Friday, February 19, 2016

EPIC Head to head Littlemill Tasting - Bailey & McInnis Skype style!

I love the times that I am living in. The technology that exists in my lifetime has allowed me so many fantastic opportunities to not only meet people from all over the world, but also grants me the ability to forge new friendships and and try fantastic whiskies that likely would have been missed completely.

Case in point, first blog for 2016 was:

Benoit was kind enough to write an insightful post about his visit to the long lost distillery called Littlemill and as stated at the end of that entry, he and I planned and then effectuated a head to head of seven (yes I said 7!) bottlings that we had between us over Skype. It was a great night spend talking, drinking and enjoying some lovely drams.

It was no easy task trying to figure where to begin with this line up of Littlemills but after some discussion we decided on our methodology and proceeded to start with the skype tasting.

Number 1 Littlemill 8 year old, official bottling at 40%:

N: Initial dose of hay then, honeyed citrus fruits followed by some floral notes & fresh cut grass. After some time, a hint of dark chocolate.
P: Relatively surprising mouth coating quality initially but then followed rapidly by an impression that it was extremely thin. Then dark caramel appears, lots of burnt caramel. Not much else.
Overall: After revisiting this one and tasting the 25 year old Private Cellar, the floral notes on the nose appear part of the time to be Parma violet or it is just my imagination. This 8 year old clearly lacked complexity for me. The nose is much better than the palate.

N: The first thought for me was a honey comb. Sweet, waxy. Then a familiar backdrop of some sharp citrus.
P: Not as nice as the nose, a bit unbalanced but still pleasant none the less. Citric acid (sour lemon candies). The finish was almost non-existent. I've had sneezes last longer? 
Overall: This is the youngest Littlemill I've ever tried. It wasn't terrible but probably not something I would seek out. 

Number 2 - Official Littlemill 12 year old bottled at 40% 

N: Woody and acrid. First impression was pungent compost. But once it sat in the glass for a few moments it turned more into my grandmother's earth cellar. 
P: Sweet but tangy & creamy lemon meringue pie and with a bit of time and a drop of water Werther's original butterscotch candy. The finish was slightly bitter and tannic. 
Overall: The palate for me was better than the nose and at least this one had a finish. 

N: Peppery hay, with some faint lemon, then massively vegetal again. After a while, the nose clearly appears to be a relative of the First Editions as well as the Scott's Selection.
P: Same buttery feel as the 8 year old but with a little more to offer, but still very thin. Spicy butterscotch, then a good mix of caramel and a hint of icing sugar.
F: Burnt caramel (again...)
Overall: The nose has clearly some Littlemill DNA, much more than the palate. Pretty similar to the 8 yr old with the same fault of being at 40% but with the nice addition of some interesting spiciness.

Number 3 - Cadenhead 1990, 24 year old bourbon hogshead, 53.7% ABV

N: Delicate yet complex. Waves of different tropical fruits! And after a while, a healthy dose of icing sugar that mix so well with the tropical fruits. 
P: Creamy, mouth coating and so fresh (who peeled all those tropical fruits?). Tropical fruit salad that last and last with a fine dusting of icing sugar and pepper or some spice, probably cloves. Tropical paradise!
F: Tropical Fruits mainly pineapple that fade so slowly...
Overall: Wow!!!A great Littlemill that will be difficult to beat as my favorite in this tasting or even ever... Wish I had a never-ending supply for my first dram of the day! Did I mention tropical paradise?

N: Agreed with Benoit, fresh tropical fruit salad. Coconut and almost mineral in nature (like tanning lotion). Very complex!
P: Mouthwatering & sublime dram. Sweet, full bodied, luscious and lots of lemon but not bitter. The finish is of medium length, just like a good night kiss might be.
Overall: Probably one of the best Littlemill's I've ever tasted. Well balanced, great example of ex-bourbon loveliness

Number 4 - Littlemill 25 Private Cellar Edition Oloroso finish, 50.4% official bottling

N: Much spicier than the others we have tried so far. Almost peppery from the get go. After some time in the glass, it begins to turn into orange blossoms and much more flowery. Very faint but tomato plant leaves.
P: Totally different than the others we have tried so far. Very distinct in nature. Citrus but more lime than lemon and then heavy on the floral but with a really tannic finish (Almost like a strong cup of black tea).
Overall: I think had I drank this blind I would have never guessed it was a lowland at all. It's oaky and heavy and I wanted a cold beer after I drank it. Now to the hardcore Littlemill fans who want something completely different, this might just be what you are looking for?

N: Lots of alcohol... Nutty with some tobacco but overall not a lot of what you expect from a sherried whisky because of the alcohol. Maybe candied orange.
P: Succulent creamy parma violets that quickly fade away to be replaced by an extreme dose of tannins... Overwhelming tsunami of tannins! Sorry could not really find anything else except some aromatic pepper.
F: So much astringency, I feel dehydrated.
Overall: I don't know if it is the first filled Oloroso casks in which it was finished or the use of especially overactive European oak which is responsible for the massive amount of tannins, but way too much for my taste as it masked most of the taste. Despite this, in some way, kind of an unpeated version of an 80's Bowmore because of the parma violets (sorry for the heresy). Very "un-Littlemill" for my taste. Because I do enjoy parma violets in Bowmore I am sure that the taste could have grown on me if I had received a full bottle as a gift despite the overwhelming astringency. Parma violets crunch candy disks anyone?

Number 5 - The First Editions 1988, 24 year old, 55.8% - Refilled hogshead

N: Initially for a split second, the reminds me of a walk in a pine forest, then there is a generous breeze of a citrus fruit, grapefruit? and after a while, some faint icing sugar and cloves.
P: Sort of a typical peppery Littlemill: a sweet citrus fruit with pepper that evolves into hot pepper.
F: Peppery and vegetal with a hint of grapefruit.
Overall: Some are fruitier or have more citrus, some have more icing sugar where others are very vegetal but this one I would say is average. Average is not bad, in this case it means it's a typical and good representation of the distillery, the skeleton of Littlemill in fact.

N: Wet vegetation, old slate roof after a rain storm. Almost mineral like for me. A bit of citrus on the backdrop, more like zest.
P: really "green" almost like chlorophyll, with a really peppery finish for me. Not at all what I expected. I liked it better with water, became more rounded and slightly fruity. 
Overall: Probably more typical of what I've come to like about Littlemills, except this one had a bit more "bite" to it.

Number 6 - Scott's Selection 1984-2004, 20 year old, 62.1%

N: Another fruit salad with grapefruit rinds that developed into a good dose of pink grapefruits with a hint of floral notes. After a while, some pepper or more likely the 62.1%...
P: Thick, warming fruits with a dash of line and a generous serving of grapefruits. Also peppery icing sugar with oak that starts to take over after the grapefruit fades.
F: A long peppery fruity and oaky finish.
Overall: A powerful Littlemill with more oak than usual. If it had just a bit more of the icing sugar component than the oak, I think it could have been a stunner!

N: Super strong smell of nail polish remover (acetone), followed by over ripe bananas. Quite unpleasant for me personally. 
P: Silky or maybe more like buttery. Sweet, reminds me of a key lime pie... That sweet but tart aspect. The finish seems oaky, almost "virgin oaky"... It's a bit much.
Overall: Not an overly dimensional whisky. I can't even say it was easy sipping because of the strength, it's a meh for me...

And last....

Number 7 - Hart Brothers First Port Pipe Filled 21 year old, 47.1% ABV

N: Chocolate malted milk balls! Delightful. Then wine gummies. Maybe even a touch of chocolate covered cherries.
P: The port influence is apparent as it's a very fruity palate, almost on the side of cloying sweet. The finish is not overly long but is nice, sweet and slightly spicy.
Overall: Not exactly what I would consider a typical Littlemill as the port influence changes it from a delicate Lowland to something with a heavy "wine" influence.

N: First your get the port, with some berry compote and then, at some point, sablé biscuit with a hint of lemon. With time, the icing sugar appears...
P: Again you get a big burst of wine (a vague reminder of the Black Art but with a lesser quality more diluted wine - I know sacrilege that I just committed; sorry in advance Mr. McEwen), then a sweet spicy taste.
F: Short sweet wine like with a bit of a vegetal presence.
Overall: I still like it despite being a vague Littlemill representation because of the powerful port impact. Surprised that the icing sugar component still came through for me.

What a fantastic experience to share with another whisky enthusiast! It truly was something interesting and fun to do together. So here is how we both ranked them:

Benoit preferred:

1. Cadenhead's
2. Scott's Selection
3. First Editions
4. Hart Brothers
5. OB 25
6. OB 12
7. OB 8

whereas I liked:

1. Cadenhead's
2. First Editions
3. 12 Year Old
4. Hart Brothers
5. OB 25 
6. Scott's Selection
7. OB 8

So we both agreed that we loved and found the Cadenhead's bottling the best overall as it was complex well balanced and quite a lovely Littlemill. And... we both agreed the OB 8 was very one dimensional and truly didn't leave any type of Littlemill footprint (so to speak).  It's always interesting to see the in-betweens and we did discuss why/how they ranked the way they did for each of us. I would say that Benoit has a much healthier appreciation of the Littlemills than I do and was quick to be able to find the "skeleton" component that he described: Vegetal, icing sugar, peppery. 

I found all of these very interesting as far as either the nose, palate or sometimes both. If I could afford all these bottles they only two I still probably wouldn't purchase would be the last two in my seven. The Scott's was just fruit flavoured nail polish remover (Sorry if that sounds as harsh as it smelled/tasted) and the 8 year old was as interesting as... well, turnip...  Not that it tasted of it, it was just.. not much personality ;)

I would strongly recommend learning more about Littlemill. It's one of 'those' rare whiskies that is still affordable in most cases and in a few years from now, it won't be. I'll be seeking a couple for my whisky collection.  A HUGE thank you to Benoit for opening his collection, sharing his whiskies, opinions and a really great night tasting/talking whisky.

Cheers all!


Friday, February 12, 2016

Guest post - Savoring every day...

I'm not on hiatus I swear... just busy. I guess this is what happens when you transition from a blogger musing about your personal journey through whisky to being paid and published, hehehe...  Not to mention, it's whisky presenting season and I've got 'gigs' lined up right up until the end of May?! I'm not complaining or bragging - Just letting you know that I do have pieces 1/2 to 3/4 written, I simply haven't taken the time to get them finished. 

It's the goal for March & April before I leave for my annual trip to Scotland. Yes... headed to Scotland again. It's become a yearly tradition than I simply can't seem to stop but again, I'm not complaining or bragging I assure you ;)

My friend Rick likes to write. Many times out of the blue he will send me an email with a piece he's written. Some are not exactly what I think my readers would enjoy but others are simply put - Lassie approved!  This is one of those cases.

I am a sap for romantic stories (yes, be shocked...) I have watched the Notebook about 20 times, usually alone with at least one box of tissues. Deep down, I will always believe that love between two people is intimate, special and under the right circumstances forever...  So, when I read this piece that Rick wrote I was transported somewhere where Felicia & James may be...  and, as I often say -> Sometimes it's not so much about the whisky but everything else that envelopes it.  

Rick Culver: "This started out as a post about age statements, but it isn't. It became about 'old things'. I like old things. You can easily find me wandering around antique shops. If I lived in an area that had independent liquor shops I would be one of those people spending time looking for old dusties. I mean really, who doesn't love old things? They stir feelings in us and create emotions that slowly bubble their way to the surface, sometimes diving down again for further thought or contemplation before rising within us again. Ever watch someone pour a Guinness ;)

There is nostalga pulling out an old bottle of whisky, preferably with an age statement, to share with friends. I often stop to ponder what was going on in the world when it was distilled or bottled and I'll ask what people were doing that year. So back to browsing antique shops. There is one I love going to and I popped in not long ago to look at the new acquisitions from an estate sale. 

This... caught my eye:

It was a mini Glenfiddich whisky bottle. I am not sure what year but that didn't matter because it's what was inside that raised my eyebrow. I didn't make a big deal out of it nor did I take it out of the bottle at the shop. There is no use driving up the price of the prospective purchase by announcing to the owner that the bottle contained a map of Black Beard's treasure on Oak Island. I offered him two dollars for a labeless mini whisky bottle and went to run the rest of my errands. Much later, once I was home, I opened the bottle and found the following:

It seems fitting as we near Valentine Day to raise a glass of something special to toast Felicia & James and the deep feelings they seemed to share for each other. Left to the imagination, we can only guess why she decided to put this heartfelt message in a bottle. Perhaps she tucked it into a spot where she knew he would find it while she was away. We will never know. What I do know is that old bottles will never trump old relationships. 

So it really doesn't matter if you are pulling out an old bottle with an age statement or not to toast your loved one with. Whether you are celebrating many decades together or just at the very beginning of a long and lasting relationship; here's wishing you a happy Valentine and hoping that like Felicia & James, it's still as passionate as a flaming heart.

I know... How could I not use Compass Box as a great example? Flaming Heart, 15th anniversary edition. John Glaser does NAS whiskies extremely well. Those looking for the spiciness from a new French oak hybrid cask containing a blend of Clynelish, Dailuaine & Teaninich combined with the lovely sweet and smoky backdrop of Caol Ilay get, IMO, a satisfying and rewarding dram!

Perfect dram for Valentine, or toasting peope like Felicia & James."

Agreed Rick... Compass Box whiskies are often fantastic examples of how No Age Statement (NAS) whiskies can be made. Quality that stand the test of time just like a note written long ago and stuffed into a small bottle.

I also raise a dram to people who make their relationships work. It's not easy, if anything truly loving someone can be extremely difficult. My only caveat: Don't wait until a marketed day, once a year, to let them know how much you care. Tell them and celebrate surviving together as a couple... every day.
Cupid awakens Psyche - Louvre visit 2007

Cheers to all and a special thanks to Rick for sharing this wonderful discovery.