Nov 252015

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye125

45% abv

Score:  83.5/100


Let’s be timely for once.  I feel dirty just stooping to this, but we’ll do it anyway.  Lots of you out there are wondering about this one, so here goes…

A few days back some now largely irrelevant and virtually obsolete ‘prophet’ announced this whisky as his ‘world whisky of the year’.  If you were grabbing a few beer in a local pub and overheard some young ‘Crown and ginger’ types at an adjacent table make a comment like this you’d think ‘hyperbole’; a non-whisky geek who is simply enamoured with a new flavour.  No harm, no foul.  But let’s put this in context a little more.  This self-proclaimed expert – with nearly unlimited access to ridiculous numbers of old and rare, sexy and special malts – has bypassed all of the heirs apparent and coronated this generic Canadian expression above all others.  Really?  Really?  We’re to believe there weren’t dozens – or even hundreds – of better single malts…unique single casks…fabulous expression from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s…tropical fruit-rich bourbon barrel matured malts…stunning old sherry bombs…atrociously huge peat monsters…that crossed those lecherous old lips this year?  No repeat winners from past logic-defying selections?  What happened to the rise of Japanese whisky?  Where’s the Ardbeg or Pulteney love?  How ’bout taking the piss with another Ballantine’s award?  But Crown Royal?  Please.  Now you’re just insulting us.

In the event you’re wondering if I shouldn’t just be pleased to see a dram from my home and native land scoring accolades and bringing attention to the Canadian whisky industry the simplest answer is: no.  Ridiculous is ridiculous, irrespective of provenance.  This is an ‘ok’ whisky.  But unfortunately the reality is that Canadian whisky as a category is so far behind the world whisky movement that even the best examples are sort of like being the smartest idiot.  Crown Royal is simply not on par with the best of Scotland, Japan, the US, India or even Ireland.  This is like replacing the Stones with a local bar band and thinking people will still fill the stadium.

I hate to make this seem as though I’m ragging on Crown here.  That’s not really the point.  It’s a situational observation.  Unless, of course, as has been speculated, some Benjamins traded hands in order to ratchet this one up a few points, in which case we certainly will rag on all involved.  But we’ll assume not.  Benefit of the doubt.  It’s more likely the biblical blowhard simply needed a controversy to help propel sales of his book, which in recent times is about as relevant as VHS and cassette tapes.

At $35 (or thereabouts, if you can find it anymore) not a bad deal.  Having said that…I’ve tried it.  I can move on now.

Nose:  Very soft nose.  Rich in spices and smells like fresh-baked cinnamon buns.  A little ginger.  Much more refined than the standard Crown Royal.  Toffee.  Apple.  More cinnamon.  A touch of eucalyptus.  Creme brulee.  Wood is loud here.  Dark jams.  I like this nose quite a lot.  I really wanted to reject it at first sniff, but I’ve gotta be honest.  Fruitier and more down-home appeal than I expected.

Palate:  Yep…it’s Canadian whisky.  Huge letdown after the comfortable familiarity of the nose.  Thicken this up a bit into a syrup and it would be great over ice cream, where the cream would temper the sharper woody notes.  Too much wood spice (no, not just the typical rye spice, though there is that too).  Some apple.  Some orange oil.  Far too biting and zippy for something that smells this soft.  Thin and short on finish.  I do think, though, that with another ten years in a very dead barrel this could be a stunner…if at cask strength.

Thoughts:  So…what more should we say?  Hmmm.  Not bad, to be fair, but WWOTY?  You have got to be kidding me.  I think we’ll stop now.  We’re just feeding the troll.  He’s fat enough, I’d say.  At least his fedora-hatted head, anyway.


– Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:03 am
Nov 192015

Octomore 7.1006

59.5% abv

Score:  85/100


One of the latest Octomore releases, and Jim McEwan’s swan song, from what I understand.  This one just hit our shores a couple weeks back.  I tried it in a range of eight other Octomore releases at that point, and have since tried it paired with another two (the recently reviewed 4.1 and 5.1).

By now you all know the Octomore story.  One of the only 5 year old age stated malts out there…cask strength…uncolored…non chill-filtered…the world’s most heavily-peated spirit.  An iconic whisky, if ever there was one, with early releases (and a couple of the one-offs) reaching ridiculous sums on the secondary market.  This is a drinking whisky though.  Meant to be a cornerstone in any drinking man or woman’s sense-library.  Trust me…there is a pre- and post-Octomore understanding of whisky.  You’ll understand what I mean once you’ve tried it.  This is a whisky that becomes a yardstick for everything after.

7.1 is a wee hop backwards in terms of smoky strength from last year’s behemoth 6.3 edition, which weighed in at 238 phenolic ppm (parts per million).  This one is a mere(!!) 208 ppm.  If those numbers seem like gross novelty, rest assured that the whisky is actually really good.  This one shines a little less brightly than others in the range, but it’s still a good malt and will knock the knickers off the neophytes, if you’re so inclined to show the noobs what real phenols are.  Just don’t expect polish here.  This one is a little more rough and tumble.

Nose:  Cola and chocolate.  Peat and smoke.  Pie crust.  Vanilla coke.  Somewhat creamy, but notes of tar and rubber sharpen it up a bit.  As do the hints of lemon.  Gets beautifully soft with a bit of time in the glass.  As soft as an Octomore can be, that is.  Pepper and cinnamon hearts.

Palate:  Sharp and green on the palate.  A little bittering actually.  It’s kinda like tart uncooked greens through the development.  A slight burnt note.  Burnt pastry, I think.  Coffee and cola.  Lemon rind.  A lot of smoke and ashiness.  Kinda herbal…maybe tea-ish.

Thoughts:  A little less depth than some of the other Octomore releases, but still a rather special malt.  Great soft nose, but the palate doesn’t live up to it.  Tastes young (and, of course, it is).


 – Reviewed by:  Curt

 – Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:37 am
Nov 172015

Octomore 5.1029

59.5% abv

Score:  88.5/100


Let’s do another Octomore today.  A few days back we looked at the 4.1.  I was going to post this one right after that one, but then…well…Paris happened.  Posting anything at a time like that seemed insensitive, to say the least.  But today…a few days removed…let’s have a drink to celebrate life and the pursuit of better things to come.  Another Octomore.  Today, the 5.1.

With this release Bruichladdich have ratcheted up the phenolic ppm a couple ticks (to 169 this time), but the abv has come down a couple of notches.  Can we call that a wash?  A point up or down on either side isn’t gonna make much difference, I’d argue.  These are big, big drams.

5.1 boasts the same credentials we discussed in the previous post.  Young, age-stated and offered up in all its natural beauty, blemishes intact.  We (being myself, and some of the most consistent and vocal contributors here on ATW) are big fans of this approach.  Quite frankly, it’s a whisky lovers dream.

You could argue that the differences from one Octomore to the next are but ‘variations on a theme’, and for the most part you’d be right.  What might surprise, however, is just how bold those variations can be.  Of course all whisky is essentially putty in the hands of the cask so there will always be variance, but peat this massive tends to mask a lot of the subtleties we usually suss out rather easily in unpeated (or lightly peated) malts.  What I’m trying to say is that personally I would sort of expect to see a smaller range of differences between Octomores than we do, simply due to the peaty smokescreen.  The reality is, however, that the Octomore expressions I’ve tried (nearly all of them) swing wildly from sweet and creamy to bone dry and ashy.  I love that.  The quality is high, but there is an exciting array of profiles within the expression.  It keeps Octomore fresh and on the radar.

Nose:  Rather sharp and aggressive at first.  A nice farmy, old school Octomore.  Dry and ashy.  We’re closer to Port Charlotte territory with this one.  Lemon.  Some lovely creaminess too.  Kinda earthy and boggy…beautifully so.  Smoky, of course.  The barley shows through somehow.  Impressive.

Palate:  Dark chocolate.  Licorice.  Smoke and medicinal notes.  Very dry and ashy.  Sen-sens.  Lime zest.  Something that reminds of polished wood.  The smoke grows bigger and bigger and explodes in char and wood notes.  More licorice at the back end.  Bold, not to understate matters.

Thoughts:  Nice ‘balance’ of smoke and sweet.  A lopsided balance, of course, but held at a point of teetering without actually going over.  I like this one.  A LOT.


 – Reviewed by:  Curt

 – Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:08 am
Nov 122015

Octomore 4.1016

62.5% abv

Score:  87/100


Let’s discuss good young whisky for a bit, shall we?  As the whole NAS argument rages on, one of the periphery issues has been drawn kicking and screaming into the spotlight as well: can really young whisky actually be good enough to sell at the elevated prices that support the brands’ push for profit (the very essence of the NAS debate)?  If the answer is yes it effectively negates any argument in support of the validity of hiding information from the consumer.

This discussion, in turn, leads down the rabbit hole of ‘is older better?’, but we’re not going that far in 500 words or so, lest we turn this into another firestorm of an essay.  Let’s just say here that generally speaking, more mature whisky is better than young whisky.  Octomore is one of the exceptions that proves the rule, so to speak.  This brand has always been (excepting the one-off 10 year old) a 5 year old malt – clearly stated on the label – and is indeed a killer dram.  There’s no denying that the juice is good and it’s borne out by a broad sweep of positive reviews in all sectors of the whisky world.

Wait…so a five year old whisky – clearly labeled – can still retail for high prices and satisfy both consumer and producer?!  Weird.  Exactly what we’ve been saying for a long time now.

Octomore 4.1 is knee-buckling 62.5% abv bog beast of a dram.  It is as sharp and jagged as obsidian to the newcomer, but as warming and comfortably atmospheric as a beachside bonfire to those of us like to bask in the fires of hell.  Phenolic heights in the malted barley of this one soared to a stratospheric 167 ppm (prior to distillation, of course), but you’d be hard-pressed to say this was any smokier than an Ardbeg or Laphroaig.

And for those suffering from a wee bit of intimidation…interestingly enough it is possible to find softer, safer versions of Octomore (ignore the abv and phenol counts, and simply rely on the creaminess you’ll discover by the senses), but I do concede a soft spot for the more rough and tumble expressions such as this one.  Beastly and not of this earth.

Finally…though Bruichladdich plays on both sides of the NAS field, let’s give them kudos here for being ballsy enough to shove a five year old malt into the forefront of the whisky scene.  Love it.  Team turquoise…if you’re reading this please take note:  You’ve always been the ones to buck the trend.  Please do so again.  Stick with age statements.  We like your whisky young and will buy it.

Nose:  Smoke.  Candy sweetness, like green Jolly Ranchers and green Ju-Jubes.  Citrus (lemon and key lime).  A BBQ note brings a slightly tangy edge to it.  Earthy and dry.  I get a slight ‘weedy’ note (and yes…that IS what I mean).

Palate:  Whoa.  Smoky.  Rubber.  Burnt rubber.  The smell of barley smoking abovbe the kiln (if you’ve experienced it, you’ll know).  Sweet, with some salt licorice notes.  Grilled scallops and lemon.  Lemongrass.  There’s a bit of chocolate with fruit candy too.  Quite a workover for the palate.  Leaves a slight barley note and a touch of seafood.

Thoughts:  A sweet example of Octomore.  Not the best of the bunch, but great nevertheless.


 – Reviewed by:  Curt

 – Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:51 am
Nov 022015

Let the shit hit the fan…


Let’s recap how things have been playing out of late:

NAS whiskies are still hitting the market with no signs of slowing.  Our mate and stalwart voice of reason, Serge, has taken NAS whiskies to task time and again on whiskyfun via little throwaway comments that aren’t so throwaway after all.  Glenfiddich – and in particular Ian Millar – had won me over big time by coming out in vocal support of age statements on whiskies in an interview with our mate Tabarek Razvi on The Malt Activist (until the recent Original 1963 NAS, that is).  The ever-candid Dom Roskrow has offered loud and resonant disapproval of the NAS principal on his blog.  Compass Box has locked horns (albeit rather gently) with the SWA again.  And more and more individuals are utilizing the comments sections on reviews, features and social media to express their disdain for what is quite rightly perceived as industry interests directly contrary to their own.

And on the flipside?  Well…here’s the thing…there’s an unbelievable silence from some of those that should be speaking out.  Those that have a vested interest in seeing the spirit retain its integrity and quality.  People who seem to have accepted the Matrix as opposed to the ugly reality of the machine that runs it.  Instead of fighting the machine, so many seem scared shitless that the wellspring dries up and perhaps their spheres of influence will shrink.  For shame, I say, as it is a disservice to themselves, us and the spirit.

Now, silence is one thing, but there’s more to it than silence.  There’s an undercurrent of actual industry apologism that I simply can’t wrap my head around.  I mean some of the whisky industry periphery (writers, bloggers, etc) who actually come out in defense of the industry in the face of criticism from the consumer.  If it’s simply vitriolic amateur mudslinging, I get it, but time and time again we’re seeing eloquent, intelligent, reasoned and impassioned arguments made only to be rebuffed by those one would logically assume to be on the same team.  Ok, so be it.  We’ll make it an ‘us and them’ thing if need be.

So where does that leave us?

Well…I know this might disappoint one or two of ‘the resistance’ out there, but I have to change tactics.  My initial approach was to talk about the issue as loud and long as I could, but to draw no attention to the whiskies themselves, either via reviews or purchases.  A boycott, in other words.  While I stand behind not giving the companies money for these whiskies that I stand in moral opposition to, I think I was wrong to stop talking about them.  The proof is in the pudding, they say, and I see time and time again that debates and comments are rife beneath reviews of the malts themselves.  So…can I have more influence by not talking about them at all?  Or can I swing a heavier hammer by writing them up and using the opportunity to state time and time again why we stand in opposition?  To me the latter seems like a more effective way of getting the message out there.  It also allows avenue after avenue for you, the reader, to engage in debate and to allow the brands a window into what we truly detest in their M.O.

Is it almost like an sin of omission on my part if I don’t use my voice properly?  Does it suggest I’m doing less than I should?  Maybe.  Think about the finale of Seinfeld.  You can watch the shit going down and not speak up (and be as tacitly guilty as all the rest for the decline of our beloved blood of Scotland), or you can raise a voice and let the brands know we don’t cotton to this fleecing…and why.

They are listening.  If you’re at all doubtful, have a hunt for the absolute horseshit that Diageo’s ‘Head of Whisky Outreach’ Nick Morgan spouted a while back.  I refuse to link to it again here, as the last thing I want to do is give a voice to such utter rubbish.  I’ve always disagreed with the idea that everyone is entitled to an opinion on any given subject.  Instead I believe that everyone is entitled to an informed opinion, and the fact of the matter is that Morgan’s opinion is nothing more than brand propaganda and condescending ‘contrarians are simply ignorant’ hogwash.  In fact…we’re done talking about him here.

Effective immediately, you will see reviews of NAS malts here on ATW again, but you can bet your ass they will not be politically correct little snippets that the brands will want to use for their marketing departments.  Sorry.  Such is.  Even if the marks are fair (I have to do that) the commentary will not be an endorsement.  It couldn’t be.  I simply can’t agree with the philosophy that supports the concept.

There are simply too many NAS malts on the shelves nowadays to stay silent on them.  Effectively we are giving the brands a pass to continue if we don’t speak out against them at every opportunity.  Let’s face it…I cherry pick my reviews anyway.  My silence on a subject means curious parties will find the info elsewhere.  In which case they’re likely being fed press releases, distiller’s official notes and apologist drivel.  I’d prefer there was a contrary opinion online somewhere than nothing touting the negatives, wouldn’t you?

As to how I spend my own money…no change.  I won’t be stocking my shelves with Talisker Storm, Oban Little Bay, Pulteney Navigator, etc.  This will keep me firmly in line with exactly what many of you are still doing.  My money will be reserved for age-stated whiskies and brands I don’t feel are taking the piss.  What I’m saying is that if some of these NAS malts come my way via tastings, friends, events, whatever, I may review them.  I WON’T, however, buy them.

So has my stance softened?  I’d argue not.  My financial actions are consistent, my weapon of choice is changing.  In the words of poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox: “To sin by silence, when we should protest, makes cowards out of men.”

What do you think?  Am I right?Vendetta


 – Curt

 Posted by at 9:56 am
Nov 022015

Highland Park Loki 042

48.7% abv

Score:  90.5/100


Loki was the second release in Highland Park’s Valhalla series, following on the heels of Thor.  When word started trickling down the pipeline that these releases were imminent some of us historically-bent, Norse god hailing whisky bums began salivating in anticipation.  We knew the prices would be prohibitive, the whisky would be middling (in terms of age statements, not quality, that is) and the outturn would be quite limited.  Enough to deter many of the great unwashed, in other words.  But c’mon…a cask strength HP packaged up in a mini Viking longship?  That’s pretty badass.

Gimmickry and inflated price tag aside, Loki is a really, really good whisky.  Quite different than its forerunner Thor, but about par in terms of inherent quality.  This one wears its 15 years well, seeming maybe even a little more mature than that, and man…what a palate here.  Great late evening malt for nights when the wind is howling and the fire is roaring.

Nose:  Floral notes.  Spice and tobacco.  Some peat and pepper.  A little bit of orange, and just the faintest hint of peach.  A whiff of very dry smoke and an earthy, organic edge.  Beeswax and honey.

Palate:  Great delivery.  Some peat and smoke arrive early.  More of those orange fruit notes here too.  Sugar cookies.  Poached stone fruit with spice.  Lemon and warm honey.  A nice smoky linger over great rich fruit notes.  Thick and oily.  Probably even better on the palate than the nose, and gets fruitier with time.

Thoughts:  I recall initially liking Thor more than Loki, but I think I’ve swung back the other way.  Let’s not split hairs over scores.  Different malts, but we’ll give ’em the same marks.


 – Reviewed by:  Curt

 – Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:44 am
Oct 272015

Bushmills 21 y.o.050

40% abv

Score:  86.5/100


40%?  Really?  I hate to beat a dead horse, but there is simply no valid argument – if you want to present a case to me that you are offering a premium single malt experience, that is – in support of releasing an old and rare(ish) whiskey chill-filtered and watered down to this sort of consistency.  If I sound rather perturbed with this one, let me explain why…

This is really good whiskey.  The nose and palate are harmonious; the nuance and profile are pleasant and intriguing; and the balance struck across all faces of this expression is impressive.  If you have that much going for you, why the hell would you opt to strip out all of the rich and oily mouthcoating fats and lipids via chill-filtration and leave us with a mere shadow of what could be?  Boost the strength to 46% and offer the consumer the true whiskey experience.  This is a perfect example of why Irish whiskey is seen as a lesser sibling to Scotch.  It doesn’t need to be this way.

Alright…let’s breathe deep and appreciate what we have here instead of harping on what we don’t have.  Shouldn’t be hard.  After all, I am a fan of Bushmills.  This is the brand I cut my teeth on.  This 21 year old single malt is one of the apex expressions in the Bushmills portfolio.  It’s a malt composed of bourbon- and Oloroso-matured spirit whish has then been further married together in Madeira barrels for a finishing period.  Sounds like some of Richard Paterson’s sort of witchcraft, but the cohesiveness of the end product is admirable, considering I usually find this sort of triple wood maturation is often close to overkill and beckoning us too deep into tannic wine country.  Not so, here.  Very adept blending.

If you can look past my initial gripes above – and the ~$200 price tag – this is a very nice dram.  Recommended in spite of myself.

Nose:  Quite gooey and jammy.  I like the fruity, spicy balance.  Raisin scones.  Black current.  A little chocolate, and a little caramel.  Barley shows through to nice effect.  A hint of wine gums.  Really good nose, all in.  Clean and appealing.

Palate:  Frustratingly thin and lacking texture, though the flavours are nice.  Grape meets licorice in a way that again reminds of wine gums.  Love the tangy effect and mix of fresh baking and quality preserves.  Faint marzipan.  Over-steeped tea.  The oak gives a slight nip here that gives a tannic feel.  Tastes like a very young 21.

Thoughts:  The nose and palate work really well together, but this one truly is hamstrung by the low abv and lack of mouthfeel.  Oh well.  Still really good, but could have been a classic.


 – Reviewed by:  Curt

 – Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:05 am
Oct 152015

Caol Ila 18 y.o. Cask #11143 (A.D. Rattray)185

55.7% abv

Score:  90.5/100


Good whiskies are found everywhere.  We know this because we’re constantly hunting them down and sharing the word via forums such as this.  Truly spectacular whiskies, however, are unquestionably much more scarce.  And even more elusive are truly spectacular people.  Here’s a little story of how these two things came together for me in a serendipitous little meeting.

A while back I saw a message on Twitter that showed a dram of Caol Ila.  Not just any Caol Ila, but one so deep and dark I was simply blown away by the depth of brown and red in the glass.  The colour was stunning – not that we form our opinions based on colour, mind you – and obviously spoke of a massive sherry influence on the spirit.  To date there have only been a couple of uber-sherried Caol Ila expressions that have crossed my lips.  I recall one being incredibly industrial and almost unapproachable, while another was quite spectacular.  Even that oddball industrial mash-up was singular enough to make me come back to it time and again out of sheer ‘can’t-wrap-my-head-around-it-ness’.

I started asking questions and was informed that this Caol Ila was an 18 year old independent bottling from A.D. Rattray, bottled exclusively for Wine & Beyond, and was being used by my dear friend Val Bradshaw for a whisky tasting event.  She and I discussed a bit and I walked away with an assurance that she would try to let me taste this one at some point.  Whew!  Mission accomplished.  Little did I know, though…

A long while later Val came by for a wonderful evening of friends, drams and discussion.  She didn’t bring me a sample of that Caol Ila that night, however.  She brought me an entire bottle.  A beautiful gesture from a woman with a heart of gold and an infinite understanding of both the spirit itself and the spirit inside that drives my passions.  These are the things that make a whisky unforgettable and help us cement memories and friendships that last a lifetime.  Not the gift itself, of course, but the thought behind it and the place it comes from.  Amazing.

And the malt itself?  As wonderful and unique as I’d hoped.  Deeply rich sherry and earthy peat in a perfectly matched tug-of-war.  No winner.  Just a contest for the ages.  And the best part?  This one takes me right back to Islay; sipping whisky in the warehouse, right from the barrel.  Nothing like it.

I should note:  The bottle is marked as a partial cask.  Wine & Beyond took a chunk of the outturn, but where the rest wound up?  Who knows.

Nose:  Bucketloads of sweet jammy fruits and bold clouds of smoke.  Caol Ila?  Really?  I’d guess Bowmore if tasted blind.  Flint, ash and iodine.  Some rubber and tarry notes.  Menthol drops and cherry cough syrup.  Cask char.  Dark syrupy notes and strong vanilla.  Spicy tea, cold coffee and dark chocolate.  A savoury, meaty note too.  All of these descriptors are accurate (in my humble opinion anyway), but they don’t work to describe the cohesive whole.  Man, what a nose.

Palate:  Huge arrival.  Bigger than huge, actually.  Like plums and berries that have been rubbed in a tangy Asian sauce and roasted over a smoky-as-hell bonfire.  More oceanic here.  Grapeskins and good chocolate.  Ginger and cinnamon.  Dark, moist tobacco.  Again…very jammy.  Earthy, peaty and farmy.  Great juicy dram.

Thoughts:  Unforgettable, not simply due to the backstory, but because of its intrinsic nature.  Deep and contemplative.

*Sincere thanks to Val Bradshaw for the hook up on this gem.  Love ya, babe.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

 – Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:15 pm
Oct 132015

Glenfarclas 25 y.o.182

43% abv

Score:  88/100


A late night stop in a local spirit seller last night landed me a couple bottles of the old standby, Glenfarclas 15, at the rock bottom price of $65 a piece.  If you’ve been following current whisky trends (and I’m sure you have) you’ll know that quality affordable age-stated malts are pretty close to a critically endangered species nowadays.  You can imagine my delight at finding such a score just blocks from home.

It was also cause for reflection.  While I’ve drunk ridiculous amounts of Glenfarclas over the years, I’ve not yet reviewed nearly as many as I should have.  Something to be remedied in the coming days, I think.  Let’s face it…second only to Springbank, Glenfarclas is the ‘be all, end all’ in traditional whisky making, and that is something that places this distillery in the top tiers of my own personal favorites.

So having said all of that, let’s dig into an iconic malt from this old school family owned and operated Speyside juggernaut.  Here we have Glenfarclas 25.  This is a whisky that tends to get glossed over in favour of the always available 15, the bombastic 105 or the rather exceptional 40 (largely depending on your personal tax bracket, of course).  The fact of the matter is, though, that this is a great dram at a more than fair price point.  It delivers almost exactly what I’d expect, and always feels like a bit of a homecoming.  Quite highly recommended.

Nose:  Jammy sherry notes with a hint of toasted caramel and sticky vanilla pod.  Apple, stewed stone fruit and tobacco.  Spicy wood notes.  Red ju-jubes and fresh cinnamon.  Crème brûlée and grilled orange zest.  Warm and familiar.

Palate:  Oh wow.  Great delivery.  Turns to apples and oranges first before plunging deeper into dried fruits and the warming buzz of all things sherry (spice, chocolate, raisin and all things Christmas cake-like).  There is a heft of fruit peel (slightly drying) and toasted wood.  Speaking of toasted notes, perhaps some roasted marshmallow.  A slight nuttiness; walnut, I think, with maybe some almond.

Thoughts:  Not the cleanest or most exciting of the Glenfarclas range, but a great old dram nonetheless.  Always a treat to revisit.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 12:58 pm
Sep 302015

I had a strange and enlightening experience a few nights back.  I sat down with a range of whiskies and a mind to taking some notes for upcoming reviews.  This range was built with Caol Ila 30 as the cornerstone malt.  I threw in a Caol Ila 25, a 27 year old single cask of Port Ellen and an Octomore.  I figured the two Caol Ila showed a nice opportunity for compare and contrast; the Port Ellen would be a ‘sister’ malt in a way, and of a similar age and spec; and the Octomore would be easy to dissect by drawing strong points and counterpoints of comparison between the old gems and Islay whisky at youth and bombastic might.

All told I probably spent about an hour and a half on these four glasses, bouncing back and forth, using easily found notes in one malt to highlight strengths and deficiencies in the others.  Etc.  After I’d taken all my notes (and emptied the glasses, of course), I began formatting the posts here on the site.  Now here’s where things got weird.  As I started the Port Ellen template I found a post from several weeks back of this very same expression.  I do recall posting a PE review, but I didn’t realize it was this particular one.  As I started to compare my notes and scores – done in complete isolation from one another and weeks apart, I want to stress – I was rather impressed at how close they were, even picking up some very distinct nuances in both cases.  Have a look for yourself.  I think it says something for the consistency and rigidity of the tasting environment I aim for, and to ensuring nose and palate are tiptop before really digging in.

Not gonna lie…this made me a happy boy.  Check it out…

Port Ellen 27 Provenance Cask #6101
46% abv


Original published review:

Score:  90.5/100

Nose:  Very Port Ellen right off the bat.  Soft biscuity notes.  Old book.  Clean grist.  Faint seabreeze.  Mild citrus and wet rock.  Very faded peat and smoke.  A whiff of Werther’s Originals.  A little bit of honeydew melon and caramel.

Palate:  More alive here.  More fruits.  Oh wow.  Now we’re deeply entrenched in Port Ellen territory.  Smoke and beachside bonfire.  Lemon juice over charred scallops.  Sugar cookies.  Burnt lemon rind.  The smoke grows over time.  Something slightly herbaceous.

Thoughts:  Still a special whisky, but lacks a little oomph that would have pushed it even higher.  Can you imagine at cask strength?  A very restrained and elegant Port Ellen that suits my palate perfectly.  Love this one.


Second independent assessment:

Score:  90/100

Nose:  Instantly recognizable.  Light and coastal.  Fresh seabreezes over wheat fields.  Sugar cookies.  Faint whiff of sunflowers and beeswax.  Far off smoke and soft notes of cinnamon buns in the oven, though fleeting.  There is a touch of peat, but it is even less than an afterthought.  Rather typical of our older PEs.

Palate:  Fragile and endearing, as expected from a Port Ellen nearing three decades.  Very sweet.  Built on a bedrock of soft fruits.  Perhaps melon, pear, apple and lime.  Barley sugars and much like chewing on fresh grains.  Wet rock.  Seared scallops with salt and lemon.  Charred oak.

Thoughts:  Beautiful expression of Port Ellen.  Held a little too in check by the low abv, but it’s by no means dead because of it.  At cask strength though?  I can only imagine.

Pretty damn close, no?  Both sets of notes mention wet rock, seabreeze, grist/barley sugars, cooked scallops, citrus, faded/far off smoke, notes of baking, immediate identifiability as a Port Ellen, fragility/delicacy and too low of abv.

I think this serendipitous little happening will be enough of a catalyst to get me to now intentionally engage in retastings more often.  Definitely a hell of a way to keep a reviewer honest, sharp and consistent.  And if we’re not those things, we’re nothing.


  – Images and Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:35 am