Sunday, September 30, 2012

Review: Springbank 15 yrs Single Malt Scotch

I am standing at the bottom of my driveway on this Saturday afternoon.  It's raining.  Well, to be specific, it's a light drizzle, steadily pelting my face at a 45 degree angle, kinda stings a little (guess I won't be invited by Hollywood to reprise Bruce Willis' role in the Die Hard series any time soon).  The sky is gray.  Seriously gray.  Maybe not fifty shades, but seriously overcast.  A little chill in the air.  The streets are a mass of puddles, and you know what?  Life is good (Clearly, I do not suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder).

Now, I want you to know that my sunny disposition has nothing to do with the Glencairn glass in my hand, as I stand at the bottom of my driveway, attracting nervous stares from neighbours peering discretely from behind their curtains and motioning for their spouse to come have a look at the lunatic across the street.

I am relishing this weather.  I am looking at the fallen leaves and thinking to myself that whisky tastings need to get outdoors.  I have lead a few whisky tastings and they are invariably indoors, in a bar, a boardroom, somebody's living room and that is okay, but it would be a mistake to limit such tastings to such settings.  Let's take it outside!  I think whisky tastings should be held on rainy afternoons just like this one.

Imagine a group of us doing a 10k hike through a forest, work up a bit of a sweat, take in the cloudy sky, direction of the wind, color of the leaves, the trees, the rain and air.  We get to our destination, reach for a flask of say Talisker 10 and then discuss how its attributes of brine, sea air, smoke compliments the weather, the mood and crystallizes this moment in our memories forever.  Wouldn't that be nice?

I have moved up to my front step (probably much to the relief of my neighbours and passing motorists).  Still raining.    On this fine, solitary, outdoor whisky tasting of mine, Springbank 15 years is the perfect accompaniment to this weather.

Nose (undiluted)
Smoky, pungent beach wood fire, interesting peat notes mixed with fresh turned over loam, more black earth, cold orange pekoe tea.

Palate (undiluted)
Ashy, sooty but with nice complexity.  A weave of lentils, lime and gingerbread.  The body of this malt is light but has presence.  Oily character and medium peat.

Finish (undiluted)
Did somebody collect thicket forming thorny bushes from Winnie-the-Pooh's 100 acre wood and build a huge bonfire and bottle it?  'cause that is what I am tasting.  Hmmm.  Long finish of that briar patch smoke, charred oak.  All well done!

General Impressions
I'm in the backyard now.  No neighbours directly behind my house (thank God!), just a stand of trees and farm land.  Contemplating this whisky (and trying to ignore the fact that my lawn is in dire need of a mowing) is a pleasure in this September rain, with a lazy wind that blows through ya rather than around.

My cousin, HD, in the NYC vicinity, introduced me to this scotch whisky.  He's an Islay fan, so I was initially surprised he was enamoured with this Campbelton malt.

When I think of Campbelton, a recognized scotch whisky producing region of Scotland, I think of Glen Scotia, a distillery that has had its up and downs.  The bottles I have had from that distillery have varied from good to poor, but all tended to be light, with some grassy notes and caramel.  Not overly smoky or peated.  There are only three distilleries in operation in Campbelton today.  Springbank is another and it is held in much higher regard by the critics and the whisky consuming public.

What really surprised me about Springbank 15 was how oily, peated and smoky this malt was.  If you visit the website for this distillery it provides a tasting note that is not at all congruent with my tasting experience.  The distillery describes this whisky as tasting  "creamy, raisins, dark chocolate, figs, marzipan, brazil nuts and vanilla.  Finish: Oak and sherry notes sustain, mingling with hints of leather."  I am not getting any of that.  Fortunately, I am not alone in this observation.  An anonymous reviewer at Whisky Connosr had the same disconnect with the distillery's tasting note.  So, I guess I am not totally crazy, notwithstanding the opinions of my gossipy neighbours.

I guess the disconnect for me is the statement by the distillery on it's site that this whisky was 100% sherry cask.  Huh?  Sherry is hardly a feature of this malt in my opinion.  If it is, it is well hidden underneath a fog of peat smoke and a pyre of beach driftwood.  Just not getting the sherry influence here.  Not a flaw.  Just an observation.  Bottom line:  this is not what I would call a sherried malt regardless of the distillery's claim to be matured in 100% ex-sherry casks.  The casks could not have been first-fill or at least not in very high proportion.

The 46% abv gives great intensity to the flavors of wood ash.  I very much enjoyed this whisky without the addition of water.  Well made for 46% abv.  Not overpowering, but certainly asserts its personality very well.

Still in the backyard.  The flowers have lost their bloom.  Leaves are turning color and it is still raining.  I don't mind because my Springbank warms me and I think I will hike through those trees at the back of the lot (that will give those neighbours something to talk about!).


Jason Debly

P.S.  What about Springbank 10 years?  I strongly recommend it but I should point out it is more sherried with an interesting layering of flavors.  There is something artisian about what this distillery is doing.  It is a very unique style.  To my surprise I think I am more enthusiastic over the 10 than the 15.  Go out and get a bottle and enjoy the lower price too!

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission.  Please note that the photograph of the bottle of Springbank 15 was taken by Flickr member ggmackem, who holds all copyright and no reproduction is permitted without her permission.  My own photographs of Springbank were lost when my daughter dropped my blackberry in the swimming pool.  Fortunately, I stumbled upon ggmackem's great photograph.  All other photographs are taken by me, but I may permit reproduction if you ask nicely!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Review: Glenmorangie The Lasanta 12 years

To have a basic understanding of the Glenmorangie Distillery, you need to start with Glenmorangie Original (pictured above).

The Original is a ten year old single malt.  An introductory single malt that is aged exclusively in ex-bourbon casks (American oak) from Heaven Hill and Jack Daniels.  Accordingly, it comes as no surprise that the malt is light bodied and enjoys flavors of citrus/orange, peach, mint and coconut.

Several other Glenmorangie releases basically stand on the shoulders of the Original.  While the Original is a 10 year old single malt, several other bottlings from this distillery are 12 years, and those additional ("extra matured") two years involve time in casks other than American oak.  Accordingly, their "extra matured" product line is composed of (1) Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban (extra matured in port casks from Portugal); (2) Glenmorangie Lasanta (extra matured in sherry casks from Spain); and (3) Glenmorangie Nectar D'or (extra matured in Sauternes casks from France).  Clearly, this is a distillery that is well known for single malts with various "finishes."

'Finishing' a whisky refers to aging a whisky briefly for one or two years (could be more I suppose as there are no hard & fast rules) in a different cask that usually has previously held sherry, wine, port or other interesting spirit that is thought to compliment and nicely accent the distillery's whisky.

And that concept brings us to the subject of this evening's review: Glenmorangie The Lasanta 12 years

Nose (undiluted)
Limes, oranges, raspberries, fog hanging over a bay, and brine of the sea in the air.

Palate (undiluted)
Powerful arrival of sweet sherry!  Huge!  Big and spicy, raisins, plums, prunes and oak somewhere underneath.  A tad fiery upon first opening bottle.  Let a week pass and what was once hot becomes great warmth.

Finish (undiluted)
Tingling oak, drying with smoke and somewhat winey.

General Impressions
This is not a single malt that makes me swoon like a teenage girl at a midnight showing of Twilight.  The Lasanta is an entry level sherry bomb.  Not particularly sophisticated.  Not what I would regard as exhibiting great complexity of flavors.  But, it does deliver a nice velvety blanket of sherry, raisins and dark spiced fruits.

The price is very reasonable and among the lowest in the 12 year old single malt market segment.  For that reason, I think you are getting fair value for the dollar.

It is chill filtered with an ABV of 46%.  Hence, it packs a wallop.  A few drops of water is needed to tame the wild and sometimes a tad hot palate.  For some, they may want a teaspoon to a double pour.

When I first opened the bottle, the malt tasted a little hot and very slight bitterness on the finish.  It softened up a bit after a week, becoming less hot and more like very concentrated dark chocolate.  This is a bottle that gets better (up to a point) the longer it is open (within reason - ie. 4-6 months max).

The initial hot/bitter elements in taste are due in part to the high abv (46%) and the use of wood by the master distiller.  Remember the Lasanta, for the first 10 years of its life was essentially the Original (a spirit aged exclusively in American oak), and then in a mere two further years of finishing becomes a bombastic sherried malt.  The casks used were probably first fill sherry casks/butts for the most part.  The use of such potently seasoned casks/butts may contribute to some 'woody' elements of taste and bitterness.

In any event, you should not be overly concerned about how it tastes upon opening because a little time and maybe some water will tame it to your liking.  In general, this Glenmorangie is rather sweet once the bottle has been open for a bit.

This is a solid effort in the entry level sherried 12 year old malt marketplace.  Lasanta competes with others like: Aberlour 12GlenDronach 12Balvenie Doublewood 12, and Glenfarclas 12.  Is it the best of the sherried whiskies?  Probably not, but is at or near the lowest price point.  Something to consider in these times.


Jason Debly

P.S. - Want an example of a home run hit by this distillery?  Try the Quinta Ruban.
Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission.  Please note the photograph of the bottle of Glenmorangie was taken by Flickr member picmaker1 and he is the holder of all copyright.  His photograph may not be reproduced without his permission.  All other photographs were taken by Jason Debly and may be reproduced with credit and link back to this site.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Review: Red Stag Black Cherry by Jim Beam

Tonight my plan was to watch a long forgotten Italian spaghetti westernDjango (1966), and maybe follow it up with another cinematic epic: The Big Gundown (1966)

If I had the time, I would write a film review blog and explain in painstaking detail some of my favorite movies and genres (ie. spaghetti western and film noir).  But, I do not have the time nor the discipline right now, so that project will have to wait.  But, the plan was . . . to watch Django and revel in the cheesy Ennio Morricone influenced soundtrack (you know, eerie harmonica, ghostly vocals, staccato piccolo, where string music, gunshots and bullwhip sounds meet!) the terrible dubbing of English over Italian, the violent plot line and the obligatory, hard-done-by, alluring woman of ill repute with a heart of gold.  I never got to Django or The Big Gundown though.  You see, I was distracted by a really bad idea.  

No, I am not referring to Vladimir Putin's latest manly publicity stunt of flying a motorized hang glider over Siberia in an effort to lead endangered birds on their migratory path south.  Note the billowing white overalls.  All this in an effort by Vlad to lead some  white cranes to warmer climes.  Stupid!  I guess it is a slight step up from locking up, for two years, a feminist gaggle of punk rockers for an anti-Putin song performed in a Russian orthodox church.

No, it wasn't that that distracted me from my much anticipated tumbleweed film fiesta.  The bad idea is below for your viewing displeasure:

Just read that publicity still one more time.  Yeah.  Let it sink in.  Take some bourbon, flavor it with black cherry and what do you get?  Answer: Red Stag Black Cherry by Jim Beam.

I am not going to dignify this alleged American whisky product with a proper tasting note.  That's how much I hate this swill.  It's slop.

What does it taste like?  A mouthful of cherry flavored cough syrup, and heavy on the syrup.  Horribly sweet.  Great for shooters in a nightclub where the bar staff dance on the bar or ride robotic bulls (not you guys in the crowd . . . that comes later).  And, I think I have hit upon the real target audience of this product:  young people, college crowd, Jagermeister enthusiasts.  Nothing wrong with being a part of that demographic or selling to the market segment, but don't bring to market a product has got to be the worst entry in the 'bourbon' field.

I wouldn't be so venomous in my dislike if they didn't market this stuff as bourbon.  It does not taste like bourbon.  It tastes like cheap liqueur that frat boys ingest after an evening of female rejection with a repetition that rivals the gunfire in my much loved spaghetti westerns.  

Look at that label.  Just below the big cap, red lettering, "Red Stag" appears the words: "Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey"

Nothing about this stuff tastes like bourbon.  It tastes like Cherry coke with your favorite childhood cough syrup and a mouthful of cherry flavored Halls cough drops.  Add the stuffy nose and you will feel as miserable as I do about this stuff.  

This is a liqueur at best and a poor one at that.  Super sweet, red licorice crap that is easy to shoot and get drunk on, but not a whisky within any normal meaning of the word.  Might meet the legal definition of 'bourbon' according to some white shoe law firm down south, but sure as hell doesn't meet the definition for us.  To my mind, Red Stag is not bourbon, it is not whiskey.  It is alcohol infused cherry cola/cream soda marketed to the college and nightclub crowd.

The chief problem with this product for me, again, is the use of the words "Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey."  Use of those words on a label will attract the attention and spending habits of the serious whisky fan.  Such a consumer will be very disappointed with what this product delivers.  This is not serious bourbon.  This is not a good example of American whiskey.  This is an aberration.

So, I ask why would Beam Global do this?  I can just see the sheepish answer from suits in a boardroom: "Profits, expanded market share, attract younger people to whiskey . . ."  This is a disappointing direction for the company to take, as they have many great American whiskey products like Jim Beam Black (fantastic bourbon and amazingly affordable!) and Maker's Mark (higher price point with commensurate quality).

Bottom Line:  Think of Red Stag Black Cherry by Jim Beam as cherry flavored Jagermeister, and when you see it, run like hell in the other direction!


Jason Debly

P.S. - Update:  Beam Global is no longer labeling this 'Red Stag' product as "Kentucky Straight Bourbon" infused with cherry but rather as 'liquer.'  At least that is the case as of November 2015.

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2015. All rights reserved.  Photo credits: (1) photograph of Vladimir Putin - Photographer: Alexey Druzhini; (2)  Red Stag by Jim Beam promotional poster is a free download from; (3) Photograph of members of Pussy Riot in custody - Misha Japaridze/Associated Press.  Note:  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.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Review: The Macallan Fine Oak 15 years

A good friend of mine was in Hollywood a month or so ago to attend his cousin's 40th birthday party.  His clan live pretty large.  Another cousin of his runs a hedge fund, uses a helicopter to get around NYC (to avoid those pesky traffic jams) and has been known to give a former president a ride on his leased jet.

Anyhow, I get a call from my friend.  He says he's on Rodeo Drive, and he was wondering what bottle of scotch I wanted. (Seriously! I can't make this pretentious sounding shit up!)  Being in L.A., he can pick up something that I can't get where I am.  Well, I scour the website of a purveyor of fine spirits that he is within walking distance of and after much deliberation (not!), I ask him to pick up a bottle of The Macallan 15 year old 'Fine Oak.'

This particular malt is available where I live.  I have had it before and reviewed it actually a few years ago (click here). At that time, it was pretty impressive but had a funky cooked fruit note on the finish.

So, why was I giving it another go?  Price.  In Hollywood, the Macallan 15 Fine Oak could be had for $85.  Back home I am looking at a $120 snakebite!

Nose (undiluted)
Sherry.  No surprise there.  Oranges.  Spices, peat and Marlboro smoke.  Interesting and inviting a sip.

Palate (undiluted)
Orange marmalade, slight vanilla, a transition to summer savory, and other herbal notes before the arrival of some oak.

Finish (undiluted)
Orange peel.  Mint and a little ginger/cinnamon before fading to heavy lashes of sea salt.

General Impressions
The Macallan Fine Oak 15yrs is produced by way of aging the 'new make' spirit in Spanish and American oak casks that previously held sherry and bourbon.

Macallan is a distillery famous for pronounced sherry bombs like the 12 and 18 year old editions.  The Fine Oak is much less so.  This is due to the considerable use of American oak casks that previously provided a home to bourbon.  The result is a malt with a much less sherried presence than its brethren.

The last time I had a bottle of this malt was three years ago.  A lot has changed in the intervening years.  This scotch used to be very impressive, though still not deserving of the high price.  Three years ago, you got a bigger punch of sherry, wine like oak and a red wine influence.

Now, it has gone totally orange.  Oranges!  Orange peel, big oak notes, some spices and salt and that's about it.  Light bodied too.  It is not nearly as complex as it was three years ago.  In fact, that is the chief weakness of this bottle.  No great complexity of flavors.  Just some rather flat orange, oak, spice, sea salt, a bit of ginger.  Maybe 'flat' is an over the top descriptor.  What I want you to understand is that these flavors are uninteresting and presented in very simple fashion.  Even at $85 this malt is not delivering.  It's decent, pleasant, but far overpriced.  The high price means no value for money.  There are so many better lightly sherried malts out there.  I think of Glenlivet 18yrs as being a far better and a much more affordable selection.

Sadly, this malt is the equivalent in Hollywood terms of a disappointing movie that goes straight to video.


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2013. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission.  Photo credit:  Hollywood sign photo by Cooke and Craddock who holds all license and copyright.  May not be reproduced without their permission.  Photographs of The Macallan by yours truly and I may permit you to reproduce if you ask nicely!