Tag Archives: diageo

Caol Ila 18 Review

Distiller: Caol Ila. Region: Islay. ABV: 43%. Age: 18 years. Price: $85-95.

Caol Ila is a connoisseur’s favorite, justly dubbed Islay’s “Mr. Consistent” by Whisky Advocate Magazine. We should be happy then that it still shows up all over: there are many excellent independent bottlings, it’s frequently a component in Compass Box’s brilliant blends, and it provides much of the peat in Johnnie Walker.

The flagship 12-year-old bottling has long been a staple for me, but the 18 doesn’t make it to the States, so I jumped at the opportunity to grab a bottle during a recent trip to Paris. Boy, am I glad I did.

The nose is an amazing balance of freshness and softness. Lime, grapefruit, vanilla custard. Saltwater taffy. Orange creamsicle. The sweetest, mildest peat smoke, and a distant hint of sea breeze.

Candied orange on the palate, then that orange creamsicle again. Later on, white chocolate with flecks of candied ginger. That same softness from the nose throughout.

The finish brings allspice and clove, Belgian waffle drizzled in orange syrup, and a fuzzy peaty warmth.

With the current Brexit pricing (as of February 2017), this and many other UK/EU-only releases are more accessible than ever at places like Master of Malt. I’ll be tempted to grab another when this one’s gone.

Slàinte, friends! – BO

Hilhaven Lodge Whisky Review

Producer: Hilhaven Lodge. Distillers: undisclosed. ABV: 40%. No age statement. Blend: undisclosed. Price: $50.

The new Hilhaven Lodge blended American whiskey is named after the Beverly Hills residence, built in 1927, that has the distinguished provenance of many famous Hollywood celebrities.

The lodge’s current owner, producer and director Brett Ratner, teamed up with Diageo to release this whiskey as a tribute to the home’s long history as a place of casual afternoon celebrations and late night soirées.

The whiskey is an eclectic blend of bourbon, rye, and Tennessee whiskeys from three different decades, which results in a surprising unique flavor profile. (See some interesting speculation from The Whiskey Jug on possible origins.) On the nose are Werther’s caramel, shaved vanilla bean and warm toffee. At 40% ABV, the palate is light, with a pleasant mixture of moderate sweetness and subtle spice. Gentle notes of oak are intertwined with caramel, vanilla, and citrus. Spice dominates the long finish, encouraging contemplation of the interplay of the different whiskeys in this blend.

Some may dismiss the marketing behind this whiskey, but I think it fits quite well. This is a versatile whiskey that I’d feel very comfortable serving neat or in cocktails at parties and celebrations to guests with a broad range of whiskey-drinking experience.

Now I just need to come up with a name as good as this for my own house.

Cheers! – JTR

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

Bulleit Rye Review

Producer: Bulleit. Distiller: MGP. ABV: 45%. No age statement (4-7 years old). Mashbill: 95% rye, 5% malted barley. Price: $25-30.

Bulleit is a gold-standard mixing rye that’s just as good as a sipper. It’s become so ubiquitous that singing its praises can seem a little like recommending somebody try Pepsi, but if you haven’t given this 95% rye-mashbill beauty from MGP proper consideration, it’s definitely worth revisiting.

The Bulleit rye sparkles with citrus and brown sugar–brighter and fresher than the excellent Rittenhouse/Pikesville from Heaven Hill. Loads of fruit and baking spices on the mid-palate. The candied orange is so pronounced that it’s nearly an Old Fashioned all on its own. It’s priced right, and easy to find.

Side note to the Jim Murray-watchers: Crown Royal’s Northern Harvest Rye and Heaven Hill’s Pikesville Rye made the headlines this year by topping his 2015 best-of list, but Murray gives the Bulleit a 96. Just one man’s opinion, of course, but in this case, I think he’s right on the money.

Cheers, friends! -BO

Buy Bulleit whiskey online at Mash + Grape

Orphan Barrel Rhetoric Review

Producer: Orphan Barrel/Diageo. Distiller: undisclosed/Bernheim. ABV: 45.1%. Age: 21 years. Mashbill: 86% corn, 8% barley, 6% rye. Price: $100-130.

Diageo’s Orphan Barrel project raised a ruckus even before it was launched in early 2014. The spirits giant was coy about the source of the five “old and rare limited edition whiskies” in the line, suggesting that they themselves didn’t know where the barrels came from, while simultaneously trying to capture some Pappy magic by hinting the juice was distilled at Stitzel-Weller.

Chuck Cowdery best expressed the response of gimlet-eyed enthusiasts:

The problem is that while these products have interesting true histories, Diageo isn’t emphasizing that. Instead, they made up a front company to sell them, coined some jokey names, and designed some retro-style packaging, all of which is silly and belittling to the ostensibly fine bourbon inside. This is an example of a scotch company treating American whiskey like flavored vodka.

Sleuthing by Cowdery and others revealed the true sources: Old Blowhard (the oldest release in the line) was from the old Bernheim distillery; Barterhouse, Forged Oak, and Rhetoric were from the current Bernheim distillery (owned by Heaven Hill); and Lost Prophet was from George T. Stagg (now Buffalo Trace).

Diageo has taken some lumps for lack of transparency, and the dust has mostly settled now, making it a bit easier to evaluate the whiskies on their merits.

When I first dove into the line in 2014, the Rhetoric 20 was my favorite. The  2015 release, Rhetoric 21, retains the title. As the ages imply, each Rhetoric release is a year older than the previous one, making the project an experiment in the precise moment at which a fine older bourbon gets too damn oaky. For my money, the 26-year-old Orphan Barrel Old Blowhard, now discontinued, was well past that point.

The Rhetoric is another story entirely. It’s a symphony of dark chocolate, Christmas spices, and damp parchment. You never want to take your nose out of the glass–then the palate is just as rewarding. On the sweeter side. Medium bodied and shining brilliantly at 45.1% ABV, though it’ll yield still more spice with a drop of water. Plenty of oak, but still well integrated. I poured this as a first dram for Big Daddy Oakstave during his last West Coast visit, and I couldn’t get him to drink anything else for days.

I’m a big fan of full disclosure, and of substance rather than hype. I’m also a big fan of this whiskey. Let’s hope Diageo gets the message that good marketing and transparency can go hand-in-hand–and with the canniness of today’s enthusiast community, they need to.

Let’s also hope Diageo keeps releasing bourbons this good. -BO

Buy Orphan Barrel whisky online at Mash + Grape