NTSS Single Malt Scotch Whisky Tasting

The North Texas Spirits Society met for a tasting of Scotch Whisky and the lineup was pretty spectacular.  I can honestly say that there wasn’t a single poor that I would consider average – they were all very good.  The standouts for me were the Glendronach 21 Year Single Cask (see my review here), Linkwood-Glenlivet 23 Year and Lagavulin 12 Year 2014.

Whisky List:

  • MacAllan 14 Year 1990 (Provenance, 46%)
  • Bladnoch 25 Year 1990 (Exclusive Casks, 51.5%)
  • Coleburn 21 Year 1979 (Rare Malts, 59.4%)
  • Linkwood-Glinlevet 23 Year (Cadenhead, 55.3%)
  • Mortlach 21 Year (Cadenhead, 53.5%)
  • SHamamoto Custom Blend (58.8%)
    • 2 parts Aberlour A’bunadh (Batch 45, 59.8%)
    • 1 part Aberlour A’bunadh (Batch 30, 60.2%)
    • 2 parts Tamdhu Sherried Cask Strength (Batch 1, 58.8%)
    • 2 parts Glendronach Cask Strength (Batch 3, 54.9%)
    • 1 part Macallan Cask Strength (58.6%)
    • 1 part Macallan Cask Strength (59.0%)
    • 3 parts Macallan Cask Strength (60.1%)
  • Glenfarclas 24 Year 1990 (K&L Wine Merchants, 50%)
  • Glendronach 21 Year Single Cask Oloroso Sherry Butt 1990 (#2209, Spec’s Exclusive Selection, 53.8%)
  • Bowmore 25 Year (AD Rattray, 47.9%)
  • Two Brewers Peated Single Malt (43%)
  • Laphroaig 10 Cask Strength (L7, 55.7%)
  • Lagavulin 12 Year 2014 (54.4%)
  • Ardbeg Supernova 2010

As is the custom of the group, there are bonus offerings from several members of the society that are revealed after the official lineup is completed.  I was really impressed with all 3 of the older offerings, particularly the Longmorn 15; however, the Buchanan Deluxe bears mentioning as the best blend I’ve ever tasted.  I wish that they still made them like this one!  I have the 2 Cairdeas offerings, so you should see them reviewed eventually.

Bonus Pours:

  • Springbank 15 Year (bottled pre-2006)
  • Longmorn 15 (bottled in 1980’s)
  • Laphroaig Cairdeas 2015
  • Laphroaig Cairdeas 2016
  • Buchanan’s Deluxe 12 Year (bottled in 1960’s)

Michters Tasting

US1-lineup3Spec’s hosted a tasting of Michter’s US♦1 product line with Trent Roberts of Chatham Imports/Michter’s Distillery available to tell us about the history of Michter’s and some details about the production of their whiskey.  Here’s what we tasted:

Michter’s US♦1 Sour Mash ($43) – Lots of sweet corn on the nose with caramel, vanilla, cherries, lemon drops, straw and sweet tobacco. The taste is similarly caramel, vanilla, ginger, straw, sweet corn and green pepper with a mildly charred, oily leather finish with notes of spice, sweet corn and pine sap.  If you like a sweet corn whiskey, then this is your stuff.  It’s bolder on the nose than on the palate and has a lot to offer, but the green notes detract from the overall balance a bit.  Still a solid, if not overpriced offering.

Michter’s US♦1 Bourbon ($42) – Very similar to the Sour Mash, but less sweet on the palate; however, the sweet notes carry through to the finish better than with the Sour Mash.  Some milk chocolate and mild spice on the nose with lemon drops, tart cherries and pepper on the palate that I didn’t detect with the Sour Mash.  Overall, I like this a bit better, but it’s still overpriced compared to some Evan Williams offerings.

Michter’s US♦1 Rye ($42) – A milder rye than I’m used to with a tendency more toward sweet fruits and candies than the bold spices.  The spices are still there, but the sweet flavors dominate with notes of dark cherries, dark chocolate, candied fruit and a bit of corn, caramel and vanilla.  Like the bourbon, the sweetness carries through to the finish quite well. It’s the same theme here as above… a nice whiskey that’s a bit overpriced.

Michter’s US♦1 American ($40)- The standout of the evening, but not necessarily the best whiskey.  It’s different than the others, being a 4-grain whiskey, and uniquely flavored as compared to most whiskey that I’ve tasted.  There’s lots of rich chocolate with marshmallow to accompany the typical caramel, corn and dark fruits of a bourbon or rye with great balance and a long finish.  It’s fun to drink, pares amazingly well with good chocolate (and we did this tonight) and offers good complexity as well.  It’s got a good chewy feel to it, yet the sweetness probably relegates it to a dessert whiskey.  That’s okay with me as I would prefer that to an overly sweet liqueur.  I highly recommend this one if the chocolate profile appeals to you.

Michter’s US♦1 Barrel-Strength Rye ($70) – This rye is bolder in flavor than the normal rye offering with more complexity and more interesting, longer finish.  Although not the most interesting whiskey of the evening, it’s the best crafted one with a nice aroma, plenty of fruit, spice, candy and grain flavors in nice balance and a moderately long finish with notes of chocolate, tobacco and spice.  Still, we return to the overall theme and hurts Michter’s product line… price.  There are better barrel strength rye whiskeys out there at the same price or less, like Willet 2-5 Year Single Barrels and Smooth Ambler Old Scout 6-8 Year offerings.  I’d check those out instead.

Black Bull 30 Year Old

Black Bull 30

Blended Scotch, 30 Years,
50% ABV, $184

This is a Scotch blend from Duncan Taylor of 50% malt and 50% grain that is aged for 30 years in ex-sherry oak casks and looks to be a batch from March 2009 (065 09/065 12:31… someone let me know if I’m reading that code incorrectly).  I’ve had a dram from this particular bottle before and really enjoyed it.  At our last tasting, my friend offered me the last pour from the bottle to take home and I thankfully accepted.

The nose is great with a bit of honey, cigar box, straw, dark plum, cherry, overripe banana, candied ginger and butterscotch.  It’s a nice mixture that doesn’t overpower, but draws you in to discover everything that’s there.  It’s more inviting with a bit of finesse rather than being bold.  The invitation seems to be to take a sip….

The first sip immediately reveals the sherry influence with the same dark cherry, plum, vanilla, honey, ginger, lemon drop, straw, overripe green apple and lemon zest.  The finish is long with a lingering leathery, overripe stone fruit profile.  There’s not much spice besides the ginger and the wood is delicately revealed without any tendency to overpower the other flavors.  As I continue to sip, the fruits become more evident and so does the spicy ginger and a bit of black pepper, even while the leathery influence of the wood rises up to offer the needed balance.  Despite all the fruit flavors, it avoids any shift towards sweetness and provides a nice experience of overripe fruit, dark stone fruit, candy, spice and mild leathery wood.

I definitely wish that I had more of this, but it’s now gone.  I highly recommend this whiskey if you ever have the chance to taste it or by some miracle you happen upon a bottle to buy (and aren’t deterred by the price).  This is the best Scotch blend that I’ve had to date by a significant margin.

Johnnie Walker Tasting

JW OdysseyThis month’s tasting at Trinity Hall Irish Pub was of the new Johnnie Walker product line.  Diageo Master of Whiskey, Teresa Meyer, was on hand to talk about each of the products and offer some tasting notes as well. Before getting started, we viewed the excellent video production from Johnnie Walker entitled, The Man Who Walked Around the World.  After that introduction, here’s what we sampled:

  • Red Label ($18) –  Made mostly from Carhdu whisky (owned by Johnnie Walker), this is a light, peaty whisky with an aroma of mild smoke, malt, straw, honey and a taste that is grassy with mild peat, honey, apple and pear.  The finish is light and mildly leathery with lingering peat.  I’m really surprised at the amount of peat in this whisky and it’s not a great combination with the light and spicy flavors that can’t stand up to it.
  • Black Label ($27) – A blend of 40 whiskies with 12 year minimum age and the best seller in the JW line. The nose is very good with honey, fruit and feint peat, while the flavors are fruity and mildly spicy with a bit of peat and vanilla.  The finish is dry fruit, mild leather, mild spice and honey rounding out a mildly rich experience with nice mouthfeel and a good balance of sweet and spice.  This is nice whisky for the price and I’m surprised at how much I liked it.
  • Double Black ($32) – This is the newer No Age Statement Black Label offering/replacement.  It was previously a seasonal offering, but is now permanent.  It’s definitely similar to Black Label, but with less depth and a thinner mouthfeel.  Skip this one, go for Black Label and hope that JW doesn’t discontinue it like Green Label.
  • Gold Reserve ($70) – Made up of whisky from Clynelish and Caol Ila distilleries, Gold Reserve (replacement for Gold Label) has a nice nose of plum and honey.  The taste is consistent with the nose with notes of honey, vanilla, ginger, peat, plum and pear, giving way to a mildly peated and leathery finish with a bit of spice and honey. It’s light and flavorful with a light mouthfeel… more of a summer whisky.
  • Platinum Label ($100) – This is the new 18 year offering that really replaces Gold Label and is comprised of mostly Speyside whisky.  The nose is quite nice with a bit of vanilla, straw, honey, plum and cherry.  The taste is the most interesting so far with bits of lemon drop, cherry, honey, ginger, white pepper and straw followed by a sweet and mildly spicy finish.  This whisky steps things up just a bit with a nice nose, a good balance of spice, fruit and candy and some decent mouthfeel.  It’s the first real competitor for Black Label at almost 4 times the price. 😮
  • Blue Label ($182) – This is the premier offering from JW and one I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.  It doesn’t disappoint with some cherry, plum, apple, pear, honey, peat and straw on the nose and a richer taste of caramel, vanilla, honey, peat, black pepper, ginger and orange.  The finish is sweet, fruity and spicy resulting in a very nicely balance whisky and plenty of flavor.  If it weren’t so expensive, I could enjoy this one.
  • Johnnie Walker & Sons Odyssey ($1,100) – Marius (Trinity Hall proprietor) secured a bottle of this limited offering that is a blend of 3 malts in a fancy crystal bottle that rotates 360º while in the box.  It has a great nose of vanilla, plum, honey, cigar box, straw and mild peat.  The taste is similar with notes of plum, ginger, pomegranate, honey, vanilla, caramel, orange marmalade and light tobacco before transitioning to a light and sweet finish.  This is the standout of the night with a great nose and a rich, complex taste.  At this price, I would expect no less!

I’m glad to have finally sampled the Johnnie Walker line.  Previously, I had only tasted the plentiful Black Label, which I didn’t remember being as good as I discovered tonight.  It was by far the best value of the entire line and well worth the jump up from Red Label, which I wouldn’t bother with at all.  While Odyssey and Blue Label were impressive, their prices were much more so and put them out of consideration for sure… they’re just not worth the cost of admission.  As good as these whiskies are, there are much better ones available for much less money (Black Bull 12 and  Glendronach 12 to name a couple and Odyssey has nothing on Glendronach 15 Revival at around $80).  Johnnie Walker has quite the following and they appear to offer great consistency from year to year, which is important to plenty of people, but I still don’t see the value above Black Label.  I’m an explorer and easily bored with the same whisky night after night, so I have no daily dram to speak of.  There are plenty of whiskies yet to explore and I’m glad to have sampled these along the way.  Given an opportunity like this one, you should too.

Private Tasting

Black Bull 30A local fellow whiskey enthusiast invited me to his home for a tasting and I enthusiastically accepted. This was a small gathering, including a local pub owner, liquor expert, another enthusiast, the host and me. I was honored to even be included and the lineup was incredible.

We started off by sampling a couple of beers:

  • Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout – nice coffee stout with notes of dark chocolate.
  • Prairie/Evil Twin Bible Belt – this is Evil Twin’s Even More Jesus imperial stout that is spiced like Prairie Artisan Ale’s Bomb! with coffee, vanilla, cacao nibs and chile… this is far less peppery and less complex than Bomb!, but it’s still good with a nice thick, dry dark chocolate flavor along with bitter coffee… the other infused flavors don’t really make much of a showing.

Up next was my first Armagnac and probably my first good brandy:

  • Chateau du St. Aubin Bas-Armagnac – dry, fruity, dark fruits, light wood, sherry finish, beautiful nose, refreshing (per our expert and I agree)… Excellent!

Finally, it was time to sample some whisk(e)y:

  • Mackmyra Special 06 Summer Meadow 2011 – wintergreen, ginger, white pepper, sea salt, white grape, green apple… very nice… may have to look for a bottle next time I’m in Stockholm
  • Glengassaugh The Spirit Drink That Dare Not Speak its Name – this is new make spirit (i.e. unaged) and it was pretty bad stuff… notes of barnyard on the nose and palate… on a positive note, it did give me an idea of what the wood was working on for all that time
  • Bruichladdich The Organic – earthy and sweet with a pure, natural malt profile… notes of dough, spice, ginger, pepper, lemon with a mildly leathery finish… different and very interesting… Excellent!
  • Old Potrero Single Malt Straight Rye – dough, swamp oak (per our host and I agree… thanks for naming that flavor for me), mild spice, honey and sweet tobacco… a different kind of rye… supposed to be old school
  • Glenmorangie 12 Year Sherry Wood Finish 2005 – grape, nice spice and sweetness, long finish, dark fruit, full malt, mild dry cocoa… Excellent… best Glenmorangie I’ve ever tasted!
  • Black Bull 12 Year – bitter caramel, cigar box, white pepper… bold and flavorful… at $45, this is a great buy!
  • Black Bull 40 Year (3rd Release, 41.6% ABV) – grain, more refined, balance of fruit, leather, mild ginger, bitter orange, very mild… I was expecting a lot more… disappointed
  • Black Bull 30 Year – lots of sherry influence, fruity, mild spice, dark fruit, apple, pear, cherry… Best blend I’ve ever had by far!
  • Longmorn 17 Year 1996 (The Ultimate, 57.2% ABV) – spicy, needs water, bold and untamed , fruity, mildly bitter, malty, strong sherry influence, very dark… not too good
  • Aultmore 12 Year 1991 (SMWS 73.12, 58.4% ABV) – spicy, fruity, spreads across the palate, fairly hot, tobacco, dark fruit, mildly sulfurous
  • Glen Grant 17 Year 1988 (SMWS 9.35, 53.9% ABV) – hot, slightly medicinal, fruity, herbal, probably second fill (per our pub owner), a little water opens it up
  • Ardmore 20 Year 1985 (SMWS 66.17, 53.4% ABV) – mildly peated, fruity, sweet, earthy, ashes
  • Glen Scotia 13 Year 1991 (SMWS 93.13, 63.7% ABV) – light fruit, spice, woody, light peat, mildly medicinal, leathery, machine oil (again, thanks to our host for this one)
  • Springbank 12 Year Recharged Sherry Cask 1999 (Springbank Society, 57.9% ABV) – mildly medicinal, fruity, mildly spicy, everything is here and with nice balance, mild peat… Excellent!
  • Brora 30 Year (6th Edition, 55.7% ABV)- bold fruit and spice, amazing balance and complexity, mild peat… Outstanding!
  • Glenlochy 32 Year Refill Butt 1980 (Signatory Cask Strength Collection, Cask #1759, 60.1% ABV) – pure malt, honey, lots of fruit with moderate spice, leathery finish, water really opens it up, fairly ho
  • Port Ellen 25 Year 1982 (Chieftain’s Choice, Cask #1522, 43% ABV) – mildly peated, lots of balance without any boldness, spice, fruit , mild leather… Excellent!
  • Glenfiddich 125th Anniversary Edition – mildly peated, mild spice and fruit, honey… different kind of Glenfiddich and pretty good
  • Laphroaig 9 Year Refill Sherry Butt 2001 (SMWS 29.88, 60.9% ABV) – bold peat, bold spice and fruit, in your face flavor, medicinal with balance… Excellent!

Wow!  What a great lineup of whisky!  The Brora 30 Year was definitely the standout for me and the best single malt I’ve tasted.  Honorable mention goes to Black Bull 30 Year from Duncan Taylor.  It’s too bad that many of these are unavailable, but some of the excellent ones still are, such as Black Bull 12, Bruichladdich The Organic and Chateau du St. Aubin Bas-Armagnac.  These are all worth seeking out!

TX Blended Whiskey

Blend, No Age Statement, 41% ABV, $35

Blend, No Age Statement, 41% ABV, $35

This is a blended whiskey from Firestone & Roberts in Fort Worth that is probably more known for their bottle caps made with old boot leather than for their whiskey. Let me get my spurs on before tasting this one (yes, I really do have some). Now let’s see if I can stay on for 8 seconds.

The color is medium amber. The aroma is bold with sweetness, wood and spice. Really nice vanilla, caramel, dried corn cob, candied fruit and honey. There’s not a lot of complexity, but lots to enjoy nonetheless. After a while I get a bit of old wooden box and black cherries, too.

The first taste is somewhat resinous, but still spicy and sweet. The wood tannins are prominent (i.e. young whiskey), but nothing objectionable. Additional sips reveal the expected vanilla and caramel while the woody characteristics linger. There’s a bit of lemon, bitter honey and ginger as well. Once the sweetness fades, there’s a leathery spicy wood finish that lingers nicely. It’s a sequence of sweet, tangy, spicy then woody. The sweetness seems to build (in duration, not intensity) and begins to linger into the finish more and more. By the time I’m finished, I’m left with a definite taste of cocoa powder against the backdrop of the other flavors. It’s an interesting collection of flavors.

I like this stuff because its interesting and easy to drink. This could easily satisfy the coke and bourbon crowd while giving the whiskey aficionado something to explore. Another winner for the value conscious buyer, in my opinion. In the price range, there’s lots of competition (e.g. Evan Williams Single Barrel, Eagle Rare 10 and Weller 12 to name a few), but this is fun enough to try for some variety. Make sure you pick out a good cap, too!

Many thanks to Mark E. for the sample. He describes this whiskey as having “one note, but a very good note.” I’m not sure that this statement doesn’t sell it short, but I know what he’s getting at and I agree.

Old Crofter

Blend, No Age Statement, 40% ABV, $12

I’m already a day behind as this is yesterday’s whisky!  This is an exclusive bargain offering from Total Wine & More that a friend of mine discovered.  He also gave me a sample to share with my son in order to save him some money (thanks, Mark!).

I detect charred wood, straw, clover, mild cocoa and honey on the nose. I’m searching for fruits, but I’m coming up empty. Delving deeper I detect a bit of grassiness and a hint of bell pepper. After a bit more time, I notice the faintest bit of white pepper.

The taste is definitely grainy and thin with a bit of spice on the finish that lingers for a good while. Up front I taste vanilla, straw, honey, dry cocoa, green pepper and green apple. There’s a brief transition to sappy wood with a note of apple before a mildly woody and spicy finish. The spices are mostly white and black pepper with the wood showing no signs of leathery taste. When it’s all said and done, the wood is what remains with a slightly grainy taste.

This is the cheapest Scotch blend I’ve had, but definitely not the worst. It’s simple and only mildly interesting, but it works fairly well. This is a true bargain in every sense of the word, but it’s not enough to hold my attention. The most objectionable aspect is the green flavor presented by the green pepper (detecting more of it now as in the nose) and the white pepper, which is not a favorite with me. If the flavor profile interests you and you’re looking for something cheap, then I can recommend this one.

Saint Isidore

Blended, No Age Statement, 41.4% ABV, $81

I’m now 4 days behind schedule and feeling the pressure. My goal is to complete on time (i.e. the 24th)… that’s 9 drams in 5 days!

St. Isidore has a sweet seaside aroma with just a puff of smoke. The salty sea air is sweetened by butterscotch and vanilla while smoky grass moves in the soft breeze (I can’t believe I just wrote that!). In any case, it smells great! I sense an Island influence for sure. The taste is quite nice and matches the aroma. It’s salty with a mild peated smoke component. The smoke lingers while the sweetness gently fades and leaves a salty woody flavor. There’s a bit of grass early on that builds a bit and slowly fades with the sweetness. Back to the sweet flavors, they come back after a bit of a peppery interlude and taste like honey, vanilla and toffee. After several sips, I note a slight bit of clove and the peppery finish takes on a definite ginger flavor. The bitterness of the finish is a bit strong with a leathery quality; otherwise, this is quite nice and easily the best blend I’ve had yet.

This whisky has a unique story behind it:

The story of St Isidore and the bloggers blend all started one day when we were thinking about how to create our next whisky, when it suddenly hit us: ask the bloggers! These guys and gals are amongst the most knowledgeable, expert and, let’s face it, geekiest whisky lovers in the world! We called upon this incredible resource, and here’s how we did it…

Read more here.

Boxes Blend


Blended, No Age Statement, 40% ABV, $90

The nose is full of grass, apple, vanilla and overripe banana with a bit of cigar box. There’s a definite charred oak flavor characteristic up front that develops throughout to the finish. This theme is complemented by tart apple, ginger, orange and vanilla. All except the ginger fade fairly quickly as a peppery finish develops and persists. After the black pepper fades, the aftertaste is leathery oak. The experience is somewhat disjointed rather than a continuously smooth transition. If not for that, this might be a fantastic experience. That and the overpowering pepper that lacks any additional spice or other flavors for balance really detracts from the experience. The other flavors are long gone while you’re wondering how long the pepper will last. There’s lots of promise, but nothing special here.

According to Master of Malt:

Boxes Blend is a whisky put together by none other than Athlete bassist Carey Willets. The blend is named after his new solo project, an electro pop adventure that’s already garnering some great reviews.

Interesting that they give more information about the musician than the whisky. 😉

Black Bull Special Reserve Number 1

Blended, No Age Statement, 46.6% ABV, $153

Graham cracker, toffee and maple syrup aroma with a gentle charred wood in the background… very noticeable at first, but mostly distant after collecting some air. The taste is a metallic citrus with plenty of burn. The citrus is joined by ginger, maple and caramel as the metal fades, but the burn lingers as the aftertaste turns to leathery vanilla. A bit of water tames this dram to a leathery maple and vanilla as the citrus becomes more in balance. The aftertaste becomes more sulfurous behind a lingering chewy burnt caramel. By the time I’m finishing this one off, I’m tasting more florals and lemon along with a spicy gingerbread.

Master of Malt says:

The most recent addition to the Black Bull stable, this Special Reserve Number one is based on the same ratio of 50% malt to grain that is used in both the 12 and 40 year old Black Bull whiskies. This is a limited release of just 978 bottles.