Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Mezan XO Jamaican Rum (40%, Hampden/Monymusk)

Serge Valentin gave this one 86 points, and he's almost always right. Did he nail this one too?

It's a blend of Hampden (whooo!) and Monymusk rums from Jamaica, probably with an average age under 10 years. And sadly, like most rums, it's chill-filtered and 80 proof, which is just so ridiculous and unnecessary. Why not at least 92 proof and NCF? Why is rum so far behind the times? If people want dilute whisky, they can add water, but damn it, give me a chance to drink it raw. Let the clods and lowlives have their mixers..

Anyway, the nose is so promising: lots of grassy funk, with the signature Hampden style coming through, with vanilla icing and cake. And it tastes just like that: basically a like fresh cupcake that was rolled around in a barnyard. 

Though the proof is low, it's got solid heft and doesn't doesn't take too watery. But like almost every 80 proofer, it lacks that second gear that can take it from good to great. 

83 pts/B-. Not quite as enamored as Serge, but this is rock-solid rum for $30. Lest I sound like a broken record, at cask strength, this would be way better. But it's nice enough, as is.

Doorly's 12 year Rum (40%, Barbados/Foursquare)

This is an indie Foursquare (Barbados) rum bottled under Richard Seale's "Doorly's" label. It's inexpensive at $25 but reviews have been largely positive and there is no added sugar or coloring. And considering the usual quality of Foursquare rum, what could go wrong?

The nose has pleasant molasses and nutmeg, and the palate brings more of that, with the spice developing more heavily toward the finish. It's quite nice and has oodles of potential, but it's just missing that extra gear due to the low proof. At 100 proof, or even cask strength, it would be spectacular. But the dilution really dampens everything. It's a shame.

Richard Seale is doing so much to help with rum labeling and removing additives, so why not just let it rip at cask strength? 80 proof, chill-filtered spirits are so 1992; the market has changed and boozehounds like me need more texture and lipids in our drams.

82 pts/B-. Very pleasant, and does fine on its own, but given the lack of heft, it's more of a mixer for me. At cask strength, this would probably be closer to 90 pts.

Smooth Ambler Revelation Rum (1990) 49.5%

A mix of 24+ year old Jamaican rums for $57? How could I pass? This is supposedly a mix of Appleton and Monymusk casks, and since it doesn't have the usual funk of Hampden, I'm inclined to believe it. It's bottled by the Smooth Ambler folks in West Virginia, who usually sell re-labeled MGPI bourbon and rye. 

So how is it? Not mind-blowing, but it's pretty damned good. Quite like a Calvados, actually, with heavy Christmas spices a lot of oak on the back end. Blind that's what I would have guessed it was. There's a bit of "old Clynelish/Benrinnes" Highland taste too. Very little sweetness whatsoever, and certainly not immediately identifiable as a rum. There are some light acetone notes that detract on the finish (a touch over-oaked?), but it's a small nit. 

If you're hoping for a Hampden ester-bomb, you'll be disappointed. It's got none of the farmy, pot-still notes that I usually demand in my Jamaican rums, but it's strong enough to stand on its own legs. Needless to say I've demolished the bottle pretty quickly, if that's a sign of the quality.

Recommended, if only because there's basically no good rum on the average whisky store shelf. Everything in U.S. rum is 80 proof and chill-filtered, or filled with sugar and caramel coloring. This cuts a different path. Until the Kill Devil/Golden Devil series gets wider distribution and single cask indie-bottled rums hit more U.S. shelves, this is a top player.

86 pts, B. You can only drink so much Springbank and Laphroaig. And this isn't some candy-ass, sugary, watery affair. Give it a whirl if you can handle heavy oak.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Longrow 10 year (46%, old bottle, 1996 Edition?)

A local store was having an inventory clearance, so I snagged this dusty gem for $70.

Longrow is part of the Springbank family, so expectations for this one were high. The nose is burning plastic and herbs, in a good way, with a farmy funk. But there isn't much peat upfront, strangely enough. It's quite sweet and bready, with a moderate peat creeping in at the end. It's unusual, not like the current editions of Longrow or Springbank and far more...mild and dilute. But the DNA is there.

It's nice stuff, but nothing I'd go nuts for. The finish is too short and it's a tad sugary. Good nose, though. I'll have no trouble finishing the bottle. 

85 pts/B. I'd reach for the regular Springbank 10 over this. But I'd reach for Springbank 10 over almost anything else, so is that really a fair comparison? No, but I've already written that sentence and there's no way I'm editing it.

Laphroaig 22 year (49.6%, Malts of Scotland)

Cask No: 16032, Distilled: 1994, Bottled: 2016, bourbon hogshead. 

Do you like Laphroaig? If not, you have no taste and I don't respect you as a drinker or human being. 

Laphroaig was my first love in whisky and remains my house malt. Laphroaig 10 year Cask Strength is the best value on the everyday whiskyshelf: a bruising ~120 proof beast that never disappoints for under $60. Only a few malts can compete in that range: Springbank 10 year and 12 year Cask Strength, Kilkerran 12 year....and that's about it.

Anyway, I digress. Is this worth drinking? Yeah, my first reaction was to loudly exclaim, "Holy fuck, this is good." It's everything that's great about Laphroaig maxed out and perfectly integrated. Massive peat, lemons, rosemary, big oak and vanilla from the bourbon cask--but it's not sweet at all, nor is there a hint of astringency. All of the flavors blend together seamlessly. Find a flaw, I dare you.

91 pts/A-. Sold out now and I should have bought more--I only got this one sample and a full bottle. Granted, it was 220 Euros, but that's a pretty solid price in today's market. "But that's more than my entire electric bill," you exclaim. Yeah, some of us have different priorities, jerk. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Glen Ord 16 year (58.9%, Malts of Scotland "Christmas 2016" Edition)

Sherry Hogshead, 303 bottles, Distilled: 2000, Bottled: 2016, Cask: 16045.

Sawdust and quite bourbony on the nose, kind of smells like a Heaven Hill product, but some sherry comes through if you look hard enough for it.

But man, this is a case where the taste really outshines the palate. Never saw it coming, like the ugly girl in the 80s movie who takes off her glases and lets her hair down, and suddenly she's hot. It's all graham crackers, burnt butter, balsa wood and milk chocolate. It actually tastes like the best version of Bernheim Wheat whiskey that you've ever tried.

And the label is adorable too. Sometimes when you're a degenerate whisky-hoarder with no self-control, you want variety, and a weirdo malt like this provides it. 

85 pts/B. It won't blow your mind, but it's rather lovely and unique. Reminds me of the Bruichladdich Bere Barley, which is a high compliment.

Hampden Rum 12 year (Duncan Taylor, 53.1%)

Cask No: 122, Distilled: 09/00, Bottled 11/12, 233 bottles, Aged in Oak Casks.

Classic Hampden nose: urinal pucks and overripe fruit, barnyard manure and pepper. It's one of those instant recognizable smells, like peated whisky.

Nobody makes rum like Hampden. Nobody! The high ester levels produce consistent, mind-melting, LSD-for-the-tongue experiences and this one is no different.

If you left me alone with this bottle, I'd just keep drinking it until they pumped my stomach and donated my rotted liver to science. Every sip brings out new flavors and the only flaw I can find is that maybe a bit more age could have made it even better.

This Springbank/Laphroaig level. Find me a better spirit being produced in the world?

89 pts/B+. I'm obsessed with Hampden. Stalker-level. Like, I actually tool around on Expedia and plan trips to Jamaica so I can buy my own cask and just drink Hampden for the rest of my life. Who needs Islay?

The Dark Side of Islay, 21 Year, Scarabus (51.2%, Malts of Scotland)

Matured in Sherry and Port Casks.

Tastes like Bowmore to me, though it's said to be a blend of three different Islay distilleries. Not that it matters, since regardless of its origins, it's fantastic.

Normally, I don't care for wine/port casks, as they overpower the spirit and get sticky-sweet, but damned if this one isn't a knockout. It smells a lot like those brilliant 2004/2005 Signatory Ledaig sherry cask bottles that have come out recently: fresh asphalt, new car leather, and strawberries. The smoke is heavy, like cigar-stained clothes.

And it tastes like the Ledaig bottles too: it's not too sweet at all with a 50/50 balance of peat and fruit. The finish keeps going and going, the balance is superb. I mean, maybe it's a touch sugary? But I'm looking for flaws here.

91 pts/A-. Wow. Why didn't I buy more of these? This was a steal at $150. I know, I know, "He's such a snob, he thinks $150 for a bottle is cheap?" Yeah, I do, because I'm high-class and don't have any perspective on poverty. Deal with it.

Michel Huard 16 year Calvados, 1999 (Astor Wines, 80 proof)

This one is

Calvados still suffers from being overpriced and under-proofed, but when it's good, it's spectacular. This isn't one of those cases. 

It starts off promisingly: strong spice and apple flavors...and then goes nowhere. Maybe at a higher proof, it could be a gem, but this is almost like a mixed drink by itself. In that sense, I can appreciate it because it's *so* easy to sip. Having a sorority party and don't want to just serve Long Island Ice Teas? Bring this. Are you the kind of mope who enjoys rum & cokes, or adding pineapple juice to bottom-shelf garbage? You'll be in heaven.

It's nice and pleasant. You could drink a half bottle and not blink. But I need more complexity. This is junk food. Sku seemed to like it more than me. 

80 pts/B-. Nice stuff, but nothing I'd reach for at $80. Far better ways to throw away your money: speeding tickets, the strip club, gambling, or hard drugs.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Caol Ila 30 year, 52.8% (Van Wees Ultimate Rare Reserve)

228 bottles, Distilled: 12/12/1984, Bottled: 12/12/14, matured in a hogshead. 

Wow, this is exactly 30 years old, to the day! Which means that if it were a woman, it would officially be too old for me to date.

I could bore you with the details, but this is one of the best malts I've ever tasted. I would have guessed it was a sherry cask based on the heavy fruit notes. Unlike a lot of other old Caol Ilas, this one is still a peaty bruiser, with concentrated lemon oil, herbs and heavy cigar smoke.

It's lively as hell, exploding with more peat in the finish, but everything integrates perfectly. Can't find a flaw...which is rare for me, because I'm happy to point out the deficiencies in my friends, family, and readers.

93 pts/A. Serge Valentin (adore him) gave it a 90, but it's better than that. Classic in every way, just like me. Among the best spirits I've ever tasted. It's Brora/Port Ellen level, really.

Invergordon 43 year (Selected by Whisky Nerds) 1972-2016

102 bottles, Cask 13-05, 49.8%.

It tastes and smells like an old wheated bourbon. Pure candy, a bottled Worther's Original candy, candy corn and Butterfingers.

I don't particularly care for "sweet" whisky, and when people describe a bourbon as "smooth", I roll my eyes and want to punch them. But this is a sweet, smooth bourbon-like grain whisky and a real crowd pleaser. I need more complexity, but how can I knock a one-note that's this good?

87 pts/B+. No, it's not complex, it's a solely a caramel and oak affair, but if you like woody old bourbons, you'll love this. Actually, no you won't, it's sold out. But you can come to my house and we'll party. You bring the strippers.

UPDATE: In a nifty coincidence, a few hours after I posted this review, Serge Valentin at Whiskyfun also gave it 87 pts! It's nice to know my palate is calibrated similarly to his, as I admire his great reviews and integrity. He's never afraid to bash bad whisky, doesn't suck up to the industry, and I've rarely disagreed with his recommendations. Neat!

"Distilled at Speyside Distillery" 18 years, 53.6% (Van Zuylen)

Sherry Butt 1001, Filled: 05/18/1998, Bottled: 6/23/2016, 297 bottles.

I can't keep giving so many good scores. I'm starting to look like Drinkhacker or even worse, John Hansell. But I keep drinking excellent bottles and I don't mess around with bottom-shelf swill like the rest of you vagabonds and guttersnipes.

This must have been a fino sherry cask or 9th re-fill Oloroso, because it's the color of Kenny Omega's hair. And it doesn't have that overly-sherried, dark fruit presence that can often overpower the original spirit (not that those are bad things, as I really dig first-fill sherry bombs).

Instead, it's drier, with lots of nice peppery spice (think potpourri) and some moderate sweetness upfront. It doesn't sound like much, but there's good depth all the way through. I assume it's a Glenfarclas, but who the hell knows. It's one of those malts that doesn't blow you away at first, but you keep reaching for it and then drunk-texting ex-girlfriends.

87 pts/B+, another dynamite pick from WhiskyBroker/Van Zuylen.  Crap, it's sold out, making this review totally useless. Well, you can live vicariously through my enjoyment and poisoned liver.

Benrinnes 18 Year (selected by WhiskyBroker) 50%

216 bottles, Refill bourbon #906, Filled 08/15/1997, bottled 2/1/16.

Not my typical wheelhouse but damn, I've enjoyed it.

You know how Serge Valentin is always talking about "whistle clean" malts? That's this one. It tastes like an unpeated, bourbon-cask Springbank (lots of vanilla and no flabby sweetness), but there's so much pepper that it's got a Talisker vibe to it. Dare I say it's ashy? It must have been an active re-fill cask, because the bourbon notes shine so strongly in the beginning.

Fantastic stuff, a total surprise that I bought on a whim. Sadly sold out now, I would have bought a case.

Wait, why am I reviewing a sold-out bottle? Isn't that hypocritical, given how much I detest when others do it? Yep.

B+/87 points. Pretty shocked by the score, but I decimated the bottle. Complex enough to mean-spirits snobs like me, but approachable for street people (well, not the homeless, they're just mentally-ill drunks who drink cheap plastic-handle vodka and pee in the street).

Monday, May 22, 2017

Kill Devil Hampden 18 year rum (46%)

Is this good? Yes. Very good? Also yes. Brilliant? That too.

Frankly, I hesitate to tell you lowly peons about Hampden rum, because right now it's my little secret--well, Serge Valentin and Steve Ury get the credit, but still, the last thing we need is the venal vultures from the broken whisky culture preying upon the incredible values and gems in rum. Next thing you know, some middle-manager creep who works at an investment chop-shop in Manhattan will be clearing the shelves and flipping it on FB groups, while the other lemmings post similar crotch shots and I weep softly. 

OK, now to this bottle. It's awesome: moldy cigarettes, jet fuel, rotting mango, black pepper, old gym's just a huge blast of funk and fruit. I can't stop drinking it. Far better than 99% of the malts I've had this year.

Why am I sharing this with the public? If I had any sense I'd just shut up. But this is ridiculous spirit and I have no self-control.

91 points/A-. Please don't buy it. Just stay away. Hunt Pappy and Stagg or flip re-filled bottles of Willett. Let me have this one corner of the spirits world, I beg you.