Category Archives: Whisky Impressions

Ichiro’s Malt Card 3 of Hearts (Hanyu)

This is one of the whiskies that we tried at our Japanese whisky tasting in April.  An interesting expression of the now closed Hanyu distillery – stocks are now being stored at Ichiro’s new Chichibu distillery location.

3 of Hearts ~$90
Distilled 2000, bottled 2010 at 61.2% ABV
1st Cask: Hogshead (Cask No. 465), 2nd Cask: Port Pipe
Bottle 463 of 807

Color:  Medium-dark copper with some red and pink

Nose:  Rutty, dirty, Mizunara oiliness, smoke, earthy, then a fragrant sweetness, caramel candy, meaty, seems disjointed at first but after letting it sit for some time it actually starts to come together in a weird way

Palate:  Silky sweetness, then a big hit of Mizunara spices: sandalwood and incense, the youth of this whisky is fairly obvious, oak char, like biting into a dark cherry/strawberry jam filled crepe while catching a waft of fresh cigar smoke – weird but it works

Finish: Medium/long, leaves an airy fruit and spice flavor, port seems to add a gentle sweetness – wonder how long it was in the port pipe?

Comments:  Just a touch of the port so it is not overpowering.  It does remind me a lot of the 2009 Final Vintage of Hanyu.  I would definitely let this one sit and take some time to get its act together though.  Everyone liked it, well at least the empty bottle (as pictured above) leads one to believe that they did. – Chris

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Suntory Week Sign-Off

Unfortunately, Suntory week is at an end.  While it would have been grand to run it for another week, sadly our Suntory reserves are perilously low.  Frankly, our reserves were never formidable to start with.  That is one of the problems with more than a few of the Suntory whiskies.  The Hibikis satisfy under almost any circumstance, the Yamazakis are solid classics, and the Hakushus are simply a treat.  In order to address this problem, nothing short of a trip to Japan is scheduled for the last week of February.  Besides a healthy slew of new acquisitions, a tour of Yamazaki is on the schedule.  Truth be known, I doubt the fruit of this trip will result in another Suntory week.  A few postings may result, but there is a good chance that some of these up-coming bottles will be mewed up for a special occasion or conspicuously consumed in some bacchanalian moment of abject delight.  But perhaps by the time of the following purchase-run (maybe Summer?) things might be right for part II of Suntory week.  The pleasure is mine.

But one last Suntory review parting shot . . .

Yamazaki 10
40%ABV $$Cheap – regularly stocked at 7-11 cheap

Nate’s Impressions:

One of the things I love about the Yamazaki 10 is how easy it is to enjoy.  Not a flagship release, but no compromise.  This is not my favorite Suntory whisky, but it is tasty and easy to drum up when on the lamb in Japan and I have stocked a hotel room with it on occasion… and usually checked out with an empty bottle (yes, the bottle was usually left behind, but I like the flow of that sentence) .  Light gold.  Malt and water, crispy fruit and sugars and a touch of salt sprinkled over a wood marmalade.  And that’s only the nose.  Roasted and toasty malts fill out the body with an overall sweetness.  Bright spices, pepper and marshmallow find their way in, dragging a little char with them.  A pale citrus note combined with a peppery wood finish add to the mix.  You can taste some Hakushu connection somewhere in here.  A solid, frontline standard-bearer of Suntory’s contributions to whisky.

Chris’ Impressions:

Color: Light gold

Nose: Sharp, crisp, new oak bite, a little abrasive and medicinal, green apples, buttery, waxy, very Highland-y, over ripe green grapes

Palate: A lot smoother than the nose led on, quite pleasant – maybe too much so, new oak spice, green grapes, a simple syrup sweetness, little chewy and waxy

Finish: Short, some oak spice

Comments: Don’t let the low price point scare you away.  It is definitely an entry-level whisky, nice and easy to drink, a hot summer’s day dram with dare I say a cube of ice?  


Filed under Whisky Impressions, Yamazaki

A Mature Face of Suntory: Hibiki 17

As far as bottles go, the Hibiki 17 is first-rate.  Something about this pre-fab decanter is viscerally satisfying.  Not only does it stand out, the girth and heft set it apart.  Here’s the really cool bit: the bottle shape is the same regardless of size.  The duty-free mid-size is a duty-free mid-size decanter.  Even the mini-size comes in a mini-decanter.  And if that wasn’t cool enough, it tastes good, too.

Aesthetics aside, Hibiki 17 is a blend of malt and grain from Suntory’s three distilleries:  Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita.  But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the Hibiki 17 is simply the older relative of the Hibiki 12 – flavor wise they are brothers from a different mother.

Hibki 17
43%ABV 7,980円/$95

Nate’s Impressions:

A warming rich gold pours pleasantly from the aforementioned decanter.  Waxy malts, a touch of salted, mellowing fruit, and a strong current of sugars ride a decently hot nose.  The first sip retains the solid undercurrent of noble sugars, slightly charred grains, marshmallow, and a sugary spice.  The age is respectably palpable in this whisky as it settles into a dense tail of peppery wood notes.  A satisfying, easy-to-enjoy whisky that has traded only a few of the curiously edgy aspects of its relatives for a well-knit, warming complexity.

Chris’ Impressions:

Color: Medium yellow/14k gold

Nose:  Lively alcohol vapor initially, nice oak presence, sweet – an apple tart or apple cake, cake frosting?, dusty

Palate: Deep rich oak, I can tell there is some older whisky in here, some incense and waxy notes, apples and a hint of spice

Finish: Medium-long with oak and a waxy – mizunara note

Comments: A great complex blend that balances being smooth yet interesting.  I know there is a lot of older whisky in this blend, but the price point is a little steep.


Filed under Hibiki, Whisky Impressions

Suntory Yamazaki Sherry Cask

Besides being an utterly crappy Steve Perry song, sherry, at least casks that used to store sherry, are sometimes used to age whisky.  And Suntory has taken dead aim at this flavor profile by releasing a sherry cask Yamazaki.  What makes Suntory’s sherry cask expression unique is that they purposefully condition the wood/casks with their own sherry.  Then once the casks have been seasoned properly, the sherry contents are dumped out (as it is not drinkable) and then whisky is put in to age and absorb the flavors.  Many folks thought very highly of this expression so we had to pick up a bottle and give it a try.

Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2010 Bottling
48%ABV 8,433円/~$98

Nate’s Impressions:

A rich and belligerent red with a nose that wastes no time asserting itself.  Red wine and ropey-sweet (that is a good thing).  No need to set the sherry out for visitors, this will do the job.  Breathe in and feel the salt, the fruit, the lush water and the darkening sugars.  And they all drown you in a plumb jam where you’ll stay buried.  Through temptation and war.  Rich, sharp, and charred. Intensely coating.  Then rise to the wine and wood.  Sugars and berries, dense and assertive, will play and hang about.  Sherry has commandeered the flavor profile and shown it a grand time.  Not timid in the least and not for the rabbit-hole-averse. Don’t make it your first dram, wait and savor the potential.  Then revel and delight  at the re-awakening of your taste buds.  Yum.  This isn’t a whisky that held hands with a barrel, it gave its body and heart to that barrel, and the result was nothing less than intense.  And, as I mentioned, yummy.

Chris’ Impressions:

Color:  Dark copper and brown, might be mistaken for some cola

Nose:  A rich full nose, unmistakably heavy sweet sherry, dark fruit bouquet: plums, raisins, black cherries, caramel – reminiscent of Japanese custard pudding, wax coating, candles?, earthy, sasparilla soda

Palate:  Initially very smooth, no rough edges and elegantly reveals sweet sherry, black cherries, some cola notes, brown sugar, oaky bite, drying, back to the clean sherry with malty doughiness, dark spices, dusty, fungal/earthy tones, a touch of sulpher right at the end

Comments: This expression is definitely for those with a sherry tooth – ’cause that is exactly what you are going to get.  It is very well put together and nothing sticks out of place.  It is a little sweet and over the top sherry for my personal tastes, so I would really enjoy one dram of this but not much more in one session.


Filed under Whisky Impressions, Yamazaki

Where’s the Peat??

Like the well known Wendy’s commercial “Where’s the Beef?” from the mid-80’s – I wondered about the missing ingredient for Caol Ila’s Unpeated Style release.  What would Caol Ila taste like without the peat and smoke?  Would it be a bad thing or would is support that Caol Ila is more than just peat?  This release is the 10 year old version from 2009 and is bottled at the upper reaches of the heat scale: 65.8% ABV.  ~$65

Color:  Light gold, tinge of yellow

Nose:  Asian pears, coastal saltiness, citrus, medicinal alcohol burn, some oak

Palate:  Big alcohol, honey sweetness, malty, for me it needs some water.  After some water:  much better, vanilla, lemon zest, creamy, spicy and prickly

Finish: Long with a zing of lemon and heat and some lingering spice

Comments:  A big change from what we are all used to from Caol Ila.  Overall it is very nice and a testament to Caol Ila by showing that their whisky is more than just peat and smoke.  It is almost like finding a new distillery.  This review is a little late in coming as there is now a 12 year old version. I can’t wait to give that a try and compare it to this release.


Filed under Caol Ila, Whisky Impressions

A Guy Walks Into a Bar and Orders a Talisker 10…

Found myself down at Rickhouse the other night looking for something refreshing.  Ok, maybe it wasn’t quite night and maybe I wasn’t necessarily looking for something refreshing.  Fine.  One afternoon I wandered into Rickhouse looking for some whisky.  I didn’t need something grand, simply something good.  I had not had Talisker 10 in recent memory and decided it would be an excellent opportunity to recalibrate my opinion of a widely available Island whisky. The color was a yellow-copper-red.  But then so is almost everything in a darkened bar… which is how I like them. So forget about the color.  In any event, it looked good filling out the glass as it was.  A peaty sweetness wrapped in smoke climbed out of the glass and into my nose.  There was more action brewing behind the initial scent.  Sweet muscat (slightly redundant, but there you are) and something toasty.  I probably could have nosed a bit more out of it but i really needed to drink it.  So I did.  Oil and pepper and malt and heat.  Then more pepper, Talisker’s signature pepper but with added char and a bold, indignant presence.  A sizable tendril of smoke, a fog of burnt sugar, and touch of spice (more pronounced on the second sip) rounded the experience out.  And I was pleased.  While I’ve enjoyed Talisker’s double matured and its 25 year no end, I hadn’t taken the time to give the latest version of the 10 year its due.  In the end I found all 45.8% of it quite refreshing.

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Filed under Imbibed Musings, Talisker, Whisky Impressions

1996 Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition

Had this at one of our tastings some time ago – but didn’t take any notes as I simply wanted to enjoy the event.  I got a little sample bottle of this stuff to revisit recently and it was time I did a little drinking.  It has been a while.  It was Thursday and that is as good a reason as any.  This particular sample of Caol Ila is yellow, light and pale.  The coal and traces of smoke are readily apparent in a pleasant, straightforward manner. The coal is fresh on the tongue and with a mild peat accompaniment.  (One thing I love about whisky is the potential for novel flavor combination and the ability to experience a flavor such as ‘fresh coal’.)  Decently viscous.  Traces of something sweet sneak about the coal and I dare say a lofty fruit note or two (probably from the Moscatel cask) find their way through a mix including light pepper.  A dusty hint-o-peat finish lingers.  A slightly reserved Caol Ila, an easy one to enjoy, and if one takes the time, a spirit not lacking in complexity.  Good to see that the second maturation didn’t overpower the whisky like some DE’s do.


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Black Maple Hill 23

I am still fairly new to bourbon/whiskey and fumbling my way through it.  I have figured out that I do like rye’s though.  Old Potrero = yum.  If you can get your hands on a bottle.  However, for some time I have heard about the phenomenal flavor of the Black Maple Hill 23 from one friend and from another friend how he really wants to try it but just cannot locate a bottle of it.  He had all but given up on ever finding a bottle.  But as fortune would have it, I got word that K and L Wines had found a couple of bottles stashed away that a customer never picked up.  Without hesitation I jumped on picking up a couple of bottles – one for each of the aforementioned friends.  I finally was able to try some of this mythical whiskey last week.

Black Maple Hill is not an actual distillery – it is a product from Kentucky Bourbon Distiller’s, Ltd. which is more of a bottler than anything.  They purchase whiskey from other distillers, usually Heaven Hill.

Single Barrel Rye Aged for 23 years
47.5% ABV

Color:  Dark amber – orange

Nose:  Tobacco leaves, orange peels, strong dark spices.

Palate:  Surprisingly smooth entry but then the spiciness of the rye comes marching through, malty on the back end, a little dry and bitter, oak, the dark spices start to come through and some molasses?

Finish:  long and spicy.

Comments:  There was definitely a lot more going on in this whiskey – I just wasn’t able to associate things I picked up with any one particular thing.  Quite frustrating!  I was expecting it to be a lot bolder and was really surprised at how smooth it was.  Not to say that it is boring in anyway!  A great whiskey and one that is pushing me to try even more.


Filed under Black Maple Hill, Whisky Impressions

Suntory Hibiki 12 Impressions

Hibiki is Suntory’s line of blended whiskies.  Although there are older Hibiki expression (17, 21 and 30), the US only has the 12.  The Hibiki 12 was tasked with following up Suntory’s resurgence into the US market through the Yamazaki 12 and Yamazaki 18.  I say resurgence because Suntory attempted to crack the US market several decades earlier with some of their more pedestrian blends.  That didn’t go to well for them though.  So here Suntory is again with another blend – will they strike out like before?

Strike one – its a Japanese whisky, still not much name recognition here in the US.  Strike two – its a blend (I have nothing against blends, but unfortunately many still see blends as an inferior product).  Will failing marks on taste be the third strike for this whisky?

Color:  Dark yellow and light orange

Nose:  Dusty, sweet plumb wine – reminiscent of rock sugar, very pleasant and fragrant, honey, sandalwood, not overpowering, but not boring.

Palate:  Smooth, light, oak backbone with sweet grain and cereal notes, well placed incense, licorice, nice plumb wine sweetness in the middle but does not take the entire stage.

Finish:  Medium – oak as well as the plumb wine sweetness.

Comments:  Very well put together blend, soft, delicate and smooth all the way through but at the same time interesting and complex.  This is something that you can sip on for a looooong time.  One of the components to this blend is whisky that was aged in plumb wine (umeshu) casks and it was interesting to taste how it was integrated into this blend.  Although no where near scientific, I pulled out our air tight container of homemade umeshu that has been gathering steam (aging) for the past 5 years to compare the nose and flavors.  The two share a lot in common and I think it works well for the Hibiki.  I have to say that this is a solid whisky and does not strike out swinging on flavor.

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Murray McDavid Mission Gold Mortlach 17 Year Old

Murray McDavid is an independent bottler that puts out a decent product in my opinion.  There are different lines that make up the Murray McDavid Portfolio and one of them is the Mission Gold Series.  The Mission Gold Series consist of limited releases (don’t they all claim to be limited releases?) that are ace’d or finished in different casks.  The finishing adds a different dimension to the “standard” distillery profiles.   I have enjoyed many of the Mission Gold’s that I have tried in the past including Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Rosebank, Springbank and even a different Mortlach expression.  Some purists might think that finishing the spirit takes them too far away from their roots though.  There is a time and place for finishing, but it has to be done properly.  So what of this release from the Mission Gold Series?


Distilled in 1990 and aged for 17 years
Oloroso Sherry Cask
Bottled at 54.7%ABV

Color:  Dark Amber

Nose:  Big plentiful helpings of sherry, lemon, wet wool or wet cardboard – its something a little funky either way.

Palate: Cereal, not as much of a sherry influence as I was expecting, actually rather flat, malty, chewey mouth feel, soft wisps of vanilla hiding way underneath, peppery.

Finish: Short, spicy, a little bitter on the way down.

Comments:  I have to say I am pretty disappointed.  I like Mortlach’s generally and I have had good experiences with the Murray McDavid Mission Gold Series.  They are a break from the norm, but I have enjoyed them.  I wanted it to be so much more but it just fell flat for me.

* Apparently the person in charge of labeling helped themselves to some whisky ’cause that label is far from straight.

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