Posted on Tuesday, Oct 29, 2013 at 09:45 PM
The Stitzel-Weller distillery and its association with the Van Winkle family is legendary. So much so that to discuss it here would be redundant for the experienced bourbon connoisseur, which of course you are, right? If not, now you know what you have to learn about!
The idea here was to taste the three different "eras" of Very Very Old Fitzgerald 12yo. (1) Distilled and bottled entirely while Pappy Van Winkle was running the distillery, (2) distilled under Pappy's watch but bottled by his son Julian II, and (3) bottled in the mid-1980s with (theoretically) no Van Winkle involvement at all.
But of course, we couldn't stop there. We had to taste those in proper context! So we sandwiched that tasting inside a complete lineup of the Very Old Fitz brand.
Did these bourbons live up to the hype? Many did, and which ones were really the best depends on who you ask. (Click each for reviews). What was incredibly clear was that bourbon is simply not made like this any more. At the end of the first run-through of the lineup, we attacked the LAWS bar to sample some of today's well-respected bourbons… and you know what? Most current(ish) bourbons that we otherwise loved were just plainer in comparison. Even watery. To the extent that we discussed how much, in the course of the tasting, we'd become acclimated to the more complex S-W profile. It's been said over and over again, and it's true: for whatever reason, they just don't make bourbon like they used to anymore. There definitely is just "something extra" in these premium Stitzel-Weller products.
What was especially obvious was the difference between production eras on the 12yo's. The 1980's-bottled one was universally considered the least delicious, and while it was still good bourbon, it just didn't come close to the magic in the VVOF's bottled in 1964 and 1968. The 1980's VVOF was lighter, with a nuttier character to it, and didn't taste particularly unusual compared to today's stuff.
Between the 1964 and 1968, it was a matter of preference -- but the majority voted the 1964 the favorite of the night, with some members saying it might be the best bourbon they've ever tasted. Yep.
We also sampled the rarely-seen 10yo, 15yo, and 18yo, but since few people read down this far on the page, I'll let you click through the tasting notes above to get your own impression. And be sure to check out Sku's writeup on his personal blog.
Posted on Monday, Sep 2, 2013 at 07:43 PM
Balvenie has been killing it lately with their "Tun 1401" releases. These are special (and delicious) combinations of casks dating as far back as the 1960s, vatted together in the aforementioned tun. If you've missed out, well… you've missed out!
If you're a fan of any of the Tun 1401 bottlings, you can't help but wonder, "What does each individual cask in here taste like?" Why "waste" them in a vatting like this?
To answer that question, LAWS sat down with Balvenie ambassador Lorne Cousin -- and cask samples of six constituent single malts in Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 6. Tasting notes and ratings on each cask would be somewhat pointless, since you can't go out and buy them anyway (or even really taste them), but here's the scoop:
The whole is better than the sum of its parts. It really is, and there was unanimous agreement on that.
All of the single casks were interesting -- some were really fantastic -- while an under-proof one was pretty hard to love -- but none were as purely enjoyable as the vatted result. It really goes to show just how impressive David Stewart's skills are (Balvenie's master blender). We were thoroughly impressed.
What a great meeting! Great whiskeys and a great education. Thanks Lorne!
Posted on Sunday, Apr 21, 2013 at 10:48 PM
Sometime in the mid-90s, as something called the "world wide web" was starting to gain in popularity, a group of people from across the U.S. found each other through a common interest in single malt whisky. They used that magic new communication tool to share all they knew -- what malts they were drinking, what the hidden gems were, what history they knew about them. Remember, this was at a time when whisky databases, discussion forums, and countless blogs were still many years away. There were scant books and few easily accessible resources.
That group named itself PLOWED. Some say that's for "People Lucid Only While Enjoying Drams." You may never have heard of them because they've always kept themselves fairly secret and mysterious. Their only web presence is remnants of an old website (which you can find if you search hard enough), but the group still thrives. Entrance is by invite only.
One of the key PLOWED founders has had some health problems of late. Known publicly only as "S'tan," he's been a patient, kind, and generous mentor to many of us in LAWS. S'tan epitomizes what we feel is the true spirit of whiskey: being always ready to share, and happy to do so.
In that spirit, PLOWED members pitched in and donated an incredible lineup of whiskies to LAWS. With those, we hosted a benefit tasting to help a father figure of today's whiskey community.
PLOWED has done six bottlings of their own cask selections. Some of these were back in the day when, believe it or not, you could get a 1972 Ardbeg or Brora bottled by Douglas Laing at a reasonable price. (It was actually partly because of PLOWED that the Laings started to realize they were sitting on a hell of a lot of great single malts). Some of those bottles have become legendary. Few even realize that the first issue was a Springbank bottled back in 1999.
So, for what is only the second time in history, all of the official PLOWED bottlings were assembled -- full and unopened -- into a single vertical tasting. We were joined by PLOWED veteran Dr. Free Energy, another driving force behind the group, who led us through each bottle and regaled us with stories of PLOWED adventures.
Though every bottle is from a different distillery, a clear theme became apparent: PLOWED bottlings are representative of the distillery's key characteristics, but also have an added "extra" factor that makes them unusual and special. That, and peat! Though some not nearly as much as others.
As if that weren't a ridiculous enough lineup, there was one more bottle to finish it all off: a Port Charlotte "Bloodtub" bottled for PLOWED member Alan Robinson. This is known for scoring a massive 94 points on WhiskyFun. With a grand total of only 24 bottles, we were thrilled by Alan's generosity to donate one for the tasting.
The favorite of the night was the Brorageddon, followed closely by Ardbeggeddon. However, opinions were quite varied. Some placed the Springbank as their favorite, while there was broad disagreement (healthy disagreement!) about the Port Ellen. The thing is, it was mere hairs of degrees that separated some of these… to pick favorites, it was a matter of choosing one "A" over others.
Huge thanks to all the PLOWED members who helped out! What an amazing lineup this was. Drink Whisky!
Posted on Monday, Mar 25, 2013 at 07:31 PM
You may know that this website has been exposing the mistakes and blunders in Bonhams New York Whisky Auction. It started with a little ruckus last June that forced them to rescind a bottle and delete it from their website.
The latest Whisky Advocate magazine contains an article that seems to defend the auctioneer. We can't reprint it here (we do very much advise subscribing to the magazine though), but here's our fact-checking review of the Whisky Advocate article and Bonhams' responses in it.
If you don't see something wrong at these auctions, you're high on "Circa 1886" crack.
Posted on Saturday, Jan 5, 2013 at 03:40 PM
One well-known Alsatian whisky blogger recently pointed out that comparing the new Lagavulin 21 "...with the older 21 is any whisky blogger's favorite sport these days." Count us in! We'd been waiting to get our hands on the new 21, and when we did it was finally time for our long-anticipated Lagavulin Vertical.
For a baseline, we started with a "White Horse" 16yo that dates to around 1990. We compared that to a 2012 16yo, and the general consensus was that the circa 1990 is more enjoyable, with a "dirtier" or "earthier" quality than the current version, which is sharper with a more peppery bite. (We did consider that 20+ years in glass might have mellowed out the White Horse a bit).
Then we went in reverse, from the 30 on down, figuring that we should hit the bottlings with subtler flavors (well, for Lagavulin) first. So the lineup in order was:
...and we also tasted through various other 12's, 16's, DE's, and a 2010 Distillery Only.
The winner of the meeting was definitely the 2007 21yo, with it's "perverse complexity" standing head and shoulders above all others, including the current 21yo. And, the 25yo was unanimously preferred by all 15 tasters to the 30yo.