Kindred Spirits 2:
The Consumer's Buying Guide to Distilled Spirits
2400 Reviews of Whiskey, Brandy, Vodka, Tequila, Rum, Gin, and Liqueurs
from F. Paul Pacult's Spirit Journal

by F. Paul Pacult

  


Excerpt from the Introduction of
Kindred Spirits 2


What my critiques come down to are these two salient points: Is this product something that stacks up well in relation to the established, contemporary standards of the specific category? And, most important of all, would I recommend this product to a friend or colleague? I employ a one to five star rating system, with one being the lowest score and five the highest. Here’s what they signify:

tells you that that particular product’s quality is well below the established standard for the category. One star products are often undrinkable, unbalanced, and obviously are deemed as being Not Recommended.

indicate an item that is only average or fair when judged against its peers and is, therefore, Not Recommended. These spirits may be drinkable and without severe failings, but in the end they are uninspiring and lacking any special merit. I would not tell a friend to buy them.

mean that the character profile of this item is better than average and exceeds what would be considered as the norm for product quality of this category. Three star products are Recommended. I would positively advise a friend to hunt them down.

indicate that the product under scrutiny is starting to get into pretty heady territory. These products far exceed what is thought to be average/fair. Four stars point to a product of authentic quality and distinct personality. These high quality items come Highly Recommended. I would, with gusto, counsel all my friends to buy these products.

indicate a watershed, landmark product whose seamless quality is as ideal as an item within that category can get. These are the benchmark products that can be thought of as defining a spirits category due to their harmonious natures in which all the chemical components—alcohol, acids, base materials, wood use, if any—are perfectly integrated through outstanding distillation, maturation, filtration, blending and/or other production techniques. They receive my Highest Recommendation. At this degree of excellence, I tell anyone who’ll listen, strangers in the street, my parking attendant, the UPS man, anyone, to do whatever needs to be done in order to get a bottle of these rare and exquisite spirits.

It is my belief that the world’s distillers have gotten better across the board over the last decade. Shared experience, advanced technology and improved filtration and maturation management have combined to make finer spirits in all categories, especially tequila and rum. Consequently, I find myself recommending a slightly higher percentage of products nowadays, not because I’m getting sentimental but because the quality is noticeably better.

Alcohol by volume, or abv.
As part of every review, the abv is cited for informational purposes. Typically when you come across a whiskey or a brandy abv that’s wildly different from the standard 40% to 43% level, such as 59.2%, 63.3%, or 49.9%, it frequently signals a “cask strength” spirit. This means that the spirit was drawn from the barrel and bottled without dilution down to a lower range.

Listed suggested retail prices and unlisted importers.
As part of each review, you’ll find the suggested retail price as ascertained at the time of the review. In other words, a cognac review from 2001 will have posted the price that it was at the time of the review. It's probable that the price in 2008 will be higher by a few dollars. The idea is to offer a price range more than a specific price. Also, no importers are listed because they have a habit of changing often.

A tiny excerpt from the Distillery Issue Single Malt Scotch Whisky—Scotland section of Kindred Spirits 2:
(don’t forget there are over 2, 400 reviews in the book of all spirits categories).

SMSW = single malt Scotch whisky


Aberlour 12 Year Old Sherry Cask Matured Speyside SMSW (Scotland); 40% abv, $34/liter.
The color is bronze/deep honey/topaz; there's some sediment spotted under the evaluation lamp. The big-hearted, assertive opening aroma is sweet, oloroso sherry-like, and intensely caramelly; by the second whiff, the sherry impact dominates in the form of dark caramel/marzipan; the penultimate sniffing, after seven minutes in the glass, adds hard cheese and even a deft touch of cognac-like rancio; the fourth and final inhalation sees minor diminishment in potency, but the sweet sherry remains in charge; a chunky, headstrong malt bouquet. The palate entry is sap-like and honeyed; the midpalate is thick, concentrated, honeyed, and candied. The aftertaste is long, toasty sweet, and lip smacking. A completely different if bawdy spin of the bottle from the polite 1990; please return your tray table and raise your seat to the upright position—TAKE OFF!!
2001 Rating:
Highly Recommended

Aberlour 15 Year Old Double Cask Matured Speyside SMSW (Scotland); 40% abv, $47/liter.
Matured in both bourbon and sherry casks for fourteen years, then blended and aged a further year in oloroso sherry butts. Medium amber hue; near perfect clarity. The intriguing opening aroma hints of cocoa butter, guava, and poppy seed; the second and third sniffings add wonderfully perfumy and inviting scents of pineapple, lemon drop, and moderately sweet grain to the aromatic mix while the final whiff, following a full nine minutes, features the citrusy tang on the surface but underneath lies the solid, almost flowery bourbon barrel foundation. As terrific as it is in the nose, the taste is even better and more evolved; the palate entry arrives in fourth gear as rich tastes of candied apple, walnuts, and honey delight the taste buds; at midpalate the oloroso sherry becomes a primary flavor along with banana, sweet oak, vanilla, and toast. The finish is long, luxurious and honeyed. Rivals the great 21 Year Old in my view.
2001 Rating: Highest Recommendation

Aberlour 1990 Vintage Speyside SMSW (Scotland); 40% abv, $30/liter.
Absolutely pure, golden honey/amber hue. In the first nosing pass lovely aromas of honeydew melon and toasted bread delight the olfactory sense; the second and third whiffs add firm, slightly oily notes of honey and candied almond; following nine minutes of aeration, the aroma becomes a bona fide bouquet in the fourth sniffing as gentlemanly, off-dry scents of yellow fruit (banana especially), grain, and light toffee combine to create a grand aromatic finale. The palate entry is succulent and fruity sweet; at the midpalate juncture the toastiness of the oak barrel becomes the major flavor player. The finish is medium long, woody/resiny/sweet and satisfying. A very, very good younger expression.
2001 Rating:
Highly Recommended

Aberlour a’bunadh Speyside SMSW (Scotland); 59.6% abv, $60.
Pronounced a-BOON-arh; aged in oloroso sherry casks and not run through the chillfiltering process that most single malts are routinely subjected to. The medium amber color is slightly flat under the evaluation lamp; good purity. The nose is immediately toasty and malty in the first sniffing; hints of hard cheese lurk in the background of the second nosing pass; by the third whiff, following almost seven minutes of exposure to air, the piquant spirit comes alive, but doesn’t overshadow the toasty malt; the fourth and final pass finally sees some of the sherry emerge, though hardly any at all, leaving the spirit and roasted malt all to themselves; a solid bouquet, but not as stirring as two other relatively recent Aberlour releases, to wit, the fabulous 15 and 18 Year Olds, released in 1997 (both ). The palate entry is sassy, oily, and spirity in equal parts; the midpalate stage is very oily and sleek and rife with bittersweet flavors of cocoa, soot, and fruit pit; much to its credit, the tangy spirit is quiet at midpalate but explodes in the aftertaste, making for a combustible but exceedingly pleasing finish. While the aroma seems surprisingly tame, the mouth experience offers whisky lovers a fast ride well worth taking.
2000 Rating:
Highly Recommended

Ardbeg “Lord of the Isles” 25 Year Old Islay SMSW (Scotland); 46% abv, £100.
Only available in the United Kingdom. The attractive golden wheat/burnished yellow color shows impeccable purity. The opening bursts of aroma offer tidal waves of almond butter, cigar smoke, and medicine cabinet; seven more minutes resting in the glass allows for the emergence of succulent scents of chocolate orange, fresh peat, black pekoe tea leaves, bonfire, and kippers; a mammoth bouquet that stacks up with the best ever from Ardbeg, Lagavulin, and Laphroaig. The palate entry is serenely fudgy sweet and poised; at midpalate the flavor profile turns to smoky cocoa, bittersweet nougat, pipe tobacco, textbook peat-reek, and straight black tea. Concludes sweetly, fruity, mildly peaty, and elegant. Right up there with the magical, mystical Ardbeg Uigeadail ().
2004 Rating:
Highest Recommendation

Ardbeg 1974 Provenance Very Old Islay SMSW (Scotland); 54% abv, $600.
Glorious, brilliant, gem-like topaz/light honey color; superb purity. The initial two nosing passes following the pour expose dynamic and vibrant aromas of peat, cigarette smoke, heather, citrus rind, and charcoal (from bourbon casks?); an extra few minutes of air contact stimulate “seasoned” aromas of black pepper, allspice, dill, and seaweed; a tremendously sophisticated though robust bouquet. The palate entry shows a flash of spirity heat that then abates, allowing peaty, smoky, yet sweet tastes to develop on the tongue; at midpalate there’s a whole array of flavors layering on top of each other including oaky vanillin, light toffee, nougat, and peaty smoke. The finish is long, oily, intensely smoky, and luscious. A serious malt.
2002 Rating:
Highly Recommended

Ardbeg 1977 Islay SMSW (Scotland); 46% abv, $100.
Amber/harvest gold color; excellent purity. The aroma kicks off the nosing part of the evaluation in true Ardbeg fashion, in other words with lots of charcoal, smoke, seaweed, peat reek, and iodine-like phenols; another seven minutes in the glass allows for a deeper layer of the bouquet to emerge, namely scents of ripe green pepper, black pepper, Brazil nuts, and tobacco leaf; a broad-shouldered, explosive, yet strangely sublime bouquet. The palate entry is positively polite as lightly smoked tastes of seaweed and oatmeal greet the taste buds; the midpalate point is far more aggressive in its briny, peaty, but semisweet smokiness. The aftertaste is almost honeyed and lip-smacking sweet. A memorable Islay malt ride that owns a foundational thread of steadiness and order that keeps the experience from getting out-of-hand.
2002 Rating:
Recommended

Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist 1990 Non-Chill Filtered Islay SMSW (Scotland); 46% abv, $110.

From distillate that was placed in used bourbon oak barrels in 1990. The yellow/hay color is pale and bright; excellent clarity. In the first inhalations, the aroma is stunningly delicate and grainy sweet; additional time in the glass brings out more of the peat fire, cigar tobacco, seaweed, and ocean breeze; the bouquet is a complete Islay profile package. The palate entry is sap-like in its gentle sweetness and the alcohol nips gently at the sides of the tongue; by the midpalate stage my 10,000 taste buds are enchanted to the point of being mesmerized as lush, but pointed tastes of sea salt, gentle pipe smoke, peat, and pineapple converge. Finishes elegantly, yet with an underpinning smoky/saltiness that has Islay written all over it. Wonderful.
2007 Rating:
Highest Recommendation

Ardbeg 10 Year Old Islay SMSW (Scotland); 46% abv, $35.
Put up your tray tables and fasten your seatbelts. The appearance is a vivid straw yellow; complete purity. The opening nosing gives a jolt of what makes Ardbeg infamous and a cult malt, a mesmerizing peatiness that’s borderline medicine chest and fresh cigar ashes; the middle stage sniffings are relatively tame by comparison as the intense peatiness settles down into an ashy/sooty but mellow and composed midstage bouquet; further aeration allows a dry mossy/vegetal aroma to mingle with the ash. The palate entry is dry and concentrated; then the midpalate phase turns surprisingly sweet, oily, and only moderately peaty/smoky. The finish is long, embers warm, ashy, and only a bit unruly. Though some ardent mavens might think this Ardbeg has been neutered in production, I believe that it’s the most drinkable Ardbeg offering I’ve evaluated so far, beating even the terrific 17 Year Old and the 1974 (both ); bravo.
2001 Rating:
Highly Recommended

Ardbeg Uigeadail Islay SMSW (Scotland); 54.2% abv, $75.
Medium amber/umber color; superb purity. The concentrated, smoky/peaty early-on aroma is thrillingly compelling, rich without being unctuous and amazingly nutty; more time and a splash of spring water unleash all sorts of multiple layers of fragrance, from oloroso sherry to almonds sautéed in butter to vanilla fudge to toffee pudding to malted milk; a supremely decadent, cutting-edge and luscious Islay aroma. The palate entry is LARGE, sweetly smoky, and as succulent as dried fruit, especially peaches and pears; the midpalate stage displays plenty of oak presence, along with vanilla wafer, pears in brandy, road tar, cigar smoke, and iodine. Finishes bittersweet, chewy, and smoky. A tour de force of the first Islay rank and a classic in the making.
2004 Rating:
Highest Recommendation

Arran 10 Year Old Isle of Arran SMSW (Scotland); 46% abv, $49.
Eye-catching color of wheat field/amber; superb purity. The opening whiffs detect deep, dry, and kernel-like scents of malt/flax; the bouquet flattens out with aeration, going horizontal and therefore uninteresting; this aroma frankly didn’t seem to have a lot going for it in the initial sniffs. The palate entry is concentrated, highly spirited, verrrry oaky, and slightly awkward due to a lack of grain or fruit; the midpalate stage fares better as the spirit settles down, allowing the sweet, nougat-like taste to emerge and dominate. Concludes a tad too warm and smoldering, and resiny. A drinkable misfire that displayed its problems in the nose and wasn’t able to overcome them in the three tasting phases. Some good traits and not a total bust, but one to skip nonetheless.
2006 Rating:
Not Recommended

Arran Calvados Finish Isle of Arran SMSW (Scotland); 62.1% abv, £45.
Only available in the United Kingdom. The bright golden/marigold color is blemish-free. The opening nose is grain-driven and moderately sap-like and sweet; aeration doesn’t seem to stir much in the way of calvados/apple presence as the malted grain element dominates the entire aroma stage; firm, a bit hot, and malty at palate entry; after being reduced with mineral water; the midpalate phase shows a honeyed sweetness that’s pleasing. Ends sweet, assertive, and marshmallow-like. I simply couldn’t detect the calvados influence, either with or without the addition of water.
2004 Rating:
Recommended

Arran Cream Sherry Cask Finish Gonzalez Byass Isle of Arran SMSW (Scotland);57.4% abv, $79.
Harvest gold/topaz color; ideal clarity. In the first inhalations following the pour, the zesty perfume of sherry wood is unmistakable and more dry and nutty than fruity or sweet; further exposure to air brings out a ripe, red fruitiness and a bread dough quality that skip along on top of the fully evident spirit. The palate entry is like baked pineapple, toasted oats, and meat-like (roast pork loin?); the midpalate stage is marked by a pleasing buttery/creamy taste that’s more nut paste than fruit-like. Finishes semisweet, a little unsure of itself structure-wise, but firm, prickly, caramel-like, and oaky.
2006 Rating:
Recommended

Arran Isle of Arran SMSW (Scotland); 46% abv, £40
Only available in the United Kingdom. The bright, harvest-time golden hue is blemish-free and very alluring. The initial whiffs detect a mellow honey/baked bread bouquet; after six more minutes of air contact, the bouquet turns decidedly leathery, pork rind-like, sausage-like, and burnt. The roasted/burnt/toasty quality revealed in the late stages of the nosing are all present and accounted for in the satisfying palate entry; by midpalate the taste profile turns bittersweet, honeyed, waxy, lead pencil-like, and muesli-like. Concludes lipsmackingly bittersweet, honeyed, spirited, yet composed.
2004 Rating:
Recommended

Arran Isle of Arran SMSW (Scotland); 43% abv, $49.
Very pale flax/yellow/white wine appearance; fine clarity. The aroma at opening is keenly fruity and malty; in the second pass the bouquet offers tame scents of sweet dry cereal and flowers, backed up by a mild scent of citrus; after six minutes of air contact, the grain begins to overtake the fruit element in the next to final nosing pass; following almost ten minutes of aeration, what’s emitted is a gently sweet, slightly restrained perfume of dry cereal grain; this is a fey malt bouquet that’s pleasing and moderately alluring, but hardly profound or compelling. In the mouth, the palate entry is simple, sweet and grainy; the midpalate phase echoes the entry, adding nothing new in terms of expansion or deepening. The finish is swift, slightly harsh, grainy, and forgettable. A simple, but wholly decent beginner malt, nothing more.
2000 Rating:
Not Recommended

Arran Lepanto PX Brandy Cask Finish Isle of Arran SMSW (Scotland); 58.9% abv, $79.
Pale yellow/white wine appearance; flawless purity. My olfactory sense is treated to a prickly, piquant opening fragrance that’s intensely spirity and a dash tropical fruit-like (pineapple, banana, guava, especially); following additional time in the copita, the aroma profile adds succulent scents of light English toffee, sautéed almonds, quince, melon, and fruitcake. The palate entry is sweet, piny, and spirity; the midpalate stage is notable for its feisty spirit, intense oakiness/resininess, and backdoor sweetness. Intriguing marriage of malt whisky matured in brandy cask. I like the concept.
2006 Rating:
Recommended

Arran Malt A. Hardy Napoleon Cognac Cask Finish Single Cask Island SMSW (Scotland); 57.8% abv, $80.
Straw yellow color; superb clarity. The beguiling initial aroma is delightfully fruity, with assertive smells of prunes, black raisins, and dates; further air contact brings out big buttery/oaky aromas that are fatty/oily and bacon-like; a wonderfully expressive bouquet. The palate entry is lean, intensely spirity, buttery, and focused; I add mineral water before proceeding with the midpalate evaluation because of the status of the spirit; at the midpalate point the taste profile, with necessary dilution, is creamy, caramel-like and nougaty, with background traces of honey and vanilla. Finishes rich, round, and semisweet.
2007 Rating:
Highly Recommended

Arran Malt Single Cask SMSW (Scotland); 58.2% abv, $70.
The pretty amber color is pure and clean. The opening sniffs encounter a candy sweet, ripe red fruit (raspberry? strawberry?) bouquet that’s stunningly ambrosial; following another seven minutes of exposure to air, the bouquet stays the fruity/estery course as a subtle, underpinning note of confectioner’s sugar comes alive; unlike any single malt bouquet I’ve encountered. The palate entry flashes a bit of spirity fire but underlying that is a delicious honey-like, almost butter cream taste; the midpalate shines for its unabashed sherry and cocoa-like sweetness. The aftertaste is sweet, malty and spirity; young (5 years old) and restless. This spunky malt is definitely worth a look, especially for admirers of sweeter malts.
2003 Rating:
Recommended

Arran Malt Port Cask Finished Single Cask Isle of Arran SMSW (Scotland); 58.5% abv, $79.
Aged first in old sherry casks, then “finished” in port pipes. The orange/pink/peachlike color is very attractive and atypical; clarity level is perfect. The opening whiffs pick up delectable scents of grapes, oranges, cotton, tar, and wood shavings; additional aeration time allows the bouquet enough space to add fragrances of holiday spices, white raisins, quince, fruitcake, chocolate covered cherries, robust spirit, and candied almond; I mean, there is no stopping this aroma. Add mineral water before tasting. The palate entry is wonderfully vivid in its fruitiness and ripeness; the midpalate stage highlights honey, sherry, baked red apple, Bosc pear, ruby port, and grape preserves flavors. Finishes up warm due to the aggressive spirit, but sweet, ripe, and jammy. To date, the quintessential Arran and a landmark achievement for this still young distillery.
2006 Rating:
Highest Recommendation

Arran Non-Chill Filtered Malt Whisky Isle of Arran SMSW (Scotland); 46% abv, $49.
The attractive pale golden/straw color is flawless. The opening bouquet is jaunty, vivid, malty, and deeply grainy; another seven minutes in the copita allow for the vigorous aromas to settle down, becoming more refined and delicate in the bearing; I note dried aromas of Christmas spice, dates, white raisins, and shoe polish. The frisky taste at palate entry is spirity and fresh, if a bit disorderly; the midpalate holds a flavor profile that’s sassy, zesty, woody/resiny, dry and astringent, and immature. Finishes as rambunctiously as it begins, with unbridled tastes of resin, grain husk, and raw heady spirit. No age statement on the label leads me to believe that this is a very young whisky, at most four years old; its ungainly, take-no-prisoners nature makes me think that it would be far better with another two years, at the minimum, in oak; loads of potential, but too juvenile and under-developed.
2004 Rating:
Not Recommended

Arran Port Finish Isle of Arran SMSW (Scotland); 57.4% abv, £45.
Only available in the United Kingdom. The brilliant, brick red/blood orange color immediately captures the eye; perfect purity. The zesty, winey aroma in the first passes displays touches of mead and peanut oil; time in the glass encourages the heady spirit to come out in force, but it never overshadows the base material component, which is off-dry, wine-like, Christmas pudding-like, burnt matchstick-like, and resiny. The palate entry offers a smooth silkiness and a creaminess that are compelling; by midpalate a ruby port-like aroma enters the equation as further scents, such as orange rind, light toffee, and black pepper, are added. Finishes semisweet, if a little too searing and feral, so make certain that you add some mineral water. If it were my distilling decision, as with the sherry cask, I’d reduce the spirit down to 46% at the distillery and then bottle it.
2004 Rating:
Recommended

Arran Single Bourbon Cask Isle of Arran SMSW (Scotland); 58.4% abv, $79.
The medium amber/honey color is pretty and clean. The first sniffings pick up predictable aromas of vanilla, maple, and honey; following seven more minutes of air exposure, the bouquet turns bread-like and baked, with notes of resin, paraffin, cowhide, hemp, and egg noodle. The palate entry is sweet, maple- and sap-like; at midpalate the alcohol kicks in, warming the tongue and offering sweet flavors of honey, toffee, and marzipan. Concludes well, with warm bursts of alcohol and parting tastes of honey and toffee.
2004 Rating:
Recommended

Arran Single Sherry Cask Isle of Arran SMSW (Scotland); 57.3% abv, $79.
The color is deep amber/honey/tawny and flawlessly pure. The first nosing seems surprisingly green and vegetal, with a background trace of sea salt; further time in the copita stirs additional scents, including wet sand, green olives, and linseed oil; not the bouquet I expected. The palate entry is more in line with the cask maturing as lightly honeyed, caramel-like, and marshmallow tastes treat the taste buds well; by midpalate the sherry influence is in full bloom as succulent flavors of dark caramel, black tea leaves, nougat, treacle, and marzipan thrill the palate. Finishes sweet, plucky, and heady. I think that Arran would do itself a favor—and its customers—by reducing this feral malt to 46% at the distillery; the high rating reflects the personality of this malt after it’s been reduced with mineral water.
2004 Rating:
Highly Recommended