Your Guide to the Diageo Special Releases for 2014

Dung SisyphusEvery year right around this time Diageo provide some public services by testing the state of the whisky bubble and the emotional state of whisky geeks everywhere, while simultaneously providing some high concept comedy to ease our strain in these troubled times. Herewith an annotated guide to the Diageo Special Releases for 2014.

Let us begin with the two categories that make the most sense. The prices listed are the recommended retail prices that are posted in the UK now—they’re usually lower in the US, and the sales situation is also usually different in the US (things hang around longer than they do in the UK or EU). Continue reading

Ardbeg Ardbog

Ardbeg ArdbogThe Ardbog was Ardbeg’s special Feis Ile release for 2013. I can’t recall off the top of my head if Ardbeg had any other special releases last year—it’s hard to keep up with them. With Ardbeg’s latest noisy releases on the market now—the new Supernova just came out—it seems like as good a time as any to review this one (I’ve had the bottle open for a long time). It is a vatting of Ardbeg of different styles, particularly ex-bourbon and ex-manzanilla sherry and it is 10 years old. It originally retailed between $89 and $120 in the US—if you’re keeping count this means it went for 2x-3x the price of the regular 10 yo. It didn’t all go though—there’s still some available.

I’ll be curious to see, by the way, what the fate of the new Supernova will be in the US market. In addition to the Ardbog we still have plentry of the Alligator and Auriverdes on the shelves of liquor stores here. Ardbeg-mania doesn’t seem to be quite as well-established here as it is in the UK and Europe. The new Supernova is priced far higher than any of those were—the lowest report I’ve seen is $125 and the highest is close to $200. If I could find it at $125 I might think about it but that’s my limit. I did like the samples of the 2009 and 2010 that I reviewed a little while ago quite a bit but I don’t want to get too caught up in Ardbeg’s marketing frenzy. There’s plenty of other high quality peated malt out there. Continue reading

Octomore 5.1

Octomore 5.1Another highly peated whisky from Bruichladdich this week, this time the far more ludicrously peated Octomore 5.1. I believe at 169 ppm this is the most heavily peated of the Octomores yet. Of course, as Jordan Devereaux and other people with actual knowledge of chemistry have pointed out, the ppm rating of barley before distillation is always a more spectacular number than the ppm rating of the matured whisky, and still shape and size can also have tremendous influence on how much of the phenols make into the distillate (Bruichladdich has very tall stills).

Anyway, I don’t mean to give the impression that I know very much about these things. I do know, however, that despite these eye-popping ppm numbers the Octomores have not been particularly outlandishly smoky in the glass and that I’m increasingly sceptical about the point of this series (see my comments in my review of the 6.1; I’ve also reviewed the 2.1, the 4.2 and the Octomore 10.)

Let’s see what this one is like. Continue reading

Tomatin 12

Tomatin 12The Tomatin 12 is another of the entry-level malts I’m reviewing this month. Unlike the Balvenie Double Wood it’s not really an iconic malt and it’s also one that I’ve gone through a number of bottles of in recent years—so there’s no real surprise for me in what’s contained in the review. This whisky continues to be one of the great values in single malt Scotch—coming in below $30 in most markets. Tomatin in general continues to be a good value in the US with the 18 year old a category killer in the $60 neighbourhood and the 25 year old challenging Glenfarclas in the most affordable 25 yo category (and even their 30 year old is cheaper than most distilleries’ 25 year olds). Here’s hoping they don’t also fall prey to the siren call of “premiumization” or start trading in good age-stated whisky for dubious NAS bottles.

This 12 yo comprises bourbon cask matured spirit that is then finished for six to nine months in oloroso sherry casks.
Continue reading

Dosa King (Spring Lake Park, Minnesota)

Dosa King: Sad Masala DosaMore like Dosa Pretender. This was not a good meal and has put my proposed slow-motion survey of Indian food in the Twin Cities metro area in some jeopardy as it has led my wife to beg off attending any more of these meals—she thought our meal at Bawarchi was fine but nothing worth driving two hours for; but this she thought barely approached acceptability; and I’m not sure if the friend who accompanied us is enthused at the prospect of a possible repeat of this experience.

Caveats: We ate lunch on a Saturday and it was the predictable buffet. It is entirely possible that they do better at dinner (though reports I’ve since received suggest that that may not be very much better). Also, it’s only one meal; maybe we caught them on a bad morning. Who knows? I’m certainly not going back again to investigate.

What we ate—please click on an image below, if you dare, to launch a larger slideshow with detailed captions Continue reading

Port Charlotte PC8

Port Charlotte PC8Here is the fourth release in Bruichladdich’s cask strength series of releases of their heavily peated Port Charlotte whisky, the PC8, “Ar Duthchas”. (The barley for the Port Charlotte line is peated to 40 ppm, putting it in the Lagavulin and Laphroaig range.) It was released in 2009 and represents the last release in the PC series of spirit from the original 2001 distillation, making it 8 years old. That is to say, PC 9 is not a nine year old—I’m not sure what year the spirit used in that and subsequent releases is from.

The series is now up to PC11—I’m not sure if there’s an endgame for the series or if there’s always going to be an ever-older annual cask strength PC release. At any rate, with unopened bottles of the PC7, 9 and 10 on my shelf I’m not in any danger of catching up to them. I’ve previously reviewed (and emptied) the PC6 and I was not a huge fan of that one. This PC8, however, I thoroughly enjoyed and am looking forward to tasting it again.

The bottle is long gone and so this review is from a 6 oz reference sample saved from when the bottle was in its prime. Continue reading

Balvenie 12, Double Wood

Balvenie 12, Double WoodThe venerable Balvenie Double Wood has been the gateway whisky for legions of single malt drinkers. Along with the Macallan 12 it was mine and I still recommend it to people looking to get into single malt whisky. It’s been a long time, however, since I’ve last had it. Partly this is probably on account of my subconsciously wanting to separate myself from “beginner” status; and partly it’s because when you get locked into the geek path of trying newer and more esoteric whiskies (and are trying to restrict the number of drinks you have in a day—no more than 1-2 in my case) you find yourself not coming back to the ones you already know quite well. And then it ends up being years since you’ve had it.

The Double Wood, of course, is matured in bourbon and sherry casks—but I’m not entirely sure if it is (or ever was) the case that the spirit is all double matured or if it’s a vatting of some bourbon cask whisky with some sherry cask whisky. And as I don’t have the bottle at hand (this was split) I can’t check to see what the label says. If you know please write in below. Continue reading

Ancient Age 86

Ancient AgeUS law requires that the duration of maturation be put on the label for any straight bourbon aged for less than four years but it does not require that the bourbon’s name have any obvious relationship to this number. Thus a 3 yo straight bourbon from the Buffalo Trace stable is called Ancient Age—presumably it beat out “Wino’s Choice” in focus group testing (it’s close to $10 in most markets for a full bottle). This is not, however, that Ancient Age and if you think that I wrote the preceding sentences only so that I could make the “Wino’s Choice” joke, well, you are correct.

This is an Ancient Age at 43% bottled in the early 1980s without an age statement (under current bourbon law that would imply it is more than 4 years old), quite likely before ownership of the brand passed to Buffalo Trace. The current 3 yo Ancient Age is at 40% and the only other extant Ancient Age is the 10 Star, which is at 45%. The only 43% one I know of is the now discontinued Ancient Ancient Age which was 10 years old—and Michael Kravitz, who is the source of this sample, informs that this is none of those. What relationship this 1980s bottling has to any of the later ones I have no idea. Indeed, frankly, I have no idea what I am drinking. Continue reading

Bawarchi (Plymouth, Minnesota)

Bawarchi: Chicken 65As mentioned a few days ago, I am starting a slow-motion survey of some of the luminaries of the Indian restaurant scene in the greater Twin Cities metro area. Why? Read on. (Or if you want to just skip to the review of Bawarchi scroll down a fair bit.)

I’ve lived in the US for 21 years now and learned from experience long ago to avoid most Indian restaurants, regardless of location. Short version of the reason: almost all of them run the gamut from mediocre to very bad. And somehow, most American foodies don’t get this even if in the last 10-15 years their awareness of and ability to make meaningful distinctions with various other Asian cuisines has expanded dramatically. The most obvious and striking parallel is with China, another large country with a dizzying variety of regions and cuisines. While the dominant mode of Chinese food in the US is still the Panda Express model, the major metros have a fair bit of granularity, with Sichuan usually leading the way. Certainly, the knowledge base of the average American food writer and foodie is much higher re various Chinese cuisines than it used to be in 1993 (I take this arbitrary date as a reference point as that’s when I arrived in the US). The same, alas, is not true of Indian food—leave alone the average foodie I can’t think of a single well-known American food writer who can be trusted on Indian food. Continue reading

Lagavulin 16

Lagavulin 16A true classic, the Lagavulin 16 was the first bottle of whisky I spent more than $50 on. And after my first sip I was so utterly disappointed I’d thrown my money away on a whisky that smelled and tasted as nasty as it did: a rotting, mossy tree trunk with a nasty tonic from my childhood thrown on it—that’s what I remember thinking after my first sip and sniff. How I’ve changed in a decade. Whether Lagavulin 16 has or not is a more controversial matter. There are those who insist it has and not for the good—it’s always hard for me to extricate this sort of a judgement from a more general expression of belief in whisky entropy (“everything changes for the worse”); on the other hand, there are those who say it has maintained its quality and general profile over time. I am in the latter camp but I grant that I have not tasted a Lagavulin 16 bottled since 2008 or so. Well, this bottle—which belonged to a good friend who left the country and also left some bottles for a couple of us to split—is from 2012. Continue reading

Coming Soon…

To Prince Edward Island--Alex ColvilleI’d said in August that my posting schedule would drop and it did. I only posted 11 whisky reviews—the overall numbers were higher due to a higher than usual number of restaurant reports (from our recent trip to Los Angeles). The number of whisky reviews is unlikely to rise very much in September. And while I will not have quite as many restaurant reports every month as I did last month, I am more and more beginning to think of this as not just a whisky blog (and thanks to Heavy Table for listing me among their Minnesota food and drink blogs). Here is a brief overview of what you can expect in September. Continue reading