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KCM Spirit Reviews

Monday, June 2, 2014

Review 214: Glen Garioch 12 Year

Review 214
Glen Garioch 12 Year: 48% abv

Background: Welcome to KCM Review 214. This review is evidently different, because it is an offsite review of something I found in Montreal, Canada. Subsequently, I have no intentions of bringing the bottle back, so I figured I’d squeeze out a quick review before heading back. You might notice from the picture I’m drinking this out of a tumbler, so the aromas might not be as comprehensive as I’d like, but I’ll make due. Now onto the spirit. This is a Highland Single Malt Scotch, Glen Garioch 12 Year, bottled at an impressive 48%, non chill-filtered, and aged in a mixture of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. Glen Garioch only has a few standard offerings, with this being one of them. So is it worth your time, and at such a beefy proof?


Nose: So of course, I’m nosing this out of an improper glass, so bear with me. Despite the tumbler, there is a huge aroma of sherry, barley grain, sweet malt, tons of vanilla, and some caramel as well. The sherry is complimented by a sweet honey flavor, but is contrasted by some slight vegetal and floral flavors as well. There is a prominent oakiness to the whisky which becomes distinguishable as the flavors open up. There is also a bit of apple fruitiness, giving a nice caramel apple smell.

Arrival: The arrival starts off with a blend of nice maltiness, a beautiful caramel apple sweetness, coupled by nice sherry and vanilla sweetness. There is some citrus and pear in the arrival as well, giving a healthy blast of fruit flavors that really drag out the arrival quite intensely. The sherry is light, and is closer to a heather honey flavor than a raison flavor. There is actually a bit of cocoa as well in the arrival, which comes and goes quickly.

Body: The body shows off some powdered malt flavor, with a delicate graininess and the same fruitiness that is found in the arrival. The sherry really comes forward in the body, and there is some nice oak flavor as well.

Finish: The finish leaves you with a nice, crisp apple flavor, followed by long lasting malt and slight citrus overtones. The caramel sticks around quite a bit, but is overshadowed by some very strong vegetal notes. These are similar notes to what we saw in the Founder’s Reserve, but they seem less aggressive in the 12 Year version. Again, like the FR, the 12 Year ends dry and grainy, but has as very prominent aftertaste. There is even a bit of fresh pine in the finish as well.

With Water

Nose: With this whisky, don’t be afraid to add a little bit of water. It really can take it, and it doesn’t back down the flavor much at all. The nose is still really beefy (not literally, of course) with a large collage of spices and vegetal flavors up front, backing off from the sweeter notes. There is still a pleasant, almost confectionary type of smell to the whisky, with cookie dough and flour as aroma.

Arrival: The arrival now shows off some brilliant spice notes, with cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger all playing into the whisky. The sweetness is still prevalent, complemented by succulent berries and a beautiful array of sweet fruits.
Body: The body retains the graininess from before, but balances it out with a more refreshing, less dry palate. There is also berry sweetness in the body now, with slightly less complexity than before. This is still really pleasant, however.

Finish:  The finish is now nicely blended with oak flavors, sweet fruits, vanilla, caramel, and a lasting spiciness that was not present before. The finish has a gentle, subtle linger to it, which coats the mouth and only begs for a second round. Truly, this is a tantalizing Scotch from beginning to end.

Final Comments:  Okay, so I like it. Is it because I’m in Montreal? Not likely. Glen Garioch proved to us that they could produce a Scotch which was complex at a young age, and that they didn’t need to follow the regular rules of presentation (40%, 43%, 46%). I like Glen Garioch for their ambition, and their quality of spirit. Does this take a step up from the Founder’s Reserve? Yes, it does. This is a complex, enjoyable, and affordable whisky which should be sold everywhere, so far as I’m concerned. It could be more complex, and it could be more original, but it does so much where it is, and for the price this is a new personal favorite.
Why you’d buy it: You can find it, and you want to support a brilliant distillery by enjoying their brilliant product
Why you wouldn’t: You live in Michigan and can’t find it.

Score:  9.25/10

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Review 211: Bowmore 12 Year

Review 211
Bowmore 12 Year: 40% abv

Background: Welcome back to Islay for another Single Malt Scotch review. KCM tends to stray away from the 40% bottlings, but Bowmore is a distillery we haven’t yet visited, so here’s our due diligence. Bowmore is actually the oldest licensed distillery on Islay, and produces a significant amount of malted barley in house, which is presently an uncommon occurrence. Bowmore also ages a good portion of their whiskies in house. This being said, the Bowmore brand sits in the middle of the peat spectrum, and lacks in the craft presentation that many of their competitors have. Bowmore has a lot of potential for improvement from the get go, but where do they stand in current quality?


Nose: There is a lot of interesting notes in this whisky. This whisky has an interesting leathery note right off the nose. There is a slight peatiness which compliments the leather notes, along with subtle notes of malt. There is a bit of wood smoke that suggests itself to the senses, but not too . Floral lavender smell is also present along with some perfume-like notes. There are some fruit notes, including over ripened bananas and cherries. You  also find some coastal, salty notes in the whisky, characteristic of the Islay malts. KCM also found this close to the smell of Worcestershire sauce. This is very original in smell, although presumably unappealing to some.

Arrival: The arrival starts off mild, with some burnt sugar, sherry, malt and salty flavors. There is a slightly medicinal character in the arrival, with some oak charcoal flavor as well.

Body: The body has a strong cool mintiness. This mint is very much like mouthwash you might buy at CVS. There is still some malt flavor in the whisky as well. In addition, dark flavors of maple and molasses are both present in this whisky. There is a grainy character in the body, somewhat pushing outside of the barley malt traditional.

Finish: The finish sustains the mint and oak flavors, with a bit of malt and sea salt. There is plenty of mineral notes, and a vegetal, peaty note to the finish as well. There is a leathery, wood char note as well. Although the finish is unique in flavor, there is no dynamics to the whisky. The finish ends on a slightly flat note.

Final Comments: Bowmore is an example of a good whisky with tons of potential. We really enjoyed the unique flavor profile that Bowmore has to offer, and it sits in stark contrast to many of the other Islay Scotches we experience. That being said, the low proof and the presentation of the whisky detracts from the overall quality and complexity. At the end of the day, this does not stay competitive for a lot of reasons. Bowmore also edges on the pricier end for what they give you. Ultimately, this is worth trying, but maybe more of a bar dram than a bottle to own.
Why you’d buy it: You want an Islay with a different style.
Why you wouldn’t: You don’t buy things with minimum credentials.

Score:  8.0/10

Friday, April 18, 2014

Review 213: Highland Park Signatory 18 Year 1991/2010

Review 213
Highland Park Signatory 18 Year 1991/2010: 46% abv

Background: We’re back at independent bottlings with a 18 year old Highland Park. Highland Park, as a reminder, is an island distillery and holds the title of the most northern distillery in Scotland. They have a pretty loyal fan base, and tend to produce a wide variety of whiskies. This one sat in a sherry butt for 18 long years. Sherry butts are 500 liter vessels, and they tend to be less common than hogsheads. This Signatory bottling still has good presentation, having 46% abv, natural color, and no chill filtration.


Nose: The nose starts off with a good mixture of citrus and grain, with malt being a predominant aroma up front. There is a noticeable peat to the Scotch, with a considerable spiciness in the nose as well. The spice includes nutmeg and gingerbread. There is some vanilla and custard in the nose, with a smooth lemon and orange involved as well. There is some white grape acidity and other light fruits as well. There is some old leather and sawdust aroma, with the addition of light cocoa.

Arrival: The arrival starts off with soft, creamy grain notes, and some definitive citrus notes. The arrival has the smoothness of sweet grain, but doesn’t provide terribly complex flavors.

Body: The body really carries out the citrus, with slight amounts of malt. There is a little bit of agave, with some cinnamon and nutmeg in the body. There is a lot of lemon, lime, and orange in the body.

Finish: The finish introduces some tobacco and peat into it, retaining the malt and citrus notes from the rest of the whisky. There is some custard and spices in the finish as well, which add to the smoky, peaty flavor. There is an introduction of grapefruit in the finish as well. There is a salty coastal character in the finish.

With Water

Nose: The nose seems to be essentially the same after adding water. One difference between this and before water is a subtle raison smell that comes through.

Arrival: The arrival is more complex and citrusy than before water.

Body: There is a little more peat flavor in the body, with intense citrus and coastal notes coming to the front much more aggressively.

Finish:  There is some custard and vanilla in the finish, with a large peaty flavor and orange citrus flavors dominating. The finish is still salty and coastal.

Final Comments: This whisky is an interesting one for sure, but it doesn’t deliver on all fronts. Surprisingly, it is worth saying that the cask quality of this particular whisky might be a little under par in comparison to many others we’ve had in the past, especially for an 18 year old Scotch. Although the whisky does exert some mature flavors, and a relatively decent complexity, it doesn’t seem to be competitive with other bottlings from Highland Park or Signatory. That’s not to say this is a bad whisky. It is still an affordable alternative with an interesting personality, and it is not hard to sip and enjoy. 
Why you’d buy it: You’re a fan of Highland Park and want to see more dimensions of their whisky.
Why you wouldn’t: Your expectation for a sherried whisky is in the realm of Glendronach

Score:  8.5/10

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Review 210: Old Pulteney 17 Year

Review 210
Old Pulteney 17 Year: 46% abv

Background: We’re back to Old Pulteney. We released a podcast with Old Pulteney whiskies as a big cameo. The 12 Year has been the KCM quality per dollar pick for quite a long time; and by a long time, we reviewed that whisky back in November of 2012. But what about a more premium, older Old Pulteney? Is that same quality from the 12 Year present in older expressions? It’s in the name, after all. The answer to that question can be found by looking at the 17 Year, which is a single malt at 46% and un-chill filtered. Some fun facts about Old Pulteney: They are limited to one wash still and one spirit still, contributing to a very limited production of one million liters per year. Also, if you take a look at Old Pulteney’s stills, they are very uniquely shaped, which might contribute to the very unique flavor that their whiskies have. Now it’s time to put this more expensive whisky to the test.


Nose: Well this doesn’t disappoint the maritime coastal theme that Old Pulteney totes about in their advertisements. The nose is instantly salty, with a fresh smell of seawater. It is so prevalent in this whisky, I can’t think of anything else like this. There is a rich maltiness that couples very nicely with a tropical fruitiness. The tropical fruit notes include tangerine, mango, and melon. There is also a slight vanilla note, which tends to take a back seat to the salt blast. The oakiness from the cask is hard to depict in the nose, but there are subtle layers of spices that come through evenly. There is also hints of floral notes that surface occasionally. The balance in the nose is extremely enjoyable, allowing for a full exploration of the flavors present.

Arrival: The arrival starts off with the tropical fruit notes and maltiness. There is a nice presence of oakiness, along with a load of spiciness. The arrival is probably the thinnest part of the whisky, still having plenty of complexity. It is a little lighter, and hides some of the salty character of the whisky.

Body: This is where the salt really kicks into the whisky. Along with a very dominant note of sea salt, orange marmalade and tropical fruit notes invade the senses here. This is such a bombastic body in the whisky. There is some nice caramel, vanilla, and beefy spices that come forward in the body. There is also some sugarcane that shows up.

Finish: The finish really drags out the saltiness, along with a nice fading of malt and tangy fruit notes. There is a very vegetal aftertaste to this whisky, with a slight hint of leather and sawdust  as well. There is plenty of cloves and allspice, with dashes of ginger and nutmeg that also play into the finish. There is definitely reminiscence to a chai tea when you get further into the finish.

With Water

Nose: The nose has become much more floral, with more hints of vanilla and caramel coming through up front. The whisky starts to smell slightly more alcoholic now, with the tropical fruits and saltiness still being dominant notes. There is also a slight instance of baking soda in the nose now, coupled with an older note of leather polish. There is a strange note of over-ripened apples and even a bit of perfume to the nose.

Arrival: The arrival becomes more spicy and the tropical aspect of the fruit flavors is more exaggerated. There is a more candied lemon flavor in the arrival now, with some spicy oak moving into the body. The maltiness also comes out much more now than it did before.

Body: The fruit flavor is huge here in the body now, bringing out a very tangy, tart, delicious blend of tangerines, orange, and lemon. It is a truly amazing experience. It doesn’t become so tart as to mask the coastal notes of this whisky, but the flavors do pop in a beautiful fashion.

Finish:  The finish surprisingly takes an intensely bitter, oaky turn after some water is exposed. It is by no means unpleasant, but it does present a different edge to the Scotch. The tropical fruits are still present, along with some other sweet and salty flavors, but the wood really plays into the whisky now. The spiciness is still a strong component. There is even hints of tobacco in the finish now.

Final Comments: So this is a salty, coastal Highland malt that distinguishes itself from a lot of its competitors. The 12 Year Old Pulteney made us interested in the distillery, the 17 Year made us fall in love. It is an intense one and it isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you want to get more adventurous, this is an all-time KCM favorite. This whisky wins points for complexity, balance, and uniqueness, and with just a bit of water the blasts of flavor just get better. I would go so far as to say if I had to drink one whisky for the rest of my life, at this point this would be the one. We highly recommend you give this a try if you get the chance.
Why you’d buy it: Because at this very moment, we’re telling you to.
Why you wouldn’t: You don’t want to try something with the intensity that this whisky has.

Score:  9.75/10

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Review 209: Bunnahabhain 12 Year

Review 209
Bunnahabhain 12 Year: 46.3% abv

Background: The KCM crew has covered most of the distilleries on Islay, but we’ve left out a few. Doing our full due diligence, a personal favorite on the list is Bunnahabhain. The name is a little bit more intimidating looking than it is to say, as is the case with many Scotch distilleries. Bunnahabhain was founded in 1881, and reflects a much milder expression of Islay than Laphroaig and Ardbeg do. The 12 year Bunnahabhain competes on the same level as a Bruichladdich 12 Year would, at a reasonable price. Very recently, Bunnahabhain switched from a 40% abv to a 46.3% abv expression, also explicitly stating that the whisky is non-chill filtered. This makes the reasonably priced 12 Year old whisky an appealing offering.


Nose: Although Bunnahabhain doesn’t give you many details regarding this whisky, you get the instant gratification of malt and sherry on the nose. There is a definite feeling of coastal saltiness and seaweed that starts off. Sweet fruits and oak spices lay over the top of the nose, but in general the nose is actually light and lacking in complexity. The spiciness is rather light and hard to depict, but the sherry comes through very clearly.

Arrival: Right on the arrival, the hypothesis is confirmed. There is a very strong instance of sweet, succulent sherry notes. It is a beautiful, enjoyable arrival, giving you the clean, wonderful malt taste that you’d expect out of something like anCnoc. There is definite caramel in the arrival, which raisons and slight spices. At the end of the arrival, a little bit of seaweed and salt comes into play.

Body: The body takes over from here, grabbing the reigns and giving you the spicy side of this whisky. The sherry is no less prevalent here, nor is the barley presence. The caramel is very big in the body.

Finish: The finish retains the big notes from before, primarily maltiness and sherry. That being said, it also introduces a slightly smoky campfire bitterness, almost indistinguishable, as well as giving the intense spiciness you’d hope for. There is some vegetal aftertaste in the finish, with a brilliant earthy flavor coating the tongue. There is still tons of caramel, in addition to a sharp saltiness and alcohol heat. There is a slightly leathery character to the finish as well.

With Water

Nose: The nose after adding water picks up some soft vegetal tones, dials down the sherry notes, and pushes forward the salty essence of the whisky. This Bunnahabhain becomes slightly more floral after adding water. There is some sweet cherry juice layering on top of the nose.

Arrival: The arrival becomes more balanced. The salt and spice notes are beautifully laid out now. There is a much more characterful graininess in the arrival now, representing a less fresh malt flavor, and a more mature oaky flavor. The spiciness in the arrival is really good at grabbing your attention, with a good white pepper and allspice flavor that tends to set this apart from other sweeter malts.

Body: The body brings forth some pleasant oaky notes after adding water. The vegetal notes are much more prevalent in the body now, with a more vanilla-driven oak flavor pushing into the finish. Grenadine becoming noticeable on the palate, and clove spiciness is present in the body now.

Finish:  The finish is becoming more reminiscent of a bourbon-aged whisky than a sherry-aged whisky, with some rich fruit notes reminding us that there is still something retained from before. The finish isn’t terribly long, but it does provide some complexity and a good balance of different flavors. There is some vanilla bean and fresh grain flavor that is coming through as well.

Final Comments: This might not be what you’d categorize as your traditional Islay malt, as it is lacking some of those key features (ungodly amounts of peat flavor). That being said, it is still an enjoyable Scotch and a good price. This whisky does a good job of representing a completely different side of Islay without losing some of the Islay essence. No, it doesn’t burn off your eyebrows with huge peat, but it is presented at 46%, natural color, and it is non-chill filtered, not to mention just tasting damn good. The complexity won’t knock your socks off by any stretch of the imagination, but after a few drops of water, the balance is worth appreciating. Can we tell you that this is a sherried whisky? After trying the Bruichladdich 12 Year 2nd Edition, no we can’t. But it sure tastes like it, and we’d by this over a Macallan 12 any day.
Why you’d buy it: A good value-per-dollar Islay with a different attitude that won’t break your bank.
Why you wouldn’t: You are a peat purist and believe every bottle of whisky that leaves Islay should be filled with peat moss.

Score:  8.5/10

Friday, April 4, 2014

Review 208: Mount Gay Extra Old

Review 208
Mount Gay Extra Old Rum: 43% abv

Background:  KCM has done multiple reviews on Mount Gay Rum, a Barbados distillery which tends to produce great value-per-dollar rums for the masses. Although Mount Gay Eclipse isn’t your sipping rum, the brand is still reputable. So what happens when you go up in the range? Mount Gay Extra Old is the middle range rum that offers a little bit more quality for a few more dollars. Interestingly, Mount Gay is a double pot still distilled rum, aged in ex-American whiskey white oak barrels. The Extra Old, in particular, is a blend of 8 to 15 year old rums. Extra Old is proofed modestly, as most rums are, but it is a slight improvement from the standard offering. Let’s look at if this premium bottle warrants a premium price.


Nose: The nose shows off a more clearly balanced rum aroma than you would find in other bottlings. A mixture of fragrant floral notes, strong maple, and a prevalent molasses make this a beautiful nose. Vanilla bean and banana also add mellow soft notes to the scent. There is a light spiciness to the rum, but it is mostly lost to the sweetness. Ripe apple, strawberry, and a slight pomegranate all add to the complexity of the nose, which continues to be a very pleasant experience.

Arrival:  The arrival struggles to pull out a lot of flavor. The molasses comes out strong the arrival, with a small hint of caramel and apple as well. The arrival contains slight spiciness, and a little bit of oakiness, but fails to make it noticeable. There is also a little bit of cookie dough flavor in the arrival as well.

Body: The body really takes on notes of apple and caramel, as well as vanilla and doses of cinnamon and nutmeg. The spice blend in the body is very intriguing and enjoyable, coupled with a nice, balanced sweetness. This is where this rum truly becomes enjoyable. The confectionary notes from the arrival carry into the body as well.

Finish: The age in the rum starts to show a little more in the finish, with ripe fruit notes, thick oak flavor, and a complex balance. The ripe banana comes through very heavy in the finish, with ginger and cardamom being immediately noticeable as well. There is no shortage of vanilla, with a little bit of a confectionary flavor as well. The finish provides a slightly sugarcane-like vegetal note, contributing sweetness and slight bitterness.

Final Comments: This is a fantastic statement by Mount Gay. It does balance the sweetness of a rum with some subtle complexity you would hope for. I would speculate that an extra 3% would throw this over the top in terms of flavor, but it still does a great job of differentiating the brand’s range. This is a great sipping rum, and for the reasonable price it offers, we would encourage this one. That beings said, it doesn’t offer all of the complexity we would want, but it doesn’t necessarily need to. The biggest accolade this rum has is the level of balance it has. Worth a try.
Why you’d buy it: This is a good rum for a good price, and you’re looking for a sipper.
Why you wouldn’t: You are severely anti-gay, and the thought of buying a gay rum makes your bible cringe.

Score:  9.0/10