Dec 052019
 

Warning: Extreme bias ahead. And I have no intentions of hiding it.

The sinDicate is the name of the club we started up here in Calgary after pulling the plug on the Dram Initiative. We’re about a year and a half deep into this new adventure, and have been pursuing opportunities to purchase a bespoke cask for the club since the earliest days. After a couple of less than stellar rounds of cask samples sent our way by brands I’ll not mention here, Kilchoman stepped up and sent us a package of brilliant malts to consider. I mean, every one of the samples they sent was good enough to consider buying. Ultimately, though, one shone a little brighter than the others. Cask #148. An exceptionally clean and vibrant ex-bourbon barrel filled in 2012.

The phenols on this malt are still huge, as one would expect in a 7 year old whisky, but there is a creaminess here and near-tropical depth that have no business being so prevalent in a cask this young. The quality was there, the price was right, so we leapt. A couple months later 260 bottles landed on the shores (errr…rolling hills?) of Alberta. And we could not be happier.

Members have scooped up the vast majority of this one, but there are a few dozen bottles available via Kensington Wine Market. And one more biased opinion before we move on to tasting notes: KWM really is Canada’s best whisky store. If you don’t believe me, pop on in sometime.

56.7% abv. 260 bottles.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Some of the cleanest peat notes I’ve found in a malt this young. Surprisingly creamy and a wee bit reminiscent of our past KWM 10 year olds. Strong citrus notes (lemon and tightly wound key lime). Grilled pineapple. Orange and tangerine. A bit of kiwi and underripe pear. Crushed ginger. Lemon furniture polish. Clotted cream and some sort of dessert flambe. A faint note of pool water.

Palate: Great delivery. Vibrant fruit notes in lockstep with threads of clean smoke. An earthy undertone. More tangy pineapple. Almost candied. Salt licorice. Quick-steeped Lapsang Souchong tea. Vanilla cream.

Finish: Salt licorice notes linger. Granny Smith apple and pear skins. Aloe. Cask char.

Thoughts: Super proud to have our name associated with this one. Unquestionably one of my favorite Kilchoman expressions.

90/100

 Posted by at 10:28 am
Nov 202019
 

More reviews coming ASAP. Cold is gone; senses are clear; and, most importantly, I’m keen to chat. So…next review? A private bottling of Kilchoman we had done just for the sinDicate (our local whisky club). Yes, yes, I do obviously have a bias here. Consider yourself forewarned.

In the meantime…let’s play ‘lists’. I love to hear about other folks’ whisky passions.

First list: What are your top five grail malts? The ones you’d consider selling a kid(ney) for.

Second list: What are the top five malts (or blends) you currently have tucked away in your stash? The ones that are nearest and dearest to your shriveled ol’ malt-soaked heart.

I’ll give’r first, just to get us going and (hopefully) stir up some chat.

Grails Malts (or blends) (at the moment, anyway…but this list changes all the time):

  • Black Bowmore (1964, 42 yo)
  • Ardbeg Double Barrel (1974s)
  • Brora 40 y.o.
  • Clynelish 12 y.o. (1960s)
  • Port Ellen 12 y.o. 1980 (Queen’s Visit)

Top Five Tucked in the Bunker:

  • Brora 35 y.o. (2013)
  • Port Ellen 12th Release
  • Springbank 21 (2005)
  • G&M Aberfeldy 1993 (24 y.o.)
  • Brora 30 y.o. (2005)
 Posted by at 11:08 pm
Oct 282019
 

Haven’t forgotten about ya. Fighting a ridiculous cold. Unless you want tasting notes for Buckleys cough syrup and hot toddies, I’m probably not much good to you right now. Back soon. Promise.

 Posted by at 9:49 am
Oct 212019
 

Long days we’ve waited for this. Not just this for this whisky, in particular, but for Alberta Distillers to finally shake the sleep from their heads and recognize the potential for their ultra pristine, clean and spicy, homegrown rye. I truly believe some of the world’s greatest rye whisky (and I mean real rye whisky, not simply Canadian whisky colloquially referred to as rye) is produced right here in the heart of Alberta’s most bustling metropolis. Even the standard Alberta Premium at 40% and non-age stated is knockout stuff. To finally have a cask strength version of this stuff is like Christmas come early.

But the real question, of course, is whether or not the whisky is actually good. And I’m tickled pink to report that it is much more than good. And every opinion I’ve heard from those who’ve tried it seems to fall in line as well. ADL has killed it with this release. Here’s hoping this isn’t simply a one-and-done sort of offering. It would be great to have this as a permanent addition to the core range. Especially now that Dark Horse is apparently on the way out.

It’s big, bold and brazen stuff. And we love it for all those reasons.

65.1% abv. In other words…hot, hot, hot.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Demerara sugar and maraschino. Eucalyptus. Maple syrup lollies. Coffee liqueur. Pine sap. Toasted wood. Lemon furniture polish. Apple streusel. Butter tarts. Cinnamon. Not as much vanilla as I would have expected.

Palate: Overripe banana. Crème brulee. Some nice fruity, boozy notes. A bit of raspberry and cherry. A bit of both orange and lemon zest. A thread of blueberry coulis. Beeswax. Sweet raisins. More cinnamon. And apple at the back end.

Finish: Apple Cinnamon Cheerios. The aftertaste of mentholated cough syrup. Clean pine or spruce. British treacle toffee.

Thoughts: All I’d hoped for. And maybe a little bit more. The abv is near blinding, so don’t be shy with water (though I prefer it neat).

89.5/100

 Posted by at 3:01 pm
Oct 152019
 

Another beauty from the Lowlands. And another drop of liquid history in the glass. St. Magdalene (or Linlithgow as it has occasionally been known as) was a distillery founded on the site of a former leper colony. I may have mentioned that before. This is one of those lost distilleries that hasn’t quite caught the fancy of collectors to the same degree as a few others (whose names we’ve mentioned enough for now), but whose output unquestionably rivals some of those great legendary releases in terms of intrinsic quality. So the question, as always, is a frustrated ‘why?’ There are always answers, but none that are apt to satisfy the malt historian or closed distillery aficionado. Such is the nature of the game in an industry rife with peaks and troughs.

This uber scarce Mackillop’s Choice St. Maggie is a gem of a malt, though, so let’s simply enjoy the opportunity at hand, and not wax too nostalgic.

62.6% abv. Distilled in 1982 and bottled in 2001, so…a 19 year old. From cask #1336. And sadly, long gone.

Sincere thanks to my mate Brett Tanaka for the opportunity to taste this. The range of bottles he’s been opening for what we’ll call ‘The Brett Sessions’ are simply beyond comprehension. And I am beyond humbled to be able to partake. I’ll be reviewing dozens of them in the coming weeks/months.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Beauty. Soft creamy, fruit notes. Well worn and oiled leather. Honey on crackers. Soft threads of smoke and melted wax. Good pastry. Stewed tropical fruits as it develops. Peach cobbler. Moist tobacco.

Palate: Velvety arrival. High quality melted chocolate. Beautifully smoky. The fruit flavours are everywhere here: threaded throughout, drizzled on top and deeply resonant at the back end. Slightly wine-y (but in a pleasant way). Apple, with some ‘almost tropical’ flavours. Toasty clean oak.

Finish: Apple skins. Pear skins. Peach pits. Clean cereals and firm oak. Loooooooooong, oh so long.

Thoughts: All I can say is…please may I have more?

91/100

 Posted by at 12:10 pm
Oct 142019
 

Jackie Thomson is unquestionably one of my favorite people in the whisky world. Actually, qualifying that statement with the word ‘whisky’ is entirely unnecessary. Jackie is simply one of my favorite people. Period. When I reached out to her some months back about my latest trip to Islay, she immediately said she’d find a way to take care of us. As you can imagine (or have read here on ATW in past jottings), I have been to Ardbeg many times. Yet somehow Jackie and the team at the distillery always manage to make it a special and singular experience. No two visits have ever been quite alike. Each one has become sort of unforgettable in its own right. This 2019 excursion was no different.

We arrived at the distillery, dropped our bags at Seaview Cottages where we’d be staying for the next three nights, and wandered over to the Old Kiln Café to check in. We were immediately and warmly greeted by Jackie, who then, in turn, introduced us to our guide for the day, Ron. If you’ve not met this gent, you’re missing out. He’s a great addition to the Ardbeg family. A passionate ambassador with a deep well of knowledge. He’s also a very comfortable person to hang out with. Ron led us out behind the distillery to where the pier stretches its time- and water-worn finger out into the cold depths of the Atlantic. There we chatted and enjoyed a dram of the just-launched (that very morning!) Supernova 2019. When the glasses were empty, we went inside for a fantastic ‘pull back the curtains’ kind of tour. I’ll save the details of that experience for a proper trip post in the near future. That’s not why we’re here, after all. So, after wrapping up the distillery tour, we were taken to a special little room where Ron told us what we’d be tasting that day. And oh, man…what a treat the boys were in for.

Jackie had set aside some legacy bottles of The Peaty Path to Maturity line: Very Young, Still Young, Almost There and Renaissance. All sealed; all just begging to be opened. And indeed, that was the goal. Ron said Jackie thought it would be neat if we could take these brilliant old sealed bottles and pop the corks, together, for the first time. Ummm…ok. If you insist.

I have, of course, tried all of these malts a few times before. I’ve even published reviews here on ATW. But I’ve never worked through the entire range in one sitting. It adds context and perspective. It also serves to distinctly highlight the Glenmorangie PLC era of Ardbeg. To say this was brilliant would be an understatement. And at the very end of it all, Ron pulled out a beautiful 14 year old second fill bourbon barrel cask sample. I didn’t take notes on that one – what can I say? The moment kind of stole me away – but I do have a wee sample tucked aside. Maybe I’ll share some thoughts later. Perhaps I’ll even amend this post.

All of these Peaty Path releases were pulled from a fantastic 1998 spirit run. I believe it was parceled into quarters for this series.

I saw Jackie the morning we left Ardbeg. We had a great chat in the early morning lull, before the machinery cranked up and the tourists converged. She made me a wonderful Uigeadail hot toddy to ease my congestion (yes…I caught the inevitable Scottish cold) and we sat and chatted for half an hour or so. This wee visit was one of my trip highlights this time. It was just a beautiful quiet moment with someone I appreciate immensely. And before I left that morning, I caught a peek of the diary entry that marked our visit to Ardbeg. It simply read: “Curt & pals (something different)”. This was certainly that. Incredibly grateful to the good people at Ardbeg once again.

So, how about some tasting notes then?

All notes; no scores.

Very Young

Nose: Prickly and young, beautifully so. Smoke and a deep, clean earthiness. Kiwis. Key lime pie. White pepper and ginger. Lemons and lemon curd. Salted dough. Fennel. Deep minerally notes.

Palate: Sharp arrival, that feels like tongue acupuncture. Smoky as all get out. Uber clean malt. Green gage. Black wine gums. Licorice. Charred lime. More kiwis. Mint Leaves candies. Chlorophyll.

Finish: Herbal notes. Quite grassy. Popsicle sticks.

Thoughts: Brilliant young stuff. Recognizing the level of quality in this parcel of casks must have been the catalyst for this series, ’cause, man…this is really nice whisky. Much more than just ‘potential’.

 

Still Young

Nose: Definitely still young, indeed. Lime and charred wood. Much more savoury than Very Young. BBQ sauce notes, even. Ammonia. Candy apples. A lot of smoke and peat. Solid spice profile. Cumin. Lychee.

Palate: Massive arrival, but less so than Very Young. Sweet and spicy. Cracked black pepper. Grilled bell peppers. Clean woody tones. Plasticine. Grape skins and apple peelings. Smoked oyster. Big, big smoke.

Finish: Seafood. Green under ripe fruits. Quite drying.

Thoughts: A step further, but I think about in par in terms of quality. In other words, love this one too.

 

Almost There

Nose: Oh, wow. A very creamy nose. Orange creamsicle. Big smoke again. Spices are nicely checked. Still notes of ammonia. Lindt chili chocolate. More balance here than its predecessors. Grilled pineapple. Clotted cream.

Palate: Sweet arrival. Mouthwatering, actually. Tangy citrus and chili peppers. Grilled whitefish. Good mix of spices. Smoked tangerines (could there be such a thing?). Eucalyptus. Lapsang souchong tea. Tar. Moist vanilla. Black licorice.

Finish: Long, long, long. Firm oak. Vanilla extract. Citrus extract. A licorice note that hangs around too.

Thoughts: Here we go. Much more complexity and integration. Some of our crew said this was the best of the bunch. Best of first three, yes. Best of the series…errrr…maybe not.

 

Renaissance

Nose: And even more fruits! Orange and lime. Fruit salad. Great smokiness. Vanilla. Kippers. Iodine. Vicks Vapo Rub. Hot cross buns. Matcha. And mochi. Fantastic nose.

Palate: Man, what an arrival! Sooooo juicy. Licorice and smoke. Rubber and tar. Impressively fruity. Nice mid-palate spices, dominated by ginger. Plaster. Some bread notes. And sorta hospital-y.

Finish: Long and smoky. Salt licorice. Granny Smith apples.

Thoughts: Yep. Undoubtedly my favorite of them all. The apex of the range. And rightfully so. Here’s where it all comes together. Why a whisky like this isn’t a regular addition to the Ardbeg range, I don’t know. Beautiful clean spirit, well chosen wood, and a perfect age that balances high phenols and rising fruit tides. Love it.

 Posted by at 10:38 am
Oct 132019
 

Back about four and a half days now. And I can’t lie, I have never experienced such jet lag. I simply can’t seem to get back in the swing of things. Granted, I only took a single day of recovery before heading back to work, but still. I think I’m starting to wear my years with a little less grace than I once did. I ask no sympathy, though. How do you feel bad for someone who just spent the better part of two weeks drinking with his mates in some of the greatest warehouses in Scotland?

I have a quick malt malt feature tasting note coming later today, then we’ll start digging into trip updates, reviews and some editorializing. Bear with me. Much to come. In the meantime…it’s good to be back.

And yes…I am already planning 2020 trips.

 Posted by at 11:52 am
Sep 272019
 

Sorry, friends. Simply ran out of time for more reviews and updates. I’m heading for the airport in an hour. Follow along (with my very sporadic updates, I’m sure) on Instagram, Twitter or FB, if you’re so inclined.

Best to you all. Catch you later.

C

 Posted by at 8:46 am
Sep 242019
 

Another of the great lost distilleries. Dallas Dhu was one of the fallen soldiers in the rash of 1983 closures that permanently shuttered some of the most iconic producers in Scotland. Now…whether or not all of said distilleries would have been held in the same esteem they are now if they’d not had their lives shortened is a matter of some debate, but hey…a lot of…err…less than premier distilleries have survived the ages and are still kicking out juice, so who knows?

But let’s not confuse Dallas Dhu with some of the greats (port Ellen, Brora, St. Mags, Rosebank, etc). It’s stocks have never really been held in the same esteem by most connoisseurs. I have a personal bias in favor of this distillery, but I know others who are rather indifferent. I hate to say I’m right and they’re wrong, but…y’know…I’m right and they’re wrong.

The Rare Malts series contains some absolutely legendary bottlings, as many of you are probably aware. The absolutely stunning twenty-somethings Broras and Port Ellens are lights out malts. This DD isn’t quite of the same caliber, but make no mistake…it’s a gem.

60.54% abv. Distilled in 1970; bottled in 1994.

Sincere thanks to my mate Brett Tanaka for the opportunity to taste this. The range of bottles he’s been opening for what we’ll call ‘The Brett Sessions’ are simply beyond comprehension. And I am beyond humbled to be able to partake. I’ll be reviewing dozens of them in the coming weeks/months.

Tasting Notes

Nose: An absolute fruit bomb. Candy and chewing gum. Grilled pineapple. Under ripe kiwi. Warm caramel. Meringues. Warm fudge-y notes. Crème brulee. Soft chocolate poured over peppered fruits. God…so much fruit here.

Palate: Again on those crème brulee notes. Grilled fruit (caramelized syrupy flavours). Sea salted caramel chocolates. Nice toasty malt and toasted oak tones. Less deeply fruity now than the nose lets on. Chocolate covered candied ginger.

Finish: Long and warm, with sot fruits and beautiful fade.

Thoughts: Yet another spectacular example out of the Rare Malts range.

92/100

 

 Posted by at 3:09 pm
Sep 232019
 

Hey, friends.

Four days now ’til our wee collective of malt mates heads across the big drink to visit the motherland. I’m miles behind on my organizing, but that’s life, right? And who am I to complain? It’s well-nigh impossible to solicit sympathy when your gripe is a lack of prep time for an excursion to go drinking with your mates for a week and a half or so. It’s a paid gig (i.e. it is actually work for me), but there’s no two ways about it: it’s also a lot of fun.

I may have one or two little trip posts for you before we set off, but that will depend if there’s anything worth reporting. I will also try to get another review or two up before go time, but I can’t promise that will happen. And after that, of course, I won’t be back tapping at the keys until at least the 9th or 10th of October. Hopefully there will be some stories to share. The ones that are safe to share, that is. Sometimes you have to err on the side of discretion.

You can follow along on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter though, if you like. I’m not a diligent social media player, but I’ll probably drop a few cool pics and experiences on those platforms along the way.

In the meantime, hope you’re all doing well. And any of who may be in the neighborhood while we’re over are welcome to join us for a dram along the journey. Slainte!

 Posted by at 7:45 am