Key West Whiskey Review

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The Great Scotch Pass of 2011 – Samples Reviewed

I reviewed 3 samples sent to me via Reddit, by Texacer. Below are my scores ; however, they are listed order of what I would actually purchase and not the standard high to low layout. Aberlour was the star of the show—bar none. It wins simply based on its overall quality verses price. Second prize goes to: Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition – 1991. And bringing up third place is Talisker D.E.

They are all wonderful, worthy drams. See below for my scoring and notes:

Aberlour 12 (an affordable gem) [ 88 points]

The nose has bits of toffee, brown sugar, caramel, and delicate notes of fruit—apple being the dominate. Burnt sugar wafts up from its depths at random moments making this whiskey quite intriguing and complex. Aberlour 12 carries all the distinct presence of bourbon on the nose without the overly sweet harshness that often comes with such a Kentucky dram.

Aberlour is a complex and layered flavor that initially greets the pallet with honey that ultimately transitions to a finish of fruit–specifically apple. The body contains very light notes of caramel. The mouth feel is warm and velvety. A delicate spiciness rolls about on the tongue that lasts far after the initial flavors have long departed the pallet. A slight bit (and I mean slight bit) of sweetness long lingers as well; however, I wish it was a touch less. I am sure the older version of this dram rectifies this situation.

This was the first time I had ever tasted Aberlour 12 and I have to say that I am impressed. The balance on this dram is perfect and that’s saying something for a younger whiskey. Each part of this dram transitions with perfect balance from one note to the next. The sweet never overpowers and there are almost none of the astringent notes many young drams suffer from.
This, in many ways, reminds me of older Highland Park.

Aberlour 12 makes the list for a “must have” for the whiskey shelf. It was definitely my favorite of the list overall if you take price into account. Some places offer this bottle for as little as $35.00 online. In the midst of a scotch craze it is almost impossible to find anything worthy under the $50.00 mark.
If I were rating this scotch solely on quality based on price I would score it at a 93; however, I am going to be a little less biased and rate it blind at 88. This score would have been a 90 had the sweeter notes on the finish been somewhat muted.

Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition – 1991 [90 points]

The nose on this one is an Islay monster – A campfire by the sea; notes of hickory and honey are eclipsed by Strong notes of smoky barbecue and brine that combine to a wonderful nosing experience—the best of the lot, hands down.

The initial flavor is a smoky bombshell. Hickory smoke dominates with notes of campfire ash. The body is something more akin to your standard Islay experience. Honey wells up and transitions into flavors of oatmeal cookie. Notes of sea spray layer into a moody and unique Islay experience—a bit of sipping is required to decipher the complexity of this firecracker. The finish dovetails nicely with a bit of prickling heat on the tongue. Traces of honey and spice bred linger on the pallet.

Compared side by side, the Lagavulin 16 is outclassed to say the least. The nose of the Lagavulin 16 is downright anemic in comparison. The notes of hickory are still present on the 16; however, it has much less complexity (especially on the body and finish) than the D.E.

I very much enjoy the D.E. far above the 16; however, I still think (within the Laga line) I would prefer the 12 year old Cask Strength. That being said, the D.E. is a worthy edition to any collection and I would not shy away from it.

Talisker D.E. [89 Points]

The nose is soft and quite muted; I detect only faint hints of honey and fresh bakery bread. Notes of ripe melon also interplay, and form the softest of the aromatic notes.

This is a very pleasant diversion from the standard Talisker. Honey dominates the
opening notes as a perfect velvety mouth-feel play across the tongue. Very soft citrus fruit switch gears and reveal the prickle and heat of a cask strength beasty. A soft peppery finish of the classic Talisker is then revealed–a wonderful dram! This is rich full bodied Talisker that outshines the standard release. I like this quite a bit and would love to see it on my shelf.

Ardbeg Tasting Results–The Younger Drams Win!

The tasting was a huge success. Everyone enjoyed the Ardbeg experience as well as the excellent camaraderie that comes with such an event.
I attempted to keep this tasting as formal as possible and pass out scoring cards so I could see what Ardbeg was the best received by the enthusiasts’ who attended. Of the four people who attended only one was a scotch drinker, and as such, I was able to see a viewpoint that may have been somewhat unrefined; yet, was not tempered by biases of other scotch preferences. They were drinking Ardbeg, and knew nothing else of the scotch world—an interesting experiment to say the least.

The results of the experiment were not what you would expect to find. Everyone loved (hands down favorite) was the New Make and Rollercoaster. Young and fiery trounced such Ardbeg legends as Lord Of the Isles. I too love New Make and Rollercoaster more than the others; however, I was shocked to see this in others who attended. This is against what the common lore of scotch tells us—older is always better. And as far is this group was concerned; age was nothing more than a number.

Scotch ages on a bell curve and some brands have much older “sweet spots” than others. Glenfarclas, for example, seems to hit its perfect stride at 17. The 15 or 21 just seem flat compared to this specific year. Some scotches are amazing old, such as Macallan; however, some are best in their youth. I love the Ardbeg’s of many years and many expressions; however, youth is my preference. There is something in the extreme youth of the New Make. That Green unripe fruit and an explosion of smoke right on the finish—it’s fantastic.

I once discussed this matter with Davinia Small after a tasting and could not convince her this should be bottled. I told her I would gladly pay 100.00 for a bottle of new make. She declined saying it is too volatile in its quality without aging. I get what you’re saying; yet, let the consumer be the judge. I don’t mind the little differences in overall flavor per batch. Ardbeg you need to sell this in limited runs. Let the people determine the market and if they want to buy it. DO YOU HEAR ME ARDBEG!

Scotch Tasting Event at my House

It is an odd thing to have John Hansel email you asking about the whiskey tasting you are holding and what your plan is for that event. It is not that I am so well regarded in the scotch community to have such lofty communication regarding my tasting; moreover, John knows one of the people attending and dropped me a line.

The event should be as follows:

Ardbeg Vertical tasting event:
1. Ardbeg New Make
2. Ardbeg 10
3. Ardbeg airigh nam beist
4. Ardbeg 17
5. Ardbeg Lord of the Isles
6. Ardbeg 1975 25yr
7. Ardbeg 1975 26yr (IB) C.C. Release
8. Ardbeg uigeadail
9. Ardbeg corryvreckan
10. Ardbeg Supernova committee release
11. Ardbeg Supernova S2010 Release
12. Ardbeg Rollercoaster

If there is interest, I will open several different expressions of A10 to do a true vertical of one year. This would cover: L4 L5 L7
Well peeps, what do you think of the plan?

Magic Kingdom Woes–Whiskey Found!

After a couple days of suffering I managed to get some scotch into my system. If you are in the Magic Kingdom yourself–you’re screwed. The only hope you have is being in Epcot and that can prove difficult.

Anyone who has been to Epcot knows it is broken down into “countries” however, there is not a Scotland to be had. This makes me profoundly sad on several levels actually. So, you have only one option—England—the originator of the pub, and keeper of the Rose and Crown.  They DO happen to have an OK scotch selection, even if it is a touch on the pricey side. I ran to the Rose and Crown first thing in the morning. Ran past sad fathers trying to hold back their little princesses and dashed past people resembling Jabba the Hut who were precariously balanced on rascals . I raced to the door and pulled with all my might only to find the damn place was closed in the morning. A wise old man was waiting by the door. He looked at me and smiled and said, “patience”.  I got as far in my retort as, “but” and he nodded and again said “patience…”

I was crestfallen and with that soul crushing defeat I moved on to more rides and food.  The only saving grace that day was a Tequila tasting I signed up for. In the primary Mexico villa building lies a bar with an impressive selection of Tequila and mescals.

I spent my days in lines waiting for rides; however, that was not time wasted as I searched the internet for a good liquor store in Orlando. This is a whole lot harder than you would believe it to be.  Liquor stores are everywhere; yet, few actually keep a good selection of scotch.

Knightly Spirits (12975 South Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando, FL 32837)

Knightly Spirits has an impressive selection of scotch, and a heroic selection of beers, should that be your beverage of choice.  The staff was very knowledgeable and very helpful.  I got an excellent Signatory Cask Strength bottle of Highland Park. That little gem got me through the vacation—I lived…

I have been to Disney many times over the years; however, I have never seen so many human beings on rascals. Rascal (for those of you who don’t know) are those little motored vehicles designed to help obese angry people drive about.  They move at a clip seeming faster than the average walker and this allows American’s to show other countries that our people actually are becoming the characters from the movie Wall-e.

This thought actually scares me at night. I felt embarrassed that every foreigner probably believes this is what the average American is like. That most of us Yanks drive around in a fat cart with a basked loaded with Coke and Snickers bars. I promise you, some of us just drink scotch and don’t drive rascals—honest.

Yes, the picture attached is taken at Disney of the Actual contents of the a fore mentioned basket.

I did happen to get into the bar sometime later during the vacation and the prices at the Rose and Crown for 2oz pours are as follows:

Johnnie Walker Blue 37.00
Macallan 12 yr 12.00
Macallan 18 yr 29.00
Macallan 25 yr 95.00
Lagavulin 16 yr 17.00
Oban 14 yr 17.00
Glenkinchie 12 yr 13.00

At the magic kingdom

For the next four days I am in Orlando. Now that I am off the wagon I am trapped in a dry amusement park. I honestly believe my
“amusement” would be greater with a few drams in my belly. I can tell you that after several butterbeers in Harry Potter, there is no buzz to be found. Does anyone know where I can find a good whiskey shop in Orlando?

Please help…

Two Months Dry

Well, if you happen to follow my ramblings you have noticed it has been a long quiet spell in blog land. It was not simply a case where I lost interest; moreover, it was a case where I stopped drinking. I know this comes as a shock to those out there who know me; however, it was time for a break.

The primary reason was weight loss. I had gotten up to 263 pounds and that is just way south of healthy. Once my fat pants started to get tight, it was time to take action. As much as I love scotch, I love being able to fit into my pants more.

So, I am back o’ drunken citizens of internetville. I am back, 23 pounds lighter and shrinking. I will now have drams, but, moderation will still be the word of the day.

Packing for the Journey Home

Once a year I make a pilgrimage to chilly Michigan to see my parents for two weeks. It is always a nice thing to visit the family; however, I find the trip can be enhanced with some serious anstetic.

Every year I pack six bottles (one case) for this two week internment in the mitten state.

This years line up: 2x Supernova 2010, 2x Rollercoaster, Ardbeg 10, and Uigeadial.

One may assume I am planning to stay intoxicated for two solid weeks; however, I will be sharing a bit of that with others–just a bit. Really, what in life isnt better with whiskey?

Perhaps this would be a good moment to rate the whiskeys I brought?

Whiskeyfest Chicago 2010

I really want to get back to my various reviews; however, I have another adventure I would like to take a moment to share—Whiskyfest Chicago.

I can honestly this was one of those trips of a lifetime. I got the chance to meet online friends that I have never met in person, and make a few friends along the way. And meeting the staff of Ardbeg was truly spectacular. It was like being 12 and meeting your favorite rock star. I am old enough to keep the illusion of cool, but, still giddy enough to make sure I got a picture with Mickey Heads!

There were so many people and so many drams, quite frankly, I could run on for pages and bore every reader into a coma so I will really attempt to keep this brief. The other Highlights included dramming with Tim Puett who is the sacred keeper of Ardbeg bottling lore, and a hell of a gracious and warm individual. I also got a moment to talk to John Hansell. John is really quite kind and unbelievably approachable. He even indulged my fanboyism with this photograph.

Ok, I want to keep running on; however, I am gonna reel this in a bit and take a moment to mention the Ardbeg 10th anniversary party. The party was a whole lot more than I bargained for. From the tasting of drams not yet in production at the time, to the live music and games, it was something that should not have been missed by any diehard fan.

Oh yeah… I did manage to taste some scotch wile I was there.

Ardmore 30 was the stunner of the show for me. A warm and vibrant blast of spices and cinnamon was both complex and alive as any young dram with all of the wonderful highlights that age imparts. I only wish I could buy this bottle for less than $400.00

How do you know when you buy too much Ardbeg?

It is difficult to procure the drams you need from any local liquor store; however, some stores can be quite accommodating when it comes to ordering your supplies. The primary store I go through in Key West is Conch Town Liquors.

The good people at Conch Town have always ordered what I need when it comes to Ardbeg and (providing I buy a case or two) have given me quite a good deal. I tend to buy a good amount and as it turns out, buy the most in the entire state.

I received a call from Conch Town Liquors letting me know that The Ardbeg Chopper Tour was on its way to Key West, as their store was the number four seller of Ardbeg in the entire state. This was quite a thing as I am the only buyer. I asked the seller if the distributor understood that they were coming to the keys for just one guy, and he replied: “yeah, I told them it was one guy buying, and they said that was not possible.”

It was not possible that one human would buy such an amount—combine the fact that this store (number 4) is competing with cities like Miami, it does seem insane. So, the good people of Ardbeg came. And only people I invited to the tasting showed up, so it was literally a tasting held for me—that doesn’t suck. We all drink, however, most of the time the liquor company doesn’t have a party in your home town in honor of your copious consumption.

Thank you Ardbeg.

Birthday Drammage

Birthdays… After 30, birthdays serve little purpose; however, this year I decided to go out in style. I contacted Binnys (Thank you Brett) and ordered three birth year bottles. That is to say, three bottles cask in 1974.  I had always wanted to taste a birth year bottle, and this was my very first exploration into that realm.

I am (for the most part) a lover of young and fiery peated scotches and these older bottles are quite a radical departure from that norm. I usually do not love older drams; however, I was quite surprised with these bottles.

MACALLAN – 1974 – 30 year (Scotts Selection) 92 Points

Nose- Sweet notes hints of oak and honey, and oatmeal cookie.

(Ammie’s Nosing notes) Lemon, very sweet – leaning to lemonade, Apricot, and brown sugar. Light and fruity and notes of wine.

This was the stunner of the lot. Very light on the palette—notes of oak that quickly transition into a body with hints of apricot. As quickly as these notes appear they vanish in a silky soft finish of light oatmeal cookie. This is the finest old Macallan I have ever tasted. If one could drink velvet, this would be it.  As soon as the light magical flavors pass you just want another dram.

This was one of the finest 30 something scotches I have ever had. On my palette, older scotches taste somehow flat. The oak often overpowers, and (to me) the whisky falls flat. This is a perfect example of what older scotches can become.

GLEN FARCLAS – 1974 – 31 year 88 Points

Nose- Burnt sugar (brown sugar)

(Ammie’s Nosing notes) fresh saw dust, green apple.

This is an incredibly sweet and complex dram. The body is a mixture of honey and plum that transition to a finish ending in a puff of smoke. This dram is incredibly hard to pin down as each time I have tasted it, I have noted something different. The flavors come on strong, and take your taste buds for quite a wild ride that ends in a Smokey flash.

This is a classic Farclas, and if you are inclined to like sweeter drams (older bourbons, Ben Riach) you will be truly happy with this bottle in your collection.

For me, that initial burst of sweetness was just a touch overpowering. If I could have muted this one trait I would have rated it in the 90’s.

TOMATIN – 1974 – 30 year Classic Cask 89 Points

Nose- oatmeal cookie, standard “old dram” notes.

(Ammie’s Nosing notes) Green apple candies

This is a delicate dram with lights notes of honey that stay right on to the finish. In many a way it reminds me of the delicate composition of an Oban; however, unlike the Oban, the finish has quite a punch. Just when you think this dram is gone, it comes back with a lovely spike of heat that is comprised of faint traces of pepper and hoppy goodness.  The notes of hops stay around for some time after the other flavors are long gone.

The finish is the really saving grace on this sleeper. It is an excellent older dram for an excellent price.