Bowmore Small Batch Single Malt Scotch Whisky – Review


*Sincere thanks to MS & AS at Savona Communications for the sample.

Not too long ago, I poked fun at the misuse and abuse of the term “small batch”. It’s not really my intention to beat that dead horse any further in this post, especially since there are so very many other booze marketing catch words/phrases that deserve the same amount of lampooning. “Craft”, “hand-crafted”, “reserve”, “rare” and “old” quickly come to mind. Hell, these days even “oak” has been nearly pummeled into meaningless…ness. So yeah, calling something “small batch” without offering any information on the actual size of the batch is lazy marketing at this point…especially when an expression is clearly a widely released, larger volume one. But, let us not belabor the point any further. Everyone in this game is guilty of at least a little silly hyperbole once in a while. Why, at this very moment, there’s probably some hack whisky blogger out there scribbling inane tasting notes like, “Smoky vanilla creme soda” or “faint brine-y sea breeze.” It’s a sickness not just limited to the professionals, you know.

Jim Beam is probably the most obvious scapegoat to blame for the proliferation of “small batch”. In the early 90’s, their introduction of the “Small Batch Collection” went a long ways to entrenching the phrase into the public lexicon. It’s always felt to me like a term more associated with the bourbon world. “Batch” fits in well with the rougher, Southern, less urbane, general image Bourbon likes to present, whereas Scotch usually strives for more sophisticated sounding buzzwords like “reserve” or “limited edition”. I guess this is changing, though. Perhaps bourbon’s surging popularity has Scotch marketing teams smelling cross-over appeal and lo and behold, we’re now seeing things like the Bowmore Small Batch. Actually, now that I think of it, back in 2012, Bowmore released an expression in the UK called “Small Batch Reserve.”. “Small Batch Reserve”…for crap’s sake, talk about gilding the lily with meaningless marketing speak.

Bowmore’s Small Batch is not alone in this tip of the hat to bourbon. Fellow Beam Suntory/Morrison Bowmore product, Auchentoshan American Oak showcases the influence of the ex-bourbon casks on a relatively subtle spirit, and emphasizes its bourbon-like warehousing and blending aspects. At this point, it’s beside the point as to whether or not Bowmore Small Batch is actually a small batch or not. No information relating to that is given and as it’s taking its place on the entry-level end of their range, it’s safe to assume that the batch probably isn’t too small. In any case, The expression is composed of whiskies aged in first-fill and second-fill ex-bourbon barrels. At the moment, it is not replacing anything in their core range, instead, it’s sliding into place after Bowmore Legend and before Bowmore 12 Year Old.

The Nose:  Smoky vanilla creme soda, and I mean that in the best possible way. Lots of vanilla…vanilla bean, vanilla syrup, vanilla rice pudding with raisins, etc. After that, there’s salted caramel, salted almonds, Meyer lemons and Clementine oranges, and a very subtle sweet floral quality. There’s also wafting wood smoke, a little toasted barley, and brine-y sea breeze along with dusty cinnamon stick, dried orange peel, peppercorns, and sawn oak.

The Palate:  This has a nice, creamy mouthfeel. More of that salted caramel and vanilla sweetness hits early, with more juicy, sweet citrus and even a bit of Juicy-Fruity tropical fruit. A handful of salted nuts follows along with a growing swell of dry wood smoke and some subdued peat. Charred oak, black pepper, and toasted vanilla bean lead to the finish.

The Finish:  Very nice length, vanilla bean, salted nuts, another bloom of smoke and a faint hint of tobacco leaf and…peppermint(?!) trailing in the distance.

Thoughts:  I enjoyed the hell out of this. While it’s definitely Bowmore, in a way, it’s a little un-Bowmore-ish at times, too. It’s put together very nicely and strikes a very drinkable balance of vanilla and fruit sweetness, and slightly toned-down Islay peat and smoke. I don’t usually think of this flavor profile as being fresh, but there is a certain lively freshness to it that works very well. I’d love to see this at a higher ABV, but it does manage to hold its own well at that lowly 40 %. A very appealing introduction to Bowmore and to smoky Islay whiskies in general. Recommended.

Bowmore Small Batch Single Malt Scotch Whisky, Islay, OB, ~2014

40% ABV

Score:  85

Sierra Nevada 2014 Narwhal Imperial Stout – Review

Narwhalsk“Strictly speaking, this horn is but a lengthened tusk, growing out from the jaw in a line a little depressed from the horizontal. But it is only found on the sinister side, which has an ill effect, giving its owner something analogous to the aspect of a clumsy left-handed man.”                                –Moby Dick, Herman Melville

The somewhat large, ocean-going mammal known as a Narwhal (Monodon monoceros), or Narwhale if you simply must have the “e” at the end, is a species of whale that spends most of its time trying to stay warm in Arctic waters. Any jerk with at least one working eye can see that the distinguishing feature of a Narwhal is the long horn protruding from its face. As Ishmael mentioned, this long horn is actually not a horn at all, but rather a tusk or tooth. Usually, it is the male who sports this rather daring bit of dental craziness, but occasionally females have one as well. Though it’s tempting to assume that Narwhals use these tusks for fighting, displays of dominance, breaking up ice, or making kebabs, it’s been recently discovered that they are actually sensory organs. The tusks lack the enamel most mammals have on their teeth, and this enables the them to act almost as filters. Narwhals are able to use their tusks to determine the water quality, the presence of food, and even the presence of nearby females looking for romance/to get knocked up. While not technically an endangered species, the somewhat mythic, elusive, fascinating Narwhal is a threatened one, its population affected by human hunting and the increasing ravages of climate change.

IMG_6911The somewhat high-alcohol, dark-as-the-night Imperial Stout from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. known as Narwhal, is a somewhat high-alcohol, dark-as-the-night Imperial Stout from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Released yearly in the early Fall, Narwhal is a relatively accessible entry in an arena filled with much more highly anticipated, highly coveted, more expensive special/limited edition brews.

The Appearance:  Dark, pretty much opaque black with a bit of chestnut light creeping in. Tan, lightly frothy head that dissipates quickly (see photo…the photographer was too slow, and by the time his iphone camera app loaded he got all his expensive, hi-tech camera equipment set up, it was too late.)

The Nose:  Nice, robust, sweet notes of roasted and toasted malt dominate, there’s even with a faint wisp of that roasting smoke swirling around. Nutty dark chocolate brownies and well-creamed coffee, perhaps even a bit of coffee liqueur. There’s a faint lactic quality to this as well, warm chocolate milk perhaps. Subtler hints of vanilla bean, pine-y hops, clove, and cherry cough drops.

The Palate:  Quite sweet, almost syrupy smoooooth. As with the nose, there’s not much trace of the 10.2% alcohol. Again, lots of roasted malt and sugar & creamed coffee. Much more dark chocolate here than on the nose, like chocolate sauce over vanilla ice cream. Towards the end, those slightly bitter, piney hops show up again along with some Mexican chocolate and vanilla syrup.

The Finish:  Quite sweet…sticky-lips sweet. More roasted malt, more coffee, more Mexican chocolate, a bit more hops before it fades somewhat quickly.

IMG_6910Thoughts:  Very good. Narwhal seems to fly under the radar a bit. It’s relatively cheap, relatively easy to find, and relatively easy drinking. I say “relatively easy drinking” because, man, is this stuff is sweet. Personally, I found it a bit too sweet, though I also found many other redeeming qualities which sold me on it. I liked the malt forward flavor profile and thought within its sweetness, it was balanced and smooth. Certainly not to be missed if you’re a fan of the style, just bear in mind the almost cloying sweetness demands that you take your time with this one.

Sierra Nevada 2014 Narwhal Imperial Stout

  • Malt: Two-row Pale, Caramel, Chocolate, Honey, Carafa, and roasted barley
  • Hops: Magnum and Challenger
  • ABV: 10.2 percent

Stupid Tweet of the Month, May, 2015 – Woodford Reserve

Stupid Medal_2This may just be a one time thing…or then again, this could be a recurring feature. Given this country’s exuberant push to be as stupid as possible, it seems like a fairly easy thing to keep up. Then again, why would I want to? Not to mention, it’s just Twitter. Twitter is basically just one big over-valued platform for people to say stupid shit, how does one even begin to choose which stupid thing to recognize with some stupid recognition?

Ah well, at least it gives me yet another chance to poke around some whisk(e)y history. So without further ado, the first annual Stupid tweet of the Month award goes to Woodford Reserve for this bat-shit crazy head-scratcher:


See? Stupid. Blazingly so. Irresponsibly so, even. Here’s why…

1964’s Bourbon Resolution

Back in 1964, two congressmen from Kentucky introduced a little resolution that laid the groundwork for bourbon to be recognized as a protected, distinct product of the United States of America. It helped to define bourbon as it is in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 27, Chapter I, Subchapter A, Part 5, Subpart C, §5.22. For over half a decade now, bourbon manufacturers have relied on these standards to protect their product’s integrity, and to give consumers a relative guarantee of quality. They’ve also certainly relied on that little resolution to market their product, bourbon waves the red, white, and blue every chance it gets. It’s safe to say this resolution and the related standards have helped make bourbon makers money.

So, when Woodford Reserve decides to broadcast that they think bourbon is only made in Kentucky, they’re basically thumbing their nose at the standards that have helped their brand succeed since it launched in 1996. Nowhere in the 1964 resolution or in the Code of Federal Regulations does it say that bourbon can only be made in Kentucky. Bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States, as long as it adheres to the standards and regulations. Any serious bourbon fan knows this, and, one would assume, any bourbon maker would know this as well. I would think it’s widely agreed that these standards strengthen bourbon in general, Woodford Reserve apparently thinks the opposite. Yes, it’s probably just a simple, meant-to-be-fun tweet, but it’s also wrong. It’s blatantly false and pretty much celebrates some amount of ignorance. Why would a bourbon brand want to be seen as not knowing or caring about the standards it depends on? Why would a bourbon brand publicly try to marginalize its fellow producers? Does Woodford Reserve really think that a fun bit of factually wrong, petty provincialism would be a positive thing?

Ok, sure, Woodford’s twitter account it probably managed by some PR person…or a hapless intern, and maybe in the mint julep-fueled hype of the Kentucky Derby, they got carried away by all that regional excitement. Maybe they actually didn’t know that bourbon can be produced outside of Kentucky. Maybe they were just trying to funny. At the very least, it just ends up being a stupid, thoughtless, harmless comment. But in a day and age where ignorance is practically applauded and where, increasingly, the truth becomes the truth just because someone says so on social media, even a harmless little tweet like this does a disservice to their brand in particular and the bourbon industry in general.



Auchentoshan American Oak Single Malt Scotch Whisky – Review

American Oak Bottle-hi

*Sincere thanks to MS & AS at Savona Communications for the sample.

Auchentoshan American Oak, the new-ish, entry-level, no-age-statement malt from the Lowland distillery, replaces (thankfully) the Classic, which was a very affordable whisky…just not one you’d want to buy. For this expression, Auchentoshan has, in a way, tilted its triple-distilled single malt towards bourbon. American Oak has been aged solely in first-fill ex-bourbon casks, an interesting choice given relatively heavy influence of that kind of barrel and the distillery’s relatively light distillate. In the accompanying literature, Auchentoshan also mentions that this one was created with barrels taken from high in the warehouse and low in the warehouse. Auchentoshan has both dunnage and racked warehouses, so I’m assuming they mean they’re plucking these barrels from the more vertical racked warehouses as dunnage-style warehouses pretty much always stack casks no more than three high. It’s hard to say how big a role this kind of cask selection would make in a Scotch. In Kentucky, thanks to a fairly dynamic climate, barrels on the upper floors of a racked warehouse are exposed to more heat and potentially different humidity than those lower down, and that has all kinds of different effects on a maturing bourbon. Southern Scotland doesn’t have nearly the same range of climatic variation one sees in Kentucky, so you’d think warehouse location would be less of a consideration. Still, that’s a very bourbon-esque way of building a Scotch.

Placing the emphasis on the wood and maturation is a mildly contradictory approach by a distillery that also usually likes to emphasize the unique subtlety of their distillate. It’s certainly not a new idea for Auchentoshan, their Three Wood has been a major part of their range since it debuted in 2002. But to emphasize that bourbon influence in these two ways for their entry-level expression strikes me as a rather interesting move.

The Nose:  A pleasing, but simple and mild nose. At the forefront, honey, cinnamon, and a lot of vanilla syrup, mingle with a bit of baked cherry cobbler. Notes of toasted malt, burnt toffee, lemon, and old oak boards hover behind. In the background are hints of toasted almond and furniture polish.

The Palate:  A bit hot for 40%, I guess that’d be the youth showing. Early on, there’s brown sugar, more vanilla syrup, and lemon curd. Mid palate, there are more almond notes…candied this time, along with a touch of nutty toffee. Mildly tannic oak, hot cinnamon, and fine-ground black pepper lead to the finish.

The Finish:  A medium sort of lingering with nice vanilla and citrus notes, a bit of burnt marshmallow, and just the right amount of oaky tannins

Thoughts:  A pleasantly sweet, easygoing, non-threatening single malt, this is leaps and bounds better than the startlingly mediocre Auchentoshan Classic it’s replacing. It’s definitely not the most earth-shattering whisky in the world, but it does what it sets out to do – show off the effects of ex-bourbon casks on a relatively subtle, gentle spirit. Given the lack of age statement, we can assume this is made up of mostly younger whiskies. Some older whisky and higher ABV would probably give it more depth, but I suppose it would probably make it more expensive then, too. At around $40-$45, this isn’t the greatest value in the world, but it’s a nice introduction to the distillery.

Auchentoshan American Oak Single Malt Scotch Whisky, OB ~2014

40% ABV

Score:  81

Whiskey On Ice 2015 Wrap-up

*A sincere thank you to MG and Whiskey On Ice for providing me with the media pass and the opportunity to attend the event as press.

Going to a big whisky show always reminds me how much I like going to big whisky shows. The morning after a big whisky show always reminds me how much I dislike going to big whisky shows. But, a little food, a few over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, and a trip to the zoo with the kids on a beautiful day can pretty much take care of anything. By the afternoon, I was able to look back fondly at Whiskey On Ice’s inaugural event and sift through my notes which, for some reason, began to get a little hard to read towards the end.

Up until this event, the Twin Cities area hadn’t played host to a large-scale whisky free-for-all. The somewhat burgeoning food and drink scene here certainly makes the area fertile ground, so I think Whiskey On Ice has timed its debut just right. Held in the former Milwaukee Road depot on what is an ice rink in the Winter (more on that here), Whiskey On Ice featured well over 200 whiskies by close to 100 different producers. The pour list was diverse with offering from the U.S., Scotland, Canada, Ireland, Japan, France, and Taiwan. Along with the expected big name Bourbons and Scotches, there was also a decent selection of “craft” distillers including a couple of local companies.

If there’s any hope at all at keeping this even marginally brief, here’s a look at the highlights (and a lowlight) of the show…

glendronachparliament21year_1Best in Show:  The Glendronach Parliament 21 Year Old. Perhaps unwisely, I came back for seconds and possibly thirds of this one. I think quite a few others did as well. Matured entirely in a combination of Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso casks, this is wonderfully sherried and rich, yet balanced and bright, with an underlying complexity and strength. It doesn’t hurt that for around $130, this 48% ABV, full-sherry-matured malt is a relatively great value these days. The far-too-expensive Macallan Rare Cask across the hall was actually pretty good, but it didn’t hold a candle to this beauty.

Worst in Show: Haig Club Single Grain Whisky. This was so bad, I had to try it twice because I thought there was something wrong the first time. There is no redeeming quality here whatsoever, no nose to speak of, a watery, flaccid palate, an ugly cologne bottle and a ridiculously high price tag. Nikka’s Coffey Grain was at the show as well, only it came in a proper bottle with no-frills labelling, no superstar athlete endorsement, and was approximately 438 times better. Haig Club was an insult to every whisky at the show…including the beer. My notes on this one were as follows: “HORRID SHIT.”

Speaking of beer:  Every good whisky show needs a little beer, and Whisky on Ice invited local legends Surly Brewing Company to showcase three barrel-aged beauties: 2014’s  imperial stout Darkness, the American wild ale Pentagram, and the oatwine Eight. All three were aged in barrels formerly containing High West rye whiskey, and all three were excellent.

IMG_6762Most shocking news: “Shocking” is perhaps an exaggeration, but I was surprised to hear that Nikka Whisky’s Taketsuru 12 was being discontinued. Probably old news, but it was news to me. It seems an uptick in demand from abroad in China and from at home in Japan (possibly due to the popular TV series about Rita and Masataka Taketsuru) has put enough pressure on Nikka that they have scrapped the 12 year old blended malt in favor of a non-age statement version simply called Taketsuru Pure Malt. The new expression is very similar…at the moment. It will be interesting to see how it “evolves”. In any case, at least here in the US, if you like Nikka, stock up now, because it’s going to get a bit scarce.

Most Suspicious Bit Of Info:  I like Oban quite a bit, so it was nice to try their “Little Bay” release. I found it pretty good, fairly Oban-ish in character, but what does the addition of a less-expensive non-age-statement (NAS) expression mean for this small distillery’s stalwart 14 Year Old? I was told there was no danger to the 14 Year Old, and that the Little Bay was created with stocks around that used for its core expression. However, given the industry’s trend towards NAS whiskies, it’s hard to imagine Little Bay not having some effect on the modest output of this distillery. Perhaps this is cynical and uneducated on my part, but I guess we shall see…

IMG_6761Distillery That Lived Up To The Hype:  That’d be Kavalan. Tasting through the King Car Conductor, Concertmaster, Single Malt, and two single cask expressions, the “award-winning” Vinho Barrique and Ex-Bourbon Cask, left no doubt that this Taiwanese Distiller is on to something really good and is actually living up to all the recent hype. Of the five presented, I think my favorite was the Ex-Bourbon Cask.

20150420-222204.jpgBiggest surprise: Hands down, Westland Distillery. Founded in 2010, this Seattle distillery is fairly unique among American distillers in that focuses solely on single malt whiskey. An interesting mix of Scottish tradition and American innovation influenced by beer-making has yielded some quite impressive, mature-beyond-their-years booze. The flagship American Single Malt has a complex, grain-forward profile, The Sherry Wood adds a layer of fruit and spice on top of that, and the Peated expression rivals young ones from Kilchoman and the English Whisky Co. Definitely looking forward to exploring this distillery more.

Biggest Local Surprise:  The lightly aged rye and wheat “Prototype Series” from St. Paul’s 11 Wells were signs of very good things to come from this young distillery. Each had impressively distinct and delicious grain character. They were both aged in five gallon barrels for approximately four months, which helped take some of the raw spirit edge off and really let the quality of their well-crafted distillate come through.

The Importer/Distributor With One Of The Coolest Portfolios Out There:  Easy, Anchor Distilling. With the likes of Glendronach, Glenrothes, BenRiach, Kavalan, Nikka, Old Potrero, and more in their stable, Anchor has a focused, incredibly high quality and diverse range of whiskies.

Other Notables Worth Noting:  There were two Glenfiddichs that aroused some interest. The first was their very nice Excellence 26 Year Old which was aged entirely in ex-bourbon barrels which is notable because it’s the first Glenfiddich to be aged entirely in ex-bourbon barrels. Judging by the relatively pale color of this one, quite a few second-fill casks were used as well. It was deliciously smooth and fruity, very elegant and nuanced, which isn’t how I usually think of GlenfiddichThe second was “The Original 1963″ which is a re-creation…an interpretation of the first single malt put out by Glenfiddich back in, you guessed it, 1963. This NAS whisky was aged solely in ex-sherry casks, just as the whisky in 1963 would’ve been. It’s definitely a younger whisky, but also a fairly good one. It’s an oaky, fruity, more brash take on the Glenfiddich we’re used to.

IMG_6760All in all, I think this was a very successful, well-organized debut for Whiskey On Ice. For a new show in what is not really known as a big whisky market, I thought the pour list was good. Hopefully, more distillers and brands (independent bottlers, I’m looking at you) will be more inclined to join the party as this event, and the scene in general becomes more established. I thought the venue was great, the huge, old rail shed provided a unique and inviting space. I know the VIP hour was sold out, and the general admission may have been close to that as well, but there was plenty of room to navigate all evening long, it never felt overly crowded. I thought the schedule of the day/night was arranged well. There were four master classes held before the main event, and one held during. I was not able to attend any myself, but those I spoke to that did, only had positive things to say. My only complaints about the show were food-related. About halfway through, I took a break for a little dinner and found the pickings were pretty slim. There was also not really much space (nor tables) made available for eating comfortably. Food is a key ingredient in being able to navigate 3-4 hours of tasting whisky, it’s helpful to take a break and eat. Hopefully next year, there will be a bit more attention paid to that aspect of the show. Other than that, I had a great time. It was nice to catch up with some old industry friends as well as meet new ones. In particular, very nice to meet fellow Minnesota blogger Eric Burke who writes about American whiskey over at Bourbon Guy. Well done, Whiskey on Ice, definitely looking forward to next year.

Very Old Barton Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Review

Galápagos Tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra)

First of all, let’s just all agree right away that at four to six years old, this Very Old Barton is not very old at all. Granted, “very old” is a pretty damn relative term. A six year old banana, for example, would widely be considered “very old”, whereas a six year old Galápagos Tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra)  would widely be considered a young toddler. As a completely unrelated aside, I just learned that the name Galápagos is derived from the old Spanish, galápago, meaning (possibly)…”tortoise”. Therefore, a Galápagos Tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra) is basically a Tortoise’s Tortoise, with, I’m assuming, the implication being that among Tortoises, the Galápagos Tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra) is the loftiest breed of tortoise you could ever want to meet. Given that a Galápagos Tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra) can weigh up to 550 lbs.(!) and live to be 170 years old, I think we can also all agree the name is apt.

VOB-green 86As I was saying, Very Old Barton Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey…is not very old. Even by whisk(e)y standards, it’s not very old. Very old bourbon is, what the hell, let’s say 20 years old or more. Six year old bourbon is still in the horribly awkward stage where you date all the wrong people, commit completely to a philosophy, or author, or band which, 10 years down the road, you’ll wince at the memory of. This isn’t to say six year old bourbon isn’t good, it can be very, very good…it’s just not “very old”. Plus, these days, we don’t even know how old Very Old Barton is. Sure, by law, it’s gotta be at least two years old, but past that, it’s not an exact science. It used to say “6 years old” on the bottle, but, in late 2013 (I think), in a stroke of marketing genius, Buffalo Trace, removed the “years” and the “old” part of “6 years old” and just left a rather ambiguous “6” up there on the neck of the bottle. If you need more background on the subject, I’ll refer you to the always excellent Sku’s Recent Eats who looked into the move a bit more completely 

Six hand crafted what?

Why the fuck would you do away with the age statement on a bottle of whisk(e)y, yet decide to keep the number of that former age statement on the label of the bottle? I understand opting for a non-age statement version, it eases supply demands, and makes things more flexible for a company. I don’t really care for the idea, but I understand it. But to change a brand’s age yet decide to keep the most prominent indicator of that age on the label is sneaky at best, definitely shameful, nefarious at worst, and just a little asshole-ish in general. So, just in case you’re fondling a bottle of Very Old Barton, just know that the “6” on the bottle’s neck is only an indicator of Sazerac’s/Buffalo Trace’s great desire to more or less fool you into thinking you’re buying something you’re really not.

Ok, with all that hot-headed wind-baggery out of the way, we can finally take a look the actual bourbon inside a bottle of Very Old Barton. Distilled at the Barton 1792 Distillery (formerly known as Old Tom), and aged for approximately four to six years, Very Old Barton comes in a variety of alcohol-by-volume guises: an 80 proof, the 86 proof we’re looking at here, a 90 proof and a bottled-in-bond 100 proof.

The Nose:  A nice, straightforward, “bourbon” nose. Carmel corn and baked apple are responsible for much of the sweetness, with a little orange juice thrown in for good measure. Balanced nicely by some vanilla bean, cinnamon & sugar toast, and damp, sawn oak. Subtler notes of coconut creme, Christmas spice, and burnt toffee in the background.

The Palate:  A bit punchier than the nose with early brown sugar and orange sweetness, and quite a bit more vanilla. A bit of boiled sweet corn makes an appearance as well. While the rye is still very subtle, it’s more present on the palate than the nose. Slightly edgy oak leads to spicier notes of cinnamon, clove, and black pepper.

The Finish:  The finish grows a little minty hot and quickly tannic and drying with oaky cinnamon and clove and briefly lingering hints of that boiled sweet corn.

Thoughts:  Very Old Barton has a reputation of being a unheralded yet excellent value bourbon, and I’d say I have to agree with that. There’s nothing earth-shattering happening here, it’s a fairly straightforward, high-corn-mashbill bourbon, but it progresses nicely and is fairly well-balanced. There are some sharp edges to it, but I found it much smoother than expected. The quite dry, somewhat spirit-y finish comes out of nowhere a bit, but overall, this is a terrific bourbon for the money. Usually found for around $12-$16, I think I’d even have to say this just edges out my usual go-to cheap bourbon, Evan Williams.

Very Old Barton Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky, bourbon, OB ~2014

43% abv

Score:  80

*As a completely unrelated aside, I usually like to include my own pics of bottles when I can, but in this case, the label was quite askew in one direction and the actual bottle was misshapen and leaned a bit in the other direction. I tried taking pictures of it, but to be honest, the pics looked so off, they made me a little sick-to-my-stomach to even look at ’em…so that’s why there’s the standard promo shot instead. Though why I’m worried about bottle shots making anyone nauseous and also including pictures of wanton tortoise sex with abandon admittedly seems a little inconsistent. 

Once Again, Yet Another World’s Best Whisky…Again.

The circus comes to town once again...
The circus comes to town once again…

Back in November of 2014, Jim Murray “stunned” the whisky world by naming the Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 the “best whisky in the world”. Oh, the humanity! Suddenly the best whisky in the world was no longer from Scotland and Scotch was roundly chastised for having let high quality slip through its peaty little fingers. Article after article, and post after post from click-hungry sites like Business Insider, Forbes, Huffington Post, etc. dutifully burped out articles with headlines like “The Best Whisky in the World is No Longer From Scotland”, and “You’ll Never Guess Where the Best Whisky in the World Comes From”. Rather sparse mentions were made about this being just one man’s influential opinion, instead it was just treated as universal truth that a great upheaval had happened and all of our lives would never be the same…especially the lives of those poor Scots who had somehow lost their way. Never mind that the same kind of hubbub had happened just 10 months prior when the World Whiskies Awards named a Tasmanian whisky its best single malt whisky of 2014

Well, here we are again, just four months removed from that great Japanese whisky epiphany, and a year removed from that Tasmanian shocker, and the World Whiskies Awards have come out and dropped yet another bombshell. You may want to sit down, because…the best whisky in the world isn’t from Scotland! Yes, you heard right, this year the title of best whisky in the world goes to a relative young upstart from Taiwan named Kavalan!

Now, to be fair, the Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique Single Cask Strength was voted best single malt whisky not simply best whisky. However, that fact seems to have escaped most headlines and articles. The UK’s Independent titled their piece, “Kavalan whisky from Taiwan named best in the world” (and published a picture of the wrong whisky, but whatever). Time trotted out the eerily familiar, “You Won’t Believe Where the World’s Best Whiskey Comes From”. FoxNews grabbed everyone’s attention with the attention grabbing headline, “Whisky from Taiwan named best in the world.” It’s certainly worth noting that while those first two had somewhat misleading headlines, they did eventually mention the “best single malt” distinction in the article. FoxNews, on the other hand, misses that important point, which is surprising given that FoxNews is usually, uh, so very, very accurate.

This is not meant to be a jab at the award-winning whiskies mentioned, all three I’m sure are deserving of high praise. It’s these awards and the ensuing media frenzy that are getting more than a bit tiresome and more than a little comical. Many of these whisky awards are simply grinding PR/money-making machines that thrive on the free advertising of hyperbolic, often inaccurate articles written by and for people far enough outside the industry that it’s fairly clear they don’t really know what they’re talking about. I know people involved will defend the “process” and the judging of these awards, but that’s not the point, the issue is with the underlying purpose of them all. With what seems like a bi-annual or even quarterly crowning of a new “best whisky in the world ever”, we’re basically seeing the same things said over and over with only the brand name changing. It all ends up feeling more or less like a pile of vapid, ever-mounting crap whose sole purpose is breeding misleading hype just to sell bottles.

As a perfect, and I’m sure all too common little example of how this all goes wrong, not long after Tasmania’s Sullivan’s Cove French Oak Cask won the 2014 World Whiskies best Single Malt Award, I was in a liquor store, taking a look at one of that companies other bottles when the following (approximate) conversation was had with a kindly gentleman who was carrying a couple of expensive bottles like prized cats:

Kindly Gentleman: (pointing to the bottle in my hand) “That one just won best whisky in the world, right there!”

Not-so-kindly Blogger: “Best single malt, actually, and this one didn’t win the award, I think it was the French Oak Cask…” (knowing full well that even the French Oak Cask the store had was not the same cask that won the award.)

Kindly Gentleman: (Interrupting me and walking away with his glass cats) “Nope, Sullivan’s Cove, right there, just voted Best Whisky in the World.”

Easily Exasperated, Not-so-kindly Blogger: (mumbling under my breath) “Gotcha, thanks.”

The validity or lack thereof of whisky awards and their accompanying hype might seem like an obvious thing to criticize, but I think there’s enough coverage of it all throughout the whisky community to make the criticism worthwhile. I don’t begrudge anyone trying to make a buck off of whisky, or whisky awards, or hastily written articles about whisky awards. But I also think this kind of fawning, mutually beneficial back-slapping bullshit is fair game, and deserves to be called out for what it is. So for the love of the whisky gods, please treat these awards with a grain of salt. Certainly wash over the ensuing semi-accurate, hyperbolic hype and coverage with a cynical eye. Just remember that while there’s a reason these whiskies are recognized – they’re often great whiskies, there’s also a reason the awards are hyped and covered so much, and that’s to sell whiskies, sell ad space, and make the award-givers more money.