Jul 122016

IMG_2357Mortlach 1998 Co-op Exclusive (Gordon & MacPhail)

59.7% abv

Score:  87/100


A bottle made even sweeter due to circumstance.  A mate of mine and I laid down a bet at the start of last year’s NFL season: who could pick the most division winners.  Do note…this guy is a junkie for the game and knows waaaaay more than I do.  I got two right (out of eight).  He got one.  For two huge football fans, obviously a pretty pathetic outing.  Goes to show, I suppose, that on any given Sunday…

Anyway, the stakes were a bottle.  No other real parameters.  And this Mortlach single cask was his ‘settling up’ offering.  Hell of a generous dude.  And a Scot to boot.  Known to be ‘frugal’ and all that, right?  I prefer ‘smart with money’.  😉

Said lad presented this one to me at the tail end of a Dram Initiative club tasting a couple months back.  I immediately cracked it and poured out most of it for a roomful of eager malters.  Needless to say it went over like gangbusters.  I kept back a wee bit to be able to write this up and offer public thanks.  So…thanks, Stu!

Bottled exclusively for Co-op Wines & Spirits (and still available at the time of writing!), this is a typical meaty Mortlach.  Seems most Mortlach I’ve drunk of late has been heavier on florals than bovine, but this one takes me back into familiar territory.  Good outing.  And a hell of a lot more exciting than the standard range of generic (aside from the odd bottling strength), overpriced distillery bottlings.

Nose:  Moderate beef note at the fore.  Quite spicy too.  Tea and toast.  Salted meat.  Very dry, overripe berry notes.  Neat nose, if slightly ‘flawed’.  I like it though.  Very, very faintly hints at sulphur.  Big nose, all told.  And yes…there are some sweet fruity notes, but they are ridiculously hard to pin down.  Monk’s Blend tea.

Palate:  Still meaty, but rich and soooo much more than the nose gives us.  Great bold and juicy arrival.  Barley is clear and rich.  Still a slight Bovril meatiness to it, but tempered with chewy dark fruits.  Leathery, with notes of very dry cinnamon and ginger.  Something green and weedy here.  Big barley finish.

Thoughts:  This one stutter-steps into my ‘oddball winners’ category.  Not without its bumps, but its merits make it worthwhile.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:07 pm
Jul 112016

Glenlivet Nadurra Batch 0814DIMG_2359

55.7% abv

Score:  91/100


I remarked at one point how this malt seemed to be an underappreciated darling in the wider whisky world.  Fast forward to the present and that seems to be far from the case.  There is a very loyal – and ever-growing – following for this cask strength Glenlivet.  Past Nadurra reviews are some of the most popular on this site and the comment sections beneath still maintain momentum long after the fact.  Ergo, it seemed apropos to tackle another batch (before they all disappear in favour of the NAS offerings)

I recently came across this bottle for under $80 locally (fair price, if you know the lay of the land in terms of how far our dollar stretches lately).  Unfortunately most of the Nadurra I see on the shelves nowadays is one of the dodgy NAS versions the brand has launched as a replacement for this fairly consistent (and generally high quality) 16 year old.  I believe – and please correct me if I’m wrong – that the 16 year Nadurra is on its way out in favour of the smokescreen malts just mentioned.  A shame, and nearly as big a botch on the ‘Livet name as the recent Cipher and Alpha.  But let’s not trip down that rabbit hole here.

Happy to report that Batch 0814D holds to the high standards established under this banner.  The malt is not only meticulously crafted, but lands right in an absolutely gorgeous sweet spot of soft fruits and creamy character.  I’m not quite as enamoured with Nadurra as some of the regular readers here on ATW who horde the stuff, but this is one batch I will likely grab an extra bottle or two of before it goes the way of the dodo and mastodon.

Nose:  Huge orange top note and soft mixed fruit.  Vanilla and custard.  Creamsicles.  Hot cross buns.  A smear of jam.  Very fresh, fruity and appealing.  Roman nougat.  Very dessert-like.  Caramelized pineapple with pepper.

Palate:  Awww, hell yeah.  There’s that orange again.  More fruit.  And more.  There’s an oakiness behind it too.  Like sucking the stick of a creamsicle after the ice cream is gone.  Quite some vanilla.  Ginger.  Honey candy straws.  Chewy and oily.  A very thick drink.

Thoughts:  Nudging on into tropical territory.  I love this whisky.  Shows well on any occasion.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 12:28 pm
Jul 102016

Bowmore 19 y.o. (Adelphi)IMG_2353

57.2% abv

Score:  89/100


This is from a wee sample gifted to me by my mate, Cam.  An utterly unexpected surprise, both due to its unsolicited handover and the oddball nose here that seems miles from a typical Bowmore.  This is a malt that shows why the independent game is arguably so much more exciting than just picking up the distillery releases.

An Adelphi bottling, this 19 year old was distilled in ’96, yielding up 214 bottles.  Elementary deduction (olfactory profile, small outturn, pale gold shade, etc) tells us this one was either a bourbon barrel or a hoggy.  I’d think maybe the latter.  Either way…it’s naked and lovely – though out of character in some respects.  The downhome farmyard notes are much more reminiscent of moderately peated Bruichladdich (sans the butyric note) or, from the mainland, BenRiach’s mature peated offerings.  Neato.

Fun one to try.  Not sure where you can find this one (if at all anymore), but I would recommend.

Thanks again, Cam.  Appreciate the kind share!

Nose:  Peppery and barnyard-ish.  Dry and dusty.  Seafood platters.  Oceanside.  Aromas of walking through long dry grass.  Or maybe hayfields.  A tangy BBQ note develops over time, but it’s quite timid.  Quite faint on the Bowmore-ness I was expecting (and hoping for).  Black current cough sweets.  A touch of rubber.  Yeah…peat and smoke.  But faint.

Palate:  There we go.  More Bowmore now.  Still farmy.  Dry, ashy notes.  Salt water.  Dried berries.  Jammy notes.  Rubber and anise.  Smoke.  Very juicy here.  Nowhere near as dry as the nose seems.  Gooey toffee.  Some chocolate or fudge.  Or chocolate fudge.  Grape juice.

Thoughts:  May be the farmiest Bowmore I’ve ever nosed.  Great palate.  A grower and changer.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:40 am
Jul 092016

Tullibardine SovereignIMG_2352

43% abv

Score:  80.5/100


No one really gets a pass in regards to the NAS thing, but there are a couple of distilleries (Tulli, Ardbeg, Laddie, ‘Glassaugh, etc) that have a slightly better reason than others for doling out these contrived concoctions.  Namely, sustained closures that led to substantial production gaps.  What they end up with then is a finite amount of older whisky and a growing store of very young whisky.  The logical options then become twofold: release the old stocks at high prices and decimate your ‘sure thing’ or release immature and underripe malts and reap the wrath of poor reviews that are almost guaranteed to follow.  The latter, of course, means that you may tarnish the brand and risk not recovering your reputation.  The former means that you alienate many due to price point and run yourself out of mature bonded malt.  Neither option sounds too appealing, right?

Here’s where things get shady.  You can also choose to ignore the two well-trodden paths and forge ahead on a new path of marrying the old and the young.  Doing so means that almost no one in their right minds is willing to put a 7 year age statement on something that may be substantially composed of 20 year old whisky.  And as we all know, the SWR states that only the youngest component malt may be stated on the bottle.  Hence we end up with malts like Sovereign.  And pretty much any NAS release ever.

But enough of the philosophical nattering for the moment.  We’ve heard this story many times.

Sovereign is an easy handshake of a whisky.  A pleasant meeting – enjoyable enough while it lasts – but not likely to make much impression in the long term.  Nothing wrong with that.  I count Compass Box Asyla in the same stable, and thoroughly enjoy that one when I have it too.  These are just not whiskies that keep me loyal, however.  They’re a little too simple and one-dimensional to make me want to buy ’em.  Good enough stuff though.  Well made.

In simplest…kind of a meandering little dram that I enjoyed more than I thought I would.

Nose:  Mandarins in syrup.  Lemon.  Tangerine.  Quite clean and very naked.  Touch of ginger and pepper.  Vanilla.  White bread.  Actually a rather pleasant nose.

Palate:  Flat.  A notch down from what the nose would have us believe.  Slightly drying after a moment or two…like a green tea in ways.  Grassy.  Pancakes.  Vanilla-heavy cream.  Quite sweet, but not as easy to pin down fruits as on the nose.  Fair enough.

Thoughts:  This is a breakfast malt.  Nothing offensive, but nothing really special either.  Exactly what an entry level malt should be.


– Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:13 am
Jul 082016

Ardbeg Dark Cove20160528_122452

46.5% abv

Score:  89/100


Not a lot of bad press floating around for this one.  Unless, of course, you take into account those wanting to criticize the marketing team behind Ardbeg.  Personally, I think they’re a bunch of mad geniuses and aesthetically gifted wizards.  Of course we dislike the NAS factor, but it’s difficult not to appreciate the clever spins, yarns and angles they come up with.

Case in point, Dark Cove, which pays homage to the early days of illicit distillation at Ardbeg and the measures taken to avoid the excise man.  The imagery (literal and implied) of moonlit rocky shorelines, hidden caverns, dark waves and complicit locals makes for a heck of a tale.  But a story in and of itself is nothing when we’re referring to the quality of the whisky in the glass.  Proof’s in the pudding, as the say.  We’ll come to that in a minute though.

Dark Cove was 2016’s Ardbeg Day release, and when it landed, it arrived with all the expected fanfare.  Cool, stylish events…badass animated Ardbeggian videos…glorious graphics…and untold thousands of drams being poured at Ardbeg embassies around the world.  LVMH has deep pockets.  There is nothing half-assed in an Ardbeg launch.  If you’ve not attended one, I’d highly recommend penciling in the date next year.

Now the drink itself…

I would argue that Ardbeg’s contemporary reputation was built largely on the back of Uigeadail, that sherried phenolic heavyweight that even the most jaded seem to adore (or at least admire).  From there, an empire was built.  The limited releases that have followed have been a mixed bag of hits and misses for some, but those that have a perpetual spot on the shelf for a bottle of Oogie should find themselves tickled ruddy pick for this one.  It bears all the familiar hallmarks of sweet waves of sherry smashing headlong into a sharp and jagged coast of heavy peat.  The marriage is exceptional.  Better than Uigeadail?  Not sure.  I’ll sample side by side when the opportunity presents.  Watch the comments section below for updates.

And finally, while I have tried both the general and committee releases of Dark Cove I can’t say which I prefer, as the settings and companion drams were of vastly disparate measures.  At some point I’ll do a head to head.

Nose:  Windy, wet seaside and beach fire.  Smoke and rubber.  Lime, and dark fruit compote.  Earthy peat.  A few drops of coffee.  Fennel.  Iodine (and slightly ammonic too).  BBQ sauced and seared pork.  Damp linens and dry spice.  More lime, dark chocolate and spice.  Minerally.  Kelp.

Palate:  Infinitely Ardbeg.  Nice ‘peat meets sweet’ marriage.  Dry and sooty.  Grapey sherry notes.  Citrus juice.  Tastes of leather.  Salty.  And rich in that Ardbeg rubberiness.  Very oceanic palate.  And ashy.  Unfortunately, while entirely pleasant, seems slightly muted by the comparatively low (by Ardbeg standards) bottling strength.  Nice looooooong finish.

Thoughts:  Tastes like more, to be honest.  A good outing from Kildalton’s finest.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:55 pm
Jul 042016

Aberlour a’bunadh Batch 52IMG_2382

60.5% abv

Score:  88/100


There was a day when each successive batch of a’bunadh used to light me up like a kid at Christmas.  Nowadays…meh.  They’re simply not up to what they used to be.

Let me qualify that:  these Aberlour releases are still better than most of the watered down, colored and filtered expressions from the big brands that are hitting the market, but a’bunadh has lost the edge it once had for its delectable sweet and fruity charm.  Now it’s just another cask strength (occasionally underripe) bruiser.

Even so, when my wife came home a couple months back with a bottle of this and a Kilchoman for me I was tickled pink.  One…because she knows me and was kind and wonderful as always, and two…because I know readers like to hear about these storied batch releases.  In short…I was more excited about writing it up for the site than I was to actually drink it.  Fortunately it was decent enough to be able to enjoy both.

I think the most important thing I can possibly say here is that a’bunadh is not what it once was.  Sorry.  I don’t know if it is a change to sherry-seasoned casks as opposed to proper sherry butts (which I hear many in the industry are doing now)…a shift to younger malts in the batch vattings…or simply a different style the blender is aiming for.  Either way, the deep, sweet, aromatic jamminess that made a’bunadh a thing of legend is now merely a background cello in an orchestra of instruments cranked up to 11.  Sad really.

By no means is this a bad dram.  Marks and notes below should attest to that.  Unfortunately, the benefit of experience allows me to say unequivocally that this malt is on the wane.  The nature of batch releases, however, ensures we’ll be curious to see if the next is a return to form.

One more important thing to say.  Less than two years ago Aberlour a’bunadh was about $77 a bottle locally.  A couple weeks back I saw it at $126.  Shame on you, Aberlour.  No amount of justification (currency exchange, market conditions, barrel shortages, etc) will ever be able to square that circle.  Shameful gouging.  While the wife and I do share a bank account – and ultimately I did end up paying for this ‘gift’ in a roundabout way – it needs to be made clear I would never support that kind of consumer-disrespecting audacity.

Nose:  Dark jammy fruit.  Creamy chocolate.  Leather.  Deep spicy sherry notes.  A slight cherry cola-ness about it.  Not nearly as fruity as old a’bunadh unfortunately.  Dark toffee and a hint of both coffee and tea.  Prunes and figs and such.  A hint of mint.

Palate:  Better.  More fruit now.  Berry jam on slightly burnt toast.  Damp wood.  Mocha.  Candied orange peel.  Walnut.  Maraschino cherry.  Dark, oily vanilla.  Caramel with some fruit.  Better arrival than finish.

Thoughts:  A little too sharp (or too young?).  Is it just me or is a’bunadh getting spicier and meatier over time?  Not bad, but nowhere near its glory days.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 3:04 pm
Jun 262016

SMWS 33.130 “The Farmyard And The Chip Shop”IMG_2109

56.1% abv

Score:  89/100


Oh, man, do I like this one.  The last of four SMWS Ardbeg releases I stacked up head to head (to head to head) a couple weeks back.  Not only is it the closest to the true spirit of Ardbeg – falling squarely into that phenolic and tarry/ashy sort of profile I love – it was unquestionably the best of the range.

I’ve shared enough words on the SMWS 33’s of late, so let’s keep this one short and sweet.  Let me just say that releases like this are the very reason I have kept my SMWS membership up to date.  It will be interesting to see if the club still has access to these young barrels of Ardbeg going forward, now that the brand is no longer owned by the good folks at LVMH.  Sorta doubt it.  As we know, indie Ardbegs are becoming more and more just relics of a bygone era.

Nose:  Tar, ash and soot.  Menthol.  Very nasal-clearing.  Leather.  Lime.  Seared scallops.  The notes on the label suggest tomatoes, and I completely agree.  BBQ sauce and grilled meat.  Some dry smoke.

Palate:  Fiery, savoury arrival.  Very juicy though.  More vinegar-y BBQ notes.  Mint candy.  Like a mouthful of smoke.  Black ju-jubes.  Definite notes of grilled seafood.  Lime.  Black coffee.  Fennel that grows bigger and bigger at the back end.  Slightly herbal.  Loooooooong finish.

Thoughts:  Quite in line with what Ardbeg tends to release nowadays.  And quite in the strike zone.  I like this one a lot.  Still a little rough around the edges, but that’s part of its charm.  Much like we love the Hanson Brothers for their scrappiness.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:14 am
Jun 212016

IMG_2105SMWS 33.113 “Sweet, Peaceful Dreams”

60.4% abv

Score:  88/100


Ok.  Back to these Ardbeg SMWS reviews we’ve not yet finished.  A little off the beaten path, but tons of fun.  With this ’33’ we’re moving into somewhat more familiar Ardbeg territory, but still only at the periphery in some ways.  Yes, it’s monstrous (and probably offensive to the sensitive) but it also bears a softer, sweetness that might surprise those looking for the signature whomp of Kildalton’s heavyweight champ.  The closest profile analogy I can give here is Serendipity meets Corryvreckan.  If you were fortunate enough to have landed a taste of Serendipity back in the day you’ll know the subtleties I’m hinting at.

Part of me thinks Ardbeg is actually a tough malt to screw up.  Such is the nature of a great distillate and talented stillmen who recognize the ideal cut points of the spirit run.  And nowhere is this more evident than when you see the flawless spirit hit a clean bourbon barrel and then be rocked to sleep for a few years.  The last part of the equation is plucking it from the cask at its true apex age for delivery to the bottling line.  In this instance it was the Scotch Malt Whisky Society who had final say in when it was bottled, and fortunately they chose a good time for it.  So as I said…with this one – an eight year old – we are indeed in familiar Ardbeg territory.

Now that’s not to say this is completely typical, but it does bear all the hallmarks.  Feisty, smoky as hell, earthy, citric, coastal.  You know the drill by now with Ardbeg.  Bigger than big.  The fact that LVMH owned both Ardbeg and the SMWS at the time this one was released may have something to do with the level of quality control.  Who know?

Nose:  Dough.  Sweet candy notes.  A hint of Play-Dough.  Surprisingly creamy.  Faint unlit pipe tobacco.  Sugar cookies.  Anise.  Seems almost mildly-peated for an Ardbeg.  Damp ash.  Orange.  Then orange and lemon zest.

Palate:  Soft arrival, surprisingly, then wham!!  Sharp peat kick to the meat and two veg.  (A touch of) Melon, with some lemon and orange.  Then an explosion of smoke and licorice.  Dark vanilla bean.  Coffee.  Meaty and plummy.  Gets barn-y.  Big earthy, peaty notes.  Wow…the smoke keeps expanding outward.  Very hot whisky.

Thoughts:  Creaminess takes us into thoughts of the vanillas imparted form the French Oak in some batches of Corryvreckan.  Must have been a very lively bourbon barrel.  Almost like an Ardbeg vatted with a Tormore (I know…weird, aye?).  I like the fruits, but this is definitely unbalanced.  Extra point for the singularity of this one.

*Kelly Carpenter, founder of the SMWS CA saved this  sample for me a couple of years ago.  Thanks, Kelly.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:46 am
Jun 192016

Jura Brooklyn576

42% abv

Score:  76/100


Truly one of the oddest bottling strengths I’ve ever seen.  And yet another in the endless, shameless parade of NAS nonsense.  Let’s assume this one actually does have a raison d’être – and I recall reading about its genesis a long while back – but it’s really just the next schtick, isn’t it?

Playing to some contrived connection between the wee Hebridean Shangri-La of Jura and the bustling metropolis of NYC.  Ummm…sure.  Reaching here, aren’t we, folks?

Anyway…the whisky.  A mix of ex-bourbon, pinot noir and Amaroso casks.  Without even tasting it those words would be enough to tell me that this is one of offspring of the Whyte & Mackay blending house.  Parts of this whisky work to a degree.  Other facets simply leave me head scratching.  Cohesion seems to be secondary to the storyline itself, and I kinda think if we’d skipped the pinot casks and let this one mellow for a few more years maybe this would be a different review.  But we’ve all seen ‘Wayne’s World’, aye?  “If a frog had wings he wouldn’t bump his ass when he hopped.”

Apparently there are malts in here up to 16 years, but I imagine the ratios are grossly skewed in favour of under 10s.  Such is the bane of NAS marketing.  Fortunately we have our finely-attuned senses to guide us through the bullshit, right?

Now I must admit…I have a soft spot for Jura.  Probably beyond what the whisky actually deserves, to be honest, but even so, this one is…not great.

Nose:  Nut-heavy and overly-malty.  Sharp with young notes.  Barley sugars, faint fruit melange (like bland frozen berries) and a touch of peat.  A little pepper.  Smells of a freshly-opened bag of white flour.  Leather.  Berry scones and sugar cookies.  Something slightly feinty here.  Just seems too young, but to fair, it does soften with time.

Palate:  There’s an earthiness here that hints of peat.  Leathery notes.  More nuttiness, and too heavy on the wine influence.  Like chewing barley stalks.  Farmy flavours (hard to articulate).  Yeah…there’s the wine and peat fighting it out.  Slightly, very slightly tannic.  Meh.  Let’s stop.

Thoughts:  Blind, I would immediately guess Jura or Dalmore, as this has Paterson’s fingerprint all over it (even if made – apparently – by Wee Willie Tait).  In other words…wine cask tomfoolery and such.  Not my cup of tea.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:57 pm
Jun 122016

Dram Initiative #020 – St. Paddy’s Day Irish Night


(Long overdue event recap.  More of these to come…)

It’s fun to pick on the Irish.  Well…that’s not entirely true.  It’s fun to pick on a particular Irish chap I know.  Mostly ’cause he definitely dishes more than he takes, but also simply because he’s delusional.  Y’know the type.  Believes Guinness is brewed of water from the fountain of youth; actually buys into the Bushmills 1608 date; subscribes to the theory that pubs truly are sunscreen for the Irish; and conceded his heterosexuality is threatened in proximity to Colin Farrell.

Anyway…when it came time to schedule our March event it was a no-brainer to make it a St. Paddy’s day celebration.  We pulled out all the stops to suss out a line-up of Irish drams that told a bit of a story (and gave a well-rounded view of Irish whiskey as a category) and settled in for a tour of the Emerald Isle (figuratively speaking), making distillery pitstops along the way.


I tried convincing our Irish whipping boy to present this one, but to no avail.  The way it works in the DI is that we almost always have top tier speakers coming through to present to the Collective, but from time to time either the line-up of malts isn’t conducive to an outside speaker or there simply isn’t one at the ready.  In such cases the poor saps in the club are forced to listen to me ramble on for a couple hours.  This night was just such an occasion.  Two hours of yours truly nattering about the ins and outs of Scotland’s poor lesser sibling.  At least – as a form of apology/anesthetic – they had a few tasty drinks to help the medicine go down.


We stepped back in time to look at the origins of the spirit (and spurious, unprovable claims of precedence) and dug into topics such as the column distillation, pot still whiskey, the rise and fall and subsequent rise again of Irish drams and finally went through the distilleries themselves in order to shed some light on a drink that is only now seeing a resurgence to its once-proud past.  And at the very tail end of it all we spoke to the future and how Irish whiskey could finally see some true revolution in coming days, under the maverick stylings of Mark Reynier’s new Waterford distillery.  Even I managed to get excited about a few of these drams.

I say that, not because many aren’t great, but simply because I find them often too light and too…neutered.  Irish whiskey at an abv of 46% or higher, and non-chill-filtered has been a relative scarcity.  No different tonight, but there were a couple that hit that bench mark, and better still…there were a couple absolutely stunning knee-knockers in the midst.  The two Jameson Rarest, in particular.  Just wow.


So…for one night a year (or this year anyway), we figured it would be apropos to don the green and cheese out like a bunch of cultural tourists and join the (un)official Irish drinking team.  I dare say we done ’em proud.  It was a festive eve.  The right people, and the right spirit.  Pun intended.  It was a night for Guinness.  For Flogging Molly and The Pogues.  For Dropkick and Liam.  For Sinead and U2.  For culturally insensitive, borderline-racist Irish jokes (in good taste, I must add).  And yeah…for Colin Farrell.  The gang truly seemed to enjoy our little detour from the norm.


The evening’s bevies (in order presented, though not necessarily ranked):

Bushmills 16 y.o. Single Malt

Bushmills 21 y.o. Single Malt

Bushmills 1989 Single Cask #7983 (Bourbon)

Green Spot Single Pot Still

Midleton Very Rare 2011

Redbreast 12 y.o. Single Pot Still

Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve 2007 Edition #16544

Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve 2009 Edition #55251

Teeling Hybrid Malt Whiskey No. 1 Edition


And finally…

I have to give credit where credit is due.  In all fairness, our overgrown token leprechaun was a good sport, especially considering how liberally I peppered my presentation with mockery.  He took it like a champ.  Fear not, though.  I’m already working on my material for the next St. Paddy’s Day lambasting.  Let no shamrock go unturned in the name of a good insult.  Slainte Mhath!

Until next…


 – Images:  Curt, Steve & Scott 

 – Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 2:33 pm