Thomas H Handy Sazerac Rye 2013

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Distillery/Brand: Thomas H. Handy | Region: America | ABV: 64.2% | Colour: Old Gold
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 92

Review
I thought I would treat my self and pick out something special for my 300th whisky review. I wasn’t counting until recently and only just realized that I was a few short of a triple.

So I said Why not? Treat yourself, son, you deserve it for all your hard work. Because whisky drinking is just that. A treat.

I thought long and hard and settled on the 2013 bottle of the Thomas H Handy Sazerac straight rye whiskey from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. It’s older brother by a year ended up winning top honors with a certain Jim Murray the year before. Since I didn’t have two of those I decided to open this one (of which I do have another).

I have not had a lot of experience drinking rye whiskey. I would like to, though. The spicier, drier cousin of straight bourbons rye whiskey is made from a minimum mash of 51% rye with barley and corn making up the rest. Straight rye means it’s been aged for a minimum of 2 years in virgin American oak.

This particular one ha seen a bit more ageing than the minimum. This year’s was distilled in the spring of 2007 and aged on the seventh floor of Warehouse K. At 6 years old, it is the youngster of the Antique Collection.

Bottled at 128.4 Proof (64.2% ABV) my sample is from a brand new bottle.

Nose: Quite sweet. Almost made me salivate. Dry. Leather. Mocha. Coffee beans. Cinnamon. Pomegranate. Rose water. Vanilla. Chocolate digestives. Cherry licorice. Cola. Cherry cola. Oak. Strong, bold spicy aromas. Love it!

Palate: Very hot. Lots of cinnamon and black pepper spices. Leather. Red wine tannins. Coffee. Gets even more spicier mid-palate. I can actually taste the rye here. Spearmint. Chocolate. Vanilla. I wasn’t too taken it with on my first sip but then the second and third really drove it up a notch.

Finish: Long. Extremely long. Oak. Long. Cinnamon. Long. A touch dry. A touch bitter. And did I say long? Very long.

I’m glad I made this one signify a small milestone. These are precisely the type of flavors that drove me into the arms of whisky in the first place. So it was only fair that I pick this one up from the shelf to mark an occassion.

Rating: 92

Laphroaig 15 Years

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Distillery/Brand: Laphroaig | Region: Islay | ABV: 43% | Colour: Muddy Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 85

Review
Laphroaig is my forever fighting with Ardbeg for a top spot in my heart. But Ardbeg has taken upon itself to disappoint me more often than not which means I instinctively take refuge in the arms of the other Islay giant.

After having checked my records I realized that Laphroaig is by far my highest reviewed distillery and I also own the most number of it’s bottles too. A little more than Ardbeg. Just goes to show how much I enjoy this ‘most richly flavoured of all Scotch whiskies’.

The 15 has had a bit of a bad rep. Before I tasted one (a few years ago) there were some who hated it, some who loved and some who were totally indifferent. I ended up being in the latter group. It didn’t exactly set my world on fire and I was happy to let it sit on my shelf for eternity.

Someone then gifted me a more recent bottling (2013) and I just had to see whether they’d made any inroads into improving it. This is after the whole hue and cry of it being discontinued and people throwing themselves off cliffs in grief.

Well, let me tell you something. I think something might have happened here. Five years after being discontinued in 2008 a fresh new spirit was introduced, complete with new label, which I suspect has some much older vintages in it than Laphroaig is letting on.

The result is a restrained sort of Laphroaig without the usual characteristics but which is certainly a step up from it’s older defunct sibling. My sample is from an almost new bottle and served at a weak-ish 43%

Nose: Quite fruity. Some apples. Some pears. All shrouded in delicate smoke. Quite green. Coriander. Some herbs. Garam masala. Mild lemon. Lime. Citrus. Hint of iodine. Coastal sea salt. Fishnets. Brine. I like the nose.

Palate: Hint of sweetness. Mild smoke. Nutmeg. Some citrus. More pineapple than lemon. A touch of char. Dry leaves. The nose does better.

Finish: Took a while to stick. Some smoke. Hint of spice.

Overall I think this is a decent whisky. I am not crazy about it but maybe because I expect huge flavors from Islay whiskies especially this distillery and this one decides it’s a good idea to hold back a touch.

I’m sure this decision garners it more fans. Good on them!

Rating: 85

Glenmorangie Companta

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Distillery/Brand: Glenmorangie | Region: Highland | ABV: 46% | Colour: Old Sauternes
Nose: 18 | Taste: 18 | Finish: 17 | Balance: 15 | Rating: 68

Review
Now let me tell you this. I first heard of sulphur in whiskies from Jim Murray a few years ago and he made such huge deal about it that I was literally looking over my shoulder to see when sulphur would attack.

But then as I kept tasting ‘tainted’ whiskies I couldn’t really tell if they were truly sulphured or not. Jim certainly seemed to think so but I wasn’t too sure. Then after doing some research I found out that you had to be genetically inclined to be sensitive to sulphur and more than a third of the worlds’ population was not so.

I, therefore, assumed that I was one of the third and if I could not detect sulphur then so be it. In fact I was kind of glad. What spoilt whiskies for some would have no effect on me.
That is, until now.

After sitting for a month in an open bottle with no hint of anything sulphured (even though Jim in his 2015 Bible murdered this expression) I took it out to finally write this review.

This was an absolute disaster. What seemingly tasted decent when first opened had taken on the air of a spent canon. So strong was the sulphur that I barely had the chance to identify anything else.

OK, enough about the sulphur. Here is some info on what this whisky constitutes.

Vatting of standard 9 year-old ex-bourbon Glenmorangie finished for 5 years in red Grand Cru Burgundy wine casks from Clos de Tart (from Pinot Noir grapes), with a similar 10 year-old Glenmorangie finished for 8 years in a sweet fortified wine from Cotes du Rhone called Rasteau, made from Grenache grapes. The vatting contains 60% of the first, and 40% of the second.

My sample is from an open bottle and served at 46%

Nose: Underneath the flint, gunsmoke and spent matches there is some chocolate and red grapes. But that is all lost to the spectacular smell of a grand fireworks display.

Palate: I couldn’t finish this dram. Something metallic coated my mouth and would not let go.

Finish: Metallic.

I am really shocked at how this whisky had turned after a month oxidizing. The sulphur, I guess, was always there and just needed a bit of air to bring it out.

At least now I know I am part of the two-thirds majority that can smell sulphur. And I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Rating: 68

Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso

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Distillery/Brand: Glenlivet | Region: Speyside | ABV: 48% | Colour: Young Sauterne
Nose: 22 | Taste: 20 | Finish: 20 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 83

Review
I’m not the only one who claims the original Nadurra 16 Cask Strength as one of their favorite whiskies of all time. I mean come on! That near perfect crisp green apple served at a deliciously high strength has made many an evening.

There’s a number of Nadurras in circulation. There is the first-fill bourbon aged for 16 years and then bottled at cask strength (which varies in the mid 50s ABV). Then there is the slightly watered down to 48% version of the same whisky. There is a 1991 vintage known as the Triumph.

And now this latest NAS offering matured in Oloroso casks found pretty much only in travel retail.
For those who read my reviews know that I am wary of Oloroso influencing good whisky and completely taking over it. I have seen it happen on many occasions. Perfectly reasonable whiskies get treated with Oloroso overkill and are reduced to muddy, sweet syrup which hide the true essence of the expression.

I’ve seen it happen too many times and I’m seeing it again!

This NAS Nadurra matured in Oloroso is bottled at 48% and my sample is from a brand new bottle (code 0L0614)

Nose: Manuka honey. Orange. Brown chocolate. Very earthy. Autumn leaves. Clove. Cherry. Licorice. Strawberry jam. Port or some other type of fortified wine. Soft dates. The nose is not too bad. Quite typical Oloroso influence.

Palate: Full mouthfeel. Mild cinnamon. Bitter chocolate. Dark honey. Plums. Coconut oil. Oak. Gets quite savory mid-palate. Gets more muddy. More confused. Starts off nice but loses grip towards the end.

Finish: Barely there. Maybe some oak. Maybe some cinnamon.

Why try and fix something which is not only not broken but quite gloriously in one brilliant piece? Maybe the new Nadurra spirit coming out of Glenlivet is not as pristine as it’s predecessor and, hence, the Oloroso plays a masking game? Perhaps. I certainly hope not.

Regardless the result is slightly below average whisky which doesn’t even come close to it’s 16 year old namesake. Quite sad, indeed.

Rating: 83

Ardbeg Almost There

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 54.1% | Color: Pale Straw
Nose: 24 | Palate: 24 | Finish: 24 | Balance: 24
Strength: 25 | Variety: 23 | Quality: 24 | Harmony: 25
Final Score: 96.5

Review
Dear God! There was some real old school magic going on at Ardbeg when they re-opened in 1997. I don’t care how bad the economy how do you close down a distillery that produced spirit of this quality? Utter madness.

Well, thank you Glenmorangie for doing what you did.

Quick recap for the uninitiated. After Ardbeg opened it’s doors in 1997 they, on their way to the standard 10, decided to release four committee only bottlings of the spirit on it’s journey.

The first is called Very Young and is a six year old whisky. The second installment is called Still Young at eight years. The third Almost There at nine years. And finally the Renaissance which went on to become their standard 10 year old single malt.

The series is called Path to Peaty Maturity and you will seldom see the art of whisky making reaching such lofty heights. Almost flawlessly crafted these spirits are the reason people go bananas trying to get hold of each new Ardbeg.

It was a little over a year ago that I first tasted the Still Young and was suitably floored. And so last night I decided enough was enough and brought out my spare bottle of the Almost There to remind myself why this distillery is so close to my heart.

The spirit in my hand has been distilled in 1998 and bottled on February 27, 2007 at approximately nine years of age. The code on the bottle is L7 058 23:55 4ML and bottled at a cask strength of 54.1%

Nose: Tight citrus. Raw sugar. Tart lime. Black salt. Pineapple. A controlled peat. Milk chocolate. Cherries. Black licorice. Soot. Ash. All spice. It’s a touch more savory than it’s younger brother. That extra year of maturation shows. Such brilliantly balanced aromas. 24/25

Palate: Lemon tart. Spices. Vanilla. Oak. Bitter chocolate. All spice. Cumin. Lemon curd. Gets fruitier mid-palate. Cherries. Green apple. Pineapple. This one is gorgeously layered and the flavors keep swimming in and out of focus but stay within their family. 24/25

Finish: Insanely long. Oily. Lime. Lemon. Cumin powder. 24/25

Balance: 24/25

Strength: Crisp. On point. Strong. Bold. Cask strength. Perfect. 25/25

Quality: Almost incomparable. Crafted by hand. Almost artisan. 24/25

Variety: Good old fashioned flavors come at you one after another. 23/25

Harmony: An essay in perfection. 25/25

Based on my scores I award this whisky 96.5 points

Paul John Peated Select

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Distillery/Brand: Paul John | Region: India | ABV: 55.5% | Color: Gold
Nose: 23 | Palate: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23
Strength: 25 | Variety: 20 | Quality: 24 | Harmony: 22
Final Score: 91.5

Review
I recently hosted a Paul John evening for some close friends. Given the consistently high performing Amrut, the other Indian single malt, hopes were quite high for this too.
I’ve tasted the Paul John Brilliance before and thought it was a decent dram. Though, mind you, I liked it a touch less when I had it the second time around at the tasting. I think maybe the oxidization had intensified the vanilla too much.

Anyway, enough on the Brilliance. Let’s talk about the Peated Select. Given that we all (and by that I mean somewhat seasoned whisky drinkers) gravitate towards peat and cask strength spirits at some point in our journey there was understandable anticipation on what this bottle held.

Using the same base spirit as the other expressions the Peated Select includes spirit distilled from imported Scottish barley. It is also bottled at a reasonable cask strength of 55.5% (compared to the miserly 46% of the Brilliance and Edited – it’s locally available expressions). My sample was from a brand new bottle.

Nose: Peat. Quite sweet. Nuts. Lots of vanilla. Peaches. Oak. Cinnamon. Melon. Musk. Smells quite full bodied. Chocolate. Cherries. Fruit basket. I really like this nose. It doesn’t hold back. Captures, what I now feel is the distillery character, and layers an earthy peatiness on top. 23/25

Palate: Firing on all cylinders. Peat. Mango. Banana. Pineapple. Spices. Oak. Cinnamon. Chocolate. Licorice. Caramel. Quite full bodied. The spices spike and then mellow. The fruits remain consistent through out. It doesn’t give up flavors that easily but that just means you have to spend some time with it. 23/25

Finish: Long. Garam masala. Oak. Peat. 23/25

Balance: 23/25

Strength: Perfectly bottled at 55.5% – I really feel this is a good strength to truly appreciate this spirit. 25/25

Variety: Coaxing flavors from this one is a bit taxing. I would have liked more. And believe me, I tried. 20/25

Quality: Smells and feels top draw. 24/25

Harmony: No off-notes and performs quite consistently over time. 22/25

I would buy another bottle. For sure.

Based on my scores I give this whisky 91.5 points