Johnnie Walker Green Label 15 43%ABV 2015 Version

Hitch jealously guards his latest find....

Not a Blend, not a Single Malt but (according to current official terminology) a Blended Malt. Confused? So you should be. Of a style formerly known as Vatted Malt, Green Label contains only Single Malt whiskies. I.E. no grain whisky, just 100% Single Malts. Personally, I think Vatted Malt is a much better description and as such it is the one I will continue to use. The original JW Green Label became somewhat of a collectors item and still sells for ridiculous sums of money on that basis. In 2011 supplies of the original Green dried up, except in Asia where JW continued to market it. The lucky Taiwanese even got a couple of higher proof versions. I have not tried the original Green Label for some time, so will not attempt a direct comparison here. I do, however, recall it being quite a decent whisky. It did lose a bit of it's shine towards the end of its run but was, nevertheless, a solid Vatted Malt.

Not the only wolf in the forest...

So, having parted with the princely sum of $70AU I was hoping the new Green 15 could maintain its predecessors place as the finest whisky in the range. A vatting of Talisker, Caol Ila, Linkwood and Cragganmore, (all at least 15 years old) and bottled at 43% ABV; this unusually useful information may be found on the box. I think though, it's a bit of a stretch for JW to call Caol Ila "Islay's best kept secret". That title clearly belongs to the Laphroaig goat shaving fiasco. Green Label is sold in a solid rectangular bottle housed in a simple cardboard box. A good, simple presentation that will appeal to those who would rather pay for their whisky than its marketing. 

Hitch, if he's a bourbon drinker, you're screwed.

Colour: Deep gold. While Johnnie Walker have not gone overboard with E150 caramel colour, no E150 at all would be better and probably more appealing to the Green Label market. Nose: A faint hint of peat, fresh cut hay, vanilla, black tea, citrus and sea spray. Put simply; sweet, spicy and a little salt. Talisker and Caol Ila make their presence known upfront. A really interesting (rather than outstanding) nose that one should take one's time to appreciate. Fruity Linkwood uncloaks itself on the palate backed by the Cragganmore. It is actually really interesting to experience the multiple personalities of this whisky jostling for prominence; a tussle Linkwood and Cragganmore are doomed to lose and yet they still play their parts. Mouthfeel is perhaps the least impressive aspect here so let's move on to the good stuff, of which there is much. A lovely floral arrival. Honey and vanilla, toffee apple and white pepper. The Linkwood and Cragganmore remind us they are there before giving way to a decent Islay brine finish. Fruit, spice, salt and a touch of smoke; a delightful, if lightweight, whisky. 85/100 

William Crampton

Old Virginia Bourbon 40%ABV 2015

Hitch is in danger of falling off his tree.

Well, this is unusual. Produced and matured in Kentucky, named after the state of Virginia and bottled in France by La Martiniquaise. I assume this is an economical way to distribute the whiskey in the European market. Regularly selling for as little as $32 AU and widely available from large supermarket chains and Dan Murphy it looks like good value; let's see if it is. 

Colour: Burnished. Nose: Burnt caramel, red apple, oak. On the palate: Decent, if not spectacular, mouthfeel. Sweet honey, oak, crème brûlée, dark brown sugar, golden syrup, a little vinous. A reasonable finish for the price and proof with a hint of malt and a wave of toffee in its tail. It's definitely bourbon but has taken on some interesting influences in its travels that makes it unusual and hence a little more interesting. Interesting, for $32, is a good buy. 

All in all, this purchase was a successful gamble. Old Virginia is a more substantial whiskey than last week's trio and cheaper than all but one of them. It is bottled at an acceptable (barely) proof and its sins are of omission rather than commision. It may even be worth forking out fifty bucks for their 12 year old. I'd love to know where those unusual influences on the flavour arose but whatever it was, it worked. 79/100

William Crampton

Caption competition for this one Hitch? Na, too easy. 

Jim Beam, Cougar and McKenna are:

So much whiskey, so little Hitch.

Everyone likes a bargain. These three all sell for under $40 in Australia, which is the bottom end of the market. Forty bucks is enough to get you a very decent bourbon in most places; not here.

Almost bourbon? Bourbon must be bottled at a minimum of 80 US proof (40% ABV) to use the name in the US. So these three could not be sold as bourbon in their country of origin. That includes Jim Beam, which is 40% at home but watered down to 37% here. I won't get too mad at Beam as most of their range is sold at a decent proof. Less than $5 more will get you 90 proof Beam Devils Cut, a much better whisky than White Label. They are also responsible for the magnificent Bookers cask strength, which you should rush out and buy right now if you are even slightly fond of bourbon. Jim Beam know their markets and understand that White Label at 37% ABV won't hurt their sales here. Unfortunately, they are right, for now. Beam White Label (4 years old) is bottled in Kentucky, unlike the other pretenders here.

 

The proof is out there; it certainly ain't in here.

The proof is out there; it certainly ain't in here.

McKenna is a product of Heaven Hill in Kentucky and they bottle a good 10 year old 100 proof there which sells for around $30US. They bottle this one in New Zealand at 37.2% for the Oceania market as we apparently don't care that we are paying for a product that is mostly water. One could be forgiven for thinking it has no age statement but, bizarrely, there is a barely legible stamp on the back label claiming 5 years in the barrel. It is widely distributed and available the First Choice chain, Nicks and many small suburban supermarkets.

                                            Hitch refused to appear here. And he's not fussy.

                                            Hitch refused to appear here. And he's not fussy.


The tag hung around its neck proudly proclaims "Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 95/100". That says more about Mr Murray's bizarre taste than it does about the whiskey. It goes on: "A superstar whisky that gives us all a reason to live."  Well, if Cougar Bourbon is your reason to live I suggest you give Lifeline a call right away. 
So, Bookers, Bakers, Blanton's, Balcones, Bulleit, etc, etc, where do they rate in the last five points on his scale? Or are we expected to believe that something as spectacular as Bookers is not as good as this? And I haven't even got past the letter B....
Of course we can't blame Cougar for lapping up all that free (I wonder if it is) publicity but nonetheless it does show how unreliable Murray's ratings are and I suggest if you own his book you take it to the smallest room in the house where it may be put to better use than reading. Cougar is bottled at 5 years of age in Australia, by Carlton United Breweries.

Hitch and a friend keeping an eye out for Cougars.

So, how do they taste and smell?

Cougar: Amber colour. Toffee, oak and pine bark on the nose plus the usual vanilla and caramel with a hint of hessian. The nose is not backed up by taste or mouthfeel; it is thin with some bite but not too harsh. Panna Cotta stands out on the palate. Nutmeg and cedar develop into bitter pine needles, wood sap and a short, dry finish. Mostly just simple toffee and caramel. Very light. Not unpleasant and no need to water at only 37% ABV. Certainly a step up from J Beam but several steps down from the lovely bourbons to be found in the $40-$60 price range.
A light, easy drinking bourbon with a less than polished taste and short finish that is reasonable for its price but undeserving of the tag around its neck.
It is not at all special but certainly worth the asking price. Unlike Mr Murray's book.

75/100

McKenna: Old gold colour. Toffee, butterscotch and vanilla nose. Insecticidal overtones. Almost decent mouthfeel and a taste much like the nose; sweet toffee, butterscotch, pencil shavings and a little leather. Short, dry, sour finish. Inoffensive and very light.

73/100.

Jim Beam: Deep gold. Wood sap, maraschino cherry, caramel then Play-doh on the nose. Sweet. Sour. Memories of teenage hangovers best left forgotten. Sweet on the front palate, sour towards the back, developing in intensity. Oak. Caramel. Vanilla. Very short finish. Very simple sweet and sour. As interesting as a speed bump. Not a sipping whiskey, really only suited to a career as a mixer. This emasculated Beam is not representative of the original 80 proof version, which, if US versions of other brands like Maker's Mark and Buffalo Trace are an indicator, is probably much better. Aldi actually sell 1L bottles of 80 proof US Beam White Label at about the same price (per litre) as the local one. This would be worth a try but as far as the 37% version goes: 

68/100

In conclusion: There are no great bargains here. At the time of writing, McKenna has had a substantial price rise and is now the same price as Wild Turkey and Beam Devils Cut: No contest. Beam White Label is inferior to both Mckenna and Cougar in every way but now only Cougar is less expensive. In fact, Dan Murphy's have just lowered the price of Cougar to $29.95 AU, $5 less than Beam. So the clear winner here (the best mixer and acceptable sippin' whiskey) is Cougar. For a few dollars more though, there are much better whiskeys to be had. 

William crampton

(Partially republished from a review I wrote in 2014)

Oh Hitch, must it always end this way?



Edradour Cask Strength 1999 Cask 2124 58.2% ABV 2014

Hitch has once again over indulged.

The distillery (then known as Glenforres ) was founded around 1825 and was known as Edradour by 1837. Edradour produces only 90000 litres annually and still claims to be Scotland's smallest distillery; it isn't since the founding of Kilchoman in 2005. Other small craft distilleries have also sprouted, like once dormant mushrooms, nurtured by the current whisky boom. The distillery also produces peated whisky under the name Ballechin. Some older bottlings still use name Glenforres. Located close to the town of Perthshire, Edradour is well worth a visit; an idyllic location and a picture perfect distillery.

Edradour. Gorgeous. 

The 1999 Cask Strength is well presented in a simple cardboard tube and engraved decanter style bottle. The Ibisco decanter is a lovely thing you wont throw away when the bottle is empty. Previous Edradour sippings have included the magnificent 2003 Bourbon cask 57.4% which, despite much competition and its relative youth (7 years), remains my favorite Bourbon cask whisky of recent years. This 15 year old is from a sherry cask that yielded 692 bottles. Natural colour, not chill-filtered. 

Nose: Wet baled hay, chilli peppers, mustiness increasing with time, crushed mint leaves, vinegar. I'm not having fun. Taste: Not as hot as expected at 58.2% but quite soapy, needs some time. I will leave this for a while, just talk quietly amongst yourselves....

Hitch says one of these is too soapy. The other is dishwashing liquid.

Half an hour later it isn't much better, in fact, it may be even worse. Water just changes the brand of soap. Quite sharp. The finish is bitter and mercifully short. 

I'm done here. This whisky has so many problems it isn't worth continuing with. A bad bottle? Perhaps. We would need another sample to be sure. There is nothing wrong with the cork. At over $100 for this bottle I am, to say the least, disappointed. It isn't undrinkable but it isn't worth drinking either. I won't even risk contaminating the Solera (more on Soleras later) with this. I shan't draw any conclusions about the distillery from one bottle, particularly considering the magnificence of some other Edradour bottlings. However, once bitten...58/100

William Crampton


Glengoyne Cask Strength Batch 3 58.2% ABV 2015

Sunset; whisky time Hitch!

Glengoyne's NAS Cask Strength replaced the 10YO Cask Strength version. Now up to batch 3, how does it compare to the Aberlour and Glenfarclas cask strength sherry monsters of preceding weeks? Read on...The lack of colouring or chill filtration is clearly stated on the only place it matters; the label of the bottle! Off to a good start Glengoyne. Comprised of some young and some older whiskies from both first fill and refill sherry (Oloroso I believe) casks, bottled at 58.2%.Available in the summer of 2015 from  Dan Murphy at $99AU, which, at current exchange rates is less than it costs in Scotland; pretty good value. Nick's have the 12 year old version for $199AU; this I have not tried.

Colour: Muscat. Nose: Oloroso sherry, damp straw, licorice, sultanas, rosehip, apricots and white pepper. A sip is instantly mouthfilling; silky, creamy mouthfeel. Oh, this is good! Fine Pedro Ximenez sherry, lashings of dark fruit, oak, dates. Coats the tongue, infiltrates every corner of the mouth before an extended spelunking expedition down the throat. Imagine the perfect christmas cake, fresh from the oven, moist, hot, yes, pleasantly hot. Only needs a drop of water as a catalyst to release a dark fruit flavour onslaught that lingers on and on and on.....exquisite toffee now, laced with macadamia nut...This is developing magnificently in the glass. At 58.2% ABV it's hot but in a comforting way. It envelopes the senses, warms to the bone. Two drams while I write and my face feels like I'm relaxing by a roaring fire, the radiated heat lulling me into contemplation. So satisfying, ah, serenity. This is what good whisky is about; it evokes memory; sensory and experiential. It warms the soul. It stimulates and challenges the senses. This is an excellent dram. Its youth manifests as a fresh flavour, er, not explosion, a reaction. It develops, as if in slo-mo, in the mouth, allowing one to experience every nuance of the experience. Glengoyne have used some good casks here. I've just poured my third (generous) dram and so, my friends, my written appreciation shall now end and I shall retreat to the porch to watch this evenings moon rise and contemplate it's magnificence, faithful hound by my side. That's the sort of dram this is. 89/100

William Crampton

Twas a good day. Goodnight Hitch. 


Aberlour A'bunadh Batch 51 60.8% ABV 2015

Hitch shamelessly quaffs the unquaffable.

A'BUNADH: "the origin" in Gaelic. Apparently, a return to traditional methods of the 19th century, which is not at all marketing flannel and really, truly, the complete unembellished truth. Honest. 

A'bunadh is available (in the summer of 2015) from most online retailers for around 70USD or 110AUD locally at Nicks in Melbourne and a little more at numerous other Australian retailers. 

Colour: Mahogany. There is nothing on the label to confirm a lack of artificial coloring so it must be assumed that the seductive hue is not entirely natural. "NON CHILL-FILTERED" is prominently displayed and I can't imagine Aberlour would not also proudly declare "NATURAL COLOUR" if this was indeed so. I usually water this beastie down to about 45% ABV, although it is still quite palatable at full strength, should you care to try it, which I suggest you do. I find as dilution increases it's flavour and smell are disproportionately diminished, so experimentation will, as usual, be required to find a dilution that suits your taste. Don't be shy with the H2O though; youth and strength need some taming. 

Nose: Oh my! Quite volatile even when watered; solvent, sniffing glue...O-K; it needs some time in the glass. Ten minutes later it is much more approachable. Dark fruits, heavy Oloroso, raisins, pipe tobacco cascading into butterscotch, oak and moist cigar. On the palate: hot, chewy, nutty (almond and Brazil), rum & raisin chocolate. Blackberry jam. A hint of cinnamon. More water conjures tea and caramel chews. Fades quickly to a faint apple,licorice and (I kid thee not) burnt toast finish. 

I am enjoying batch 51 more than the previous bottle I purchased(batch 39). It's youthfulness is offset by the freshness and intensity of its flavour but, for me, it falls short of the other NAS Sherry Bombs currently under Hitch's protection. While it certainly has no place alongside aged sherry masterpieces from the likes of Glendronach and Glen Garioch I'm sure I'll buy another, sometime.

A'bunadh has become an iconic single malt sherry monster. It is most certainly worth the price of admission. Aberlour A'bunadh is an essential sojourn on your whisky journey, yet one from which you will move on; without remorse. 84/100

William Crampton

Matthew 7:15: Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves, bearing Sherry Bombs.... 


Glenfarclas 105 60% ABV 2015

Hitch enjoys a dram or three in the garden.

Glenfarclas is a family owned distillery with an interesting history. If you want to know more about the distillery you may read all about it at Malt Madness. If not, let us proceed to the whisky.

I am fond of the (distinctive) Glenfarclas style which I have previously described as "dirty sherry". By which I mean good, honest, sherry cask, craft presentation whisky: natural colour, not chill filtered.  Not dressed in a poncy cask finish, just traditional goodness. Having said that, I have had occasional disappointments from the distillery. 

105 is readily available, at least in specialist stores, online and at the usual suspects such as Nick's and Dan Murphy's. In case you haven't  sussed it yet, 105 is the UK Proof of the whisky, a very decent 60% ABV; more on Proof in later blogs. Which brings us to age. It seems here there is more than a modicum of confusion. 105 has been presented as a 10 year old for a while. If one has a spare $3.5K one can even purchase a 40YO 105. My last bottle (yes, I go through a few) clearly stated that it was 10 years old. The bottle Hitch is clasping has no age statement and the Glenfarclas website does not claim any particular age. So, while this bottle tastes and smells much like the last, I can not call it anything other than a NAS (no age statement) whisky. Both Nick's and Damn Murphy are selling the 10YO version whereas Whisky Exchange, Master of Malt and almost everyone else sell the NAS pretender. I suppose that may explain the price difference; I paid 37 Euro for a litre of this in Germany. It's about $140AUD for the 10YO, 700ML in Australia.

At 60%ABV, I don't drink this whisky at full strength. I suggest you measure the water you add to 105 as getting it right with this whisky is critical. I've heard a figure of 50% water mentioned but for me this is too much; doesn't mean its too much for you so that is where I'll start tasting. Alas,  I have but one liver to give so lets limit this appreciation to 50%, 25% and neat.

50% water: Still powerful on the nose. Pipe tobacco. Salted dark chocolate.Christmas pudding. The palate revives memories of old fashioned bread and butter pudding. Sweet caramel custard. Still mouth filling even at this dilution. A decent, spicy finish, despite being curtailed somewhat by the water. So, very drinkable even at a 50% dilution. For what I paid that works out to  about 19 Euro a litre; ridiculously good value.

25%  water: Now things are happening! The nose conjures pictures of a good sherry cask in a musty old dunnage warehouse.The tobacco is intensified and along comes damp hessian, brine and aged, rich Christmas cake. A hint of cedar. Brazil nuts.  The palate, oh, that's it....full, rich, Peruvian dark chocolate, cardamom,faint red chilli, dark brown sugar. The milder custard and caramel notes have gone, replaced by flavours that will appeal more to grown-ups. A long, lingering and surprisingly malty finish. Top stuff!

Neat: The rum tobacco nose takes me back to summer afternoons long ago, chatting with my grandfather while he packed and smoked his pipe. More damp things, field mushrooms and strong Caribbean Rum. On the palate; hot, chewy, dark toffee, white pepper, more than a hint of Cointreau. Finishes with a not unexpected declaration of "I am Sherry!" Fades away as 60% alcohol anesthetises my tastebuds. Surprisingly accessible but, for me, not the experience it was at 25%. 

Glenfarclas 105 is somewhat of a chameleon. It does vary from bottle to bottle. My enjoyment of it varies just as much with mood and timing. The mustiness that characterised this bottle was totally absent from the last and yet still it couldn't be mistaken for anything but 105. I had a dram of 105 last year at The Baxter Inn which was quite young and harsh. I'm not entirely comfortable with the suggestions of old dishcloth that surfaced on occasion from this bottle. Yet 105 remains a staple in my whisky collection and one of the most enjoyable from the Glenfarclas stable. Its not complex. It's not very sophisticated. But its honest, straightforward and characterful. And character goes a long way.  85/100

William Crampton

Second Opinion

Drinkable at 60%. Reduced proof (about 50%) brings on an increase in must and a very slight soapiness. It is a very delicate whisky and adding the right amount of water can be challenging. 
Nose: Big must, like grandma's furniture. Slightly winey with some spice. 
Taste: Must continues with some dark chocolate, caramel and woodiness finishing with some big spice notes. 
My rating varies with my love hate relationship with this whisky. Today I'll give it a solid 84/100. 
If you botch the water it easily drops into the 70's. 

Stuart Inger. Bar Manager, White Rabbit Canberra, Australia.

 

Arran 10 46% ABV 2015

The Whisky Room mascot (every whisky collection must have one!); Hitch the wolf with Arran 10

What? Whisky? This site is all about audio isn't it? Well, as whisky and freedom gang together so do whisky and music. Infact, whisky, music and freedom are often inseparable. It's not a coincidence that craft presentation of whisky and audio (and so much else) produces the best results; less money spent on marketing, packaging and everything else that doesn't contribute directly to the quality of the product.

For the inaugural whisky of the week we certainly have a cracker! This luscious Arran is the product of a young distillery that has really come of age. Founded in 1993, Arran have rarely put a paw wrong. Independant cask strength bottlings are the Arrans to look for but this Ten is delicious. Bottled at a decent 46% ABV (higher ABV=more flavour) and selling at a very reasonable $85 at Vintage Direct in Melbourne it's great value for such well made whisky. Natural colour. Not chill filtered. While we are here, I don't like the term "un-chillfiltered". Was it chill filtered and then all the chewy gunk put back in? No, it was never chill filtered in the first place. Sorry, I don't stick to accepted jargon if it doesn't make sense. Like "CD Transport". Where is it going? It's a disc drive. I digress....

A big,fresh, citrus/barley/floral nose. On the palate it arrives with a fresh green apple and pear explosion. A hint of banana. Creamy, soft, slightly sweet, a fresh fruit salad followed by a little citrus sourness that recedes with time and a little water. Beautiful balance. Finishes with a slight dryness and lingering green tea/lemon. Delicious. 90/100

William Crampton