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Glenmorangie Tarlogan Review

Glenmorangie Tarlogan – Distiller: Glenmorangie. Region: Highlands. ABV: 43%. No age statement. Price: $110.

And just like that, we’re into December. A month of joy, togetherness, and the first McDram family trip to Scotland. And it couldn’t come any sooner, as I’m down to the last dregs of my favorite whisky of 2017, the Glenmorangie Tarlogan.

Initially launched as part of the distillery’s travel retail market (which means I can only get it while traveling in that neck of the woods), the Glenmorangie Tarlogan is matured in a combination of virgin oak and ex-bourbon casks.

Given that it’s a no-age-statement whisky and bottled at only 43% ABV, skepticism at the high price tag is understandable. And to be honest, there are moments when I question my whisky judgment. But when I saw Brendan McCarron, GlenMo’s head of maturing whisky stocks, this past summer, he said his own favorite GlenMo of the year was the Tarlogan. When Dr. Bill’s heir apparent gives it that kind of stamp, I know I’m on to something.

To paraphrase the Sex Pistols, never mind the bollocks, here comes the review. There’s a lovely, creamy vanilla full on the nose, but so much more. A delicate caramel slow tangoes with honied almonds and a bit of marzipan. It’s the rare nose that has me dying to dive in.

The palate has chocolate and honey, which brings to mind the best Cadbury bars. There’s also spice and a peppery nutmeg, along with splashes of cinnamon.

Then there’s the finish. Dark cherry gelato, rich walnuts, and a lovely buttery caramel. I mean, thank the whisky gods I’m going back to the old country soon, because I can still taste the remnants.

I’m not usually one to pay more than a Ben Franklin for a whisky, but in a few weeks, I’ll gladly hand over the cash for another bottle of this gem. Happy Christmas, and cheers, friends! – TM

Old Pulteney Navigator Review

Old Pulteney Navigator – Distiller: Old Pulteney. Region: Highlands. ABV: 46%.  No age statement. Price: $45-50.

I have emotional responses to certain whiskies that go deep. I can’t have a dram of the Lagavulin 16 and not remember the night before we had to put our Yellow Lab down. I see Macallan and I flash back to my wedding, where Mrs. McDram’s father had stashed bottles of the Macallan 10 all around the reception room. And there’s been one on my mind a great deal as we prepare to take our kids to Scotland for the first time.

In 2002, I was in Edinburgh on a rainy, wind-torn day. I’d climbed all over Arthur’s Seat. I descended into the encroaching dark, soaked, knowing that I’d feel my exertions the next day and that I needed a good dram to start the recovery process. I hauled myself into the White Lion and asked for a whisky. The bartender pulled out a bottle of Old Pulteney and poured a healthy dram. It’s been love ever since.

The Old Pulteney is a Highland malt from the remote town of Wick. In the distillery’s earliest days, the town was inaccessible by land, and the barley had to be brought in by sea. The “Maritime Malt” still retains that characteristic hint of brine. I’m always thrilled to see what the distillery will next create.

Welcome the Old Pulteney Navigator, the distillery’s latest core expression. It’s matured primarily in first-fill ex-bourbon casks, but also incorporates first-fill ex-Oloroso sherry casks. It’s non-chill filtered and bottled at 46% ABV.

The nose recalls a Midwestern fall harvest. Honeycrisp apple, pear, and the tang of a good breeze off Lake Michigan. Very slight Cadbury chocolate on the back. The apple in the palate shifts from fresh to caramelized, atop a roasted pork loin. Very faint pine swirls around a more pronounced dark chocolate, along with tufts of oak and sherry fruits. The finish lingers, bringing the apple-pear-chocolate combination back in full for a lovely encore.

Too soon to tell whether this will be my favorite OP, but it’s absolutely in the conversation. What OP expressions do you all enjoy, and if you’ve tried the Navigator, where do you rank it? – TM

A company representative graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Compass Box Asyla Review

Compass Box Asyla. Producer – Compass Box. Distillers: Cameronbridge, Glen Elgin, Linkwood, Teaninich. ABV: 40%. No age statement. Blend: 50% malt, 50% grain. Price: $60.

Friends, you all know of my love for the end-of-bin sales. The treasures unearthed there find a comfortable, if often short-lived, life on the shelves of Castle McDram.

So when I saw Compass Box’s Asyla at a roughly a third off, I grabbed it and ran. After paying for it, of course. I’m a huge Compass Box fan and I was really looking forward to this one. A 50-50 malt-grain blend, containing a heavy proportion of Linkwood and Teaninich malt aged in first-fill ex-bourbon casks? I mean, hell, count me in.

But this one left me empty. The slightly acrid nose has pear, mulch, malt, and vanilla. The palate is sadly underwhelming. Bananas slap flaccidly at the malt, which paws lazily around the pear and fainting lime. There is barely a finish to speak of, more a disappointing drift of thin, weak flavors that echo the palate.

Don’t judge Compass Box by this one, though. This is a rare misfire in a mostly stunning lineup. Their Peat Monster and Great King Street are knockouts, and Baldo counts the 2015 Compass Box Flaming Heart as one of his top drams of all time.

All in all, the Compass Box Asyla only served to reinforce my belief that if you don’t try a producer’s less successful attempts, you’ll never know what’s truly sublime. Here’s to better days and better drinks ahead, friends! – TM

Sunshine Reserve American Whiskey Review

Sunshine Reserve American Whiskey – Producer: Manhattan Moonshine Company. ABV: 42.5%. No age statement. Grain bill: mostly oats, with smaller proportions of rye, smelt, and malted barley (exact proportions undisclosed). Price: $50.

Nearly two years and many reviews ago, I had the chance to enjoy the Manhattan Moonshine, a lovely white whiskey from upstate New York. I loved it and said so and figured I wouldn’t hear from company co-founder Will Kehler again.

Well, color me thrilled to be wrong. The Manhattan Moonshine Company has now come out with the Sunshine Reserve American Whiskey. And it’s a real beaut.

It uses the moonshine as a base–note the unusual grain bill, oat-based and corn-free–and ages it for an undisclosed period primarily in convection-baked oak, rather than charred. The company also says it ages the whiskey at an unusually low proof for a lighter, sweeter profile and less dark wood notes. (The details aren’t disclosed.)

On to the tasting. There’s calf leather and pipe tobacco on the nose, along with Gala apple and bacon. The palate is supple and rich and delightful, with baking spice, hickory, and burnt ends from BBQ. The finish is quite abrupt–perhaps at a slightly elevated ABV it would last longer.

I really enjoyed this one and I can’t wait to see what Manhattan Moonshine/Sunshine Reserve does next. In the meantime, if your local doesn’t have Sunshine Reserve, they sell online at shinereserve.com.

Cheers, friends! – TM

The producer graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Henry Clay Straight Rye Review

Old Henry Clay Straight Rye Whiskey – Producer: James E. Pepper Distillery. Distiller: MGP. No age statement. Mashbill: >90% rye (likely 95% rye, 5% malted barley). Price: $20.

Where are the great whisk(e)y bargains these days? Here’s one. I’d been feeling a little self-conscious about the number of $50+ bottles I’d been reviewing in recent weeks–many of them excellent, but price-wise, out of reach for most–and along came the Henry Clay Rye to shake things up.

Henry Clay is a no-age-statement straight rye from James E. Pepper, better known for its 1776 rye and bourbon line. Pepper is reviving an old brand and reopening an old Lexington, KY, distillery that operated from 1879-1958.

In the meantime they’re sourcing very good rye and bourbon from the old reliable MGP. Henry Clay is their entry-level bottling, at 43% ABV and about $20. It’s a steal.

It’s from a high-rye mashbill–at least 90% rye grain, as opposed to the 51% rye of Sazerac or Rittenhouse, say–but has excellent balance.

The nose is bright, fresh, and fruity, with white grape and lychee early on. Almost like a young armagnac! Some leather, some orange rind. Some white pine. Very slight hint of fennel, stopping well short of the brash anise or black licorice notes to be found in some other high-rye-mashbill ryes.

The palate adds a robust but perfectly integrated spice to the nose’s fruitiness. It’s on the lighter-bodied side, but substantial enough for its ABV. Sweet oak and a hint of white chocolate. The price mounts toward the end of the palate, then fades on the finish. Earthy but citrusy. Key lime. A bit on the short side.

This is as good a straight-ahead MGP-sourced rye as you can ask for, at a very accessible price. Eminently sippable, brilliant in cocktails too. Hats off to James E. Pepper!

Cheers, friends! – BO

Glenmorangie Astar Review and Relaunch

Glenmorangie Astar – Distiller: Glenmorangie. Region: Highlands. ABV: 52.5%.  No age statement. Price: $90-100.

The relaunch of the Glenmorangie Astar hit Los Angeles in high style this month, with Dr. Bill Lumsden–GlenMo Director of Distilling & Whisky Creation–hosting a dinner and tasting at the Moet Hennessy House in the hills above West Hollywood.

Glenmorangie Astar

Glenmorangie has quite a robust lineup. It ranges from the Original 10-Year-Old, which provides the based for just about every other release, to wine-finished staples like the Nectar D’Or and Quinta Ruban, to limited Special Editions like the Milsean and Artein, up to the luscious 18-Year-Old and NAS masterpiece Signet.

If the Original is heart of the Glenmorangie line, the Astar is the heart of the heart–the purest expression of what defines the distillery.

The Original is defined by brightness, silkiness, elegance, and a balance of fruit and floral notes that Dr. Bill attributes to two things: the unusual height of Glenmorangie’s stills, and their cask selection.

Dr. Bill Lumsden

The Original uses a certain proportion of GlenMo’s so-called “designer casks,” made from slow-growth Missouri oak, chosen for porousness, seasoned for 2-3 years in the open air, charred, filled with Jack Daniels for 4 years, then dumped and shipped to GlenMo.

The Astar uses 100% of these “designer casks.” It’s also bottled at 52.5% ABV, adding to the intensity. (The first Astar was bottled at 57% ABV, but Dr. Bill felt the extra heat did more to obscure the whisky than reveal it.) All in all, Dr. Bill’s description of it as “Glenmorangie Original on steroids” is apt.

On to the tasting!

Glenmorangie Moet Hennessy HouseThe nose has pear, green apple, marzipan, orange peel, candied banana, coconut milk, and light toasted oak. For my money, it’s a bit closed at full strength, but comes alive with a few drops of water. Faint cacao nibs. Toasted almonds.

On the palate, both the fluffy vanilla and the juicy fruit notes bloom. Blood orange, ripe pear, pineapple. Fresh coconut. Over time, a pleasant toastiness emerges.

The finish is long and robust, with spice leading the way–lemon pepper, ground ginger, lemon rind–before a wisp of cotton candy at the end.

I frequently hear from whisky lovers who lament the proliferation of wine cask finishes, and yearn for purer manifestations of their favorite distilleries: straight ex-bourbon cask maturation, high ABV, no funny business. There are lots of wine-finished whiskies I love–including from GlenMo–but it’s a beautiful thing to have so pure a manifestation of GlenMo’s core character.

It takes time and patience to appreciate the nuance of Astar, but it’s worth the effort.

Slàinte, friends! – BO

Glenmorangie graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.