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Things that’ve impressed the hell out of me this year.


Fukano Japanese Whisky Cask 300Things that’ve impressed the hell out of me this year?

Almost nothing.

2016 has be a crap year with too many good people dying and various tragedies that there just doesn’t seem to be an end to (take your pick).

Thankfully, there is whisky.

This single cask of Fukano Japanese whisky (distilled from rice), however, impressed the hell out of me.

Region – Japan – ABV – 41.8% (natural cask strength)

On the nose — Say what?! Nose this blindly and I would have guessed/assumed this was a 20+ year old Willett Rye.

Wonderful oak framing with a spiciness that is so rye-like.

Fukano Japanese Whisky Cask 300Chocolate, Vanilla (with hints of raspberry) tarts and seasoned oak. Top note of acetone that plays well with warmed dill sauce.

Crisp starfruit that leads into notes of Mexican chocolate, deep vanilla and fresh coconut.

A better nose than most American rye whiskies I’ve had. Wonderful to find this profile in Japanese hooch. I could just smell this for 20min straight.

Fukano Japanese Whisky Cask 300In the mouth — Easy and oily entry with a growing waxy mouthfeel.  The palate is very similar to the nose but somehow, warmer.

Nutmeg and chocolate come to the fore but so does a great deal of vanilla bean.

Mild pickling spices, gentle yet rich red fruits, boozy butterscotch verging on Werther’s Original candies.

Fukano Japanese Whisky Cask 300Finish — Long and lovely (that’s what she said?) with lasting notes of a spiced vanilla latte.

In sum — I am massively impressed with this whisky. There have been some stand-offish nay-sayers when it comes to whisky distilled from rice.

I say – take the Pepsi challenge. Taste this blind and you will be more than pleasantly surprised.

At only $69/bottle, I suggest you grab one and drink the shit out of it.

Distillery focus: Westland Distillery and their American Single Malt Whiskies


Westland Distillery LogoIf you don’t live in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) of the United States, chances are you’ve not heard of Westland Distillery.  As a Connecticutian born and raised I’ve not heard of them so, don’t feel so bad.  They reached out to me a couple of weeks ago to A) get some whiskey samples to taste and B) have a phone conversation so I could learn more about their distillery and what makes Westland… Westland.

I was quite impressed with what I had to hear and very VERY impressed with their whiskies.  While their whiskies are currently only distributed in the PWN, we can expect to see wider distribution in the US and overseas during the coming months of 2014.

Are you ready to get your whisk(e)y geek, geekin’ on?  I know I am.  Let’s learn about Westland Distillery:

Location: Seattle Washington – home to one of my favorite record labels, “Sub Pop,” who had signed (at one time or another) such great bands as Sunny Day Real Estate, Mudhoney, Low, Iron and Wine, Sleater-Kinney, Get Up Kids and many, many more (and yeah, that includes Nirvana and Soundgarden).

Malted-barley-at-Westland-DistilleryWhiskey style: Single Malt, 100% Barley – this includes 6 different barley types which are Washington Pale Malt, Munich Malt, Extra Special Malt, Brown Malt, Pale Chocolate Malt and Scottish malt peated to the tune of 55ppm.

(Note: their standard mash bill consists of all the above malts sans the peated malt.  Furthermore, the bulk of said mash bill is the Washington Pale Malt which is at approximately 70% of the bill)

Average whiskey age is at least 24mos.

(Note # 2: Westland doesn’t use a standard distillers yeast when creating their wash. They instead use Belgian brewers yeast.)

(Note # 3, the last of these notes: Rather than purchase cereal flour/grist, Westland houses their own Grist Mill to grind up their barley)

Westland Distillery Stills

Still style and capacity – you can see the stills just to the left but their capacity is at about 60,000 proof gallons of spirit per year which is at the maximum limit to retain the term “Craft Distillery.”  In fact, Westland is the largest Craft Distillery in Washington State (and perhaps the largest single malt distillery in the US).

Westland Distillery Casks and BarrelsWood management (I know 40% of you chuckled when you read “Wood Management.” I know I chuckled whilst typing it and re-reading it) – Westland primarily uses new charred American oak barrels no smaller than the standard 53gal.  They also use a good deal of sherry butts, sherry hogsheads and ex-bourbon barrels.  This is somewhat uncommon for American Craft Distilleries where it is quite common to use smaller 5 gallon, 10 gallon, 15 gallon, etc… barrels.

What’s more, regarding their new charred oak barrels is that, like Glenmorangie, they source very porous slow-growth American oak and these barrels are only coopered after the wood has air dried for a minimum 18mos.

For those of you interested in knowing what their whiskies taste like (and why wouldn’t you?), read on:

Westland Distillery Flagship American Single Malt Whiskey
Whiskey # 1 – Flagship – aged 24mos, 46% ABV:

On the noseImmediately takes me elsewhere when I nose this and *try* think of American Single Malt.  This has got, from the outset, a more Scotch feel to it (especially considering the new charred American oak maturation).


Let’s pull out some notes: ground green coffee beans, cayenne peppered dark chocolate (think Lindt), espresso foam, wild cherry Pine Bros cough drops.

This is *not* your typical American single malt.  Wet pocket change after a swim in your local swimming hole (most notably like wet pennies).

Hints of burnt licorice and an earthen hiking trail on a sunny, bright and crisp winter day.  Really, really inviting.

On the mouth —  It starts youthful but not young and surely not immature.  Then a raspberry component returns in place of the wild cherry cough drops yet its bundled up in a canvas bag.

Westland-Distillery-2Very sweet with hints of coconut infused vanilla beans and a good handful of Heide brand Jujuyfruits (flavors are there even the licorice yet like on the nose, it’s slightly burnt).

Solid mouthfeel, oily and feel in’ good!  Add in the cardboard box from said Jujyfruits – this is a mild note but there.  Spicy on the back of the tongue.

FinishLong and malty, incredibly malty like a high octane beer.

In sum It’s a new style to the category of American Single Malt.  This is one for the Scotch lovers of the world who want something unique and wish to dabble in American hooch. This is one for American Whiskey lovers that wish to dabble in spirits closer to the Scotch category.  Really well done and, dare I say, an every day drinker!

Westland Distillery Deacon Seat American Single Malt WhiskeyWhiskey # 2 – Deacon Seat (limited edition) – aged 26mos, 46% ABV:

On the noseWow. Wow, wow.  This reminds me of some older releases of unpeated Bruichladdich whiskies.  There’s an incredible freshness with hints of coastal sea breeze.

Westland-Distillery-3Hints of lemon and salted pineapple and shards of dried and sugared mango.  This noses like a 15-16yo, not 2 years 2 months.  Again, wow.

Back with the jujyfruits (like I got with the Flagship) but this time it’s focused on the yellow ones.  There’s something herbaceous neath all of these fruity layers but it’s unidentifiable and just enough to balance the fruit.  Need to taste.  Like, now.

On the mouth —  From the go it’s the mouth feel that grabs me.  The oils are incredible.  Liqueurish in mouthfeel (a la Sabra).  Initial reaction is that all the flavors are round or rounded.

Westland-Distillery-4Let’s pick this apart: steamed pineapple and lemon meets white tea while hiking through an oak forrest.  This is not over oaked but the wood is there, again, rounding out the overall experience.

Some of the green herbs are there but, oddly enough, I just can not pick that apart.  It’s a mixture of herbs without one being more prominent than the other.

Hints, mere hints of salt on the tongue as well.  Here’s something that *just* popped in my head:  This Whiskey feels “hopeful.”  It’s like the little Whiskey that could but then does!

FinishAgain, a malty finish but there’s spice left on the tongue and an effervescence/tingly feel that I did not notice until focusing on the finish.

In sum A total winner of a Whiskey.  So balanced and well integrated.  You could easily fool your Scotch loving friends into thinking that this is A) a Scotch whisky and B) a teenager.  Another everyday drinker.  I can actually picture this as a nice whisky for a warm spring day.

Westland Distillery First Peated American Single Malt WhiskeyWhiskey # 3 – First Peated – aged 24mos, 46% ABV:

On the noseGreat googly-moogly!  This is like a Highland peated Scotch whisky.  It doesn’t nose like a young peated whisky, the peat is soft and rounded.  It actually noses like a lighter, fresher Amrut Fusion (but nothing like Amrut Fusion).

Westland-Distillery-5Hints of peat and sea breeze, gorse flowers (could be that there’s new charred oak here, too, adding to the coconuty notes) and a dunnage warehouse.  Ever been to a whisky dunnage warehouse? If no, nose this and it’ll take you there.

New popsicle sticks and vinyl records (I imagine them being Elvis records).  This is a very confident whisky (with chops to back itself up).

On the mouth —  The peat says hello first (Hi peat!).  It’s much bigger than the nose lead on. I want to say that I taste Lapsang Souchong tea but it’s not artificial enough (as many of that variety of tea can taste).

There’s whiffs smoke here but what’s really grabbing my attention is the peat.  Notes of earthen floor and wet flowery twig fire.

24mos?  Bullcrap.  You taste like a 12yo, easily.

The mouthfeel is less oily than the Deacon Seat but still silky and there’s an effervescence to this Whiskey as well.

Westland-Distillery-6I’m taken back to my last trip to Bruichladdich where I tasted some 2yo sherried Lochindaal and thought, “this is only 2 years old?! No. Way.”  It is quite fresh as there are flowers and fruits and peat and smoke and salt and fizzy stuffs and salt water and salt water taffies (a shit ton of salt water taffies, come to think of it).

FinishInterminable. The smoke and fizz and now spice stick with you for a long, long time.

In sum Westland distillery seems to be a well kept secret around my parts but I am so glad they found me and now I can pay some hard earned cash on their whisky.  This First Peated from Westland is up there with some of the better whiskies I’ve tasted so far this year.  Really cracking stuff.  Look for some.  Keep and eye on these guys as you will not be disappointed.  If you are, just send me the the bottles and any unfinished whiskey.

Closing comments — The American craft distillery movement, simply put, is booming.  There is so much good stuff happening out there right now and right now is a good time to be a whisk(e)y geek.

While classified on paper as an American Craft Distiller, I would submit, given the flavor profiles and the fact that Westland Distillery produces Single Malt and nothing else, that Westland Distillery (from a world perspective) be ranked up there with other great world producers of single malt whisky a la Nikka, Suntory, Amrut, Kavalan, Lark, Brenne,

Westland Distillery’s focus is on producing and bottling world class single malt whisk(e)y and in my opinion they have a great grasp of the craft!

Special thanks to Steve and Matt for the samples and their openness regarding their distillery!


Glenmorangie Companta – Private Edition release #5 – 46% ABV


GLENMORANGIE COMPANTAIf I had a million dollars for every time Glenmorangie came out with a Special Private Edition whisky, I’d be five million dollars richer! Also, I’d use a good chunk of that cash to purchase more of these Private Edition Glenmos (though they tend to be fairly priced between $79-$99 whenever they’re released so I’d still have a good chunk of change left over for, well, more whisky!).

This bottle will run you about $99, maybe a little more depending on who you buy from.

So yes, this is the 5th release of the Glenmorangie Special Private Edition whiskies and **spoiler alert** this one is my favorite from the bunch.

A little unnamable birdie told me that this whisky is made up of:

60% of the vatting = 1999 distillate aged in ex-bourbon casks until 2008 then finished 5 years in Clos de Tart casks. Total age = 14yrs

40% of vatting = 1995 distillate aged in ex-bourbon casks until 2005 then finished in fortified Rasteau casks for 8 years. Total age = 18yrs

So, while this is an NAS (no age statement) bottling, it’s not immature whisky by any stretch of the imagination!

Furthermore, this is bottled at a respectable 46% ABV and non-chill-filtered.  Kudos to Glenmorangie for sticking to these quality requirements.

Let’s give is a taste now…

Glenmorangie CompantaOn the noseSo far it smells like my Tuesday morning: massive presence of red wine gums and hazelnut coffee grounds. (Please don’t tell my wife I sneak some wine gums for breakfast or my tea-snob friends that I indulge in the occasional flavored coffee.)

Burgundy soaked peach halves are an obvious and welcome note but I did not expect the presence of Spanish olives, pimento and all (am I sensing manchego cheese too or just getting hungry?).

Glenmorangie CompantaDeep and dark chocolate with some fresh cut roses. Was Dr. Bill Lumsden thinking of a Valentine’s Day whisky when he created this one?  Hollow out those dark chocolates and fill them with raspberry jam.

Not sure if you’re getting it yet but, boy, this is a decedent dram!  At least on the nose it is.  Time to put it in my mouth. (Hey Hatton, keep it clean!  Pfft.)

Glenmorangie Companta

On the mouth —  Mouth-filling-ly dense, rich and oily.  Wow, this is a big whisky!  The heart is pure Glenmorangie but it’s layered so elegantly with flavors of citrus and clove, sugar cooked pecans, a touch of dark caramel and a dash of toasted and spicy oak.

The scents and flavors are very well integrated.

Glenmorangie CompantaLet’s sip again (no water needed here, folks!): That raspberry jam from the nose is still here and the oil on the tongue only helps.  Add some cranberry to that raspberry mix and perhaps a little more spice.

Loads of stewed red fruits and warming potpourri.

FinishMy one complaint: the finish is a bit on the short side however the final flavor is that of red wine soaked blood oranges and, boy, that’s a nice way to end the experience.  Well I suppose you can just take another sip, right?  Right.

In sum I know there were some people that went Ga-Ga over the last special release (Ealanta) but this is, in my honest opinion, a far superior whisky.  This is a whisky that is very sure of what it is supposed to be.

The story stays true from beginning to end and the experience on the whole was a whole lot of enjoyment and fun.  If you can get a bottle, get a bottle.  You will not be disappointed.  This is perfect as an evening or morning warmer-upper.

**Special thanks to DB for the sample and to Billy Lumsden for another fine creation.  Well done, sir!

Happy (J)New Year!! Sorry for the silence as of late…


More reviews and risky/whisky opinions to come in the new year – 5774 that is!

I hope my Jewish readers have a sweet new year.  I wish (for all my readers) that you have a wonderful chilly fall season filled with lots of friends, family and drams.  Rock on!

L’shanah Tovah!

L'shanah Tovah - Happy New Year
L’shanah Tovah – Happy New Year


21yo Old Malt Cask Cragganmore bottle for the Loch and K(e)y Society. A Juio’s exculsive.


The bottle shown is not the actual bottle but, close enough.
The bottle shown is not the actual bottle but, close enough. Click the picture to be brought to Julio’s site. Contact them for more info.

Speyside region – 52.2% ABV – $99 (for now) and sold exclusively through Julio’s in Westboro, MA.

Here we are again; reviewing a store exclusive single cask of whisky.

If you live in the Northeast of the US, chances are you’ve heard of or frequent Julio’s in Westboro, MA.

Store owner and Keeper of the Quaich, Ryan Maloney, is known for having perhaps the most whisky-centric stores in our neck of the woods.  He also has his own whisky society called the Loch and K(e)y Society and bottles whisk(e)y for them on a very regular basis.  Loch and K(e)y are the first and only group to ever have a cask of Balvenie bottled exclusively for them.  (I had a taste once and it was a yummy, yummy thing).

I visited Julio’s a couple of weeks ago to pick up a bottle of George T Stagg and Ryan was nice enough to give me a taste of today’s whisky.  This is a cask of Cragganmore that he personally chose to bottle.

I fell in love with it almost immediately and when he told me it was only $99, I had to get a bottle.  Hey, it was my birthday.  How could I not buy myself a bottle?

So today, I’m reviewing one of my birthday whiskies (happy birthday, again, to me):

On the nose –  A charming start with whiffs of *faint* smoke and lavender.

CRAGGANMORE-21-OLD-MALT-CASK-JULIOS-2Quite clean and bright with lightly spiced Bartlett pears.  Applewood and unscented candle wax.

Heavenly, and decidedly malty.

I have to say, this nose is really, really good.  Again, clean and fruity and very, very confident.

CRAGGANMORE-21-OLD-MALT-CASK-JULIOS-3On the mouth – Loads of malted barley and very chewy.

Lively and oily, honied and spiced.

Still quite fruity with touches of light citrus.

CRAGGANMORE-21-OLD-MALT-CASK-JULIOS-4Hints of salt but not brine and now some hints of Limon.

Getting back to what I said before, this is a very confident whisky.  Drying and slightly smokey toward the finish.

Finish – A spritz of citrus, a dash of spice and some malt.  It goes on for a good bit here.

In sum – The more I think about this one the more I agree with the thought in my head that this is not the most complex whisky in the world. (My apologies for the horrible, run-on-like, structure of the preceding sentence.)

However, it’s not simple at all.  It’s easily understood and hides very little from you.

This is in my top ten list as one of the finer whiskies I’ve had this year from a rock-solid-satisfying-whisky standpoint.  If there were ever a self-actualized whisky, it would be this one.