whisky

Review: Orphan Barrel Forager’s Keep

Photo credit: Diageo

We’re now five years into the Orphan Barrel brand’s existence. Wow, time certainly seems to fly by. The brand’s purpose was to showcase older or “forgotten” barrels. We’ve seen lots of bourbon and even a little Canadian whisky released under the brand’s umbrella. A few releases have been great, others not so much, and most lying somewhere in-between. Since the 2014 introduction of the brand, I’ve held my breath for a single malt release, as owner Diageo’s malt distillery profile is quite bountiful.

Now I can breathe easy.

Forager’s Keep, the latest Orphan Barrel entry, is a 26-year-old single malt whisky from the Pittyvaich distillery. You might not recognize the distillery, as it’s output was sent for blending in Bell’s. The single malt bottlings that did exist were very few and far between.

Also, Pittyvaich doesn’t exist anymore. It closed down in 1993 after only 18 years in operation and was demolished in 2002. The reasoning basically came down to the distillery being “surplus to requirements,” according to the excellent Whiskypedia section at Scotchwhisky.com.

Forager’s Keep is bottled at 48% ABV and priced at $399 a bottle. Not bad considering the age and rarity of the whisky. In fact, this whisky aged longer than the distillery was in existence.

The types of barrels used here have not been disclosed. Based on the color (which looks natural to my eyes) and the taste, I’d guess this whisky is made up of mostly ex-bourbon and refill casks. Maybe, maybe a sprinkling of European oak casks.

The nose is centered around refined orchard fruit aroma upfront. Then, hints of vanilla and light spice (cinnamon and cloves) appear, as do dried herbs and a touch of balsamic vinegar. Just a touch. The whisky comes across as a medium-to-heavy bodied and somewhat viscous on the palate, with hints of butterscotch, pecan, and vanilla ice cream topped with stewed spiced apples and garnished with citrus peel. The fruit intensifies as oak spice develops mid-palate alongside a very small earthy note. Light oak spice and apple sauce on the long, warm finish.

I’d mark Forager’s Keep among my favorite of the Orphan Barrel releases. Of course, it stands out as it’s a single malt Scotch and not a bourbon, so it might be a bit unfair to compare. Either way, this is a nicely matured older whisky that showcases the fruit-centric beauty of the late Speyside distillery. This is one bottle I’ll be looking to own. 9.5/10

Orphanbarrel.com

Thanks to Diageo for the sample. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

A Glenfiddich Night for the Ages

Sometimes I’m in the right place at the right time.

Or I’m just lucky.

I recently attended a Glenfiddich tasting at the Bourbon House in New Orleans. Glenfiddich ambassadors Dave Paradice and Struan Grant Ralph led the tasting of four Glenfiddich expressions that heavily feature ex-bourbon barrel-maturation. Just before the tasting started, I met up with the two brand ambassadors to say hi.

Jorge Lauriano, the William Grant & Sons Division Manager for Louisiana, came over to greet me. Then he lowered his voice and asked what my plans were for the rest of the night. It’s that moment he told me he, Paradice, and Ralph were going to host a very private tasting with two local single malt fanatics after the Bourbon House tasting.

“I just dropped off 27 different bottles of whisky (at a local restaurant). Do you want to join us?” Lauriano asked, knowing I couldn’t turn down his invitation.

My answer was a resounding yes. I knew at that moment it was going to be an epic whisky night.

But first, the Glenfiddich tasting at the Bourbon House. Four expressions: Glenfiddich 12-year-old, 14-year-old, 19-year-old Age of Discovery bourbon cask, and a preview of an upcoming 23-year-old expression. The last two were especially delicious. Paradice was on-point with his presentation, with Ralph occasionally fielding questions from the small but sometimes rowdy crowd.

If this wonderful tasting was the supporting act, what followed was the headliner.

We made our way to the restaurant where the six of us began lining up bottles of whisky, mostly Glenfiddich, on a long table. Twenty seven bottles in total. So many that we couldn’t line up the bottles neatly down the longside of the table. With some appetizers served, we began. We did a round robin, of sorts, allowing every person to choose the next pour. As we nosed and tasted, the two brand ambassadors casually presented background on every pour.

Nose, taste, dump, repeat. That was the motto of the night.

I didn’t take tasting notes, but did somehow manage to jot down what we tasted. Here’s what we tasted, with some thoughts on select pours:

  • 15-year-old
  • Reserve Cask (travel exclusive)
  • Cask of Dreams 2011 – love the ex-bourbon cask influence here
  • 18-year-old
  • Rich Oak
  • 14-year-old
  • Malt Master – one of the group favorites
  • Fire & Cane – Smoky with rum-sweetness. Yes please!
  • Vintage Cask – slightly peated and utilizes American oak casks
  • William Grant & Sons Ghosted 26-year-old – very light; paired well with our salad
  • Age of Discovery 19-year-old bourbon casks
  • 40-year-old – decadent, resinous, dark, with a finish that lasts for days
  • Winter Storm – a dessert dram if there ever was one
  • The Original 1963
  • Vintage Cask – Select Barrel
  • 26-year-old
  • Kinnivie 23-year-old
  • 30-year-old – Rich, lively, and without the heavy rancio notes found in the 40yr
  • Vintage Cask 36-year-old (1978) – one of the top pours of the night
  • Project XX – nicely balances the different cask types used

One thing that struck me was the balance of flavors through all the expressions we sampled. Nothing was ever one-sided. Those sherry notes were never overpowering. That Glenfiddich signature vanilla and orchard fruit character always remained at the core.

We didn’t make it through all 27 bottles. Twenty seemed to be our limit. No matter – this Herculean tasting was one of those ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ events, and one I’ll remember for a very long time.

Thanks to everyone for allowing me to take part in a such special tasting and for sharing your whisky knowledge. Especially Jorge. He’s an extremely generous guy who loves nothing more than sharing a great drink (and a dirty joke or two) with people. Thanks for an unforgettable whisky night. Slainte!

Review: Maker’s Mark Private Select (Maker’s Mark Tasting Panel)

Lots of distilleries offer a single barrel program. Customers either travel to the distillery to choose a barrel or have barrel samples sent to them. Either way, they are usually choosing from a selection of three barrels. Maker’s Mark offers a much more immersive, personalized program, called Private Select.

Instead of just picking a barrel, customers choose how their whisky is finished by selecting a combination of five different oak staves:

  1. Baked American Pure 2 – American Oak toasted low and slow in a convection oven. Yields a light, bright sweet style.
  2. Seared French Cuvee – French Oak that’s been cut with ridges to increase surface area and varying degrees of char. Adds brown sugar subtle spice.
  3. Maker’s 46 – French Oak produced with infrared toasting, this is the stave that’s used to create the Maker’s 46 expression, which was the inspiration for this program.
  4. Roasted French Mocha – French Oak cooked at high heat in a convection oven. Adds a dark coffee richness.
  5. Toasted French Spice – Another French Oak cooked at both high and low levels in a convection oven. As the name suggests, this one adds a spiciness to your bourbon, and beefs up the finish.

Customers taste whiskies finished with each stave, and begin creating a flavor profile by blending these whiskies in different portions. The resulting combination of 10 staves is then added to a barrel of Maker’s Mark whisky and stored in the distillery’s new cellar for about nine weeks.

Bottled at 111.0 proof, this Private Select boasts a rich, fruity nose featuring hints of dark brown sugar, baked apples, and some baking spice.  On the palate, an initial wave of soft spice peppers the tongue but is cushioned by decadent vanilla cream and vibrant orange zest that soon follows.  Cocoa dusted apples and a touch of astringent oak show up on the back of the palate.  The long finish is a tad spicy with a lingering dark roasted coffee note.

After having attended a selection for the New Orleans Bourbon Festival earlier this year (more on that later), I have to say it was one of the most immersive tasting selections I’ve experienced.  That pick, which I tasted recently and will review in full soon, was a completely different whisky than the whisky tasted here.

Speaking of immersive, the brand’s new ad that just launched on Youtube is pretty cool.  Make sure to use your mobile device for the best result.  I don’t know of any other VR ads out there right now.

Back to the whisky, I find the Maker’s Mark soft, sweet profile acts as a strong base in which to showcase the flavors brought about by the unique oak stave finish.  I’ve only tasted two of these whiskies, and both were outstanding.  In this case, the Roasted French Mocha staves add just the right amount of rich, dark notes that play with the caramel notes brought about by the Seared French Cuvee staves.  Nicely done here.  If you haven’t tasted a Maker’s Mark Private Select, you’re really missing out on something special.  8.5/10

Thanks to Maker’s Mark for the sample.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.