has recently been "loooosing his religion"--e.g., struggling to find whiskeys worth reviewing. And, like him (nay, because of him), these days I'm more interested in Armagnac and cask-strength Cognac/rum, but in Texas, there just isn't much to go around and getting bottles shipped here is a hassle because of onerous state/federal regulations from bureaucrats working to preserve retailer oligopolies. But I digress.

Sku recently broke his pseudo-embargo and reviewed Old Forester 1920, after crowd-sourcing some recommendations (and ignoring mine, hrrrrmph!). He gave it a "B" on LA Whisky Society and wrote positively about it on the blog. So is it possible that I'm going to disagree with him? It so rarely happens...

Uh oh: it's got a generic high-rye bourbon smell, like burnt pepper and minty toilet cleaner. We might call that a "soapy nose." Nothing bad, just reminds me of generic Buffalo Trace juice, though obv. this is from the dreaded Brown-Forman. 

Without water it' Pretty hot, a bit too sweet upfront, the rye notes are disjointed, and there's a bitter/burnt plastic note on the finish that's unpleasant. Again, not horrible, but blind, I'd guess it was the loathsome Stagg Jr.. By the way, how can Stagg Jr. be so vile but Blanton's Straight From the Barrel is usually so delightful? Side issue.

Ok, so let's add a few drops of water, as Sku suggested. Of course, I'm using reverse-osmosis filtered water, which you can buy for 39 cents/gallon at the grocery store. Reverse-osmosis removes the toxic fluoride, pesticides, chlorine and trace pharmaceuticals in the municipal tap water. Plus, it's better for the whisky. 

It brings out some of the fruitier notes (prunes?) and tames the bitterness a bit, but I'm still unimpressed. Again, it's passable and borderline-decent, but I'd much rather drink Henry McKenna BIB for less than half the price, or even Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond for $13. Or Four Roses Single Barrel, or Wild Turkey Russell's Reserve Single Barrel. Or...well, you get the damned idea.

I got this on super-sale for $45, but even at that price, I can't recommend it. I usually detest Brown-Forman whiskeys and this one joins the club.

Forgive me, Sku.

Without water: 74 points/C. Blech.

With water: 78 pts/C+.  The only reason that the bottle is so depleted is that I gave a bunch to friends with lesser palates.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Dickel 9 year old (103 proof) Selected by Twin Liquors, Austin, TX

There's a bunch of overpriced indie-cask Dickel on the market these days (Barrell Bourbon, I'm looking at you).

But it wasn't long ago that Dickel put out a barrel selection program to retailers, featuring 9 year old and 14 year old single casks at affordable prices. This one, from Twin Liquors in Austin, TX, was a mere $35, as compared to the $90+ that Barrell costs. And Dickel is one of the most under-appreciated distilleries: their Dickel #12 is a rock-solid bottom-shelfer and the 14 year old casks from different retailers were usually dynamite.

Is this one any good?

It smells like a liquified Snickers bar: nougat, nuts and milk chocolate. Blind, I'd guess this was a wheater. Normally I'm sensitive to sugary notes and throw a tantrum, but this is fantastic.

But it's thin on the palate, even at 103 proof. It's not bad, just reminds me of a mediocre bottle of Maker's Mark Cask Strength. But with a few drops of water, it opens up nicely and a cherry note develops. It's a major difference. Now, it's not particularly complex, but it's just like the nice parts of Dickel #12 turned up, with lots of burnt sugar. 

Normally, I'm hesitant to add water, and passionately insist that anyone using ice cubes with a good bottle is a subhuman troglodyte. Also, what's with these clowns who mix beautiful whiskys into cocktails? Such dadaist, nihilistic fools! Whisky is art; appreciate the great works of beauty. What you're doing is like using a Cézanne as a placemat. 

Anyway, a few drops of reverse-osmosis filtered water, using my trusty eye-dropper, can drastically change certain whiskeys, and this is one of those cases. Now, unlike another blog (that I quite like) I won't proof it down to 50%, then 45%, then 40%, then 12%...and so on, giving separate scores for every level. 

Without water: 82 pts, B-. Pleasantly corny but hardly something I'd reach for.

With water: 86 pts, B. Tastes like high-quality carnival Kettle Corn, with enough toasty notes to make it interesting.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Chateau de Briat 2000 Bas Armagnac Bacco, 46%, 15 years old (selected by Chambers St. Wines)

Chambers St. Wines in NYC has a real appreciation for Armagnac and picked this single cask of Briat. So let's give it a whirl.

There's a lot of honey and ginger on the nose, like a sweet, ginger beer cocktail or maybe a well-made Manhattan.

And that's what it tastes like, honey and ginger/lemongrass. For such a young Armagnac, there's a big dose of wood and that tangy, bitter citrus note that I dig. It verges on being a tad soapy, but it's not a major detraction. Blind, I would have guessed it was much older.

Sku (of RecentEats) found the 1995 Briat from K&L to be too bitter, but I'd say that's not the case here.

This is a good one for bourbon lovers.  Definitely on the sweeter side, but enough spice to balance it out. Easy drinker and a good price.

86 pts, B/B+. Excellent pick by Chambers St. Wines. Available here.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Springbank 15 year (46%) B14/513

Springbank 10 year is my house malt, because it's the perfect blend of peat and sherry: complex enough for a world-class authority like me, but approachable enough for the lowly proles. 

Much like Serge Valentin, I'm a total Springbank mark (it's a wrestling term, meaning "true-believing fan"). It's the truest craft distillery: largely done by hand, eschewing mechanization to employ a large swath of Campbeltown, constantly experimenting, run by an eccentric visionary, and turning out some of the best damned malt, year after year.

Yet somehow I never got around to trying the newest batch of 15 year, so let's take this journey together, hand-in-hand. It will be our safe space.

It's pretty damned good. Not quite the level of the 10 year, but similar. It's kind of like a really accurate tribute band. Have you ever seen "Dark Star Orchestra" cover the Grateful Dead? Same deal here.

The sherry is much drier than the 10 year, allowing the grassy peat and mineral notes to shine through more brightly. The finish is much peatier than the 10 year as well, likely on account of the muted sherry. It's the "new car smell" peat that reminds me I need to clean out my back seat, which is filled with wrestling posters and vintage disco shirts.

86 points/B. I'd still reach for the 10 year over this, but if I got it as a gift, I'd send a snail mail "thank you" card on proper stationary. That's not an invitation to bribe me.


Port Askaig 16 year (45.8%)

Off-label Caol Ila! It's kind of like buying the CVS brand of Aspirin. If this were purchased at Wal-Mart, it would be labeled "Great Value Islay 16 year."

So is it a great value? Nah, it's really just so-so.

There's nothing wrong with it: a nice grassy peat on the nose and a fine start on the first sip, but the finish falls off a cliff. It's watery and vanishes before it even starts.

A pleasant, if generic Islay, that starts strong and sputters out.

80 points/B-. This varies batch to batch, so for record purposes, this is the current one. I, however, do not vary, as I'm consistently remarkable in every way.

BenRiach 15 year (Batch 12) Single Cask (56.1 %)

Distilled: 8/12/1999 Bottled: 06/2015; Oloroso Sherry Puncheon Cask #8687, 655 bottles.

Somebody just told me that my I have "the best whisky palate of anyone on the internet." Now, granted, that was me talking to myself, but one thing's for sure: I'm so generous to keep sharing my incredible genius with you, one review at a time.

So, in keeping with the BenRiach theme, here's a non-peater single-cask from Europe. 

It smells like a high-rye bourbon. Blind, I might have guessed it was a Four Roses.

And it kind of  tastes like Four Roses too, how odd. It's all over the place, with a floral/perfume spice, some graham crackers, and a dry finish. There's some moderate sulfur here, so if you're sensitive to that, you'll only taste matchsticks, burnt plastic and exploded fireworks. 

It's a bone-dry sherry affair, not sweet at all. A fun cross-over spirit for bourbon-lovers.

85 points/B. I wouldn't rush to get a bottle, but it's unusual and worth a try if you can tolerate the sulfur, as I can.


BenRiach 20 year Single Cask (51.8%)

Distilled: 1995, Bottled:2015, Oloroso Sherry Butt, Cask #7377, 636 bottles. Bottled for Premium Spirits Belgium.

Awesome, this is peated! I didn't know when I ordered the sample.

It smells fantastic, with the "fresh asphalt"/"bonfire of rubber"/"new leather jacket" that you find in peated BenRiach, but some dry sherry notes too that round it out. It's a joy to nose.

Quite sweet upfront, really a lush sherry, and then a big blast of smoke at the end, with the peat really creeping up. This has to be peated to least 40 ppm, and probably higher, since it tastes as gnarly as Laphroaig.

If you've enjoyed the peated/sherried Ledaig indie casks that have come out in the past couple of years, you'll love this. It's a great mix of sweet and peat, and easily the equal of some of the better indie Islay sherry casks of the same age.

90 pts/A-. This tastes like the first batches of Ardbeg Uigaedail. Yes, it's that good. So, do me a favor and don't buy any, I'm planning to hoard.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Arran 10 year old Bere Barley (56.2%)

Distilled: 2004, Bottled: 2014, 4890 bottles.

It smells like Play-Doh and crayons, so keep this one away from small children.

On the palate, it's a zesty, lemony affair. Tart citrus and pepper, with a big sugary kick on the end. Usually the sweetness of a malt shows up in the beginning, but here, it's on the finish and it's a bit much. Maybe an active bourbon cask, or perhaps the result of the bere barley. But it's too Sprite-ish for my wheelhouse.

This is a unique flavor, but I actually preferred the Bruichladdich Bere. That said, it's rather unlike anything else on the market . . .  other than the aforementioned Bruichladdich. 

Shows how the malt varietal really matters, and why distilleries should continue to innovate with different strains. Westland is doing this and others should follow. Sometimes we get an "organic" or "local barley" batch from smaller distilleries like Springbank or Bruichladdich, so let's hope they try more different malt grains as well. 

82 points/B-. Nice, but a bit too sweet. For those looking for a totally off-the-wall malt that tastes like Fresca, this is the ticket.


Elements of Islay: Lagavulin "Lg5", 54.8% (NAS)

It's delightfully farmy and smells like the barnyard at the State Fair: manure and hay. Or, if you prefer to step off the livestock side, it's reminiscent burnt bread and urinal pucks. Fantastic! Very true to the Lagavulin style.

And on the palate, it's a total peat explosion. It's one note, and it's playing it at 11 on the amp: grassy, fruity and huge smoke. There's no beginning/middle/end. It just devastates the tongue and you go with it. And it's that lemony peat that makes Lagavulin so wonderful, with very little cask influence.

This is better than the last few batches of Lagavulin 12 year and 16 year. I actually said "wow" when drinking it, which, for a super-villain/expert like me, is rare.

90 points/A-. Why did I only buy that one tiny sample? Time to stock up. Rather shocked at how good this is.


Jacky Navarre Vieille Reserve Cognac (45%)

Any tasting notes here will just bastardize the beauty of this bottle. But I'm an egomaniac, and brevity was never my strong suit.

It's got the best nose of any Cognac I've ever encountered. It's so dry that nose bleeds might occur. Sherry and cinnamon abound. If you like syrupy Cognac, look elsewhere.

The taste is explosive: fruit like an old, dry sherry; spice that reminds me of the Underberg bitters--a botanical, herbal kick; and the oak keeps it together without causing a fuss. The finish is long with the rosemary spice dominating.

Despite being only 45%, it tastes far more viscous (in fact, I'd have guessed it was ~50%). Since it's proofed down naturally, that likely accounts for the lack of watery notes.

This blend is a triumph.  I've read that Nic Palazzi considers it the crown jewel of his spirits portfolio, and it's easy to guess why. It's a work of art; the Cognac that can create believers out of skeptical whisky geeks. It's not dilute or boring, never delicate or dull, and is better than most of the best malts and bourbons. Every time I drink it, new flavors appear. It's the mark of a truly complex spirit.

Sku, my spirit animal of spirits, also loved it.

93 pts, A. "Stunning" is an understatement. This is the President Trump of Cognac: revolutionary, bold, and something everyone can appreciate.

Lemorton 6 Year Old "Reserve" Calvados Domfrontais

To celebrate President Trump's tour de force press conference today, I thought I'd review another widely-available Calvados. What's the connection between Trump and apple brandy? Zero--the same amount of journalistic integrity that so many media propagandists continue to display.

Why is there so much alcohol on the nose for an 80 proof brandy? It's smells spicy in an "antiseptic cleaner" type of way, like Lemon Pledge. It's not bad, but a tad chemical for my style, like if I continued to nose it, it would actually be considered illegal huffing because I could start to get high off the fumes.

Also, what's with the dark brown color? This is a 6 year old Calvados, so why does it resemble a 30-year-old Glendronach first-fill sherry cask? I have to imagine someone at Lemorton got a bit heavy-handed with the E150 caramel coloring or are using some tiny barrels (if not quarter casks, perhaps sixteenth-casks).

And it basically tastes like it smells: some fruity sweetness upfront, moderate generic spice, and that weird chemical/burnt plastic note again on the finish. I had no trouble finishing a glass, but that might say more about my own issues.

I want to be an evangelist for Calvados, but this bottle isn't my ministry. 

75 Points/C. Drinkable, but little more. When unwanted guests come to the house, I'll let them finish the rest and tell them it's "the Pappy Van Winkle of Calvados."

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Westland 2016 "Peat Week" 100 proof (NAS)

Westland is the only "craft" distillery in America that I adore. I've visited thrice and have been consistently impressed with their single casks and shelf releases.

And they're making so many exciting advances with domestic peat and special barley, farmed in Washington state. We ought to commend their sincere commitment to innovation, and their first "all Washington" peated bottles should start coming out in 2018, I believe.

So let's test out this 2016 "Peat Week" edition, which is made with barley that isn't peated at Westland.

It's a light peat on the nose, the "fresh asphalt" kind you might find in a peated BenRiach or Jura. That's not a bad thing, but it's not the Islay kind you might be used to. There are some graham cracker notes too and sweet malt.

And it tastes like that too: light peat, toasted bread and moderate spice. It's quite sweet (likely a result of its youth) and a tad dilute, despite being 100 proof. So the whole thing comes off as missing a second gear, though its one gear performs admirably.

84 points, B-/B. It's not a case of there being anything "wrong" with it, but it's a bit sugary for me, and given the price ($100), I can't fully recommend it. Doesn't reach the heights of the 2014 & 2015 "Peat Week" bottles, but still, I've had no trouble moving through the bottle. If you dig younger peated Bunnahabhain indie casks, you'll enjoy this.

1983 Chateau de Pellehaut K&L Exclusive 30 year

Vintage Tenareze Armagnac, 47.8%. Distilled: 1983, Bottled: 2013.

Yet again, this bottle is long gone, so my review is totally pointless. But think of it this way: we'll get to spend these paragraphs together, as a family, and you'll be smarter for having read my brilliant writing and refined tasting notes.

In short, this one isn't quite great, but it's very good.

It smells like orange juice or Fruit Loops, I can't tell which. Let's go with the former, since I haven't actually eaten breakfast cereal in over a decade and was merely trying to sound cool with a nostalgic reference.

This is on the more honey/fruity side, but hardly too sweet, and the spice and oak really come in nicely at the end. It's not the best Pellehaut I've had, but sometimes I want something like this: easier, fruitier and not too dry.

Think of it this way: most of the time I'll reach for heavily-peated or sherried monsters, where the spirit is drowned out by the noise. That's my style: to destroy my palate. But it's nice to have some bourbon-cask Clynelish around, just to enjoy the unencumbered malt and fruit.

This is the Armagnac equivalent. At the risk of sounding like a whoring shill, K&L & Charles Neal nailed it again with another delightful pick.

87 pts/B+. Make a note to yourself: when K&L or Astor get Pellehaut bottles in stock, buy them. They're never bad, and almost aways good or great. Plus, they're so fairly priced. Wait, disregard that advice, why am I creating competition? Stop reading, go flip some bourbon on Facebook, you peons.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Kill Devil 16 Year Old (Hampden Distillery, Jamaica)

46%, Distilled: 1998, Bottled: 2016.

Look, I won't bore you with a bunch of boring preamble. This bottle crushes.

It smells like apple pie, melted butter and sour cream (that's slightly past its sell-by date). But my hackneyed attempt to pinpoint the exact flavor analogs can't do it justice. This is a truly earthy nose, just so complex and intoxicating. This should be re-distilled into an essential oil so I can smother myself in it and frighten my co-workers.

And the palate is dynamite: sweet mango, a "gym locker" funk, a kind of rotting fruit odor (which might sound gross, but it's amazing) and a nice bit of spice. This is one of those times when my tasting notes simply fail. Hampden rum is like peated whisky: it's polarizing and brilliant, and if you can't "get it", then I can't respect your palate, or you as a person, generally.

Normally, I'm not a big rum guy, as I find them too sugary and one-note. This is in a category by itself. Props to Sku and K&L for alerting me to Hampden. This is one of the finest spirits I've tasted in a while. It's Springbank quality. I'm almost reluctant to share this with the public, because I want to hoard it all for myself.

89 points/B+. Unique, wonderful stuff. Can't wait to try the 24 year old Kill Devil cask.

Jacques Esteve, K&L Exclusive Selection, Coup de Coeur Cognac, 40%

Another great K&L pick, this is a vatting of vintages from 1979 and 1981 from a very small producer.

It's got an inviting honeyed smell, almost like a dusty wheated bourbon, but there's some nice fruit cocktail in there too.

The palate has some of those "fresh paint" notes that you get in 70s/80s bourbons. But really, it's just a delightful mix of simple fruit syrup and pepper spice, without too much oaky interference.

Allow me to be a broken record: at cask strength, this would be profound. But hey, it's still damned good and an fantastic deal at $90. Ugh, I'm talking about a $90 bottle of liquor as a "deal"--clearly, I've joined the 1% and am headed for the guillotine if the Berkeley "#Resistance" rioters get their way.

And once again, I've reviewed a bottle that's sold out. Clearly, this blog isn't even a week old and I've already made it useless. But K&L has a 10 year old from Esteve still available for sale. Or, if you want to come party at my house, I still have a few bottles tucked away. 

87 pts/B+. I wish it were cask strength, sure, but the low proof and superb balance makes it easier for me to drink a half-bottle in one night and then watch wrestling while text-trolling my friends. Easily one of the finest Cognacs I've tried.


Domaine d'Ognoas Vintage Armagnac, 20 year

Distilled: 1995, Bottled: 2015. 46%, selected by Astor Wines.

What a fun blend! A 1995 vintage bottled for Astor from a single cask holding 60% Ugni Blanc, 30% Baco & 10% Folle Blanche. It's NCF and 46%, so we're off to a good start.

This is a spice bomb. It smells and tastes like an old rye from Alberta Distillers (e.g., Whistlepig or Masterson's, but aged longer).  There's some burnt sugar upfront with a light cedar note at the end, but it's the peppery kick and pencil shavings that dominate here, with some borderline bitterness. Do you like grapefruits without sugar? You'll dig this tartness. But it's very dry,so those with a sweet tooth won't love it.

That said, I think it's fantastic. I forget what I paid for this, but I think it was around $80? It's sold out now, so this review is largely useless, but K&L has a few batches of d'Ognoas for sale, including a 16 year pick. 

The regular d'Ognoas XO is also quite good (review pending), so you can safely put it on the list of distillers to snag. Why? Because I said so, and I have one of the finest palates in the world (and am perhaps the greatest mind of his generation).

86 pts, B. Another excellent pick from Astor, who, along with K&L, make me feel like a Kid in a Brandy Store. I should have bought more bottles.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Dom. Montreuil 15 yr. Calvados, 42%, Selected by Astor Wines

It's all fresh apples on the nose, with plenty of earthy funk but none of the "sour milk" found in Camut. Do you ever make mulled cider in the winter? That's the vibe here.

And this bottle has it all: vibrant fruit, clove spice, and a nice kiss of oak. It's not particularly sweet, tasting more like a earthy heirloom apple (think Lady Alice). The spice hits hard mid-palate, with cloves and nutmeg. And the oak is perfectly balanced, never detracting for the spirit.

This is the perfect introduction to Calvados for the uninitiated: approachable yet complex. I could drink it by the case. 

Eventually, I need to start reviewing crappier bottles. With all of these B+ and A- scores, I'm starting to look like Drinkhacker.

B+/88 points. Another dynamic winner from Astor Wines. At cask strength, this would be a world-beater. Available for purchase here.

Domaine Baraillon 24 year, 92.8 proof, Bas-Armagnac.

Distilled: 1975, Bottled: 1999. Robert Chadderon Selections, New York.

Baraillon is the gold standard of Armagnac, so can this one match up? It's got a sweet/honeyed nose, with a whiff of nutmeg. It's said to be a blend, so I'm not sure about which varietal of grape was used, but it doesn't taste like much Folle Blanche in here.

If Sku (my spirits idol) were reviewing this, he'd say it's got notes of "sandalwood."

Even at only 92.8 proof, it has the body of a non-chill filtered spirit, and could actually be cask strength, given the age. But it's just kind of so-so. It tastes like a blend for sure, but it lacks oomph. Honey, a bit of spice, some tannic oak . . . but I'm hardly floored.

Now, I hate when other blogs smugly review some Unobtainium unicorn, like a sherried Ardbeg bottled in 1997 that was limited to a 28 bottle bloodtub and given only to undercover Taiwanese diplomats at a methane sustainability conference in Geneva. Not only is that kind of review totally useless, but the blogger always add some cheeky epitaph, like, "Good luck at auction!" It feels like a taunt.

So is it OK when I'm reviewing old bottles? Yes, because I'm special. In fact, I'm one of the most incredible people I've ever met.  And everything I do is amazing, whereas this Armagnac is merely solid.

83 pts, B-. An easy sip but a bit of a miss from my favorite producer. If anything, shows how importance of the palates of 
Charles Neal and K&L's David Driscoll & David O.G. When they walk the Baraillon barn and pick out a cask, it makes a big difference.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Camut 6 year old Calvados, 42%

Calvados often has a funky, pseudo-vomit/sour milk note on the nose, and this one is no different. If I were more diplomatic, I might call it "earthy", but it's more like "wet dog". There's a bit of cider spice too, but it's playing second banana (pardon the mixed fruit metaphor). 

Anyway, I totally dig it. Eventually, you get bored with the same old whiskey noses (spice/oak/peat/whatever), so a vaguely rotting sour-cream note like this is a nice change of pace. But for the more tepid palates, they'll probably need to acquire a love for it, or be brainwashed into thinking it tastes good by experienced snobs like me.

On the palate, there is the obvious apple upfront, but it's a spice & funk affair, with quite a bit of pepper too on the finish, which isn't dilute, despite the low proof.

It's very good. At cask strength, this could be spectacular (that's the mantra around here, isn't it?). As is, it's a lot of fun and a good, if expensive, intro to Calvados.

B/85 pts. Nice stuff, but the funk is George Clinton/Afrika Bambaataa levels, so beginners might recoil. 

Dudognon Napolean Cognac (NAS), 40%, selected by Astor Wines

I like Cognac, I promise.

Granted, I far prefer the heavier spice and oak of Armagnac, but I've really enjoyed certain bottles like the Gourry de Chadeville (first release) and Palazzi's Jacky Navarre Vieille Reserve. Of course, those were cask strength beasts, and this is a much milder batch.

So is it any good? Ehhh. It kind of tastes like nothing. Maybe Canadian Club? It's light and grassy, with some wisps of honey and diluted apple juice. And that's the thing: it's too damned dilute. There is a bit of spice trying to show up, but it's drowned out. At cask strength, it would have more opportunity to shine.

Astor Wines usually makes phenomenal picks and they, along with K&L, are at the forefront of the Golden Age of Brandy, working with Palazzi and Charles Neal to bring some of the greatest French casks in the world to yuppie nerds like me. Astor's spirits team is deeply knowledgable and has never steered me wrong. Plus, they've been lovely blokes every time I've shopped there, spending time to educate me while I ramble and rant, trying to show how impressive I am.

This bottle is a rare anomaly. It's probably fine for cocktails, but I don't drink those, since I'm not a Portland digital media consultant or middle-aged divorcee.

Hey, Cognac makers: how about at least upgrading to 46%/NCF? Or better yet, cask strength? Sku has been demanding it for years! Hear the clarion call of brandy bloggers! We are the silent majority: all...two of us.

77 pts/C+. It's not bad, but it's not good either. But you can purchase here, at Astor Wines.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Chateau Ravignan Folle Blanche Armagnac, 13 year

46%. Distilled: 2002, Bottled: 2015. Selected by Astor Wines.

This is top-notch Folle Blanche, definitely on the sweeter side, but not cloying. It smells like a video game controller, with that kind of "new plastic"/"airplane bathroom potpourri" smell that you find in good Folle Blanche. 

Don't let that description horrify your senses, it's a good thing and I promise, it doesn't smell like cheap perfume from a magazine insert.

Yes, it's got a heavy floral fruit upfront on the first sip. This is often described as a "perfumed" note that people taste in Folle Blanche, which sounds like it could be the dreaded "French Whore Perfume" (FWP) that sullied many a 1980s Bowmore. But it's not, I promise. 

It's more like the essence of good wine. Wait, that's exactly what it is. After the fruit, it gets peppery, with a chili note. Plenty of kick for a 92 proof. 

There's almost no noticeable oak. If there's a knock on this one, it's that perhaps it's a bit green. With a bit more age on it, it would be even better. As is, it's rather fantastic.

Chateau de Pellehaut 1989 Armagnac, Ténarèze Ugni Blanc, 27 year, 49.9%

Do you like your Armagnacs huge and oaky? Then you'll love this.

Armagnac is usually a mix of three factors: grape, spice and wood. A baco like this, when kept in wood for 27 years, tends to be heavy on that wood factor, and this is no exception.

There's some rich fruit upfront, like old sherry. Then it moves into some clove spice and like most Pellehauts, it's got that nice Campari bitterness note at the end too.

The oak is heavy and musty, like the kind you'd find in old ryes from the Meldley/Cream of Kentucky barrels (think Vintage 21 Rye or Rittenhouse 21). I thought those ryes were spectacular, but I have a high tolerance for oak. Others, with inferior palates, tasted wood and nothing else. To hell with them, they're proles.

This isn't an exercise in the elegance of the grape, like a Folle Blanche. It's an over-the-top bruiser with that crushes you with oak.

An outstanding Armagnac and bargain. 

A-/91 pts. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

"The Revolution will be food-blogged!"

Recently, a mildly popular whisky blogger (let's call him "Chairman MAO") opined that the dangers of a Trump presidency are so profound that he's courageously decided to pen more restaurant reviews of foreign cuisine, rather than merely muse about the tawdry trivialities of whisky. 

By highlighting the fact that Mongolian barbecue exists, he will chip away at decadent despotism--as opposed to his usual shtick: giving 88 point scores to obscure casks of St. Magdalene bottled in 2004 that his readers can neither find nor afford at auction.

Now, cynics might call the announcement a vapid, virtue-signaling stunt spawned by equal parts hysteria and self-aggrandizement. Or perhaps a sincere, if oblivious, tantrum. But remember: if there's one thing that would-be tyrants fear, it's leftist foodies meticulously documenting the unleavened breads of Uzbekistan, or posting convoluted recipes for Yemeni fenugreek soup.

Unfortunately, I lack his moral leadership and bold vision. So, alas, I will continue to review spirits, as I am a bourgeois hedonist, too deeply immersed in the commodity fetishism of the capitalist superstructure. And as a Trump supporter, I cannot appreciate the Marxist post-modernism that finds the misogynistic patriarchy in a bottle of Ladyburn; unearths the latent racism in Black Bowmore; or envisions a neo-confederate conspiracy in Rebel Yell.

What's his next step? Perhaps auctioning off some of his rare bottles to fund the workers' revolution, led by rioting "Antifa" guttersnipes? Or creating articles or videos that rally his fellow Social Justice Warriors? No, that kind of shallow materialism would be too obvious. As a great philosopher once said, "the revolution will be food-blogged."

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Signatory Clynelish 19 year (50.9%)

Distilled: 6/27/1996, Bottled: 4/21/2016, Matured in a Hogshead, Cask No: 6406, 269 Bottles, Specially selected for The Bonding Dram, Single Malt Whisky Shop and Prima Vinum.

Everyone always calls Clynelish "waxy", as if that's a flavor. Are they prone to eating candles? Devouring beeswax? It's one of those ubiquitous tasting notes like "stewed plums" that's meaningless but fills space when writing a loquacious review. Well, enough of that nonsese.

This bottle is everything that's great about the 1995/1996 series of Signatory Clynelish that have been hitting the market in the past year. A malty/cereal nose with some almonds. Palate is heavy bourbon/vanilla, and moves into spicy kick of cloves at the end that almost tastes like mild peating. Tastes like a first-fill bourbon, though the bottle doesn't list it as such.

It's excellent at cask strength. There are some blogs where the reviewers will say: "Here's my score at cask strength. Now at 50% ABV. Now at 40%. And now here's my score of a full glass of tap water with a drop of this whisky..." and so on. What's the point of all that? We don't have the time, mate, and most of us buy cask strength to drink it as such.

That said, with a drop of filtered water (reverse osmosis, always!), some bitter/Campari notes come out a bit, in a good way. I prefer it without, but both version are good. Great malts swim well and this is no different.

Score: 88 pts/B+. Priced at 75 Euros, it's worth buying and a bargain. Do you like vanilla/bourbon cask Clynelish? This is one of the better ones, and I've tasted a bunch of the sister casks, both bourbon and sherried. Kudos on the great pick.

tl;dr review: Buy the bottle already, it's dope, son.