The Exclusive Malts 2004 Tomatin 10 Year Old – Review

ExMalts_Tomatin10

In the beginning of 2014, a great many red-blooded, whiskey-drinking Americans were saddened, incensed, and apparently betrayed somehow to find out that Japanese beverage giant Suntory, was buying Beam Inc. Such was the outrage that the quintessentially American Jim Beam brand was now owned by a foreign company that many of these red-blooded, whiskey drinking Americans (true patriots all, I’m sure) poured their Jim Beam down the drains in some sort of…protest, I guess. A fairly stupid gesture, if you ask me, but then again, the U.S. is increasingly known for its futile gestures and lack of intelligence. I’m sure it never occurred to these people that many iconic “American” brands are now foreign owned. I’m sure it never occurred to these people that most of what we buy/own/wear/eat/drive is now made in foreign lands by foreign companies, but again…that’s good ol’ ‘Merica for you.

While this acquisition might have raised a few eyebrows and ires amongst knee-jerk Americans who like to waste cheap booze, those in the whisky world knew that it was simply one more ownership change in an ever-consolidating industry, and certainly not the first time a Japanese company has waded into foreign whisky waters. Hell, this wasn’t even the first time a Japanese Company snatched up an American bourbon company. Kirin Brewery Co. has owned Four Roses since 2002 when they bought it from a British company who briefly owned it after buying it from an Italian company. I don’t remember any reports of grossly misplaced outrage aimed at Four Roses, though perhaps that was because the Four Roses that was on the shelves at that time was outrageously gross.

In an effort to get to the point here, Tomatin, the somewhat large and somewhat largely unheralded distillery this long-winded review is about, was actually the first distillery outside of Japan, purchased by a Japanese company. In 1986, two Japanese companies formed the Tomatin Distillery Co., and bought the distillery from its long-time owners, Tomatin Distillers Co. Ltd. In 1998, it changed hands again with the Japanese company Marubeni buying out their fellow countrymen. Tomatin has a relatively large production capacity, with the majority of its output going towards blended whiskies including the Marubeni-owned brands, Antiquary and Talisman. However, for the last several years, the distillery has successfully focused more and more on its single malts, expanding the core range, and releasing several single cask vintages. In 2013, the range was expanded further by the introduction of the peated Cù Bòcan expression. This independently bottled 10 year old from the Creative Whisky Company’s Exclusive Malts range was aged solely in a sherry cask.

The Nose:  Though a touch spirit-y, an interesting nose. Quite malt-y with milky caramel and powdered malted milk mix, along with some floral honey. Subtler, almost red wine-esque fruit notes follow – red grapes and under-ripe plums. There are strong, youthful, oak notes, but not much spice; a little nutmeg and grated ginger perhaps.  Adding a little water allows those fruit notes to come forward more and adds a dusting of cocoa powder.

The Palate:  Very nice. The palate expands quite a bit on the nose. Bigger red fruit notes, even a little jammy initially, are followed by a nice hot fudge sundae. Lovely hints of chocolate and salted nuts. Richer, slightly hot, spice notes of oak (both sawn and polished), cinnamon, vanilla bean, and mild pepper round things out. Water flattens out the early complexity a bit, bringing up more vanilla and only toning down a little, the youngish spice at the end.

The Finish:  Medium-ish, nicely tannic and grippy, with dark Mexican chocolate, oak, and pepper.

Thoughts:  A really nice surprise. While I found the nose of this interesting, I also found it a bit young and lacking in depth. The wonderful palate, however, really stole the show. The sherry influence is not strong but it’s present throughout, shining best at strength on the palate. While the youth is also evident throughout, I think there’s a beguiling complexity here that would make this one a pleasure to come back to. Recommended.

The Exclusive Malts 2004 Tomatin 10 Year Old, Highland, IB, ~2014

57.4% ABV

Score:  85

The Exclusive Malts 2004 Speyside 10 Year Old Port Cask – Review

*Thanks to SF and the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.

ExMalts PortPort, or Porto, or if you want to get really fancy, Vinho do Porto, is Portugal’s contribution to the world of fortified wine. Portuguese Port is produced solely in the north of the country, in the Douro valley. Along with Italy’s Chianti, and Hungary’s Tokaj, the Douro is one of the oldest officially recognized and protected wine regions in the world. It’s a common myth that Port was “invented” by British exporters and sailors who added brandy to wine so that it would keep on the long journey from Portugal to England. While that practice almost certainly occurred, it was apparently not the origin of this rich, sweet wine as we know it. In the mid to late 1700’s, wine producers and exporters were made aware of England’s taste for sweeter, stronger wines, and realized they could achieve that style by adding brandy or an un-aged grape spirit to fermenting wine to halt the fermentation process. This not only leaves more residual sugar in the wine, but also creates a wine which, due to its higher alcohol content, is more highly influenced by aging in oak barrels. At this time, the fact that the higher alcohol content kept the wine better in shipping, was more of a bonus for producers rather than a means to an end.

Port is primarily made up of five grape varietals. Touriga Francesa and Touriga Nacional are the most widely used with the lighter, more delicate Francesa balancing the darker, tannic Nacional. Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca, and Tinta Cão are used mostly as blending components. Port can be aged/matured in the barrel, in the bottle, or in the tank, depending on the style. Ruby Port is the most common, inexpensive type, and has been stored briefly in tanks before bottling. Because Port is a fortified wine, a tank or bottle creates a reductive environment, wherein the liquid retains much of its original color but loses its tannic quality over time, becoming much smoother and simpler. Tawny Port, another fairly common style, is blended from several vintages and estates, and aged for many years in casks called pipes, which are large (approx. 500-600 liters), usually made of American Oak (Quercus Alba), and are quite tapered on the ends compared to American barrels. Aging Port in oak casks creates an oxidative environment where the wine has the effects of the oak imposed, its original color changed, and due to evaporation, its viscosity upped. The Colheita style is basically Tawny Port but from a single harvest. The somewhat confusing Late Bottled Vintage is Port from a single year that has been cask-aged for around four to six years, then deemed ready to drink and bottled. Late Bottled Vintage Port is more or less the poor man’s Vintage Port which is the top-of-the-line style in the Port world. Vintage Port is aged in oak for only two to three years, then bottled, then stashed away for at least 20 years to age further. Vintage Ports are only produced from what are deemed the best harvest years, therefore you might only see two or three vintages in a decade. Vintage Ports are the most expensive variety, but also the most complex and the most enduring with bottles easily holding up well after 30-40 years of cellaring.

Lest you think this is turning into some kind of high-brow Port blog, fear not, it’s the same low-brow whisky blog you’ve been putting up with for five years. I just wanted to get a grip on some Port knowledge before diving into this release from the Creative Whisky Company. The Exclusive Malts 2004 Speyside 10 Year Old Port Cask comes from an undisclosed Speyside distillery (no, I don’t have any guesses as to which one), and spent its entire life maturing in a Port pipe.

The Nose:  The pink-tinged amber color of this 10 year old certainly hints that you’re going for a bit of ride. A light and dusty nose with quite a bit of holiday fruitcake. The fruit that’s here is dry and not very sweet; dried apples, dried cherries, and those tannic little chokecherries. The malt shows up a little sweeter but also has a slight grape-mustiness about it . It’s slightly woody without much spice to speak of, just a bit of cinnamon and vanilla. Adding a bit of water tones down the dusty dried fruit a little while adding a  slight beery quality to the malt notes

The Palate:  Much like the nose, subtle dried fruits, with an added bit of citrus zing.  Caramel-y malt, vanilla syrup and cherries in dark chocolate lead to a bit more spice, fresh sawn oak, sweet clove, cinnamon bark, and white pepper. Water brings out more sweetness, juicier fruit and softer cocoa notes. It also calms the young, slightly edgy spice at the end.

The Finish:  Lengthy and nicely hot. The dusty red fruit quality remains, growing quite dry and tannic at the end

Thoughts:  A subtle, but adventurous youngster. While not heavy, the dusty, dried fruit Port influence is balanced and consistent throughout and plays well with the malt notes. It was certainly interesting to pick up quite a few fruit notes without the usual accompanying sweetness. I liked the nose better straight but thought the palate benefitted from the addition of a little water – it sweetened things up and smoothed them out. Port matured whiskies are not everyone’s cup of tea, but I tend to like their slightly funky uniqueness. This one’s no exception.

The Exclusive Malts 2004 Speyside 10 Year Old Port Cask, Speyside (duh), IB ~2014

57.7% ABV

Score:  83

Whiskey On Ice, Minneapolis finally gets a big whisk(e)y show…

whiskyoniceIn just two months time Minneapolis will play host to its first large-scale (at least in recent memory) whisk(e)y show. Having moved from San Francisco where there were three big whisky shows annually, I’ve missed having a big event here in the Twin Cities area. The food and drink scene here is thriving, certainly not as much as the almost comically frantic scenes in SF, NY, and LA, but that’s actually a good thing. People here do know their food and drink, so I think the area is definitely ready for a major event such as this.

Whiskey On Ice is being held downtown in the historic Depot, a beautiful former Milwaukee Road rail depot designed by Charles Frost and built in 1899. The Depot ceased its train activity in 1971, but the buildings have remained in use. In 1998, 20 years after being placed on the register of Historic Places, the site was redeveloped and today features two hotels, two bars/restaurants, banquet and meeting rooms, a small museum, and…AND…an indoor water park and ice skating rink. The ice rink is in what used to be the old rail shed, a long, trussed-roofed building the likes of which is rarely seen these days.

Indeed, Whiskey on Ice will take place in The Depot’s shed, hence the “on ice” part of the name. While I have not confirmed this, I’m fairly certain there will be some kind of non-slip surface in place over the ice for the event. Bipeds, alcohol, and ice is recipe for hilarious (and potentially libelous) disaster – no one wants that. So far there are over 80 participants from Scotland, the U.S., Ireland, Canada, Japan, France, India, Taiwan, and Tasmania, pouring their booze. Quite a few “craft” distilleries are included amongst the expected big names as well. Whisky on Ice is also offering four masterclasses/seminars that will be held earlier in the day before the main event.

Here are the details:

Whiskey On Ice
Sunday, April 12, 2015
  -Master classes begin at 1:30
  -VIP tasting begins at 4:00
  -Main event runs from 5:00-8:00pm.
The Depot
225 South 3rd Avenue
Minneapolis, MN  55401
Tickets available here. 
VIP-$125,  General Admission-$75,  Masterclasses-$25

Fifth Anniversary Internet Scavenger Hunt of Needlessly Esoteric Whisky-Related Trivia

Pinball5For good or for ill, I started writing this blog five years ago this month. Five years…that seems like a long time to keep a blog going. I’ve certainly learned more about whisky than I ever imagined I’d learn about whisky, and learning about whisky was the primary motivation for starting all this in the first place. Along the way, it’s been an unexpected pleasure and privilege to meet the many great people who’ve been so enthusiastic of this little endeavor. You know who you are, I sincerely thank you for your friendship, your readership, and your support.

To celebrate five years of very difficult and demanding work, I’d like to offer up a little scavenger hunt for those interested. Some of the answers can be found in old posts on this blog, some of them elsewhere on the interwebs. Post your answers in a comment at the end of this post. I’ll keep the all the comments hidden until I close the “hunt” at the end of February. The most correct answers, wins, or in the likely event of more than one entry with the same score, a winner will be chosen at random.

TastingWhisky_Bryson1What will the winning winner win, you ask? Well, I’ve thought long and hard about this, and in the process of thinking long and hard, I drank up all the 1977 Ardbeg I was thinking long and hard about giving away as a prize. So you don’t get that. No, instead of giving away whisky, which, let’s be honest, isn’t something any of us actually need, the prize will be a book about whisky. Everyone needs books about whisky. So for the lucky soul who somehow manages to be #1, I’ll be giving away a copy of Lew Bryson’s fine book, Tasting Whiskey: An Insider’s Guide to the Unique Pleasures of the World’s Finest Spirits.* 

Seeing as I’m completely dumbfounded and humbled by the fact that people from all over the world have taken a moment to read this blog, this contest is open to you wherever you are. The only people who are ineligible are Lew Bryson (just because why would he want a copy? I’m kidding – Lew, knock yourself out,) myself, and, for obvious reasons, Scott Walker, the horrific “governor” of the formerly great state of Wisconsin.

So, without further ado, The Casks’ Fifth Anniversary Internet Scavenger Hunt of Needlessly Esoteric Whisky-Related Trivia…

1. What is the etymology of the word cask?

2. Name a distillery located on the banks of an estuary protected by two shoe-making giants.

3. Name a whisky book published before 1990 that was written by a nom de plume.

4. To date, what’s the best Irish whiskey this blog has come across?

5. What is the origin of the name Laphroaig?

6. Who was Zackariah Harris?

7. What is the name of the ill-fated conveyance in Compton Mackenzie’s classic novel?

8. What’s the Latin genus, section, and  species name for Mizunara Oak?

9. What was Sazerac, originally?

10. What did Gaston Bazille and Jules-Emile Planchon name “the Devastator”?

Extra Credit:  Name three worthy distilleries this blog has pretty much completely overlooked in its five-year tenure.

Cheers. Sláinte. Thank you!

*Neither Lew nor his publishers have anything to do with this contest, I’m purchasing this book to give away as a prize because I think it’s a worthy addition to anyone’s whisky library. It’s also relatively inexpensive, which, who am I kidding, factored into the choice a little bit. Hell, I’d love to give away piles of cash, gallons of old whisky, or a set of first editions of every book Michael Jackson ever wrote, but that’s unfortunately just not going to happen.

Also, if you didn’t win (and really, it’s ok, you tried your best, I’m sure) and you’re still interested Lew Bryson’s book…just follow this link and pick yourself up a copy.

Tamdhu 10 Year Old – Review

Tamdhu10YearOld

*Thanks to SF and the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.

Tamdhu, like so many of the distilleries founded in the late 1800’s, has a rather up and down history. Founded in 1896 by a group of no less than 15 blenders and merchants led by William Grant, Tamdhu was designed by the hot distillery architect of the day, Charles Doig. A couple of years later, ownership switched to Highland Distillers, which continued to employ many of the original partners. At the time it was considered a very modern distillery, but that didn’t stop it from being closed 14 years later in 1911. It re-opened again in 1913 until the Depression reached its gates in 1928 and closed it once again. Tamdhu stayed closed this time for 20 years, re-opening in 1948.  From 1948 on, Tamdhu chugged along nicely, expanding as needed to service the blended whiskies of Highland Distillers, and releasing the occasional single malt expression once single malt expressions became something distilleries released.

In 2009, The Edrington Group, who had taken over Highland Distillers in 1999, mothballed Tamdhu. Luckily the doors didn’t stay shut for long. In 2011, Ian Macleod Distillers purchased the distillery and all maturing stocks. As it did after purchasing Glengoyne in 2003, Ian Macleod set about re-booting the Tamdhu brand. Interestingly (and sadly), the new owners decided to not use the in-house maltings. Up until its 2009 mothballing, Tamdhu was one of the few remaining distilleries to malt their entire requirement of barley on site. It also produced the unpeated malt for Highland Park. Presumably, the new owners found it more cost-effective to use an outside malt producer, but it is a shame. While any “distillery character” from in-house maltings may be too slight to even notice in a final product, I can’t help but think that with this homogenization, with all the Scotch distilleries using the same few malting companies, something is lost.

The biggest change made by the new owners was to re-position Tamdhu as a sherried malt, with all maturation done in ex-sherry casks. With the endless supply of relatively inexpensive ex-bourbon casks flowing out of the U.S., most distilleries have turned away a bit from using ex-sherry casks, so it’s good to see a single malt brand deliberately returning to that style. The Tamdhu 10 Year Old is their flagship/entry-level expression, with both first and second-fill sherry casks used for aging.

The Nose:  A nice, gentle, sweet, slightly perfumed nose. Malty, milky caramel and bruised apples mingle with quite a bit of vanilla-heavy orgeat syrup. Rice pudding with raisins adds another layer of sweetness with a touch of burnt milk funkiness. Subtler notes of dried red fruits, cherries maybe, cinnamon, and polished oak hang in the background.

The Palate:  Like the nose, the palate begins gently with a slightly oily, lush mouthfeel and much of the same sweetness carrying over. The caramel and apple are joined by more zippy orange citrus. Very dark chocolate and salted almonds lend a nice counterpoint. A nice, lingering development towards the end brings out dark chocolate-covered cherries, vanilla bean, tannic sawn oak, soft fine-ground pepper, and powdered cinnamon.

The Finish:  Lengthy and just a touch hot with that nice resurgence of dark fruit, more nutty vanilla syrup, and a nice tannic swell of oak at the very last.

Thoughts:  A very good “entry-level” young Speysider. I’ve tried this several times over the last year, and I continue to be impressed. It is sweetly complex with a nice progression and balance. While not what I would call heavily sherried, the sherry cask influence is subtly present throughout. It’s youth is evident in slight funkiness of the nose and heat towards the end, but overall, I think this one belies its age a bit. Really, my main quibble with the new Tamdhu 10 is its ~$60 price tag. I understand the implied cost of full sherry cask maturation, and perhaps more importantly, the new owner’s need to bring in some cash, but it still feels a little over-priced to me. On the other hand, I’m certainly glad the new owners just didn’t trot out some younger, no-age-statement malt, and that their plans include older expressions down the road. I think that and the quality of this expression makes Tamdhu a distillery worth paying attention to. Recommended.

Tamdhu 10 Year Old, Speyside, OB ~2103

43% ABV

Score:  84

Robbie Burns Night…

robert burnsArouse, my boys! exert your mettle,
To get auld Scotland back her kettle;
Or faith! I’ll wad my new pleugh-pettle,
Ye’ll see ‘t or lang,
She’ll teach you, wi’ a reekin whittle,
Anither sang.

This while she’s been in crankous mood,
Her lost Militia fir’d her bluid;
(Deil na they never mair do guid,
Play’d her that pliskie!)
An’ now she’s like to rin red-wad
About her whisky.

Excerpted from “The Author’s Earnest Cry And Prayer” by Robert Burns

Sláinte mhaith

Surly Brewing’s Blakkr Imperial Black Ale – Review

IMG_5438Early in 2014, at the end of February, Blakkr, an Imperial Black Ale collaboration from three breweries, Minneapolis’ Surly Brewing, Real Ale Brewing Co. from Blanco, TX, and Three Floyds Brewing Co. from Munster, IN, was released to no small amount of beergeek fanfare. United by their deep love of Metal (the music, not the solid material, though they probably all like that as well) the three brewmasters involved set out to make “the most metal beer ever”. They had me at metal. Actually, they had me at Imperial Black Ale, too. Actually, they had me at Blakkr (Old Norse for “black” or “dark”) as well. Hell, who are we kidding, they had me at beer. Those sons of bitches, it’s like they sat down and figured out the perfect way to get me to spend my money on their beer.

The Appearance:  C’mon, it’s called Blakkr, what do you think it’s gonna look like? Slightly less opaque black than a stout with a nice creamy, pale café au lait head.

The Nose:  Deep and complex, but quite hoppy, sweet, and fruity for something so…metal. There’s pine sap, black licorice candy, cocoa nibs, tropical fruits – perhaps passion fruit and under-ripe pineapple. malt-y, grain-y notes of buttered and brown-sugared porridge.

The Palate:  Caramelized, malty, and roasted to start, with brown sugar and sweetened toasted grains. Hops come through with more pine, grapefruit, and tropical fruit. Finishes slightly dry with black coffee with a bit of sugar

Thoughts:  Love it…fairly epic stuff. There’s a lot of complexity, ranging from dark, bitter roastiness to the fruitier notes, and it does a great job of reigning it all in and balancing those different elements. For me at times, it can cross the line a bit and be a little too rich, but that’s being pretty nit-picky. While Blakkr is certainly dark and has that broodingly sweet profile, I’m not sure how “metal” a beer can be. If a beer was truly as grim, cvlt, and aggressive as some metal can be…would you even want to drink it? Still, bravo to the three collaborators, I certainly hope they collaborate again.

Surly Brewing’s Blakkr Imperial Black Ale (collaboration between Surly Brewing, Real Ale and Three Floyds)

  • Imperial Black Ale
  • 9.99 % ABV (that’s 666 upside down, if you’re wondering)
  • Malts: Pale Malt, Carafa Special, Oats
  • Sugar: Brewers Crystals
  • Hops: Bittering – Warrior, Aroma- Simcoe, Centennial
  • Yeast: English Ale
  • Original gravity: 22 P
  • Color: 45 SRM

A metal beer certainly needs metal. Now that we’ve gotten the beer stuff out of the way, how about some music? Maximum volume yields maximum results…

Kvelertak, “Bruane Brenn”  

Iron Maiden, “The Trooper”  

Weakling, “No One Can Be Called as a Man While He’ll Die”  

Sunn O))), “Hell-O)))-Ween”  

Electric Wizard, “Funeralopolis”  

Powermad, “Slaughterhouse” (Todd Haug, Powermad’s guitarist, is also a master brewer at Surly. Yes, you’re right, that is awesome.)  

Mastodon, “March of the Fire Ants”.

Slayer, “War Ensemble”.

Judas Priest, “The Ripper”.

Amebix, “The Power Remains”.

Voivod, “The Unknown Knows”.