Suntory Yamazaki Distillers Reserve

Yamazaki Distillers Reserve
Distillery/Brand: Suntory Yamazaki | Region: Japan | ABV: 43% | Color: Sunlight
Nose: 22 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 87

Review
Yamazaki is a powerhouse of a distillery. Competing alongside Nikka for my affections it is routinely churning out brilliant expressions. The 12 and the 18 – both having secured cult status. The 25 that I have sitting on my shelf which I am saving for the most momentous of occasions.

Then there are the Hakushus coming out from the same gates. Saltier and more maritime in nature and equally good.

But what I love most is the air of intrigue and minimalistic sophistication Japanese whiskies bring with them. There is nothing which is too much or unnecessary. Nothing is loud or overbearing. Instead there is a controlled elegance to everything they represent.

While the Yamazaki Distillers Reserve may not be the best Yamazaki I have tasted it is quite decent in it’s own right.

Expertly blended by Shinji Fukuyo, the fourth Chief Blender of Yamazaki, the Distillers Reserve is a mix of three unique casks; Wine, Sherry & Mizunara. And there seems to be something from each in the final spirit.

Nose: Malty. Butterscotch. Pepper. Dry fruit. Sugar frosting. A ton of pineapple. Jack fruit and papaya. All the tropical fruits in the world. The wine comes through in a fruity chardonnay with a hint of oak. Decently accomplished if not magnificent.

Palate: Very thin. Apples. Light honey. Mid-palate it becomes fruitier. It’s the same tropical suspects. Bananas with the faintest of mangoes. Hints of oak. I think it’s trying to be a Speysider but not really doing a good enough job of it.

Finish: Medium with a touch of spice. My least favorite part.

Look, I keep saying this one is far from magnificent but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve a pour.

Rating: 87

Balcones V Brimstone Resurrection

Blacones Brimstone Resurrection
Distillery/Brand: Balcones Distilling | Region: America | ABV: 60.5% | Color: Dark Gold
Nose: 24 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 92

Review
I had never heard of Balcones Distilling until they won the WWA 2014 award for best American Whiskey. While I’m not a big fan of awards this time around I’m grateful to them for bringing this Texan distillery on to my radar.

When you think of Texas you don’t think of whisky. And, frankly, the only thing I know about Waco, Texas (where the distillery is located) is that a certain madman by the name of David Koresh burned down a ranch along with a lot of people.

Luckily now I will begin to associate Waco, Texas with pretty awesome whiskey. So thanks to Balcones for that.

Started only five years ago Balcones is the lovingly built brainchild of a certain Mr Chip Tate – can’t get any more Texan than that! Hand-built pot stills and a unique smoking method are responsible for this unique tasting corn whiskey.

Legend has it that one fine day Chip managed to burn a heck of a lot of corn at the bottom of his stills. Rather than throw it away he decided to use it. But not before he subjected it to his rather unique method of smoking the spirit with Texas Scrub Oak and then aging it in heavily charred barrels.

The result is the award-winning Brimstone Resurrection (get it?) released to commemorate the distillery’s 5th year of operations. This is a spirit that can only be described as a raging Texas campfire.

Nose: Completely scorched! Burnt leather. Dry barbecue meat. Clove. Ginger. Nutmeg. All spice. Cigar box. Let it breathe and it gets sweeter. Molasses. Baby ginger. Figs. Spicy Fruitcake. Cherry cough drops. All treated to that heavy Texan oak smoke. Wicked.

Palate: Seriously intense. Very woody cocoa. Peppers. Fruitcake. Java coffee beans. Nutmeg. Dry fruits. Figs. Raisins. All charred. All smoked. All fantastic.

Finish: Long with herbs. Wood. Cocoa. And did I mention smoke?

Powerful dram that is only three years old with a limited run of around 155 bottles so count your self lucky if you have one of these bad boys.

I’ve not tried any of the other Balcones offering but you better be sure I’m going to.

Rating: 92

Four Roses Single Barrel

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Distillery/Brand: Four Roses | Region: America | ABV: 50% | Color: Copper
Nose: 23 | Taste: 24 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 24 | Rating: 94

Review
It’s been a while since I put a good old fashioned bourbon on the tasting block. Five months to be exact. No real reason other than getting swept up in my single malt purchases and ignoring this spirit from the West.

For some reason I always get grief from my whisky club about my love for American whisky. Not that they’re snobs or anything. It’s just that I organized a bourbon tasting one night and, let’s just say, things got out of hand.

The following morning was a barrage of half coherent phone calls blaming my generous pours and the Devil that was inside this damned spirit for their complete lack of motor skills.

Sure guys. Blame the bourbons.

I’ve had my eye on Four Roses for a while but just didn’t get around to picking one up for the bar. Good thing I did. I’m quite proud of my growing bourbon collection and the Four Roses makes for a worthy addition.

My sample is from Barrel 69-6W from warehouse ME bottled at a perfect 50% ABV.

Nose: Howdy pardner! So many aromas all working together in near perfect harmony. Maple syrup. Chocolate fudge brownies. Overripe oranges. Espresso coffee beans. Black licorice. Burnt caramel. Cinnamon. Nutmeg. Oak. The longer you nose the more aromas you get. In the interest of space I had to stop.

Palate: Brilliant delivery. Controlled at 50% which I think works beautifully. Oaky at first before getting sweeter mid-palate. Honey. Molasses. Cherries. Dark plums. Chocolate caramel. Black peppercorns. Cinnamon.

Finish: Satisfyingly long. Touch bitter with vanilla and black peppers.

As a recent practice I’ve been drinking the actual whisky while writing my review. For some reason this review has taken twice as long. You figure out why.

Rating: 94

Sullivans Cove French Oak

Sullivans Cove French Oak
Distillery/Brand: Sullivans Cove | Region: Australia | ABV: 47.5% | Color: Young Sauternes
Nose: 24 | Taste: 25 | Finish: 24 | Balance: 24 | Rating: 97

Review
Can someone please tell me what the hell is going on in Tasmania?

I can swear the whisky distillers Down Under have made a pact with the Devil. In exchange for their souls, and the souls of their loved ones, they are being given magical powers to create the most delicious whisky ever made.

I thought after tasting the Overeem Port Matured Cask Strength, another Australian Devil spawn, I would not taste a better whisky this year.

I am so elated to be wrong.

Winner of the World Whisky Awards 2014 this spirit is any where between 11 to 13 years old. Matured in French Oak Port casks my particular sample is one of 516 bottles to emerge from winning cask No. 525.

Founded in 1995 in, you guessed it, Sullivans Cove this distillery is now home to one of my favorite whiskies.

Nose: Dark chocolate. Black peppers with a touch of cinnamon. Scented tobacco. Warm hazelnut toffee covered in praline sauce. Dark fig jam and natural caramel. Very high quality leather. This is such a beautifully intense nose. It’s like nosing a 60% whisky only to realize it’s not even 48%.

Palate: Crisp maple syrup. Black pepper. Dark jam. Mild tobacco leaf. Roasted nuts and dry figs. Dark raisins covered in chocolate. The creamy, perfectly balanced delivery will make you salivate. While the whisky’s in your mouth.

Finish: Gloriously long with a mocha caramel swirl.

Truly one of the great whiskies of the year and, for once, I whole heartedly agree with the truckload of accolades this wee dram has won.

I am so moving to Tasmania….

Rating: 97

Glenfarclas 105

Glenfarclas 105
Distillery/Brand: Glenfarclas | Region: Speyside | ABV: 60% | Color: Old Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 89

Review
There’s not a lot I can tell you about the Glenfarclas 105 that you don’t already know. It’s the quintessential sherry bomb which, thanks to it’s 60% ABV, is the average mans’ insanely economical bang for the buck.

Produced at the, still family-owned, Grants Distillery this is truly a Speyside giant with it’s over the top flavors and delivery. Now I know a few people who don’t like it a whole lot purely because of it’s big sherry flavors. But I actually like it for exactly those reasons.

It’s a sherry bomb. It knows it’s a sherry bomb. It’s cask strength. And not just any cask strength. It’s 60%. It’s not making any excuses. In fact it’s letting you know if you don’t like it you can suck it’s cork.

Nose: Bitter chocolate and dark plums. Big fat raisins mixed with black peppercorns. Red grapes on top of pancakes smothered in maples syrup. This is such a huge sherry nose. I really like it. Simply because it is unashamed.

Palate: So true to the nose. Bitter chocolate. Black pepper. Maple syrup. Dark chocolate. It’s impossible to hold it without your eyes watering. In a good way.

Finish: Insanely long. Cherries. Red licorice. Black pepper.

My only beef with Glenfarclas is that I couldn’t tell the difference between this and the 20 year old 105 – which costs three times the amount. If you want my advice buy three of these bad boys instead of the 20 year old.

Rating: 89

Kilkerran WIP 6 Sherry Wood

Kilkerran WIP 6 Sherry
Distillery/Brand: Kilkerran | Region: Campbeltown | ABV: 46% | Color: Sunlight
Nose: 23 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 91

Review
Glengyle Distillery, where Kilkerran is distilled, opened it’s doors in 2004 and is the newest distillery in Campbeltown. It is also fast becoming my favorite from the region, too, given the quality of the spirit that leaves through it’s doors.

What is nice was every year after the third (when it legally qualified to be called whisky) Glengyle release a sherry and a bourbon matured expression entitled Work In Progress. So the WIP 1 was a four year old spirit released in 2009.

Now I know this is done purely for commercial reasons but when the spirit works so well and has been so expertly crafted it then becomes a pleasure to be actually part of that journey.

The WIP 6 marks ten years of the distillery’s operations which means this years’ release has some decade old spirit in it.

Matured in European sherry and bottled at 46%.

Nose: That briny coastal sea salt which can be found in the bourbon wood expression is present here as well. Herbs. Earthy mild peat. Cigar leaf. Pecan nuts glazed in sugar. Light soy sauce. Red wild berries. It’s a comforting red sherry that I like.

Palate: Creamy fruit cake. Cinnamon dust. Chocolate bananas. Herb infused brownies. Oaky with a hint of peat. Prunes. Lovely ginger spices at the end. This is such a classic sherry matured palate.

Finish: Long with oily oak. Caramel marchiato. Cinnamon.

Lovely spirit with controlled sherry influence.

Rating: 91

Kilkerran WIP 6 Bourbon Wood

Kilkerran WIP 6 Bourbon
Distillery/Brand: Kilkerran | ABV: 46% | Region: Campbeltown | Color: Sunlight
Nose: 22 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 89

Review
One of my first whiskies ever was a Springbank 10 Cask Strength and truth be told I didn’t know what hit me. In a good way. This is way before I knew my cask from a cork. Some days I still don’t but, hey.

And, thus, began my fascination with this small giant of a region, Campbeltown. Springbank led to Longrow which led to Hazelburn which led to Glen Scotia and which finally led to these work of art expressions from Glengyle Distillery, the Kilkerran Work In Progress series.

Not all whiskies from this region are great but like a father who has a favorite child I tend to forgive a lot. Luckily with the Kilkerrans there’s really nothing you need to forgive.

The first one I picked up was a WIP 4 and I remember introducing it to my whisky club who had no idea what it was. The look on their faces when they tried it for the first time was priceless. Such a young and vibrant whisky it completely blew them away.

The WIP 5 was an equally big hit with them the following year. And so when I picked up this years’ installment I couldn’t wait to put it on the tasting block!

Kilkerran opened it’s doors in 2004 so you can be sure there’s some 10 year old spirit in the WIP 6. Matured exclusively in bourbon wood and served up at 46%.

Nose: There’s a coastal briny-ness which stays with you through out but it’s balanced out by a delicate freshness that comes from young(ish) spirits. Nutty. Oily walnuts. Sweet apricots covered in sticky sugar. Green apples and vanilla with the mildest of peat.

Palate: Juicy pears and green apples. Honey drizzle almonds. Black and white peppers with a hint of lemon citrus. Lovely mouth feel. This medium bodied spirit is on point.

Finish: Medium with oily custard.

This is an excellent spirit without the frills. I love it when the integrity of the spirit stands out above all the distractions we have come to expect from this industry.

Rating: 89

Old Pulteney Duncansby Head Lighthouse

Old Pulteney Duncansby Lighthouse
Distillery/Brand: Old Pulteney | Region: Highland | ABV: 46% | Color: Sunlight
Nose: 22 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 87

Review
This is the second installment of the latest Old Pulteney Travel Retail series to hit the Duty Free shelves after the WK editions. I’ve just finished writing a review for the Noss Head Lighthouse so I used up all my Old Pulteney preamble there. Basically all I want to say is the three expressions are named after Lighthouses.

I guess their marketing department needed a story so they simply looked out the window and, I’m guessing, saw three lighthouses.

I’m not saying it’s a bad idea. Maybe a bit lazy. Because what’s next? They’ve done boats. Now lighthouses. That leaves lifesavers. Right? Anyway, I’ll let the marketing department take care of that.

The Duncansby Head Lighthouse is second of the series and is matured in ex-Bourbon and ex-Spanish sherry casks. I’m going to hazard a guess that it’s basically the same spirit as the Noss Head Lighthouse (which has been matured exclusively in ex-Bourbon barrels) finished off in sherry casks. I could be wrong but there’s too many similarities between the two.

Though not mentioned I’m assuming the sherry is Oloroso (please correct me if I’m wrong!).

Here’s the official blurb about the Duncansby Head Lighthouse on the OP website:

Featuring a coral red label and tube, the eye catching packaging depicts an image of Duncansby Head lighthouse. Situated near to John O’Groats at the very northern tip of Scotland, the lighthouse protected a dangerous part of the Pentland Firth where the Atlantic waters flow into the North Sea.

Nose: Damp chocolate. Cake. Assorted nuts. Vanilla. Coconut (oil). Beans. Cabbage leaves. Dark dry raisins. Hint of peat? The nose smells familiar. I think it’s the ex-sherry treatment which I find across so many expressions. It’s not bad, mind you. Just get a sense of ‘been there, done that.’

Palate: Chocolate. Lemon and black pepper. Natural caramel on mixed fruit sweets. Coffee powder. It’s not bad. Just lacks the complexity that was needed to elevate it a bit.

Finish: Decently long. Cinnamon. Mocha.

Not a bad whisky by any standards. But not challenging enough.

Rating: 87