Whisky Review: Oban Little Bay Small Cask

Oban Little Bay Small Cask

If you have tried regular Oban Single Malt and enjoyed it, you will want to check out Oban Little Bay. The “Little Bay” whisky is created by taking the original Oban and aging it in small casks. This matures the whisky and imparts some additional flavors from the oak casks. This in turn is supposed to enhance the smoothness and the flavor. Incidentally, the name “Oban” actually means “little bay” in Gaelic. The town of Oban is of course located on a small bay.

This whisky comes in a simple bottle with a pale blue label. The liquid is a medium hue that rests about halfway between gold and amber. Opening the bottle, you detect notes of oak, espresso, citrus, apple, and salt. There is something sweet which might be honey or caramel. You also pick up some spice.

In terms of flavors, there are no major surprises here. On the palate, this whisky has a lot of the same notes that you can detect through smell. What I thought was espresso may actually be chocolate, but everything else is much as expected: apple, salt, oak, and orange. The spice note is more pronounced and definitely includes cloves. Maybe the only unexpected departure was the lack of sweetness. While I smelled honey or caramel, I don’t really taste any. Some of the fruit notes are slightly sweet, but it is a very faint sweetness. All in all, this is a pretty dry whisky. It is a little acidic on the finish.

Comparing this to the Oban 14 Year Old, I would say that there are some aspects I like better and others not so much. The 14-er was richer and spicier and had a lingering finish, but the Little Bay whisky seems to have more complexity in the flavors. I’m not really sure which of them was smoother.

You can purchase Oban Little Bay Small Cask for around $50-$70, which is not a bad price at all considering that this is a very enjoyable dram. I tend to prefer slightly sweeter whiskies, but I can’t complain about the dryness here. It was a welcome change from my usual selection, and an interesting reinterpretation of the original Oban.

Oban Little Bay Small Cask : Review Summary

Color: Medium golden amber.

Nose: Espresso, oak, citrus, apple, salt, honey, caramel, spice.

Palate: Chocolate, apple, orange, salt, oak, cloves.

Whisky Review: Fettercairn Fior

Fettercairn Fior

The Fettercairn distillery traces its origins clear back to 1824. Despite this long and rich history, it is far from a well-known brand. Several years back Fettercairn released a number of new single malts as part of a brand relaunch, one of which was the Fettercairn Fior. This whisky was matured in bourbon barrels and released without an age statement.

I was prepared for serious peat with this one, and was surprised when the most pronounced flavours and aromas actually weren’t peat at all. In the bottle, the whisky has a deep amber color that is almost red. The label with the unicorn logo is simple and elegant. Opening the bottle, I immediately got a strong and delightful whiff of vanilla, toffee, sherry, orange, coffee, chocolate, cream, and smoky peat.

On the palette, coffee and chocolate are the dominant notes. This isn’t a milky chocolate, despite something creamy in the flavour profile. It is a dark, almost bitter chocolate. Smoke and toffee weave throughout along with just a hint of salt adding an edge to the sweetness. I also pick up ginger and spice. It is a very pleasing flavour combination. There is plenty of peat, yes, but I could imagine this appealing to a whisky drinker even if they are not a huge fan of peat thanks to the complex symphony of dessert flavours present here. Even I have mixed feelings about peat, and I really liked this one.

You can purchase the Fettercairn Fior for around $40-$50. This is quite a reasonable price for such a good whisky. All I can say is that Fettercairn deserves to be much better known than it is.

Fettercairn Fior : Review Summary

Color: Deep reddish amber.

Nose: Coffee, chocolate, vanilla, cream, smoky peat, orange, sherry, toffee.

Palate: Coffee, dark chocolate, smoky peat, toffee, salt, ginger, spice.

Whiskey Review: Knob Creek Rye

Knob Creek Rye Whiskey Review

If you are looking for an inexpensive rye whiskey, you may notice Knob Creek on the shelf at your local liquor store. It’d be hard to miss it; the label with the bold typeface is undeniably a standout. The cost isn’t high at all, ranging anywhere from $20-$40 or so.

What’s the story with this one? It’s made in small batches and aged in charred barrels. Knob Creek is at least 51% rye (in case you aren’t in the know, that is the principle difference between a rye whisky and a bourbon; a bourbon must be at least 51% corn).

That said, I’m not sure what the exact ratios are in Knob Creek Rye Whiskey, but it seemed to me I still detected a fair bit of corn. So while this falls into the category of rye whiskey, it seems to me that it would appeal to most bourbon drinkers.

You may already be familiar with Knob Creek Small Batch Bourbon, which also contains some rye—but corn of course is the predominant ingredient. The presence of the rye always gives it a unique edge, so I looked forward to seeing this rye-based counterpart.

Knob Creek Bourbon comes with a cork stopper, but Knob Creek Rye comes with a screw cap. I prefer the cork, but no big deal. The packaging is otherwise easy to appreciate. Like I said, that eye-catching label features some great design work.

In the bottle, the whiskey I bought was a light golden color that was close to amber. I’ve noticed that there is some variation from bottle to bottle with this whisky. It can range anywhere from the light color I got to a medium-dark amber color.

After you get the cap off, you pick up strong notes of oak, caramel, and spices. In the backdrop there are also some subtle herbs that I can’t identify, but I think I pick up something which is giving the aroma a slightly astringent edge. It could be mint or ginger.

On the palate, oak is the strongest note, accompanied by caramel and vanilla. Just as I expected, spices are present, though not nearly as strong as I thought they might be. I am also certain now that the note I was picking up before is ginger. This gives it a bite, as does the strong alcohol content (100 proof). The finish is long and smooth and peppery with a hint of some kind of fruit that I can’t quite identify. Like I mentioned, to me this tastes similar to a bourbon, and actually pretty close to the Knob Creek Bourbon, but obviously the rye flavors are more pronounced.

While this is not the most innovative or amazing rye whiskey I have tried, it was plenty enjoyable, especially at the very reasonable price point. If you enjoy bourbons and want to try a rye whiskey which tastes similar, give it a try, especially if you find it for sale at the lower end of the price bracket.

Knob Creek Rye : Review Summary

Color: Medium golden amber.

Nose: Oak, caramel, cinnamon, nutmeg, mint, ginger, herbs.

Palate: Oak, vanilla, spice, caramel, ginger, white pepper, fruit.

Whisky Review: Elements of Islay Peat

Elements of Islay Peat

If you are familiar with Elements of Islay, you can recognize their distinctive bottles and labels from a mile away. Elements is a series of single malt releases, each one produced by a different distillery in Islay. The bottles are made to look like those you might find in a chemistry lab. Each one has a symbol on the label which is presented like a chemical element, but it is actually a code for a specific distillery, for example “Lp” for Laphroaig.

This makes “Peat” an unusual entry into the series, since “Peat” is obviously not a specific distillery. Let’s see how this blended malt whisky measures up.

In the bottle, “Peat’ is very pale gold in color, one of the lightest whiskies I have tried. The label is the classic Elements of Islay design, with “Peat” written in the same clear font as the “chemical symbols” denoting the distilleries of the other whiskies in the line. It’s a very eye-catching design, and one I really love.

Opening the bottle, I smell exactly what I expect: peat, and lots of it. There is also a clean citrus note, very bright. I pick up something flowery and sweet and a hint of hay and smoke or ash. The sweet smell on closer examination seems like it is probably vanilla. All in all, more complexity than I expected from something simply named “Peat.”

The flavor is again is exactly what you would expect given the name and the scents. You get a strong wave of peat, coupled with some hay and pepper notes (the pepper caught me a bit off guard; I picked it up on the nose, but it was hotter than I thought it would be). The pepper is woven into a medley of cloves, allspice, and nutmeg. The clean, bright citrus note is distinctively present, and the finish is very peaty. Only now do I pick up the vanilla along with that ash or smoke flavor. The peat is definitely in the “medicinal” flavor area.

You can pick up a bottle of Elements of Islay “Peat” for around 35 GBP. That is a reasonable price for a solid whisky. Peat is something which draws up strong reactions from whisky-drinkers; some love it, others detest it, and others still like some peat flavors but cannot stand others. If you like “medicinal” tasting peat, you will probably really like Elements of Islay “Peat.” While it is not the most complex whisky you will ever try, the citrus notes and spices save it from being overly simplistic.

Elements of Islay Peat : Review Summary

Color: Very pale gold, more like the color of straw.

Nose: Peat, peat, peat, citrus, flowers, vanilla, smoke, hay, ash.

Palate: Lots and lots of peat (medicinal), hay, pepper, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, citrus, vanilla, smoke, ash.

Whiskey Review: Defiance

Defiance Whiskey

Photo credit: http://defiancewhiskey.tumblr.com/

Defiance Whiskey is a new bourbon whiskey made in St. Louis and aged in Missouri white oak barrels. According to Daniel Fort, owner of the father-and-son brand, their goal was to create a new type of bourbon whiskey that would appeal not only to the traditional whiskey-drinking demographic, but to a younger and more diverse crowd including women and Millenials. As Fort explains, “We don’t want to be just another Southern-branded, the-Civil-War-could-have-gone-either-way kind of whiskey.”

If the name sounds familiar, it could be because you are already familiar with Defiant American Single Malt Whisky. The two shouldn’t be confused: Defiant comes from North Carolina, not Missouri, and there is no connection between the two brands.

Defiance comes in a beautiful bottle with a design that combines new and old elements and shouts “classic, yet modern.” I love the DW logo in stylized script and the modern, edgy typeface for “Defiance Whiskey.” The ribbon design around it gives the entire graphic a very sleek look. The liquid is a deep gold which is almost, but not quite, amber.

Opening the bottle, I detect rye, corn, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and caramel, with the rye as the prominent note. Tasting, I get plenty of rye and cinnamon with an astringent punch. The sweet notes of caramel and fruit only emerge on the aftertaste and smooth, dry finish. I love the progression of the flavors from spicy to sweet, but I could live without the astringent bite. A bottle will cost you around $27, which isn’t bad.

All in all, this is a great debut for a new whiskey brand, and as the beautiful design work on the bottle promises, it definitely is different from a lot of whiskeys I have tried. If they can get rid of that astringent note, their next bourbon will be even more delightful.

Defiance Whiskey : Review Summary

Color: Dark gold (or light amber).

Nose: Rye, corn, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, caramel.

Palate: Rye, cinnamon, astringency, caramel, sweet fruit.

Whisky Review: Benromach 10 Year Old

Benromach 10 Year Old

Benromach is an old name in the whisky world, and I do mean old. The distillery first got started in 1898. In 1983 they closed up for a while, but they re-opened again in 1993 after being purchased by Gordon & McPhail. Since then, they have specialized in Speyside style malts, and in fact won “Best Speyside Single Malt – 12 Years and Under” at the 2014 World Whisky Awards.

The Benromach 10 Years Old was matured for the first nine years in bourbon barrels (80%) and sherry hogshead casks (20%). For the final year, it was aged in oloroso casks. Naturally I was excited to get a chance to try it. Let’s check it out.

The bottle distinguishes itself immediately through the quirky “handwritten” style writing on the front which reads, “The Classic Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky.” Aside from that, the labeling is very simple and basic. The liquid in the bottle is a bright golden color.

Opening the bottle, the aroma that reaches my nose is complex, and it takes me a while to distinguish all the different notes. I get sherry right off the top (as expected), and of course peat—though the peat is lighter than I would have thought. Other definite notes include apples, nuts, something sweet like toffee or caramel, and spices.

On the palate, I immediately pick up the apple note, which is more like a green apple than a red one—it has that bitter tang, which plays nicely with the sweetness from the caramel and sherry flavors. There are other fruits in here as well, maybe oranges or some other kind of citrus. I also pick up a hint of licorice, white pepper, and some other spices I can’t quite pick out. I am delighted that this isn’t overly sweet. I also am happy to say that the peat is there, but it never is overpowering.

This is a classic Speyside whisky, but in more than one way it surprised me. I saw the notes listed, and both peat and sherry gave me pause because I often find that there is just “too much” of either flavor. That is not at all the case with the Benromach 10 Years Old. It is beautifully balanced, and at around $30-$40, it is a bargain to boot.

Benromach 10 Year Old : Review Summary

Color: Golden.

Nose: Caramel, apple, nuts, peat, sherry, spice.

Palate: Green apple, citrus, caramel, sherry, licorice, white pepper, spices.

Whisky Review: BenRiach 15 Year Old (Sherry Cask Finish)

BenRiach 15-Year-Old (Pedro Ximénez Sherry Cask Finish)

I’ve tried a few BenRiach whiskies over the years, and most of them were heavy on the peat. There are times when I like peat, but I often find it overwhelming, so I haven’t really gotten into the brand all that much. Recently, though, I decided I would try the BenRiach 15-Year-Old. I’d read that it’s a lot different from other whiskies in BenRiach’s catalog, and having tried it, I must concur.

The BenRiach 15-Year-Old was made using a two-step maturation process. First the whisky was matured in American oak bourbon barrels. Then it was transferred to casks from the bodegas of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia. These casks previously were used to mature Pedro Ximenez sherry. Having had good experiences before with whiskies aged in sherry casks, I figured this one might be worth a try.

In the bottle, the BenRiach 15-Year-Old is a deep amber colour. Aromatic notes include caramel, vanilla, pineapple, and nutmeg. But all of these notes are melded into something dusty. The best way I can describe it would be to say that it smells like the bottle was left open in an attic for a decade.

Flavours are quite surprising given these aromas. I was expecting this to be overwhelmingly sweet because of the caramel smell and the sherry, but both of those flavours are quite well blended into the whole. Other notes include orange, cherries, pepper, nutmeg, wood and—yes—peat. Thankfully however the peat is very light and stays in the background where it doesn’t take over the entire flavour profile. There is plenty of spice. The finish is long and dry with the fruit flavours lingering.

I can definitely tell that this is a BenRiach whisky, but it is far more balanced to me than most of their whiskies. I enjoy peat, but I like it in short, controlled bursts. I don’t like when it takes over a drink completely. Here the peat is just one element weaving into the whole. I was also pleased that this wasn’t overwhelmingly sweet (nor does it taste like dust). All in all, it exceeded my expectations. You can purchase the BenRiach 15-Year-Old for around $50-$60, which isn’t cheap, but it’s worth your money.

BenRiach 15 Year Old: Review Summary

Colour: Amber.

Nose: Caramel, vanilla, pineapple, nutmeg, dust.

Palate: Caramel, sherry, wood, orange, cherries, pepper, nutmeg, peat.

Whisky Review: Hibiki Japanese Harmony

Hibiki Japanese Harmony Whisky Review

Japanese whisky has become more and more popular around the globe over the past few years, and Hibiki has become a big name. More than ten different malt and grain whiskies were used to create this unified blend, sourced from Suntory’s Hakushu and Yamazaki distilleries as well as the Chita grain distillery. The word “Hibiki” translates to “echo.”

This whisky comes in beautiful minimalist packaging. The box is mostly white with beautiful insignia and lovely typography. The same design is used again on the label of the bottle itself. The liquid inside is a warm golden hue.

Opening the bottle, I detect fruit, flowers, and vanilla. Oranges, pineapple, and bananas accompany a bouquet of roses, mellowed and sweetened by vanilla and a hint of spice. The smell pulls you right in, and I found myself very excited for the first sip! On the palate, you get plenty of orange and a hint of peach or apricot. The vanilla is easily detectable as well, and the spices taste like cinnamon and nutmeg. And unless I am mistaken, there is a hint of ginger. It adds a great kick and a little bite, and keeps the sweet flavors from getting out of line. There is a lovely long finish which is both spicy and sweet.

This is not a cheap whisky. You will pay at least $60 for it, and I have seen bottles go for close to $100. It is well worth it, though. The flavors are beautifully blended and balanced, and dare I say “harmonious”? Yes, this whisky has earned its name. Give Hibiki Japanese Harmony a try, especially if you are a lover of citrus and flowers.

Hibiki Japanese Harmony : Review Summary

Colour: Gold.

Nose: Orange, pineapple, banana, rose, vanilla, spice.

Palate: Orange, peach, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger.

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