Friday, October 29, 2010

Review: The Balvenie Doublewood 12 year old Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Where we made the fire,
In the summer time,
Of branch and briar
On the hill to the sea
I slowly climb
Through winter mire,
And scan and trace
The forsaken place
Quite readily.

Now a cold wind blows,
And the grass is gray,
But the spot still shows
As a burnt circle--aye,
And stick-ends, charred,
Still strew the sward
Whereon I stand,
Last relic of the band
Who came that day!

Yes, I am here
Just as last year,
And the sea breathes brine
From its strange straight line
Up hither, the same
As when we four came.
- But two have wandered far
From this grassy rise
Into urban roar
Where no picnics are,
And one--has shut her eyes
For evermore.

The above is a poem, entitled Where The Picnic Was,  by an English poet, Thomas Hardy.  I sometimes think of it at this time of year.  Trees turning yellow, red and even purple.  Lawns strewn with dry leaves, time passing by, winter approaching, kinda like my life moving along.

I stare out at my backyard, pictured above, and sip The Balvenie Doublewood, a 12 year old single malt.  I am ambivalent about the Fall season.  Can't say I look forward to this time of year.  I am also ambivalent about Balvenie Doublewood.

The Balvenie is not terrible by any means.  It's an average to above average 12 year old single malt scotch.  Sometimes I drink it and think it has some complexity of flavor that is on the cusp of greatness.  If only it just had a little more.  Other times, it tastes simple, flat, one-dimensional.  Many people love it and I have had a couple of readers email me for my review and gently chiding me for not posting one sooner.  So, here goes . . .

Nose (undiluted)
Roses, sherry and vanilla pleasantly drifts up from the glass.

Palate (undiluted)
Playful call and response between sherry and oranges.  Nice raisin, orange chocolate.  Some flavor complexity, but not a lot.

Finish (undiluted)
What you are left with is the lingering taste of malted barley and lightly salted, dark, orange chocolate. There is a red winey (probably not a real word, but you know what I mean: wine like) character that works well. 

Add Water?
No improvement with adding water.  Not recommended.

Price Point
Reasonable.  You are getting good value for your dollar.  Competitors include GlenDronach "Original" 12 years which is usually priced lower.  Which is better?  Hard to say.  My gut reaction is to reach for the GlenDronach 12, given the lower price and comfort food level the flavor profile delivers.

Another competitor that comes to mind is the Spice Tree by the Compass Box Whisky Company.  It is a sherried blend of single malts with no age statements that is slightly cheaper in price, and frankly outshines the Balvenie in my opinion.  Not by a lot, but a little nonetheless.

General Impressions
This is a subtle whisky.  The flavorful nuances can get lost in a noisy bar.  You have to pay attention to this dram to pick up all of the aforementioned flavors.  If caught in conversation, at the ballpark, football stadium (go Patriots!) or nipping while golfing (not recommended if trying to improve one’s handicap), then it is quite easy to regard it as rather simple:  sherried dram with some oranges and chocolate

Balvenie Doublewood seesaws between interesting complexity to appearing somewhat one dimensional.  This is not the fault of the whisky, but rather you or I and our choice of meal.  I am convinced that if I have spicy nachos, Thai food or hell, a bag of barbecue chips and a Budweiser, my tongue will be so desensitized, that a somewhat complex dram like this will taste simple.  That is my fault, not the whisky’s.  Some whiskies shine through no matter what poor culinary choices you make.  Not so with Balvenie Doublewood.  It is moody, ambiguous, kinda like the Fall season with its moments of sunshine and warmth of the sun only to be obscured by clouds moving in and threatening an overcast sky.


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2013. All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Review: Clynelish 14 years & Famous Grouse 18 years

I like Friday afternoons.  The work week is nearly over and sometimes I can sneak over to the local pub for a quick nip before heading home.  I did just that today.  I called George, a friend, you will recall from past posts, who seems to always be available for a dram.  A friend in need is a friend indeed. 

Lunar Rogue Pub, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada
We landed at the Lunar Rogue Pub and reached for the whisky menu.  Frank, the owner, is a scotch nut, and has about 250 whiskies on hand in the bar.  He sat down with us and we stared at the menu.  Decisions.  I suggested Famous Grouse 18 years, a vatted malt (blend of single malts only).  No objection from George.

Famous Grouse 18 years Blended Malt

I have been staring at this bottle for a while in the liquor store, but unable to pull the trigger and buy it because of the price.  In the back of my mind, I am wondering, is it worth it.  It is at a price point where I can buy a few 12 to 15 year old single malts that I know to be great.  So naturally, when the Lunar Rogue afforded me the opportunity to sample for about $7 a dram, I was sold.

As I mentioned above, the Famous Grouse 18 years is a blend of single malts.  No grain whisky here, and it shows.  A lovely blend of Macallan and Highland Park single malt whiskies.  The flavor is dark red fruits, excellent sherry of the Macallan and some spice and heather contributed by Highland Park.  A fine whisky.  There is some complexity of flavors and the sherry flavors are intense, but not over the top.  I recommend this one.  If you can get it on sale, it is definitely a bargain.  It outshines pretty much all 12 year old single malts I know.

Clynelish 14 years Single Malt Scotch

From the first sniff of the glass, we knew this was something special.  A nose of honey and melted caramel with citrus elements.  A tiny sip was entry to a sweet, aromatic, honey & a finely sherried, tropical fruit infused, delicate, heathered whisky.  It is spiced brown sugar and has a white cake bread element to it that is immensely pleasing.  Medium body that has a long, drying finish leaves the drinker satisfied with a whiff of smoke that tingles the nose and sherry lingering on the palate.  There is a waxiness to the mouthfeel of this single malt that is a rarity today.

George and I were really impressed with the Clynelish.  It outshined the Famous Grouse, and the Grouse was a good dram.  The price point for Clynelish 14 is reasonable.

The conversation quickly turned to how can we buy a bottle or two of the Clynelish, as it is not sold where we live.

Frank reminded us that a Distiller's Edition of the Clynelish will be sold at an upcoming whisky festival in our town (Fredericton, New Brunswick).  It will be a definite buy for all of us!


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2010. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Review: Jameson Irish Whiskey

Nose (undiluted)
Unpleasant waft of alcohol, oak, damp leaves, earthen root cellar.

Palate (undiluted)
Cloyingly sweet honey entry upon the palate. Super smooth. Malty, cereal (dry Cheerios), cloves, limes and ginger (surprising citrus elements). Not spicy.  Actually, very little spice.  No burn.  Just some warmth (more about that later).

Finish (undiluted)
Short, ginger, black olives and a distinct Irish maltiness.

General Impressions
No peat. This is no surprise. Irish whiskey is generally devoid of peat. There are a few exceptions, but I will save that for another post. No smoke in Jameson either. What I take away from drinking this is lots of sweet, smooth honey, a boozey viscous texture, oak and some short ginger. Not sophisticated. Simple, good for mixing in coffee or cocktail.  Drink it neat and there is a boozey warmth that will envelope you kinda like peeing your pants.

Peer Group
Jameson is apparently the best selling Irish whiskey in the United States.  I think that factoid is more of a testament to American frugality than anything else.  Jameson is the poorest tasting, no age statement, Irish whiskey that is widely available.  I would take the standard bottling of Bushmills (white label) and Powers Gold Label any day over this tot. 

Say Something Good!
What did my Mother always say?  If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.  Hmmm . . . I seem to violate that precept daily.  Anyhow, let's try and be nice: (1) Jameson is cheap;  (2) smooth;  (3) no bite;  (4)gives you a glow like the back end of an old picture tube television;  (5) sweet like sugar donuts;  (6) you wanna know what a frat boy drunk is all about.

Thumbs Down
Pass on this.  It's cheap, sweet and a little too oaky. . .  Sorry Mom, I'll try to be nicer next time.


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved, except for image of actor Joaquin Phoenix of the film Gladiator (2000 Dreamworks USA), and image of Jameson bottle, product shot by Jameson (Pernod Ricard).  Close up photograph of Jameson bottle taken by member Pleasence who has graciously placed this photograph in the public domain for reproduction.  All images appearing in this article are for the purposes of nostalgia, education and entertainment. Moreover, all images used are considered by the author to be significant in illustrating the subject matter, facilitating artistic/critical commentary, as it provides an immediate relevance to the reader more capably than the textual description.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Review: Suntory Hibiki 17 years old Blended Japanese Whisky


Japanese Whisky
I am not an authority.  What little I have tried has impressed me.  In North America, Yamazaki 12 and 18 years are the most common.  The 12 is good.  The 18yrs is excellent.  These whiskies are proof that great single malts can be produced outside of Scotland.

Recently, I had the opportunity to try Hibiki 17 years old.  My uncle was given a bottle by his daughter-in-law.  She is Japanese and while in her native land picked up a bottle of Hibiki 17 years old as a gift for my uncle.  I got to try it! 

Blended Whisky
Hibiki 17 years is not a single malt.  Don't turn your nose up.  That would be a serious mistake.  Have an open mind and you will be rewarded.

This spirit is a blend of malt and grain whiskies having a minimum age of 17 years.  What is astounding about this whisky is that there is no graininess or rounded flavors that seem to 'blur' the flavors as is typical of high end Scotch whisky blends like Ballantine's 17 years, Chivas Regal 18 years, Johnnie Walker Gold and Blue Labels. 

Hibiki 17 can be proud of an extraordinary feat.  It tastes like a single malt scotch whisky, and a very, very fine one at that.

Cocoa and hazelnut.  It was quite restrained.  Not incredible but not offensive.  Just kinda there.  Very pleasant.

Rich, textured beams of cinammon, oak and honey lash the palate with lemon zest as you hold the whisky for a few seconds.  Medium to full bodied.  Never sharp.  Inifinitely smooth, yet playful and challenging.  A whisky that makes one unpoetically (is that a word?) wax on like a star-crossed lover.

Wow!  Super long!  You need such a little sip of this whisky to enjoy a subtle spiced oak/honey/cinammon combo wrapped in hazelnut with a little citrus on top. A flavor profile that will hold for a good 60 seconds after you swallow.  Wow!  I know, I know, I am getting repetitive, but this is really impressive.

General Impressions
I am breaking one of my cardinal rules of this blog.  Namely:  Thou shalt not review a whisky unless thou has tasted the whisky on multiple occasions.  In other words, own my own bottle, sample repeatedly, and then compose tasting notes.  I have broken that rule because this is a whisky that breaks all the rules!  (1)  It's a blended whisky but tastes like the finest single malt;  (2)  It's Japanese but could easily pass for 18+ years single malt Scotch.  (3)  It's terribly expensive but a tiny sip is so rich that in my warped mind I think it is worth the price!

I have tried many single malts and grain whiskies and this is simply one of the best.  I rank it in my top five of all time.  Fantastic stuff!

Rarely do I pay attention to the shape of a bottle, but the fine glass, Hibiki 17 24 sided bottle design is impressive.  The 24 sides allude to the number of hours in a day as well as the number of seasons in the traditional Japanese lunar calendar.  The heavy glass cap is elegant like the whisky underneath.

The trouble with Hibiki 17 is locating it, if you live in North America.  It is currently not being distributed in the United States or Canada.  I have a lot of readers in Hong Kong, Singapore, as well as Japan.  I suspect they can obtain it more easily.  For the rest of us, we gotta pray it turns up at duty free in the airport.

However, while the Hibiki 17 is not available in North America, the 12 year old is available and it is excellent.  If you see it, buy it!

I would buy this for myself and only share with people who appreciate great whisky.  If you can find it, buy it!


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Scotch Whisky Medalists - Should You Pay Attention or Ignore?

Let's think about the Olympics for a moment.  How are medals awarded?  Gold for first place.  Just ask Mark Spitz or Michael Phelps.  Silver for second.  Yup!  Keep goin'.  Yes, bronze for third place.  If you place fourth, fifth, etc, well you get nothing.  That's competition right?  Well, maybe in the Olympics and some other competitive sports, but not when it comes to how medals are handed out by the International Wine and Spirits Competition (hereafter referred to as the IWSC). 

Not so, says the IWSC.  This body awards multiple medals in the same category.  Huh?  Multiple medals?  You mean a couple of silvers and bronzes?  Yup!  How can that be if there is only one second place finish and only one third place finish?  I am not sure it can be, but this is what the IWSC are doing.  For example, in the category, 2010 Scotch whisky - Blended - No-Age-Stated, there were the following medalists:

Highland Earl Blended Scottish Whisky - Gold Best in Class

Dewar's White Label - Gold Medal

Clan Gold - Silver Medal
Matisse Old Blended Scotch Whisky - Silver Medal
Label 5 Classic Black - Silver Medal
Black Bottle - Silver Medal
Scottish Leader Standard - Silver Medal
Scottish Leader Supreme - Silver Medal
Ballantine's Finest - Silver Medal
Grant's Family Reserve - Silver Medal
Co-op Finest Blend Scotch Whisky - Silver Medal
Black and White Choice Old Scotch Whisky - Silver Medal
Haig Gold Label Original Blended Scotch Whisky - Silver Medal
Vat 69 Finest Scotch Whisky - Silver Medal
Hankey Bannister Blended Scotch Whisky - Silver Medal
Waitrose In Partnership with Blended Malt Scotch Whisky - Silver Medal

William Lawson's - Bronze Medal
Tesco Special Reserve Scotch Whisky - Bronze Medal
Queen Margot Scotch Whisky - Bronze Medal
J & B Rare - Bronze Medal
White Horse Fine Old Blended Scotch Whisky - Bronze Medal

By my count, there were two gold medalists, fourteen silver medalists and five bronze medalists!  Makes no sense to me.  Often 'winners' at the IWSC will make prominent reference to the 'medals' won in their advertising.  I say 'beware.'  When a whisky or scotch is bestowed 'gold,' 'silver' and 'bronze' medals, one should realize that their 'achievement' is not the same as the gold medals of Michael Phelps or Mark Spitz.  Phelps and Spitz had the best times in their competitive swimming.  They were the fastest.  They were the best.  The same cannot be said of a whisky that wins 'gold' while another wins 'double gold' or one whisky is awarded 'silver' while fourteen other 'competitors' also got silver.

Who is the IWSC?
Visit their website and you will read:

"The Competition is backed by a group of vice presidents made up of the most influential men and women in the trade, including Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, Miguel Torres, Marchese Piero Antinori, Robert Drouhin, Robert Mondavi, May de Lencquesaing, Kenneth Graham and Sir Anthony Greener. Frances Horder, Competition Director, explains why the great and the good of the industry support The Competition above all other competitions.

The Competition has the support of many of the world's top wine and spirits producers, because we strive to set the international benchmark for quality. The unique combination of detailed technical analysis and specialist judging panels means that gaining any Competition award is an outstanding achievement. Our focus is to communicate the value of our medals to retailers, restaurateurs and consumers in every major market. Our vice presidents are now working closely with us through our new Advisory Board to bring increasing international awareness."
(emphasis added)

So, I guess we take away fromt the above passage that the IWSC is heavily funded by the wine and spirits producers of the world.  It will also come as no surprise that the same industry heavy weights have representatives who serve as judges.  I should point out that there were some lay judges, but they numbered 20 and there were 164 trade judges.

Bearing all of the above in mind, I think you now can draw your own conclusions about medalists of the IWSC.  So, returning to the question posed by this post, I would say, you would be best served by ignoring any marketing puffery on the part of any distiller or blender declaring to be a medalist of the IWSC.


Jason Debly

P.S.:  Frankly, anybody who would award medals to Ballantine's Finest and J&B Rare, but not to Teacher's Highland Cream  has no credibility with me anyway.  A reader of the blog also pointed out that it is ridiculous for Ballantine's and Dewars White Label to rank higher than White Horse.

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2010. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Review: Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

I like great discoveries.  I'm not talking about scientific sleuthing leading to solutions of complex problems (especially mathematical ones).  I am talking about everyday life where I stumble upon greatness in any form.  For me, it usually takes the form of pop culture.  A great book, music or old film. Especially old films.

There is something about films from the 1960’s and early ‘70’s that evoke bitter/sweet nostalgic memories of Dad with big sideburns, Foster Grants and Mom in yellow while Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree plays on the 8-track stereo. The cheesy music, subtitles, wide lapels, bad hair, ya know what I’m talkin’ about. Think also Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns directed by Sergio Leone:

• A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
• For a Few Dollars More (1965)

Moving into the early 1970’s, the incomparable Bruce Lee:

• The Big Boss (1971)
• Fists of Fury (1972)
• Enter the Dragon (1973)

Bruce Lee has been such a discovery for me recently.  Here is one rare interview.  Like his films, there is an innocence, yet wisdom beyond his years. His movies, by anyone else are laughable, but by Bruce, well, you are humbled by his tremendous physical feats and thoughts of what a terrible loss, his life cut so short has been for so many of us.  By the way, check out the first punch he throws in this scene from "Enter the Dragon."  It is so fast, the camera catches a mere blur.  For his films, he was usually filmed at a slower tape speed to better catch his movements.

I have, once in a while, eureka moments in whisky too, and the discovery of Buffalo Trace is one of them . . .

Nose (undiluted)
Rich corn husk, vanilla, maple. Oh, I like this! Such unexpected refinement.  I am really surprised.  At this price point, I did not expect much.  American ingenuity at its best!

Palate (undiluted)
Smooth! Layered flavors of corn, vanilla and slight hickory smoke. Damn! This is good!

Finish (undiluted)
Tangy, easy spiced rye and some drying black licorice.  Wow!  Black licorice and charred American oak.  Hmm, hmmm good, like Mom’s apple pie with extra cinnamon coolin’ on the window sill with a tea towel covering it on a sunny day.

General Impressions
If you like bourbon or Tennessee whisky, you will definitely enjoy Buffalo Trace.  It is rich, rewarding and reasonably refined in spite of its ridiculously affordable price.  I paid around $20.  I would have been happy to pay double that for the quality of this drink. Matter of fact, I paid in excess of $40 for Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Select, and as you know from my review, it is not worth it.  It pales in comparison with Buffalo Trace.

Some reviewers have complained that the finish lacks length, meaning the flavors do not linger long once swallowed.  I disagree.  Length of flavor is fine.  Other reviewers just got it wrong.  Take it from me (heh, heh).

45% Alcohol/volume
The talent of a great whisky blender shines through in his or her ability to produce a whisky that may be high in alcohol volume, yet no raw rubbing alcohol flavor on the palate.  Buffalo Trace meets this significant benchmark of quality in remarkably elegant fashion.  It is made from corn, barley and rye that is aged in charred American oak barrels.  25 to 30 barrels are typically selected by the blender for the final product.

Have no fear, this is not rot gut for rummies.  There is no burn as it goes down. Just a gentle tickle that can be cured by another sip.  It is a comfortable whisky that can be sipped casually while you watch sports, chat with friends, stare out at a field of hay and watch it sway in the breeze.  It is so smooth and approachable that you can easily sip this neat.  No water or ice is needed.

As I said above, if you are a bourbon or Tennessee whisky fan, Buffalo Trace will prove to be a great treat!


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved. 
Poster owns no copyright to video of "Enter the Dragon" which is posted for the purposes of nostalgia, education and entertainment.