Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2008-2017 – “Barley Exploration Part I”

In the summer/fall of 2018, Bruichladdich issued new editions of it’s “provenance” driven whiskys, the 2010 edition of it’s Islay Barley variant, the 2009 Organic barley and the 2008 Bere Barley. Right around the holidays they smartly assembled a new “Wee Laddies” kit of 3 x 20cl bottles, one of each expression. I was able to pick up a set at a very fair price during that time, I figured it was a good way to taste multiple expressions. I would also be able to use those handy 20cl bottles when empty to decant bottles in the danger zone, win-win.

Bere Barley is a varietal that was prized for it’s performance in low ph soils and it’s short growing season, making it ideal for a place like Scotland and specifically Orkney, where the crop for this whisky came from. It also has a high protein and nitrogen content making it difficult to deal with and reducing it’s yield, yet it was prized for it’s flavor and continues to be used by many in the brewing industry for that very reason. Only a few distilleries have experimented with a purely Bere barley whisky, of the ones I know there was Arran, Bruichladdich and Glan Ar Mor.

Distilled in 2008 from the 2007 harvest, unpeated Bere barley, 9 yrs old and vatted from first-fill an re-fill ex-bourbon casks.

Nose: Sharp, citrus peel, pumpernickel, caraway. it’s very fresh on the nose. Then some latex, powdered sugar & marzipan. It reminds me of pot-still Irish whisky in some ways, there is a slight banana note as well.

Palate: Tropical fruits, lots of grain, lemon, astringency and a firm sharpness. It develops into a tangy creamy feeling a bit like those campino candies with a bit of spice on the tail end.

Finish: There is a bit of rye bread and water crackers at first and then a lemony, salty feeling, paraffin and a touch of arugula.

Blab: There’s something irresistible about this whisky. The palate is weird, very different than a lot of what I’ve had. It’s hard to describe. It’s coastal, oily and has almost a lowland vibe to it but then there’s that fresh side also that lifts it up. An interesting whisky it eventually became my favourite of the set.

Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2008

50% ABV

86/100

Highland Park Valknut “Sweet Home Valhalla”

Everyone loves to talk trash about Highland Park, more so than Macallan. I think it’s largely in part to how far they’ve leaned into this whole Viking mythos, coupled with the sheer volume of new releases.

I personally don’t mind the whole Viking thing that much. What’s at issue along with other Edrington properties is that one feels as though the marketing department has taken over all aspects of the product. Anyone who’s watched early episodes of Mad Men will be familiar with the kind of cynical marketing techniques that cares very little about the actual product itself.

With this series they’ve combined several tried and true marketing techniques. “limited” editions (15,000 to 20,000 bottles isn’t really that limited), creating a new series of 3-4 scheduled releases and finally a story or myth to bind them all together. With the promise of more “sherry” and more peat what could go wrong? Let’s lean into this one.

Nose: Burnt hay, peameal bacon, it’s a bit closed at first, then opens up with vanilla & seaweed. The sherry eventually shows up and takes over the proceedings. Lots of dried grape, and grape candy, yeast, a bit of ink and plasticine and sulfur.

Palate: Ashy, mineral very sweet like glycerin and honey. Further time brings, vynil, old books, wine gums, faint smoke a touch of BBQ pork. Sour oak, stir fried broccoli, then the return of a lot of sweetness.

Finish: yeasty, grape reduction, a touch of balsamic and seaside. The finish is medium in length but mouth drying.

Blab: Underdeveloped nose. Sharp and stuffy peat. There’s sulfur but no depth to the sherry. Plenty of that weird plum/grape sweetness that is almost cloying like PX. I never thought I’d say that I missed dark origins but I do.

Benromach Peat Smoke 2006/2016 “Orchard Fire”

While Benromach has won over many with their old school style malt, it hasn’t quite stirred up the frenzy that each Springbank release has caused. It might seem unfair to compare them but I believe them to be related in many ways. Family owned, longer fermentation styles, less automation, good cask policy, both are the distilling arms of Independent bottlers. The 10yr old and it’s Imperial strengths counterpart are confirmed winners, let’s dive into the range.

This 2006 Peat Smoke is part of what they’ve dubbed their contrast range, peated malt in the 67ppm range (no source listed), first fill bourbon casks, 46%, no mention of chill filtration though.

Nose: Farmy, earthy peat when first poured, then abruptly a surprising note of pears, apricot paste, it’s very unusual. Underneath all of that the it’s very close to the grain, a touch of old lemons, glycerin & talcum powder.The smoke is there but not overwhelming once it subsides there is a bit of oak and vanilla but surprisingly isn’t dominant for a first-fill bourbon. A nice nose, very round, the peat doesn’t dominate.

Palate: Sweet, dark, jujubes, that instant peaches & cream oatmeal with smoke blown over the top. There is a bit of citrus, linseed oil & powdered sugar with loads of grain and a touch of oak, the texture is a bit thin.

Finish: It keeps bouncing between earthy tones, plantain, mezcal and a strange sweetness, almost artificial, like those swirled strawberry and yogurt candies. The oak is most present at the end.

The Blab: It’s a nice take on the genre (young heavily peated bourbon cask) its different than the Islay style in that it has no maritime influence but I think it’s much closer than peated whiskys by Glendronach or Balvenie for example. Yet it’s not distinct enough, it doesn’t really pull you in like the 10 yr old, perhaps if it was at higher proof like some of their single barrel releases it would be more effective. The 10 yr old is a tough act to follow, it’s a testament to how well it is vatted together.

Benromach Peat Smoke 2006-2016

46%ABV

83/100

Mortlach 12-The Wee Witchie “Basic Witch”

Mortlach is one of those Diageo stepchild distilleries that was used mainly as blend fodder, for years it had no regular output under its name save one lonely 16 year old Flora & Fauna release.

It gained notoriety as a darling of the Indie scene, many praising the almost meaty, full bodied characteristics of it’s distillate especially when applied to ex-sherry casks. It’s precisely this trait that made it such a great asset to use in blending.

The distillery engages in a complex distilling scheme where the tail runs from its first two wash stills are accumulated and distilled several times in their smallest spirit still (the eponymous Wee Witchie). This is done in order to produce a small quantity of heavy style distillate that will be then included with the other two stills spirit runs. Add to that the use of worm tub condensers which also contributes its unique sulfury character and it explains the meaty, heavy adjectives that are often used to describe Mortlach.

Let’s see if we get any of those signature flavours in the new 12 yr old.

Nose: initially a bit feisty, stone fruit, Yellow plums, a bit of gooseberry. Underneath that first wave there is barley, gristy cereal notes, a good dose of vanilla. There is a touch of sulfur and a phenolic feeling overall & sweet citrus. As the nose opens up further I get a kind of sweet, red delicious apples, a touch of cardboard.

An interesting nose, there’s lots of spirit left attached to it but it’s got a lot to keep you interested.

Palate: Lemon lozenge, astringent, sharp oak, a bit sour, overproofed bread, mineral, chalky. Almost gritty, a feeling of dry vermouth.

Finish: Sour oak, a bit of vanilla, lemon scented cleaning products, fades fast leaving mostly a slight mustiness

Blab: The nose is rather full and round but overall this isn’t memorable. The finish is short and leaves behind the more cardboard like elements. It starts of promising but overall this is a let down I don’t get much in the way of what we think of as sherry character either.

Mortlach 12-The Wee Witchie

43.4% ABV

81/100

Longmorn 16 (2018) “Grab The Bull By The Longmorn”

Longmorn is a Speyside distillery that is Owned by Pernod Ricard and is mainly used for blending, the official range is composed of and NAS (Distiller’s Choice) and a 23yr old. I believe there might be some older expressions also, I had heard mixed reviews on this whisky although more in the love it than hate it camp. It is a whisky mostly known for the backlash when they pulled the 16 off the market for a bit only to replace it with a version at more than twice the price, yikes!

Generic product photo as I don’t know what happened to the one I took

Nose: Fresh, malty, mixed nuts, loads of apples, apricot paste and beeswax. Like a Glenfiddich but with more guts. This has a great sherry integration, spice, currants, vanilla, the richness of oak and cedar but also a firm sharpness.

Palate: Dried herbs, roasted nuts, jam made from stone fruits. It then is almost like Fino sherry is some ways with that slightly sour yeasty side. It’s tingly on the tongue almost effervescent.

Finish: It’s long and mouth coating, almost cognac like, minus the sweetness. There’s a lot of oak here but the fresh sharp aspect keeps it from being crazy. The ABV delivers the right intensity that is needed to push the flavors forward.

The Blab: Why is this so expensive? No but seriously, I really love this whisky it is a superbly crafted malt but there’s no way it’s worth the 260$ (Canadian) they are asking for.

I used to think a lot of the backbone of the good Chivas Blends I had tasted was Aberlour I realize that Longmorn is probably the one giving them some weight.

Longmorn 16

48%/ABV

87/100

Glengoyne 15 “Highland Fling”

Glengoyne might not have crossed your radar, yet they’ve managed to amass a steady following in the last few years. This former Edrington property was developed into a successful single malt brand by new owners Ian Mcleod, they banked on the beauty of the site as a tourist destination but also the sherry heavy maturation profile that former owner’s we’re know for.

They have quite a nice range of products most are age stated and thus far have managed to remain within reach of the average consumer.

This release is said to be composed of 50% ex-bourbon casks, 30% 1st fill American oak ex-sherry cask & 20% 1st fill European oak ex-sherry casks.

Enjoy this photo of the store where I tasted this whisky as I sadly forgot to take a photo of the bottle.

Nose: Funky sherry, dunnage notes, a bit of mustiness mixed with sweetness. Dried fruit cake wrapped in wax paper, there’s some sulfur in the form more of spent match but it is light. Vanilla, some yeasty notes, the oak brings a bit of spice, a touch of ginger and mace.

With time it becomes really waxy, with apples and chicory coffee notes.

Palate: Nice round entry, cake batter, malty, spicy gingery oak, a touch of autumn leaves, sultanas, toffee, a latte with too much milk, a bit of toasted almonds. The mouth feel is a little thin.

Finish: A bit of marzipan, grassy, green sap. crystallized fruits, a touch of pineapple. Whole wheat bread. Slight cured ham funk, a touch of meat.

Blab: It’s a good whisky, it offers some of the more potent sherry notes you find in more expensive or older whisky, yet still has zip on the palate. A good solid performer except for the texture and finish where the lower proof 43% might make it lose a bit of power. I have tasted most of the range barring the 25 yr old and I prefer the 15 I think it captures the best of what the distillery has to offer, the 21 is solid too. No surprise in today’s whisky world I believe this expression is going to be removed from the line-up.

Glengoyne 15

43% ABV

86/100

Maker’s Mark Private Select “Meet Your Maker Part III”

Last part of this Maker’s trio.

If we believe the marketing, while attempting to find the perfect formula for Maker’s 46 the distillery went through all kinds of permutations of oak types, char & toast levels before settling on the one that worked for them.

They decided to bring the same spirit of experimentation to their private barrel purchase program, where clients are able to choose a few options for the 10 staves that will be added to their barrel of Maker’s. One is a Maker’s 46 stave, the other nine are chosen from the following types: Baked American Pure 2, Seared French Cuvee, Roasted French Mocha and Toasted French Spice.

Photo credit Sara Havens

What’s interesting about this process is that it allows a level of customization that is personal to the client’s taste but that you’re also unlikely to see exactly the same exact profile when buying different store picks as well.

This one is a store pick by the Liquor Locker in Hagerstown MD. I unfortunately do not have the details of the stave selections.

Nose: It starts with a bit of varnished oak, pepper, mocha/cafe au lait, cinnamon red hots and a touch of chili peppers. With time I get ginger, chewy toffee, lightly toasted bread. Coconut cakes with candied cherry. Orange zest & a touch of bacon fat or is that barrel char perhaps?

Palate: Sharp and full, candied fruit, cinnamon candy, cloves, green pepper, menthol,candied peanuts, buttered raisin toast with cinnamon. _There’s a lot happening with this one on the palate, all great flavours but it can be a bit relentless.

Finish: A bit of leather, green oak, ginger and pepper, and those toasted peanuts with Sichuan peppercorns

The blab: You can feel the oak pulling tannins over your teeth at first but somehow that’s not the most dominant note like in some bourbons. There’s an oily, waxy character that is pleasant, a solid bourbon with some interesting twists.

Much thanks to @paddockjudge for the samples, this trio was a great lesson.

Maker’s Mark Private Select – Liquor Locker, Hagerstown MD

55.7% ABV

88/100

Maker’s 46 “Meet Your Maker Part II”

Ok round two in this Maker’s Mark match-up.

Maker’s 46 was released sometime around 2010, it has the distinction of being the second products to be released by the distillery since it’s inception. It uses the same mash bill as standard Maker’s 70% Corn, 16% Wheat, 14% Malted Barley but the whisky is put back into barrels that contain seared french oak staves and re-racked for an additional period (the exact amount of time is unclear). This is a fairly unique process not unlike what Compass Box initially did with it’s Spice Tree blend. I am surprised more distilleries are not doing this, unless they are and aren’t mentioning it. I know MGP offer’s something similar to it’s contract distilling clients.

Nose: Chestnut purée, ginger, green oak, a bit of tobacco and menthol, it’s all very discreet. It’s as if these notes are a kind of film on top of the usual sweet caramel and oak of a bourbon nose. It then gets Peppery, freshly stained wood, sugar glazed cereal and cherry ice cream. It needs lots of air, but it’s very rich

Palate: Sweet soft oak at first, fresh bread. A feeling of glycerin, wine gums, caramel corn, Turkish delight & lime. It’s got a peppery astringency and a ginger zing, it’s fairly oily and smooth for the ABV.

Finish: Medium length you’re left with with over brewed black tea and milk, lemon pith and a bit of cherry cola and ginger.

The Blab: The nose took forever to come out, initially it felt like two layers but became more homogeneous with air. The finishing does add richness especially on the palate, it’s a neat formula and one I believe that is quite successful for the company.

Maker’s 46

47% ABV

84/100

Maker’s Mark “Meet Your Maker Part I”

Yes another multi-part review…What can you do?

Some months back I was graciously offered a trio of Maker’s Mark Samples by a friend, I am a sucker for this kind of comparison flight of whiskys also the judge has often claimed the Standard Maker’s to be among his favorites. I have fond memories of drinking Maker’s in the early stages of my whisky appreciation, I know I preferred it over Jim Beam white or Old No7 which we’re the other easily attainable bourbons at the time but can’t for the life of me remember why I was steered towards it.

Ok we are starting with the standard Maker’s Mark, it’s probably the most commercially sold wheated bourbon but doesn’t stir up the frenzy that Weller does. The sample was decanted from a bottle open about 9 months.

Nose: Caramel corn, freshly cut oak plank, custard, fresh brioche with lemon sugar and studded with maraschino cherries. Apple fritters with a touch of nutmeg. This is a beautiful nose, inviting, delicate but sitting on a robust base of sweet corn and oak.

Palate: watermelon rind, sharp oak, lemon pith, cherry lozenges, apricot, caramel loaded with butter. It then veers into a dusty grain, a slight vegetal note mid palate note and a bitter exit. It has a soft entry but that sharp grain and astringent oak attack loses you

Finish: The finish fades fast, leaving astringent oak and a bit of lingering caramel sweetness. There’s a feeling of dried leaves & flowers and toasted bread and a few flecks of tobacco remaining in a tin.

Notes: The nose of this thing is a beauty, I am unsure if this is from the effect of a long opened bottle or a good batch…I have to say I wasn’t expecting this at all. Unfortunately the palate doesn’t reach the same level, it is kind of abrupt and brittle, the texture doesn’t help any of the rich notes to stick around.

That said this has convinced me to pick up a half bottle to play around with or just enjoy when kicking back this summer.

Maker’s Mark

45% ABV

83/100

Stalk & Barrel #Canada 150 “The Shape of Canadian Whisky to Come

Stalk & Barrel whisky is made at the Still Waters Distillery in Concord Ontario. Started back in 2008 what might seem like the dark ages now that there so called “craft” distilleries are opening in every nook and cranny. The founders set out on opening a distillery at a time when the Canadian Federal government treated anyone with the idea of opening a distillery as depraved drunks & sinners who are out to incite underage drinking.

Thankfully times have changed and now the government has eased its view of would be distillers seeing them as entrepreneurs and happily taking their money through hefty excise taxes. It only continues to view them as crooks and sinners when trying to sell their spirit to the masses and so makes it a difficult as possible for them to actually turn a profit while doing so.

This particular blend was created to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Canada. Based on a parcel of 5 yr old corn whisky distilled in house (they usually outsource their corn component) it also includes a portion of their rye and malt. It caught my attention because it’s bottled at 50% abv and that it wasn’t based on any sourced components.

I nosed this in both a standard & Canadian Glencairn

Nose: Vanilla frosting, apple, peach and powdered sugar donuts. Lemon curd, pine oil it’s rich and sweet but not cloying. As it develops you get grain, toasted bread a malty core, then the spices start to bloom…clove, cinnamon, apple & raisin bread.

In the Canadian Glencairn – less focused, more sweet corn, caramel, glycerin and oak. Cardboardy malt, tea and toast. You get more alcohol in this version. With time, A carpenter’s workshop, sanded oak and glue, then the sweet rye spice, candied apple, fresh whole grain bread with honey

Palate: The malt hits you first, then a bit of caraway, slightly bitter & astringent. Then it’s sweet baked apple, with a vanilla bean and coconut oil, a bit of pine resin, toasted oak, porridge. The mouth feel is long & silky, sweet and full, lemon pith and buttered bread, clove/allspice, a dash of bay rum cologne.

Finish: Grippy over brewed tea, honey lozenge and toffee apple, rye bread. then a touch of that tobacco and talcum. There is a tingle on the tongue at first from the alcohol but then that tannic feeling sets in.

The Blab: This has been open a while and the palate is all the better for it. If you’ve ever made a sourdough with whole rye flour you get those notes in here. There’s a freshness on the palate as you first sip it that is addictive.

This isn’t completely revolutionary, it’s still Canadian whisky but it’s taken off it’s usual path and because of this stands out. It’s something the category could use more of.

Still Waters Stalk & Barrel #Canada 150 Blend

50% ABV

85/100