Saturday, March 28, 2015

Ben's Whiskey Review

It's no secret that I'm a fan of whiskey; scotch and bourbon are my particulars. Since the #bourbonPT and #scotchPT folks like to come out and play every once in a while... AND, since PT Pub Night has gotten uber popular... I figured to write this fun little post.

Ben's Whiskey Review

BEFORE WE GET TO FAR! Glassware. Yes, glassware absolutely matters. I know its getting a little into snob-ville when we start talking glassware but its worth mentioning since smell has so much to do with our perception of a tasting event. As such, I must say that while I absolutely love the look of a rocks glass, it pains me to say that personally, I find the snifter glasses actually pool all the aromas the best for me. Yes, yes... I know. Nosing glasses aka the all famous glencairn glass is supposed to be the best for whiskies. Personally, I just don't like the shape and I find the glass too small for my hand. However, a nice firm rocks glass or a snifter just feels nice in the palm and sturdy against the fingers. But, really, when it comes to it... glassware is important for two reasons. Smell. And, style. Really now, do you truly want to sip a fine single malt out of a red solo cup? Please...

So here we go. In no particular order, these are some of my memorable whiskey experiences. (Whisky for you scotch fans)
  • Macallan 12
    • I'd be remiss not to start with this, perhaps the brand name Cadillac of popular culture scotches. After all, even James Bond prefers this brand. The Mac 12 is an amazing spirit. Perhaps one of the most balanced of all the single malts. It is quite smooth for a scotch and delivers a very nice nose of malt. If you dig deep enough you'll also find a nice boldness of oak and honey. For you bourbon fanatics, the malt will likely throw you off. But, not to worry. Just keep sipping; it's gets better.
  • Oban 14
    • I've recently taken the pleasure of re-experiencing this very fine single malt, aged 14 years. It should be noted the some of the very best of scotches are now made in Japan. And, new recent as even this week named a Taiwanese scotch as #1. Who knew?! In any case, this thing is as smooth as silk and soft as butter. It actually has a very familiar taste with the Macallan 12. However, there is a very fine hint of peat which goes beyond the "Highland" style of single malts... reaching just enough into the Islay realm to make me smile. If you like Speyside or Highland style scotches, I dare you to try the Oban 14. You'll be happy you did.
  • Booker's Bourbon
    • Ahhhh yes. Bourbon. American. Brave. Bold. Powerful. Booker's Bourbon remains, by a wide margin, my very favorite bourbon. Let's not even mention that it is uncut, unfiltered, and boasts something 125-130 proof spirit. If you want a whiskey experience, this has become my true north in bourbons. Booker's has amazing flavor ranging from oak, chocolate, tobacco, vanilla, and in my humble opinion, just a bit of rose. Enjoying this work of art requires three stages, first done neat. Follow this up with but a couple milliliters of fresh water. Then, close it out with a nice splash of water. What you'll notice is that the oaky smokey flavors will turn more caramel and chocolate and finally mature into sweet candy barbaque essence. If you ever have a chance to try Booker's bourbon, you better make it a double.
  • Four Roses Single Barrel
    • A shout out to Jerry Durham for this one, advising me it was one of his faves. This little wonder has many of the similar flavors of a hardcore bourbon ie Booker's without the fire of it. It's relatively smooth for a bourbon and has a very nice char to it; it's a fine choice for $33 dollars circa Winter of 2014 via Costco and worth every penny. I found that doing half pours with in a small rocks glass is preferable; it forces much of the bouquet to open up. No need to add any ice or water to this beauty, just take it neat and enjoy.
  • Bulleit 10 year
    • This special version of Bulleit boasts more of a rye flavor along with fruit and a nice subtle sweetness. I'm actually a big fan of Bulleit, however, I have to say that for twice the price of their regular bottle, I was a little disappointed. The rest of the experience was very similar to the normal label with no additional fire nor flavors. I think it was a good try and I did appreciate they made the 10 year quite smooth. But personally, I like my whiskies firey. If I want to drink something smooth, I'll drink water.
  • Trader Joe's Bourbon
    • Now before you trigger the laugh track, I put this up here on purpose. First to say, Trader Joe's has some really nice labels, their rum and their tequila are actually quite competitive to the $20 mainstreamers, costing about half that. Their bourbon is no exception and is perhaps the best of their private labels. TJ's bourbon has a strong flavor and I like it that way. While the bouquet could be a little more developed, for $15 per 750mL, you really can't complain. The fire in this bourbon is definitely present; however, you can definitely appreciate the difference between this and a higher end bourbon where the fire destroys the flavors versus enhances it. Nevertheless, if you've had a hard week, pour yourself a double on this.... heck even add ice. You know what, make it a triple. It was a hard week, right? ;)
  • Knob Creek
    • We're on a bourbon kick, why stop? Knob Creek was perhaps the first bourbon to really capture me. Unlike Jack Daniels, Jim Bean, or even Maker's Mark, good old Knob had the answer to my taste for whiskey. Personality. Knob Creek is a 100 proof bourbon aged 9 years. Let me tell you, it needed those 9 years. Supposedly, the longer whiskey ages in a barrel, the more sophistication and the more mellow the spirit comes out. If 9 years is what Knob needed to even be considered in the realm of tame, wow. But more about it, I love the deep bourbon feel of this spirit. The flavors could actually be more pronounced, but hey as the one up of Jim Bean, they made a heck of an improvement! It's not smooth, it's not friendly, and it has all sorts of wonderful vanilla and caramel oak notes. If you're stuck in a bar with no set orientation and you see this on the shelf, call it out! You can't go wrong.
  • Baker's Bourbon
    • Since we're running down the Jim Bean products, let's close it out with Baker's Bourbon. Baker's is actually a wonderful product. It is one of the smoothest bourbons I've had and has an excellent bouquet. Perhaps what they had to sacrifice for said smoothness was the marginal losses in flavor and fire. If you do a side by side of this and its bigger brother Booker's Bourbon, don't even bother with a palate cleanser when going from Baker's to Booker's... Booker's still has the heat. Baker's has a surprisingly long finish for its smoothness to where you can really appreciate that familiar vanilla tone with a spicy finish.
  • Bowmore
    • Okay, back to scotches. It has been years since I had any Bowmore spirits. But, it is important to me because Bowmore got me onto Islay scotches. Islay scotches are famous for their flavour, heavy peat, and long warm finishes. I can recall this for a birthday present long ago and can still say, it delivered on all three. Very fond memories.
  • Laphroaig 10 year
    • Laphroaig 10 is my go to Islay scotch. Other than the $40 dollar price tag circa early 2015, there's absolutely nothing I could complain about with this spirit. Sure, it lacks the usual 2 more years for an even 12 year aged single malt, but wow does it have flavor! And, that's what they are known for as the "most flavorful" of scotches. Expect a wonderfully long finish, sweet smoke, peat, and a comforting barbeque char.
  • Laphroaig 18 year
    • A dear colleagues bought me a round one time as we were transitioning throughout our careers. I was taking a promotion to become a director and she was moving up the ranks as an advanced clinician. In our celebrations, we were exploring our scotches and I called this one out for me. Much like the 10 year, it boasts the wonderful oaky smokey you expect from any respectable Islay. However, unlike many longer aged scotches, the mellowness was not a disappointment but rather a wonderful addition to the scotch itself. What I lost in mellowness I gained in so many interesting subtleties, primarily in varied levels of sweetness, pepper, floral notes, and earthen essence.
  • Laphroaig Quarter Cask
    • This is perhaps the 50 cal of all Islays I've tried. I recall this experience fondly as the scotch version of Booker's Bourbon. They had so very many similarities in that the fire enhanced the flavor. The finish was epic in length; probably lasting a good minute per sip. Flavors were very bold, the usual oak, smoke, char, peat, and earthen depth. Being far greater than the usual 43% concentration of single malts and rising to the challenge of 48%, you definitely find the differences between this and the humble 10 year as the minors versus the major leagues. If you love your Islay scotches, do NOT miss out on a chance to sample this one.
  • Dalmore 12
    • I miss this. It has been years since I've had a good Dalmore. This brand used to be sold for $22.99 at Trader Joe's. Then, it became $23.99. Then, it disappeared altogether. This Highland scotch is a smooth operator, boasting great flavors with minimal burn. I typically dislike this attribute; however, it was one for the firsts to make it to my lists of faves. My best memory about this was how dangerously fast it disappears in the hands of guests, weary at the strength and boldness of scotch only to be fascinated by its sweetness, the mystic of the malt, the slight of peat, and the humble hue it possess.
  • Dalwhinne 15
    • I'm sorry. This, is a disappointment. As a Highland scotch, I expected much more personality but I really only sensed a subtle Speyside style scotch. I don't have much to say except that I bought this years ago under the highest of recommendations of a scotch enthusiast only to be disappointed by the lack of flavor, no personality, and weak bouquet. Maybe its because I like things to burn... maybe I was in a bad mood. I don't know. I just remember telling one of my buddies, "Dalwhinne? More like, Dal-whimpy." It still makes me sad to think about it. If the company or any of your enthusiasts want me to try my 2nd at it, I'll do so if you're buying! ;) Otherwise, I wouldn't recommend it, especially for something like $40-50 a bottle.
  • Aberlour 12
    • Aberlour is celebrated as one of the most celebrated for Speyside style scotches. My first go around, I didn't like it so much. The second time, much better. Speyside scotches are all about the flavor. They should be like a 7 course meal of the senses with very little burn. You can expect sweetness, fruit, spice, even cinnamon, chocolate, and coffee... if your palate and imagination stretch that far. I highly suggest you enjoy this little treat in a snifter so that all the flavors can open up. It's a smooth one, if you like that sort of thing.
  • Finlaggan
    • This is a mystery, apparently. Kind of like how no one can ever find the full print of The Princess Bride, no one really knows much about this Islay single malt. I can say that for less than $20 a bottle, it's a good buy! There is plenty of peat and the personality is more of a highland style scotch. Personally, I almost feel like its a blend of Islay with a Highland flavor. It's a good one if you just need your scotch without anything special behind it. The flavors are all good and present and its kind of a bargain.
  • Highland Park 12
    • Ahhhh. Highland Park. It's a contradiction in terms since Highland Park is actually an Island scotch. I remember appreciating that Highland Park has the highland flavor with just a hint of peat. In a way, it reminded me of a more bold Oban, come to think of it. Being that it has been a severely long time since I've had this scotch, I can only say that I remember the flavors being very balanced despite the boldness, and a smoothness in character that didn't leave you wanting because of a well done finish. It's an excellent choice.
  • Highland Park 15
    • This is where my concerns start with aged scotches. I've tried a lot of aged scotches both blended and single malts. All I can say is that I feel the mellowness actually kills some of the personality. It's like that one time I went sake tasting; out of the four grades of sake, I enjoyed the 2nd to the highest shelf samples the best. Highland Park 15 lost a lot of the umph I enjoyed from the 12 year. I remember buying the 12 and 15 as a dual gift for a close buddy of mine during Christmas. Doing the side by side, we both agreed the 12 was actually better. Not that the 15 was bad, it's just that the 12 offered more. I guess this goes in line to say sometimes, less is truly more.
  • Glenlivet 18
    • To me, this one is a tragedy. Now, I know that the vast majority of the Glen's out there are really more commercial items than true enthusiast brands. I had to try. I was sad. All I tasted was this timid maltiness. No burn. No flavor. No style. Nothing. I didn't like it. This was actually the taste that killed it for me when it comes to really far aged whiskies. One day, I'll make my way to sample out something in the 25-30 year range... but, it'll have to be a truly special occasion and I better bring a good old 10-12 year as a sturdy backup.
  • Some honorable and some dishonorable mentions...
    • 1972
      • I had this bourbon some time ago and sadly, I had to dismiss it as a "regular" bourbon. I just remember tasting it and saying, "Yep. That's bourbon." .... and, that's all I had to say.
    • Jack Single Barrel
      • I'm not to big of a fan of Jack. Of course, in Vegas, it's Jack & Coke all the way. However, I did try this and Gentleman Jack. Both are basically smoother versions of the next. It's good enough, but, I'll stick to my scotch and bourbon.
    • Lagavulin
      • This one is immensely popular in the market, but, I didn't dislike it... but I didn't appreciate it to the fullest per se. It didn't have enough peat for me as an Islay and honestly tasted more like a Highland or Speyside with peat.
    • Basil Hayden's
      • I had the same response as to the 1972. Meh. Sorry.
    • Maker's Mark vs. Jack Daniel's
      • I just don't like the sour mash.
    • Woodford Reserve
      • This is a solid bourbon, but honestly, I'd pick Knob over this - mostly because of price.
    • Johnnie Walker Black
      • I had this at an airport once. I remember it being ... o... kay? And, that's about it.
    • Wild Turkey 101
      • You know what they say, people who drink Wild Turkey, turn into them.
OOOOH WAIT! But that's not all! There is one more whisky to review.
  • The Knockando 1976, Single Malt Speyside.
    • Honestly, I don't know much about this beautiful and tragically waning label. All I know is that it is a speyside style scotch with a strong highland style taste. Much like the Oban 14, there's a hint of peat, enough to make an Islay fan like me perk my ears. However, the strength of body, lasting finish, and what I can only describe as an old-style-flavor is one of a kind. I'm not even sure of how rare or interesting this bottle actually is. I know that it was a gift from a business associate to my grandfather back in the day. He kept it for years without any interest in it. Eventually it went to my father and we decided to have a go. It's been nursed for a long time. Even after a tragically broken cork, it is still being appreciated to the finish. I must say that this is perhaps the most unique of all scotches I've ever had. Drop by drop, it's being appreciated, savored, and mourned. I have found other vintages in the market, but, nothing to specifically replicate the 1976 year. Who knows how significant that actually is. It could be a terrible brand. All I know is, this is the only scotch that was bottled near 40 years ago that I've ever tried... and, I like it!
I think that's all I can strain my memory banks for. All in all, I love a good bourbon and I love a good scotch. Really, it depends on the mood. I love the power a bourbon brings and I really enjoy the sophistication you can find in a good scotch. I guess it's all a matter of mood and circumstance. Nevertheless, I'm glad to say I can never go wrong with a good Islay scotch or a strong bourbon like Booker's.

Yep. That. would be. it. So that's Ben's Whiskey Review! I hope you had as much fun reading this as I did writing it. It's really enjoyable delving out content that's less serious and more personal in nature.

Well... Until next time, Cheers!

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