Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!Despite the reports of my disappearance (Thanks Tina! :)), I have not disappeared. I’ve just been home with two kids for the last ten days with the Christmas break and then the New Year… it’s left little time for writing about scotch but plenty of time enjoying it after the kiddos have gone to bed.

Over the break, I had a chance to meet up with old friends and drink our fair share of whisky.

We rented a vacation house in Deep Creek, Maryland, for four days with about ~8 families and had a blast. During that time, my friend introduced me to High West Whiskey, a product out of Park City, Utah. I’ve never been to Utah but he explained the convoluted alcohol laws there, as a result of the Mormon influence, and how it resulted in the most curious of pub experiences.

For example, you can’t have two drinks of the same type. So you can have a shot of liquor and a beer but you cannot have two beers. And a beer has to be under 4% or it’s considered liquor. And before a bartender can mix your drink, they have to go into a separate place and behind a “Zion curtain.” And no liquor before you order food. It’s wild… and by wild I mean convoluted.

But! High West Whisky was pretty good. To be honest, nothing sticks out as memorable and I think I know why… it’s from an Indiana factory. This might upset some folks, but it doesn’t bother me. How do you expect a new company to survive aging their own stuff for three years and selling nothing? If they do this in year 5, then we have a problem.

I brought my own bottle share and I went with something a little off the wall. We stopped by the Costco in Washington D.C. and, among other things, I picked up a bottle of Kirkland brand Bourbon, aged 7 years. Many many years ago, I actually tried a Kirkland branded Scotch, but the label said it was from The Macallan distillery. That was a safe bet, I wish I bought more.

This time, the Kirkland branded bourbon had no other distillery’s name on it (it does mention Clear Springs Distillery, which is owned by Buffalo Trace). It was strictly a blend of a variety of bourbon producers. I was curious what my money got me. It was nice, sweet as expected, had a little more bite than the High West, and seemed like a decent value.

The last bottle we had were a class above – Balvenie Triple Cask 16yo. I bought my own in duty free coming back from the UK last year and was still in love. It tasted smoother than a baby’s butt compared to the bourbons (an unfair comparison). Hints of vanilla, fruits and toffee with a gentle caress of a finish that leaves you wanting to take another sip.

Bourbons are deliciously sweet but this trip was a reminder I do love a good scotch.

[VIDEO] Balvenie 14 Caribbean Cask Video Review by Swami Suave

We’re testing a new little feature here and it’s a video review by fellow Scotch Addict Facebook member Swami Suave – this five minute video takes a look at Balvenie 14 Caribbean Cask Review.

Balvenie 14 is finished in Jamaican rum casks, after spending most of its life in new American bourbon casks. Suave goes into a little bit of the history of Balvenie, his personal history with Balvenie, and then dives into the tasting by way of a Glencairn glass without water (neat).

Tasting notes:

  • Nose: Toffee, white wine, light spiced rum, vanilla
  • Taste: Burnt sugar, raisins
  • Finish: Light nutty tasty

If you don’t get a chance to watch the video, Suave had one word of advice – don’t add water. It drowns out the complexity of the dram.

For the novices out there, one thing you’ll notice Suave do is open his mouth when he is nosing the glass. If you tend to nose with your mouth closed, try it with it open, it really helps because it opens up a “backdraft.” Give it a try next time.

What did you think of the video?

Balvenie 17 Year Madeira Cask Tasting Notes

Madeira is both and island and the name of a Portuguese archipelago, of which the island is a part of, that is one of two Autonomous regions of Portugal (the other being the Azores). It’s a popular tourist destination spot and gives its name for Madeira wine, a fortified Portuguese wine. Whereas port is producted in the northern provinces of Portugal, Madeira is produced only on the island of Madeira. Much like how the Balvenie 21 Port Wood is finish in port pipes, the Balvenie 17 Year Madeira Cask is finished in Madeira casks.

If you’ve been following my blog for any period of time, you’ll probably know that I’m a little biased towards Balvenie. Their DoubleWood is an exceptional dram for the price and style, at least in my book, and their other bottles aren’t far behind. In my first tasting, I knew that this would be dangerous for my wallet. On the nose, it’s sweet, with a hint of cinnamon and a little muted fruitiness. There is, of course, that splash of vanilla as well. As for taste, it follows through what you got in the nose, with sweetness paired with fruitiness and some spices on a medium bodied dram. The finish is smooth but doesn’t surprise you in any way, it just continues the same note from nose to palate to finish. It makes me eager to try some Madeira dessert wine, in order to fully understand how the maturation in Madeira Casks affects the whisky (if you’re familiar with port, then you can immediately sense the port influence on the Balvenie Port Wood – I want to have that same feeling).

At $130 USD locally, it’s a pricier bottle but not unexpected given its age expression. The Balvenie 15 is available at around $80 USD locally (and the 21 is priced at $180). I still maintain that the 12 Year DoubleWood at $45 is the best value scotch in the range, but the Balvenie 17 Year Madeira is quite impressive in its own right. Time to find some Madeira…

Balvenie 21 Year Old Port Wood Finish

Balvenie Portwood 21It’s no secret that the Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year is one of my favorite scotch whiskys. At that price point, under $40 a bottle, it’s something I get to enjoy on a regular basis along with Glenlivet 12. The Balvenie 21 Year Port Wood is like the 12 year’s older, more refined, brother. Whereas the DoubleWood is priced at around $40USD, the Port Wood comes in at a more hefty $180USD. For each bottle of the Port Wood, you could get over four bottles of the DoubleWood; which explains why I don’t enjoy it as much as I possibly can!

When it comes to other finishes at other distilleries, I sometimes can’t tell that it’s been finished in a different cask. Oftentimes it can be a little subtle and unless you have had the non-specialty-finished whisky, you can’t pinpoint origin. Unless port is completely foreign to you, there’s no way you’ll miss the impact of finishing in port pipes. The specific sweetness imparted by finishing in port pipes is very evident on the palate.

The nose has the fruitiness I’ve come to expect from Balvenie, though I couldn’t pick out the raisins from their “official” notes. The palate is influenced by the portwine finish, supporting the fruit I picked up from the nose. The finish has a distinct nuttiness, like the aftertaste you have after chewing on walnuts. It’s also remarkably smooth, something you’d expect from a whisky old enough to be served at a bar.

At it’s price point, it’s an indulgence and not a regular staple, though you would be doing yourself a great service by picking up a bottle for your cabinet. Of the full “regular” range of Balvenie bottles, the only ones I haven’t enjoyed are the Thirty and Forty (aged 30 years and 40 years respectively). I imagine they would bring the same level of enjoyment I’ve come to expect from Balvenie.

Balvenie 17 Year Peated Cask

Balvenie 17 Year Peated CaskBalvenie is one of my favorite distilleries and the Balvenie 15 is very often my go to scotch these days. I really enjoy its fruitiness, subtle oakiness, and general sweetness (vanilla?) as a way to help wind down after a long day. Normally I can enjoy a peatier scotch but usually not for too long, as the heavy peat flavor starts to wear on me. So when I heard that Balvenie would be producting a 17 year bottle aged in a peated cask, I was intrigued.

The smoky and peaty flavors you find in classic Islays are usually introduce when the barley is being roasted. In the days of yore, they would roast the barley over peat, using it as a fuel source since it was abundantly available on the island, and that smokiness was infused into the barley. In years past, Balvenie has produced a peaty scotch in its Islay Cask, which put Balvenie scotch into a cask that once held a Islay scotch (thus imparting some smoky and peaty flavors).
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