Blackadder Statement Edition #27, 1989 Bunnahabhain 28 Year Old – Review

Label pic from http://www.whiskybase.com

Sincere thanks to Raj and Glass Revolution Imports for the sample.

Man…1989, that was a year. Thanks to near global upheaval, the events of that year drastically altered the sociopolitical landscape of practically the entire planet. In South Africa, F.W. DeClerc freed Nelson Mandela and negotiated the end of Apartheid. Fernando Collor de Mello was elected president of Brazil in the most democratic election held in that country since the 1964 installation of a military regime. Student-led protests in China’s Tiananmen Square led to hundreds if not thousands of casualties, and the now-iconic image of a lone man standing in the path of oncoming tanks. Exxon set the standard for huge companies shirking responsibility when their incompetence and greed resulted in a horrific environmental disaster. And the Oakland A’s won the World Series though they were slightly upstaged by the devastating Loma Prieta Earthquake. Oh, and there was that little provincial flare up in Germany involving a wall or something or other. I actually happened to be in Berlin for that one. While something as innocuous sounding as a wall coming down might not seem like cause for a celebration, let me tell you, the townsfolk in that area thought this was a pretty big deal and were partying like it was 1989, which of course it was.

I’m pretty sure plenty of other stuff happened, too. There was also plenty of incredible music released into the wild in 1989. Off the top of my head, as far as I remember, Nirvana’s Bleach, Fugazi’s Margin Walker, Bad Brain’s Quickness, De La Soul’s Three Feet High & Rising, Mudhoney’s debut LP, the Pixie’s Doolittle, John Adam’s Fearful Symmetries / The Wound-Dresser, Soundgarden’s Louder Than Love,  Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique, Voivod’s Nothingface, Bitch Magnet’s Umber, Bob Mould’s Workbook, Steve Reich’s Different Trains/Electric Counterpoint, Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever, Skunk’s Last American Virgin, and Debbie Gibson’s Electric Youth were all came out that year on something called a compact disc.

I have no idea what kind of lusty shenanigans were going on at Bunnahabhain in 1989. They were distilling malted barley spirit of course, or at least we can presume they were as the label of this one states it was distilled on October 23, 1989. The Statement series of independently bottled whiskies is part of Blackadder’s Raw Cask line, representing the extra-special cream of the crop of their selected barrels. The Blackadder Statement Edition #27, 1989 Bunnahabhain 28 Year Old was distilled 3 days after Ace Frehley’s  Trouble Walkin’ came out, and was matured in a most likely American oak hogshead. As with all Black Adder Raw Cask bottlings, this one has been bottled unfiltered at cask strength – pretty much straight from the barrel. There’s even some tiny wood chips floating around for good measure.

The Nose:  A very nice, very sweet nose once it opens up. There’s malt syrup, vanilla fudge (the fudge, not the band), dark floral honey, milky caramel sprinkled with sea salt, and lots of orange marmalade spread over sourdough bread. Behind that, notes of moist fruitcake – sticky dried fruits and gingerbread. Subtler hints of condensed milk, and Jordan almonds. The oak is prominent, smooth, and polished, with a grippy weight to it. A faint hint of oiled leather. Cinnamon, candied ginger, dried orange peel, and vanilla bean.

The Palate:  A thinly oily mouthfeel introduces a more dynamic, less sweet palate. Tannic, worn oak notes permeate throughout. Continued caramelized sugars are joined by heftier fruit notes – red currant jam, spiced juicy orange, dark red fruits. Fudgy, nutty chocolate leads to a swell of oak and spice. towards the end. An old room full of worn oak, still nicely tannic, but well-integrated. Cinnamon, clove, sticky vanilla bean, candied ginger, and a touch of cardamom.

The Finish:  Lengthy, mouth-watering oak, along with a caramelized sweetness, vanilla bean, dried orange peel, and fine ground, almost smoky black pepper at the last.

Thoughts:  Very good. Though while very good is very good, I have to admit I was hoping for stellar and mind-blowing. Still…this is very good. The nose is quite fine and complex, if a bit on the sweet side, but it leads nicely to the palate, where I think this one comes alive even more. There’s lots of the finishing sherry cask to be found throughout. I found this one integrated that finishing pretty well, but at times wished for that influence to be a little lighter to let the long years in the hogshead shine through more. Old Bunna, it’s usually a treat to have in one’s glass, this one is no exception. Recommended…though probably very hard to find at this point…and if you do find it, probably very expensive.

Blackadder Statement Edition #27, 1989 Bunnahabhain 28 Year Old, Islay, IB +/-2017

48.1% ABV

Score:  86


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Claxton’s 2006 Linkwood 11 Year Old – Review

Sincere thanks to Raj and Glass Revolution Imports for the sample.

Here we have a case of the very old and the very young. Representing the old, Speyside’s Linkwood distillery traces its history back to 1821, when it was built by a man named Peter Brown. The distillery stayed with the Brown family until the late 1890’s when other investors came on board to create the Linkwood Glenlivet Distillery Company. In 1933, the company was sold to Scottish Malt Distillers, which was shortly after sold to Distillers Company Limited. Distillers Company Ltd. of course went through several business-y permutations over the years and, more or less, is known today as Diageo.

Today’s Linkwood is quite different from ye olde Linkwood of yore. In 1971, a new distillery was built next to the old one. The two plants then became known as Linkwood A and Linkwood B. In 1985, Linkwood A (the old one) was mothballed, firing up sporadically between 1990 and 1996 when it closed for good. Between 2011 and 2013, Linkwood A was finally torn down, with its two stills moved over to Linkwood B. Today, as part of Diageo, Linkwood is a top-20 producer in terms of capacity, with nearly all its output is used in blends. The distillery has long had a reputation of being an excellent blender’s malt, and therefore doesn’t really get out much on its own. Other than a small handful of official releases and the occasional independent bottling, you just don’t see it around a lot, which, given its excellent reputation, seems a shame.

Representing the young part of this review is the new independent bottler named Claxton’s which was founded just a couple of years ago in 2016. Based in the town of Ripon which is north of Leeds, the location of the greatest live rock and roll recording in human history, Claxton’s is a small, family owned bottler that has quickly made a bit of name for itself. Their bottles have only recently reached US shores thanks to Glass Revolution Imports. This Claxton’s 2006 Linkwood 11 Year Old was released in the fall of 2017. It was aged in a ex-bourbon hogshead and has been bottled non-chill filtered with no added color. No added color…hell, this one barely has any color at all. Even at 11 years old, this is a surprisingly pale malt…

The Nose:  A fresh, distillate-forward nose. Lots of complex honey, floral and on the lighter side, with lemon curd, Pink Lady apples, and hint of butterscotch. There are nice toasted barley notes here, as well as crisp, green, slightly herbaceous untoasted barley notes. Subtle bready notes as well – think buttered English muffin with drizzled with honey. The oak is mostly subdued, clean damp boards, with vanilla bean and a little allspice. A couple of drops of water plays up the herbal, grassy spirit character, but also amps up some youthful heat.

The Palate:  Really nice, viscous mouthfeel. More fruit and sugar notes on the palate; cotton candy, honey crisp apples, orange blossom honey and peach lambic. Candied almonds and pecans, toasted grain, and cocoa nibs lead to more oak and spice than the nose. Slightly tannic, sanded oak with vanilla bean, clove, and allspice. Adding a bit of water brings out more peppery, sharply tannic wood notes.

The Finish:  The finish brings it all back together – herbal honey and grain, spiced fruit, lightly grippy wood, and a subtle burnt sugar bitterness.

Thoughts:  Deceptively good and intriguingly complex. The pale color and relatively young age had me thinking this would be perhaps an edgy youngster. The nose initially confirmed some of that suspicion with its strongish distillate quality, but it was also very smooth and refined. The palate was a bit more lively and brash, but still had a surprisingly lush richness to it. While there’s a bit of a disconnect between the nose and palate, the finish integrated everything nicely – the herbal grain, floral honey, complex fruit and subtle oak influence. To be honest, this was so easy drinking and enjoyable at strength, I almost forgot to add a little water – it really does not need it. A very nice single cask bottling from a distillery I wish we saw more of on its own. Definitely Recommended.

Claxton’s 2006 Linkwood 11 Year Old, Speyside, IB, +/-2017

52.8% ABV

Score:  86


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Prizefight Irish Whiskey – Review

*Sincere thanks to Quaker City Mercantile for the sample.

With the category of Irish whiskey booming, it’s no surprise that people are trying to jump in at all levels. There are a lot of non-distilling producers out there at the moment, making up new brands or reviving old ones. The interesting thing is that, relatively speaking, there’s a fairly narrow range of whiskey to work with if you’re looking to buy sourced product. While Ireland has seen its own craft distilling movement begin, outside of the two or three big ones, there’s just one or two other distilleries that can supply the needed quantity to a company looking to launch a sourced whiskey brand. What that means is that it’s becoming difficult to convince consumers that a new brand is something special and worth the relatively high tag that most of them carry.

Prizefight Irish Whiskey is the brainchild of a man named Flor Prendergast. In an effort to find a unique angle for his product, he teamed up with Steven Grasse, the founder of Quaker City Mercantile and Tamworth Distilling. Together they formulated a plan for an Irish Whiskey with an American twist. The matured whiskey has been sourced from Ireland’s West Cork Distillers, and then brought to the United States to be finished in ex-rye whiskey barrels from Tamworth Distilling. The prize fight aspect with the two old-timey boxers sizing each other up on the Quaker City Mercantile designed label was inspired by a pair of Irish-American bare-knuckle boxers, Yankee Sullivan and John Morrissey, that were quite famous and/or infamous in the mid-1800’s. As tempting as it is, I will refrain from delving too far into the fascinating lives of Sullivan and Morrissey. Suffice it to say they really captured the desperate brutality and incongruous, casual criminality of the USA at the time. Not sure I’d want to feature the two on my whiskey label, but that’s just me.

Prizefight does not carry an age statement, but I think it’s safe to assume it’s relatively young. Though the label and marketing material doesn’t specify, I think it’s also safe to assume that this is a blended Irish Whiskey. West Cork has been around for close to 14 years. According to their website, all spirit is triple distilled only in pot stills, and is only made from grain grown in Ireland.

The Nose:  Initially, slightly hottish on the nose. There’s dark, floral honey, bittersweet chocolate, sticky vanilla bean, milky caramel, and dried apples. Behind that, a faint hint of yeasty bread and malty beery mash, along  with laundered cotton on the line. There’s sanded, integrated oak with cinnamon, subtle nutmeg and clove, and a dusting of black pepper. There’s not much evidence of the rye barrels here, perhaps just a faint spiciness.

The Palate:  At first, there’s a subtle, almost simple, sweetness – brown sugar, plain honey, and vanilla syrup with a bit of orange and passionfruit. Continued notes of dark chocolate and a hint of dried grass. The rye is more apparent on the palate with sharper, greener spice. The oak is weightier here and much more tannic. Lots of cinnamon, some of it hot along with crushed cloves, black pepper, and young ginger,

The Finish:  Sweetly drying or dryingly sweet, I can’t decide. Vanilla caramel, and honey balance cinnamon, peppercorns, and grippy oak.

Thoughts:  I found myself enjoying this. There’s a bit of youth and imbalance to contend with, the heat of the nose, and the relative emptiness early on the palate, but it makes up for that with an interesting flavor profile that combines complex sugars, and subtle earthier notes. The rye influence is slight, though more noticeable on the palate, mostly casting a subtly spicy shadow over things. This is a decent whiskey and a welcome, intriguing departure from the usual blended Irish fare, however, it seems pricey at around $45-$50.

Prizefight Irish Whiskey, +/-2017

43% ABV

Score:  82


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Drifting Away From Whisky?

Am I?
Yeah.
Me?
Yeah, you.
Away from whisky?
Yes.
Nooooo.
Really?
Never. Never.
Not even just a little?

 

Well, yeah, okay, a little. Maybe a little more than a little. I don’t think I’ve grown tired of whisky, or tired of drinking it, or learning about its past, or writing about it. I have grown a little tired of the fallout from its surge in popularity – the rising prices, the homogenization, and the unstoppable tide of marketing bullshit, but for all intents and purposes, I still like whisky quite a bit. I would say, though, that over the last year and a half, I’ve found myself equally (if not occasionally more) interested in a few of the other branches of this great gnarled tree of booze. Yes, there’s been dabbling in Rum and Armagnac, and perhaps quite a bit more than just dabbling in Gin, but what’s really piqued my interest of late is lower alcohol spirits: Amaros, apéritifs, vermouths, sherries, and those odd, provincial liqueurs that everyone ignores until some bartender says they shouldn’t ignore them anymore.

So consider this a warning. There’ll probably be more than a few reviews of this kind of thing in the coming months. As with whisky, I’ll be taking a look at the associated histories, both real and concocted, and jotting down needlessly verbose, yet slightly repetitive tasting notes. Some of these spirits are more geared towards cocktails, so I’ll try to place them in that context when that context calls for it. I hope this all sounds as exciting to you as it does to me. If it sounds less exciting to you than it does to me, then I don’t know what to tell you. I’ll probably just keep plugging away regardless.

Coming up in the next two or three…or ten months provided that I get around to posting the posts:

  • Several bitter, herbal things including locally produced Minnesota-made amaro from Tattersall Distilling.
  • A couple of very affordable, very common, very good London Dry gins.
  • Some easy-to-find, inexpensive vermouths because why not.
  • Some Pastis because it is Summer after all, and I’d forgotten how much I love Pastis.
  • Beer? Fuck it. Sure, beer too, what the hell.
  • And just to prove I haven’t abandoned whisky, or whiskey, some new indie bottlings from those Single Cask Nation guys, probably some bourbon, some incredibly ubiquitous blended Scotch, and most likely that semi-obscure corn whiskey that everyone needs a bottle of if only for the label.

Happy Summer, people. Please drink moderately and responsibly.


			

Brenne Estate Cask French Single Malt Whisky – Review

*Thank you to Allison Patel and Brenne Whisky for the sample. 

brenne-estate-caskBrenne Estate Cask French Single Malt Whisky was first launched in the fall of 2012. This whisky was the brainchild of whisky connoisseur turned astute whisky-making pro, Allison Patel. In a market where the more novel whiskies are often a relegated, small minority, Brenne has succeeded with its terroir-driven ingredients and its decidedly non-traditional whisky making process. While reading up on what makes this whisky rather unique, I realized that I knew very little about the booze that it has roots in. So while it may not be the most exciting thing to read, here’s what I hope is an adequately accurate glimpse into the process which makes Brenne stand out.

In searching for a producer to help realize her vision, Patel looked to France, specifically the Charente region which is of course the home of France’s most famous homegrown spirit, Cognac. Certainly an interesting place to seek out a whisky-maker. While the country is a leading consumer of the stuff, whisky-making has never really been a popular sport there. There are some areas where it’s becoming a bigger deal, mostly in the north where there’s more of an embedded tradition of growing, brewing and distilling grain, but in the Charente, Cognac is still king by a long shot. Nonetheless, Patel found a Cognac producer that had recently begun making a whisky, and working closely with them, carved out a plan for the Brenne brand.

Charentais Alembic Still
Charentais Alembic Still

The Brenne Estate Cask is distilled from two types of organic barley grown on the producer’s estate but milled and malted elsewhere. The rather chalky soil of the region, which helps cultivate the meager grapes that end up producing France’s most famous spirit, also produces a somewhat different grain. Other than the use of barley, Brenne’s whisky has much more in common with Cognac than it does Scotch whisky. Using a yeast more common to Cognac production, the wort undergoes a relatively long fermentation process, and is distilled in traditional Charentais alembic stills. These all-copper pot stills differ from Scottish stills in that there’s established rules dictating the shape and function. Alembics have an onion/bulb-shaped head atop the main boiler, and the condensing arm is much thinner than the Lyne arms on Scottish stills. While I’m not sure the Brenne process includes this, one interesting aspect of the Charentais still setup the “chauffe-vin,” a large, copper, bulb-shaped, energy-saving container that holds the wine prior to it going into the still. The condensing arm from the still passes through the chauffe-vin, and the residual heat from the distillate pre-warms the wine.

Brenne is twice-distilled using this Charentais process, and then heads for the barrels, which also differ from the nearly ubiquitous American white oak (Quercus Alba) casks used pretty much around the world. For cognac to be legally called Cognac, it must be aged a minimum of two years in barrels made from “French oak” that comes from either the Limousin or Tronçais forests. Predominantly, the oak species used from these forests is Quercus Robur and Quercus Petraea. These European white oaks, particularly Quercus Robur, differ from American white oak by having higher amounts of tannins and lignins, which adds a more complex, less vanilla-oriented spice to whatever they are maturing. The cooperage of Cognac casks differs from that of American-made bourbon barrels as well. The wood is “cured” outdoors for up to three years before reaching the cooper’s hands. Instead of the heavy charring done to finished bourbon barrels, Cognac coopering bends the staves by repeated dampening and heating during the construction process. This repeated toasting eventually creates what is more or less a light char, but nowhere near that of bourbon barrels.

So with all that in mind, here’s a look at the brand’s flagship, the Brenne Estate Cask. This one is aged for five years in new French Oak barrels, then finished in ex-Cognac barrels for approximately two to three years. There is no age statement on this expression because the period of the ex-cognac finishing can be variable depending on when Patel feels the whisky is ready to go. Initially, Brenne had very limited distribution, occasionally done by Patel herself via bicycle. These days, Brenne is distributed by Classic Imports and is available in 29 states as well as in its home country of France, and is available through many online retailers.

The Nose:  As whisky goes, this is a fruity, floral, quite sweet, fairly unique nose. Notes of ripe apricot, floral honey, tangerine and bruised apples join candied tones of gummi bears, orange push-ups, and butter mints. Nice grain notes of toasted barley and perhaps even banana bread.  More depth is added with hints of soft white flower petals, the burnt top of crème brûlée, and candied fennel. The wood influence more subtle than expected, a bit of vanilla syrup, cinnamon-candied almonds, a touch of oaked chardonnay, and just a hint of sawn boards.

The Palate:  An almost barely-there, creamy mouthfeel, with that eiswein-like sweetness from the nose carrying right through to the palate. Initially there’s more apricot and orange, more gummi, and more honey. As evidence of the new french oak and cognac finishing slowly creep in, there are notes of butter cookies, marzipan, and cinnamon frosting. Towards the end, more woody spice notes appear: drying clove, vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, and a tannic bit of polished oak.

The Finish:  On the shorter side with nice touches of sweetness and spice mixing with a mouth-watering, slightly herbaceous dryness.

Thoughts:  A delicate, yet fairly elegant and distinctive whisky. My initial impression of Brenne’s Estate Cask was that its sweetness was too much, but in the span of a single glass, much more was revealed and I found myself enjoying it more than I initially thought I would. This is a sweet, almost ethereal whisky, no doubt about it, but it manages an interesting complexity (the nose, especially) within that sweetness. While palate and finish show more evidence of the unique maturation, and they hold on to enough from the nose to give it some progression and balance, they’re perhaps a little timid and thin compared to the nose. Brenne is nice to sip on its own, and I can imagine it being interesting to use in a wide variety of cocktails and pleasant over ice in the warmer months. As this is a single cask whisky prone to expected variation, I have to say I found this one lacking depth and strength compared to the other two Estate Casks I’ve tried. Still, certainly a creatively different whisky, and perhaps for that reason alone it’s worth trying.

Brenne Estate Cask French Single Malt Whisky, +/~ 2015

40% ABV

Score:  81


Sources:

Robbie Burns Night…

robert burnsHere’s a bottle and an honest friend
What wad ye wish for mair, man?
Wha kens, before his life may end,
What his share may be o’ care, man?

Then catch the moments as they fly,
And use them as ye ought, man;
Believe me, happiness is shy,
And comes no ay when sought, man!

– “A Bottle and a Friend” by Robert Burns

Sláinte mhaith

400th Post…

IMG_8392I wasn’t sure if I was going to mark the occasion of The Casks 400th post with something special, just another review, or…I don’t know, a video of me sabering a bottle of vintage Pol Roger Brut while doing an ancient clog dance last performed by a bunch of drunk Jacobites in Killiecrankie. My impulse was not to go overboard and try something fancy because, lord knows, it’s been tricky enough just to get another review out lately. Then again, I thought, that’s precisely why I should single out the occasion.

Certainly there are many other blogs out there with far more posts, posting with far more regularity, and regularly being far more in touch with the whole whisky scene, but that’s beside the point. When I started this thing, five and a half years ago in 2010, I didn’t really have any expectation as to its longevity or any sort of relative popularity. The blog has always been mostly a way to catalog my experiences with the whisky world and partly a half-baked, mostly pointless social media experiment. I’m happy to report that the social media experiment part has more or less ended without generating any conclusive conclusions. The cataloging part rolls on, though. I don’t drink as much whisky as I used to, and I don’t leap out the door every time I get wind of a tasting, but I still enjoy exploring the booze and all its related history…especially the related history. I recently discovered that I own twice as many books about whisky as I do bottles of whisky. Granted this was after trimming my “collection” down to a few dozen bottles, but still, it’s telling. All those books have been opened, by the way, I can’t say the same thing about the bottles.

BroraTrio
Ruben from WhiskyNotes (Belgium), Marc from Whisky Brother (South Africa), and myself sneaking around Brora in the rain. Photo by Darren Rook.

The best and most unexpected by-product of having this blog has been meeting all the good people in and around the whisky industry/community. It has been great fun to watch (with a twinge of envy, too) several of the writers and bloggers who befriended and supported me early on, turn their passion in to their livelihood. Equally, it’s been a pleasure to forge relationships within the industry that, through their generosity and expertise, have helped me expand my own experience. I would never have guessed that grabbing a domain name and using a free blogging platform would have introduced me to so many great people and places. The stats for The Casks show that over the years, it’s been read by people all over the world…that is astounding to me and humbling.

Will I make it to 500 posts? I have no fucking idea, that’s the main reason why I thought it best to celebrate 400 posts. Thank you, sincerely, for coming along on this ride.