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”.

Top Whisky-type Stuff (or not) List for 2014

top_ten__waynes_world_Looking back over the previous year-end lists I’ve put up, there’s a distinct trend to them all. Each year I sound surprised and disappointed that I didn’t explore the world of whisky as much as I wanted…and by the time the next year’s list rolls around, I’ve explored it all even less. Such is life, I suppose. Relatively speaking, this year was particularly whisky-free for me. A lack of time and a lack of money conspired to make whisky (and writing about whisky) hardly more than an occasional afterthought. A bit of fatigue with the industry and surrounding community didn’t help matters either. Still, once I got the family settled into a new abode, things started rolling again, and while time and money are still only available in very limited quantities, a bit of renewed energy for it all should make 2015 a bit more interesting, whisky-wise. Probably not, but you know, a boy can dream…

So with very little fanfare, here’s a hastily assembled list of a bunch of crap, some of it whisky-related, some of it only related to whisky because I happened to be sipping some whisky while relating to it.

BEST COST-BE-DAMNED EXCUSE TO ENJOY SOME OVER-PRICED WHISKY:  Buying a house. My whisky-loving father showed up on my new doorstep with a bottle of the new Mortlach Rare Old (it’s neither). After renting for approximately 243 years, the wife (let’s call her Sherry Butts) and I finally took the plunge and bought some property. I was excited about that. My dad was excited about that. It was the perfect occasion to enjoy a whisky we were both curious about. Is the Rare Old good? Yes. Is it over-priced? Yes. Given the celebratory circumstances, was it worth every penny? Yes.

SPEAKING OF FATHERS AND SONS, THE BEST COLLABORATIVE FATHER AND SON ALBUM OF THE YEAR:  Being both a father and a son, not to mention a huge fan of the guy, how could I not mention Tweedy’s Sukierae?

BEST “THE NEW GREEN SPOT JUST AIN’T WHAT SHE USED TO BE, AIN’T WHAT SHE USED TO BE, AIN’T WHAT SHE USED TO BE” IRISH WHISKEY:  For St. Patrick’s Day this year, I broke out an old sample of Green Spot Irish Whiskey that pre-dated the newer, much more widely released version that’s readily available these days. The much smaller, available only through Mitchell & Son Green Spot is a wonderful single pot still Irish whiskey. The new one is quite good as well, but it doesn’t measure up to that old standard.

THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF BEER:  I probably drank more beer than whisky this year. It’s hard to pick a favorite, so I’ll just mention several local brews that left a mark: Surly’s 2014 barrel-aged Darkness and Blakkr, Dangerous Man’s Chocolate Milk Stout, and Summit’s Herkulean Woods. On the downside, Miller’s Fortune was just a colossal embarrassment for beer, for marketing, for…well, it was just a colossal embarrassment in general, let’s just leave it at that.

HAPPY MOMENTS IN AMERICAN WHISKEY:  Let’s just ignore the soaring prices, and panicky hoopla about the impending shortage and focus on the good stuff, shall we?

  • While leading a bourbon tasting early in the year, I was fortunate to have one of the participants bring a bottle of 1992 Booker’s to share. I’m happy to say it was as great a bourbon back then as it is today.
  • This year’s William Larue Weller from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.
  • Guzzling Jim Beam out of one of Mila Kunis’ leather boots at an after party at Chateau Marmont.*

NOT SO HAPPY MOMENTS IN AMERICAN WHISKEY…AND SCOTCH WHISKY, TOO: Eh, too numerous, too irritating, and too exhausting. I’ll just toot my own horn and link to my own snarky look at some of the lowlights of the early part of the year.

BEST TV SHOW THAT ACTUALLY CAME OUT YEARS EARLIER BUT I WATCHED THIS YEAR WHILE DRINKING WHISKY:  The British, barely sci-fi series, Black Mirror. Man…we’re screwed, but at least the tech will be cool.

BETTER READ THAN DEAD:  While high prices and increased scarcity are unwelcome by-products of whisky’s surge in popularity, one of the welcome by-products is the small surge in the number of whisky books being put out. 2014 saw a number of good tomes on the subject: Chuck Cowdery’s Whisky Strange, Heather Greene’s Whiskey Distilled, Lew Bryson’s and David Wondrich’s Tasting Whiskey, Warren Bobrow’s Whiskey Cocktails, and Inge Russell’s and Graham Stewart’s second edition of Whisky: Technology, Production and Marketing, just to name a few.

*Unconfirmed. Possible fabrication. Apologies to Sherry Butts.

HAPPY NEW YEAR.

(Now, last year I said, “let’s be nicer this year”. For the most part, I have to say way too many people generally ignored that request (self included). So let’s try this again. LET’S BE NICER THIS YEAR, GODDAMMIT! Stop shooting people, stop hating people, stop stomping on those less fortunate or different, and stop ignoring facts and science and common sense. Just fucking stop all that shit.)

Be nicer this year.

Drink some whisky.

Use your fucking head.

William Larue Weller Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 2014 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection – Review

*Thank you very much to AP and Buffalo Trace for the samples!

2014 BTAC Banner

If you’d like more information on this William Larue Weller fellow, please check out my review of the 2011 Antique Collection release or my review of the W.L. Weller 12 Year Old. If not, then feel free to either read or skim over some final thoughts on this year’s Buffalo Trace Antique Collection…

As always, the Collection has its high points and its low points, but in general, this is an impressive batch of whiskeys. The Handy continues to be the weak link for me. While I recognize the brands “place” in Sazerac’s history, it’s too youthful and raw compared to the others, and does not seem worth the price. The Sazerac 18 and Eagle Rare 17 don’t offer many surprises, but are both, especially the always great Sazerac 18, worth the hunt. So is the Stagg, though this year, I was a little disappointed by this usually stellar bourbon. It was very, very good, but had wild edge to it that kept it from reaching the heights of other years. The clear winner for me this year was the wheated William Larue Weller. Full of complexity and balance, this one was a marvel from start to finish, with or without water. Compared to the previous two years’ releases, the 12 years and 3 months old 2014 William Larue Weller Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey consisted of a broader selection of whiskeys in terms of where they were matured in Buffalo Trace’s warehouses. Some barrels came from higher warehouse floors which, compared to previous years, perhaps contributed to nearly 9% more of the original spirit evaporating and being lost to the angels.

2014 BTAC _WellerThe Nose:  A tad restrained but richly sweet and complex. At first there’s maple sugar, buttery toffee, and believe or not, fresh cinnamon and sugar donuts. Fruitier notes of sticky figs and dark berry jam are joined by stone ground wheat crackers and vanilla bean. Behind that, subtle “old library” notes – polished oak, dry leather, and the ghost of sweet pipe tobacco. Spicier notes of cinnamon, holiday fruit cake, and oak chips round things out. Adding water tones down the early sweetness some and adds an earthy, almost dried leaves counterpoint.

The Palate:  Hot, yes, but surprisingly drinkable at strength. More maple sugar comes early along with a little cherry cough syrup sweetness.The hard, cracked wheat from the nose is back along with lots of vanilla and candied nuttiness – cinnamon almonds and salted pecans. Wonderfully balanced by wood and spice notes; tannic, yet smooth oak, cinnamon stick, white pepper, a bit of clove, and a trace of star anise. Water smooths out the heat and deliciously draws the flavors along more languidly.

The Finish:  Wonderfully lingering tannins, macerated darks fruits, toasted pecans, and spice. Slightly bitter and quite mouthwatering.

Thoughts:  Fantastic. Probably the best William LaRue Weller I’ve had yet, and easily my favorite from this years Antique Collection. It’s just stunning start to finish, with water and without. Unlike the Stagg, it’s surprisingly smooth and drinkable at strength, but turns even more so with a little h2o. The flavor profile is full of the expected and the unexpected with the wood and spice balancing the sweeter notes throughout. A truly great whiskey, if you find it, buy it and drink it. Highly, highly recommended.

William Larue Weller Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 2014 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection

70.1% ABV

Score:  92

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon, 2014 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection – Review

*Thank you very much to AP and Buffalo Trace for the samples!

2014 BTAC Banner

Reading this year’s “release letter” from Buffalo Trace about the Antique Collection’s Eagle Rare 17 Year Old, I noticed that it listed the distilling date as 1993. Now as I’ve mentioned before I am not what you would call a mathematics wizard. I’m good with fractions for one reason or another and I enjoy sports statistics, but beyond that, I’m not much use in the math department. However, even I quickly deduced that if this was distilled in ’93, that would make this years 17 year old version around 21 years old. To be fair, the Eagle Rare 17 Year Old has not been 17 years old for several years now, and though it’s a bit odd, it’s generally assumed that the title is now more or less a brand name rather than an accurate description. Still, something made something click, and looking back at the last two years release letters, I noticed that they, too, listed 1993 as the distilling date. Could it be that the Antique Collection’s Eagle Rare was now being drawn from a vatted supply like the Sazerac 18?

As one does in times of deep confusion, I took to the internet. I found mention of this same quandary on a couple of bourbon forums, but realized that maybe…just maybe, bourbon forums were not the most reliable source of information. So, I went to a more reliable source, I asked Kris Comstock, Buffalo Trace’s Brand Manager for the low down. According to Kris, the whiskey for last three Eagle Rare 17 releases was all distilled in 1993, but has come from different barrels which were not batched as a whole. In a move to prevent the bourbon from seeing too much oak, the 2014 version was selected in August of 2013 and tanked until this years bottling. So while there may be similarities in the last three years worth of releases, in terms of distilling year and warehouse location, they are made up from different selections of barrels and therefore distinct. Now that we’ve cleared that up…

2014 BTAC _EagleThe Nose:  A lush, rich, “old bourbon” nose. Initially there’s warm caramel, a little butterscotch, maple extract, French vanilla ice cream, and snickerdoodle cookies. Subtler notes of burnt toffee, roasted sweet corn, and candied coconut hover around the edges with spice notes of warm cinnamon and subtle clove. There’s quite a bit of wood – toasted oak staves – but that’s balanced by that rich sweetness.

The Palate:  The palate is as woody as you’d expect, but less sweet and less balanced. Early hints of root beer and caramel, with salted nuts and the burnt edges of cornbread. Strong, tannic, grippy oak dominates towards the end – more of that toasted oak from the nose. Lots of hot cinnamon, a bit of clove and  crushed peppercorns lead to the finish.

The Finish:  Longish and dry with vanilla bean, slightly burnt popcorn, dried tobacco, and a little oak char.

Thoughts:  I enjoyed this quite a bit. The Eagle Rare 17 is probably the most straight-forward and easy-drinking of the Antique Collection. While I found it similar to last years version, I thought it didn’t handle the strong wood presence as well. The nose is just damn pleasant, though perhaps a little perfunctory in its “old bourbon-ness”. The palate is more muscular with its strong wood and spice. Prices for older bourbons like this are soaring, the suggested retail for this one ($80) is in line with that, and…fair, I guess, perhaps a bit on the steep side value-wise. Still, this is a very, very good bourbon, certainly recommended.

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon, 2014 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection

45% ABV

Score: 87

 

Sazerac 18 Year Old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey, 2014 Buffalo trace Antique Collection – Review

*Thank you very much to AP and Buffalo Trace for the samples!

2014 BTAC Banner

I’m not ashamed to admit that until earlier this year, I didn’t know that the Sazerac 18 Year Old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey, featured yearly in Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection, isn’t a different whiskey every year, but instead is a yearly allocation of a large-ish amount of whiskey distilled in 1985, matured for 18 years until 2003, and then held until bottling in stainless steel tanks. So basically, outside of whatever small changes from oxidation that might occur in that tanks, this is the same whiskey year after year. Seems like something I should’ve been aware of, but nope. Maybe I did know, but somehow it failed to register, after all, in Buffalo Trace’s literature about the expression, it clearly states that it was distilled in 1985. A little quick math is bound to raise some questions, but then again, I was never that good at math.

In any case, does knowing all this really matter? Not to me it doesn’t. Basically, circa 2003, Buffalo Trace recognized that it had a decent amount of fantastic 18 year old rye whiskey. They could have released it all at once or they could’ve released some of it, taking the chance that what was left in the barrels wouldn’t lose something by aging too much. Instead, they went for option#3, they married all the barrels in stainless steel tanks, basically keeping this fantastic whiskey as is, and releasing a limited and highly coveted number of bottles a year. A relatively shrewd and patient business plan that has paid off well for Buffalo Trace. Year after year, this is a highly regarded and highly awarded whiskey. At this point the stuff is simply selling itself.

What I find more interesting about the Sazerac 18 is all the different tasting notes written about this one over the last several years, self included. Every year, people review the Sazerac 18, and every year, the tasting notes indicate more variation than what’s actually in the bottle. It serves as a reminder that no matter how objective and consistent one tries to be, or how much experience one has, tasting notes are extremely subjective. No amount of palate calibrating, environmental controlling, or ethical posturing will remove or at least level all those small factors which influence our perception. A gentle reminder that tasting notes, while often helpful and occasionally fun, are also just a little bit bullshit. As for myself and this years Sazerac 18 Year Old, I enjoyed discovering this beauty all over again…and found it interesting to see how my notes on this edition compare to previous ones.

2014 BTAC _SazeracThe Nose:  One of my favorite noses in all of whisk(e)y-dom. The Sazerac 18 has this ability to just ooze out of a glass and seemingly fill a room. Full, yet soft rye spice, fresh warm rye bread with a hint of ginger powder and mint, balanced by honeyed sweetness full of vanilla cream soda, brown sugar, and orange liqueur. A complex woodiness as well, both polished, old library oak, and damp oak boards, with dusty cinnamon and a subtle hint of soft clove.

The Palate:  Much of the nose carries over to the palate, but the palate quickly becomes more rugged showing off those 18 years a little more aggressively. Burnt, nutty toffee and spiced orange rind join more sweetened vanilla. The rye is sharper and more pronounced than with the nose, even a touch astringent – cracked grain, ginger powder, white pepper. More complex oak, toasted this time, with more pepper, earthy cinnamon, and a slight dash of salt towards the end.

The Finish:  Lengthy, peppery, a touch of honey, plenty of nice oaky tannins, and very mouthwatering.

Thoughts:  Yup, still beautiful stuff. I think the magic of the Sazerac 18 is its ability to wonderfully balance the sweeter tones against the long years in oak, all the while still managing to showcase its mashbill. There’s not really much more to be said. If you’ve loved the this one in years past, you will love it again because it is essentially the same stuff. If there can be such a thing as a modern classic, I’d say the Sazerac 18 qualifies. Highly recommended.

Sazerac 18 Year Old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey, 2014 Buffalo trace Antique Collection

45% ABV

Score:  90