Whisky Review – Glenmorangie The Quinta Ruban

This bottle was one of my purchases early in My Whisky Journey ™.  I had just taken my car to get an oil change, which for some unexplained reason lasted north of an hour and a half.  On the way out of the dealership, I opted to veer into the liquor store right next door.  I was determined to pick out a nice Scotch, but really had no idea what to pick.  While sitting in the dealership waiting room, avoiding their free donuts, I had stumbled across a listing of the awards given at the most recent San Francisco World Spirits Competition.  Figuring that this was as good a resource as any, I took the award listing into the store and basically walked the whisky aisle, trying to figure out which bottles in stock were award winners.  Eventually, I came across The Quinta Ruban from The Glenmorangie.  The packaging looked all classy-like, and it was a gold medal winner!  Which is like the third best medal you can win.  Not bad.  I Googled a couple of reviews, which were mostly positive, and pulled the trigger.

While it is my policy to give virtually no information in my reviews, I’ll note that the Quinta Ruban is a 12 year old whisky that is finished in ruby port casks.  It is part of their “Extra Matured” range, along with the Lasanta (Oloroso casks) and the Nectar D’Or (Sauternes).  OK.  Information over.

Nose – The nose starts out with significant wood and caramel sweetness, almost close to a Bourbon.  I also get something like a corn muffin and some earthiness.  That is some mix.  Finishing up with peppery spice.  And is that nutmeg?

Taste – Rich and lip-smacking.  I get a lot of dark fruit – cherries, raisins maybe?  And, of course, you really get that taste of port in the back of your mouth.  I’ve heard people talk about mint in this, but I totally don’t get it.  Little Bitty Bits picks up a taste that reminds her of Brachs caramels.

Finish – Shorter than expected.  I find it interesting that the flavors tend to evaporate at the finish, leaving you with a (pleasant) heat.

With a splash of water, I find that the Quinta Ruban doesn’t really show different flavors (as many whiskies do), but rather just becomes a bit smoother, which is perfectly tasty.

Score – B+.  As I said above, I bought this bottle awhile back.  In its early stages, I wasn’t exactly tearing through it, but I was sort of trying to train myself to enjoy Scotch.  When I got it down to about a quarter left, I made sure not to have any more without writing down my notes.  Well, somehow, the bottle managed to sit untouched into April, when I picked it up with notebook in hand.  What do you know, this time around, I was loving it.  I think this was definitely a sign of palate evolution (a topic which I will touch on in some depth in my next review).

That said, the few times I tasted the last quarter of the bottle, my score thoughts have been between an A- and a B-.  It seems that this is really one that depends on my mood.

Other, better reviews:

Official Notes from The Glenmorangie

The Malt Imposter

The Malt Review

The Whisky Wire



Whisky Review – Compass Box Asyla

Apologies for the lack of recent posts.  I have no excuse.  I’m lazy.  Here’s hoping this post begins a run of regular posts.  It’s no fun starting every post with an apology for lack of activity.

Let’s move on.  My next review is of a blended whisky from the good folks at Compass Box.  At least I’m guessing that they are good folks.  For whatever reason, I imagine that anyone involved in the whisky industry is a good person.  Because they, in some small way, bring me joy.  Anyhow, it seems that Compass Box is setting the interwebs on fire.  A few months back, having recently read that the Whisky Advocate had named Compass Box’s Great King Street as their Blended Whisky of the Year, I figured that it was a worthwhile early Scotch purchase (especially with its sub-$40 price tag).  So off I drove to a big, supermarket-type liquor store to pick up the GKS, and wouldn’t you know they don’t carry it.  I did, however, spot the Compass Box Asyla and, too lazy to drive down the road to the next liquor store, did a quick iPhone search for Asyla reviews.  After seeing a few positive writeups, I grabbed it and was on my way.

Perhaps not the most scientific reasoning, but hey, things happen for a reason.  Right?  Right?

Let’s go to the tasting notes.

Nose – A nice light nose, and one whose flavors I found difficult to nail down.  Honeyed apple sweetness, an herbal (grass? mint?) note, and a surprisingly robust alcohol heat that singes the nose hairs a bit (not that I have nose hairs – I wax).

Taste – On the palate, I was again surprised that the heat hits first and is really a primary component of the taste.  Also, less sweet then expected.  Some juniper and a hint of vanilla.  Very light-bodied and subtle.  After 15 or 20 minutes exposed to the open air, it seems to loosen up a bit, becoming smoother with some of the sweet flavors being highlighted (including a taste of banana?).

Finish – The finish remains rather dry, and gives a pleasant gentle warmness.

In my opinion, not a whisky that benefits from a splash of water.

ScoreB-.  It seems that this was just too light and delicate for me.  I enjoy a nice light, honeyed dram as much as the next guy, but this was just too small.  One other note – I had this bottle open for more than a full month before I wrote down my tasting notes.  That is often the case, as I only bring out my notebook from time to time, and am usually just enjoying a leisurely drink.  It seems that over the course of time, my appreciation for the Asyla faded.  Early on, I quite enjoyed it, but by the time I wrote down my notes, it was too small/light for my tastes.  Now, it could be that my tastes are changing rapidly (which they are, without question), but perhaps it could also be that the whisky changes after it has been open a while?  I’ve seen other references on the whiskynets to this happening.  But this is the only bottle that seemed to experience such a drastic change.  What say you, whisky commenters?

Other, better reviews:

Official Notes from Compass Box

Whisky Israel

Jewish Single Malt Whisky Society

It’s Just The Booze Dancing


Quick Review – Bowmore Legend

The other day, Little Bitty Bits and I were at our local upscale pizza joint (the kind that serves individual pizzas with fancy toppings).  The place has a little single malt selection that isn’t the worst ever – Glenlivet 12, Glenlivet 15, Glenmorangie Original, Macallan 12, Lagavulin 16 and the Bowmore Legend.  Now, by this visit, I had tried each of those whiskies aside from the the last two.  And from my reading up on whisky in the last few months, here is what I know about them: they are both Islays, the Lagavulin is beloved by many as a great peaty whisky, and the Legend is known for being one of the cheapest good whiskies around.

Faced with this decision, you have to understand two things about me.  First, I am a wimp.  The murderer’s row of Laphroig, Ardbeg, Caol Ila and the like scare me.  Well, they don’t scare me scare me.  I just have a difficult time seeing myself enjoying something that people describe as having the taste of campfire.  Second, I am cheap.  Most of the other pours at this place had run me $9 or $10, and I was hoping to maybe give the wallet a slight break (in the end, though, I think they still charge $8.50 for the Legend).

So as the post title shows, I went with the Legend.  Here are my notes.  They are short and sweet, because drinking this whisky is a pretty short and sweet experience.  On the nose, this reminds me a lot of Johnny Walker Black – a little hit of smoke and some citrus-y sweetness in back.  On the palate, it is very light bodied – almost watery.  Again, you get a little puff of smoke and then a light taste of honey.  Then the show’s over.

Reading back, it sounds like I might have been a little too harsh.  This is a pretty straightforward whisky, not a peat monster.  And it easily passes my “are you pouring it down the drain” test.  It is just … simple.  But for $26 a bottle, I wouldn’t fault anyone on a budget for using it as their go-to Tuesday night sipper.

Really, though, the whole reason for posting this review is so that I can show you this video that I recently stumbled across.  I was on Youtube, checking out some videos by the great Ralfy, and I somehow found an additional review of Bowmore Legend.  I just couldn’t have been more entertained.  Enjoy:

My favorite part of blogging is when some of my visitors talk whisky in the comments.  Almost to a person, they know more than me about the subject, so it is a great learning experience.  So I’ll open it up to you – what are your picks for great whisky values?

I’ll start with a few picks of my own.  Two bottles that I quite enjoy for under $35 locally are Glenmorangie Original and Old Pulteney 12 (WW reviews both upcoming ) (and actually, if I had to settle on just one value bottle, OP12 might be the one).  A couple of dollars higher, and I’m coming to realize that I am all about Highland Park 12 (at $41).

For another data point, we can look to Ryan’s Value Whiskey Reviews.  For his highest value rating, he also lists the Highland Park 12, and also highlights Talisker $10, at $48 per.  What say you, good readers?

Quick Reviews – Random 12 Year Old Edition

A quick post to give a rundown on a few of the whiskies that I’ve tried recently while out for dinner with Little Bitty Bits.  All happen to be 12 year olds, largely because I’m poor and the selections at these establishments are rather weak.  Two standards and one less popular.

Glenlivet 12 Year Old

Anyone ever tried this before?  Yeah, I thought so.  Nonetheless, this was my first time.  I had previously tried Glenfiddich 12, which I did not enjoy, and since I automatically lump Glenfiddich and Glenlivet into the same category, my expectations were less than sky high.  In the end, though, I was pleasantly surprised.  On the nose, the big flavor is apple.  Very light and somewhat floral as well.  An enticing nose.  On the palate, the apple comes through with all kinds of baking flavors.  In two tastings, I wrote down: apple, cinnamon, buttery baked good, brown sugar, and buttered toasted nuts.  All flavors that I like.  Relatively short on the finish, but this undoubtedly wins the battle of the popular 12 year old Glens.

Macallan 12 Year Old

Another well known dram that I hadn’t yet tried.  As I mentioned in an earlier comment on this blog, the Macallan 12 reminded me of the Balvenie DoubleWood, which isn’t the highest praise (for my tastes).  On the nose, that sherry hits you.  There is also some kind of Amaretto flavor as well, and then a pretty big blast of heat.  On the palate, it starts very smooth, and then turns up the heat.  A very large flavor.  Some early cherry flavor which evolves into a darker fruit and spice.  A finish that lingers.  I can see why people like this, but it just isn’t my thing.

Cragganmore 12 Year Old

I was excited to see this offered last night at a new restaurant that LBB and I tried.  The bar there had a quite eclectic selection of whiskies – not necessarily extensive, but just a handful of less common bottles.  One was the Cragganmore 12, which was on my “to try” list.  This whisky literally has the lightest nose that I’ve smelled.  Jamming my nose deep into the glass, all I got was a very light “whisky” flavor (if that makes any sense, which it doesn’t).  On the palate, it is light bodied but flavorful.  I get a little wisp of smoke, a fair amount of brine (reminding me a bit of Old Pulteney 12), and something like toasted walnut.  More interesting flavor than I was expecting on the nose.  Not necessarily something that I’ll look to purchase a bottle of, however.

Quick Reviews – Glenfiddich 125th Anniversary Tasting Party

Big news here on the blog.  I created a Twitter account last weekend (@WhiskeyWriter, natch).  I’m basically using it to track all of the great whisk(e)y tweeters out there (“tweeters” is the preferred nomenclature, right?).  And there are a lot.  For my own tweets, I’m going to be retweeting good whiskey reviews, local tasting events, giveaways, etc., and generally interesting tweets and pictures.  And occasionally tweeting back and forth with distilleries and distributors in thinly-veiled attempts at getting them to send me free samples (kidding, of course!).

Anyhow, last Sunday night, while toying around with my new account, I stumbled across a tweet mentioning an upcoming Glenfiddich tasting party in Philly.  After tracking it down a bit, I managed to get myself on the invite list to the tasting, which was held last Tuesday night at the very interesting Mask and Wig Club in Philadelphia.  Aside from that, there were no further details.

So with my buddy Gordon in tow, I headed to the event wondering just what was in store.  The answer in short was that it was 90% party and 10% whisky tasting.  After checking my coat at the door, the good folks from Glenfiddich (or rather, their attractive 25-year-old fembot proxies) ushered me straight to the bar for a cocktail.  I’m pretty sure they read my prior post regarding the value of instantaneous drink delivery at a whisky event.  So far, so good.  The bar area was darkly lit, with a whisky cask in the center of the room, apparently related to Glenfiddich’s new Cask of Dreams offering.

Have I shown up for a seance? Either way, I'm ready to communicate with some spirits.

As I nursed my cocktail and sized up the crowd, a disturbing bass line began shaking the room.  One of the fembots (Glenbots?) informed us that the upstairs area was open.  Like a good lemming, I headed up with the crowd to check it out.  My initial reaction was that I had stumbled upon a wedding reception.  There was a band onstage blasting away at all of the wedding reception classics (“Brick House,” “Brown-Eyed Girl,” “You Shook Me” and the like).  Along the right wall was a bar serving the same cocktails as downstairs (having no issues with mixing Glenfiddich’s 12 year old with sugary juices), and on the left wall were tables featuring the 12 year old, 15 year old, and 18 year old expressions.  This tasting was clearly not going to be part of the slow whisky movement recently championed by Jason Debly.

I can't even hear myself drink.

Again, I was interested in whether there would be any educational tilt to the evening, but for this night, the party was clearly the main event.  The extent of the tasting conversation was when the Glenbots directed you to the bottled flavor accessories as they poured your dram (pears for the 12 year old, honey for the 15 year old, and oak chips for the 18 year old).

In the end, it amounted to drinking some free booze at a wedding reception, which actually isn’t the worst way to spend a Tuesday night.  Plus I hadn’t yet tasted the 15 or the 18.  So here are my quick notes (which may or may not have been affected by the fact that there were waiters serving aromatic foods all around me, and that the band was incredibly loud).

Glenfiddich 12 Year Old

World’s best selling single malt, right?  I hadn’t been thrilled with it the few times I had tried it in the past, but maybe that would change.  The nose was very light (oh, quick praise of the tasting – the single malts were served in Glencairn glasses).  Maybe a little bit of vanilla and pepper?  Not even sure.  Aromas were hard to detect.  On the palate, despite the official description of pear notes, I got almost no fruit.  It was dry, fairly smooth, with a peppery spice.  Not entirely pleasant, and somewhat tightly wound.  After a few minutes in the glass, shaking to the sweet bass lines of KC and the Sunshine Band, the 12 relaxed a bit.  The finish, which was somewhat bitter at first, smoothed out.  Still not my favorite whisky.

Glenfiddich 15 Year Old

On the nose, the suggested honey is indeed the dominant note.  There is also a nice fruitiness, close to the pear on the 12 year’s table.  A very pleasant nose.  On the palate, it is very smooth, light and sweet.  The nose notes come through with honey, or perhaps a little darker sugar like molasses.  Plus the fruit remains, in a pear and banana combination.  There is also a hint of oak and maybe chocolate (not sure, hard to tell while “Celebrate” by Kool and the Gang is blaring).  Spices intensify on the finish.  A nice drink.

Glenfiddich 18 Year Old

Overall, I thought the 18 year old really resembled the 15 year old.  To me, they seemed like close brothers, while they were both just cousins with the 12 year old.  On the nose, it is almost difficult to distinguish between the two, with the 18 also demonstrating a very nice sugary sweetness.  On the palate, this too is super smooth, light and sweet.  I think the distinction is that the 18 year old’s sweetness is more oaky vanilla, and less pear and banana.  I also found a little bit of smoke dancing through to the finish.  Again, this is a whisky that I’ll never turn down (and one that goes down very easily while listening to songs like “Funkytown,” as shown by my haggard state at the end of the evening).

Glenfiddich Cask of Dreams

As a poorly kept secret, at a point later in the night, after the band had finished “Love Shack,” they brought out tastings of the new Cask of Dreams.  This is the US-focused expression where Glenfiddich took oak casks to major US cities and rolled the casks around, having people write their dreams on them.  Then, they brought the casks back to Dufftown (great name for a distillery home base), and finished this whisky in those casks.  At this point in the evening, my tasting notes were getting hazy (as they tend to when I’m trying multiple whiskies), so I don’t recall a lot of the nose, but on the palate, I found this to be a remarkably light, and frankly delicious, dram.  Again, very sweet – likely sweeter than the 15 and the 18 – with vanilla, apple and cinnamon.  Yummy.


Glenfiddich is in every liquor store.  It is in most bars.  It is known as being the best selling single malt in the world.  When I am confronted with these facts, my natural instinct is to avoid it.  I don’t want to be like everyone else.  I root against the Yankees because they’re the Yankees.  I eschew U2, preferring to find new indie bands.  I boycott Applebees, instead frequenting local holes-in-the-wall for dinners out.  But here’s the thing — often times, these huge juggernauts are huge for a reason.  The Yankees are usually a fantastic baseball team.  U2 has a huge catelog of really outstanding music.  Applebees … well, it really is best to avoid Applebees.  The point, though, applies to Glenfiddich.  It is unwise to avoid the brand based solely on their popularity .

The 12, 15, 18 and Cask of Dreams retail locally for about $37, $44, $80 and $100 respectively.  Considering the prices, the Glenfiddich 15 is my undisputed winner of the evening.  I place it on roughly even footing with the 18, and a wee step down from the Cask of Dreams.  At $44, I consider it to be a very worthy investment.  The 12, unfortunately, is one that I will continue to take a pass on.

In all, though, a fun evening.  Many thanks to Glenfiddich for having me.

Quick Reviews – Amrut Whiskey Tasting Dinner

This past Tuesday, I went with my friend Greg to The Dandelion in Philadelphia for an Amrut whiskey tasting dinner, and let me tell you, I was psyched.  First, it was a Tuesday and I was staying out past 7 pm.  Second, the dinner was paired with four courses of good, non-diet eats.  Third, it was a chance to try out some completely new whiskey.  And fourth, well, I forget what fourth was, but the weather was great so it was shaping up to be an outstanding evening.

Then I made mistakes.  My number one mistake was forgetting my pen.  In my whiskeying, I’ve taken to keeping a small Moleskine notebook for taking tasting notes.  I was going to scratch out some reviews of the Amruts that I tasted.  Forgetting the pen meant that I had to peck out my thoughts on my iphone.  Not good.  Bad.  A pain in the ass.  On top of that, I was going to snap a bunch of pics to post, but after the first one, I forgot for awhile.  Then, they turned the lights down, and I was unable to get anything worth anything.

I'm quite a photographer.

Nonetheless, good times were had.  Here was the format of the meal:

Quick word on the food: It was decent.  Pretty good even.  If you are familiar with Stephen Starr restaurants, it was classic Starr.  A step above average, and two steps down from spectacular.  As you can tell, The Dandelion aims for traditional British cuisine (fish and chips, shepards pie and the like), and it scores pretty well.  I do wonder, though, if the dishes were chosen with the whiskey in mind.

More importantly for today’s purposes, though, was the whiskey.  First, a comment on the cocktails.  When we walked through the door at the restaurant, we were handed an Old Fashioned made with Amrut single malt.  Now, I’m sure some traditionalists might scoff at the idea of watering down a single malt with some sugary mixers, and I’ve usually enjoyed my Old Fashioneds with bourbon, but boy this hit the spot.  The more important point, though, is this: if you are putting on a whiskey event, BE SURE TO PROVIDE A DRINK TO EACH PARTICIPANT WITHIN FOUR STEPS OF WALKING THROUGH THE FRONT DOOR.  As you can tell by my deft use of allcaps, this is key.  It tells the people to put on their drinking shoes, and it just provides the mindset for the night.  After this key first step, you can put on a pretty mediocre event, and nobody will really care.

On to my quick Amrut tastings (and note that these are quick reviews, meaning they are only tasted once; for my regular reviews, I am sure to try each whiskey on at least two different occasions to account for factors that may affect a certain tasting, including food I’ve eaten, my mood, my wife’s mood, weather conditions, lunar phases, stock market fluctuations, and the latest American Idol results).

Amrut Fusion

Nose – A full, fruity nose.  Banana, maybe?  Mango?  Also, a little hint of smoke and burnt sugar.

Taste – Blackberry, light-medium smoke, spices and a nice caramel-like sweetness.  I noted that it reminded me of Highland Park 12.  Yummy.

Finish – A lingering smoke.

Comment – I obviously enjoyed this.  I was immediately prepared for this to be my favorite of the night, but was pleasantly surprised to be wrong.

Amrut Two Continents

Nose – Significantly lighter than the Fusion.  No smoke.  Honey and an egg/custard background note.

Taste – Pretty simple on the palate.  Light bodied, sweet honey taste.  A little nutty note.  Rather unimpressive.

Finish – A real alcohol heat came through on the finish, along with an unpleasant, rubber balloon flavor.

Comment – While far from a bad whiskey, nothing about this one stood out for me.

Amrut Intermediate Sherry Cask Aged

Nose – The sherry definitely hits you in the nose.  Also floral/passion fruit, and some of that same egg/custard smell from the Two Continents.  A delicious nose.  I wrote “wonderful” for it.

Taste – My notes had become significantly less descriptive by this point, as it had gotten **ahem** rather late.  I only wrote “my favorite sherried whiskey.”  However, I do recall this having a great creaminess, and hitting on my favorite aspects of dark fruit, vanilla-ish sweetness and clove/cinnamon-type spices.  I’m not always a huge fan of sherried whiskies, but this one was delicious.

Finish – Spice, spice, spice.

Comment – Probably the first sherried whiskey that I’d really seek out.  This was very nice.

In all, three pretty nice drinks.  A couple of other quick notes.  First, while a tasting dinner is nice, I think it really makes accurate tasting difficult.  I find food and its aromas really affect whiskey flavors.  Second, I was interested in the role that the Amrut ambassador played.  He spoke very briefly about Amrut in general before beginning the actual dinner, and then after the three main tastings, he worked the room answering questions.  For me, I think I would have preferred that he walk us through the tastings.  I would have enjoyed that extra educational aspect.  Others, I’m sure, probably preferred to eat their grub and drink their booze.  So I can understand the hosts not wanting to overdo the presentations.

In the end, a fun night with good drink, food and company.  Something that I wished was offered more often in the Philly area.  I’ll be searching for more just like it in the future.

Whisky Review – The Balvenie Doublewood

As noted in my introduction to my whiskey journey, I started down this path in a rather haphazard fashion.  I tried a few whiskies based on a good review here or there, or perhaps because I seemed to recall a good review that, in retrospect, I haven’t been able to since track down.  So when I decided to start this blog (and approach my introduction to whiskey in a somewhat logical fashion), I decided that I’d start at the beginning.  I set out to determine the best “beginner’s” Scotch.  After considering a number of different options, the one single malt that I found was most often recommended was The Balvenie’s DoubleWood.

If you are looking for some notes on The Balvenie’s history, or the coordinates of the crystal-clear stream from which its water is taken, you are at the wrong blog.  I’m just here to review the juice.  However, before I go on, I note that my label appears to be a degree or two askew, with the right side of the front lable being a millimeter or two higher than the left.  That doesn’t appear to be intentional, so perhaps my bottle is a quirky keeper.

Is it crooked?

According to the Balvenie’s label, which I will note is one of the classiest in the Scotch world, this 12 year old benefits from a mellow vanilla spiciness due to its time in oak casks, while imparting fruit and honey from sherry casks.  I’ll be the judge of that.

Nose – From my brand spanking new Glencairn glass I’m getting … some sherry, almost a raspberry flavor.  I also get some wood.  Not vanilla or toast, but like a plain old wood floor.  Also, I really pick up on something unpleasant.  Almost like an apricot soda.  Tart.

Taste – To me, the nose really follows through into the mouth.  Big sherry, again the wood flavor, almost nutty.  Cinnamon.  Medium to full body, no smoke.  And then there is a tart taste toward the end that almost seems a tiny bit carbonated.  Pretty smooth, and the sherry dominates.

Finish – This sticks with you for a fair bit, with the wood floor really resonating as it goes on.  Drying.

I find that this is one dram that benefits from a small splash of water.  Notes with water:

Nose – Seems sweeter on the nose.  I’m getting real honey now.  Again, though, that tingly tartness.

Taste – Smoother than before.  Getting a lot more vanilla.  Sherry remains, as does that bit of cinnamon.

Finish – Finish is shortened a bit by the water.

Comment – This is one whiskey where I believe a few drops of water makes a big difference.  Much smoother, with the big sherry/cinnamon flavor a bit more balanced with the added sweetness of the vanilla and honey aspect.  Not my favorite to date – I’m trending toward at least a few hints of smoke along with a more prominent sweetness – but it wouldn’t send me running from the Scotch Whisky world if this were truly my first taste.  The bottle sure won’t go to waste.

ScoreB.  On the whole, I enjoyed the DoubleWood.  I don’t know if I’m that wild about the sherry, and there is a certain tart aspect in the background that just disagrees with me, but it certainly ranks among the “tasty drink” category.  I don’t know that I’d seek it out for another purchase, although it is rather economical.  (Also, a note on the standard 1 to 100 whisky score scale.  I think it is dumb.  Really?  You can determine that the drink was an 86 rather than an 87?  Really?  I don’t buy it.  I don’t know that I’d be able to tell the difference between an 86 and an 89.  Plus, as far as I can tell, the lowest possible score is around 73, and the highest possible is about 96.  Why don’t you just have the lowest be 1 and the highest be 24?  Same thing, right?  Anyhow, I digress.  Broader, letter grades seem to more approachable to me.)

Other, better reviews:

Official review by The Balvenie

The Casks

Vice Lounge Online

The Whisky Wire

Guid Scotch Drink