Whisky and Words Number 80: Johnny Walker ‘A Song of Fire’

Got dragons. But is it a fiery dram?

You may have seen the range of special-release whiskies following the Game of Thrones TV series. I had a lot of other whiskies to review stacked up so did not catch any of those when they arrived, but recently I stumbled across a discount shelf with this blend from Johnny Walker. I always keep some Johnnie Walker Black around, and I figured, why not give this a comparison to the standard. Also, I have read the SOIAF books and followed (suffered?) through the Game of Thrones series on HBO until the end. I even mused here on the blog about the annoying habit of showrunners sending their characters into danger without proper headgear. So, the buy was a no-brainer.

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Whisky and Words Number 79: Glen Garioch 1797 Founders Reserve

We found the Founder’s in a bottle shop in Edinburgh. But you can get it in the US, too.

Glen Garioch (pronounced ‘glen geery’) is an interesting place. The distillery is one of the oldest whisky distilleries in Scotland, dating back to 1797 with just a couple short periods of closure, in 1968 and 1995. The distillery has been part of Morrison Bowmore Distillers (Auchentoshan and Bowmore) since 1970. Morrison Bowmore was acquired by Suntory in 1994. There are some great details about the distillery on Morrison Bowmore’s site. There is a lauter for the mash tun and they use stainless steel washbacks. They have three sizeable stills, of which two are presently used, according to various sources. Their production is small, at about 1M liters per year. That’s one-third the size of Glenfarclas, for example. On the Glen Garioch web site, they state they produce without chill filtration, and play up the small batch aspect of the spirits. Their 3-minute video gives some views of the well-tended distillery.

Glen Garioch have a 12-year (which is on my radar), but this review is for the Founder’s Reserve, a low-priced NAS offering ($47 here in Oregon). That’s even less than Talisker’s Storm or Highland Park’s Magnus.

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Whisky and Words Number 78: Bulleit 95 Rye

Today’s entry is going to be a benchmark for some craft whiskies to come. In the U.S., we’ve see billboard ads for Bulleit products fairly regularly over the last 10 years. This is a brand with some history (mid-1800s), though it was dormant for 120 years. The brand was reflated in the late 1980s, then sold to Seagrams, which was gobbled up by Diageo.

Diageo’s Bulleit bourbon is centered in two plants, the larger being almost 7 M litres per year. That dwarfs most Scottish distilleries. But that’s not all. This 95 Rye spirit is distilled at another facility, MGP Indiana, a contract distiller. This is a typical arrangement for American whiskies. Whereas in Scotland they have contracted out much of the maltings, cooperage and some bottling and warehouses, in the US, it’s more common that the distillation is contracted out en toto. So what’s a brand in that case? Some ‘producers’ do their own finishing: cask and aging. Others buy the stuff finished and just supply the marketing. Mostly, that’s fluff and sometimes gets them into legal trouble.

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Whisky and Words Number 77: Ardbeg Uigeadail vs. Port Charlotte 10

Uigeadail, another mysterious Lumsden creation.

I’ve covered the standard Ardbeg 10 and Corryvreckan whiskies on the blog previously. The 10 is a solid performer in the Islay peat stakes and a reasonable $55. They distillery releases some older whiskies and also a range of NAS offerings both on the value and premium and of pricing. The cheap and rascally Wee Beastie and to-be-tasted An Oa hold the low end of the line (under $50). The premium NAS offerings, Uigeadail and Corryvreckan, increase the stakes as they are priced here in Oregon at $82 and $92, respectively. Going into this testing I’m expecting a smoother delivery than the 10-year and the signature excellence in robust but balanced flavors I have come to expect from Ardbeg. I’m also very curious to see how the two premium offerings compare, and I’ve got an impressive competitor as well, the Bruichladdich Port Charlotte 10.

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Whisky and Words Number 76: Woodford Reserve vs. Knob Creek

Woodford Reserve is the premium bourbon from Brown Forman

Woodford Reserve is the premium whisky from the folks at Brown-Forman, famous for Jack Daniels (as well as some Scotch labels such as BenRiach). Oddly enough Jack Daniels was the favorite tipple of Keith Richards (until he went dry in 2018). He could afford better, and the distillery does make a better whisky. With Woodford, Brown-Forman are going for a higher price and more refined flavor. And to one-up our valiant competitor Knob Creek, Brown-Forman even include a pot still in the Woodford Reserve production, whereas Knob Creek is all column-distilled. But there’s more to whisky than the still.

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