Jul 152015

(File under ‘First World Problems’)

A Malt Lover’s Inbox Issues: The Curmudgeonly Moanings Of A Jaded Old Bastard

I realize this may come across a bit like the grumpy old man on the corner yelling at the neighbourhood kids to ‘keep off the lawn’, but there’s a little more to it than just being miserable. Bear with me.

Bloggers in the wider whisky world have a hard enough time staking a claim to respectability without opening the door to yet another questionable practice. So, speaking only for myself, but on a subject that is hopefully near to the hearts of many fellow (amateur) whisky writers, let me wade in on gently, so as to make as few waves as possible.

I could have just continued stomping around here, cave man style, grumbling under my breath and taking my frustrations out on the poor soul at the liquor store trying to pour the latest mangled, honey-flavoured-concoction-in-a-disposable-plastic-cup down my throat, but I figured maybe a more constructive outlet (or at least an outlet that only targets an appropriate audience) might be here on ATW. That’s what a blog is for, right? Sort of an ‘it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to’ thing.

It boils down to one central tenet: I do not want to help you brand ambassadors sell your whisky. It is not my job. And I do not appreciate the ways in which you’ve been going about it lately, filling my inbox with mind-bogglingly assuming sales pitches that don’t even ask if I’m interested in publishing your spiel, before closing with a ‘let me know if you need more for your post’ signature.  Why would you think this is a tactful approach?  Oh yeah…and have you ever actually read my site?  What would make you think I am willing to regurgitate press releases?

Now here’s the deal…I don’t mind the email sent from sites I’ve signed up for. Part of the Ardbeg Committee? Of course I am. Friend of Laphroaig? Yup. Guardian of the Glenlivet? Absolutely. On the flipside, however, I’m pretty damn certain I never signed up for email from these Franken-whisky, cocktail-slingin’ blend houses and such.

Ok, ok, settle down, you say. Breathe deep and suck it up, buttercup. It’s just email. Click ‘delete’ and the problem goes away (at least untuil the next time). The thing is…until you’ve read some of the pushy-toned notes and assuming positions that get sent my way, you have no idea. Typically it goes something like this: Here’s our new product…here are a few recipes we’ve concocted that oh-so-cleverly use said new product…here are some hi-res images for you to use on your site…please let us know if you need more information for your (obviously imminent) post about our product…end transmission.

The lines between industry and consumer are so blurred right now, and lead to so much cynicism in the circles of knowledgeable whisky folk, that following this path seems like the last thing any blogger should engage in.  But I’ll stop there.  It’s not up to me to tell anyone how to run their site.  I’ll stick to saying I don’t want that to be my M.O. around here.  It boils down to perception (and some indignation, which we’ll get to in a moment).

I don’t have a lot of interest in those websites that are nothing more than press release aggregators. Quite frankly, it makes them look like industry shills. I can’t help but question intentions when I see this practice, irrespective of how much I like the individuals behind the sites. I simply have to question their motivations and their impartiality. Especially when it comes time to debate any sort of issue with them that comes back to consumer vs producer mentalities.

This very concept of blurred lines between the seemingly independent voices and the industry proper is one of the things that led to whisky demi-deity, Johannes Van Den Huevel, hanging ‘em up and retiring from the Malt Maniacs. Is it just me that thinks it’s a real shame when the founder has to step aside due to his creation becoming distorted? Granted this was one of a few reasons he gracefully bowed aside, but it was an important one.

As always (and going forward), if I choose to assert my opinion on something that seems like a ‘pitch’ to you (i.e. a festival announcement, a book or glassware review, an event notification, etc) rest assured it’s because I elected to do so of my own volition, not because of some bulk mail-out asking me to do a brand’s marketing work for them. Want me to do your sales and marketing for you? Send me an offer letter and a contract. It better be in the six figures and for a brand I support, otherwise please don’t bother.

Anyway…what it boils down to is an open letter to the industry:


Dear ambassadors,

Please do not ask me to help sell your product for you. I will not publish your press releases. And if you have something to send me, please do so in a slightly less assuming and authoritative manner.

I do hope your product sells.  Truly.  And I do wish you the best.  But kindly note that this kind of ground-level-blitz advertising stuff will not be done through All Things Whisky. Ever.

The best you can hope for is that I try your product, like it and share some kind words on All Things Whisky. That does, of course, rest on the assumption that the product is worth spending money on. And no, please do not offer samples. Thanks anyway.

Best of luck,

All Things Whisky



 Posted by at 12:08 pm
Jul 092015

BenRiach 12 y.o. Sherry Matured085

46% abv

Score:  87/100


Single cask releases from BenRiach will always be the heartsblood of this distillery in my eyes, but it’s truly impressive how consistently enjoyable even the standard expressions are.  This 12 year old – an age that generally doesn’t excite me beyond the realms of Islay malts – performs like a budding rock star.  Yes, it’s a little shy when held up against some of the other BenRiach expressions we’ve tried to date (dozens), but still puts on a hell of a show.

I’m a huge fan of naked BenRiach – there’s just something about the distillery’s fruity spirit matured in bourbon barrels that works for me – but trying it all wrapped up in a clean sherry blanket is a real treat.  Interestingly enough, this one bears all the hallmarks of one of our favorite NAS malts, a’bunadh.  But, shhhhhh…we’ll not deign to discuss NAS here for now.  Instead, suffice it to say that this one ticks all the flavour boxes, if not necessarily the desire for the pure, unadulterated whomp! of cask strength offerings.  So be it.  Still a tasty drink in an approachable tax bracket.

Nose:  Jammy and sweet.  Almost a red licorice.  Spicy.  Very spicy.  Like sharp cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.  Great berry and stone fruit aromas.  Lavender and white chocolate.  Soft and smells infinitely sippable.  Something about this one hearkens back to gramma’s kitchen.

Palate:  Cinnamon sticks and big juicy sherry notes.  Jams and jellies.  Candies and dried fruits.  Crunchy MacIntosh apples and a squeeze of very fresh orange.  Juicy and tangy.

Thoughts:  Very clean sherry.  Nice barrels in this one.  Not far off an a’bunadh, as I said, but obviously about 15% less punching power.  Maybe like an a’bunadh meets a Balvenie, if you can wrap your head around that one.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:47 am
Jul 072015

Bruichladdich 12 y.o. (Second Edition)087

46% abv

Score:  85.5/100


I’m happy to say my friends and I did our part a few years back, drinking our way through many of the earlier Laddie releases and ensuring the distillery kept the cash flow strong.  It’s only now I rue the lack of foresight that might have had us squirrelling away a few of these old releases for future years and tastings.  Fortunately I came across a couple bottles of this mid-2000s 12 year old expression recently, and for a very decent price.  This ‘Second Edition’ would have been from about five years after the distillery’s 2001 restart, therefore built entirely on stock produced before the McEwan/Reynier era.  In other words…most likely very different juice than the teal tin brings us nowadays.

Not sure if any of you are like me, but I find I’ve started to mark the passage of time through my whisky collection and recollections.  The speed at which it rolls by is rather alarming when we look back at something like this malt and realize it hit the shelves nearly ten years ago now.  Obviously a lot has happened in the Bruichladdich camp in that time, but a lot has gone down in my personal life as well.  It’s arguable that this coastal Islay distillery is the one brand that has been most consistently present for me through it all.  As I write this, I have tried at least 73 different Bruichladdich expressions.  And when held up against the lot, this one holds its own quite well, boasting much more character than most 12 year olds currently on the market.

There is a recognizable Laddie DNA here, despite the different lineage, but this is not a whisky I can really see the current team producing.  Hard to put a finger on just what is different, but I’d bet dimes to dollars that this one was a recasking of spirit from dead wood into something more active for its last few years*, and also that there is something in here a little older than 12.  Not much older most likely, but maybe some 15 or so.  Speculation aside, it’s neat to try a piece of history that speaks to the days before the Laddie machine really stepped it up into high gear.

(*We do know that when Jim McEwan and the gang took over the distillery they spelled out a bunch of barrels they were unhappy with and recasked much of the inherited maturing spirit.)

Nose:  Slightly prickly.  Nice sweet barley notes.  A touch of dust and dunnage.  Lemon, orange and honey.  Something reminds of old books and old furniture.  A very different character than contemporary Laddie, but not better or worse.  Less on the butyric side, to be sure.  Gets softer and fruitier the longer it breathes (which brings a creamier edge too).  Maybe a drop of pear juice.  A slight floral overtone.

Palate:  Spicier arrival than expected.  Like a cinnamon and ginger dusted fruit salad.  A fleeting taste of banana cream pie.  Still citric.  Big grains and woods here too.  More coastal on the palate than the nose hints at.  By that trait, it is decidedly Laddie.  Definitely has some nip to it.  A lot of personality for a 12 year old.  Leaves behind apple and toothpicks.

Thoughts:  Enjoyable as hell, beyond simply being a nostalgia act.  An easy drinker, if not a showstopper.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:29 am
Jun 302015

From bastardized binary to howling at the moon…from storming the Canadian border to life inside the biosphere, I can hardly think of a musician, aside from Clutch’s Neil Fallon, who can suck me in with just a few words and have me hanging on every syllable.

For those maybe not so ‘in-the-know’ Neil is something of a furious tentshow revivalist preacher meets blues-shouting prophet and wordslinger.  Much like Tom Waits, the only vaguely comparable performer I can think of, Neil casts a rather lengthy shadow across the face of modern music.  His is a voice to last the ages.

As I write this, I’ve been a Clutch fan for going on two decades (yeah, friends…we’re getting up there, aren’t we?), and thankfully the music just keeps getting better and better.  Each new album release date is a day I mark on the calendar and await with glee.

And how could I not love a man who has mentioned the names of one of my daughters and my wife in the lyrics of his songs (Weezy and Isabella)?

This interview came about by chance.  A wee while back I saw a link Neil posted on Twitter to a short clip with Scottish actor, Brian Cox, pronouncing Lagavulin.  I replied asking Neil if he was a Scotch drinker, and a fan of Lagavulin in particular.  “To a fault, sir,” was his reply.  We shared a few messages afterwards in which he graciously agreed to share a little time discussing whisky, music and…well…wherever else the conversation leads.

So…let’s see where it goes then…


Image from Ultimate Guitar


All Things Whisky:  First things first.  Exceptional taste aside, why Lagavulin?

Neil Fallon:  I have a hazy recollection of first being introduced to Islay malt at a bar in Scotland some years ago.  When I got back to the U.S., Lagavulin was the most readily available and I’ve been a fan ever since.


ATW:  For a lot of people a drink as bold as Lagavulin is something of an acquired taste.  Is this what  you cut your teeth on or was there a bit of a ‘ramping up’ to get to where you were appreciating the hefty smoke and earthy notes of Islay whisky?

NF:  Prior to going to Scotland with the band, my knowledge of Scotch was little more than Dewar’s straight up, Dewar’s on the rocks, or Dewar’s and soda.  That’s what my grandpa drank and I think I associate it with some fond memories.  I wish I could remember the name of the bar that opened up the single malt rabbit hole.  There was a maelstrom of single malts flying around for the better part of an evening.  I hope you’ll understand my inability to recall the details of that particular night.  I do remember that it was an epiphany, though.  The range of tastes were remarkable and of all of those, it was the Islay that really got me.  It was a cold night and it tasted like a seaside bonfire.


ATW:  Can you share a couple other favorite distilleries or particular whiskies (Scotch, bourbon, rye, what-have-you)?

NF:  A friend of mine Chis Hadnagy (author of  “Social Engineering – That Art of Human Hacking” and someone you should interview) introduced me to an amazing 25 y.o. Speyside, Glen Deveron.  I’m not a big fan of bourbon or rye.


ATW:  Can you recall what got you into whisky, or which dram was your first?  Was it a positive experience at the time?

NF:  It was probably at a Christmas party in the 1970’s when I accidentally helped myself to some of my grandfather’s Dewar’s.  Heavily diluted, of course.



ATW:  Does a good whisky ever really fit into life on the road, or is it more of a downtime sort of drink when at home and in between road jaunts?

NF:  I suppose it’s for the best that most single malts are expensive.  The cost prohibitiveness discourages it from becoming a regular on the band’s rider.  For the better part of the 90’s I drank myself silly with Jack Daniels.  I can’t stand the stuff now.  Gives me hives.  No joke.  A single  proper malt demands to be sipped and not lipped in some absurd back stage circus.  I can’t do that anymore.  The body doesn’t process overindulgence like it used to.


ATW:  Speaking of home… you’re a family man now, I believe.  How does this affect your writing cycles?  I have two daughters at home, and know firsthand how hard it is sometimes to pick up a guitar.  Do you have to block off time for writing and playing or does your creativity still have a sort of natural flow to it?

NF:  Prior to parenthood, I thought that having a kid would be the death knell of the creative life.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  The process of raising a child and having to answer countless questions about the world we live in has been a real boon.  Yes, it is harder to find time to dedicate to writing.  I have to do that between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. when my son is at school.  But the structure is for the best.  An open ended deadline is a lazy man’s best friend. I used to write into the wee hours of the night, but that just doesn’t work any more.  There’s no negotiating with a 5 year old.


ATW:  I saw an interview on youtube not long ago, posted by kidsinterviewbands.com.  In true Southern gentleman style, you volleyed questions and answers with the young lady interviewer with class and tact.  As a fan, it was a pleasure to see such a refreshingly down-to-earth approach and lack of pretention.  Is something like this a bit of a welcome respite from what I imagine is the tedium of a rather formulaic interview process?

NF:  I’ve done countless interviews with black clad metal journalists that pride themselves on being “extreme.”  But I’ll tell ya, that interview had me squirming.  I think I said “Ummmmmm…” more times in that interview than all others combined.
Kids aren’t impressed or trying to be anything that they’re not and I think that was what was so refreshing about that  particular interview.




ATW:  From the first Clutch concert I attended in 1995 (opening for Marilyn Manson at the New York Theater in Vancouver) to the most recent (headlining here in Calgary at Flames Central) for Earth Rocker, it is interesting to note that the energy has remained consistently high throughout the years, but that the vibe has shifted from one of a more intense and brooding nature to one of a more crowd-bouncing shout-along.  Is this simply natural progression or conscious evolution?

NF:  It’s a natural progression.  We’ve never premeditated our music.  It’s a simple process of trying to write music that we enjoy playing.  Having said that, a good deal of our early stuff isn’t exactly us anymore.  There’s a lot of anger in the early work and frankly, I’m not an angry person. I’d rather risk disillusioning some folks while being honest than keep them satisfied by jumping through the same hoops.  There’s some bands out there that have been “angry” for 25 plus years.  That just has to be a drag.


ATW:  It’s arguable that no one in contemporary music is writing lyrics with as much wordplay, far-reaching and pertinent references and relevant cultural observation (albeit often quite cryptically) than yourself.  I won’t ask the ‘inspiration’ question, but I will ask if there are a couple of songs you can reflect back on now (in all modesty) and say ‘fuck, that was brilliant bit of writing’?

NF:  Ha.. that’s hard for me to answer without sounding like a jerk.  There’s always something I wish I had done better or had not done at all.  But I can think of two songs that are dear to me in that I think they represent important shifts in the band’s sound.  “Big News” was a bit of a watershed moment.  After that song, I felt it was much easier to write songs that had a lot more fun and humor in them.  The other song would be “The Regulator.”  That song opened up the door to a lot of more blues elements for us.   It was also one of those fortunate moments where the lyrics seemed to match the mood of the music quite well.


ATW:  Over the last couple of years (at least in the circles I travel) Clutch has become much more of a household name, with many immediately referencing a pivotal scene from the AMC’s The Walking Dead.  This particular scene could not have been more perfectly set, with possibly the band’s most atmospheric tune thus far, The Regulator, perfectly capturing the emotion.  How did your involvement with The Walking Dead come about?  Did you, as a band have direct say in green-lighting the use of the song?  Are you a fan of the series?  The genre?

NF:  I was a fan of the show before I got the call that they wanted to use “The Regulator.”  I was stoked, to say the least.  It came about by our publicist shopping the song around.  These days TV shows and video games are just as important as terrestrial radio, if not more so.


ATW:  Alright.  Time for some cold, hard honesty.  I gotta ask a question (mostly because a bunch of my mates begged me to) even though I’m sure it’s been beaten to death already.  All the guys wanna know…how does the beard go down with the ladies?  Or at the very least…with the one lady that matters most to you?

NF:  Heh.  I’ve never asked.  But I will say this…  I’d love to lop the damn thing off, but I’m afraid of what I might find underneath.


ATW:  Let’s go back to one or two about the malts to close out, if you don’t mind…Imagine, if you will, you’re sitting down one eve to relax over a good book and an even better whisky.  What are they?

NF:  I like Glenkinchie 12.  I think poetry is easier to handle if booze is involved.  With that in mind, I would go for Dylan Thomas or W.H. Auden.


ATW:  Finally…how about a good whisky and album pairing?

NF:  I’ve never been too much of  a Bruce Springsteen fan, but I’ve recently discovered the melancholy brilliance of “Nebraska.”  So if we’re in the mood to brood… let’s go Islay.  I tried Bowmore’s White Sands recently.  That would go well with an album as dark as “Nebraska.”


ATW:  Sincere thanks, Neil, for taking the time.  Perhaps next time through town you’ll have a chance to come out for a few drams of something brilliant, old and rare.   I’m sure we can find a couple on the shelves that will suit a Southern gent.  Slainte.

NF:  Again, apologies for taking so long to get this to you.  Slainte.


Image by Dirk Behlau, www.thepixeleye.com

Clutch releases ‘Psychic Warfare’ this September.  Mark the calendar.  And if you don’t already own it…buy ‘Blast Tyrant’ while you’re there.  You’ll thank me.


– Words:  Curt and Neil

– Photos:  Curt (except as noted)

 Posted by at 8:18 am
Jun 252015

Two Brewers Yukon Single Malt 6 y.o. Prototype106

43% abv

Score:  72.5/100


Check these cats out.  What the hell?  Two Brewers is the brainchild of a couple of pals, Bob and Alan, up in Whitehorse who have been batching up craft suds for close to two decades now and decided to take a bit of a swing at the distilling side of things at some point in the late 2000s.

As you can see by the photo this was a prototype release (i.e. nothing official and not available retail).  The gents had bottled and labelled up this young buck specifically for the MS Whisky Fest here in Calgary.  Towards the back half of that festival night I took a flyer on this one and decided to give it a go instead of reaching for one of the old standbys.  Glad I did.  They’re onto something up in the great white north.

Here’s the deal:  This is a young malt.  It’s not quite there yet.  But…it’s a fair bit further along than it should be at six years and it’s a surprisingly great cut of spirit.  The nose here is wonderfully redolent of spicy bourbon notes and hints at more age than the bottle declares (always a good thing).  The palate isn’t quite on par, but again…give ’em time.  A few more years and this will be a solid option for denting your whisky budget.

Thanks to Bob for passing on the wee heel of this one so we could share the word.  Can’t wait to see where these gents go from here.  Keep those stills flowing, fellas!

Nose:  Single malt, maybe, but noses like a big ol’ bourbon.  That’s some active wood.  Big spicy bourbon notes.  Tons of fruit (almost Speyside-like).  Cinnamon.  Eucalyptus.  Cedar and pine.  A surprising amount of soft chocolate.  Rising bread dough.  So much immensity of spice it almost burns the nose.  Cool as hell.

Palate:  Spicy and meaty delivery.  Tastes a lot younger than it noses.  Slightly waxy and new make-ish.  I don’t think this has anything to do with anything but youth.  In other words: decent spirit cut, but needs time.  A few years down the line and this will be a hell of an interesting whisky.  Reminds a tick of Montana Roughstock single malt.  Big wood notes smash headlong into eucalyptus.  Again…very bourbon-ish.

Thoughts:  It’s young, yeah, and not quite there, but man, what an exciting nose.  Worlds of potential for these chaps if they stick to this plan.  Neat stuff.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:19 am
Jun 232015

Craigellachie 13 y.o. 007

46% abv

Score:  79.5/100


Craigellachie absolutely killed it with this branding.  Man, look at that bottle!  Gorgeous, old school packaging that instantly creates a preconception of the magical old school malts that folks like Serge at Whiskyfun gets to try seemingly at will.  Unfortunately, while the wrapper is definitely of the old guard, the malt is unquestionably of the new.  The former helped lure me into the purchase.  The latter led to this review.

I think you can see where I’m going with this.  Put simply, this is a minor league malt that isn’t quite being given the coaching it needs in order to play in the big leagues.  Most of the distillery’s output ends up in Dewar’s blends.  They put out about four million litres of spirit each year, but it’s only recently we’ve seen a real presence of the Craigellachie distillery releases.  I’d argue there might be a reason for that, if this malt is any indication, but I’ll remain somewhat on the fence until I get an opportunity to sample the 17 and 23 year variants.  Hopefully those have a little more balance and finesse.

I do appreciate the 46% abv though, and will keep an eye on this one in coming years to see if there’s any tweaks to the recipe.

Oh, and by the way…what the hell sort of testimonial is it when the brand itself offers up this little nugget on its website:  “Full, belligerent, and sulphurous as a struck match.”  WTF?!

Nose:  Slight grape note.  Nice barley notes.  Milk chocolate covered raisins.  Honey and lemon.  Banana, ginger and pepper.  Poached apple and cinnamon.  Some dried fruit, leather and spice (maybe some sherry influence here?).  A touch of tobacco too.  Black currant scones.

Palate:  A little more zippy here, with some tangy fruit notes and bigger oak than the nose belies.  Apple skins and lemon juice.  Burnt chilis or something, almost immediately after sipping.  Juicy at first, then dries along the sides of the tongue as it develops.  Sharp (almost bitter) vanilla notes.  Pineapples in pudding…with pepper.

Thoughts:  A punchy little malt that falls under the ‘fairly generic’ heading.  Aside from being slightly…errr…off-kilter in balance, it’s not a bad beginner malt.  Not one I’d reach for often, but that’s personal bias.  I find most Speysiders in this age bracket to be fairly interchangeable and rarely to my taste.  There’s something a little darker and more biting here than most though.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:20 pm
Jun 142015

“Islay Malt” (Bunnahabhain 10 y.o.) Review *007

59.2% abv

Score:  88.5/100


* Tasted and scored blind.  This l’il review will be done in two parts (in this same post).  I will update these notes as soon as I know more and find out what exactly this whisky is. 

Alright.  Not gonna get too deep into this one aside from saying it was shared with me, unsolicited, from a mate out in Eastern Canada.  Such is the wonderful world of whisky.  A lot of good people out there just looking to share the experience.

So…this is what we do know as of now:  It’s a 10 year old malt from a bourbon barrel (#900070 from distillery ‘x’).  Served up at a big, big 59.2% abv.  You can see the handwritten label in the photo above.  I don’t know any other details.  I’m not sure if further info is online anywhere, but I intentionally did not Google any additional details  regarding this cask number or anything else related to what is stated above.  What would be the fun in that?

I’ll drop a few more lines under the tasting notes below when the truth sets me free.  For now…

Nose:  Chocolate and chili.  Peat.  Flinty, wet rock notes.  Ash and deep char.  Smoke.  BBQ sauce and a tangy wine note.  Apple and maybe some citrus.  An odd note I’m having trouble putting my finger on.  Ivory soap.  Licorice as it open up.  And just slightly farmy/leathery.

Palate:  Big and jammy up front.  Great arrival.  Smoke and anise.  Can’t get over how chewy this is; stays sweet and juicy.  Somewhat of a disconnect between nose and palate…for the good!  The nose seems dry and punchy, while the palate is lush and mouthwatering.  Notes of what I can imagine apple skins dropped in ash would taste like.  Big dry smoke.  A squeeze of tangy citrus.  Big whisky, this.

Thoughts:  Reminds a little of Ardbeg Alligator, due to the char notes…and Galileo, due to the fruit notes…and Day, due to the ash notes.  Having said all of that…it’s not really Ardbeg-esque.  I really like this.  There is an odd note on the nose that takes me back to a whisky from my early dramming days, but I’ll be damned if I can remember what that malt was.

Follow up:  So…turns out this is an indie Bunnahabhain, bottled by Whiskybroker.  Never would have guessed it, especially with phenols hovering between Diageo’s Islay specs (35 ppm for Lagavulin and Caol Ila) and those of Laphroaig (give or take 40 ppm).  This is a very different beast from other peated Bunna I’ve tried (Toiteach, Ceobanach and a few indies).  Out of character and enjoyable as hell.  It’s kinda like the average housewife who breaks out the leather and latex behind closed doors.  Fun stuff.  Here are a few more details for those who may be interested.

** Thanks to our mate, Portwood, for the opportunity to try something unique and to have a little fun with it.  Enjoyed the malt and the experience.  He didn’t want thanks or anything, but that’s not how we roll.  Anonymity maintained, however.  Cheers!


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:15 pm
Jun 022015

Tobermory 10 y.o.008

46.3% abv

Score:  79/100


First off:  Not that we score with this in mind, understand, but I do love the simple and aesthetically pleasing packaging.  No need for frills and all that jazz when it comes to young, readily available malts.  Old school, clean and classy.  But what strikes my eye as pleasing is incidental to what’s in the bottle, right?  So let’s move on.

Tobermory is a distillery on the Isle of Mull.  You may recall we tried one of their peated expressions (Ledaig 10) just a few days back, so I won’t rehash any of the details here that we already covered there.  The distillery produces a rather limited range of products and independent versions are few and far between (at least where I live), so, to date, I have managed to wrap my hands around only four different bottles of Tobermory: two indies and two distillery bottlings.  All quite different from one another, I might add, but none especially vibrant in its own right.  And yes, this release is one of those that I have tried a few times before.  Suffice it to say that sitting down to jot up some notes on the standard 10 year old is a slightly less than thrilling endeavour.

I won’t throw a lot of words at a whisky that I’m really sort of ambivalent towards, so let’s just let the malt speak for itself.

Nose:  A youngish ten.  Somewhat aggressive.  Vaguely peaty.  Even a little feinty.  Lemon.  Pepper.  There’s hints of Jura here and even a banana-like note that reminds a little of young Bunnahabhain.  Some very under ripe cranberry and crunchy apple with a dusting of cinnamon.  Wood shavings, a barley mill and just a hint of ash and dirt.  This is supposed to be the unpeated malt from this distillery?  Hmmm, sorry…not quite.

Palate:  Wow.  Like a mouthful of white flour and raw grains.  Pastry dough.  More apples and a hint of ginger.  Honey.  Almost tastes like a young virgin oak malt.  Not a lot in the way of fruit.  More woods and cereals.  Even some grassy notes.  Or maybe damp green tea leaves.  A rather fun palate in some ways, and a little bit of a departure from the nose.  Interesting, if a little unbalanced.

Thoughts:  Not bad, but not a very subtle malt either.  Could stand to benefit from either longer maturation or better wood choice, I think.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt


 Posted by at 7:58 am
May 282015

Octomore 4.2 Comus076

61.0% abv

Score:  88.5/100


Let’s do a five year old Bruichladdich today.  In honour of the ongoing Feis Ile (Islay Festival) and all.

By now I’m sure most whisky cognoscenti are familiar with Octomore, Bruichladdich’s heavily peated variant.  The term ‘heavily peated’ is actually selling Octomore short, believe it or not.  This brand is unquestionably the most heavily peated single malt in the world.  The 6.3 edition from last year came in at a whopping 258 parts per million of phenols.  When you stop to consider that Ardbeg’s typical peating level is somewhere around 50-55 ppm, that is a staggering number indeed.

I think we’ve touched on this before, but let me briefly do so again for anyone who may just be tuning in:  It would be a mistake to assume that this phenol count is directly proportionate to the smokiness of the dram.  It’s not.  I can guarantee you that there are Laphroaig and Ardbeg releases out there that will seem to pack more of a peaty punch than some of the Octomore expressions.  In fact, even Bruichladdich’s moderately peated range under the Port Charlotte moniker often seem bigger than Octomore, despite their peating levels only weighing in at about 40 ppm.

Alright…elementary ‘soft science’ aside, make no mistake about it, this is not a whisky for the faint of heart.  Comus weighs in at 167 ppm and has been bottled at 61% abv.  It is bigger than big.

Team Laddie is still obviously having fun with their cask exploration, as what we have here in the 4.2 edition is the razor sharp Octomore distillate matured in bourbon barrels, before being ACE’d (read: finished) in Sauternes casks.  The result is a sweeter and more elegant presentation than the straight bourbon-matured releases (those that end in “.1″).  In short, it’s a balance of soft and sharp.  Like getting hit in the face with a pillow…filled with peat bricks and swung by Barry Bonds.

Nose:  Sweet smoke and chocolate.  Tar, licorice, lime and cola.  Earthy and farmy peat behind an elegant creamy haze.  Some soft overripe pear, berry and vanilla ice cream.  A touch of rubber.  A splash of salt water.  Sauternes is obviously a wonderful softening influence, as I’m getting similar notes here as on the Glenmorangie Nectar D’or.  Obviously very different drams otherwise.

Palate:  A moment of sublime sweet smokiness, then…WHAM!  Monstrous.  More smoke now.  Some hot rubber too.  Tart and tangy-er than the nose would belie.  That would be the wine at work, I’d venture.  Bittersweet chocolate, tannic fruit skins, espresso.  Anise.  Burnt pineapple.  And somehow…still rather gentle.  Strange and oxymoronic.

Thoughts:  Another example of how malleable this Octomore stuff is.  Great whisky that you’ll be tasting for hours after the glass is empty.  No bad thing, that.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:04 pm
May 222015

Dram Initiative #19 – GlenDronach with J Wheelock

February 19th, 2015


GlenDronach Single Cask Experience, Tasting & Music Pairing

This was truly a night of nights, nine cask strength distillery editions; five of which were bottled for stores here in Alberta.  This is how we, at the Dram Initiative, roll. Sure, we just celebrated Valentine’s Day but what better way to celebrate VD than to fill your heart with a deep, warming red sherry afterglow that will cuddle you, without judgments, for hours. To heighten the night’s drinking pleasure, the Glendronach whisky was expertly paired with sherried music. We believe this to be a world’s first or, at the very least, a world’s best.

With the high cask strength of the spirit, all members at the door signed liability waivers before gaining entry.  Anybody with a heart condition, fan of ‘I Love NAS Whiskies’, or a dislike for the Irish, was denied admittance.


Sherry is to GlenDronach, as happiness is to life and therefore, GlenDronach is essential to the life of the Irish. This neglected sherry superstar distillery, which rivaled Macallan & Glenfarclas, is now thriving again under the new ownership of Mr. Billy Walker and Company. In my not so humble opinion, GlenDronach has taken its place, yet again, as one of the premiere sherried whiskies in the world.

To better understand the distillery and its people, we called upon the always entertaining and fabulous, “JJ” Jamming J Wheelock to be our spirit guide for this sherry shindig. Whisky enthusiasts consider Mr. Wheelock to be one of the great whisky ambassadors in the industry today; a gifted speaker who possesses a James Bond swagger, an angelic monk aura and has industry knowledge second to none.


After talking about the distillery, its people and its rich history, Mr. Wheelock took us by the dram and led us down a path of sherry cask illumination.

The first flight of two whiskies was skillfully paired with Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons – “Sherry Baby”………………….“Sherry, Sherry baby, Sherry, Sherry baby, Sherry can you come out tonight, Come, come, come out tonight, Sherry baby, Sherry baby”

1)      Glendronach 2003  KWM                       Cask #1820 / 11 Years Old Pedro Ximenez Sherry Puncheon 55.4%

2)      Glendronach 2003 Liquor Depot          Cask #4007 / 11 Years Old Pedro Ximenez Sherry Puncheon 54.8%

After both whiskies were tasted blind, a vote was taken to decide the better of the two 2003 store casks currently available. The winner was cask #4007 Liquor Depot/Wine and Beyond, with 62% of the popular vote and Kensington Wine Market cask #1820 not far behind with 38%.


The second encounter, which involved three whiskies that were adeptly paired with Journey & Steve Perry – “Oh Sherry” ……………..“Oh, Sherry, But I should’ve been gone, Long ago, far away, And you should’ve been gone, Now I know just why you stay, Oh, Sherry, our love, Holds on, holds on, Oh, Sherry”

3)      Glendronach 1993  KWM                       Cask #1625 / 20 Years Old Oloroso Sherry Butt 57.5%

4)      Glendronach 1994 Liquor Depot          Cask #1503 / 17 Years Old Oloroso Sherry Puncheon 54.9%

5)      Glendronach 1995 Liquor Depot          Cask #5959 / 18 Years Old Tawny Port Pipe 53.6%

After these three whiskies, ranging from 1993-1995 were sampled, another vote was taken. Surprisingly and shocking (well, not too shocking) the vote was almost a three way split. Each cask was well received by the unwashed masses, which evoked a great amount of discussion. Given how vastly different these whiskies tasted, the point could be made that the taste of sherried whisky is a very personal thing.


The third arrangement of four whiskies was shrewdly paired with Neil Diamond –

“Sherry, Sherry”*** ………………………….“Won’t need bright lights, no, no we won’t, Gonna make our own lightning, Hey, she got the way to move me, Sherry, She got the way to groove me, Sherry, baby”

***When the tasting test subjects were given GlenDronach cask strength whisky, nobody noticed or cared about the minor oversight of Cherry vs. Sherry, also since Mr. Diamond wrote the song “red, red wine”, we thought he’d be cool with this.

6)      Glendronach 2002 Batch 10 Release   Cask #1500 / 12 Years Old Pedro Ximenez Sherry Puncheon 56.7%

7)      Glendronach 1991 Batch 10 Release   Cask #1346 / 22 Years Old Pedro Ximenez Sherry Puncheon 52.1%

8)      Glendronach 1994 Batch 10 Release   Cask #326 / 19 Years Old Pedro Ximenez Sherry Puncheon 53.5%

9)      Glendronach 1994 Batch 10 Release   Cask #3397 / 19 Years Old Pedro Ximenez Sherry Puncheon 53.8%

These last four of nine whiskies were tasted and enjoyed in the sequence listed without a vote.

When it comes to Sherry matured or finished whisky, can anybody surpass GlenDronach right now? Wow, where others have out-priced and over-marketed, GlenDronach has exceeded most whisky geeks’ expectations.


Shout out to … Authentic Wine & Spirits Merchants & Kieu-Trinh Phan, thank you for your exceedingly lavish donation, along with releasing the Wheelock for the evening … Liquor Depot & Ryan Engen for your very generous donation … and Kensington Wine and Spirits & Andrew Ferguson for your kind contribution. Thank you all for your support in the ongoing struggle to get free whisky.

To Mr. Wheelock, what can I say, other than, you complete us and enable us, or simply, you just completely enable us! Total respect, and thank you from the bottom of our sherried filled bellies.

At last it is time to raise the friendly castle’s drawbridge, put the furniture away and thank all the members for coming out in force, after all, nobody should drink alone!


Your Humble Drudge,

– Maltmonster

 Posted by at 7:52 am