Ardbeg Dark Cove - The... err... darkest Ardbeg ever... ish.

December 5, 2016

Ardbeg Dark Cove - The... err... darkest Ardbeg ever... ish.

As Ardbeg has had a penchant for doing over the past few years, they're produced something both instantly detestable and delicious. Allow me to explain.

The Ardbeg marketing machine is a serious corporate Death Star armed with three-wheeled motorized tricycles and solid gold bottles with S&M whiskey harnesses. And they seem to need this incessant hum drum of clich├ęd whiskypiphany (just made that up!) combined with over-the-top accessorization in order to pedal No-Age-Statement whiskies in a myriad of questionably different limited releases, consistently over $100/bottle. Hey, it's good work if you can get it. 

So when the latest Ardbeg limited release "Dark Cove" came out, we were predisposed to derision...





Add to our expected arsenal of abuse the fact that the label says all kinds of silly things on it.

"Take this whisky and hide it well. For its heart has been matured in DARK SHERRY CASKS, imparting waves of treacle toffee, coal tar, squid ink, noodles and toasted coffee grounds. The DARKEST ARDBEG ever."

The word "heart" actually does mean something when it comes to distilling - this isn't it. And doesn't this just seem like a list of dark things? Would you want to taste "squid ink" in your whisky? More to the point, this isn't the darkest Ardbeg ever. Not by a long shot. Here's what a dark Ardbeg looks like:



Here's the coal tar, squid ink, & coffee grounds Dark Cove:



Ok, ok, but enough kvetching about how it's not the darkest ever, it's not even that dark, and why do people keep trying to market "darkness" as if they're selling spray tan?  Let's taste it.

Tasting Notes

Nose: It really does smell delicious. There's a lot of peat, and it's just wrapped up beautifully in sweet black licorice. There's all kinds of good overripe fruits going on, like sickly sweet melons and guavas, in a good way... a really good way. There's some good leather polish, cough drops, and ocean brine. Weird bunch of notes to put together, but it's instantly recognizable as a quality malt. We'd be shocked if there wasn't at least a mix of some well-matured spirit in there despite the lack of age statement. 

Palate: The mouth-feel is just HUGE. Like sipping on castor oil, it absolutely coats your throat on the way down and lingers around the little pockets in your mouth. Very enjoyable. Note to self - if the 92 proofer is this thick, must make a point to try the 110 proof big brother, must be like crude oil. It's a very well balanced palate with more honey and traditional sherry notes like raisins & plums. 

Finish: Much lighter on the phenolic peat fire than your typical Ardbeg, the finish continues the trend here of wrapping up the smoke in the sweetness and fruit. It's memorable, but not in the "hours and hours of smoldering smoke" kind of way you've grown to expect from Ardbeg. This is a much more nuanced finish with the texture of the palate coming to the fore as the most memorable element. 

Review

Yes, yes it's still a NAS bottle for over a hundred dollars (or good luck finding the 110 proof committee version for under $250!), so we're supposed to be pissed off here. Sure, ok, we're still a little pissed off trying to pick the squid ink out of our teeth. But this stuff is GOOD. It's really an awesome drinking dram and still better than many >$100 bottles out there in our opinion. It's like what Corryvreckan was shooting for, with big fruits playing off against the peat, although Corry was a miss for us. This one nails it.

So good job Ardbeg, yet again despite having to climb the wall of marketing yakety yak, this malt is damn tasty.

Cheers/SB

Live podcast with Signatory Vintage

November 24, 2016

Live podcast with Signatory Vintage

If you're a fan of SB, you know that Signatory Vintage is one of our all-time favorite indie bottlers.  They have an epic collection (actually 3 collections) of malts focusing on Islay and Highland malts unchillfiltered, uncolored, with offerings at 92 proof and full cask strength. And they just always seem to pick the choicest barrels and release them in the perfect casks at the perfect age.

So we were very excited when Signatory agreed to lead our November Beast Masters Club tasting. This was by far the most far-reaching malt tasting we've done to date with bottles dating back to 1973, two big smoky Islay malts, and a fantastic 25 year Highland Park.

Ben (left) and Steve (right) talk with Tricia Chimento as we taste through the Signatory Vintage lineup

Please join our live Beast Masters Crew and listen to the podcast. (Or listen on iTunes)   If you're interested in any of the bottles they're available in our shop.


Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  Oh and by the way, SmokyBeast hit a million page views this week, so thanks for all your continued love and support!!!

Cheers/SB



Interview with James and Peter Wills from Kilchoman

November 18, 2016

Interview with James and Peter Wills from Kilchoman

As part of their US East Coast Tour, James and Peter Wills from Kilchoman Distillery sat down with us for a podcast. It was a fun night as they tasted us through the entire Kilchoman line including the delicious new 8-year, and their limited release US Tour Bottle, a cask strength version of their flagship Machir Bay single malt.


I got to pour them some of my SmokyBeast SAOS Rye, which was a fitting welcome to NYC for these two.  Check out the full podcast or tune in on iTunes!
Five Reasons To Buy Scotch From Independent Bottlers

November 9, 2016

Five Reasons To Buy Scotch From Independent Bottlers

There are two types of scotch on the market.

"OB" - aka Original Bottlings come directly from the distillery. Lagavulin 16 Year, Macallan 12 Year, and Laphroaig 10 Year are examples of "OB"s. 

"IB" - Independent Bottlings come from third-party companies that purchase whisky from distilleries, age it themselves, and then bottle it under their own brand. Signatory Vintage, Gordon & MacPhail, and Douglas Laing are examples of "IB"s. 

 

Here are five reasons that you should be adding IB's to your whisky collection:

  1. Vintage - OBs are about consistency. Laphroaig has to produce tens of thousands of bottles annually, and each one has to taste the same. IB's have no such restrictions. They age each barrel just to the point at which they think it's perfect and then release it at whatever vintage (year of distillation and age) that they like. Each release is different which is part of the fun.
  2. Water - OBs are typically diluted with water to "proof them down" from their natural alcohol content to a standard market level. Lagavulin, Laphroaig, and Macallan are watered down to 43%. IB's can release at any proof and will often offer cask strength, undiluted expressions of your favorite malts.
  3. Caramel - The dirty little secret of many OBs is that they use caramel food coloring to darken the spirit. Even our favorite OB, Lagavulin, contains caramel coloring. IBs almost never add coloring.
  4. Chillfiltration - OBs tend to chill-filter their spirits to prevent inconsistencies and cloudiness in the bottle. Most IB's will specifically list "uncolored, unchillfiltered" on the bottle. This means you're getting richer flavors that may have been lost in the filtration process.
  5. Price - With an IB you can find seriously well-aged malts at a much more affordable price than the official releases. If you're looking for a 30 or 40 year malt, this is a great place to start!

Next week, our whiskey club Beast Masters Club will be sitting down with Tricia Chimento who represents Signatory Vintage, one of our all time favorite Independent Bottlers. Tune in to our next podcast to learn from Tricia about the ins and outs of hunting for special barrels, maturing, and bottling legendary independent releases. And stay tuned for hand picked bottles available in the Beast Masters Shop from the Signatory collection.
Kilchoman US Tour Bottle - Cask Strength Machir Bay

November 4, 2016

Kilchoman US Tour Bottle - Cask Strength Machir Bay

Last week Joshua Hatton poured me one of the best tastings I've ever had. His Whisky Jewbilee festival bottlings are amazing.  Where else are you tasting 15-year Heaven Hill cask strength bourbon next to 28-year Bunnahabhain, next to a limited release bottle from Kilchoman? Life in the fast lane...

The lineup


The Kilchoman bottle in question was the US East Coast Tour bottling that they just released. In a nutshell, they put aside a small allotment of what would eventually become their flagship Machir Bay single malt and released it at full (116.8) proof.  Only around 200 bottles were released nationwide.



Tasting Notes

Nose:  Kilchoman has a very recognizable signature nose leading with white chocolate, olive oil, peat smoke, and pink peppercorns.  This has all those things wrapped up very nicely into a lively and integrated aroma.

Palate: Another Kilchoman trait is that a big smoky and full nose results in a very mellow and smooth taste. If you poured this for me blind and told me it was a <10 year 120 proof whisky I'd never believe you. The taste is very fresh with some grass and herbals going on, the peat carries through but is not overwhelming, and the sweets and chocolates finish on the back of the tongue.

Finish: The cask strength really flourishes on the finish with big full peat smoke flavor balancing out the intense strength of the spirit. This one lasts a while with little embers of roasted peated barley echoing through your sinuses for a few minutes.  Very lovely Kilchoman expression.  We tasted through the entire line as well as some single barrels and jumped at the chance to offer this selection to the group, probably the best Kilchoman I've tasted yet.


left to right: Ben (BMC co-founder), Me (Steve), Josh, Jim (Xavier Wines owner) hitting some very rare bottles...

You can listen to the whole live recording of the tasting and interview with Josh here.

At the time of writing this we have 5 bottles left of the Kilchoman East Coast Tour bottle...  (If you want a heads-up next time before they're all gone, sign up for free membership!)

Thanks for all the feedback on the Booker's Rye post!  By popular request, we're going to follow up with some recommendations for more affordable / attainable ryes that you can find on the shelves.  Stay tuned!

Cheers/SB


Bookers 13-Year Rye Review

November 1, 2016

Bookers 13-Year Rye Review

Is this where we are? Really??? Four hundred bucks for a thirteen year rye?!??

Ok, I mean it is really though to find well aged American rye these days. But Jeez Louise that just seems crazy. Anyway thanks to our buddy J-Whiskey for sharing a sample of this high priced beast for us to taste. Is it worth the hunt and the cash to own one of these priced limited edition beauties? Read on.


Booker's is one of those house favorites, a whiskey-drinker's whiskey. And with good reason. They've been doing it right since back before drinking cask strength bourbon was even a thing. And Booker's has a lot going for it. You can get it at any decent bar or liquor store, it's cask strength, it's age-stated (7 years), it's $70. How many bourbons measure up to that criteria these days?

So when they announced that they were putting out a rye, we were excited. Honestly we'd hoped for exactly the same concept - good reliable affordable cask strength age-stated rye. Why is that so hard to find these days? Honestly since Smooth Ambler discontinued their private barrel program I can't think of a single example!


Well needless to say our excitement waned a bit when we found out that this was going to be a super limited release bottling that was going to run over $300. We had the opportunity to buy one for $370 and we passed. Then when all the reviews started coming out we immediately regretted it. With such incredible demand, why wouldn't Booker's put out a rye as part of their standard release? you'd think they could charge a little more ($125 maybe??) and have a seven year rye, just as badass and delicious as Booker's Bourbon. Perhaps it's because they didn't actually distill this rye??  Reading the description on their site it's quite vague.

This is from their site:
"Dad saw the difficult, temperamental rye grain as a challenge – small, but tricky to work with – and he never backed down from a challenge. So, in 2003, he went big and laid down barrels of a rye whiskey in his favorite rack house – creating the first ever Booker’s Rye Whiskey."
What does "laid down barrels" mean? The wording could mean that they distilled them or sourced them from somewhere else.  The rest of the sentence "of a rye whiskey" seems to imply the latter. If they'd made it, they wouldn't refer to it as "a rye whiskey" they would just say "rye whiskey" right? Ok now we're going crazy with the second guessing and the linguistics. End of the day, there ain't gonna be much of this stuff and it's gonna be crazy pricey! So let's get to the tasting and see if our regrets were justified and we were stupid for not spending a whole month of our Cheetos budget on a bottle of this.

Tasting Notes

Nose: The nose is pretty hot. Getting a lot of alcohol. That's sort of to be expected at 136 proof, but at the same time we've definitely nosed whiskey at this proof that was more mellow. Giving it a few inches of respect and nosing from a distance, we get a heavy candied orange flavor here, wrapped in dark chocolate, lots of oak, and some herbal back notes like mint and tarragon and spicy pepper. It's spirit first, followed by sweets/fruits, then spice.

Palate: Wow we were expecting fire on the tongue but it's super smooth. Very sweet on the palate doubling down on the candied orange rinds, white sugar cubes, and then coming back with the wood and spice at the bottom of the mouth. It's not oily or very viscous, but clean and sweet with a backdrop of nice wood and spices.

Finish: The finish stays strong with a very balanced punch. The very sweet nature of the taste balances out the spirit heat and it all comes together with a short punchy finale. There's extremely little burn for something this high test. We're impressed.


Review

Ok, damn it, this shit is good. Is it "Whiskey of the Year" good? Probably. Are we sad that we didn't plunk down $400 for a bottle? No. Come on folks that's cra-cra. It's one thing if it's a thirty year malt or it's a mothballed distillery that will never be available again. But this is not one of those things. Nonetheless if you love great rye, you have few options right now. Thomas Handy and Sazerac 18 are all but impossible to score. Most of the private barrel stuff is gone. Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye is going for $750 a bottle. So if you're lucky enough to even see one of these at retail and swoop it up without hesitation, we forgive you. But we still can't quite get there. It's delicious but we're going to have to stick with our little sample and cry ourselves to sleep.

Cheers/SB
Smoky Beast vs. The Whiskey Warrior

October 21, 2016

Smoky Beast vs. The Whiskey Warrior

Amidst the decaying bones and rusted armaments of fallen would-be heroes, the Whiskey Warrior edged his way into Smoky Beast's lair. The overwhelming odor of peat smoke stung his nostrils and his eyes watered from the preponderance of blindingly strong alcohol in the air. Steeling his reflexes, WW gripped the helm of his broadsword with anticipation. Step after step he descended deeper in to the dark cave. Then suddenly a gust of wind blew out his feeble torch and he was left standing alone in darkness. Alone, he thought, until he heard a thunderous growl echoing all around him. He turned just in time to see two scarlet crescent-shaped eyes racing toward him out of the darkness...



Beast Masters Club podcast with Joe Beatrice is live!

October 10, 2016

Beast Masters Club podcast with Joe Beatrice is live!

Last week Beast Masters Club sat down with the founder of Barrell Bourbon, Joe Beatrice, and learned all about his process for sourcing, picking, bottling, and blending barrels of American whiskey. Then we tasted through samples of some of Barrell's first single barrel picks, with the grand finale being the unveiling of the first Beast Masters Club private barrel.  It was a great time and we're happy to announce the podcast is live on our site and on iTunes!


Tasting Three Four Roses Single Barrels, NASA Liquors and Elliot's Select Limited Release

October 4, 2016

Tasting Three Four Roses Single Barrels, NASA Liquors and Elliot's Select Limited Release

Dear faithful beasties,

Sorry for the lack of new reviews over the past few weeks!  We've been up to our necks getting Beast Masters Club off the ground.  (Thanks to those who've signed up so far!!). We had our first event on Friday with Joe Beatrice of Barrell Bourbon and it was awesome. The podcast of our interview will be up in the next couple of days, and our first private barrel pick is already on sale.



Back to the Grind

Anyway, last night we got the chance to catch up on some bottle tasting, and the first thing we wanted to dive into were some of the new Four Roses single barrels. Our friends at NASA Liquors just released two barrels, and they always pick great stuff. Plus, we had a bottle of the 2016 Limited Release Single Barrel, the first one chosen by new Master Distiller Brent Elliot on hand.  So why not a three-way?  (Is there ever a good answer to that question?)




NASA Liquors Four Roses Private Barrel 36-2D
8-Years, 9-Months Old OBSQ 57.7%



Nose: This one comes at you with a fairly punchy nose, mostly honey, mint, and some citrus (grapefruit?). Coming back in you get a nice dose of leather. There's not a ton going on here with the nose but it's nice and composed.

Palate: Fairly thin mouthfeel with lots more mint coming through on the tongue.

Finish: Pretty hot finish, like pink peppercorns and spirit heat.

Review: This is a nice bourbon.  It's super drinkable for over 115 proof!  The spice and mint flavors are way out front.  It lacks the rich vanilla, molasses, char, cocoa that we'd look for in a top-level Four Roses bourbon, but all-in-all we'd definitely buy more of this if we found it on the shelf.


"Elliott's Select" 2016 Limited Edition Single Barrel
14 Years Old OESK Barrel 47-16 Warehouse QN 53.1%




Nose: There's something strange about the nose on this one. You can tell it's got some age on it, and that's good. The wood is there and it's nicely integrated into the spirit. But there's a weird kind of funk to the nose here that's just not doing it for us. It's kind of meaty, but not the good bbq meaty that we like, more of a chunky meaty. Ok that made no sense.  It's hard to explain.

Palate: It's got a CrackerJacks thing going on with caramel, popcorn, and nuts.

Finish: It goes pretty sour and wood heavy on the finish.  Not really an enjoyable aftertaste on this guy.

Review: Not a bad whiskey per se, but there's just some weird stuff here. It goes from meaty to sour. There's something nice in between with some richness and wood, but it doesn't carry through to the end. While all of the limited release Four Roses bottles have been pretty good in the last few years, this one isn't a standout.


NASA Liquors Four Roses Private Barrel 1-2M
9-Years, 6-Months Old OBSV Warehouse JE 59.7%




Nose: This one's hitting all the right notes: rich, woody, char, mint, spice, a really nice complex nose going on here.

Palate: Fuller on the mouth than the other two and packing a brilliant punch of good spirit warmth, spice, sweetness, and nuts. Hersey's chocolate with almonds.

Finish: For the highest proof bottle so far, this one finishes up beautifully. It has less heat than the first bottle, and way more richness and length in the finish than the 4RLE.

Review: This is the great thing about private barrels, sometimes you just get a gem. This one is definitely that. Granted, we're big fans of the OBSV recipe with its spicy high-rye mashbill and its creamy and fruity yeast, so some of this may be personal preference. But this one drinks like a dream. At almost 120 proof, with big bold flavors, this is a beast of the highest caliber.




Thanks again for the patience over the last month. We've really been putting a ton of work into Beast Masters Club and we hope that you all join and listen as we explore whiskey with some of the brightest minds in the game. But we are also committed to continuing to write the reviews that brought you to this site in the first place.  Keep in touch, and let us know what you'd like to read about!

Cheers/SB





Announcing - BEAST MASTERS CLUB

September 13, 2016

Announcing - BEAST MASTERS CLUB

Have you ever wanted to try some of the epic whiskeys that we review on SmokyBeast?  Ever wanted to sit down with some of the master distillers and whiskey experts that make this stuff? Interested in getting your filthy paws on private barrel selections and limited release bottlings? Well take a seat and pour yourself something strong because we've got YUGE news!

Introducing Beast Masters Club



Here's the skinny:

Beast Masters Club is the first of its kind: a combination buyers clubpodcast, and live tasting event. Once per month, we will be hosting a whiskey tasting at the beautiful downstairs tasting room at Xavier Wine Co. Each tasting will be led by an industry leader in the whiskey business. We will record the interview live for the Beast Masters Club Podcast. And here's the best part: each guest has agreed to offer a special bottling just for the club. We're talking private barrels and super limited release bottlings hand-picked by us and our guest experts.

So, if you're in or around New York City you can join us for one of these special events, the first one is on Friday September 30th. We only have 20 seats for each one so act fast if you want a ticket.

If you're not in the NY area, you can pre-order the bottle from Xavier and subscribe to the podcast. We'll send you our private barrel pick and you can pop it open and sip along with us while you listen to the live recording of the event.

So please, JOIN THE CLUB!  There's no cost or obligation and you'll get emails about all the great stuff coming up with Beast Masters!  We've put a lot of thought into creating an experience that we could share with all our readers and we're tremendously excited to share some of our whiskey experience with you.

Cheers/SB